Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Land of Alternate Feed (or One Saturday Afternoon in DC, as Seen from a TV in Mass.)

Before a crowd of somewhere between 100,000 and 10,000,000,000, in the shadow of the nation's capital, there was a plea for a toning down of the rhetoric. After Stephen Colbert had risen from beneath the earth and melted back into it, after Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Yusuf (formerly known as Lew Alcindor and Cat Stevens) had shown us the non-scary faces of Islam, after we watched the love train coming down the tracks, after all the nonsense and the noise, there stood Jon Stewart showing us images of many cars trying to cram into a tunnel. He explained that each car had its own passengers, each one with his or her own story and his or her own concerns. Yet, order prevailed because of civility and alternate feed. Sure, there was an occasional jerk who tried to cut the line from the outside, but even that person was forgiven for his trespasses. Our country 'tis of thee, sweet land of you and then me, me and then you.

For all the Democrats, and the one of two Republicans who were in the crowd, 234 years after the nation was formed, they had been witness to one of the most moving moments in the history of this great nation. Or maybe, a few hours of comedy central, live and in the fresh air. Either way, from my spot on the couch, it looked like a day of fun in the sun. In this season of political posturing and economic upheaval, fun is something we need almost as much as alternate feed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Costs of Alzheimer's and Dementia

"The Age of Alzheimer's" presents a compelling economic argument for why this disease should be attacked aggressively. The financial costs associated with this illness are staggering. With scientific advances, we are now able to keep our population alive much longer. Yet what we have failed to be able to do is to assure the quality of that life.

For so many of us baby boomers, we have parents who are living diminished lives. It is the vanishing world of those that suffer from Alzheimer or dementia that is so difficult to watch. My mother, who will soon turn 93, struggles daily to cope with the constant battle of losing her memory and her attachment to her surroundings. The loss of independence and the fight to maintain her dignity in a foreign universe, has taken a severe toll. The pain my mom feels in trying to hang on, is multiplied by all those who love her and look on helplessly.

Former Justice O'Connor is right that it is in our own best financial interests, in a time of soaring health costs, to aggressively search for a cure to this disease. But, even more important is that the quality of our days should be able to match the quantity of them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lions, and Tigers, and Government Bureaucracy, Oh My!

- Rejecting a series of claims because 72-hour pre-approval was not obtained, even though they were urgent procedures, scheduled within 72 hours.

- After accepting the lack of possibility of preapproval, re-rejecting the same claims outright on account of minor coding discrepancies between planned and actual procedure (example, MRI with contrast vs. MRI without contrast).

- Denying an inexpensive eye exam for headaches, since routine eye exams are not covered, and then denying a subsequent neurological exam, since there were simpler, cheaper options for diagnosing headaches.

- Doling out permission for physical therapy visits one at a time, even though we're entitled to 30 annually, sometimes so slowly that there were uninsured visits while waiting for permission for subsequent insured ones.

- Excluding inexpensive, money-saving public health initiatives from insurance coverage, like flu shots and HPV vaccinations.

- Imposing a low lifetime maximum, such that one major prolonged illness or serious injury could potentially lead to the termination of coverage. Continuing to do so even after recent health care reforms made this illegal, since they're grandfathered.

- Charging $400 for each physical therapy appointment (found out after 11 visits, and one whopper of a bill), as opposed to the usual $20 for the same exact services, because the physical therapist in question performed her occupation in a non-hospitalization, walk-in clinical wing of a building that they classified as a 'hospital' instead of a 'physical therapist's office.'

- Treating a series of claims at a state's largest hospital as out-of-network, even though other patients who buy insurance from the same company, headquartered in that very state, are considered in-network.

- Denying a post-surgical hospitalization (and the entire hospital part of the surgical bill, as well) because the patient, who was under anesthesia, didn't call to say he'd be staying at the hospital after the procedure.

- Raising monthly premiums mid-year, without notice, and simultaneously raising that premium retroactively, debiting the excess amount from a personal bank account without permission or notice.

- Rescinding said retroactive increase under pressure from a state agency, but keeping the immediate increase going forward, even though both are equally illegal under state law.

- Pulling the same exact illegal stunt 2 years later, and attempting to argue, once again, that they're allowed to do it. (They're not.)

- Raising our monthly premiums by as much as 34% per year, with no increases in coverage.

- Terminating our benefits plan at the end of this year to sell us a watered-down package of benefits next year at an even higher price than we currently pay.

Off the top of my head, these are a few of the indignities that my family and I have suffered at the hands of our private health insurance providers over the past several years. (If you throw in Medicare Part D, the private, for-profit prescription insurance that my grandparents have, you can add really lousy drug benefits and 'donut holes' to the list, too.)

Please tell me, how could a government-run, single-payer system possibly be any worse than this?

The word 'socialism' by itself does not constitute a valid argument against better, more efficient health care.

Higher taxes are not a compelling reason to oppose it, since businesses and individuals are currently devastated by the astronomically high expense of privately buying health care, essentially a huge tax.

'Government control of health care decisions' is not a very compelling argument against it, either, since right now teams of for-profit executives and administrators already tell us what doctors we can see, how often we can see them, what procedures they're allowed to offer, and how much of the bill we'll get socked with.

So, again, what's so good about the system we have now? And what would we lose by implementing 'Medicare for all'?


With Friends Like These

Has there ever been a worse ally than Hamid Karzai? His contempt for the United States seems boundless. His verbal assault on everything American continuous. His latest attack on the US, for exposing that his pockets are lined with Iranian money, ludicrous.

We get that he doesn't want us in his country, and that he blames us if it rains. But couldn't he at least fake it for PR sake?

This is almost year 10 of what is rapidly approaching the lost decade for us in foreign wars. Iraq is a mess, but in comparison to Afghanistan, it looks like an overwhelming success. In the land of Karzai, we are losing lives and losing direction. We don't know whether we are there to kill with kindness or with bombs. We have tried to coddle the leadership, to bully them or to threaten. Everything has led to this point in time where we are ridiculed and maligned by the most corrupt leader of a most corrupt leadership.

We, in this country, seem to consider these front page stories back page news these days. We are more consumed with the troubles on our doorstep than those that occur in lands far away. It feels like our efforts there are merely for show now, with no real hope or belief in results.

When we begin our contemplated drawdown of troops next year, it will be the beginning of the end. What we leave behind, if in the hands of Hamid Karzai, will not be pretty.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Chasm

"Falling Into the Chasm" captures, in one sentence, the essence of what is transpiring in front of our eyes, but what we refuse to see: "voters respond to facts, not counterfactuals, and the perception is that the administration's policies have failed".

It matters not to people who are hurting, that they would be hurting worse if the Republican party had been in charge of trying to dig us out of this economic hole. The Democrats for a variety of reasons, principal among them the Republican desire to see their policies fail, have clearly not taken the bold initiatives required to get our economic engine restarted. But the "why", and the "what could have been" are irrelevant. What "is" is ugly and as a result, what will be come the first Tuesday in November, is bound to be very ugly indeed for the Democratic party

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Reunion

While those around me told tales, large and small, I remained mute. Intimidation played no small part in my silence.

We gathered last evening for our 40th high school reunion. While life has moved us in many directions, to many in this room, we remain defined by what we had been then.

So, it was decided that during the course of the evening, we would gather our chairs together. Each would have the opportunity to inform, amuse, recount or recall. Unlike most of our classes, we would not be called upon randomly but would only speak out of choice.

I had shown little of the intellectual curiosity that so many of my classmates had demonstrated during our years together. They were poets, musicians, scholars and searchers of the truth. I was concerned little of these things. Rather, to them, and in my own eyes, I was a jock.

I ran through my contemplated words, over and over, as others told their tales. I would speak of my intellectual awakening, of my love of writing. I would let them know that this school, despite my worst intentions, had readied me to do something in which I found a passion, and which some seemed to enjoy and validate.

But I feared that this would sound egocentric, and ring false. I did not see myself, nor did I believe that those around me, would see me as anything other than the one whom the teacher passed over to respond in French class because he was ill equipped to perform. I was the one who did not work as hard, did not test as well, did not warrant intellectual recognition.

I did not want to talk about my failing golf game, or the demise of the Yankees. At least not tonight.

As the minutes passed, my resolve ebbed and flowed. At certain moments I made a decision that I would be the next to speak. Yet, when it came time, I could not summon up the courage.

When the last words were done, it was announced that dessert was the next order of business. Chairs were put back in place, and the evening moved to its inevitable conclusion.

Before I left, I struck up a conversation with one who I had not seen since the end of my high school years. He had spoken of living in Vermont and teaching music, and how rewarding it had been to shape the lives of the children. He then asked the question that I feared so many were thinking when they looked in my direction. "Are you still playing golf"?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Don't Follow David Brooks


David Brooks' "Don't Follow the Money" doesn't follow the unlimited influence of campaign spending on governing. These big corporations are not stuffing the pockets of the candidates because they "get to hang out at exclusive parties". This government runs on green energy: the more green you put in the coffers the more energy your candidate has to make sure your goals become his or hers.

Mr. Brooks can pretend that influence peddling doesn't exist, that the power of money is a myth, and that the moon is really made of green cheese. The engine that runs these campaigns, and this country is contributions to political parties. Mr. Brooks says "money makes people feel good because they think it has magical properties". Well, Mr.Brooks, it does. It can change an election and it certainly can change the course of our destiny. Not bad for a little piece of paper.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Freddy Sez

When the old Yankee Stadium was torn down, one piece of it remained intact - Freddy Schuman, with his frying pan, spoon and placard. Mr. Schuman, known to all of us by his self- proclaimed alter ego as Freddy Sez, died yesterday.

Here was this man, with one eye, seemingly without companions, walking night after night, and day after day, throughout the stands. He was as much a part of the fabric of the building as the Babe, the Mick, Lou and the rest of the Yankee immortals.

No matter the circumstances, if defeat was imminent, if the team was struggling, if the weather was cold and rainy, the sound of someone banging on that pan with that spoon would echo reassuringly that "Freddy is here". I would search the stands to see if I could locate my 'old friend', and his sign proclaiming that victory was assured. Whenever I caught a glimpse of him, I would smile and wave, like he was someone I had made arrangements to meet.

In the wrong light, he could appear an isolated, old and pathetic caricature. There seemed no existence for him outside the confines of what he made his adopted home. In the constant company of strangers, he would be forever in motion, never stopping long enough to make any meaningful connection.

But, I chose to see a different person, one of undying passion, and uncompromising devotion. In a world filled with half-truths and hidden agendas, Freddie was unfiltered and pure in his love for his team.

We recently were all witness to the unveiling of the larger than life memorial to the larger than life former principal owner of the Yankees. I wonder if there will be one day be a plaque commemorating the accomplishments of Freddy Schuman.

For most of the world there has always been only two great constants, death and taxes. For Yankee fans, there has been a third. The Stadium will forever seem a little quieter, and a little less embracing. For a man who walked in solitude, he left many a friend behind. Goodbye Freddy. You will be missed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

You're Out (Maybe)

There have been several theories that I have heard over the years for why instant replay has not been in favor in baseball.

First among these is that it will slow the game down too much. Has anyone noticed that games now seem to last somewhere between 3 hours and eternity? What's another few minutes? There may be many ways to speed up the game, for example, actually enforcing time limits between pitches, or not allowing batters to perform their maddening 'rituals' after each pitch. As with football, or even tennis, there can be a limited number of successful replay challenges allowed. In addition, as suggested by Mr. Rosenthal ('The Umpire in the Sky') there can be a clock on those reviewing the play.

In addition, it is has been suggested that there is a certain romantic mystique in allowing umpires to make mistakes, much as ballplayers might. Those espousing this belief, state that it is all part of the essential fabric of the game. They would ask you to believe that to take this away, would redefine the sport itself. I am not certain why this is so. When the game can actually be determined by the players and not the umpires, shouldn't that be the goal?

While we are at it, let's make sure that any replays are shown on the scoreboard so that all those in attendance can be made aware of what the review looks like, and can make their own judgments on what the outcome should be. This information should not be cloaked in secrecy. This is entertainment, not national security.

Will there come a time when we find that umpires are unnecessary impediments to the game? Will technology one day be deemed the only path to follow? That may be so, but that is an argument for another moment. For now, let's not get rid of the umpires, only their bad calls.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Choking on a Kosher Salami

"Rabbi Breaks with Paladino over Apology" - (New York Times, October 14, 2010)

I only wish that Rabbi Levin's mouth had been too full of the kosher pastrami sandwich he said he was eating when he learned of the anti- gay "betrayal" by Carl Paladino, to speak. By way of freudian slip, he later referred to almost choking on a kosher salami.

What he said about Paladino is of little moment. But as to the message he sent out as a religious leader preaching open hatred of gays, I have but two words, "oy vey".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thank You

Several years have passed since my initial meeting with Shirley Porter. On that day, as I said my goodbyes to Shirley, and watched the front door close behind her, I knew that a part of my life had disappeared forever. I stood in her driveway and cried uncontrollably. What follows is how and why I ended up in that place and in that state of mind.

My first contact with Mickey was at one of Alex's softball games. Mickey was not even a year old then. He had been beaten as a puppy, and blinded. The remains of his eyes had recently been removed. Mickey was then up for adoption. During a weekend 'trial' visit , Mickey showed us that the traumas he had endured may have scarred him on the outside, but not on the inside. He was loving and trusting and, soon after, a permanent member of our family.

Shadow, and later Banjo, came to us from Alex's summer camp. For Shadow, we would be at least her third home, and Shadow would be at least her second name. Banjo was a kitten and would show up, unannounced to us, as Alex exited the camp bus at the end of a summer away.

We lived, ate, slept and traveled as a group for many years. Jo and I worried, like all parents do, about whether all of those in our care were happy, healthy, well fed and well nurtured. Banjo was clearly under the impression that she had two very large siblings, whom she would often groom and clean. Shadow was in some ways a guide dog for Mickey. But Mickey, left on his own, could figure out and navigate his way around any surroundings in a matter of minutes. Like all of our children, these 3 had their own special qualities in which we took great pride.

Over time, signs of aging appeared. Banjo, used to eating not only her food but Mickey's and Shadow's, became ever and ever fatter. Shadow developed symptoms of arthritis and some incontinence.

Then, life interrupted our journey together. We were going to have to move to a place where we would not be able to take these 3 along for the ride. How does one possibly exit this scene gracefully? Who would come to our rescue?

Jo and Richie put together biographies, filled with love and photos. But still, the reality was that these were stories about an obese Banjo, an aging and slightly infirm Shadow, and a dog without eyes. Who could see past all this? Who could take on these burdens?

Among those who read the posts was one of Jo's fellow ski patrollers. While he was not the person to answer our pleas, he knew of a person with a big heart and a love for animals who might. Thus, Shirley Porter entered our lives.

The concept of all 3 of our pets descending on her, was initially even a little too much for Shirley. After speaking with her, we were told that Shadow and Banjo would be welcome in her home. One of our very close friends, who had picked out our very first dog from an animal shelter many years ago, volunteered to take Mickey.

When the day came for Shadow and Banjo to leave us, Mickey also took the ride to Shirley's. Jo thought it might ease the transition a little for Mickey to say one last goodbye at the same time we did.

When we arrived at Shirley's house, which was almost a 2 hour drive from where we lived, the animals emerged from the car, one by one. Mickey jumped out and soon was making his way around Shirley's place, avoiding a piece of furniture, or walking down the back steps and cruising around the backyard.

About an hour passed, while we got to know Shirley a little better and she got to know us and those that would soon become part of her world. As we readied to leave Shirley stopped us. She said it would be a shame to separate Mickey from Shadow and Banjo. If it was ok with us, and if Mickey wasn't already spoken for, she would be willing to try to add all 3 to her household.

I called my friend who had accepted responsibility for our blind dog and told him of the offer we had received. I asked him to be honest as to whether this would be ok with him. He was as generous in his response as he had been in his initial offer.

And so I stood on the driveway, as Mickey, Shadow and Banjo stayed behind. But while that door closed, it did not shut.

Over the past several years, we have remained in very close contact with Shirley. She wrote us often of the funny things that helped brighten her day, and ours by the retelling. We visited whenever we could, and Shirley made sure to make us feel not only welcome but wanted guests.

Shadow has since passed away, and then Mickey. Banjo has had some health scares, but for the moment anyway, remains relatively healthy and apparently slightly thinner. Shirley has remained constant in her clear devotion to those entrusted to her. She has made it seem like she is grateful to us, while the truth is that we are unspeakably grateful to her.

I saw a note from Jo to Shirley today saying that she missed her and that we had to get together soon. That thought triggered this piece.

I know this has been said often over the years, but never often enough. From me to Shirley Porter, thank you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Little Engine that Couldn't

The United States is a nation in contraction. "Think small" should be the motto of Christie and so many others like him. He is small minded and without vision. The world he would create is one that does not diminish our debt but does diminish our value. Here is a man who is gutting our state's educational system and is now taking away our opportunity to grow our rail system to meet 21st century demands, and literally to propel us forward.

We seem very likely to be handing more significant control of our future to leaders like Christie in the coming weeks. If that is what happens, then we as a country will face a future not as a big, powerful locomotive but as the little engine that couldn't.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Changing the Course of Destiny

How is it that I actually believe I may be changing the course of baseball destiny from the seat in my living room?

The pattern that emerged last night was clear and simple: when the Twins were up and there was a rally brewing, I had to turn the channel and watch something, anything else. I ended up viewing parts of "Boardwalk Empire"(very gripping new series with a deliciously evil main character) and Bill Maher (fairly mundane), while the Yankees were struggling to retain their lead. I missed almost all of what was occurred the last 3 innings that Minnesota was at bat, but by doing so, I think I preserved the victory for my team.

On other nights, I have discovered that I couldn't get up to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I have found that if I even imagined something bad that might transpire, I was witness to it immediately thereafter.

Maybe it is because my mother loaded me down with superstitions that I carry with me to this day. No hats or keys on the bed. You have to exit a house from the same door you enter.

Maybe all the repetitive superstitious activity I see in the game convinces me that there must be something to this. After a batter strikes out, the ball does not return from catcher to pitcher but follows an elaborate series of throws to various infielders before finally reaching its intended destination. Few people know that CC Sabathia only catches the return toss to him in his bare left hand. Once I was at a game and noticed, for the first and only time, that Sabathia caught the return throw in the glove on his right hand. The next pitch was deposited over the left field wall for the one run the opposition would score that day.

Can it be that if Nick Swisher did not look up to the heavens between every pitch, that he would suddenly be unable to catch up with a 95 mile per hour fastball? Or if he did not thrust his arms up in the air to give thanks every time he reached base safely that he might find he was never again the same player? If Pedro Martinez didn't jump over the baseline on his way to the mound one time, but actually stepped on the chalk, would the magic have left forever? Can I deem those actions to be meaningless and still find meaning in my behavior?

Yesterday, Doc Halladay threw a no hitter. Baseball tradition demands that there be no discussion between the pitcher and his teammates during the game about what is unfolding. Often, in late innings, the pitcher is treated almost as a pariah, left to sit by himself, seemingly ignored by those around him. I have listened to games where even announcers appear hesitant to give mention to this most rare occurrence. People who make a living informing us of the most insignificant details of the game and of anything and everything else that pops into their mind, don't want to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Over the years, fans have tried to will their team to victory wearing baseball caps inside out. If we tossed our hats in the air, and sang a chorus of "New York, New York" would that be the magic we need to secure victory?

So, if any of you happen over to my apartment during the next few days to watch a game, do not be surprised by almost anything you see. As I may be not only master of my fate, but of Jeter's, A-Rod's and the rest of the pinstriped players, I bear a heavy burden. If I decide to cluck like a chicken, or perform a voodoo ritual, do not be alarmed. I have yet to find the perfect answer but I am working on it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Stolen Moment

It was in the pitcher's eyes. He was not looking in his direction. Brett Gardner's decision was based on those eyes.

Last night, in the seventh game of the 2010 World Series, the score was tied in the top of the ninth. Two men were out and Gardner stood 90 feet from his ultimate destination.

The Phillies had made the decision to pitch to Derek Jeter even though first and second base were unoccupied. The great Doc Halladay was on the mound and Jeter had been overmatched all night.

The noise of the crowd alerted Halladay to what was happening. It startled him to see the streaking figure in his periphery. He flinched, imperceptibly, but it caused the flight of the ball to be altered, slightly higher and a little to the left.

Carlos Ruiz noticed Gardner's movements at virtually the same instant as his pitcher. He sprung out his catcher's crouch, but maybe a little too violently. He found himself a few inches too far in front of the plate he was trying to protect. It left Gardner a tiny window of opportunity.

Jeter had seen almost everything imaginable in 16 major league seasons. This was the unimaginable. As he watched runner and ball on a collision course, as he felt the force of the catcher move from behind to in front of him, as he heard the roars and saw the images, he became as much a witness as a participant.

How could the human eye not be deceived by the events unfolding? The overwhelming speed of runner, catcher and ball all joining forces in that smallest of spaces, for just a whisper of time. The collision of these random particles had to be quicker than the eye could see or the mind could comprehend.

As Gardner's left hand seemed to strain beyond its limits, as the ball lodged in the glove of Ruiz, as Jeter fell backward, the umpire tried to freeze time.

When the umpire began to raise both hands, the Yankee dugout erupted in shouts, hugs and laughter. These were not men being paid millions of dollars to perform a task, but children enjoying the purity of the moment.

There have been many yesterdays and there will be many tomorrows in baseball lore. There will forever only be one last night.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Re - Frank Rich- "The Very Useful Idiocy of Christine O'Donnell"

In bad times, the Republicans have cornered the market on feeling badly. Democrats, the party who have demonstrated true concerns for the poor, for the elderly, for the sick, for the homeless, are relentlessly portrayed as aloof and out of touch.

'Empathy is the capacity to, through consciousness rather than physically, share the sadness or happiness of another sentient being' (Wikipedia). It is the emotion around which this political uproar revolves.

The sad truth is that the Republicans seek to capture the hearts, not the minds of their supporters. They don't want to present facts and figures because that might stimulate the brain to analyze and that is the last thing they need. The dumbing down of America is their game plan. Who better to hand the task to than political charlatans who won't debate, who can't control their anger, or their finances, or their personal lives? The non-thinkers to send out the non-message to the non-thinking.

All the O'Donnell, Angle, Brewer, Palladino anger and unhappiness clones of Palin need to do is stay away from anything political. The Democrats have no answers for the party of no answers. This is a harsh reality that those who think just can't comprehend.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Political Animals

Do you find, as I do, that elephants are too often



and hiss

If so, don't you wish that one day they could stop (start) being jackasses?