Thursday, January 27, 2011


I lost a $100 bet to my son on Monday, and I was not happy. As I sat at my desk Wednesday morning, preparing an emergent application for the court on behalf of my child, I was $100 poorer and 5 days into a world where my son was without health insurance.

Last Friday afternoon, as we readied for a trip out of town, Richie retrieved the mail. When he returned, I knew I would not be sleeping well over the weekend (not that I sleep so well anyway). In the alternate universe known as the health insurance industry, a computer had generated a letter informing Richie that his insurance coverage had been terminated for non-payment of a premium. As always, in this universe, there is a story behind the story.

Several months ago, this same computer (I am not using it's name for fear of future litigation) had advised my son that he had underpaid his insurance premiums for the first 10 months of 2010. He was being retroactively charged almost $1500 due to the unfortunate oversight on the part of this computer. That, as one can imagine, did not sit well with Richie.

Soon, there was a letter being sent to the computer and to the state agency charged with serving and protecting the innocent from the ravages of the system. Chapter and verse of the numerous mistakes made by the computer were set forth. In relatively short order, the computer generated a response, admitting it had slipped up, and it was sorry. It would send a revised letter, correcting its erroneous attempt to collect these monies. Score 1 for the human, 0 for the computer.

The next communication from the computer was that it had now recalculated and determined that it owed my son almost $850. As a result, there was no premium due by him to the computer for the month of December, 2010. Score 2 for the human, 0 for the computer.

I spent the next few weeks in blissful ignorance, thinking that the computer was now sufficiently chastised and would dare not challenge my son again. I was wrong. In the middle of December the computer woke from its short slumber to announce that my son had failed to pay a premium of approximately $200 for that month, and if payment was not made within 10 days, Richie would join the world of the uninsured.

There was no explanation for what happened to the $850. There was no underlying invoice to explain how this $200 had been arrived at. There was just a computer doing what a computer does. Score 2 for the human and 1 for the computer.

And thus, the next round began. Richie spent extended periods on the phone, with humans trying their best not to explain to him how the computer had come to its conclusion. From one to the next, and then onward, without answer. The most the humans would say was that until they had a chance to speak with the computer and get it resolved, the computer would take no action to terminate Richie's health insurance coverage. This round was a draw.

For almost a month, we waited for the computer to explain itself. It must have been awfully busy, because it didn't seem to have time to provide an answer. And then it did. Last Friday. Score 2 for the human and 2 for the computer.

I have many obsessions. One of the biggest is insurance. I would insure my shoes if they offered coverage. I will buy any kind of protection from calamity. And now, at 4PM on a Friday afternoon, the computer was telling us that Richie had failed to make this $200 payment and was unwanted and cut off. He had in fact, been uninsured since December 27, 2010. It was January 21, 2011.

Through the years, I have tried to allay the concerns of my children in times of stress, by betting them $100 against $1, that certain things would (or would not) occur."If you don't get at least an A- in that class, I will pay you $100". It was meant as my way of telling them that whatever was causing them such consternation would shortly be nothing more than a bad dream. And so, on that Friday, I bet Richie $100 that his insurance coverage would be reinstated by the end of the next business day, Monday.

On Sunday evening, Richie wrote another of his impeccable letters, detailing the wrongs committed upon him, to the computer and to the state agency charged with serving and protecting the innocent from the ravages of the system. It was a tale of broken promises by humans and of a computer that couldn't shoot straight.

Monday morning, Richie and I were on the phone with the state agency charged with serving and protecting the innocent from the ravages of the system. After much blah, blah, blah the human who was most responsible for serving and protecting told us that it would take time for the computer to explain and correct itself. The human would do what she could to expedite, but the computer did what the computer did. Score 2 for the human and 3 for the computer.

And so, at the end of the day on Monday, I handed Richie a $100 bill. Not only had I been proven wrong, but I had to part with money, which is not a comfortable thing for me to do. Worst of all, I felt like I had let my son down.

By Tuesday, Richie and I were trying to determine where to go from here. After discussions with experts in the field, it was decided that the best course of action was to try to obtain other coverage for Richie, in case the computer was never able to determine how it did what it did. And that further attempts to talk to the computer, or to the state agency charged with serving and protecting the innocent from the ravages of the system were going to be pointless. Thus, I began the process of bringing an emergent request to the court to compel the computer to reinstate coverage for Richie.

Yesterday morning, I readied for battle. I dressed up in my ready for battle suit and tie. I put the finishing touches on the documents. I had to prove to Richie that I could protect him and that the $100 bet had not been a mistake by me, but merely that my timing had been slightly off.

I called the person charged with serving and protecting the computer from the attack of the humans. I advised her of the ongoing saga of the past several months and that I was dressed up in my ready for battle suit and tie. She sounded sympathetic to my situation and said she would investigate at once, and have an answer from the computer before the end of the day. It sounded almost too good to be true. A human who could actually speak to a computer.

Sure enough, before the end of business yesterday, I got a call back from the person charged with serving and protecting the computer from the attack of the humans. She announced that the computer had made a mistake and that it was now reinstating coverage for Richie, retroactive to the date of termination. An email arrived shortly thereafter, confirming the reinstatement and stating that the computer had now erased the $200 charge from the system. Score 3 for the humans, 3 for the computer.

And so, as of this morning, Richie is insured. While I slept a little better last night, rest still does not come easy. The computer has not yet decided what premium Richie owes for this year, and the computer is about to send that information to the state agency charged with serving and protecting the innocent from the ravages of the system. I am not betting Richie $100 that the computer is not planning another round of attacks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Show Must Go On


The Show must go on. The annual Shot Show in Las Vegas that is. Is there no more jarring juxtaposition than an article ("Giffords Set for Transfer to Rehabilitation Center") with an accompanying picture of tributes to the congresswoman, above a story ("In an Ocean of Firearms, Tucson Is Far Away") and a photo of an array of weapons waiting for the ready, aim, fire brigade.

The most distressing aspect is that there is not even a pretense that the recent events in Tucson give the gun lovers and lobbyists pause for reflection. The party line is that the fault lies not in our guns but in our mental health care system. Not exactly Shakespearean.

When the best we have to hope for is merely the most limited of conversations on the size of the magazine, not the scope of the arsenal, it is clear that the only lesson learned from this tragedy is that there were few, if any, lessons learned.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Dead of Winter

It is a holiday weekend and the dead of winter is anything but.

The morning had been filled with a sea of colors, moving in a rhythmic synchronization. In their midst, you listen for words of note, and search for faces familiar. You share a goal of reaching the front of this maze so you can climb into the sky for a brief journey. Once airborne, images flash underneath, some in harmony with the environment and others in juxtapose. Flying downhill on a pair of skis can be a most unnatural natural experience.

In the heart of the day, when fatigue, cold and hunger find themselves as temporary companions, locating a seat in the lodge to rest and consider, proves most elusive. Empty chairs are no longer empty once you reach them. You find yourself willing others to chew a little faster and almost levitating them with your mind. You make friends with strangers and ask them, ever so gently, if you might share their space. You are grateful for their kindness.

And then onward you go, finding and losing greatness in every turn. It is there, resting in your fingertips, and then, like a magic trick, it disappears. Failure and success, as partners.There is an energy and a purpose in every action, and in the effort there is the greatest of rewards.

And as always there is the inevitable conclusion, when all that happened becomes history; when the layers that sheltered you from the elements and allowed you to embrace them, are removed; when tales begin to take shape. It is the end but not an ending, only a pause awaiting the chance at repetition.

As this day gathered its ski-flock in the first light , so it will disburse them into the evening There will be an enormous long tailed, many eyed slithering monster wending its way ever slowly out of the rutted parking lot at the mountain's base, and meandering through town before disintegrating into a thousand pieces.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exhibit One

It was the President as preacher. It was a call for all of us, in honor of those wounded or killed in Tucson, to be a better form of ourselves. To treat not only our family and loved ones better, but to end the bitterness that has become a staple of our discourse with those we disagree. And then, right on cue, there is Sarah Palin. Exhibit One, she should be called.

If the words of the President are to have meaning, we must temper our response to one suffering from a terminal case of foot in mouth disease. I cannot and should not rail against her for once again trying to frame the discussion with her as the victim. I cannot and should not find fault that, given the time from Saturday until yesterday to choose her response carefully, she decided on phrasing that is incendiary. I cannot and should not escalate because I find her tone so inappropriate and the message she conveys so wrong.

Exhibit One, in all that she does so badly, can serve to make us better people. Without intention, she can teach by example. Do not unto others as Exhibit One would do unto you. For that, Exhibit One, our nation owes you thanks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ready, Aim, Fire

Paul Krugman ("Climate of Hate") today poses a question that Ross Douthat ("United in Horror") answers. Mr. Krugman asks whether the Arizona massacre will make our discourse less toxic or if those on the right, like Glenn Beck, will merely dismiss it as the act of a deranged individual and "go on as before".

Mr. Douthat, while recoiling at the actions of Mr. Loughner in Arizona states that "violence in American politics tend to bubble up from a world that's far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue" and that mental illness, not overheated rhetoric, pulled the trigger that took down Ms. Giffords and those around her.

Mr. Krugman, if you are looking for " a turning point" and some "real soul searching", you will be sorely disappointed. For, as Mr. Douthat's words would suggest, those on the right believe there is a major disconnect between words and deeds. For them, sticks and stones may break bones, but words (well you know the rest). It is as if the anger they stir up lives in a vacuum. Sure, they say things that may on the surface seem vile and a call to destroy those who the right contend would destroy them and their values. But these are only metaphorical comments intended to stir political thoughts and passions not literal thoughts of murder.

Mr. Douthat, try telling someone in Mr. Loughner's mental condition to interpret the words of Mr. Beck and those like him with care. Tell him, and others like him that this is all just politics and nothing more. Tell Mr. Loughner and others like him, who live on the edge of the precipice, that it is not Gabrielle Giffords and others like her, who are trying to push him over the edge of that precipice. Mr. Douthat, the reality is that the words used by Mr. Beck and others like him helped put the images of death in the mind of Mr. Loughner. There is no great disconnect, Mr. Douthat, and until those on the right stop suggesting that words don't have consequences, acts like those of Mr. Loughner will continue to be more likely to occur.

So, in response to your question Mr. Krugman, I fear that while the horrific events over the weekend will serve to quiet everything down for a short while, in the months to come, we will once more be subject to a continuation of the type of "violent" discourse that we, as a nation, have sadly been subjected to with ever increasing regularity.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Finding Value

It is funny, in a sad way, what my mom's mind latches onto these days. Most of what is related to her lasts in her consciousness for less time than it took me to type this sentence. But, when it comes to matters of distress and concern, that is a different story.

My dad's sister passed away earlier this week. I advised my mom yesterday. Thereafter, the calls to my sister and myself came with unrelenting speed. Should we go visit the children of my aunt? When were we going to the funeral home? We would be going to the cemetery, wouldn't we? Why would trouble be the one thing that remained longer than any other in my mom's thoughts?

The answer, I think, is that my mom wants to feel needed. She wants to be in a situation where she believes her presence will make a positive impact and where she can perform a needed function. That part of her life has disappeared, along with her memory. She has become a person dependent on others and whose days are not measured by what she can do to help, but merely by what others can do to help her.

I recently read of an Alzheimer's patient who was given a baby doll to care for. She protected it as her own, and her restlessness and combativeness subsided. My mom is, in some ways, not so different from that woman.

Later today, we will meet with the family that grieves and my mom will feel important once more. Tomorrow, once the crisis has passed, she may not recall any of the events that have transpired. But I hope the sense of her having done something good and beneficial will remain inside her and give her some comfort.

Dignity and self worth is what my mom, and others like her, try so hard to cling onto. For today at least she will find meaning in her existence.


("Dear Old Golden Rule Days" and Gail Collins likening the first day of Congress to the first day of school)

I have been sleeping pretty well the last couple of weeks. I have been baffled as to why this has occurred, but I believe I have come up with the answer: Congress was in recess.

Just one day back and the kids are already gearing up for more hair pulling, name calling and general mayhem. With a new leader in the House taking a very large gavel in hand and those in his party pledging to begin a vigorous attack on health care reform, we will soon be in the middle of it all again. Over in the Senate, the thought of creating an effective plan to compel debate and decision, instead of continuing the tactic of delay and defer, is rebuffed with disdain and a " be careful what you wish for because someday soon you could be me".

So, I wonder if we couldn't extend the winter break for the little boys and girls who threaten my tranquility. I don't want to be counting votes in my head instead of counting sheep. If we could just keep the children away from one another for let's say all but the lame duck session and let them get everything done in about 6 weeks a year, that should do the trick. It seems like the kids played pretty well together during that time. I would be most grateful, and I think my wife would appreciate my not waking her up as I try to tip toe out of the room in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy's Ending

This morning, a neighbor of mine who I had not seen in sometime, greeted me with a cheery New Year's salutation. This came less than 24 hours after I passed along a similar warm thought to the unsuspecting teller at my bank, who was just finishing processing my first transaction for 2011. Why, I thought, are there not rules that dictate when enough is too much?

It seems like Christmas (excuse me, the holiday season) now begins in late November. Do we begin our merry congratulations right after Thanksgiving or do we wait a respectable period to allow the warmth of the turkey to fade before launching into the next round of holiday hellos?

I have been wishing my mom a happy birthday for several weeks now, even though it is not until January 8 that her 94th year begins. Part of the reason for the repetition lies with the specifics of her condition, but much of it rests in the fact that I perceive that it is somehow best to be the first and the last to give positive salutations regarding a consequential moment.

If I only had definition, it would make life so much simpler. For example, no anniversary wishes more than 2 days before the event (and that includes cards, emails and all non-verbal forms of communication). Or that holidays officially end the day after their 'due date'.

Speaking of due dates, I would suggest that 8 days after the birthing, when the Jewish male typically undergoes a "transformation' should mark the date after which congratulations to the mother and father are out of order.

The task is daunting, but given that there are guidelines for almost everything, it should not be so difficult for someone to come up with the official list of the beginning and end of congratulatory greeting periods.

And so, to my mother, who has 3 more days until her birthday, I would suggest that today is the official 'opening' of the event. For my son, who in 19 days will turn 30, I will make nary a mention of what your mother endured on 1/24/81 until 1/21/11. See how easy it could be if we had a set of rules instead of anarchy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The New 50

Walter Mondale "Resolved: Fix the Filibuster" examines the one rule that more than any other has changed the face of our democracy. Rule 22 was intended to protect the right to effective debate, not to control which matters could be approved by a majority vote of the senate. As we have seen, 60 has become the new 50.

Why not amend Rule 22 to meet it's original intention? Do not allow procedure to dictate policy. Create or enforce rules that mandate that each Senator be given an effective opportunity to be heard, on the merits, of any legislation that comes before the body. But be clear that the argument must be relevant, and must be concise. Once the protections afforded each and every member of this body to wax eloquent have been satisfied, a majority of those in attendance should hold the right and power to cut off debate and "force" a vote on proposed legislation.

There was much discussion in the recent lame duck session of the President being held hostage by the manipulation and abuse of Rule 22. The vote on the extension of the Bush era tax cuts, unnecessarily draining many billions from the Federal coffers in exchange for a loosening of the Republican death hold on Rule 22, provided yet one more compelling reason to end this charade.

Let it not be said that the United States has forever become tethered to rule by the "supermajority". Allow cloture to take it's intended place and hereinafter demand that 50 becomes the new 50.