Monday, September 28, 2009

Mercy flight from Texas to Minnesota

We will be staying in Minneapolis this winter. The 89-year-old matriarch of our little troupe has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, although Virginia loves to travel, there’s no point in putting her through the rigors of the long road trip back to Texas. Plus, she adores the medical personnel working at her clinic up here.

Word is out that this will be my first real winter – ever. The lady who lives next door to us seemed to take too much delight in reading out loud from the Farmer’s Almanac. Bitter cold is forecast this winter in Minneapolis, she chuckled over the fence. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Has anybody seen my L. L. Bean catalog?

Now that my sister ratted me out, I’m nearly famous in Llano County, Texas. She was getting ready to fly up for a visit and offered airlift a sack full of pork chops from Cooper’s BBQ in Llano. Sis emailed wondering if she would have enough suitcase capacity to bring the goodies on-board. My advice: when faced with a decision involving clothes or BBQ, fly naked. There, that will make a nice plaque for the wall.

The winner of the George Phenix look-alike contest is: Brett Favre.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health care reform needs heroes

As promised, Sen. Harry Reid’s key policy and legislative staffers held a conference call this morning with some elderbloggers who are mighty interested in the Health Reform bill about to come up in the U.S. Senate.

Several thoughts:
  • We’re going to get a health bill. It will not be everything we want.
  • Public option is on life support.
  • Democrats still think it will be a bi-partisan bill.
I was impressed that the Majority Leader’s outreach extended to our gaggle of geezers. Each of us supports health care reform, so it was a little like choir practice.

And I wish I had better news.

While I remain a staunch supporter of President Obama, I fault him and his staff for not getting in front of the nasty politics all summer. Town hall spittle, loaded guns and tea-baggers beat a constant drum with few answers from the Democrats.

And we, the people, just don’t have enough juice to provide an antidote for the campaign money being spent by drug company and health insurance lobbyists.

The Democrats will lose seats in the mid-term elections. Freshmen from marginal districts, mostly. It’s part of the American election tradition. Nothing is going to change that. Now’s the time to demonstrate a little courage like your Democratic ancestors did when they passed Social Security. And Civil Rights. And Medicare.

Show some political backbone. Give us meaningful health care reform. Heroes welcome.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What bugs you about the health care reform bill in the U.S. Senate?

Listen up.

If you have a question about health care reform nagging at you, please let me know today.

Tomorrow, I get to play in the big leagues again (albeit briefly). U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s office is conducting a telephone round table with a handful of elderbloggers. The ball started rolling when his staff talked with Ronni Bennett, who writes the Time Goes By blog. She included me on the list of friendly cranks who would like to know more about the current bill to share with our readers.

Check out the bill (writ easy) with a click here.

So, tell me what’s bugging you about the health care reform bill in the Senate and I’ll try to get a word in edgewise during the conference call tomorrow morning.

Hurry. This might be the best shot we get.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

There is a connection somewhere

You’re exempt from the Sen. Baucus' health care reform bill if you are a member or a descendant of any of the 560 American Indian tribes recognized by the federal government. Native Americans have their own health care program, the Indian Health System. The U.S. health care system spends about $6,000 per American, IHS spends only $2,100. American Indians are less healthy on the whole than other Americans. And IHS, whose money sometimes dries up midyear, is chronically underfunded. Hence the oft-quoted aphorism, "Don't get sick after June."

The befuddled tramps in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot never get any closer to anywhere. But new research suggests the act of watching them actually does get us somewhere. Absurdist literature, it appears, stimulates our brains. After reading this, do you feel better?

Consider the germ. The single-cell bacterium is more complicated than you might thing. Highly social, the critter speaks two languages, can discern self from nonself and friend from foe, thrives in the company of others, spies on neighbors and commits fratricide. There’s more.

The samara is the winged fruit of certain trees, such as the maple. You've seen them wafting about, looking for sex. I have no idea if this is how the Good Samaritan got his name. So what?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Overalls, coveralls, or blue jeans?

Other than a boat, what’s the next best thing you need in your home when the river floods to your roof line? If you said “ax” you would be wrong and near death. Think smaller. Think hatchet. In most attics, there’s not enough room to swing an ax. Ask any Cajun who survived Katrina.

The military has a new-and-improved camouflage tape. But don’t call it duct tape (or even duck tape). Grunts call it 100-mile-an-hour tape, presumably because it can stay stuck even when the wind howls in at 100 m.p.h. Surely not because they drive that fast.

One definition of claque is – people paid to applaud at a show. When I worked in politics, one of my jobs was to write the speech and then sit on the front row when the boss spoke so I could lead the standing ovation. Hack rhymes with claque.

Levi Strauss is legendary. But it was his partner, Jacob Davis, who was the first to combine denim and copper rivets to solve a work-wear problem. They called ‘em waist overalls from 1873 up until the 1950s when my generation adopted the name jeans. Tight-fitting bluejeans and ’57 Chevrolets. Ahhh. Today’s Velcro and the four-door Saturn -- not as much challenge.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Showering with friend(s)

After reading this, you’ll never worry about being alone again. With each breath at the office, you inhale 10,000 bacteria. With each glass of water, you drink 10 million bacteria. Subway tunnel air is cleaner than the mist from your morning shower. That shower mist, by the way, is loaded with bacteria. Plastic shower heads incubate more germs than metal. Stop it.

That cute little piece of tail that the gecko can drop when threatened has two purposes: to divert the attacker’s attention and to help the lizard run faster. Works the same way with big people, don’t you think?

Bad news for teenagers, body builders and women who are preggers: Cocoa butter does not reduce stretch marks. It just makes you slide better.

Chicago: home of the first skyscraper (1885); the first comprehensive mail-order business (Montgomery Ward, 1872); the first Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit gum, zipper and Ferris wheels (all from the 1893 World’s Fair). Now home for the First Family.

Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.

Note to that crazy Glenn Beck on Fox News: stop spreading lies and scare tactics or I just may have to whip your butt.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday pick-me-ups

Ullage” is the saddest word in the English language. It’s the unfilled space in a new bottle of wine.

Claim is there’s a new pizza that is probiotic. That’s right, healthy pizza rather than a “donut with tomato sauce” says one of the founders of Naked Pizza, a Louisiana company which is expanding into Texas. The secret is in the crust (isn’t it always?) made of 12 whole grains, low-fat skim mozzarella and a tomato sauce with no weird chemicals. A handful of reviews on Yelp mention “tastes good.”

Six of the top medical journals published a lot of articles that were written by ghostwriters on drug company payrolls. Shocked. I’m shocked.

We need to make cars that run on milkweed. That’s the only fuel the Monarch butterflies use on their 2,000 mile migration from Minnesota to Mexico. Varoom.

In Siberia, mosquitoes are so bad that some native tribes carry their own personal smoke pots everywhere. Some native people retreat into smoke-filled huts and go near-dormant for the summer months.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Three little words about health care reform

President Obama had me at “health care reform.”

To my head and heart, his speech to Congress was pitch perfect. Historic. Good policy, good politics.

Of course, I’m easy. But I can explain in three little words:

Word #1. Pre-existing condition. Under his program, it would be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition. How could anyone oppose that?

Word #2. Crossing state lines. It makes no sense, for example, for Texas insurance policies to suddenly lapse when you cross the Red River if Oklahoma and Arkansas don't happen to license your carrier. I want to be able to run hard/play hard in Mena, Broken Bow and Tishamingo.

Word #3. Forty-six million uninsured American men, women and children would now be covered. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the U.S. with 24.9% running scared and bare.

Of course, there are many other reasons why we should support our president in this quest (obscene profits at insurance companies, obscene bonus payments to insurance moguls, obscene insurance industry lobby money spent in D.C.).

The president got an unexpected “gift” from the knuckle-dragging congressman from South Carolina who gave Obama a shout-out during the speech. I appreciate the way Obama is taking the high road regarding this insult but we all were shocked at the lack of respect. The incident underscores my earlier advice: forget the Republicans. They aren’t going to vote for health care reform. Any hint of GOP support is a feint to buy time.

Make no mistake, Mr. President, the majority of white Southerners will always hate your guts as long as you remain half black. That’s the sad truth. And it explains a lot of the rancor: the birthers, tea parties, gun and rifles at political meetings, the manufactured furor over your speech to students and the flood of lies about the health bill like death panels and immigrants. By now, you must know they are going to attack any and everything you do or say.

Your health care address to Congress had steel in it. Thank you. I hope your speech put some backbone in the Democratic majority.

I think it will.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flora, Fauna and Tomfoolery

Did the first dogs spring from wolves? Did our ancestors domesticate the noble hound as a hunting companion? A night watchman? Or for warmth when the cave got so cold? Well (cue the sinister music) coulda been dogs were first penned up for their meat. That awful thought comes from a new study of dogs worldwide. Full disclosure: we own a wiener dog.

Most birds like to sing while perched. But some can sing while flying. Birders think the flight songs were developed to warn of predators. Some of have learned the hard way that birds can do other things while flying. Don’t look up.

That guy Goethe (who wrote Faust) also studied plants. “From first to last,” he once wrote, “the plant is nothing but a leaf.” Maybe so. But is there no difference between a paw paw tree and a rose bush?

Grave robbers who stole jewels from the dead in the Middle Ages didn’t get sick. Could be because they washed their hands after every job in a concoction of cinnamon bark, lemon oil and eucalyptus. Thieves oil, they called it. Some sawbones swear by it still.

If you want to know more about any of these items, click on Science Times in Tuesday's New York Times. I couldn’t blog without it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Rent movies from a vending machine? C’mon. The first attempt in 1982, called Video Droid, failed. But it’s working now at Redbox, where you can rent movies for a buck. That sound you hear Friday night is 80 transactions every second. Ka-ching.

Take a confederate to lunch. Not that kind – a friend. If your lunch pal is fat, you’ll eat more. If your friend is skinny, you'll eat less. I don’t know how it works if you take a yankee.

Cirque du Soleil. Can’t pronounce it. Can’t spell it. But dearly love to watch its beauty unfold. The “circus of the sun” began outside Quebec in 1984 with 20 street performers. No lions, nor elephants, nor animals of any kind other than human. Twenty-five years later, the group employs 4,000 people and launches nearly 20 productions in 40 countries throughout the world. But this is what you will remember – they throw wild staff parties.

A new study shows that dogs and young human babies both make the same classic error in [Piaget's] famous psychology experiment -- while wolves raised by people do not. The dogs, not as swift as (but perhaps more respectful than) the wolves, are brighter and more discriminating than the babies. Of course, the babies were not respectful either.

There are at least 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood. The European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, but in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf. In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy. Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, researchers have found that the variants shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years. Don't get me started about Cinderella. There are 300 versions of her story.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The book on health care reform

We are not alone. This epic struggle about health care reform has been going on for a long time. Seventy-five years -- that's how long. Here’s a book written in fairly plain English that puts the fight into perspective. This review is from the Sunday NY Times Book Review section.

Currently, non-fiction.


Published: September 1, 2009

This timely and insightful book puts Barack Obama’s current quest for universal health insurance in historical context and gives new meaning to the audacity of hope. Universal health care has bedeviled, eluded or defeated every president for the last 75 years. Franklin Roosevelt left it out of Social Security because he was afraid it would be too complicated and attract fierce resistance. Harry Truman fought like hell for it but ultimately lost. Dwight Eisenhower reshaped the public debate over it. John Kennedy was passionate about it. Lyndon Johnson scored the first and last major victory on the road toward achieving it. Richard Nixon devised the essential elements of all future designs for it. Jimmy Carter tried in vain to re-engineer it. The first George Bush toyed with it. Bill Clinton lost it and then never mentioned it again. George W. expanded it significantly, but only for retirees.

David Blumenthal, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an adviser to Barack Obama, and James A. Morone, a professor of political science at Brown University, skillfully show how the ideal of universal care has revolved around two poles. In the 1930s, liberals imagined a universal right to health care tied to compulsory insurance, like Social Security. Johnson based Medicare on this idea, and it survives today as the “single-payer model” of universal health care, or “Medicare for all.”

The alternative proposal, starting with Eisenhower, was to create a market for health care based on private insurers and employers; he locked in the tax break for employee health benefits. Nixon came up with notions of prepaid, competing H.M.O.’s and urged a requirement that employers cover their employees. Everything since has been a variation on one or both of these competing visions. The plan now emerging from the White House and the Democratic Congress combines an aspect of the first (the public health care option) with several of the second (competing plans and an employer requirement to “pay or play”).

Want to know more? Click here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Straw men can't think

We’re in trouble. Dangerous trouble.

When the President of the United States can’t speak to the school children of America without setting off a firestorm fueled by right wing make-believe, we’re in trouble.

This thing about the school children welled up within hours. Thanks to the Internet and pre-existing organization, the alarm spread through the right wing at warp speed. Near instantaneous.

Our country is very close to being run by the politics of fear. That's dangerous.

How did we get here?

Walt Disney -- firefighter

For years, Walt Disney kept a secret apartment above the Main Street fire station at Disneyland. Every morning before the crowds arrived, he would drive the fire truck around the grounds. That’s every little boy’s dream.

While we’re on the subject, investigators look for “V” patterns of soot on walls as markers of arson. The pattern is created when heat and smoke radiate outward. The use of liquid accelerants is easy to spot, too. Specialists who know how to read and interpret say house fires tend to burn in puddle configurations. More than I want to know.

E-stuff isn’t necessarily green. According to a report by the Climate Group, a London think-tank, computers, printers, mobile phones and the widgets that accompany them account for the emission of 830m tons of carbon dioxide around the world in 2007. That is about the same as the aviation industry’s contribution. According to the report, about a quarter of the emissions in question are generated by the manufacture of computers. The rest come from just using them. Log off tonight.

A blog is a hungry beast. According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned out there in the ether. Now you know where e-stuff goes to die.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Insurance greed -- a pre-existing condition

Do you really want to know the story behind the insurance industry’s opposition to health care reform? And the way they sabotage the debate? Can you handle the truth?

Then read Wendell Potter’s blog. He writes short pieces. Dink around over several posts. This man spent 20 years in the insurance industry skunk works. He used snark and aww to beat down health care reform in the past. Plus, he understands and writes about Wall Street's self-serving role.

This fight is all about the money. Big money. It's a pre-existing condition. Leave your ethics in the bottom drawer of the chiffarobe.

Red herrings, straw men, scare tactics, lies, packed meetings – he did it all.

And now he’s trying to atone.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Keillor calls for public pet option

You know, maybe we've been taking the wrong approach to health care reform. Maybe we should be thinking outside the box. This is a direct lift from Salon:

Americans spend upward of $10 billion a year on health care for pets, Garrison Keillor says, and nobody thinks twice about it. Moreover, conversations about pet health bring out the kind of empathy that has been entirely absent from the national discussion about health care. There are 48 million uninsured Americans, Keillor says, but they don't quite pull at the heartstrings the way pets do. So, "perhaps there should be a public pet option." A public pet option would generate the sympathy that's been missing from the debate, and it would be impossible for Republicans to fight. "It's one thing to oppose big government taking over from those little mom-and-pop insurance companies, but do you favor throwing Mr. Mittens out the car window when he gets old and feeble and needs an IV because he can't chew his kibble?" Animals bring out the best in people, Keillor concludes. Uninsured people don't.
Read original story in Salon, Wednesday 2, 2009.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Universal Health Care -- Un-American?

Some people can just say it better than others.

The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

Here’s more.

Why Is Universal Health Care ‘Un-American’?

by the Rev. Jim Rigby

Last week supporters of health-care reform gathered around the country, including in Austin, TX, where 2,000 people crowded into a downtown church to hear speakers talk about different aspects of the issue. Asked to speak about the ethical dimensions of health care, I tried to go beyond short-term political strategizing and ask more basic questions. This is an edited version of what I said.

Is anyone else here having trouble with the fact that we are even having this conversation? Is anyone else having trouble believing this topic is really controversial? I have been asked to talk about the ethical dimension of health care. Here’s one way to frame such a discussion:

If an infant is born to poor parents, would we be more ethical to give medicine to that child so he or she does not die prematurely of preventable diseases, or would we be more ethical if we let the child die screaming in his or her parent’s arms so we can keep more of our money?

Or, let’s say someone who worked for Enron, and now is penniless, contracted bone cancer. I’ve been asked to discuss whether we are more ethical if we provide such people medicine that lessens their pain. Or would we be more ethical to let them scream through the night in unbearable agony so we can pay lower taxes?”

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it. But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Some of the other speakers today have been asked to address what is possible in the current political climate. I have been asked to speak of our dreams. Let me ask a question. How many of you get really excited about tweaking the insurance system so we just get robbed a little less? (silence) How many of you want universal health care? (sustained applause) I realize that insurance reform is all that’s on the table right now, and it can be important to choose the lesser of evils when that alone is within our power in the moment. But we also need to remember our dream. I believe the American dream is not about material success, not about being having the strongest military. The American dream is that every person might have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s amazing to hear Christians who talk about the right to life as though it ends at birth. They believe every egg has a right to hatch, but as soon as you’re born, it’s dog eat dog. We may disagree on when life begins, but if the right to life means anything it means that every person (anyone who has finished the gestation period) has a right to life. And if there is a right to life there must be a right to the necessities of life. Like health care.

I believe the American dream was not about property rights, but human rights. Consider the words of this national hymn:

“O beautiful for patriot’s dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”

Doesn’t that sound like someone cared about the poor? There are those who consider paying taxes an affront, but listen to these words:

“O Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.”

“Mercy more than life” -- have you ever noticed those words before? Supporting universal health care does not make you socialist or even a liberal, it makes you a human being. And it makes you an ambassador for the American dream which, in the mind of Thomas Paine, was a dream for every human being, not just Americans. As we struggle to get health care to all people, we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils, but remember your dream -- the true American dream, a human dream. Whatever we win through reform is just first step toward a day when every human being has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin. He can be reached at

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