Read It All!

An old friend, really old friend, sent me the list of the 2017 Darwin Awards. Made me think about when I taught high school about a hundred years ago. At the beginning of each year I handed out copies of a 1-page list of instructions to see just how many of my daily 140 or so math and Russian language students would read the entire page.

The first instruction was: “Read the entire page before you begin.”

The second instruction: “Write your name on the blank space above the line in the upper right-hand corner of this paper.”  Most of them got that right, but there was almost always one Darwin Award candidate in each class who wrote: “Your Name.”  Most of the them tried to convince me they did that on purpose; as a joke.  I only believed some of them……

The third instruction: “Read all of these instructions before you do anything else.”

The last instruction, number 20: “Disregard all of the above instructions except for instructions 1-3.”

Instructions 4-19: a collection of unexpected and somewhat silly things such as: “Stand up, turn around, and sit back down at your desk.” “Shake hands with the person on your right.” “Stand, walk around your desk, and sit back down at your desk.” “Raise both hands and wiggle your fingers for 5 seconds.”

You get the idea.

In every class, every year, about half the kids read to the end and sat watching the other half of their classmates do all the silly things in 4-19. Everybody got a good laugh out of it, although the kids who were standing up, wiggling their fingers, etc., laughed a bit nervously, not sure of what was going on. Within a few minutes everyone had caught on.

After a few words imploring them to make sure they read all that was to be read, we moved on.

To my eternal gratitude, many of “my kids” later told me that was one of the most valuable lessons they ever learned: namely, when someone puts something to read in front of you, read it all. Read everything carefully and thoroughly before taking any action.

I was convinced that high school teachers should toss in a life lesson now and then.....

Need a Little Help – Again

From the Raleigh News & Observer, November 15, 2017: eliminating the mandate in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare, ACA) for obtaining health insurance will save the Federal Government $300 billion.

If the taxpayer must pay a penalty for being uninsured, isn’t that payment revenue? If that revenue is eliminated, how does that save $300 billion?

I did a cost comparison on the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) website for a family of four (husband and wife both 45; children 10 and 14) living in Wake Forest, NC, with no health insurance from their jobs and annual income of $50K. No health insurance: penalty estimate, $2,045/year. Health insurance premium estimate: $17,534/year.

And the explanation on the KFF site indicated that the family’s cost might wind up at $0 with the standard deduction. I’m no accountant, but I do know that you can’t get insurance companies to charge you $0.  Wouldn’t that family would have to fork over $1,461 a month?  And when and how do they wind up at $0?

If I’m wrong thinking this is yet another form of voodoo economics, please set me straight.

The only prize for the correct answers will be my gratitude. Thanks!


The Reluctant Septuagenarian

Slightly more than half-way through my 78th year on Planet Earth, confusion yet reigns. The mirror confirms suspicions, but the brain persists in persuading and encouraging attempts to do all manner of things a septuagenarian should not attempt.

You are done with ladders, says the mirror, not to mention the legs and the sense of balance, and yet….

Eating that will likely steal your sleep, says the mirror, not to mention the liquids that will do the same, and yet….

Watch where you’re going, says the mirror, not to mention slowing down and picking up your feet so as not to trip and fall, and yet….

Get off your rear end and exercise, says the mirror, not to mention get to the health club, do some yoga, or at least take a walk, and yet…..

Why are you keeping all those tools and other equipment that would stock a small hardware store, asks the mirror, and you mutter about projects you probably shouldn’t try any more, selling the stuff, or giving it away, and yet….

Why haven’t you at last given up trying to convince the troglodytes and antediluvian Dumb Donnie supporters about politics, asks the mirror, and you mumble a Sam Rayburn paraphrase about how it takes talent to build something but any jackass can knock something down and keep trying to convince those who would rather convince you otherwise, and yet…..

A few of my pals, fans of the late Andy Rooney of TV’s 60 Minutes, have muttered that lately my writing has begun to resemble some of his stories that finished that venerable Sunday evening news program.

High praise indeed, although I’m not quite convinced it is meant as praise….and yet….

Walk in Another’s Shoes

Pretty sure the first time I heard “Walk in another’s shoes” it was mocassins, not shoes, and the words were attributed to an American Indian. As I recall the quote suggested one person has little or no hope of comprehending what another person must do to get through life without some equivalent life experience.

And so when I come across a particular written exposition of another’s experience, even though the piece comes from a work of fiction, I’m compelled to stop and think that experience through, try to imagine what I might have done, how I might have reacted, had it been me in those shoes.

And don’t stop here because what follows is fiction. After all, French Philosopher Albert Camus observed that; “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Here’s a recent example, from “The Assassin,” by Andrew Britton, pp. 51-52, Kensington Books, 2007.

The character quoted is Rashid al-Umari, son of a wealthy Sunni Iraqi power broker. Here is what he thinks of the war against terrorism in Iraq. Walk in his shoes for a moment:

“It was so typical, Rashid thought bitterly. History always repeated itself; the greatest of empires were also the greediest. After all, what separated the current American government from the British imperialists of the twentieth century? The answer was simple: nothing. In the end, the only real objective was to enrich the invading country, and no matter what the Americans said, their intent was not benevolent. One only had to look at the Western contractors pouring into the region to see that.”

And he walked in those shoes some time around 2005, just 2 years or so after the start of the war in Iraq. And that was 14 years ago…..

Learning About Being Old

There is a great deal of advice out there about the aging process, but I find that I keep making mistakes anyway.

To help avoid those mistakes, I’ve come up with a new (for me anyway) 3-step set of guiding principles I find necessary to repeat any time I am upright and attempting to move from one place to another; i.e., walk. Pretty simple: 1) watch where you’re going, 2) slow down, and 3) watch where you’re going.

To illustrate the importance of chanting this 3-step mantra, consider the fact that I have injured myself by falling to the ground (or concrete) 4 times in the last 12 months, 3 of those 4 in the last 4 months. To be precise, and to salve my injured pride, I just fall down because my legs didn’t work. Honest – I tripped on things that made me fall.

Fall #1: tripped in the garage on a box of books to be donated. Result: 3 stitches above left eyebrow and an eye that looked like I’d gone 20 seconds with Floyd Mayweather. Failure to watch where I was going. (Told by older son it was my fault for attempting to give away books.)

Fall #2: tripped over an air intake pipe for one of those bouncy things at kids’ parties while pretending to be about 72 years younger. Result: x-ray of right shoulder and 6 physical therapy sessions. Moving too fast and failure to watch where I was going.

Fall #3: tripped because my sandal got caught under the screen door on my way out of the side entrance to the garage. Result: dislocated fingers and 21 stitches in my right hand (pretty sure I tried to break my fall by grabbing the corner of the small concrete pad just outside the garage door, but not certain). Moving too fast.

Fall #4: (notice the irony) tripped over one of those concrete things that keep you from driving your car too far in a parking space, after parking in a handicapped spot while attempting to exit the parking lot and enter the local health club. Result: big-time injured pride, cuts and bruises, reinjured right hand fingers, and didn’t make it to yoga. Moving too fast and failure to watch where I was going.

Trips and falls #1-3 required professional medical attention; so far we’re relying on first aid the #4.

Things seem to be improving, but again it’s the learning about being old that kicks in. Wasn’t too long ago these sorts of minor things would be shaken off with some Ben-Gay and exercise. Now it’s 4-6 weeks.

What got me going on all this: a) the most unwelcome movies of these events apparently trapped forever in the theater of my mind, and b) the set of bills for #3, which required a visit to the emergency room.

First the movies. Can’t seem to stop playing them. Which in a way is good because it remings to watch where I’m going, slow down, and watch where I’m going.

Finally, the bills. The emergency room bill for trip and fall #3 came to $10,713.00. No kidding. The bill includes (I’ve rounded the charges to the nearest $1) 2 hand x-rays ($800), CT scans of the head and spine ($5,400), a standard emergency “Level IV” visit ($3,100), treat finger dislocation ($678), 2 pain killer tablets ($11), and a few other charges but my fingers have started hurting because I’m typing too much.

Near as I can compute, and computing this number from my Medicare Advantage company’s 10 pages of a “user-friendly” report, my plan has approved a payment of $404.72, or $10,308.28 less than the hospital has on its “itemization of services provided.”

I’m sure I haven’t heard the end of this; there will be some co-pays popping up at some point. My plan documents tell me I’ll owe $75 just for thinking about going to the emergency room (just kidding). I’ll get a bill for $75 and some on the itemization list the insurance doesn’t cover, but it can’t possibly add up to $10,308.28.

If it does I’ll see y’all when I offer you a smile and a shopping cart at WalMart. And I’ll be reminding the older folks (and myself) to watch where you’re going and slow down. For the nest 10 years if I live that long…..

Good grief.

(Note: A few readers have asked why I often, nearly always, end my musings with “Good grief.” It’s a favorite expression of the Charlie Brown character in the comic strip “Peanuts,” and that character and his combat with life’s challenges have always reminded me of, well, my own challenges.)

Are You Famous?

When the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) opened in Williamsburg, Virginia, back in the early 70’s, a huge celebration marked the event. President Nixon and Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, in a horse-drawn carriage, led a parade of state appellate judges and administrators from all 50 states as it wound through Colonial Williamsburg to the new NCSC building.

I was one of the administrators in the Michigan delegation. About half way through the parade, I felt a gentle tug on the sleeve of my suitcoat and looked down to see a girl about the age of my younger daughter (maybe 5). She asked me “Are you famous?” and I told her the famous people were up front in the carriage.

Her mother apologized for the interruption, and I told her no apology was necessary. Pointing to the others in our group, I said we were all parents and loved it when the little ones surprised us.

(The National Center for State Courts is a non-profit organization charged with improving judicial administration in the United States and around the world.)