Nobody Asked Me, But…..(again)

“How we deserted common ground,” TIME magazine, 12/11/2017, page 23, author Nancy Gibbs offers discouraging observations about how the partisan split in our country has deeply divided us. A few samples of how the numbers have changed and how much more we are divided:

“The Pew Research Center found that across a range of issues – immigration, reac, security, the environment – the partisan split is now greater than differences in age, race, gender and income. The center has all but vanished….”

“Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight calculated that after the 2016 election that of the nation’s 3,113 counties, not even 1 in 10 was an actual battleground, decided by less than 10% of the vote…..”

“…the blowout counties, decided by more than 50 points, went fro 93 to 1,196….”

It appears we are not simply divided, we are firmly divided.

The next issue of TIME, “The Silence Breakers,” 12/18/2017, pages 30-71, the Person of the Year issue, provides us with examples of courage on the parts of women who are making a stand against sexual harrassment. (Note that the article describes the sexual harrassment of 2 men, but let’s face it – by far, most of the victims are women.)

Wife Karen has way of summarizing things that often make me laugh while at the same time admire the truth of her expressions. When I mentioned that my mother, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, priests – all of them taught me that women were to be respected and cherished, and I wondered out loud why companies and government agencies have to conduct training on sexual harrassment. Her response: we were all taught to respect and cherish women, but that for some people those concepts just floated through the air and never penetrated their skulls.

Oh. Yeah. Right.

I am absolutely certain that all people know that sexual harrassment is wrong. What I can’t understand is how some people can ignore deviant behavior because it happened a long time ago or honestly believe that so many women are lying and/or being paid to come forward.

Finally, on page 92, author Massimo Calabresi provides a wonderful two-sentence summary of the separation of powers in a piece about Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who finished 4th in the Person of the Year selection process at TIME:

“Washington is all about rules. One branch of government writes them, another settles arguments about them, the third enforces them.”

Two sentences every civics teacher might find useful for their students to memorize.

Nobody asked me, but that’s my two cents worth……


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.)