Sunday, May 19, 2019

Cousin Bob

I'll make this brief. I have a cousin Bob, half a decade younger than me. We've met as adults only once or twice, but are Facebook friends and I've kept up with him through his blog. Bob is what people who are more cynical than I am would call "drunk on religion." That is to say, far more than I, he anticipates an afterlife and considers this life a kind of prologue to it.

We have some serious differences of opinion, but I greatly like and admire him. In fact, his life reminds me of the parson in "The Canterbury Tales." You might recall that Geoffrey Chaucer was quite hostile to most of the clergy he depicted in his great poem, all those pompous people who made a good thing from religion and had the trappings to show it. The parson, however, after a lifetime of ministering to his little congregation, was left in his elder years with hardly any material possessions, and was hard pressed to keep body and soul together. What he did have was the respect and admiration of his parishioners.

Here's a little more about the parson from the Wikipedia article about him.

The Parson is considered by some to be the only good member of the clergy in The Canterbury Tales, while others have detected ambiguities and possible hints of Lollardy in the portrait.[4] Chaucer, in the General Prologue calls him a povre Persoun of a Toun. His depiction of a man who practices what he preaches seems to be positive:
He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.
And thogh he hooly were and vertuous,
He was to synful men nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
But in his techyng discreet and benynge.
(Gen Prologue, lines 514–18)
if also rather forbidding; for instance, Chaucer's parson is no respecter of persons in demanding ultimate adherence to moral principles:
But it were any person obstinat,
What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,
Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
(Ibid, lines 521–3)
None of the explicit criticism of clergy that marks many of the other tales and character sketches is obvious here. The Parson is throughout depicted as a sensible and intelligent person. Chaucer elsewhere is not uncritical of the clergy; for example, he describes flatterers – those who continuously sing placebo – as "develes chapelleyns".

That's about it. Take it as a compliment, Bob. That's how it's meant. Just don't go snybben people.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Health Concerns of Older Americans

The Health Concerns of Older Americans
After a hiatus of four years, caused by an inability to think of anything I had to say that would be worth anyone's time to read it, I've decided that yes, there are still a few topics waiting to be explored.
Today I give a little personal revelation and urge my older friends to take care of themselves.

Back in January, I began experiencing a lot of pain in my legs. Especially after being seated for a time, or when first getting up in the morning, it was very difficult. Consequently, I became a kind of couch potato, which in turn meant I was not burning off many calories, which in turn meant I was doing a lot of reading, and watching a lot of television. Who can sit for long periods of time without something to nosh on? Certainly not me, so all that sedentary time caused a weight gain. Ugh! Pants are tighter, belly is rounder, and I feel tired much of the time.

My personal care physician thought at first I might have a bulging disc in my back and put me on a short-time prescription of Prednisone, along with OTC Aleve. There was some pain relief, but the steroid caused moodiness as well as even greater appetite and weight gain. A second visit made him think it might be a fibromyalgia rheumatica, whatever that might be. He recommended anti-inflammatories, which also didn't help much. The third appointment had him sending me for an MRI and a meeting with a spinal specialist. After consultation and review of the MRI pictures he recommended an epidural shot of cortisone into the difficult disc, and physical therapy.

Yesterday I had the shot. It was no big deal, despite the appointment secretary asking me if I wanted to be sedated for it, which threw me into a bit of a tizzy. And now for the good news. This morning I seem to be pain free! Hurrah for modern medicine!

Now, I'm telling you all this, because you might be in a similar situation. And if you're in a situation like that, there's only one thing you can do. (Thank you, Arlo Guthrie, for the quote.)  For heaven's sake, see your doctor. You don't have to spend the latter years of life in pain and enforced social isolation. Be well and be happy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Suggestions for my Congressman Concerning the Tax Code

It's tax time! I hope everyone's sending out their tax cards and humming a tax carol as they go about their business. For the first time in I don't know how many years it looks as though Kris and I will get a refund this year. Part of that comes from my having turned sixty-five, allowing me to  bump up our standard deduction from $12400 to $13600. Whoopie. Another of the benefits almost without number we Americans get as we become living fossils.

My conservative friends preach tax cuts as a panacea for all that ails the American economy, but all their tax slashing proposals seem to be heavily weighted towards wealthy people, on the dubious (at best) theory that they will take those tax savings and invest them in new enterprises, thus creating employment for the working class. Empirical evidence suggests this does not happen nearly as much as proponents of these cuts believe.

I'm not against tax cuts, especially if they reduce my own personal tax bill. Since I prefer the concept of trickle up economics, here are a couple of ideas for tax reforms that would help people of modest means.

Social Security payments to older persons, or people whose spouses have died and who are raising children by themselves, are taxable except for those who are truly impoverished. Making those payouts non-taxable would put extra money into the hands of the people who are most likely to spend it, thereby relieving them of economic stress and stimulating the economy.

As mentioned, I as a certified oldster can now claim another $1200 exemption for my wrinkled skin and toothless grin. (Believe me, the toothless thing is real. I just cracked a tooth last night and am afraid the dentist will want to pull it when I see him, as see him I must.) Increasing the amount of that exemption bump would be beneficial for me and millions of others like me.

Those are changes in the tax code that would be applicable mostly to elderly Americans, but this next one would work to the advantage of younger people. Prior to 1982, people who itemized their deductions could write off interest paid on loans other than mortgages. In other words, if a person had to get a car loan, or was paying off credit card debt, the interest would be deductible. Young people who are healthy and who have just bought a house find it makes more sense to take the standard deduction than itemize, even though they are struggling to make those house payments. Medical expenses can only be deducted to the extent they total more than 7.5% of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income, seldom the case for those who are moderately healthy. So, if interest on auto loans or other indebtedness was restored to the tax code, many more people would be able to itemize and get a larger refund.

(That medical deduction thingee could also be liberalized.)

So, Congressman Lamborn, are you listening? I bet you're not.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Merry Christmas

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Getting Ready for Christmas

At our house, I try not to think much about Christmas until after my wife's birthday on December 10. It seems wrong to me to submerge any December birthday in the annual culture blitz accompanying the biggest holiday of the year.

But today it's the 14th. We're back from a wonderful week visiting Arizona, full of the desert and pine forests, and I'm listening to the Downton Abbey Christmas album as I write this. We wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

I've already begun my usual round of Christmas rituals, dredging out many Christmas movies for their annual showings - from good George Bailey to little Ralphie, who only wants a bb gun for Christmas - and reading again Dickens' great Christmas ghost story. By Christmas eve I plan to be sated with carols and emotional overload. I might even look at "Christmas in Connecticut" once more, though to be honest, it's really a bad chauvinistic movie.

When I was a child, Christmas was a kind of silent war of wills between my parents. My father, though he felt the phrase "Keep Christ in Christmas" was banal, heavily emphasized the religious aspect of the day, the church organist at numerous Christmas Masses, and was a little contemptuous of the secular commercialism - Frosty, Rudolph and the rest. Mom, on the other hand, believed Christmas is a children's festival. Why not have Santa, lots of presents, and all the other foolishness of the holiday season? And so they battled behind closed doors over how much to spend on Christmas and on what. Mind you, Dad wasn't stingy. He was quite willing to spend money on us for things like musical instruments or educational toys. I remember a chemistry set as a Christmas present, and my brother who loved meteorology, never wanted for thermometers or other weather instruments.

Timing was also a kind of issue for them. I recall Dad saying that when he was a boy no one mentioned Christmas or a Christmas tree until Christmas eve. Then, one by one, the siblings would arrive home with bundles which they hustled out of sight to wrap and place under the tree that would be erected and decorated that night. I'm sure he thought that was the proper way to do things.

My mother's childhood was badly constrained by poverty, so I'm inclined to think she was compensating for her deprived early years by providing her children with the kind of opulent Christmas she never had. Accuse her of trying to buy our love if you want, I prefer to believe she had a warm heart and loved us all dearly. Usually she won out and he accepted the whole commercial holiday festival with more or less good grace.

My point here, and I do have one, is that we differ from one another in how we keep Christmas, or whether to keep it at all, and it behooves us to bend a little when we have differing opinions and enjoy the happiness of others, however they find it.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Governor Rick Scott

With the elections just a few days away, I think it's important to repeat this old blog entry concerning Rick Scott, governor of Florida and strident opponent of Obamcare.

This is a quote from the Wikipedia article on Rick Scott.

On March 19, 1997, investigators from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services served search warrants at Columbia/HCA facilities in El Paso and on dozens of doctors with suspected ties to the company.[20]

Following the raids, the Columbia/HCA board of directors forced Scott to resign as Chairman and CEO.[21] He was paid $9.88 million in a settlement. He also left owning 10 million shares of stock worth over $350 million.[22][23][24]

In 1999, Columbia/HCA changed its name back to HCA, Inc.

In settlements reached in 2000 and 2002, Columbia/HCA plead guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to a $600+ million fine in the largest fraud settlement in US history. Columbia/HCA admitted systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about use of hospital space. They also admitted fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs by inflating the seriousness of diagnoses and to giving doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. They filed false cost reports, fraudulently billing Medicare for home health care workers, and paid kickbacks in the sale of home health agencies and to doctors to refer patients. In addition, they gave doctors "loans" never intending to be repaid, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.[4][5][6][7][8]

In late 2002, HCA agreed to pay the U.S. government $631 million, plus interest, and pay $17.5 million to state Medicaid agencies, in addition to $250 million paid up to that point to resolve outstanding Medicare expense claims.[25] In all, civil law suits cost HCA more than $2 billion to settle, by far the largest fraud settlement in US history.[26]

How did this guy manage to stay out of jail, much less become governor of Florida?

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Letter to the Editor

Congressman Doug Lamborn, Republican from the Fifth District in Colorado, where I live, wrote an opinion piece for the local newspaper last week, that just begged for a rejoinder, so I wrote one. It was printed in Sunday's paper, and here it is.

Congressman Doug Lamborn writes in the Thursday paper that the Obama administration is thwarting petroleum development on public lands leading to gas prices twice as high as when the president took office. This is simply intellectually dishonest. Gas prices were unusually low in January 2009 because of the general economic decline. I bet we all can remember $4.00 a gallon gas during the Bush years.

Mr. Lamborn then plumps for the Keystone pipeline as a supposed cure for these energy woes. The Congressman claims tens of thousands of American jobs would result and millions of barrels of oil would be refined in the United States. This too is disingenuous. The pipeline would be a big construction project, some of it across private land condemned by local governments, with big profits for the contractors and the handful of speculators who are invested in the Canadian oil fields. The oil would be refined in Texas for transshipment to the Orient. Aside from some temporary jobs – not tens of thousands or anything close to it – there would be no benefit for working Americans and a terrible risk of contaminating oil spills.

Lamborn goes so far as to impugn the motives of pipeline opponents, saying they are acting from outright malice. What malice is there in trying to protect our aquifers and watersheds? If Mr. Lamborn feels free to malign the Obama administration for caring more about environmentalist donors than working Americans, it seems reasonable to return the rough comment by accusing pipeline proponents of being in the pockets of big oil and big contractors.

We will go to the polls this November. We will have a choice to make between those like Mr. Lamborn who cling to the dirty energy economy and those who look to the future and who want to protect our public lands.