Friday, September 25, 2009

What It Was Ain't What It Is

Bearsville Store
Originally uploaded by waywuwei
And what it is ain't what it will be. --Old New England Saying

This historical marker, next to a Bearsville, NY, store, is actually the project of a local artist featuring scathing social commentary.

Someone else commented, "...and where you throw away your hard-earned money, (which is really pieces of time, your life, converted into paper) to buy "stuff" you really don't need anyway--"

Yes, those big box operations do tend to run the "Mom and Pop" stores out of business. And some small towns have been left with no commercial activity in their center except for the funeral parlor and maybe a Christian bookstore.

But they sure do sell stuff cheap!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Health Care Reforn: Letting It All Hang Out

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009, includes billions in provisions for healthcare information technology (health IT).
The idea is to have one unified, computerized system with everyone's complete health care records on it, in one place, accessible by medical professionals. The "up" side is that our records will be available to doctors and/or medical people in case of emergency. We will no longer have to fill out paperwork every time we see a new doctor; everything will be available to him or her with a few clicks of a mouse. And in theory our insurance information should be there as well.
The "down" side is that whoever has access to the system will be able to know virtually all our medical history, including treatment for depression, venereal diseases, drug or alcohol problems, sexual preferences and problems, and anything else that might appeal to a snoop's prurient interests.
"Oh," you say. "That doesn't bother me. I have nothing to hide." And perhaps you don't right now. I can't help remembering that one of the early jobs for the Watergate burglars was to get Daniel Ellsberg's medical records from his psychiatrist's office. Obviously any astute political person would take steps to make sure that his/her personal records stay off this proposed system.
And what about everyday people? I was in a doctor's office recently where I could hear someone on staff blurt out, "He's got AIDS," about a patient who had just left. No, I never went back to that office.
But over the years I have heard stories of Mr. X who has an artificial, well, thing. (Snicker.) I wonder if he has any idea that's public knowledge. Or politician Y whose chart indicates his life expectancy is, well...."He's got one foot in the grave, and the other is on a banana peel." Wouldn't the other guys like to know about that? Or nice young lady Z who came in for testing, because "her former boyfriend developed syphilis lesions." Hmmm...and she applied for a teaching job? And these are the sort things one catches in passing without really wanting to know.
Yes, there are some things that are desirable about a huge, grand database. But wise is he who has a physician he can trust, who will on request keep certain information off the system. No matter what safeguards or sanctions they put in place to protect our medical information, human nature being what it is, there is absolutely no way anyone can guarantee that it will remain confidential.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Health Care and the Hypochondriacal Dilemma

One time, a number of years ago, I was almost flat broke and had to take a job where I worked in a cubicle. I'd known about such things for years, of course, and always had a totally abhorrent picture of them in my mind, sort of a giant nursery school for adults caught in a futuristic 1984-like hell. But I needed money, and was temporarily disabled with a ruptured Achilles tendon (a story for another time), so I went to work in an office lined with cubicles.

As it turned out, my premonition was 100% accurate. Some authorities maintain that fully half the cubicle type offices in our country are environmentally unhealthy. They're kept too cold in the summer and too warm in the winter. The first thing I noticed was that my new place of employment was no exception. Everybody seemed to be sick. I hadn't had a cold for fifteen years, it seemed, but soon after getting into that environment I had one cold after another. (Eventually I had to quit because of chronic sinus trouble.) Another thing I noticed was that everybody seemed to be taking antibiotics all the time, as if it were as natural as having a morning coffee.
Of course the tab for the pharmaceuticals and the doctor's visits was picked up by the employer's insurance policy. (In this case it was the government, i.e. the taxpayer, i.e. YOU) Once one of these office bimbos saw another one getting something on the insurance "dole," they would have to have the same thing: special braces to ward off carpal tunnel syndrome, antibiotics, antihistamines, antidepressants, you name it.

I've also heard that 70% of the patients seen in an average family practice are there for psychosomatic maladies. We all know people who are running to doctors with what seems like unbelievably minor complaints. And all too many doctors are happy to hand out an aspirin or placebo and bill the system for whatever it will bear. So whether the country were to go to a "single payer system," or simply muddle things through like they are now, the question remains: what to do about hypochondriacs and freeloaders clogging the system?
It seems to me that a hefty co-payment would cut down on a lot of this nonsense. It may be the only answer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Odds & Ends: There, But for the Grace of God go....

(CNN) -- Newspaper, magazines, Web sites and a few book publishers are tapping into a curious American fascination: mug shots.
You don't have to commit a violent crime; you don't have to be convicted; you don't even have to be a celebrity (though for some publications, it helps).
Just get arrested -- no charge is too small -- and your mug could grace the pages of a local magazine or Web site

Some people say there's even a word for mug shot cruising now. I don't know what it is, but I admit that for a long time, when I was bored at work (which was every day on that job), I would check out the local mugshots.
What surprised me was not the number of people I knew (it wasn't a huge town), but the number of people I knew who seemed to be arrested for vagrancy, trespassing, or for varying degrees of public intoxication again and again. Not just one time, but repeatedly, every few months or so. Each time their pictures looked a little rougher.

I knew all these guys when they were young. At that time they seemed like average, run-of-the-mill people. They definitely fell into the "normal" range of intelligence. A couple of them, when I knew them, even had their own businesses. I worked with two of them and had friends who worked with the others. Altogether unremarkable it seemed.

One of them did tell me, however, "I'm not like you. You shouldn't really be talking to me." I remember being somewhat taken aback, but when someone says something like that, what can you say or do? I said, "OK," and moved on. The real meaning of his words escaped me, until I started seeing him in the Sheriff's log twenty years later.

You sort of wonder, if he didn't have sort of a predestinarian vision of where he was headed.
If there's any common thread through these lives, you can be pretty sure that it's substance abuse. Whether it's booze or drugs, you might say that a physiological propensity coupled with relative ease of availability led to these fellows' downfall.
As far a crime goes, it appears that the victim (aside from the Sense of Public Order) is the individual himself.

"Who steals my purse steals trash.
'Twas something, 'tis nothing,
'Twas mine, 'tis his,
And hath been slave to thousands.
But he who filches from me my good name,
Steal that which cannot enrich him,
But leaves me very poor indeed."
--Shakespeare in Othello

In these cases the damage has been self-inflicted. For them it might simply have been better to heed Nancy Reagan's "Just say NO to drugs."
Not to condemn, for there, but for the Grace of God, go we all....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Invasion of the Bow Bugs

I telephoned a Friend of My Youth of a Saturday morning. "What's up?" Stan was not the world's brightest kid, but there was usually something to do around his house. He lived in a middle-class neighborhood at the edge of the city, where development had ended with the housing boom of the 1920's. Behind his house was a glorious stretch of undeveloped farmland, all the way to the new interstate highway. It was a great place to run and explore. In the spring it flooded with a mosaic of small seasonal ponds, brimming with tadpoles, frogs and other critters, a perfect getaway place for a young kid.
"There's something new out back," he said. "Bow bugs." I had no idea what he was talking about, but managed to contrive a ride over there. There were several other neighborhood kids around. In his garage he'd set up numerous bowls and jars with "specimens" of this new creature they'd found in the ponds out back.
We walked out through the flooded fields, and sure enough, most of them held two or three of these primitive-looking organisms. Only the ponds nearest the house, where the first collecting had begun were devoid of this form of life. The neighbor kids claimed that they had somehow appeared overnight.
Stan explained that they called them "Bow Bugs," because they looked like a bow tie. Although, as I mentioned, Stan was far from an intellectual, he had managed to produce a dissecting kit from somwhere and was in the process of demonstrating his scientific acumen to the other kids.

The "Bow Bugs" consisted of two lobes of jellyfish-like membrane, separated by something that looked suspiciously like a rubber band. We all noticed that when "dissected," they gave off a chemical, formaldehyde-like smell. I pointed this out to Stan, who didn't want to hear my theory. He was too busy poking the "Bow Bug" with a needle, causing it to give up more of the formaldehyde smell and bringing small droplets of oil to the surface of the water in the dish.
By now every kid in the neighborhood had been into the garage and had seen the strange phenomenon, and a group of adults was beginning to form.
One guy came into the garage and grabbed his son, a blond-haired kid named Terry who had been in on the discovery from the beginning, by the arm and dragged him home. "I don't know what the hell these things are, but until we find out you're goin' home and staying inside. And no lookin' out either!" The whole thing was starting to remind me of a Twilight Zone episode. When I left a short time later, I noticed Terry's house was all shut up, and all the blinds were drawn.
In a day or two someone found out that the local health department had placed the "Bow Bugs" in the ponds as part of a mosquito control experiment. They weren't "bugs" at all. They were an envelope of semi-permeable membrane filled with DDT (or something similar) and cinched in the middle with a tiny rubber band.
As far as I know, none of us had any ill effects from handling the things. That neighborhood did produce its fair share of juvenile delinquents, but that might be a matter of coincidence. Someone said Stan went on to become a bartender.