Monday, March 31, 2008

Aggravated by the doctors' Praetorian Guard

I have a doctor's appointment in a little while.

It was supposed to be at 8:30 this morning, and I set it at that time so that I could go from there to the office and not miss much of my day.

But, on Friday, the doctor's office called -- the doctor with whom I had made the appointment would not be in after all. I could see his partner... at 11:00 a.m.

There goes Monday! (And I've brought work with me to do; it won't be a total waste.)

But that's not the most aggravating part of this.

The reason for this appointment is entirely, completely unnecessary.

Last year, when I had my surgery, it was explained that I would have to have a follow-up in a year's time. I haven't nearly as much plumbing to explore as heretofore, so the testing would be relatively easy. All I had to do, the doctor said, was call the office and schedule the appointment.

Key words in the preceding sentence are "the doctor said."

Because, in America today, doctors do not appear to know beans about their office procedures. They do not control their schedules. They are guided by their staffs from room to room: Heal here, heal there, counsel here, surgery!

I called the doctor's office as the one year anniversary of my diagnosis approached. I called to schedule the procedure that I was told I'd need.

And I was not permitted to schedule it.

The doctors' Praetorian Guard requires me to see the doctor first, before any scheduling of a further procedure. Why, I can not fathom. It is on my chart; it is on their computers. But some iron-clad procedure would apparently be violated were I to do what the doctor said I was supposed to do.

So I'll ask him why I am required to see him for 60 seconds in the middle of the day just so I can schedule the appointment for the procedure we both know I need to have.

And it won't make any difference what he says... because he doesn't really know.

This, by the way, is an excellent group of doctors -- the best at what they do in the area. (This is not just my personal testimony, it is the consensus of medical opinion -- I researched this). And I have the best possible health insurance -- a Blue Cross PPO.

But -- don't worry -- once we have Universal Health, we won't have any problems like this....


Update 1:16 p.m.

It took a little over two and a quarter hours to get to, from, and wait for an appointment which took a little over two and a quarter minutes. The doctor was apologetic -- but more for suggesting in the first place that I might be permitted to make an appointment on my own for a test that we both agreed I should have -- and which will be a little more than two and a quarter months overdue when the test is finally performed. It is... frustrating.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Stimulating discussion about the IRS

Dave, of Rather Than Working, had this interesting post the other day about how the Internal Revenue Service says that the cost of personal calls an employee makes on a company-issued cell phone should be considered (read: taxed) as income to the employee.

Wonderful idea, really. And sooooooooooo easy to keep track of and enforce. Such a brilliant idea will no doubt balance the budget overnight. (And, yes, if my tongue were any further in my cheek I'd injure myself.)

Coincidentally -- I hope -- I recently received a notice from the IRS advising that I'd been late on a monthly payroll deposit -- which was true (and entirely unintentional, believe you me) -- and what the penalty for my tardiness would be. That is, the notice stated what my penalty would be if the IRS chose to impose it. Which, after reading it through a few times, I gathered it is not.

Why should the IRS spend the money at all to tell me I messed up if it wasn't going to extract its pound of flesh? Am I supposed to save the letter just in case the IRS changes its bureaucratic mind? Would that really do me any good?

Maybe the notice was to make me feel better about the IRS. Like the tiger smiling at its victim just before it pounces.

Still, that's my working hypothesis, particularly after the notices we received at home from the kinder, gentler IRS.

American readers, at least, will recall that the Bush administration has decided to combat the recession that they say isn't a recession with a "stimulus package." They would print some extra money and give it to taxpayers so we can spend it and stimulate the economy out of the not-recession.

Congress immediately went along with the idea. Giving money away to voters has to help at re-election time. And you must remember the basic truth of American congressional politics. When push comes to shove, there are no Democrats, there are no Republicans -- there are only Incumbents.

Anyway, this was all a couple of months ago. Americans are still waiting for their checks so they can buy Chinese goods at Wal-Mart or Japanese electronics or shirts made in Bangladesh or Costa Rica or Thailand... how is this supposed to help the American economy again?

So the kinder, gentler IRS recently sent notices to everyone who's filed a tax return. In our house, that was six out of seven of us. That meant six notices in the mail. Each one the same -- each one telling us that we have to file a tax return this year in order to get our one-time stimulus payment. It even purports to tell us how much we can expect.

I've read mine several times and still haven't the first clue.

In the meantime, how much did mailing these notices cost?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Birthday bonanza

The end of March is a birthday bonanza in the Curmudgeon home. Both Long Suffering Spouse and I have birthdays right about now.

Hers comes first.

We knew it was officially the birthday season when my mother-in-law came to deliver the birthday sweaters to me and Long Suffering Spouse. Long Suffering Spouse wears hers at school.

Once -- many years ago -- my mother-in-law gave me a very nice, Irish wool sweater. (It was, of course, a special on QVC. Abuela and QVC go way back together. I think she has her own private number to call. It may ring in the office of the Chairman of the Board.)

Anyway, I liked the sweater, and I said so.

The next year, I got another one. Different color.

The next year, I got another one. Different color.

The next year... stop me if you've figured out the pattern. If a new Ice Age comes, I'm covered. And the shelf in my closet groans under the weight of Irish wool.

The other night, when I got home, Younger Daughter asked me what color my sweater was this year. Abuela had been by in the afternoon. (For the record, the sweater is dark blue this year... but with a zipper! QVC may have finally run out of colors for the pullover variety.)

Then it was Long Suffering Spouse's birthday. She's been on Spring Break this week -- but I've only taken one day off. "So," she asked, "are you going to work today or are you staying home and being my present?"

Younger Daughter was watching this exchange, so of course I mugged a bit, and threw open my arms wide as if to say here I am!

"I wonder," said Long Suffering Spouse, "if I can get a refund or exchange."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bodacious Tata deal

According to this AFP story, posted last night on Yahoo! News, India's Tata Motors will shortly purchase "luxury British icons Jaguar and Land Rover" from America's Ford Motor Company.

The AFP article reminds us that Tata recently unveiled the world's cheapest production car; with this acquisition, Tata will also own two of the most prestigious automobile nameplates in the world.

In entirely unrelated news, people arriving at this blog via searches for -- well, let's just say my traffic is about to jump a bit and one-time visitors with a juvenile vocabulary and world outlook are going to be disappointed.

Thief leaves cell number, new cell number to follow

Local story worth wider circulation:

A would-be robber demanded that two employees of a North Side muffler shop open the store's safe and give him the money.

No, said one of the employees. He couldn't, he said, because only the manager had the combination and the manager wasn't in yet.

Oh, said the would-be robber. How about you give me your money?

No, said the employee. He didn't have much on him, he said. But, he added, I'll tell you what I will do: Let me know how to get in touch with you and, when the manager comes in, you can rob him then.

OK, said the would-be robber, and he gave over not one, but actually two, cell phone numbers.

A busy thief can't afford to be out of touch.

The would-be robber went on to his next appointment and the muffler shop employees called the cops.

The police were all in favor of inviting the would-be thief back to the store. When they were all in position, that's what the muffler shop employees did.

It almost turned really ugly: The would-be robber produced a gun when surrounded by police. His weapon didn't discharge, but a policeman's did -- hitting the would-be robber in the leg.

And I didn't make any of this up. You can read about it in the Chicago Tribune or on Second City Cop.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Heads or Tails #31 (surprise)

Surprise! Our Maximum Leader, Barb has captured an entirely new domain for her own blog and has established a new colony for "Heads Or Tails," the weekly meme that has enchanted millions worldwide. When Barb gets to her 13th colony, she's going to call it Earth. But don't tell the Cylons. We'll want to surprise them with it.

And, in the meantime, "surprise" turns out to be the theme of this week's entry....

It was over 20 years ago now. Long Suffering Spouse and I were both much younger. I was about to turn 30. We had only two kids, though a third was on the way. And we were trying to improve our first house.

In trying to reconstruct events this morning, I am finding it hard to believe we actually lived in that house for nearly three years with the original kitchen.

Now, I am not a kitchen person -- I use it principally as a place to get ice for my drinks -- although I will make the occasional sandwich.

But, when we bought the place, the cabinets in that house were green -- with dark green doors. And green walls. I don't know how many coats of yellow paint we put on the walls... but we never could cover up the green entirely, especially on the dark green baseboards.

We figured the guy we bought from had been colorblind and that he bought paint strictly according to price. What else could explain a bright orange bedroom?

But I'm losing focus.

We were redoing the kitchen. We bought nice cabinets. We reconfigured things. We didn't have room for a dishwasher -- we tried to figure out how to wedge one in, but it was hopeless -- but we did add some extra cabinet space. And when I say "we," of course, I mean Long Suffering Spouse. She figured out what would work and laid it all out with the cabinet people.

I am not particularly handy. My shop teacher in junior high referred to me as his "disaster" -- and I have not improved. So we had to hire someone to put the cabinets in.

Friends of our had a friend who was a carpenter and he needed work. So we hired him.

This was a critical mistake.

I do not mean to stereotype -- OK, I do -- as a group, in general, about the only people less sensitive to deadlines and less responsive to customer inquiries than lawyers are tradesmen. Let's put it this way: Most musicians are more punctual and reliable than either lawyers or tradesmen. Jazz musicians. Rock musicians.

Don't leave me angry comments about how your husband is a carpenter and is punctuality personified. There are exceptions to every rule. I turned a brief in on time once, too.

With the popularity of "business casual" attire these days, it's getting harder than ever to tell lawyers from tradesmen. It used to be that the real differences between lawyers and tradesmen were that lawyers wore ties and made less money. (Yes, there are exceptions to this latter rule as well -- but not many. That's why those lawyers are the ones in the news.)

Anyway, after we took him on, I could not understand how this particular carpenter -- we'll call him Dan -- could ever have needed work. After all, he never finished any of the work he started.

And then, we heard second-hand -- never from Dan -- that there'd been a tragedy in his family. If he'd been scarce before, he'd thereafter become invisible.

And ours was a small kitchen. (Remember? We couldn't fit a dishwasher in it.) So why was it taking Dan so darn long to install these few cabinets?

We'd been washing our dinner dishes in the basement sink for what seemed like a month when Long Suffering Spouse finally lost her temper. I had just expressed some reluctance to call Dan -- I mean, he surely knew he wasn't finished without me telling him, right? And, too, there was that family tragedy. Moreover, I hated calling people on the phone even then. No, I said, I'm sure he'll be here eventually and it will all --

And that's when I ducked, narrowly missing a dish thrown at my head.

We had Corelle plates -- I believe that's the correct name -- said to be virtually unbreakable.

The key word here is "virtually."

Thrown with sufficient velocity by an angry spouse, these "unbreakable" plates will shatter into shards and dust.

In promptly inquiring into the circumstances that prompted my bride to hurl a plate at my head, I discovered that she'd been planning a surprise birthday party for me. But the party was this coming weekend and the kitchen was a construction site. I reconsidered my opposition to calling Dan.

And to conclude this long story, Dan did show up and the surprise party came off without a hitch. The only problem was that, now, I was in on the surprise. Long Suffering Spouse wanted me to pretend I was surprised anyway.

It was easy to do. All I had to do was to wear that same startled expression that came across my face as the unbreakable dish whizzed past my head and shattered on the basement wall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter at the Curmudgeon home

All five of the kids were home for Easter dinner.

This year there were no extras.

We knew Older Daughter wouldn't bring the Boyfriend: In addition to his graduate studies, he's very active in his church choir. He commuted from Champaign to Indianapolis throughout undergraduate to sing on all the important occasions; we certainly did not expect him to miss that for dinner with us.

But Oldest Son's situation was more... delicate. He apparently still has the Girlfriend he brought to meet us during Christmastime. Indeed, she's now moved to the Chicago area, taking an apartment not far from Oldest Son's.

Naturally, we encouraged Oldest Son to bring the Girlfriend to dinner. "I can?" he asked, and we assured him he could.

"We'll see," he said, and that was all he would say thereafter.

Now what follows is solely my own speculation; it may have no foundation in fact.

Except for the fact that Oldest Son showed up alone.

It could mean Trouble in Paradise. These things happen.

But... I'm thinking... after what happened the first time she visited, Oldest Son may have been reluctant to even extend the invitation.

I gave him the needle throughout the day yesterday: The poor thing, I said, speaking of the Girlfriend, sitting home alone in her studio apartment, a thousand miles away from her own family, eating beans out of a can for Easter dinner....

He flushed, but he did not take us up on our suggestion that he go pick her up even now, nor would he say where she was or why she didn't come. Older Daughter and Younger Daughter confirmed that his Facebook status hadn't changed: According to that, he was still in a relationship.

So: What do you think? Did he even tell her about the invitation?

And, if he didn't, was it wrong of him not to?

Will IOC's 'silent diplomacy' moderate China's behavior toward its Himalayan possessions?

IOC President Jacques Rogge says he's engaging in "silent diplomacy" with the Chinese.

Will it succeed?

I wouldn't want Tibet on it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An appropriate sentiment for Easter, I think

Shelby left this quote from C.S. Lewis in a comment to a post earlier this week and it just seemed kind of appropriate to pull it out and post it for Easter:
People often think of . . . morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.

I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.
What a wonderful thought: Maybe you do good things, at first, only because you fear punishment -- but, the more and more good things you do, the more good choices you make, the more and more you do it because you want to -- because you want to become more and more in harmony with God. That's real growth. And real maturity.

Happy Easter, one and all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Men are clueless when it comes to women? Duh.

From via Yahoo! News: Jeanna Bryner writes, "More often than not, guys interpret even friendly cues, such as a subtle smile from a gal, as a sexual come-on, and a new study discovers why: Guys are clueless."

And it's not just that men think every glance or gesture from a woman means something sexual. Writes Bryner, "it goes both ways for guys - they mistake females' sexual signals as friendly ones. The researchers suggest guys have trouble noticing and interpreting the subtleties of non-verbal cues, in either direction."

Now, really: This is news?

The lead researcher on the study was Coreen Farris of Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Results are to be published in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science.

But the news here, so far as I am concerned, is that such "research" was actually funded, in this case by the National Institutes of Mental Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Some days I'm so proud to be a taxpayer.

Seriously, if someone was truly in doubt about this -- perhaps if they were raised by wolves or kidnapped and returned after many years in a flying saucer -- couldn't such a person's curiosity on this point be more than adequately satisfied by asking any reasonably self-aware person above the age of, oh, 11 for girls and 14 for boys?

OK, maybe 24 for boys. 30?

If it's Spring, why do I still feel like hibernating?

Answer? Because this is Chicago.

From this morning's Tribune website:
Issued by the National Weather Service at 4:46 am CDT on March 20, 2008

... Winter Storm Watch now in effect from late tonight through
late Friday night...

.Snow is expected to overspread the area after midnight tonight
and continue through the day Friday before diminishing early
Friday evening. There is a potential for storm total snowfall
accumulations of 5 to 7 inches over much of the watch area.

A Winter Storm Watch means there is a potential for significant
snow... sleet... or ice accumulations that may impact travel.
Continue to monitor the latest forecasts.
Nothing says Spring in Chicago like the forecast of snow.

Virtual reality scary? Real reality's scarier still

I saw this Pardon My Planet comic in the Sun-Times yesterday; this image, though, was obtained here.

I think, however, that a Virtual Reality helmet should have some sort of visor, not just ear covers. That's just a quibble, though, and does not detract from the truth of this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is the value of virtue when there's no other choice?

Existential questions!

Sure, there's a way to rope new readers into the blog.

But this is a question that occurred to me over the weekend when I consumed my first pint of stout in nearly a year.

I enjoy a stout now and then. Or I did. But then I had large sections of my insides removed last year and, when I took my first post-op pint, some weeks or even a couple of months afterward, there were, um, repercussions.

But this past Saturday, that first pint tasted just wonderful. It was so wonderful that I even ventured a second pint. And it tasted wonderful as well.

In years past, I might have had one or two more besides in the course of the evening. But on Saturday, I was concerned about what this might do to me. So, after the second stout, I switched to water.


So I was apparently virtuous -- I was the very picture of moderation -- but only because I had no other choice. I feared horrible consequences if I continued. (And I paid a physical price for the little I had, as it happens.)

So was I really virtuous?

And here's where it gets philosophical: If you don't run a red light at a deserted intersection because your picture will be taken by one of those Orwellian cameras, are you obeying any other law than the law of self preservation? If you do good in this world because you fear sulfur and brimstone await you if you don't, are you really doing good at all?

I'll hang up now and listen for your answers.

R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke

One of the grand masters of science fiction has passed from the scene. Arthur C. Clarke has died at the age of 90. The link takes you to Amal Jayasinghe's article on Yahoo! News for AFP about Clarke's life, death and career; it is from that site that this image has been copied.

Something I didn't know, or didn't remember, until reading the stories celebrating Clarke's life: The geostationary orbit, roughly 22,000 miles up, where satellites seem to move in sync with the rotation of the Earth, is often referred to as the Clarke Orbit or the Clarke Belt because of a paper Clarke wrote -- in 1945.

Clarke was a science fiction writer who studied science -- working first as an officer in the Royal Air Force in World War II on the development of radar and then, after the war, taking his degree in math and physics from King's College, London.

Clarke may be most associated in the public mind with the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, but my real introduction to Clarke came in high school, when I read Childhood's End for an English class. I've read many of his books since. In recent years, most of his books have been in collaboration with other authors; see this Wikipedia entry for a list.

With Sir Arthur's passing we have lost a powerful advocate for humanity's expansion from our fragile planet into the wider worlds beyond.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heads or Tails #30 (part of a house)

The master builder, Barb, who has built Heads of Tails into a weekly monument of meme technology -- and, no, I don't know what that means either -- has decided to subcontract the construction of this week's model home to Jen. Jen blogs at Tidbits of the Tippets.

Say that ten times fast. G'wan -- I dare ya.

Anyway, this week, our mission, should we decide to accept it, is to focus on a particular part of, or place in, a house. I'm assuming that Barb is assuming that each participant would focus on a part of our own homes. So I won't talk about any of the houses I'm casing just in case I decide to turn from a secret life of blogging to a secret life of crime....

I could stand up in the basement of our old house. I'm not particularly tall -- at my peak, I was a couple of inches beyond six feet. That was before the cares and burdens of the world began to erode me -- but I'd still never make it as a jockey, even if I lost 100 lbs.

The point is, though I may have once been taller than a Munchkin, I was not used to having to walk hunched over.

I was not, that is, until we moved to our present home. There is a large duct, coming from the basement furnace, that crosses the path that I must follow to reach the basement refrigerator.

That's where the extra loaves of bread or gallons of milk are stored during the week, or where soup stock is left until required.

This duct of which I am speaking -- note the transition here, I am no longer speaking of the refrigerator -- is mostly round, as ducts of this age and purpose tend to be.

But there is one place -- directly in the center of that aisle leading to the basement refrigerator (here the purpose in introducing the refrigerator into this essay is revealed) -- where the round shape has been flattened.

By my forehead.

I really hate that duct.

Prosperity is just around the corner?

But watch out for that cliff....

I have sometimes felt sad and ashamed for not knowing the first thing about financial markets and securities. I have tried making jokes to cover my feelings of inadequacy: I'm thinking of changing my investment strategy, I might say, when the conversation comes around to the uncomfortable topic of investing. Yes, I may try moving from a Christmas Club to a passbook savings account this year.

And then -- when Bear Stearns closes at $30 a share on a Friday and is bought out for $2 a share on the weekend -- I don't feel nearly so inadequate any more.

My understanding of finances may be summed up in three rules, each consisting of only two words. Herewith, Curmudgeon's Rules of Finance:

1. Savings good.
2. Debt bad.
3. Income necessary.

If everyone kept these three little rules in mind, we wouldn't be worried about the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market. Mind you, I haven't been able to follow my own advice for several years. It's a combination of five kids in school and inadequate income that have taken me down... but, remember, don't do as I do, do as I say.

And with an attitude like that, maybe I should go for politics again, eh?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Older Daughter comes to visit

We knew she'd be coming up at some time before Easter, but we didn't know it would be this weekend and we didn't know she'd be bringing the Boyfriend.

It's the bringing the Boyfriend part that causes the problem.

Not that we don't like the Boyfriend. We do. He's a nice young man and sure to be a success in his chosen field. But we don't have a guest wing where he can stay comfortably; the last few times he's visited, he's crashed on the couch in the den.

Which is fine... except that this is where the TV is. It's where the computer is. It's where I would have been sitting and having my coffee this morning... if he weren't in there asleep. Because he and Older Daughter were helping a friend of theirs move into a new apartment in the City and they both, apparently, have this week off. They weren't going to be up and about as the rest of us dashed out for work and school.

It's a disruption -- OK, I probably shouldn't fall asleep each night in front of the TV, but I do more often than not. Last night, though, I headed up to bed before the late news came on because... well... the Boyfriend was already sitting on the couch. You might be wondering why the young man that the Boyfriend and Older Daughter helped to move yesterday didn't suggest that the Boyfriend crash at his place. I wondered, too.

And I have formulated this hypothesis: I think adult kids see the family home as theirs still. We certainly encourage them to come home to visit as often as they wish. (OK, we moved a couple of times in the middle of the night and left no forwarding address. But they still found us....) So I think they think it entirely natural and appropriate to invite people to visit with them, just as they might invite someone to stay with them at their own apartment.

I think, on balance, that's probably a good thing and says something positive about our family.

But I want my couch back.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Before getting too excited about 'universal health' -- another in a series

Please read this post by Ellee Seymour. You may want to follow the link to York Press article cited in Ellee's post.

Now, remember, comes the revolution, when we have squeezed the filthy profit motive out of medicine, doctors will treat patients for what ails them, not according to which tests are the most remunerative... and everyone can then get the treatment they need, right?

Not in York, apparently, where fully 40% of patients referred by their doctors for additional treatment last year were refused, apparently to save money, because a panel there decides who will get care... and who will not.

A panel decides who will live.

And who will die.

You thought HMO's are bad? (And they are.) This sounds worse.

New toothpaste: Panacea in a tube?

A well-known toothpaste brand -- we'll call it Crust -- has almost always been in the medicine cabinet of the Curmudgeon household bathroom in one or more incarnations.

Marketing geniuses that they are, Crust had persuaded Long Suffering Spouse to buy an Anti-Cavity variety for the younger members of the family, a Whitening formula for the teens and young adults, and the Tartar Control mixture for herself and me.

I presume that one reason why Long Suffering Spouse accepted the need for multiple tubes of toothpaste was that, this way, I could squeeze my tube from the bottom and roll it up in the conventional, time-honored method, while the savage beasts, er, our children could squeeze the middle of their tube or anywhere else that struck their fancy and, as often as not, lose the cap besides.

It seems now, however, that the Crust people have created a toothpaste that may be all things to all people: Having rolled up the Tartar Control tube to the point where I was completely satisfied that none was wasted, I discovered and undertook the use of Crust's new "Pro-Health" formula.

Presumably this is more successful than their "Anti-Health" formula, but one never knows.

On the still not-yet-rolled-up tube is a lengthy list of all the things this new wonder concoction is supposed to do: It seems to offer cavity control, gum protection, teeth whitening, breath freshening, and cures for mumps, dengue fever and the yaws. I was tempted to rub a little into my increasingly large bald spot to see if it might not also prove an effective hair restorative but, alas, time was short this morning.

The new tube even has a flip-top cap that can't roll off the sink counter and behind the toilet. (Don't lie. This has happened to you, too, and you've rescued it, rinsed it -- I hope! -- and put it back on the tube without telling anyone.)

Having sampled this magical elixir this morning, I can only assume I will accomplish great things today. That sound you hear in the distance this morning may be caused by me, whooshing through the papers stacked up on my desk.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A blockhead writes on writer's block

I am amazed, frankly, when I read posts by my fellow bloggers complaining of writer's block.

So many people, apparently, face the screen, or the blank sheet of paper, and can't think of a thing to do next.

My problem is quite the opposite. This morning on the train I roughed out several posts for this blog and an idea for an interview I could run somewhere else -- I probably won't execute any of them, unfortunately, because of the sad necessity of scratching out a living.

I had an idea for a post about Irish music -- a humorous story (I think) about the time Long Suffering Spouse heard me listening to a new Chieftains album and was appalled at how depressing the lyrics were. Yes, the song was about someone being hanged for a crime he didn't commit and his brave young widow and the likelihood that she'd starve. "That's one of the happier songs," I told her. If I had the time, I could flesh that out.

And then I read Zay N. Smith's Sun-Times column, QT, and I was struck by these two entries:
Shaky situation

Jim Holloway, a Chicago reader, regarding the Yellowstone Caldera (the eruptions of which can be violent enough to send a layer of ash 6 feet deep as far away as Chicago and which erupts every 600,000 or so years and last erupted 640,000 years ago), writes:

"I just checked the quakes for March 10 and 11 and was surprised at the number of them. Although they were small on the Richter scale, I found the number of them to be a little disturbing."

You are referring to the single earthquake on March 8, the single earthquake on March 9, the eight earthquakes on March 10 and the 35 earthquakes on March 11.

The March 12 tally isn't complete at this writing, but the number seems to be subsiding.

* * *

Somewhere, out there

Asteroid 2008 EM68 became on Wednesday the second asteroid this week to be discovered only after it has passed between Earth and the moon.

The other was Asteroid 2008 EF32.

Asteroid 2008 EZ7 passed between Earth and the moon this week, also, but was discovered a few hours before it passed.

But who among us doesn't like surprises?
I've mentioned the Yellowstone Caldera here before (that's a link to the Wikipedia entry about it; here's the link to the USGS summary about the phenomenon).

If you want to see real climate change -- not to mention human extinction -- just wait around until a supervolcano goes off or a good size asteroid hits Mother Earth. These things have happened before -- you could ask the dinosaurs about it, if they hadn't been wiped out -- and one of these events will happen again. Soon. Maybe "soon" as in a few thousand years. Maybe "soon" as in a week from Tuesday. That's the problem with the future: We can't see it clearly.

And then there was the news early this week about how Earth may be looking down the barrel of a real death star that could, according to the linked article posted on, "cause mass extinction or possibly even threaten life as we know it on our planet." This "death star" is really a binary star system, rotating like a pinwheel. Discovered only eight years ago, scientists are pretty certain that both stars will end in an extraordinary supernova explosion. They are pretty certain that there will be massive gamma ray emissions when this happens. They are pretty certain that bad things would follow if these emissions hit our little planet and they're pretty certain that we are in the likely path.

The binary star system is 8,000 light years away, however, so if it exploded tomorrow, we'd have 8,000 years to prepare. Problem is, we wouldn't know it -- because the image astronomers see takes 8,000 years to get here. The stars could have exploded 7,999 years ago... and wouldn't that be an unpleasant surprise?

Meanwhile, in low Earth orbit, Shuttle Endeavour has linked up with the International Space Station and the astronauts are floating around getting ready to assemble a laboratory.

We have no real plans for moving out as a species into space. Even the most tentative proposals for human exploration are criticized and continually postponed and scaled back because we have social problems here to solve first.

Let me tell you something my mother used to tell me all the time: "Man proposes, God disposes." We can plan all we want... reduce our carbon footprints to teeny tiny indentations to make a paradise of our blue planet... but God (or Nature, if you insist) may have other ideas for this place. If any of us survive it, we'll have lots of social problems after an asteroid hits... or Yellowstone erupts.

But I'd want to give you the earthquake data merely alluded to by Mr. Smith this morning and cite you to the asteroid data as well. And, today, I don't have the time.

So I can't write about that.

I could have written about Billy Crystal's one day contract with the Yankees -- that this is a wonderful thing, even though (as a lifelong White Sox fan) I am generally sworn to hate the Yankees and anything associated with them.

I may yet write tomorrow about yesterday's Very Long Day for Younger Daughter and Youngest Son.

So I don't understand the concept of writer's block.

Writer's bottleneck, perhaps: So many ideas, all competing for elaboration that none get expressed adequately. As in this morning's example.

Where I have failed is not in failing to write, but in failing to find a way to make writing what I want to write about into something that I can do and still eat. I haven't time to ruminate on this failure this morning, though: I have pleadings to write for a case.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gilligan's good girl goes to pot?

Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, has pled guilty to charges arising from an October arrest during which marijuana was found in her car. She'll serve six months unsupervised probation as part of the deal.

Wells is now 69.

Time marches on, as it inexorably must. But... really... Mary Ann is 69? No, surely not.

It was only yesterday, I would have said, that all the males in the world were divided into two camps: Those who preferred Mary Ann and those who preferred Ginger.

I was whole-heartedly in the Mary Ann camp.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Heads or Tails #29 (green)

Ah, sure, that fine broth of a lass, Barb, who brews just a wee bit of that Heads or Tails poteen at some still back in the far reaches of the Blogosphere, has decided to honor the upcoming Feast of St. Patrick by asking us all to wax eloquent on the word "green" today. Such an assignment is all too easy for a lad from County Cook, given the importance of that day in our little community.

Have I laid it on thick enough yet?

Well, no matter. Herewith the fountain in the Daley Plaza. I think it's all dressed up for the upcoming holiday. I hope it's all dressed up for the holiday:

Meanwhile, in hopefully unrelated news, Chicago officials reacted to the recent story about pharmaceuticals and other chemicals being found in drinking water around the nation by saying (1) Chicago's water is safe and (2) no, they haven't tested it.

Gosh, I really hope that's dye.

And what will be on the commander in chief test?

A Clinton-Obama dream team? Candidate Clinton has floated that idea from the hustings in recent days, suggesting that voters torn between voting for the first woman to head a national ticket and the first African-American to head a national ticket should vote for her... and maybe get Obama too.

Meanwhile, out of the other side of her mouth, or rather out of the mouth of Hillary Clinton's chief spokesman Howard Wolfson, Clinton contends that Obama is not qualified to be Vice President. Quoting from the linked Tribune article by Mike Dorning:
Wolfson reaffirmed Clinton’s position that Obama has not demonstrated his suitability to guide the nation in an international crisis.

“We do not believe at this point that Sen. Obama has passed that key commander in chief test,” Wolfson said.
What that test might be -- or how Hillary passed the test by going to foreign funerals and making good will tours as First Lady -- is left somewhat vague. People are simply expected to assume she's passed the test.

If there really were a written test, I'd have no doubt that Senator Clinton would get an A. She probably never even received so much as a B in her entire, storied academic career. We all know people like that: Most of them can't function in the real world.

Meanwhile again, in Mississippi, Senator Obama says he's not interested in being Vice President.

Nor has he suggested an Obama-Clinton ticket. Hmmmmmmm.

Meanwhile, the little girl sleeping soundly at 3:00 a.m. in the recent, successful Hillary Clinton 'red phone' commercial, is nearly 18 now (she was 8 when the footage was shot, originally for a railroad commercial) turns out to be an Obama supporter.

Somebody's head will roll for this one!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back from Spring Training with an insight for Dad

Middle Son returned safely from his Spring Training trip to Arizona late Saturday night.

We didn't go with him. I wish we could have gone. However, when he was a freshman, and we did go, we brought rain to Phoenix and snow to Scottsdale. The temperature stayed in the mid-40's. I don't think we're allowed back.

Middle Son had two official appearances this trip -- I watch the box scores for his college team very carefully -- a great start (six innings of shutout baseball) and a disastrous appearance coming out of the pen on Thursday (nine pitches, two walks).

He was dejected about that when he spoke with Long Suffering Spouse earlier in the week, but when I spoke to him Sunday, I decided to risk bringing it up.

"Oh, that," he said. "Well, I didn't tell Mom this, but we had a split squad game after our regular game Saturday. That would have been my regular day to start, but we didn't have enough games. So I got called out of the pen again.

"There were runners on second and third and two out," Middle Son continued, "and I realized... I was nervous."

"You? Nervous? That's not like you," I said, and I meant it, too, because he's the kind of kid that usually doesn't let things get to him. That's important for a pitcher: You have to be able to keep your focus even when your catcher gets as badly fooled by your best curve ball as the hitter -- and the baserunner advances on the called strike as the catcher scurries to find the ball. You have to keep that focus even after the last batter takes you deep. It was Yogi Berra who explained, "Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical."

"Well, I was nervous," Middle Son explained, "because coming in out of the pen is so different. I figured out it's what happened to me Thursday, too: I was out of my routine."

"So what happened Saturday?"

"My first pitch was a called strike. And our whole bench started cheering." Middle Son paused, and I could visualize the moment: These were good natured, encouraging cheers, not jeering that he finally got one over. "What could I do?" Middle Son asked rhetorically. "I stepped off the mound and pointed to the dugout and took a little bow."

Middle Son heard later that, at this point, the head coach turned to his assistant and asked what was going on. "Let 'em go," the assistant said. Then Middle Son got back on the mound and struck the batter out.

Probably with a big, dumb, aw-shucks grin on his face, too.

Because that's how he works best. When he looks so relaxed you wonder his arms don't fall out of their sockets, he throws strikes. He gets ground balls. He fields bunts cleanly. When he starts looking grim and determined... well, it gets ugly fast.

And it's not just in baseball. When Middle Son was in grammar school he was in the school band. The band director was the sort of guy who eats, drinks and sleeps band. He was so intense he made coffee nervous. And he could not stand anyone not looking as anxious as he was.

But Middle Son would play his trombone with that big, dumb, aw-shucks grin protruding from either side of the mouthpiece and do just fine. The band director assumed, mistakenly, that if Middle Son would only adopt the same crazed approach that the band director personified, Middle Son would be a virtuoso. Middle Son drove that guy nuts.

And Middle Son has probably turned off a few baseball coaches for the same reason. If he's ever going to impress a scout, it's going to have to be one who understands that some people work best when it looks like they're working least.

I'm not that way.

Talking about this with Middle Son, I realized that I have to get angry to get things done. If I'm positively furious, I'm generally productive.

This is why I tend to work in fits and starts. It's pretty taxing walking around as angry as all that all the time. And it's too easy for a guy like me to skid off the productive path and into incoherent rage. But when I stay on the tracks I do my best work.

Middle Son finds a happy place. I tap the Dark Side.

You can't blame me if I'm a little jealous.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Opening salvos in the battle over prom

I understand it's only March. There's still snow on the ground. There's still snow in the forecast.

But that didn't stop Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse from having a dust-up last night about the upcoming prom.

Two months -- at least! -- before the Big Day and already, apparently, it is the only topic of conversation at Younger Daughter's all-girls school. She's contributed to the down payment on some sort of limo. More money is coming due for tickets. And many of Younger Daughter's friends are planning dress buying expeditions for this weekend.

These facts may have precipitated the discussion, but the conversation quickly zoomed beyond.

Prom, you see, is not just a formal dance where high school seniors on the verge of adulthood dress up like adults and have their first night on the town.

First, adults don't dress up anymore. I love to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers whirl around swanky nightclubs in elegant formal wear... but I don't think I've actually worn formal attire since my wedding.

Second, the kids don't dress up either, especially the girls. Oh, they spend lots of money -- only to wind up looking like the tramps in music videos.

Then there's the "music" -- the profanity-laced "lyrics" celebrating misogyny, crime, casual sex -- and the "dancing" -- well, let's just say that Fred and Ginger wouldn't recognize it as such.

I used to say that prom was a pagan ceremony where any remaining virgins were rounded up and ritually deflowered.

Hmmmmm. Come to think of it, it is perhaps because I gave voice to that theory when I was in high school, over 30 years ago, that I didn't get a prom date.

The passage of time, however, has not substantially softened my harsh opinion of proms.

My kids have all attended Catholic high schools. Single gender Catholic high schools. Even so, they have not been entirely sheltered from the excesses of modern culture. (I have, on occasion, listened to the CD's Younger Daughter has made for the car that she forgets to remove on those rare days when I actually get to drive the vehicle.) My consolation is that my children may have been more sheltered from the common culture than would have been true had they attended a co-ed public high school.

Bad as the "dance" may be, it is the before and after prom activities that really turn prom into a festival of wretched excess. Somewhere, in a more innocent time, someone suggested that the gang all get together the day after the dance for a picnic.

Now, many parents book hotel rooms for their little darlings to do whatever they please after the prom. (No, we won't.) Limos -- or even buses -- are hired so the kids can drink without fear of a DUI arrest. The kids don't go home and then rendezvous the next day for the picnic -- they crash at the hotel and go out for breakfast. Maybe they make it home for dinner the following night.

Fortunately, my two older sons had baseball games on the day after their senior proms. I'm not even certain that Oldest Son went at all. Younger Daughter insists that we let Middle Son stay out all night after another prom that he attended -- and under the inflexible principles of stare decisis we must now agree, supposedly, to let Younger Daughter stay out all night also.

Older Daughter went to her prom. On a blind date. With some peculiar-looking boy whose first name was that of a cartoon character. I never learned his last name, or whether he in fact had one. Long Suffering Spouse thinks I was dispatched to pick them up from a post-prom restaurant after the promised limo failed to arrive. If this is true, I have suppressed the event entirely.

Younger Daughter has no boyfriend, although she has a number of admirers. But this one is expected to take that girl and the other one is still dating someone else, though neither knows why, and there are similar stories for all the rest. It seems quite likely that Younger Daughter will wind up with a 'fix up' date, too.

For this she needs to spend hundreds of dollars on a dress, and hundreds more on a limo and tickets and dinner? (It's her prom -- and this is the modern age -- she'll be expected to pay.) And she wants to stay out all night besides?

It's going to be a long couple of months along the prom battlefront.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More fun with numbers -- the telephone game

A math teacher in real life, Andrée was complimentary about my most recent post about happy numbers.

Thus encouraged, although I knew I was pushing my luck, I was brave enough to try this brain teaser that I stumbled on at this site.

The directions on the original site call for using a calculator. Andrée, if you let your students try this, I hope you'll insist on pencil and paper instead -- it's the Curmudgeon in me.

Anyway, here's the deal:

1. Key in the first three digits of your phone number (not the area code -- what we mature individuals call the 'exchange')

2. Multiply by 80

3. Add 1

4. Multiply by 250

5. Add the last 4 digits of your phone number (yes, this is designed for seven digit phone numbers)

6. Add the last 4 digits of your phone number again

7. Subtract 250

8. Divide number by 2

The answer should look very familiar.

I tried it on three different phone numbers... and it worked each time.

Sprucing up the place a bit: an award, a new gizmo, a milestone, and general housekeeping

Barb, of Skittles' Place, was kind enough to give me this award back on February 25 -- or, in Skittles' world, about 200 posts ago -- and I have been slow to acknowledge the gift. Here it is:

I'll probably lose at least a star because of my breach of etiquette.

And see this little teeny tiny symbol at the left?

You'll find another of these at the bottom of every post now, at least for the time being. You'll note that I sometimes say I "Stumbled" on something? Well, by pressing the "Stumble It" button at the end of one of my posts, you can put my drivel even further out into the Ether where idlers such as myself, mindlessly clicking away on our own Stumble! button might find it. This is supposed to build traffic -- so, if you decide to press the button for something I wrote, make it something you actually liked. I say this knowing full well that the button might now never be used....

I feel very pleased with myself about inserting the code for this properly, until I look at other blogs -- like Ellee Seymour's, for example, which has about 92 different codes inserted at the bottom of each post, or Rhea's (The Boomer Chronicles), which has only about half as many. So, for now, I'll ignore those realities and focus on my modest achievement, thank you.

And, speaking of modest achievement, just after midnight on March 1, this blog welcomed its 25,000th visitor.

To give you an idea of just how modest this achievement is, Skittles' Place has logged over 80,000 visitors in a blog of similar duration. Still, it's a milestone of sorts.

Visitor 25,000 was a Comcast subscriber from a Western suburb of Chicago who arrived looking for a picture of Chicago's Stockyards.

You'll find a little of everything in this blog.

One new thing you'll find this morning is my slightly spruced up Sidebar. I've added in more folks who have linked to me at one time or another. Some have told me about it. Some have tried to hide it, even from themselves. And some sites no longer exist: I recently had to take out Dr. A's "I'm a Blogaholic" link because he just took down the site. But here is the current list:

  • Captain Picard's Journal

  • Blog, blah, blah

  • Doctor Anonymous

  • Muffin 53; Bee's other site

  • Musings of a Phenomenal Webmistress

  • A Place I call Home

  • Nurse Ratched's Place

  • Crouching Mommy, Hidden Laundry

  • The Geek Inside

  • Sarge Charlie

  • The Bestest Blog of All-Time; The New Bestest Blog

  • Skittles' Place

  • Tuskismom Speaks

  • Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' Blog

  • A Work of Art: Raising Our Exceptional Son

  • Time with Shelby

  • Home Fires... by Lois Lane

  • about a nurse

  • Ellee Seymour

  • Soapbox Jury

  • Thermal

  • stuff and nonsense

  • Toadally Talking


  • "Life's A Dance You Learn As You Go..."

  • The Boomer Chronicles

  • A little piece of me

  • The Beach Bum Report

  • Are We There Yet??

  • La La Land

  • Where fiber meets mud

  • The Mind Wobbles

  • Letting each other go

  • Peppermint Energy

  • Home in the Highlands

  • Momma's World

  • Frannycakes

  • All Blogged Up: A Moof's Tale

  • Untwisted Vortex - Living in a Different Land

  • Critique My Blog!

  • Late Bloomer Boomer

  • When I Grow Up

  • It's A Boomer Life

  • Talking to Myself

  • Airhead 55

  • Rather Than Working

  • Cathy's Place

  • wading through my stream of consciousness...

  • The Rising Blogger

  • Liquid Illuzion

  • Maybe I'm Just Confused(Aisby)

  • The Post College Years-Part Two (~*silverneurotic*~)

  • WIXY's Gone Bananas

  • Welcome to the Bobosphere!

  • Down River Drivel

  • Charli and me

  • Cookie's Oven

  • Pheasantly Fascinating

  • Rico's Rants

  • Twist & Skewer

  • Tales from the Den of Chaos

  • If I've forgotten to include you, please let me know.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Don't count her out -- but can she get in? And who's waiting in the wings now?

    People thought I was joking when I suggested recently that a deadlocked Denver convention might abandon both Senators Obama and Clinton and turn to a compromise candidate, Al "It's Not Easy Being Green" Gore. Of course, at that moment, just a couple of weeks ago, Obama was wearing the Mantle of Inevitability.

    Since then, however, we have seen photographs of Obama wearing other things.

    Now Hillary's wins in Ohio and Texas suggest that she really is going to be in this race all the way to the convention.

    The pundits in the newspaper this morning were speculating that neither candidate can now win enough votes to secure a first ballot nomination. The level of intra-party vitriol, that rose significantly with Hillary's "red phone" commercial in Ohio, may continue to escalate through the primaries, up the slopes of the Rockies, and into the convention hall itself.

    A deadlocked Democratic convention can only help Republican presumptive nominee John McCain.

    He'll need it.

    Poor Senator McCain. He finally clinches the Republican nomination last night -- only to be invited to the White House today for lunch. And, as a former Navy officer, he's too steeped in respect for the chain of command to refuse. When the President called, Senator McCain should have said, "Endorse me? Please, no. If you want to help me, endorse Hillary."

    But I digress.

    Anyway, a divided party meets in Denver -- embittered partisans of Obama and Clinton refusing to support the other candidate -- no smoke-filled rooms to fall back on (with the possible exception of Obama -- and he's trying to quit -- none of the Democrats smoke anymore) -- and as the nation looks on, some laughing, some crying, the party will have to reach out for someone else....

    How about Ralph Nader?

    Sure, he's in his 70's -- but so is McCain. The Republicans couldn't make age a factor.

    And Nader's going to run anyway, siphoning off votes from whoever the Democrats nominate.

    Unless, of course, they nominate him.

    Before getting too excited about 'universal health' -- continued

    Herewith an article from the March 1, 2008 edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail. I have no reason to believe the Globe and Mail to be in the thrall of the American insurance industry; a quick check of the newspaper's Wikipedia entry suggests that it has ambitions to be the Canadian newspaper of record.

    I have included Lisa Priest's entire article, not because I am contemptuous of Canadian copyrights (I hope I always respect copyrights), but because I do not wish to be accused of selectively cherry-picking quotations from the article to make a point. I believe, in this instance, for this particular occasion, that full reproduction of this one article constitutes "fair use":

    Why Ontario keeps sending patients south

    More than 400 Canadians in the full throes of a heart attack or other cardiac emergency have been sent to the United States because no hospital can provide the lifesaving care they require here.

    Most of the heart patients who have been sent south since 2003 typically show up in Ontario hospitals, where they are given clot-busting drugs. If those drugs fail to open their clogged arteries, the scramble to locate angioplasty in the United States begins.

    “They rushed me over to Detroit, did the whole closing of the tunnel,” said Eric Bialkowski, 47, of the heart attack he had on March 14, 2007, in Windsor, Ont. “It was like Disneyworld customer service.”

    While other provinces have sent patients out of country – British Columbia has sent 75 pregnant women or their babies to Washington State since February, 2007 – nowhere is the problem as acute as in Ontario.

    At least 188 neurosurgery patients and 421 emergency cardiac patients have been sent to the United States from Ontario since the 2003-2004 fiscal year to Feb. 21 this year. Add to that 25 women with high-risk pregnancies sent south of the border in 2007.

    Although Queen's Park says it is ensuring patients receive emergency care when they need it, Progressive Conservative health critic Elizabeth Witmer says it reflects poor planning.

    That is particularly the case with neurosurgery, she said, noting that four reports since 2003 have predicted a looming shortage.

    “This province and the number of people going outside for care – it's increasing in every area,” Ms. Witmer said.

    “I definitely believe that it is very bad planning. ...We're simply unable to meet the demand, but we don't even know what the demand is.”

    Tom Closson, the Ontario Hospital Association's president and chief executive officer, said 30 per cent of Ontario's hospital medical beds are currently occupied by patients awaiting more appropriate placements, such as assisted living centres, a nursing home, a rehabilitation facility or even their own homes with proper home-care supports.

    That squeezes the system at both ends: Patients in intensive care units whose condition improves cannot get into step-down units, and some emergency patients can't get a bed at all, he said, adding that “everything is jam-packed at the moment.”

    A method for determining the right mix of beds and health services required in Ontario needs to be developed, he said, noting that that task has not been undertaken on a provincial basis for a decade.

    Laurel Ostfield, press secretary to provincial Health Minister George Smitherman, said that in emergencies, where the patient goes becomes a clinical decision.

    It is preferable for someone with a heart attack in Windsor to be sent to Detroit, a few kilometres away, rather than on a long ride to London, Ont.

    When demand has peaked, government has responded, she said. It struck a neurosurgery expert panel to study the problem and $4.1-million has been provided to stem the tide of U.S. neurosurgery patients.

    As well, stand-alone angioplasty services were created in Windsor in May.

    Canadian Medical Association president Brian Day said he couldn't speak about the Ontario problem, but noted this country is the last in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to finance hospitals with global budgets.

    Under that model, patients – and often doctors – are sometimes viewed as a financial drain.

    “We keep coming back to the same root cause,” Dr. Day said in a telephone interview from Ottawa. “The health system is not consumer-focused.”

    Patients first learn of the problem when they are critically ill.

    Jennifer Walmsley went to Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville in October and was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage due to a ruptured aneurysm. That acute-care hospital does not have neurosurgery and no Ontario hospital that does could take her. She was then rushed to a Buffalo hospital.

    Headwater's chief of staff, Jeff McKinnon, said three neurosurgery patients have been sent to Buffalo in the past year. Others have gone to Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton and London.

    Radiologist Louise Keevil said Headwaters has an arrangement with neurosurgeons at other Ontario hospitals to send electronic images for their assessment, but “the limiting factor is availability of beds in their hospital.

    “The physicians are very accommodating but their hands are tied by availability of service.”

    Kaukab Usman had a heart attack after a gym workout in Windsor on Dec. 9. She was rushed to hospital and given clot-bursting drugs.

    When they failed, she was sent to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where she had angioplasty on one clogged artery and two stents inserted.

    “It was a miracle for me to be alive,” Ms. Usman said in a telephone interview from Somerset, New Jersey, where she is recuperating.

    Aaron Kugelmass, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Henry Ford Hospital, said a system is in place to get these patients the care they need expeditiously.

    “We try to make their length of stay in the U.S. as short as possible,” said Dr. Kugelmass, associate division chief of cardiology. “If they are stable for discharge, we discharge them to home in Windsor, with clear follow-up plans.”

    Cross-border emergency health care should become less frequent when Amr Morsi, an interventional cardiologist currently in Orlando, Florida, comes to work at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor in April; a second interventional cardiologist is to come on board there by end of year.

    When the program is fully functional, Dr. Morsi expects Hotel-Dieu Grace to be able to do 500 angioplasties a year.

    “The idea of starting the program in Windsor is that we will be able to do more of the angioplasty procedures in Windsor without having to send them to Detroit or London,” said the Toronto native who did his cardiology training at the University of Toronto.

    “It will take some time to decrease the numbers entirely, but that certainly is the long term plan.”

    Mr. Bialkowski of Lakeshore, a town east of Windsor, had angioplasty and received four stents. The stents, typically made of self-expanding, stainless steel mesh, were placed at the site of the fully blocked artery to keep it open.

    The price to treat him, including a two-day hospital stay in March, 2007, was $40,826.21 (U.S.) With a 35 per cent discount from Henry Ford Hospital, the bill to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan tallied $26,537.03(U.S.), according to a health ministry document, a copy of which was sent to Mr. Bialkowski.

    The father of six, a human resources manager for a manufacturing company based in Windsor, is back at the gym and feels great. It didn't matter where he received the lifesaving care, he said, just so long as he obtained it.

    “I guess the Canadian government took care of me,” he said.

    It's nice that American hospitals can provide this service for our Canadian neighbors -- but how long would we be able to do under our own "universal health" system? And where will we go then?

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Nurses seducing patients in British hospitals?

    Mother Jones RN would probably have a fabulous pulp paperback cover to illustrate this story, but I shudder to think what she'd say about it: According to Health Editor Sarah-Kate Templeton's article for the March 2 edition of the Sunday Times, "Almost one in 10 nurses think starting a relationship with one of their patients is acceptable while one in six said they knew of a colleague who had a sexual relationship with a patient they were looking after."

    These findings were published in something called the Nursing Times and are based on a survey of 3,600 British nurses. The Royal College of Nursing, showing more traditional British reserve, pronounced these findings "very concerning."

    I heard this story over the radio as Long Suffering Spouse and I were pulling into the driveway of our home; she'd come to meet my train. She turned the radio off and looked at me. I looked back, trying to compose my features into the most innocent face possible.

    I was not entirely successful.

    "No," she said, "we are not moving to England."

    Heads or Tails #28 -- 7 things

    Our stern taskmistress, Barb, the principal of Heads or Tails High, has given us a mathematical challenge today: List seven things from any category. Mathematical challenges are particularly tough for most lawyers, most of whom can only divide by three, but I shall accept the challenge.

    A moment, please, while I center myself....

    OK -- seven numbers: 1, 7, 10, 13, 19, 23, and 28.

    These, it turns out, are the first seven "happy numbers" -- something I'd never heard of either before undertaking today's assignment.

    Here's how they work:
    72 = 49
    42 + 92 = 97
    92 + 72 = 130
    12 + 32 + 02 = 10
    12 + 02 = 1
    Did you get that? Take a number and square it. Break the resulting number into individual digits. Square each digit and add them up. Repeat for the resulting sum... and do so as necessary until (quoting now from the Wikipedia entry) "the number equals 1 (where it will stay), or it loops endlessly in a cycle which does not include 1. Those numbers for which this process ends in 1 are happy numbers, while those that do not end in 1 are unhappy numbers."

    Personally, I would have defined happy numbers as those numbers present on a check payable to me, while unhappy numbers would be defined as those present on a check made payable by me.

    No, I don't know what these might be useful for either.

    But you can't say you didn't learn something today while surfing the Internet. Does this make you happy?

    Monday, March 03, 2008

    Happy Casimir Pulaski Day

    Most of you outside the State of Illinois may be confused by this salutation, and well you might be: Wikipedia reports that Casimir Pulaski Day is a holiday almost unique to Illinois, though a similar day is observed in parts of Wisconsin and there's a proclamation, but no holiday, in neighboring Indiana.

    Pulaski was a Polish volunteer in the American Revolution and is regarded as the Father of American Cavalry. For those afflicted with insatiable historical curiosity, here is a link to General Pulaski's Wikipedia biographical sketch.

    The Pulaski Day holiday was first observed in Illinois in 1978. This was also the year that elections for state offices were severed from presidential elections: For example, though elected in 1976, Republican Governor James R. Thompson was forced to run for reelection in 1978. And, for many years, Chicago had the largest Polish community in the world, with the exception of Warsaw. (Things may have changed recently, but only just.) Thus, a zeal for history and a need to commemorate a great American Revolutionary hero can only be considered as part of the legislature's motivation to proclaim the holiday.

    Whatever other motives may be ascribed or imagined, anything that is done in Illinois is done -- at least in part -- for votes.