Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where Were You Dec. 21?

Being a seer is a pretty cushy occupation. One of my old college buddies, Jim McCurdy, after trying business courses with moderate success decided to study meteorology. Shortly after his graduation, he landed a weather forecaster job at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Jim said it was the best job in the world. He couldn’t fail.

“When our predictions don’t work out quite right, we just say some highly unusual pattern developed at the last minute,” McCurdy said. “Everybody knows the weather is fickle, so nobody puts any blame on us.”

Something like that happened in many places Dec. 21, as we awaited the end of the world or the start of a new Mayan calendar cycle, depending on whose tea leaves you were reading. A convention center near Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan Penninsula was popular.

About a thousand shamans, seers, stargazers, yogis, sufis, and swamis gathered to participate with self-appointed leader Alberto Arribalzaga in experiencing spirals of light entering their heads. This phenomenon was expected to “generate powerful vortexes that cover the planet.” 

We’ve been to Chichen Itza. I was not terribly impressed, so it was easy to resist any impulse to go there to celebrate either the end of the world or the launching of a new one. As it turned out, being there could be dangerous. The guardian of the “sacred flame” burned a finger handling the kindling wood. He later had to scoop up a burning log that was knocked out of the brazier and threatened to start a blaze that might have destroyed the wooden stage.

Many celebrants from distant places raised their arms high toward the sun after it ushered in “cosmic dawn.” Unfortunately, those with fair skin suffered painful sunburns for their trouble, a fate that could have befallen me had I made the pilgrimage to the Yucatan.

These reports made me feel good about my decision to stay home. Seeking to bolster my confidence that the world was not going to end, I spent part of the day performing pelvic muscle contractions, an exercise that can improve one’s bladder control. I believed that would do more good for the world, at least my immediate world, than anything I could have accomplished in Mexico.

Meanwhile the good mystics at Chichen Itza settled down once they realized apocalypse was not going to be now and proclaimed on Dec. 22 the start of a new era. Celebrants said they had witnessed the “birth of a new and better age.”

If that turns out to be true, I promise to hurry off to Chichen Itza and hug every Mayan I can find, but only after applying generous amounts of sun screen. We might have to wait another 5,000 or so years for the Mayan New Age to fully develop, so for now let's just wish each other a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What a Great Idea!

The National Rifle Association scored a bulls eye (pun intended) with its delayed pronouncement regarding the slaughter at Newtown, CT. The NRA plan is to post an armed guard in every U.S. school while we wait to understand and deal with the mentality of deranged killers, something humans have tried and failed to do for a few thousand years or so. 

The NRA’s inelegant spokesman Wayne LaPierre no doubt considered all the advantages of the plan he espoused. We have 132,183 first through twelfth grade schools in the U.S. One new job at each school thus would improve the national unemployment situation a trifle. That trifle would, of course, cost the federal government or local governments and school districts bundles they don't have, but the generous LaPierre has offered to have the NRA fund development of a training plan for the new hires to defray part of the cost.

More guns would save lives!
We, of course, would want our school guards to be well-equipped. Only the latest weaponry would do. The NRA plan thus would result in adding 132,183 gun sales or more to augment the 300 million weapons how in circulation in the U.S.

Adding the new guns would provide a mini-stimulus to our still-recovering economy and some welcome additional cash for gun manufacturers. We assume guns manufactured outside the U.S. would be banned under the plan, but maybe not. That would be “gun control,” and the NRA generally does not welcome any of that sort of nonsense.

The number of Americans continues to grow as our resource base declines, so LaPierre’s proposal would help a little with population control. One more death would be added to the toll in each new school massacre. The shooter would kill the guard before firing at teachers and children.

Perhaps we could solve this problem by expanding the plan to arm every teacher and child. Then shooters might be killed before much additional damage was done, although gun battles are notorious for generating random shots that frequently injure or kill nonparticipants. This conventional wisdom could be wrong, because NRA experts constantly tell us that guns don't kill people. It follows that stray bullets don't kill people, either.

In addition to streamlining the population, LaPierre would improve the Constitution by making it more compact. His rather vague statements that we should censor undesirable media in preference to improving gun safety controls would require us to delete the part of the first amendment that guarantees the right of free speech. Perhaps his plan is to do away with the first amendment altogether, thus elevating his sacred second amendment to the top of the list.

Carried to its extreme, the NRA plan also would add to pleasant childhood memories for all Americans. Getting an education in concentration camps surely would be more delightful than attending traditional schools. 

There is much to be said for the NRA plan, but none of it smacks of intelligence.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Exhausting Christmas Past

The story that follows, with minor changes, appeared in my memoir, “Days With The Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist,” which was published in 2008. Please read the conclusion with a grain of salt. I never again got the opportunity to play Santa, but I’d have done it in a heartbeat just to see the expressions of awe and joy on the little ones’ faces.

Best wishes to you and all the kids in your life for a wonderful holiday season.

                      * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ho, Ho, Ho. . . .No, No, No

It has been hard to escape Santa since merchants succeeded in advancing the holiday season to start right around Thanksgiving time.

You now can visit a Santa just about everywhere serious shopping is happening, rent one for the kids’ party, or be one after you buy an outfit complete with beard for $39.95.

Santas weren’t nearly so ubiquitous in 1957, but they did make plenty of appearances and I was among those on duty. No chimneys were involved in my appearance. It was a bigger deal than that. I arrived on Broadway Avenue in De Pere, Wisconsin, in a giant motorized sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer, courtesy of the  Chamber of Commerce.

In a discussion of how we at the Journal-Democrat were going to participate in Santa’s annual visit, a burning question was who would play the rotund one since publisher John Creviere was getting a bit old for the job. As the youngest, chubbiest, and most naive person around, I was volunteered.

The elder Creviere’s lengthy resume included work with amateur acting groups. He had a professional makeup kit and knew how to use it. He made 21-year-old me into a truly authentic-looking Claus, complete with rosy cheeks and a beard the little ones couldn’t pull off.

The children of De Pere certainly believed I was the real thing. Santa and a couple of helpers handed out 2,000 popcorn balls during the event. It was a very long day.

A photo, taken by Paul Creviere, of one handout to a cute little tyke appeared on the front page of our paper that week. That was pretty easy to pull off, since John owned the printing press, Paul was the general manager, and I was the editor.

It was the only time a photo of me ever graced the front page of a newspaper, and I couldn’t even identify myself in the caption!

Santa was totally pooped after passing out all the goodies and muttering nice things to the multitude of kiddies. When John started removing my greasepaint after handing me a shot of brandy, he asked how I was feeling about the whole thing. I was feeling like I never wanted to play Santa again.

Ho, ho,ho, but no thanks. I learned it was much more pleasant to admire the activities of the old gent from a distance than to occupy the suit. There are easier ways to get your picture in the paper.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Can I Say?

I borrowed this graphic from blogger Pied Type. With it, she listed the names and ages of all the victims of our latest massacre. Each one will be missed. I can think of nothing more to say.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

They Oughta Have Heart

Absurd Supreme Court rulings notwithstanding, few would believe big corporations have all the attributes of people. For one thing, people have hearts. Big corporations don’t these days, if they ever did.  Pfizer, the biggest drug provider in the world proved it once again this holiday season.

Pfizer announced on Dec. 5 that it will cut its primary-care sales force. The corporation did not specify how many people will lose their jobs, or at which locations the cuts will be made. It would be hard to design an announcement to induce more stress in employees and have a more negative effect on productivity if one had those goals in mind. Thousands now are sitting and wondering, “Will it be me?”

The doomed workers won’t have to stew for long, however. The company said it will notify affected employees of their job termination on Dec. 20. What a Christmas present!

Apparently not employee lives
Couldn’t this affair have been handled in a more sensitive way? A simple delay of the whole thing until after the holidays would have been better. And a public announcement the same day the notices were delivered probably would have been less stressful for those involved. Perhaps the dolts who planned the timing could do something positive and hand themselves a termination notice.

But than, the whole affair smells like a year-end stock manipulation. The news was "leaked" to Dow Jones. Nevertheless, if a stock price uptick is the goal the result still shows a lack of sensitivity toward employees.

According to my local newspaper, Pfizer has reduced its workforce by about 50,000 people since 2005. Despite this indication of long-time poor management, the company continues to reward its top executives with huge multimillion-dollar compensation packages.

Maybe those managers could do the company a favor by taking early retirements. That would free lots of salary money that could be used to retain employees who make positive contributions to the corporation. That would show some real heart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Correction: It Was "Friendly" Fire

My post on October 11, 2011 said:

“Capt. Drew E. Russell (U.S. Army), 25, Scotts, Michigan. Killed by a rocket-propelled grenade In Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, October 8, 2011.”

That statement was based on an official announcement by the Army. Now, a review of internal Army records and interviews in the U.S. and Afghanistan by the Association Press show the report was untrue in one important respect. Capt. Russell was not killed by “the enemy” as the brief account implied. He died after being shot three times in the back in what investigators called a calculated and coordinated attack by Afghan soldiers entrusted to work alongside their U.S. partners.

At least 63 coalition troops have been killed and more than 85 wounded in some 46 insider attacks so far this year.

Does anyone out there believe we and our allies should stay in Afghanistan?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Geezer Encounters Obamacare

Although some major provisions of the much-discussed Affordable Care Act don’t kick in for another year or more, a few things are in place now. I had my first encounter with Obamacare last month.

The pleasant lady on the phone said, “It’s time to schedule your Medicare wellness exam.”

“Is that a new name for my annual physical?” I asked.

“You’ll find it’s a little different,” she said, “and one nice difference is that it’s free. Medicare now is required to provide a yearly wellness assessment, so you won’t have any copay or other cost.”

I like free things. We agreed on a date and time very quickly.

The preliminary stuff conducted by our favorite nurse was same old, same old. She got my weight, pulse reading, and blood pressure recorded and settled me in to wait for our family doc. He has been conducting my annual physicals for the past four years. I’ve been pleased with his professionalism and genial manner. Usually, he spends 20 minutes to a half hour with me.

This time, our meeting was more than a little bit different. The doctor was with me for a solid hour. He ran through a lengthy checklist item-by-item, including questions regarding home safety and my mental state. I’ve been getting annual physicals for more than 20 years from highly competent doctors, but never was one nearly as extensive as the new Medicare exam, which is required by Obamacare.

When we finished the exam, my doctor handed me a copy of the form he filled out as he went. With it, I can tell precisely what my major office test readings were, the names of two additional tests he would arrange for me at a local hospital, and his recommendations for the future.

I know from earlier talks that my doctor has not been a fan of Obamacare. I tried tactfully to get a handle on his current opinion by asking him if the new requirements caused any big changes in his procedures. “Well,” he said, “there’s a whole new emphasis on prevention, and that’s a good thing.”

As one element of prevention for me, he scheduled a bone density test, something the new system recommends for people my age. My Medicare and Blue Cross insurances would have covered almost all the cost of the test in the past, but a $65 co-pay charge would have come out of my pocket. Obamacare requires that Medicare cover all the costs if the test results from an annual wellness exam. The co-pay was waived. We can always use an extra $65 around our place, and the free exam added another nice bonus to our modest household budget.

Obamacare also requires health providers to join the modern world by automating their systems to better track and share data. My doctor has been ahead of that game for some time. He conducts his physical exams with a lap-top computer up and running. However, getting exam results has been another matter. That often involved several phone calls and some minor delays, which could cause important misunderstandings.

This time, the results of my bone density test and the doc’s advice to make a little change in my lifestyle because of it appeared as an e-mail notice that the message was readily available to me on a secure site.

The message was clearly written and invited me to start a computer dialogue with the doctor if I had questions. I liked that a lot. In addition to pleasing patients, the quick, accurate communication probably will reduce some administrative costs at his clinic.

We are told that Obamacare does need some improvements, especially in the establishment of insurance pools by states. However, so far in my book it gets an AAA rating.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Words Do Matter

Perhaps if those interested in government that serves the people stopped talking about “entitlements” and started describing programs that help millions of  Americans live decent lives as “safety nets,” we would have a more rational public discourse about fiscal responsibility.