Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Memory


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the USA and I was thinking of listing all the people in my life to whom I owe a debt of thanks. The more I thought about it the list grew larger and larger until I realized that it would be impossible to list everyone. Often when we think of thanksgiving, we think of offering thanks to God, but the older I get the more I realize that God works through the people we have known and encountered in our lives.

Since I can’t list everybody here, I will just single out my sister-in-law, Anita, who died suddenly yesterday after suffering a stroke. She was married to my brother Joe for almost fifty years, and loved by him and her three daughters. It will be very hard for them this Thanksgiving but they do have a lot to be thankful for. They liked the same things, especially their getaway cabin in the Catskills. They were both New York Yankee fans and I never met a more loyal or knowledgeable fan than Anita.

Anita was quiet and reserved, and I can’t say that I was ever able to get to know her very well. I married and left the old neighborhood in Queens, but my brother  and Anita stayed in the City.  We would meet at the occasional family gatherings where she was usually content to sit on the couch with her daughters and take it all in. I suspect that she was usually laughing within as the human comedy played on before her.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stupidity from Urinals to Politics

This week the art world was filled with the news of the record breaking modern art sale conducted by Christie's. Although not one of the really big-ticket items, Robert Gober’s “Three Urinals” went for about $3,500,000. Even though my six-year-old granddaughter has chided me about my use of the word “stupid, ” I will say that this art news item is one of the top stupid things in a week where the news was full of stupidity.

I don’t think that the high bidder for the “Three Urinals” was necessarily stupid. I’m sure the bidder regards it as an investment that will surely appreciate in an increasingly crazy art market. I don’t think the artist was stupid because anyone who could put something over like that has to rank with the craftiest con men. The really stupid thing was the commentary that featured a breathless curator at the Museum of Modern art extolling the virtue of the “Three Urinals.” Here’s a link to a short video, or just view below.

Next in stupidity was the news that an economist from MIT, who had consulted for the Obama administration on the framing of the “Affordable Care Act”, has admitted that he deliberately fudged the cost figures because the American people were too “stupid” to understand the truth. Apparently, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had to be fed phony figures (“garbage” in the words of one official) so that they could turn out figures that a stupid public and their representatives would swallow.

It turns out that despite the President’s pledge, it was never intended that the American people could keep their policies if they liked them. It turns out that popular employer sponsored plans were secretly targeted for elimination, as were popular Health Maintenance plans employed by Seniors instead of Medicare.

We can’t say that the MIT economist was stupid because he was paid around $400000 for his consulting work, and still was able to keep his own medical plan at MIT. Also, I don’t think the American people are as stupid as he thinks. The really stupid in this episode were the bureaucrats at the CBO who connived in the deception; the people’s representatives in Congress who voted for Obamacare without reading or understanding all its ramifications; and the media who swallowed all the “garbage” without question.

Here in Connecticut another example of stupidity came out right after the re-election of Democrat Governor Dannell Malloy for another four-year term. In the week after Election Day the State’s budget office released the startling figures that showed the State facing a projected $100 Million deficit in this fiscal year. Certainly, the Governor and his minions in the budget office are not stupid since they wisely withheld the information until after the election.

The stupid are the editors, reporters, and commentators of the local newspaper whose coverage of the campaign was totally oblivious to the impending deficit, and who could only claim to be "shocked, shocked" by the news. Throughout the campaign they had chosen to follow the Governor’s lead and concentrate their attention upon the Republican opponent’s character and wealth. To be fair, I have to say that Republican candidate demonstrated his own share of stupidity when he failed to focus on the impending budget shortfall.

Finally, on the local level, the head of the Fairfield Democrat committee responded to charges that one of her candidates lost because she ran a “negative” campaign. She explained that whatever was said about the candidate's opponent could not be negative because it was true. It didn't occur to her that when you stress your own candidate’s character and achievements, that is “positive.” But when you focus on the opponent’s lack of character and achievement, that is “negative.” Either the head of the local Democrat party, like the MIT economist, thinks we are stupid, or else she is just stupid herself.

Let me just end with a note from a friend in England about the “Three Urinals.” He told me that he had gone for a walk in a local park and came upon a rest station where he also found three urinals. He took a photo and sent it to me. They looked to be in pristine working condition, and unlike their modern art cousins seem to be good for something,


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hearing Dysfunction

As far as I know, Medicare does not pay for hearing aids, and if Medicare doesn’t pay then Medicare Supplements or Medicare Advantage plans will not pay. My Medicare Advantage plan will only pay $50 toward an annual hearing exam. For that matter I do not believe that any of the insurance plans approved by the Government under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will pay for hearing aids for the many who suffer from aural dysfunction.

A recent visit to an audiologist indicated that at age 75, I have suffered some hearing loss. My wife has been warning me of this for some time and likes to make fun of my many bloopers. Actually, in the audiologist’s waiting room a woman sitting next to me asked the receptionist, “Where are the cats?” I looked around and wondered if the doctor had cats that he let walk around the office. I finally asked the woman about the cats, and she replied that she had asked about her “cab” that was late in picking her up.

So, it was no surprise that the exam indicated some hearing loss, and that a hearing aid was recommended. The audiologist even offered a free two or three day trial to see if I liked them. It reminded me of the way in which pet shops would allow you to take a puppy or kitten home to see if you would like it. I guess most people decide that they like the hearing improvement.

Midway through my trial I’m not sure. These modern hearing aids are incredibly sophisticated and introduce you to a world of strange, unfamiliar sounds. The first day was really incredible. I never knew the rustling of my garments made so much noise, or that my footsteps were so loud. I never realized how deafening our old grandfather’s clock was, or how noisy it was flushing the toilet. Outside, I had never heard the neighbor’s kids screaming before.

Most incredible was the sound of my own voice. To me, I sounded like Darth Vader inside his helmut. It was like speaking through an amplifier with a slight delay. I do admit that by the second day it didn’t sound so bad.

Nevertheless, I’m not sure that I’ll go for the improvement in hearing. I am far from deaf and I can still have normal conversations with my wife despite the occasional bloopers. But I have come to realize that I sort of like my quiet world where lawn mowers or passing cars don’t sound so loud.

There is also the question of cost and that gets me back to my medical insurance. The tiny hearing devices will cost about $4000, and I believe that is in the mid range. Friends tell me they have paid almost twice that, and I’m sure there are some older models that are cheaper. The $4000 is more than the cost of my complicated and delicate eye surgery of a few years ago that was covered by Medicare.

It seems to me that a large bill like this is precisely what medical insurance is for. I see that my Medicare Advantage plan will pay for drugs like Viagra for those men who suffer from so-called erectile dysfunction. The ads are on TV every day. Why is erectile dysfunction more serious than aural dysfunction?

In the debate over the Affordable Care Act, President Obama insisted that his plan would rid the nation of sub-par plans. As far as I can tell, the only thing sub-par about these existing plans was that they did not cover the cost of contraceptives.  
Some politicians have claimed that the cost for a year’s supply of birth control pills can be $600. That is surely the high end since a web search indicated that birth control pills could cost from $15 to $50 per month. The same site indicated that organizations like Planned Parenthood sell them for much less. A letter writer to a newspaper argued that a month’s supply can be purchased at Walmart for $4.00.

Advocates argue that the pills are a necessary women’s health item. But toothpaste is also a necessary health item and no one suggests that it be covered by insurance. We expect everyone to purchase their own from the huge array that can be found on the shelves.

If I do decide on the hearing aids, I will pay for them myself even though they are a high cost item. I will make the decision on whether the potential benefit justifies the cost. I realize that there are a lot of people, especially seniors, in this country who have more serious hearing loss than me, and who cannot afford hearing aids.

Why were these people forced to pay for Viagra and contraceptives? How many, if given the option might have elected coverage that would restore their hearing? It’s too bad that there is no such thing as “aural” sex, for then hearing loss might be regarded as a more serious matter.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Humor 2014

Malloy and Foley
One thing that was conspicuously absent in both the national and local election campaigns this year was a sense of humor. Back in the eighteenth century John Wilkes, a notorious, radical writer and troublemaker, was running for a seat in the British House of Commons. During one campaign speech h heckler interrupted him and shouted: I would rather vote for the Devil than for you! Wilkes calmly replied. “Since your friend is not a candidate, may I have your vote?”

Humor was one of Ronald Reagan’s great qualities and certainly helped him attract support from all over the political spectrum. His humor helped him attract support from Democrats even though he never hid his love for the Republican Party and what it stood for. Even though he had a strong message, he always won huge majorities because he was such an attractive messenger.

It is hard to imagine two more humorless candidates than the two contestants this year in Connecticut’s race for Governor. One commentator pointed out last night that both the incumbent Democratic Governor Dannell Malloy, and his Republican opponent businessman Tom Foley had very high negative ratings in polls. It was not just the attack ads that no one pays any attention to anyway. Neither candidate seemed likable.

It’s not just a matter of hiring some joke writers, or phony gestures like taking off your tie and jacket and rolling up your sleeves. Humor and likeability ultimately springs from humility, a quality that allows one to look at oneself and realize that the whole world does not revolve around you. When one of his followers once asked St. Francis why they should listen to him, he replied paradoxically that it was because he was the last person in the world that anyone should listen to. He knew his limitations.

This lack of humor and humility is really evident in the incredibly long and boring speeches that candidates, whether victorious or defeated, give to their assembled partisans and the TV audience once the outcome is known. Is it possible that they really believe the words they are uttering ad nauseum? I pity the poor wives, who know all their husband’s foibles and weaknesses, as they stand by having to endure the avalanche of bullshit. The defeated candidates are even worse in their remarks. When do they ever admit that their game plan might have been deficient or that they made errors of judgment or execution? 

As of this writing although a Republican wave seems to have swept over the country and propelled the Republicans into control of both houses of Congress, Governor Malloy seems to have won a narrow victory over Republican challenger Foley in my home state of Connecticut. I thought that there was plenty of opportunity for Foley to inject some humor into his campaign and make his own image more attractive to voters. 

Malloy made Foley’s personal wealth the central issue of his campaign. Rather than take this charge seriously during the debates, I think Foley could have deflected this charge with a little humor. At one point Foley did offer a moratorium on personal attacks but Malloy refused. Foley could have then attained a Reagan moment by declaring that he would honor the moratorium himself, but ignore all of Malloy’s venom. He could have pointed out that he was a relative piker compared to Connecticut's Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal or popular Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.

Anyway, the election is over but politicians and pundits will still provide much material for humor. Last night watching the election commentary on PBS, it was hard not to laugh at the sad faces of the reporters as news of one Republican victory after another came in. They could hardly conceal their disappointment.

Of course, few provide better material for laughs than Vice-President Joe Biden. Again, as news of the loss of Congress came in, he claimed that the Obama Administration is now willing to compromise. What a joke!

P.S. On a local note, Republican Connecticut State Representative Tony Hwang won election to the State Senate. Hwang ran a serious campaign but at the same time he exuded enthusiasm, a positive attitude, and likeability. In all humility I have to say that the endorsement of the Weekly Bystander was not responsible for his considerable margin of victory.
Tony Hwang