Set It Off

A truck and a house damaged during a rampage by Barry Swegle driving a bulldozer. Several homes and vehicles were damaged or destroyed. — — — — (AP Photo/The Peninsula Daily News, Keith Thorpe)

Sometimes I look at crime data and crime reports and I can’t help but wonder what causes some people to flip out over seemingly small things, while others keep their cool, even under some enormous stressors. Then, the things that some people define as something small become a goliath-sized problem to someone else.

Most people would tend to become super enraged if the safety of their loved ones were threatened, especially if the safety of their kids were threatened. But many people break down over many little, day-to-day, things. They don’t seem to have a filter. They fight over any and everything.

I think of this person I saw who posted a video on Facebook Live over this past weekend, and he was angry over a bigoted, homophobic neighbor; in his recording, he was wielding a hammer and stated explicitly that he didn’t care if his actions landed him in jail. I could see in his face and his eyes and hear in his voice how angry he was. I won’t repeat his exact words, as his rage caused him to use some rather intense language. He spoke in a very graphic and violent tone. It was clear how upset he was. That video was labeled Part 1. He never posted a Part 2, not that I saw. So, I don’t know if he cooled off — or carried out his threats and ended up in police custody. At least he, unlike many under similar circumstances, considered the consequences. He acknowledged in the video that he planned on  hurting his neighbor and that it would draw the attention of law enforcement. That video would be mighty damning should the matter end up in criminal court.

The other night, a few days earlier, I was watching the show 20/20, and it featured the Port Angeles man, Barry Swegle, from several years ago who used a bulldozer to damage homes and cars of his neighbors. Evidently there was some type of dispute over the placement of a fence that lead to the incident. I’m unclear the exact nature of the fence dispute, but Mr. Swegle was unhappy, and he drove his International Harvester TD-25 tractor into his neighbors’ homes and cars. In the heat of the moment, he took action into his own hands and didn’t consider the consequences of his actions. Thankfully, nobody was physically injured. It’s a miracle though, looking at the condition of the property he damaged.

Human behavior can be fascinating. What is it that makes some people deal with disappointment and frustrations in an even-tempered manner while someone else in the same situation delivers a complete melt down? Is it experience? I mean, is it something we learn from childhood — how to cope with (or not cope with) problems, or is there something innate within our psyche that leads us to handle things the way that we do? Some might point to a person’s impaired mental health. It’s no question that we underestimate the problems associated with mental wellness. I think it’s due in large measure because people don’t seek mental health treatment often. People go to a mouth doctor or an eye doctor or a foot doctor or a general practitioner without any hesitation. But people avoid seeing a psychological evaluation. There is still a stigma associated with seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist or other mental health professional. Maybe a mental health consultation and treatment might have made a difference in this situation. Who knows? But it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

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Healthcare Dream

I had a bizarre dream about health care in the United States. Depending on the health care provider you may have, your experience will be wonderful or atrocious or mediocre or alright or doable or yes, it could also be bizarre. Some providers cover much more than others or your deductible or your copay could vary a great deal. The most bizarre part is, what you have available to you for a provider varies greatly depending on your employer.

For the average person, you won’t always know how good or bad your health care provider is until you use it. Choosing the right one is crucial. Where you work plays a big part in it. Some employers offer workers multiple options, and others offer only one option. Those employers who offer multiple options don’t make it easy for employees trying to select the best one for their families. Additionally, having multiple options is only part of it. Some employers make workers pay more than other employers do. On average, employers contribute about 80% of the cost of an insurance plan on the high end and about 70% on the lower end. I know you may think the high amount you pay is killing you financially and that your employer is making you pay too much. There’s no steadfast rule on how much an employer should pay. It’s discretionary from one entity to the next. But generally, the employee’s share is usually a paltry amount of the overall share. That’s certainly true of larger employers. That’s not usually the case for smaller employers or definitely not always so for not-for-profit entities. Employees in a smaller organization tend to pay a lot more for the same coverage that an employee might pay in a larger employer. That’s often a consideration (costs) if more than one insurer is offered. . . they often choose the one that is a smaller chunk out of their pay.

Sometimes – well, prior to the crowd limitations caused by this COVID-19 pandemic – employers who offer multiple choices for healthcare host a healthcare fair during the open enrollment period annually, also called open season. It’s an opportunity for employees to add, edit, or change their healthcare coverage without scrutiny or limitations on pre-existing conditions. It lets you change from a plan that may be too expensive or isn’t otherwise meeting your needs. During this healthcare fair, the various providers send a representative who could talk to employees, explain all the different nuances of their healthcare plans, and answer questions. That was particularly useful for those with a prospectus that wasn’t easy to read.

Then, on the other extreme are the plans that are plain and clear and easy to understand. They are a piece of cake, and they are very easy to read – they aren’t complex at all to comprehend. There shouldn’t be such vast differences. That’s definitely bizarre to me. But I think I’m getting too far off track here. This dream I had was super bizarre. Keep reading.

The setting of the dream was around the year 2099. All the people reading these words will be wearing their wings by then, unless the real fountain of youth is discovered. Anyhow in 2099, the United States adopted a universal healthcare system that was solely funded by the federal government. It was judged as the best in the world. Don’t laugh. I know someone is laughing, and I get it. With the quality of healthcare in America in years past, I don’t blame those who are scoffing. But really, this new one is unlike anything the United States has ever seen. Yes, it was frowned upon by many, initially. But over time, people grew into thinking it was a good idea. It was so good that other nations began adopting it – or parts of it – for their own healthcare systems. All of the dozens of healthcare providers were encapsulated into a single company, and the profit motive of healthcare was eliminated.

This American universal healthcare plan covered 100% of the costs associated with examinations, diagnoses, inpatient and outpatient procedures, advanced and initial consultations, and prescription medications. It even covered 50% of over the counter medicines and topical gels and ointments. It covered so many more things than are customarily covered. The sweetest thing is, there were no out-of-pocket costs, deductibles, or copayments for patients. You didn’t even need a referral to a specialist. You could just go and get evaluated and if needed, treated. The only thing explicitly not covered was elective procedure, such as cosmetic surgery. Even that could be covered under certain circumstances. Facelift surgery might be covered if the procedure is necessary to clear one’s nasal cavity or improve a sinus/breathing problem. Chest reduction might be authorized if it were deemed medically necessary to correct a spinal or skeletal problem or recurring back pain. Anybody who wants to change their size purely for aesthetic reasons would pay for it on their own.

That’s the gist of the dream. Everyone ended up with the same level of care, and it didn’t matter where you lived and it didn’t matter how much money you had.  Healthcare should be like education. Everybody deserves to experience the same in every inch of the country.

One day we’ll wake up and find this is not just a dream, but I wouldn’t count on it any time soon.

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The Movie Industry: Times Are Changing

Several years ago, I went to see to see a movie along with four friends. I think it was the movie Moonlight.  The more I sit here thinking of it, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. It was a fun evening at the E. Street Cinema in Northwest DC. I think the tickets were $13 apiece. Times have changed just in the last couple of years.

During 2020, resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, people began buying movies at home. Most businesses shut down. Some of them shut down temporarily, while others closed for good. To try and recoup some of the financial loss, some production companies have been showing more of their new releases via various streaming services. All the new movies I wanted to see aired on either Disney Plus or HBO Max. There were only two that interested me. I primarily watch old movies and television shows, most of which no longer air currently. I’m an “old rerun” type of guy. There is a long list that I like, and those shows are what I watch nearly all time. . . until a new movie comes out that I might want to see. I’m glad movies are streaming. I haven’t felt compelled or inspired to go to a theater for a movie lately. That’s a sign of the times.

I can’t see how theaters can survive. Suicide Squad is streaming on HBO Max, one of the movies that I wanted to see. To watch it, you only need to subscribe for $14.99 with no long-term commitment. You can watch Suicide Squad along with all the other movies streaming on the platform for a whole month, or you can choose to re-watch a movie as many times as you like, and your wife/husband and three kids can watch too — all for that same $14.99. If you’re smart like me, you’ll unsubscribe as soon as you subscribe. I do that a lot. I also do that a lot for services offering a free trial. Your service continues for the duration you expected. I know me. If I wait, I’ll forget and then I’ll get charged beyond the free trial or get charged for an additional month when I want to spend that. That’s how I do it. It’s more relaxing and enjoyable watching at home. If I need to make a bathroom break, I can pause it – – – or if I miss something or if there’s a particularly good or funny part, I can rewind it and watch it again. I do that a lot too. Talking to friends and coworkers, a lot of people stay home and stream movies.

Is that what you do too? You probably do. You could go to a theater though, and that fictional family I referenced above could too, as they are welcoming patrons back, and that would cost that whole family about $65 in ticket sales alone. With concession sales assuming everyone got a small popcorn and a small drink, you’d spend about $150. But come on. Let’s be real. Many theaters today offer wings, subs, pizza, burgers, nachos, fries, all kinds of candy, and alcohol. You do the math. Theaters are missing out on all that revenue when people watch a movie at home. Everybody knows most of their money is made from food purchases. The movie ticket prices consumers pay is generally at cost.

Now, if a movie doesn’t make a profit, like with any business, it can hurt, especially an indie film or those that go straight to video. But even a blockbuster can suffer too if there’s no profit. But production companies are like any other business. They are entitled to business tax deductions, including their losses. So, they can recoup their loss that way. They can also recoup it in two other big ways too.

First, there are unexpected bonuses. Did you ever see the TV show, Inside the Actors Studio, hosted by John Lipton? It was a very popular interview type show featuring famous actors talking about their life on and off screen. One of my favorite episodes was the one with Shirley MacLaine. Though she’s not on my top 10 list, she is someone I always liked. She was so adorable and lovely on that episode. She mentioned this issue of movies and TV shows not making a profit. She said a production company might lose on one thing but win on the next — and sometimes they don’t just win: they win big, meaning a film sometimes may do much better than projected. There are many of them. One that comes to mind is the Columbia Pictures film, Kramer vs. Kramer, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. They spent about $8 million producing it; that movie raked in more than $170 million. That’s an enormous profit. Another example of this is the 20th Century Fox film, Mrs. Doubtfire starring Robin Williams and Sally Field. The budget was roughly $30 million, and it made more than $440 million.

Secondly, production companies make money through the sales of licensed promotional material. This includes caps, posters, shirts, and desk accessories (i.e., pens, cups, note pads, etc.) just to name a few. I used the term “licensed promotional material” because there is some counterfeiting out there, and those items are unauthorized (and illegal) and go in the pockets of the counterfeiters, much like with the people selling the fake Chanel, Louis Vuitton, or other designer knockoffs. Additionally, DVD sales and digital downloads make the companies money too.

Even some of the not-so-popular films still interest consumers: people who may have liked a movie regardless how it may have been rated — and people who have no idea what it is and order it out of curiosity. They’re either pleasantly surprised and enjoy it or they agree with the low rating it received. Either way, it’s additional Benjamins in the pocket of the production company.  Depending on the show or the movie, the actors can make residual money too. Some do, some don’t. Like, the lead actors in Seinfeld and Friends made (make) millions in residual income; the actors in Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch didn’t earn any syndicated money. You must work it into your contract up front. That’s just good business sense.

Both good and bad movies can be found on all the streaming services. Lots of them. Production companies don’t bring in nearly as much money via streaming the movies as they can at a theater for reasons I noted above. There are probably many reasons other than this that the companies won’t make a profit. It’s no wonder some of them don’t last. We saw this recently with the struggling Twentieth Century Fox. Fox couldn’t sustain and it because it was struggling so severely was absorbed into Disney. To the average moviegoer, it’s all the same. They don’t care. Just give them a good film.

The ones who really suffer the most are the employees who work for the production companies and those working at the movie theaters – especially the theaters. It’s hit or miss with them. One theater near me is open and another is still “closed temporarily” according to a sign in the window. Temporarily may become forever, much like the Madame Tussaud’s at 10th and F. NW in DC. Those closed establishments have been closed since March 2020. Businesses are very volatile. I hope those receiving the COVID-19 bailout money compensated their employees. Afterall, that’s why the $900 billion bill got passed: not only for enhanced and extended unemployment benefits but also for businesses to take care of their employees. I wonder how many businesses paid their staff properly with that money.  I’d love to know the answer to that.

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Did Y’all Hear That?

Comcast sent me a letter inviting me to become a wireless customer. Before receiving that correspondence, I had no idea Comcast offered mobile service, and they’ve been offering it since 2017. The hook in the letter was a claim of being Number 1 in customer satisfaction. What about a free phone? Back in the day when mobile service was still virtually new, that was the carrot companies hung out to get new customers.  But I suppose when you look at the quality of the service received from many companies, it’s often quite horrible. So, claiming yours is better than the competition is a nice carrot too. But don’t they all claim that? A couple of weeks ago I saw a television advertisement by Verizon in which they made the same claim. I am a Verizon customer. I have been with Verizon since its transition from Bell Atlantic following the massive Bell Atlantic/GTE merger. I had Bell Atlantic until then, preceded by AT&T. Sprint was my first carrier. Well, let me clarify myself.

The first ever carrier I had was Cellular One; although it did offer a traditional service with a long-term contract, I didn’t have that. I opted for its disposable phone/service that did not require a contract or a credit check, tantamount to Trac Phone of today that most people are familiar with. I added minutes to it as I needed it. Cellular One eventually pulled out of the region where I lived (I presume the company is still in business – it still isn’t in this mobile phone market anymore), which led me to Sprint. At that time, the service wasn’t so great. Most people I knew who used Sprint – which was virtually everybody I knew – complained about dropped calls. My bad experience wasn’t unique.

Then, I tried AT&T. I switched to them because they offered me a free phone like I mentioned earlier. It was some model of Nokia. I didn’t really like it, but I perked up at hearing it was free. I was poor and broke at that time and couldn’t afford to be choosy. I see a couple of y’all trying to give me the side eye by me referring to myself as being “poor and broke.” But seriously, it was very poor and very broke at that time.

All was good except, I couldn’t use it at home. There was a pocket in my neighborhood that didn’t get good service. I left home and drove half a block and then I’d get a bunch of missed calls, texts, and voicemails would pop onto my phone. Where’s all these notifications come from? There I was thinking nobody loved me since my phone was very dry – just like it is today. Then I discovered my phone wasn’t dry at all. It was the lousy AT&T service. Today, my phone really is dry. It wasn’t so dry back then. Funny how that works. I don’t really need it today and I have great service. Back then when I needed it more, the service wasn’t great at all. C’est la vie.

Anyway, I then decided to give Bell Atlantic a try. It was sweet, for just like AT&T, they offered me a free phone. It was some type of Motorola. I don’t recall which model. I was happy. It even worked in my neighborhood, though only in my bedroom and sporadically around the rest of my home. But I was alright with that. I was just glad my phone worked at home.

About two years later, Bell Atlantic announced a major change with its operations and gave dates for a public comment period for consumers to express their opinions for or against the merger with GTE. As an aside, what’s the point of a public comment period. Do the company executives and regulators review those comments and genuinely consider what the consumer wants? I don’t believe that they do. Consequently, I usually never bother submitting any comments. If my phone was working (and it was), I didn’t care what company’s name was sending me a bill. I didn’t have any complaints with Bell Atlantic; I was happy with the service.

About six months later, Verizon was born, and I got another new and free phone. I was thinking my great service would become crummy again like it was with Sprint and AT&T. But I was wrong. My Verizon service ended up being as good and reliable as Bell Atlantic’s was. Why shouldn’t it be? It was over the same network and fiber optic system as the one Bell Atlantic was using. It was all good.

Which brings me back to customer satisfaction with mobile phone service overall. When I received that letter from Comcast inviting me to become a mobile phone customer and touting just how satisfied customers have been with the Comcast mobile service, I did my own research. I felt compelled to do that since Verizon is always saying the same thing about its service. Consumer Checkbook is a valid and reliable source of objective reviews of products and services. The opening paragraph made me chuckle, because the first sentence began by stating, “Every wireless company claims to be the best,… ” That’s exactly what I had already concluded. You can go read it for yourselves if you want to know where your company ranks. I’ll just tell you that T-Mobile was first place, meaning it was ranked as the best.

Since the point of this writing is about the Comcast service, hold onto your seat. Since Comcast is relatively new to the mobile service market, it was evaluated separately from the other companies. But it’s important to note Consumer Checkbook, Comcast’s Xfinity mobile service beat every other major wireless provider and outscored top-rated T-Mobile by three points. That’s huge. I have no reason to doubt its assessment. It’s probably a fair and unbiased one. I have been a Verizon customer, including the time I was with Bell Atlantic prior to the merger, for about 23 years. My relationship with Verizon has been stellar. I’m not one of those people who sticks it out hoping things get better. . . especially when I’m paying good money for it. I would have been long gone if it were poor. But I’m very happy with what Verizon has given me. I’ll stick with what I got.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Air Fights

Over the past several months, I’ve seen several news reports of fights breaking out on airplanes, many of which are mid-air. A small, paltry number of them occurred on the ground prior to take-off. I’ve seen a few at the gate before people boarded. But most of them have happened while the plane had taken off. There was a fight on a Frontier Airlines plane over an incident between two passengers alleged to be due to racism.  Two passengers on an American Airlines flight began fighting because one of them allegedly reclined his seat into the passenger behind him. An unruly Southwest Airlines passenger attacked a flight attendant, knocking out her two front teeth. It’s all just so ridiculous.

It’s very appalling. I don’t recall hearing of these types of incidents  a year ago. The numbers seem to be quite high. Experts speculate that people are on edge with heightened stress and anxiety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there were more than 3000 such incidents from autumn 2020 to the present. They barely kept track of this information prior to 2020, because the numbers were so small and the incidents were infrequent and statistically insignificant. According to Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, “We’ve never before seen aggression and violence on our planes like we have in the past five months. Already, reports of these incidents in less than five months are more than 60 times the amount in a typical year.” These are just the one’s formally reported. Incidents that are de-escalated by fellow passengers or flight attendants aren’t typically reported. The number of fights are likely much higher than what are known.

In a typical year, the FAA investigated a little more than 100 incidents of violence aboard planes. To see several thousand in the last several months is troubling, most of which have stemmed from the mask mandate. I’m thankful it never happened while I was flying, though I was only on two planes in the past 18 months. It doesn’t take much to raise my stress level. Something like that would send me through the roof. I might need a drink to get through the rest of the flight, or if that isn’t possible I’ll certainly need on upon reaching my destination, if the flight isn’t immediately diverted as many of them have been.

Is it worth it? As is the case for most people who commit civil and criminal infractions, they don’t think of the long term consequences of their actions. These airline violators are no different, and the penalty isn’t lightweight. There are hefty fines levied on many of these passengers. Look at some of the examples (FAA Press Release):

– A passenger unwilling to don a face mask during a flight from Chicago to Sacramento on Jan. 26 and who subsequently grabbed a flight attendant was fined $16,500;

– On Feb. 7, a passenger on a flight from the Dominican Republic to New York refused to comply with instructions to wear a mask and threw food and an empty liquor bottle and shouted obscenities at flight attendants. This passenger struck a flight attendant twice and scratched the hand of another. This passenger was fined $32,750. aboard the plane, hurled an empty liquor bottle that almost hit another passenger, threw food and shouted obscenities at flight attendants, according to the FAA;

– On Dec. 22, a passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis to Philadelphia began walking up and down the aisles during takeoff, refusing to return to his seat was fined $9,000; or

A passenger on a Jan. 30 flight from Bozeman, Montana to Seattle was fined $9,000 for refusing to wear a mask.

This is merely a small sampling of the thousands of incidents. In addition to the fines, nearly all of them are proposed for permanent banning from flying. FAA’s rulings have an appeals process, and give passengers 30 says to respond to its sanctions. I don’t know if they all do appeal. But, it’s sad that a momentary pleasure brings about lifetime consequences. If they just feel the need to fight, they should do like kids do: wait till after school and handle it. Oftentimes, once school lets out, many kids have cooled down and the fight never happens. Passengers should try that too.

Reading several after-action reports on the topic, airline security specialists advise passengers not to intervene when other passengers are fighting, unless expressly requested to do so by airline crew. Well they don’t need to tell me this. Breaking up a fight isn’t something I would ever do. An associate of mine got his tooth knocked out from trying to intervene and break up a fight. If there ever were a time to mind your business, this is it.  As an aside, no. Air Marshals are not on every flight, despite popular opinion. They are use at specific airports and on specific flights or routes where problems are most likely to occur.

It’s noble to see people stepping up to help their fellow passengers. But, just don’t do it. The primary reason why you’re advised not to is because it’s hard to decipher blame. I can understand that fully. It’s along the same lines why I don’t advocate for teachers to have guns in school. I wouldn’t want to be that teacher holding a gun if the cops show up following a school shooting. They can’t immediately tell the good guys from the bad guys. The same is true with these fights. You might end up having to spend a night in jail before they realize you were only trying to help. So, stay out of it, and protect yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Biggest Loser: Get Fit!

 

A group of my coworkers participated in a weight loss challenge that ended on Wednesday of this week. It was a contest that ran sort of like The Biggest Loser  television show. It began in May. They have been doing this challenge for several years around this time each year, and the competitiveness of the challenge is always exciting. It has proven to be a great motivator for all of them. There were ten of them, and each person paid $30 to participate which went into a pot and awarded to the winner. The winner walked away with the whole thing, which was $300. Sweet deal. There were weekly weigh-ins, and a neutral person not participating kept track of everyone’s progress, and that person held the money too. There’s also a runner-up. That person got the second, separate pot of money. For that pot, people had to pay a $1 per pound penalty each week if they gained any weight. Surprisingly, in challenges like this, some people do tend to gain, and this time, that penalty pot amounted to $60. Both the winner and runner-up received a nice prize.

In the past, this year’s runner up had consistently been the first place winner for several consecutive years. But another participant won this time. I didn’t participate directly (I never have participated), but I offered moral support and encouragement to everyone. A few motivating words here and there can go a long way. I’m glad to see the new winner.

They’re considering doing it again for another round (for about two months) just before Christmas. I’m glad they are all health-focused. It’s not easy; however, being surrounded by like-minded souls can help a great deal.

 

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Health Matters

 

I was reading an article titled, Grape Seed Extract Destroys Cancer Cells, about success with using extracts from grape seeds to eliminate cancer cells. That’s huge. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be useful at killing cancer cells in some people but these treatments may also damage other living tissue around the cancer cells. I saw that with my mom. The chemo and the radiation over time did her far more damage. That tends to be the case for a lot of cancer patients who receive this treatment. The underlying research and subsequent findings were published in the journal, Carcinogenesis, 2012 (vol. 33, no. 4 pp. 848-858). Even though that was nearly 10 years ago, it is a salient body of research.

I have often wondered for years why this type of thing isn’t done more often. We’re told certain foods can play a role in helping to prevent cancer (i.e., grapes, tomatoes, oranges, apples, ginger, broccoli, berries, garlic, green tea, etc.). If they can prevent cancer, they also should be used to cure it, right? It would be remarkable if they can perfect this for all types of cancers. We need to see more clinical trials and expand this approach.

When I put on my conspiracy theorist hat, I’ll say it’s no wonder why this type of cancer treatment isn’t more widespread. According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, cancer patients spend more than $5.5 billion annually, and health care spending through public or private insurers exceeds $180 billion annually. If food extracts can easily cure cancer, that could take a lot of coins out of the pockets of many doctors and corporations. Those doctors and corporations through their lobbying efforts blocked any progress that could be made. But when I take off my conspiracy theorist hat, I might say, on the other hand, the effect of the grape seed extract wasn’t as effective as the study suggests, and that’s why we don’t see much progress being made. My search of the literature has been thorough, and I can’t find any related findings that are recent.

Either way and whatever the reason this research has been stalled, I would sure love to see more focus being made on this topic. It would be a remarkable breakthrough if this could be perfected. More clinical trials would be wonderful.

Source: Carcinogenesis vol.33 no.4 pp.848–858, 2012

 

 

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Taking Care of Yourself

There are many people who don’t routinely go see a doctor. Many of those who do go may take their own lives for granted and tell everyone to just go, that there are no excuses. But depending on the circumstances, there may be lots of legitimate reasons for not going, any one of the following might be true.

– There are people who don’t have health insurance. Lots of people have a job that doesn’t offer health benefits. Some employers who do offer it pass a large portion of the cost on to the employee. The employee’s share can be very expensive, causing some people to opt out of getting it. I make a comfortable living and I still don’t like how expensive it is. The plan I have serves my needs alright, and it costs me $123.45 from my paycheck every two weeks. When I was paying for the family plan, it was more than twice as much as I’m paying now. The current cost for the family plan is $300.12 every two weeks. Even the cost for a single person is more than a lot of people want to pay, many of whom roll the dice and decide to do without insurance. They can also decide to get it later during Open Season. Some people especially those in great health and who’s salary isn’t so great decide to postpone getting it until a later date.

– Additionally, some people have insurance that isn’t very good. Insufficient or low-grade insurance coverage can leave some people with high health care costs that quickly add up. Having poor-quality insurance can be nearly as bad as not having any at all.

– Then, if a patient needs to see a specialist, he or she will usually need the doctor to make a formal referral or the insurer may not fully cover the expense of the specialist. First of all, some doctors aren’t always quick to refer you, for whatever reason. I once had a doctor who wasn’t doing so well treating me for a particular problem I was having. I asked him for a referral to a specialist and you’d think I blatantly called him inept or incompetent. I only wanted someone skilled with the particular problem I was having. I know all doctors go to medical school. But, I don’t want a dermatologist extracting an abscessed tooth. They both are doctors but their specialties are different. So, a referral may be needed if your regular doctor, or Primary Care Physician (PCP) isn’t well-equipped to treat you. Then the matter of being in network or with a managed care insurer can change the rules significantly, thus, impacting the cost. Some specialists won’t see a patient without a referral, unless the patient is willing to pay for the services up front. Some patients do this believing the treatment will be authorized after-the-fact. Oftentimes, they end up getting a rude awakening, having the services being denied – leaving the patient with the responsibility of paying for the whole thing out of their own pocket.

– I saw the cost change once when I had a doctor move to a new medical facility.  I wanted to follow the doctor to the new medical center only to find out they didn’t use my insurance. Expenses can quickly rise, even for minor illnesses. These expenses end up being a huge financial burden on the patient, requiring them to pay the debt over a period of months, sometimes years.

– The issue of a deductible, copay, or coinsurance can be problematic too. These may all work differently from one insurer to another. Generally, the insurer with a higher deductible or copay tends to have a lower premium. The amount of the deductible or copay may vary greatly from one company to another, and it is often a factor when people are choosing their insurer. But no matter what, it all boils down to the out-of-pocket amount the patient must pay.

The healthcare industry can be frustrating. That’s why many people don’t seek medical attention. To quote Rafe Hollister from an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, “When I’s born, I had my mama, and when I die, I’ll have the undertaker. I don’t see no sense in clutterin’ things up in between.” (Season 2, Episode 24, The County Nurse). That’s the belief a lot of people have, and it’s not just the hillbilly types who think this way.

The bottom line of the point I’m trying to make here is, if you don’t go to the doctor regardless the reason, take good care of yourself. Taking care of yourself encompasses many things, which includes being mindful of your diets, control your stress, get better sleep, don’t consume excessive amounts of alcohol, and increase your physical activity (=exercise). We should routinely be doing all of these things anyway. But, if you fail to do these things AND you’re not seeing a doctor for preventive health screenings, you’re asking for trouble.

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The Other Side: Don’t Miss Your Calling

From time to time, people talk about how someone missed their calling. They usually say this if they discover a talent or competency someone has that is far from their formal training or vocation. A friend of mine is an attorney but plays the saxophone in a band, giving shows on weekends. Another example is the famous singer, Tony Bennett. He is a talented artist; he paints some great artwork in his spare time, though looking at it you’d think he did that daily.

Chuck Brown is another one. His music centered on go-go music, a sub-genre of pop music, the origin of which is debatable. But, most things I have read indicate go-go originated in France in the early 1960s, at the Whiskyagogo nightclub, named after the French title for the American comedy “Whisky Galore!” Chuck was an icon around the Washington, DC/Baltimore, Maryland corridor and also well-known and adored all around the United States. Go-go is Chuck’s signature.

Then, one day I stumbled onto Eva Cassidy’s smooth and silky voice. If you’ve never heard her sing, go look her up on your favorite music platform. She died of cancer in 1996, but her music lives on. One album, The Other Side, she recorded jointly with Chuck Brown, highlighted Chuck in a way I’ve never heard before. I wrote about it before in a post titled, I Could Have Told You So, the title of my favorite song on the album. If you’re thinking this article sounds familiar, that’s why. It’s a delightful album that’s sure to please. I use the word delightful often to describe things that are wonderful and appealing, especially music, movies, and other art forms. Maybe I overuse that word, but I think it is the best word to describe this album. If people were to say Chuck missed his calling, this would be an example of that.

There are some great hits on the album, such as “God Bless the Child,”  “Over the Rainbow,”  and “The Shadow of Your Smile” to name a few. My favorite song on the album is “I Could Have Told You So.” The album shows the diversity of Chuck Brown. Chuck also recorded a Christmas album too, The Spirit of Christmas, which included two songs he recorded with Eva Cassidy too; however, the album was still delivered in the go-go genre. Go-go is how he’s best known, and he did it well.

The whole point of this came up because of two recent things that I became aware of. First, I was fooling around on Apple Music and heard some beautiful music by Angela Lansbury, in particular she was singing We Need a Little Christmas from the Broadway production Mame that she did alongside Bea Arthur. She spent years acting, singing, and dancing on Broadway. I wish she recorded more music. All the music I found was her recording of various compositions from her Broadway shows. Second, this morning, I was watching the television show, Peter Gunn. You ever see that show?  It’s an old 1960s era private-eye type show, and Diahann Carroll was a featured guest star in an episode titled Sing a Song of Murder. In that role, she did some singing and I couldn’t get enough. If I didn’t have to stop and get ready to leave for work, I would have punched rewind and watched it again. Diahann recorded many songs through the years. Look her up on your favorite music streaming service, or go watch/listen to her on Youtube. It’s a bona fide treat, if you aren’t familiar with her singing. Both Diahann and Angela were respected actresses, but I know people would say their singing ability is well underrated.

Just for the record, even if you are skilled in a certain things outside of your primary vocation, your calling is still your calling, no matter how well you may do something else. That side talent would likely not give you the same amount of joy as your chosen full-time career. I enjoy writing – a lot. It’s one of my greatest passions and pastimes. I even published a book of fiction, A Shattered Heart. But I don’t think I’d want to be a full-timer writer. It serves me better to write as a hobby than a vocation.

So, I’m not swayed by the people who have told me I missed my passion. Additionally, I say to you,  never second-guess your path merely because someone told you that you may have missed your calling. You didn’t miss it at all. You did what your heart told you to do. That was your true calling. If you don’t agree with that, then it’s never too late to make a change. Go follow your calling now.

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My Farmer’s Market Trip

A church a half mile from home allows its property to be used on Saturdays for a farmer’s market. Various vendors drive here from points as far away as 50-60 miles north. They have been doing this for several years. It’s so odd to see how different the quality of the produce is from what you can get from the store. I went there today. It is an abridged market, not as large or robust as a typical farmer’s market; however it meets my needs.

The produce, both fruits and vegetables, have a better flavor, are fresher overall, and they seem to last longer. Some of the items are also not as pretty and perfect-looking as the items in a store. The tomatoes in the store, for instance, are much more symmetrical with a brighter red hue than those I get from the farmers market. That makes it clear to me that the product in a store must be altered by man to make them look more appealing. Regardless of their appearance, I find them a better choice than those I get from a store.

Today, I got a few items, and I’m pleased with my purchases. I used to be one of those who got there around the time the farmers market opened, 9:00 am. I wanted to get there before the big crowd got there, which usually was around 10:00 or 10:30. Then one day, I realized how unwise that was.

One day I got there close to closing time. One of vendors offered me blueberries for $1.49 per tub, a tub that normally was $4.99. He also sold me some potatoes for better than half off. He told me he didn’t want to have to load all the merchandise onto his truck and take back to the farm. From that day forward, I try to go near closing time. On one occasion, I overheard another customer negotiating and haggling with a vendor like vacationers are known to do with vendors on Caribbean streets. I’ve done that type of haggling myself on vacation. I haven’t yet tried that at the farmers market. I’ve always gotten a good enough deal that I felt guilty trying to get a lower price.

Today, I bought peaches for 70% off. That was a sweet deal. I would look mighty greedy trying to negotiate an even lower price than that. I had no room to complain. I was pleased. So, if you ever like to go to a farmer’s market, try to go near closing time. You might find you can get them at a better price.

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