Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

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Back in the age of the dinosaurs, music interests were a means of making friends.  Alex, Mike, and Barksdale were great friends in high school, and we shared an interest in particular artists and styles of music, as well as sharing favorites and exploring the unknown.  Another friend, Kip, inexplicably preferred instrumental movie soundtracks, but his passion (and particular knowledge) was just as great.

We each shared a notable talent, which was to nimbly, swiftly and thoroughly flip through albums in what was then known as a Record Store.  The eye/hand coordination was certainly not that demonstrated by the current generation of Guitar Heroes, but it did require instant recognition of album covers as one poured through the bin to find a particular title or the unexpected.

album rack

There was also a sense of competitiveness to it.  We had our want lists and would often travel from Lynchburg, VA to Roanoke or Charlottesville to get to better stores.  But who would find The Greatest Treasure on a given trip?  Well, we all did, and the friendships that resulted were solid and continue in some form today, be it infrequent or on Facebook.  Generally, people who like a lot of similar music have a pretty good chance of liking each other.

This observation served me well at college also.  The question, "What music do you like?" or, even better, an A-Z look through someone's album collection was the stuff that formed the foundation of friendships.  Dr. Chicken, Big Ben, Rat Boy (I'm not making these up... now anyway) were all friendships that formed around musical interests.

Skipping forward 23 years, it's much harder to figure out what music someone likes.  Part of being an adult means that we're no longer invited to a person's bedroom or dorm room where they keep all their cool stuff.  Hopefully, we've all moved out of our parents' houses.  So it comes down to T-shirts or a CD left in a car to suggest that there might be a similar interest.  It's now a rare thing.

There's another barrier, of course.  Adults are very guarded.  We don't have an abundance of good friends.  We get married and begin focusing on family and career.  We keep and make friends, certainly, but only a few get close despite all the "socializing" that we may do.

I have an iPod, and if it's not with me, that's okay, because iTunes plays on my iPhone.  I can be pretty much anywhere and enter the blessed realm of aural goodies I've set aside for whatever occasion.  And so can everyone else.  There's a convenience to it, certainly, as well as a benefit of being able to exclude the din of whatever is going on about us.

shure-earbuds But the iconic ear bud phenomena, in effect, insulates us from what is going on around us and removes us from personal availability.  A person walking by with ear buds is saying, "Leave me alone.  I'm not available for public chat.  Send me a text message, and maybe I'll reply."

Someone recently asked me why I chose Clemson (over UVa and Va Tech).  There were a number of reasons, none of which included football, but I remember my campus visit clearly.  Jimi Hendrix.  This was blasted out of a dorm window and... even though I'm not a huge Hendrix fan, it made me feel right at home.  Do kids even have stereos any more?  ...other than in their cars?

I went to the gym this evening, withipod playlist iTunes in my ear as my wife didn't go with me.  Looking around, almost half of the people were wearing ear buds, lost in their own worlds.  I can't flip through albums anymore (CD's are no fun to flip, by the way), but there's still a part of me that wants to scroll through others' iWhatever song lists and see if there's any cool people about.

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Act Your Wage

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Fortunately, I have "only" three TV's in the house.  One of these is in glorious HD, awaiting a decent movie on DVD, the return of Castle and Dollhouse, or the upcoming (properly HD formatted) football season.  The other two TV's are generic archaic monstrosities that actually have depth to their cabinetry but somehow manage to provide an adequate TV image... good enough for my kids at least. 

Beloved Comcast has provided two digital converters so that these TVs can once again access more than 20 or so channels due to the "upgraded" digital network.  The math works out perfectly - two TVs, two free converters.  If I had any additional TV's, I'd have to lease additional units ($1.99 ea/month) which can add up.  Admittedly, a slight increase per month isn't that noticeable, but the accumulation of all the increased costs of living is.  A penny saved is a penny earned, and it seems most of us are paying closer attention to our pennies... this year, anyway.

But we budge the pennies we spend, and they add up nicely, until a dreaded day comes when the unexpected steps in and bites.  Did I mention my new home air-conditioning system?  Things start off shiny and new, then they tend to disorder, and, finally, after a period of time, they cost you. 

Fortunately, we can turn to our government to make order out of the entropy of life.  I, regrettably, did not have a clunker of a car to trade in for a $3500-$4500 credit on something new and spiffy.  My daughter would love new and spiffy, but she isn't getting it.  Which kind of aggravates me.  In that We the People just spent $4 billion bucks on a program that gives a particular financial benefit to only certain citizens, I'd like my equitable share, since we're all equally obligated to pay for it, by receiving the same accommodation. 

I have in mind a "Cash for Clunker TVs" program.  My old sets are hefty Sony units, the picture's are beginning to get fuzzy, and their screens are not properly sized for the HD ratio aspect of the now and forevermore.  I certainly wouldn't expect that much cash for each TV.  But, gosh, that price range could very suitably replace both of them.  Revenues from my purchases would benefit Best Buy (...sadly, it's too late for Circuit City. Uncle Sam, where were you?), their investors, State sales tax revenues, and foreign manufacturers (oops, shouldn't include that, but the car program wasn't limited to domestics).

Actually, it's good to support foreign manufacturers.  After all, they hold a tremendous amount of We the People's debt.  The recent Office of Management and Budget statistics show that the Government this year will spend $30,058 per beloved household.  (Thanks!)  And they do this while only taxing me cash-register$17,576.  (Cha Ching!)    The remainder of $13,392 (and I still want $4k of that delivered to me in a form of a TV voucher...) goes to China, Japan, or anyone else stupid enough to buy American debt.   I guess if their own national banks tend toward defaults, we can always wire them bailout money and send the bill later.

In trying economic times, there's one message that just about every business and family has paid attention to:  Act Your Wage.  Whether or not one follows The Dave Ramsey Show, the logic makes sense, and the failure of all our elected representatives (trulyDave Ramsey a non-partisan incrimination) to spend responsibly is just as shameful as any Ponzi scheme, investment fraud, or cable bill. 

"Government" sounds very clinical when viewed as The Great Provider for funding all things, but for the unlucky middle and upper class, paying for it bites.  Does anyone even look at their paycheck deductions?  Elected representatives may have good intentions for monies spent, but ultimately, their ridiculous spending is as self-serving as any adult who lives off a credit card, living a lifestyle greater than their income allows.   Politicians? They do it in part because they can; they seemingly have no debt threshold.  But they also do it because it gets them reelected.  The power, influence, and wealth associated with political office cannot possibly be disassociated with the fact that they are obtainable without ever having to worry about paying the costs.  The American Experiment, per Alexis de Tocqueville's predictions in the 18th century, has failed. I would like to say that We the People deserve better, but we do not.  We deserve what we elected, and the bill is past due. 

(...begins mumbling and making angry gestures while drowning himself in drink.  Ah, Coke Zero ftw!)

coke zero

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Another Game of Inches

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Well, it's Wednesday, which means I find myself at a self-imposed deadline for a mid-week post.  I keep a (regrettably short) list of things I might wish to unravel, but my thoughts so far this week keep returning to Sunday.

Football is known as "game of inches."  Just as pre-season football camp is the precursor to many wonderful weekends of games (and therefore my favorite season, autumn), tuning in to watch another game of issues, "The Masters," is a rite of Spring.  Golf isn't something I watch a lot of, but that particular tournament draws me, in part because I've been there, and partly due to the scarcity of commercial interruptions.

Otherwise, I'm like 80% of the golf watching public; I tune in when Tiger is playing.  Well, maybe not.  I used to tune in when he was playing, but now I tend to watch when I know he is playing well.  As such, I set aside other things on Sunday afternoon to watch him win the PGA Tournament, his first Major in over a year.

Only, he didn't.

I've watched many sports "heroes" win and lose.  Michael Jordan, Kobe/Shaq, Magic/Kareem/Worthy, Bird/Parrish, the Yankees, the Redwings, the 49ers, the Cowboys, the Steelers, whatever...  There's something about champions that draws my interest, even if I don't pull for them... the renegade Miami Hurricanes of the 1990's come to mind.  But I like to watch sports when they are being played at the highest level consistently.  (This excludes my faithful watching of Clemson games, which I'm just stuck with, but that's another story.)

Fact: Tiger Woods leading a tournament after 36 holes = certain victory.  Sunday, it was time to watch him claim his 15th Major title on his path to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.

As most everyone knows, despite an 8-0 record when leading Majors, he lost.  Much credit goes to YE Yang, a 37 year old Korean who earned a great victory with his unflappable composure and great play. 

Tiger PGA

I don't really know anything about Tiger Woods other than from what I've seen in his interviews and what his Public Relations firm allows the outside world to digest.  But we all get a sense that he is extremely talented, conscientious, goal oriented, respectful, hard working, and extremely competitive.  And he's (probably) a nice person. 

Should I care that he lost?  Should you?  I can't find a reason that anyone should, other than just being admirers of the things listed above.  So at most, there might be a sense of disappointment.  At the same time, YE Yang staged a completely unexpected and unprecedented upset, succeeding where far more notable players have failed.  That's a great victory with a storyline that should be amply rewarding to any sports fan.Tiger Woods PGA 2009

So why am I still thinking about it?

I saw this (AP) photo.

Ever just have an off day?  Woods still dominates international golf, and considering that he was only at a single stroke disadvantage (when it mattered) entering the last three holes, he had 9-10 putting opportunities through the day that he missed by 2 inches or less. It was still great golf.  If he had made, as he normally would, just half of those, it would have been said that he dominated the tournament.

But he didn't.  And for a casual fan of Tiger Woods, there's something deeper than the superficial disappointment that came with his loss.

Just as Michael Jordan made a commercial commenting on all the would-be game winning shots he missed, it doesn't take Tiger Woods for anyone to understand that that we cannot win all the time, regardless of our talents and preparation.

It is not as if Tiger suddenly hung his Superman cape in the closet; he was never Superman to begin with.  Looking at Tiger's dejection in the picture, it's not that he let me down, but more of a reminder of how much I looked up to him, how easily I put a person I know so little about on a pedestal of sorts.  And when our idols topple, or even wobble as is the likely case with Tiger, it's worth reflection on how easily we tend to look up to others.  Experientially, we seem to be built to look up to someone who is worthy.

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Paul McCartney - The Green Concert

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This was my third McCartney Concert.  The first was in 1990, seated in the back rafters of The Omni, which happened to be the very spot that all good acoustics did their best to avoid.  Sadly, what I remember most from the show is the guy seated next to me yelling his obvious affection, "We Love You, Paul!", again and again and again.  McCartney was at the end of the tour, and his voice was shot.

Several years later, he played at the Georgia Dome.  This had much better acoustics, surprisingly, and it was a very good show but tempered with too many lackluster songs from his most recent lackluster CD.  I'm not sure if my son loved the concert or hated it, but he kicked a lot, and had he not been in the womb, he may have been screaming too.

Which brings us to 2009.  My wife has "been there and done that," and my now 15 year old son has no interest in seeing Sir Paul.  That's why you should have two kids.  My daughter, Jackie, was very excitedMcCartney Atlanta Poster from the first hint of going, and a father-daughter outing was set.

McCartney was playing to benefit the Piedmont Park Conservancy, which funds the major green space near downtown Atlanta.  As opposed to the known seating arrangements found in arenas, this was a lawn concert, with all the good and bad that comes with it.  All concert goers were encouraged to take Atlanta's version of mass transit (MARTA), as the surrounding area is residential and without significant public parking.

We arrived around 5:30, after a 15 minute walk from the train station.  There is a sense of scale that becomes lost in outdoor venues.  The people arriving before us had claimed all land area in proximity to the stage, as well as the higher vantages of the rim around the park area.  We walked as closely we could to spread a blanket, but found that it was blocked by the sound mixing booth or beer tents.  So, we moved back about halfway in the lawn area.  At least we could see the stage unobstructed... 

Yes, the stage is not so close And these people are even farther away

To the front...                 and to the back

Blistering heat finally gave way to shadows, and... it was mealtime!  Not surprisingly, everyone else had similar ideas.  There were food vendors from a number of recognizable Atlanta vendors, and all had terrifically long lines except for Sonny's BBQ.  Sold. Their chain serves "okay" BBQ.  Here, $6 bought a few ounces of ambient temperature chicken on a bun.  I'm sure it would have been very tasty a week or two earlier when it was cooked.  Add $2 for a bag of 15 chips and $3 for a bottle of water, multiply by 2, and were properly, well, adequately fortified for the evening.  All of this, as usual, pales to the expense of a souvenir concert T-shirt at $40.  We passed on that.

A word about the (plentiful) beer outlets - It was far easier to buy beer than it was food.  Budweiser apparently paid handsomely for the concert rights, and the only options available were Bud and Bud Light ($7).  Granted, it's probably shrewd marketing for them to capitalize on sales as Obama's preferred brand, and they included a video about the recycling of aluminum cans.

The opening act, The Script, was decent.  They have two singers with strong voices and straightforward melodic appeal, but I think most people only listened to their banter to hear their distinctly Irish accents.  No one says "Dublin" like an Irishman.

Between sets and after a fair dose of people watching, my daughter and I laid back and stared at the clouds in the sky.  Now, this is not something I've done in a long time, and it's not something you plan on when going to a concert.  But, it was interesting, possibly for the wolf and horse heads found, but moreso for the sheer uniqueness of watching the clouds amidst the murmur of 40,000 other people (some of whom step dangerously close to your head).  "Hey, there's a dark cloud.  Looks like a little one that will blow right by."

Finally, McCartney took the stage.  He was in surprisingly strong voice, belting out the first two opening numbers.  Two - three songs later, this guy in front of us, wimpMcCartney Atlanta 2 that he was, broke out his Mickey Mouse costume because of a few stray drops of rain.  It's an outdoor concert - what do you  expect?

A couple of songs later, Jackie and I grabbed our blanket (actually, a cheap bedspread), and draped it over our heads as the heavens lavished us with sheets of rain, nicely highlighted by the stage and spot lights...

Note to self:  Bedspreads are not waterproof, and not only do they become soaked with water, but they become very heavy.  Be sure to pack rain gear when going to outdoor concerts, even when the sky is sunny and it's over 90 degrees.

I didn't take it personally, but it sure seemed that McCartney's band was laughing at us, covered as they were by the stage with the water flowing off the roof.  The rain came and went after about six songs, and, of course, we and the vast majority of the crowd remained. 

The band was excellent.  McCartney is generally considered more of a pop singer than a rock artist, but he's always held favor with strong McCartney Atlanta - photo by HYOSUB SHIN, HSHIN@AJC.COMlead guitar lines, and other than a few "slow" songs,  this was a rock show through and through - and one that he clearly enjoyed.

He played his original Hofner bass or piano for many of the songs, but whenever he played electric guitar, he also played lead elements, some of them very surprising, such as a toss-in rave of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," remarking on the Woodstock anniversary 40 years ago.

Throughout the concert, McCartney kept great rapport with the audience.  It's obvious that he doesn't need to tour for the money; ergo, he wants to do it.  Part of this is that he's a ham.  He enjoys the attention and applause that comes from being not just a veteran pop icon, but probably the largest and most influential still with us.

At 67, however, the crowd's enthusiasm was not based solely on the merit of songs 30 years old and older.  McCartney is a skilled performer and entertainer, and gave everything he had in a 2.5 hour set.  To hear his enduring tunefulness in the closing of "My Love," the unexpected inclusion of the deep track gem "Mrs. Vanderbilt," the fiery vocals (and fireworks) of "Live and Let Die," the odes to both John Lennon and George Harrison, and the sheer energy and enthusiasm he brought to it was a great thing.

McCartney Atlanta

I did take care to ask my daughter if she "actually saw" Paul McCartney, and verified that she did make out the little blip of a person on the stage.  The camera operators did a great job of capturing the concert so that the masses could see what was going on via the 50' video boards to either side of the stage.

The organizers expected a crowd of 50,000 or more, and it was thought that the emphasis on using public transportation negatively affected sales - reasonably so as MARTA has a reputation of not visibly adjusting their schedules or capacity to handle downtown events.  I don't know if they did this time, but amongst a horde of fans walking down 10th street to the train station, we were only standing still for about 4 minutes before boarding our train, even if in the fashion of sardines.  Well done.

All in all, it was the stuff memories are made of.  Thanks, Jackie.

Rating: 5 Stars

The Set List:

Drive My Car
Jet
Mother Only Knows
Flaming Pie
Got to Get You Into My Life
Let Me Roll It
Foxy Lady (instrumental jam)
Highway
Long and Winding Road
My Love
Blackbird
Here Today
Dance Tonight
Calico Skies
Mrs. Vanderbilit
Eleanor Rigby
Sing the Changes
Band on the Run
Back in the USSR
I'm Down
Something
I've Got a Feeling
Paperback Writer
A Day in the Life
Give Peach a Chance (chorus)
Let it Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude

1st Encore
Day Tripper
Lady Madonna
I Saw Her Standing There

2nd Encore
Yesterday
Helter Skelter
Get Back
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)
The End

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Just Take a Pill

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Developers for the i-Phone are gifted with an audience who relish cool stuff.  It seems that if you can imagine it, someone else beat you to it and has provided an "application" for download.

So amidst all the utilities, games, photography tools, search functions, and other iJunk, I somehow came across iDie.  Similar to the counter for iDie - on an iPhone near you!the National Debt, this wonderful life-affirming application asks your gender and birth date, then provides you with a running percentage of how much of your life you have lived!  It even includes a visual slider bar if you aren't too good with math.  So, my life is 57.905386334% complete.  Well, at last glance, it was.  It's already edged upwards.

For those who don't fathom math so well, it's also translates the percentage to cold, hard facts.  I'll die at age 77, in 11,958 days, 11 hours, 7 minutes and, well, the seconds keep counting down.  I better get on with the business of living!

There's some adjectives that might apply to iDie.  Shallow, morbid, macabre, pointless and useless come to mind, but even though we know death is a certainty, we don't think too deeply upon it.  We're too busy!

Every now and then, however, something arises which causes us to pause and reflect.  This may be as catastrophic as a hurricane, as unexpected as 9/11, or as penetrating and unsettling as a loved one diagnosed with cancer.  It may also be as spectacular as the arrival of the newborn or one of the many joys we take pleasure in.

Life matters, but we don't often dwell upon the end of it.  To a degree lesser than the examples above, the nation's consciousness has been brought to matters of health.  Topically, discussion this week has centered around a woman's challenge to Senator Arlen Spector (D)(this election cycle) that the Obama Health Care Plan would result in a 75 year old man being denied life-saving medical treatment. 

Fact from fiction:  There is no Obama Health Care Plan.  Nada.  He hasn't publicly issued any specific program or content.  There is only House Bill H.R. 3200 - America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, which you can read by clicking on the link above.  Go ahead and read what our elected representatives, the opposing forces, and just about everybody else has not.  I recommend caffeine whilst you try, but guarantee a solid 8 hours of sleep afterwards.

Opinions are never given without underlying assumptions and biases, so I'll make mine clear.  I consider the government's overhaul of 13% of the National Gross Domestic Product very troubling.  I vehemently oppose the addition of yet more entitlement spending.  I do not consider "health care" to be an inalienable right, and I do not think the Constitution (under "promote the social welfare") means provides for it.  That's all irrelevant, as every elected politician sees a benefit in doing something, regardless of where "something" might stand on the scale between increasing healthcare access to the complete government takeover, socialist approach.

So, as an interested party, I set about reading H.R. 3200.  I didn't finish it.  It's written in a language similar to the Code of Federal Regulations.  It can mean anything to whoever is empowered to determine its meaning.  But I tried.

Section 1233 (Advance Care Planning Consultation) is the section du jour, instilling fear amongst those that see a wide variety of dangers amongst government control of healthcare.  It's not a long section - scroll just shy of about half way down, and you can find it. 

The point of this section is that the elderly would be required (though that word is not used) to have 5 year checkups in which they would receive "An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliatave care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this Title." 

The word "palliative" is not necessarily a common one, but it means "relieving or soothing the symptoms of a disease or disorder without effecting a cure." - American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary.  It's not a leap to see that this means take a pain pill rather than seek a cure. 

The key aspect of this section is that it is a consultation.  It does not mandate any course of treatment or withholding of same, or, in what further reading I could endure, indicate what particular authority having jurisdiction would make that specific decision.

And that's one problem with this Bill and likely most others.  Each paragraph is obviously provided intentionally to suit a perceived need.  Instead of saying "this is to be done," it would be very helpful to say "this is to be done and this is the reason why it is necessary."  The link I provided above allows people to comment on the sections - many attempt to guess what the sections actually mean.

Reading through (okay, skimming) the pages upon pages of content, I can only guess at much of the intent.  I suspect that as our elected representatives also know zilch about the healthcare industry or the specific issues resulting in the Act (other than the knowledge bequeathed by interested parties associated with campaign contributions) they don't know the purposeful intent either... not that every reason is necessarily bad.  But it is bad governance to push through as significant a legislation as this without understanding its points and likely effects.

In short, it's fair to say that whatever sinister things are in H.R. 3200 are worded in such a way or buried at such a depth that I'm unable to find them. 

This isn't to say that I think it's a good idea.  The government already runs the VA program (with frequent accusations of poor healthcare) and Medicaire (with frequent fraudulent abuses), and I don't see the government as a responsible entity in best managing either of these areas. 

There are three problems as I see it.

1) Aside from most of the rhetoric (an example being the home visitation issue, where opponents fear the government intruding into the parenting habits of every home with children.  The program would be made available to States who request the money to serve those constituents most in need), is the Law of Unintended Consequences. What behaviors will result from this implementation?  Will doctors still want to invest in the years of schooling and training for lesser rewards?  Will pharmaceutical companies invest in new drugs if their returns are mitigated or otherwise controlled?  Will free access to healthcare (to a significant number of citizens) swamp available healthcare services? Will the development of another governmental department that spends all its money for no other reason than to avoid getting less funding the next year actually control costs?

2)  The Single Provider end-goal is in play, and the "horror stories" resulting from non-care from healthcare insurers over the years are so abundant that the moral imperative so easily carried by this President would not be resisted by those who know that we already have the best healthcare system in the world. 

A better course of action would be to "reform" the current system to address major concerns.  If the Act does ultimately lead to the government becoming the single provider for healthcare (a position that  Obama publicly stated that he advocated before the election), then there is much to be feared.  It would necessarily mean that no one else could pay for healthcare, including you, even if you had the means to pay for a treatment beyond what the healthcare program would permit. 

Obama has forthrightly stated that he will not force the private marketplace out of the picture.  The reason is that he won't have to, and I think there's a very good chance that many politicians know that the introduction of a government option will necessarily and quickly lead to the death of the evil profit seeking health insurance companies.

Why? Businesses will be all too happy not to have to negotiate annual healthcare contracts, terms of plans, enroll their employees, educate them regarding the plans, assist them when there are issues, etc.  It's much easier (i.e. less costly and more efficient) for companies to lay off a portion of their Human Resources staff, pay the healthcare tax, and not worry about being competitively disadvantaged with their peers as they would also have the same expenses (translated - the same tax to pass on to consumers of their products and services). 

3) Legitimate Fears for Cost Control.  I would hope that Americans will always have access to healthcare and the ability to pay for it if they can and choose to do so.  Some of the examples said to be arising from a right-wing conspiracy about government controlled health care are, in fact, reasonable based on monopolistic control by a government with sensitivities to the cost of the program. 

This argument evolves naturally, but for convenience, the influence of controlling expenses can be laid squarely on President Obama who proclaimed it in a surprisingly clinical manner as reasonable:

When we think of a 100 year old receiving surgery, there's a little part of each of us that recognizes that it's probably not the most prudent use of money and resources.  Nevertheless, if we enter into a system where a 100 year old cannot receive surgery, that's a danger.  Why?  Where does the person responsible for making that determination draw the line?  Age 90? 85? 80? 75? 70? At whatever age Social Security begins?

Further, does an elderly non-smoker who never had surgery in their life get approved?  Will an obese person with emphysema get denied?  Who will write the matrix that indicates which factors get a yes or no?  This is a fear not of outcome based expectations but purely of cost control.  People may hate insurers, but they manage a balance between the two.  Would the government, if totally responsible for all healthcare costs, maintain the same? 

H.R. 3200 should require a lengthy review and a plain explanation of its effects rather than a rush to push through an agenda "to sustain political momentum."  Politicians haven't earned any measure of trust in that regard. 

And besides, iDie needs to know how to adjust their calculator.  My remaining 11,958 days don't factor in a government administrator, and enquiring minds will want to know.

57.9055944950%.  Yikes!

---------------------------------------------------------

If you're bored reading, you're done!  Thanks for making it this far.  I've even bored myself.  Following are a few of the things I found while skimming the Act.  The Sections are correct, but these are subcategories under various Levels that are difficult to track within the document.

The Good:

Section 111 - A qualified health benefits plan cannot exclude pre-existing health conditions.  I don't think any consumer would argue against this. 

Section 112 - Unless you stop paying for your coverage, you can't be non-renewed. 

Section 1173A - standardized electronic billing.  I imagine some "salespeople" for software are already greasing the halls of Congress.  In fact, there is a tremendous software industry already in place that helps medical providers translate their services into the various categories and codes required to be reimbursed.  More jobs lost?

The Interesting:

Sec 2714 - Ensuring Value and Lower Premiums.  If a Health Insurer is too profitable, they have to pay money back.  There is no comment if their loss ratio is too high.

Section 225: The Government Plan Preferred Physicians agree to the government rate without co-payments.

Section 242: Affordable Credit Eligible Individual - must be a legal resident (good), with family income below 400% of the Federal poverty level for the size of family involved.  For 2009, that figure is $22,050 for a family of four, so if you earn $88k or less and are not covered by an employer plan, premiums would be 11% of actual costs if I read the table correctly.  I would hate to be in the top 5% of earners who appear likely to be taxed for this.  Also, I fear I will be in the top 5% after those who know how to hide their incomes do so and more are asked to contribute "their fair share."

Section 313: Employers with less than $400k in payroll don't pay insurance costs.  Great time to become a corporate attorney specializing in the creation of small companies.

The Confusing: Sec 202: Employee option of using employer or government health programs.  It's hard to imagine employers providing more than the minimum required plan, or encouraging employees to use a company plan.  Fairly easy to speculate regarding the end of private insurers.

The Nauseating: Reading any more of the Bill.

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'Tis the (pre)Season

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Finally, things get interesting.  Not all things, certainly.  But, it's finally that time of year that involves a wonderful season unblemished by Hallmark cards or gifting expectations.  It's THE season for sports fans, as the doldrums of summer baseball finally yield to the good stuff.

As a Clemson alumni, I have no other choice but to pull for my team.  There have been consistent reasons to want to pull for other teams (most notably, success), but I didn't attend whichever schools are ranked in the Top 5 year to year.  I'm pretty much stuck with them, and I'm not unhappy about it.  The wonderful thing about August is that, so far, we're undefeated.  Certainly every team can say the same, but in terms of the opening of football practice, a "win" occurs each day a key player doesn't get hurt.Dabo Swinney (photo by PATRICK COLLARD/The Greenville News)

My favorite Clemson sports site, The Tigernet, does an exceptional of job of linking to related articles, adding original content, and hosting discussion boards.  There is much excitement about the competition for the starting quarterback job as well as a lot of interest in Head Coach Dabo (short for "dat boy" as termed by his older brother when he was a toddler)  Swinney as he heads into his first full season.  Will the offense be aggressive (for a change)? Will the team be able to adapt to the novel idea of a halftime adjustment?  Will the 4 Star recruit visiting the campus commit?  Yeah, baby!

But the signs of this are not limited to Division 1-A.  Sports talk radio finally has something to talk about, whether it be top rankings, conference analysis, NFL camps, player holdouts or any other (often inane) subject related to that special time of year.

And certainly, there are other signs of the season.  Teenagers suddenly show up jogging along the streets as their own football preparations begin.  High School Booster Club signs get replaced with the current football schedule.  Students who choose to provide some of the atmosphere of a game begin the sweltering days of marching in band formations on blistering pavement.

It's change.  To those who pay attention, it's as visible as the leaves turning colors entering into autumn.  It's not as exciting as attending a game in the cool November air or even watching a game on (HD)TV.  But the storylines are already developing for our fascination for the unscripted nature of competition.

An ex-high school coach mentioned a few months back that as a coach, he could not motivate his players.  He could only put them in a position to motivate themselves.  He told this story:

There were 500 ants who built a glorious ant hill and were resting comfortably within. Suddenly, a golf ball came to rest on top.  As they considered this unexpected turn of events, a golfer swung at the ball taking out half of the ant hill (and half the ants) but leaving the ball untouched on the top. 

The ants were coming to terms with the suddenness of what had transpired, when the golf club again swept through the ant hill, destroying the mound and leaving only the golf ball and two surviving ants.

One ant asked the other, "What should we do?"

The other answered, "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm getting on the ball."

There is no meaning in sports from a results oriented basis.  Scores, winning percentages, player statistics, etc. feed spreadsheets for future reference.  But they don't mean anything.  This is not to say that there are not lessons involved, but some see only the data and miss the message.  Like the ants, they don't look for the challenges and rewards that come moment by moment.  And for the same reason, sports fans usually have difficulty watching a recorded game for which they already know the score.  When the outcome is known, the game is viewed dispassionately.

But watching a game is much more than that.  If we understand the practice involved, the mental toughness to adapt to difficulty, the teamwork necessary to achieve, the combating schemes of offensive and defensive coordinators, the fluctuating nature of self-confidence, the demand to execute a plan, and the emotional ebbs and flows, we do learn about ourselves, whether participants or fans. 

Sports fans know this and relish it for what it is.  And a whole new season awaits. Personally, it would also be nice to celebrate a few more wins...

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The Beer Summit

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“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”  These words remain as some of the (unintentionally) funniest in the history of TV advertisements.  Some number of fans of Peter Bergman, the actor/spokesperson who played a doctor in "The Young and The Restless," probably took heed of his advice and purchased accordingly.  I don’t know if Vick’s Cough Syrup benefited from this ad, but in some things our society is very forgiving, particularly of our celebrities (Michael Jackson, anyone?)   

Celebrity endorsements work.  Brands are boosted and sales increase.  Nike has eternally adorned Tiger Woods with a Swoosh, and I have no doubt that those who dream of being Tiger-like have helped Nike profit handsomely from it.  At its best, the celebrity is well matched with the product sponsored.  Publishers' Clearing House joined mass awareness by using Ed McMahon's wide exposure, if not popularity.  I imagine some wives shopping for their husband clothes probably altered their purchases after seeing Jim Palmer sport Jockey underwear.  And, of course, anyone who wishes to share in the wisdom of Oprah, Inc. hurries after any of her recommended products. 

Our response to celebrity endorsements is curious, especially in a society that glorifies and promotes individuality.  Yet, Wall Street has proven time and again that we change our cars, sneakers, perfumes, eating habits, charities, votes, etc. based on what our favored celebrities say or do. 

Advertising is obviously intentional, as are product placements in movies.  But sometimes, things just happen where products are showcased without polling data and market analysis beforehand.

Such is the case with what is being called "the Beer Summit," President Obama's effort to smoothly brush an upsetting episode out of the public limelight. 

beer summit cast

The cast:

Sgt. James Crowley, Boston Police Police Dept - responded to a burglary report, questioned the occupant, verified his identity, and arrested him for some measure of verbal disrespect.

Henry Louis Gates - Harvard University Professor, owner and occupant of the premises, understandably upset but nevertheless needlessly confrontational with and disrespectful to a Police Officer there to do a job.  Claims his arrest was due to racism.

President Obama -  In a Press Conference indicates that Officer Crowley "acted stupidly."  Shortly thereafter, he regrets entering into the discussion as the media attention on his stance overshadows his other initiatives.

"The Beer Summit" is, in short - "Gentlemen, let's settle for a photo opportunity and reduce the vitriolic words over a beer at the White House."  Some probably think this to be an unworthy handling of the situation by the Leader of the Free World.  I give credit to Obama, at a minimum, for not secreting his fondness for beer from the shrill voices who sit in judgment of the Office that he holds.

Rather than breaking open a six-pack, each person attending chose his preferred brand, and thus we have a celebrity/product association.

Sgt. Crowley chose Blue Moon, a Belgian-ish beer that is typically served with a slice of orange.Blue Moon  It attempts a “craft brew” status both in its labeling and taste, but it is, in fact, a Coors product.  Will the exposure bring new buyers to the brand?  Is this now the brand of choice for conservatives, the law enforcement community and those who give authority the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise?  We may as well throw in sundry militias and white supremacist groups to the potential demographics.

Mr. Gates reportedly originally chose Jamaica's Red Stripe Lager but actually enjoyed a Sam Adams Light during the Summit.  This red stripe lagerunfortunately may split the buying power of his sympathizers, or, conversely, it may benefit both brands.  I haven't read an explanation of the change of beer,  but I hope Mr. Gates chose the beer he most wanted and didn't chose a domestic to be politically correct. SamAdamsLightLogo In any case, it was a likely a wise play to choose a revered hometown brand.  Mr. Gates would no doubt have an opposite demographic moving to embrace these brands - liberals, those who do not trust authority or who have been victimized, the NAACP and others sensitive to racism.

And, finally, we have our President's choice, a Bud Light. I would have to hope that this was an intentional move to "the center," recognizing Bud Light Beerthat his guests already occupied the poles.  The brand is as bland as it is popular, and, in these days of corporate mistrust, I might have expected the President to support a flavorful craft brew.  Be that as it may, Bud Light now carries with it the approval of the Office of the President.  This is no small thing!  But will the millions comfortable with a mellow middle consume even more of the most generic of light beers?

We shall see.

What I've read on the original case is limited. I think it's reasonable that many would think that Officer Crowley overreacted to the provocation, and as many would tend to fault the provocation as the cause of the offending result.  I wasn't there. 

If this episode may be behind us, I'm certain another is around the corner.  I understand that I don't have the cultural sensitivity that African Americans (or other minorities) might have amidst transgressions in this country's history, past or present.  Whenever race relations come up, it's not so much the points being made by either side that tend to aggravate me, it's the terminology. 

racism –noun

1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

prejudice –noun

1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.

Prejudice seems to often apply when there are difficulties in race relations, but this term doesn't capture media attention (or special interest groups or attorneys) like charges of racism does.  It also encompasses the bias of all participants, whereas racism places all of the bias on the shoulders of the alleged racist.

This is truly unfortunate, because racism necessarily involves accusations that cause people to assume postures of offense and defense.  If only the appropriate term was used, it would allow opportunities for learning and understanding.  These are the only real solutions when there are cultural (or individual) biases or differences, and they can only happen in a less  heated environment.

In other words, maybe a few beers would help.

Obama Likes Beer

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