Saturday, November 29, 2008

I favor government-paid equal health care for all Americans. Full-tilt socialized medicine — that's what I want -- completely free at the point of service — and that includes all dental work and vision care. I believe that every useless bum in the country should receive health care as good as you or I get.

I'm a nursing aide at a local hospital — I don't discriminate between "worthy" and "unworthy" people when it comes to health care. We get some real losers here, with medical problems that are almost entirely their own fault — and yet we give them the same quality of care that we give to your grandmother. And, if you have insurance, part of your insurance fee is the money we use to pay for the health care of some of these useless bums. It's a weird system we have now.

I also believe that people should be fully accountable for their behavior -- I believe there is a time and place for judgment, but not at the hospital, and not at the doctor's office.

It is appalling to me, to drive by a doctor's office and realize that I would be turned away from that same office if I did not have money or insurance. The receptionist would hem and haw and make apologies, but it still comes down to, "If you don't have the money, you ain't gettin' in to see the doctor."

Now, many doctors deplore this situation, but they are also good at shielding themselves from it -- which is why the receptionist, not the doctor, tells you to go away -- if you were to be so bold as to ask for treatment.

However, most of us are well-trained and we do not make those demands on individual medical practitioners. But maybe we should?

In the Skagit Valley, if you don't have money, you will be directed to the SeaMar clinic in Mount Vernon, and you can get in to see the doctor for $20, if you have $20.If you don't have $20, you can go to the emergency room at the hospital.

WHAT TO EXPECT. The dreadful economic climate effects hospitals just like every place else. More people will be coming to the emergency room this winter with ailments that could be easily treated in a doctor's office, and the treatment of these ailments will take up the valuable time of emergency physicians and nurses who are trained to handle far more serious problems.

So, demand on hospital services will increase, but income from paying customers will decline. Insurance companies will pay off more slowly, co-payments from individuals will be bargained downward. State medicaid payments will be reduced. Hospitals will be in a squeeze. Expansions plans will delayed. Purchases of new and better equipment will be postponed. Non-essential services will be pared back.

How would you like it, if you worked at a hospital, and some administrator deemed your job to be non-essential? Man, that hurts.

But we'll get through it.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I went to work Thursday night and the nursing staff brought all kinds of delicious food to the break room, where a banquet was spread on the table. Good food and overtime pay -- we were all thankful for that.

On Friday, I went to a friend's house for a leftover feast. They had such a big gang at their house for Thanksgiving, that the party was will going on Friday night. And the food was fabulous -- like a white cake with lemon/coconut frosting.

One of the guests was a Lutheran minister, for 32 years he has been a pastor at a church on Beacon Hill in Seattle.

He introduced himself as Victor, but his pastoral vocation came out in the conversation later.

He was wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt, and we talked about that with a shared enthusiasm. He said to me, "Do you have high expectations?"

I was taken aback by that difficult question, and I stumbled before I answered, in this way, "Yes, I have high expectation for Barack Obama as President. But if I have high expectations for him, I must also have high expectation for myself."

Did I get that right? Do we all have high expectations? Don't answer too quickly.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Breeds of livestock

Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and swine -- hundreds of photos and breed histories from all over the world. You will be surprised at the variety -- lots of fun, hosted by Oklahoma State University.

I'm looking for a comprehensive poultry site -- if anybody knows of one. I've had chickens before and I've liked them -- entertaining and not too much trouble.

I had a goat once, but I came home one day to find her standing on the kitchen table. Anybody who has ever had goats will believe that story. I realized that I just wasn't smart enough to keep a goat.

Peonies -- I could not locate a good peony slide show on the Internet, but there are lots of websites hosted by plant nurseries. My mother had peonies in the backyard near the gate to the alley. Just three or four plants, but they bloomed every June, and they lasted for almost fifty years. At least they were still growing when mom died and we sold the house in 1996.

When I was a kid, among other chores, Mom had me cover the peonies and the base of the rose bushes with leaves from the oak tree. I did that every fall. That was back in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The ground freezes hard as rock in the Midwest, but the leaves protect roses and peonies from a January thaw and sudden re-freeze.

I recommend viewing the horses and peonies whenever the news gets to be too much. It is good to stay informed, but not good to be obsessive, which is why we say "If you can't help, don't watch."

This is a self-imposed rule for my work at the hospital. The second part of this rule is, "If you can't help, get out of the way."

Do you ever slow down to gawk at the people in the traffic accident? Well, it's wrong. Their pain is not for your entertainment. It's the same with the national news. There's a part of the problem that you can solve yourself, and the rest of it is not in your hands.

More news, and no comment:
Judge sentences noise violators to listen to Barry Manilow...

Speaking of music, I was driving down the freeway last week, punching buttons on the radio dial, listening to this Rolling Stone song, and I realized that I DO NOT LIKE the Rolling Stones anymore. They're too nasty, but I still like Eric Clapton.

Meanwhile, down in Wilson County, Texas, Sheriff Joe Tackitt is putting on his Santa Claus outfit and getting ready to give out toys and presents to all the happy children. Tackitt has a fundraiser every year to pay for this goodness. I used to visit with him often, to get the crime stories, when I worked at the Wilson County News a few years ago.

Tackitt would lean back in his chair and talk about farming and the price of hay and stuff like. He kind of missed being a farmer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Origins of a Good Party

One cannot live a serious life without enjoying a good party. I was at the Robert Sund birthday party in LaConner last night, held in LaConner's most wonderful building, the Civic Garden Club. The building is 130 years old and once held the county courthouse, and was later used as a school and library. It's very warm inside.

Robert Sund -- he died seven years ago -- but we still celebrate his birthday and his poetry every November. Arthur Greeno came up from Taos, New Mexico. Charlie Krafft showed up from Seattle. Tim McNulty, from Port Townsend -- a lot of stories assembled in one room. After the dinner and the poems, we had music and dancing, led by Jeff Winston and his son Wyatt. Jeff came back from Italy -- he said he's there half the time these days.

Most importantly Holly Graham was there. For her, as for so many others, LaConner will always be home. But she has been in Olympia these past years.

Holly is a magnificent entertainer. I was searching for comparisons -- Mary Martin, Ethel Mermann, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan -- no, no, no, comparisons are never good. But then I would need adjectives to describe Holly's voice -- her range, texture, power, sweetness, and complexity. I'm not good at this. But she is having a concert in LaConner at Maple Hall December 12.

Prior to the birthday bash, I had dinner with the Tahas, Kwami and Shani. This is a warm house. Kwami was raised in New York City, which is cold enough. Then he served two years in the Korean War -- two horribly cold winters, which he will never forget. Since then, he has made it a life's objective to stay warm -- plus many other accomplishments, of course.

Over dinner, we discussed the idea of having an Inauguration Party in LaConner on January 20. I raised the suggestion -- why should we just watch it on TV? Why not be a part of a national celebration, by throwing our own party in Maple Hall?

Obama will be sworn in and give his speech on the Capitol steps. This we can watch together. Then the parade goes down the Avenue, but in the evening comes the Inaugural Ball. So we can set up a big screen TV in Maple Hall, and gather there in our best party clothes, and wait for the music to begin. The lights will dim at the Ball in Washington DC. Michelle and Barack Obama will step out onto the dance floor for the first time as President and First Lady. The whole world will be watching. Won't it be sweet?

Then we'll begin dancing at our party in LaConner -- what a lot of fun that could be. Everybody join in. Good parties are good politics. Don't wait for instructions from headquarters -- start planning now.

MORE ABOUT PARTIES. I have these brilliant insights, which I share with you. Parties are a way to get through hard times. Suppose you were hoping to buy a new truck. Sorry, the money's not there. And the Mrs. has been dreaming about a kitchen remodel for years, but the bank won't lend you the money, and you can't afford the debt anyway.

But you can throw a party -- parties don't cost a lot of money. Have a dance party, a costume party, a Parcheesi and Monopoly party, with food, music, drinks, and dancing. Have a house party. What are you going to do, sit around and think about things? I figure if I'm spending more than one hour a day thinking, it's too much. Serious people know how to have fun.

ENOUGH OF THAT. We now offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Frog Hospital. While we try to present a pretty face to the world, and we want to make it look effortless, the actual production process in the Frog Hospital laboratory can be a bit gruesome and untidy. I was going to write something about the Clintons -- like why can't they just go away. Aren't they ever going to leave?

Then I was going to write about Gay Marriage in California, until I saw Dr. Phil having debate on the same subject in his afternoon TV show. Who cares about gay marriage? it's a Dr. Phil issue.

Then I started to write a very compelling story about recent events at the hospital, but the truth is that I don't get to tell those stories. I don't take notes either. Maybe years from now, I can write some wonderful stories about what I have seen here, but it's a matter of privacy now. So I hit delete on that one.

Then I came up with a really good idea on a Tom Robbins story, and I will tell it next time. And finally, I settled on this story about the good parties.

You see, it can get kind of messy. But I don't want to say too much about the inner process. Honesty, and the courage it takes to be honest, are of the highest virtue. But Full Disclosure is a modern disease. Never Tell Anybody Everything.

And lastly, I used to work at the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas. It was a good job and I was well paid. But now I have this blog, which I send to my old paper and they host it on their website. I get no money for this service, but I am glad to do my old paper a favor. It is one of the best newspapers in Texas, even in the whole country, so check it out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sentimental about General Motors

When I heard that General Motors was going bankrupt, I immediately thought of my father's Buick. It suited him so well, a light-green four-door Roadmaster, bought new in 1956. He drove the whole family, five kids, from Chicago to Yellowstone Park, then on to San Francisco, Yosemite, Disneyland, The Grand Canyon, and back home, all the way across Oklahoma and Missouri on old Route 66. We saw America in that Buick.

When I heard General Motors was going bankrupt, I realized it wasn't just about money and jobs. I could hear Dinah Shore singing, "See the USA, in your Chevrolet..."

I remembered my bright red 1986 Chevy S-10 pickup, it was the sweetest truck I have ever owned. I spent money on repairs for this vehicle, but it was this situation where I lived near a mechanic's garage, that was owned and operated by a luscious Italian widow. Just for the chance to talk with her for a little while, I would order up a radiator repair that I didn't really need. The result? My vehicle received first-class maintenance, but the lady never went out with me.

Still, I loved that truck. I wish I hadn't sold it.

When I heard that Lehman Brothers was going bankrupt, I didn't care. Nobody loves a bank, it's just money. The bigshots took a bath -- they deserved it. And the tigers of Wall Street -- they live by the market and they die by the market, I do not pity them.

Or look at Microsoft -- a very strong company, still doing all right now. The world could not live without Windows. And the company provides many high-paying jobs in the Seattle area. But love it? Does anybody love their computer?

So I realized, passionately, that we cannot let General Motors die. It will be a cultural calamity. GM is at the root of our psyche.

There is a sound economic argument to allow GM to go into bankruptcy. I understand that. And if it was only a matter of money, I would say, go do it.

But if I listen to my heart -- maybe that's why I'm not good at business -- I'm not a good bottom line thinker.

And yet, American brand names are a powerful and profitable global presence -- Coca-Cola, Mickey Mouse, McDonalds, Nike, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, Oreos, etc. Image, identity and sentiment can be marketed and sold. It's a large part of our economy.

You can say, Oh I hate advertising and all that hype, but I don't say that. Back to my father -- he sold advertising for a living, that's how he bought the Buick, and that's how he put all five kids through college.

So there is a valid economic argument to support both the substance and the image of General Motors -- Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, and so on. If GM goes bankrupt, it will be hard to get over, especially if you have one of their cars sitting in your driveway.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Correction

"Barack Obama is the first President to come from Illinois since Abraham Lincoln," as I wrote in yesterday's post. Not true. We're forgetting Ulysses Grant, also from Illinois, a two-term President. They say Grant's Presidency was notable for corruption. But I have heard different. Rod Garcia, who got his doctorate in history from UCLA, said that Grant made some notably progressive proposals and has gotten a bad rap.

Anyway, General Grant and Mr. Lincoln, working as the team from Illinois, kept our nation united. That is a fact, and that was my point -- and both their records will serve as a guide and inspiration to our next President, Barack Obama.

Furthermore, Grant's Memoirs is one of the finest books every written by a victorious general. His prose style is so direct and clear, Grant's writing is a model for any serious non-fiction writer.

But I want to go back to my error. It's the nature of blog-writing that there is no one to check up on me, before it goes on the air. When I worked for the Wilson County News in South Texas, I had an editor with a gimlet eye. She would look at me once in a while and say, "Are you sure? Maybe you should get back on the phone again and make sure you have it right."

After she approved the copy, it went to a proofreader, a retired high-school English teacher -- she was bulletproof, she caught things that the editor missed. And my copy, under my byline, got published in the newspaper, and I was sure I had something solid -- something that I knew, to the best of my ability, was correct and true. And on top of all that, I got paid every week.

That's newspaper writing -- which is rapidly disappearing. There are no more newspaper jobs. Why do you think I work at the hospital?

So you end up with a blog, which is free and error prone. You get what you pay for.

Now, watch Ernie Kovacs and the Nairobi Trio on Youtube.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A President from the Midwest

Barack Obama is the the first African-American President, a younger man with a handsome family. The nation rejoices, even the people I met last night at the Arts Alive show in LaConner. I sat by the stage next to a carved wooden parrot and many people greeted me with words of happiness.

I would like to add some words which have not been stressed. Obama is the first White Sox fan to become President -- this only matters to a subset of Americans, of course, but I am in that group, so our pleasure has been doubled.

Next, much more important -- Obama was a teacher. He was a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago. He is the first President since Woodrow Wilson to have an academic background. Wilson had been President of Princeton University before becoming Governor of New Jersey and then taking over the White House.

Obama was disparaged during the campaign for having "accomplished nothing," yet he was a teacher! They said Obama "did nothing," yet he wrote two very good books.

There is an element in this country that despises teaching and writing -- but we are relieved of them now. Those clods! They were defeated.

Now, even more important, Barack Obama is the first President to come from Illinois since Abraham Lincoln.

Obama's theme of unity is a direct descent from Mr. Lincoln's ideal. Lincoln united the country with the Sword of Righteousness in bloody combat, because Lincoln believed that the Union may not be dissolved. Many men gave their lives for that same cause.

Or, as Lincoln might have said if he was a Mafia chief -- "Once you join up, youse can't leave."

Such is the lesson of Lincoln which Obama absorbed while he taught his class of constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

Finally, Obama is a President from the Midwest. Did you see his first press conference yesterday, with all the assembled and powerful financial notables standing behind him? Yes, and where was this press conference held? At a ranch in Texas?

No, brother, it was held Downtown, in Chicago, where Obama said he could re-right the economy.

The Midwest is the strength of the nation. The Midwest is the future of America.

You don't believe me? You think the Midwest is some sorry rust belt that people only want to get away from?

Well you are wrong. Let me put it another way. If the Midwest has no future, then America has no future.

Obama knows this better than anybody. I'm not sure what he can do about General Motors -- he could prop it up, or let it go. I am not sure. But this new beginning, this economic reconstruction, with or without the power of government, will commence in the Midwest, or it won't happen at all.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Feelin' Good

You can't govern the country based on a good feeling, but it sure feels good to win.

Senator John McCain gave a first class concession speech -- I was proud of him, and I think he has a future now that he no longers represents a party he never agreed with in the first place.

Obama's Election Night celebration in Grant Park had a special meaning for those of us who got their heads banged up forty years ago in the same spot. I had the good sense to stay away from that riot, based on long experience with the Chicago Police Department -- but some of my friends went down to that hot August Democratic convention demonstration figuring that they could hurl curse words at the cops without retaliation. They found out different. In Chicago, it's all about turf, and rarely about politics. But that was forty years ago, and a great curse has no been lifted from that site -- we have a new meaning and a new message.

All our good deeds have a basis in crime and sin -- this wonderful country, our powerful constitution -- founded in slavery and the taking of land from native people. We did not begin innocently, but it is our national determination to seek innocence and redemption. We do not live in a weary and cynical country.

I salute my African relatives. As many of you know, I was married to a Zimbabwean woman for seven years and spent one year in her country. I know they are thrilled by Obama's election. And now, in America, their names are become familiar -- Malaba, Mpofu, Mataka, and Sibanda -- commmon names in Africa, but now our President has a name more like theirs than mine. This is great happiness.

Obama gets a Frog Hospital honeymoon. That is, we support him 100% now and until 100 days after January 20. After that, everything that goes wrong will be his fault.

We're looking for changes of style. It won't be country and western music at the White House -- although Pres. Obama might continue to be political agile and play the music of Ray Charles, the great blues singer, who often sang country music too.

But I'm ready for some Count Basie.

Some folks won't be invited. Snoop Doggy Dog and his foul-mouthed rap singing brethren are not going to be sleeping over in the Lincoln Bedroom. They're going to have to clean up their act before the Obamas return their phone calls.

Yes, failure is the greatest teacher, but it feels good to win once in a while.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"What if we had an election and everyone came?"

"What if we had an election and everyone came?" High voter turnout could swamp the system. There's a chance that Obama will make a landslide win and, in that case, the results will be in early.

But it's far more likely that Obama will win by a narrow margin, and that means we'll get no conclusive results on Tuesday evening.

Therefore, I have altered my party plans. I'm going to work on Tuesday evening, from 3 to 11 at the hospital. Some of the patients will have the TV on and tuned into the election, so I'll be able to keep tabs as the evening goes along.

After work, at 11 p.m., I'll stop by Democratic party headquarters in Mount Vernon and see what's up. But unless it's an Obama blowout, I'm not going to stick around.

I'll just go home, go to sleep, and wait until Wednesday. If they DO have any problem counting the votes, it won't help for me to be breathing down their necks impatiently.

Florida is, of course, a problem. It's not so much cheating down there, it's more like they can't even COUNT.

But we will get a winner sooner or later.

And this message is for Frog Hospital readers in foreign countries --- In America, we have elections that are very long, very expensive, and very complicated. We could do that six-week in-and-out type of election like they do in Canada and England, but that's not our style.

I have been immensely interested and entertained by the election battle this year.

I expect the Democrats will take over. After all, it's our turn to screw up the country.