Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Anti-Hero (and The Hero) - Lessons ?

Today - we have "important" personalities such as Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and more in the background now Osama bin Laden. Recently we had George W. Bush and Mahmood Ahmadinejad. In our pasts (depending upon how old we are) we have people such as: Saddam Hussein, Colin Powell, Newt Gingrich, Imelda Marcos, Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy and many others.

In popular culture in the U.S. are people such as: LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson.

Also there are/were others such as: Steven Spielberg, Alice Walker, Noam Chomsky, Stephen King, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and of course many more.

Frequently we take individuals and make them into icons whether it the "superhero" or "super villain" (or both, depending upon the viewer). Almost no one today in the U.S. would see Osama bin Laden or Mahmood Ahmadinejad in any image besides the horrificly "bad guy". Sarah Palin today is seen as a buffoon by many, and as a true hero by some.

Daniel Ortega was viewed either extremely negatively or extremely positively in the mid-80's depending upon one's politics. Today, though he's still around, he's a non-entity to most, almost forgotten in the distant past.

We often seek the heroic personality such as today - Barack Obama. We want and expect him to take us out of very dark times and to miraculously move us out of our pain and hurt. Similarly we seek to pillory others such as George W. Bush or Dick Cheney as causes as to why we hurt.

As the first Iraq War began I heard Noam Chomsky speak in Berkeley eloquently of how the U.S. would face a minimum of six weeks of brutal warfare with thousands of (U.S.) casualties. As the War then ended rapidly I learned that though I admire Chomsky and his ideas, he is only human, not a "god".

I hope today and in the future we will look to the ideas and issues around us. We can and should not get stuck in the personalities and the cults of individuals worshiping and demonizing them.

Understanding radical Islam, Evangelical Christianity, racism and how we in the U.S. are both powerful and weak are all important. Building lasting movements for positive change using the words and ideas of people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Shirley Chisholm, Paul Robeson, Oliver Sachs, Sean Penn, and many others will help us far more than simply worshipping them as idols.

We can learn from the good and bad around us. It is often easiest to look for the simple extremes. It is much harder to learn at a deeper level and to do the difficult work to really make things better.


Thursday, November 27, 2008


Today on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I think in a slightly different direction towards a source of beauty that comes from within us as individuals.

I have different types of moments - which I label as "magic". No doubt many, if not most of you, others have similar moments in your lives.

Such moments, whether brief, or lasting longer, put me in a spirit - a feeling of Elation - that words otherwise don't easily define. It is a personal feeling which can be shared only in slivers, if at all, with others.

A simple example for me is entering into certain beautiful settings, usually involving large bodies of water, sunsets or sometimes both. For me it isn't the setting itself that gets me, but the mood and feelings I get in that magical moment.

I remember when I first saw Point Lobos Reserve, just south of Carmel, California. In that moment it was far more incredible than it has ever been when I've returned to see it. I could share how beautiful it was with others, but not the spirit of the moment.

A somewhat different spark of magic comes to me at times when I play duplicate bridge. In duplicate bridge we are playing a card game complicated by the fact that we compete with about two to 15 other couples who are playing the identical hands that we are playing.

In bridge one communicates with one's partner through bidding and playing one's cards. Nuances (and of course luck) can make a big difference. At times when I play duplicate I feel bonded to my partner in a way that I can't explain as we do "the right thing" and (then generally) triumph over our opponents. It may be within a single hand or on multiple hands or during an entire session.

If my partner in the bridge game feels magic in that moment it is undoubtedly different - because we are each unique individuals.

The magic comes elusively, though Possible places for it to appear are clear. The magic is not words or "rational". It encompasses feelings in that moment.

It is difficult to find magic when I'm significantly depressed or "lost" (unless I'm lost in fantasy). It is also difficult to find when looking with Significant Expectations which may not be met (or not appreciated when they are met).

I love the magic that appears for me within some books in some moments when I say: "aha, ....." and am so content.

You - no doubt have your own tales of magic in your life and how it is a part of you.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering - My Father

Forty-four years ago today on Friday, November 13, 1964 - when I was 13 years old my father died of stomach cancer approximately three years after first being ill. I remember my mother waking my brother and me up about 6:30 a.m. that morning saying: "Daddy died this morning".

Foolish, naive boy that I was (into my teenage rebellion first listening to rock music - having no needs I thought for my parents) - it was a transformative moment. My father's illness had never been discussed and I had never thought about his dying. At the same time it made perfect sense in that moment.

We got dressed and went to the hospital and I saw my father's body still in the hospital bed - my last time with my father. I didn't cry then, nor over the weekend including at his funeral on the Sunday. Now I cry - easily and openly. I didn't know - a lot then. I know a little more now.

Before he got sick my father was about 5'4 tall and weighed around 140-145 pounds. He felt bad in the late summer of 1961 and what was later determined to be terminal cancer was found to be the problem. In December, 1961 he was operated upon. I remember my mother crying endlessly then. She'd been told at age 37, that she'd be a widow - that there was no hope because the cancer had metastasized.

Seeming miraculously - my father "recovered" and was able to go on a planned sabbatical to study mathematics in Zurich, Switzerland. For a magical year - we traveled during vacations including a trip to Israel in the early spring where he saw many, many members of his huge family most of whom he'd not seen since he left Berlin in 1927.

In August, 1963 - we returned to Indiana - and Dad's health began to fail again. In April, 1964 - he went to Billings (University of Chicago) Hospital in Chicago for more testing. He took the bus from Chicago to be at my Bar Mitzvah which was held on a Thursday evening so my Orthodox Jewish grandfather could travel to the temple.

My mother pleaded with the rabbi to make the service short - because my father had to be on the bus back to Chicago so he would get there before midnight and not be discharged and need to be re-admitted. Despite this - she was forced to take my father to the bus station during the service - while the rabbi - was doing the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the Dead. My mother never forgave the rabbi for this.

In June, 1964 - we took the train to Oakland, California. My father had been hired by his best friend from graduate school Al Blank to work on a SMSG four semester high school calculus text project. We lived in a newly built fraternity house at the center of the Stanford Campus in Palo Alto.

My father's health went way downhill that summer. On our way back to Indiana we stopped at Grand Canyon. We were next to go to Denver, but my father was too weak and we went home.

My father could no longer ride his bicycle the 6 blocks or so to his office at Purdue University. My mother had to drive him and carry his briefcase. He kept doing what meant the most to him - teaching his classes at Purdue.

My mother later told me that my father Never talked about his death or dying. It was scary to think of dying and he coped by trying to pretend that he was getting better and not dying. His stomach was slowly losing its narrow access as his weight dipped in the end to a little less than 90 pounds.

My mother told me that one colleague came to the house and upon learning that Dad wasn't home asked if he "was dying" or perhaps "had cancer" - and she told him the truth. She said that this was the only time the subject was talked about - directly with another that she knew of. She said that he was very sad that he'd not live to see my brother and me grow up.

Ma also told me that they decided to Not talk about Death with my brother (11 then) and me to try to let our lives be as normal as possible.

My father died Friday, November 13, 1964. He taught his last class about 10:30 a.m. the morning of November 12th, feeling very sick, being taken to the hospital and then after various testing being told he could stay overnight in the hospital because he had other routine tests scheduled for the next morning. It was the only night he spent in the hospital the last 7 months of his life.

I never had a chance to say "goodbye" or to deal with what was going on until after my father died and that took many years. My father - never had a chance to share his fears and be whole (in an era of silence) about what he went through. I'm sad and crying today as I write!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Growing- Among Men

Beginning in the summer of 2007 I started try to form a men's support group here in Seattle where I live.   In December the group finally got its start with four of us, after I'd almost given up on getting enough men to start.    Last evening we had seven attendees - for the first time, with an eighth member out-of-town.    Our goal has been to have eight regular members.

Sizable numbers of supporters of feminism believe that equality will only be possible with the conversion of men to their side.   Often this belief rests upon men accepting feminism based upon seeing sexism for what it is and "doing better" - helping end domestic violence and rape as well as changing their own personal relationships with women.    Standing up to sexist statements and similar are an important part of this process.

While I agree with much of what I've described above, I believe that we men will only really change in sizable numbers when we start looking seriously at ourselves as men.    Empathy for women (alone),  while important,  does not seem to me to be sufficient to reach most men.  

Being male is hazardous to our physical and mental health.   As I wrote about previously here, we men - die at higher rates than women:  about a 23% higher rate during our first year of life and peaking at ages 15-24 when we are 261% more likely to die.   At all ages we are "weaker than women" in that we are more likely to die younger than women are.    See the statistics below for all our ages of life up to age 85.

Our ( U.S. ) mortality rates per 100,000 population (2004 data) are shown below:













































I don't think that most men will really take seriously the needs of women and children until we see what we do to ourselves.   We kill and injure each other.   We also live lives which are self-destructive.   We start at birth a little "weaker" than baby girls - and get at our "worst" as teenagers and young adults, and though we do better as we age, we still are much more likely to die younger than women are.

My men's group with 8 middle-aged and older men is hardly going to change things in our larger world.   I can only hope though that More men will start moving towards other men in caring, supportive ways - so that we can eventually rebuild masculinity into a life affirming way of living.    Then, perhaps, hopefully - we will recognize Women and Others in General - as important equals - and really succeed in ending inequality.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008


With Democratic majorities in Congress and the election of Barack Obama there is at last a possibility of universal health coverage in our immediate future.   Absent significant changes in our health care system the costs of private coverage will continue to grow substantially and employers will increasingly drop health insurance coverage.  

Barack Obama has proposed a new system establishing initially required coverage for all children.   His plan has various incentives to encourage/cajole employers to have private health care for their employees.   His proposals rely upon having federal employee health plans eventually available for all as a backup to private health insurance plans.

Our current healthcare system relies upon employers and governmental entities paying substantial amounts of money to pay both for health insurance coverage and for medical treatment in general.    Healthcare costs in the U.S. are substantially higher than elsewhere because of various reasons such as: the extremely high bookkeeping/billing expenses, our high usage of various expensive diagnostic equipment, our high drug costs, the relative accessibility of (more costly) medical specialists easily, as well as a reliance upon many without health coverage upon emergency rooms for basic medical treatment.

While healthcare providers are often squeezed, there are few incentives to be highly cost-effective in general.   When I go to a physician and my cost is $20-30, I will logically choose to get “as much care as possible” for this relatively small amount of money.    Others who have poor or no healthcare coverage can not afford treatment at all.

Why shouldn’t employers be taxed based upon their revenues and incomes, rather than by the number of (full-time) employees they have?   Why should they need to be involved in medical care and treatment at all?

I would like to suggest a radically different model for health care reform which I think is better than any proposal I’ve heard elsewhere.    Much of what follows was initially in my blog entry of May 11, 2006 (

Assume the following:

1.] Each citizen of the United States becomes entitled to national health insurance which includes a Family Identification Code and Individual Identifier within it.

2.] Medical Providers and Suppliers have their own separate identification codes.

3.] A Federal Agency is established to handle the new health care system probably through the existing HCFA (Health Care Financing Agency) which handles Medicare and Medicaid.

4.] The Federal Agency either independently or in coordination with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a new taxation management system.

5.] The Federal Agency together with contracted insurance companies handles the entire payment and reimbursement program with all medical providers.

6.] Individuals and Families pay their medical expenses on a yearly basis either as a part of their federal income tax or in a parallel tax tied to the income tax.

7.] The medical tax payments due are based upon the expenses incurred as well as the taxable income of the family/individual taxpayer unit.

8.]  Individuals and couples are responsible for paying for their medical costs for the prior taxable year by April, 15th similar to their income tax liabilities.

9.] Individuals have a series of costs for medical treatment. Examples of this might be:

a. Deductible - $500 - Year - Total Expenses
b. Co-Payment per Doctor Visit beyond the deductible- $35
c. Co-Payment per Hospitalization beyond the deductible- $200
d. Co-Payment per Prescription beyond the deductible- $25

10.] (Catastrophic) caps on Costs might be:

a. Family Deductible - $2000 (would only apply if family had 5 or more members)
b. Prescription Costs - $300 once $500 deductible had been met
c. Individual Total Expenses - $2000
d. Family total Expenses - $5000

11.] The deductibles, caps and some other costs for the individual or family would be reduced as their taxable income was below certain levels - perhaps $30-60,000/year taxable income for a family of four. Thus a family with taxable income of $20,000 might end up paying a total tax of a token amount such as $100 perhaps.

12.] Medical providers would accept their patients based upon various guidelines and reimbursement policies, but with no necessary concern of them having health care coverage or any particular kind of such coverage.

13.] Cost containment policies, audits and related procedures would attempt to minimize fraud and waste.

14.] Liability issues for workers compensation would need to provide a simple method of requiring employers to reimburse the federal government probably only in cases of extremely high expenses (if liability for medical treatment would exist at all).

15.] Other than related to worker's compensation, if determined applicable, employers would have no expenses for medical insurance.

16.] Individuals could choose to pay 100% of the costs of any medical care outside of the national healthcare system if they chose to do so for whatever reasons they wished.

17.] Certain medical care might be not-covered by the national healthcare system such as elective plastic surgery that had no clear medical value.

18.] Medical providers could choose to not participate in the national healthcare system.  If they wished to treat both participants and non-participants in the system, they could Only treat patients outside of the system for conditions not covered by the system (example: routine cosmetic surgery).


In such a healthcare system:

 1.]  Poor and chronically ill people could get more equal medical treatment.

 2.] Almost no one would be bankrupted by catastrophic medical expenses.

 3.] Employers could afford to hire employees with pre-existing medical conditions.

 4.] Where individuals are healthy, there would be incentives to not "overspend" with the deductibles and co-payments they would need to pay.

 5.] Medical care providers – could have a single, coherent billing system

 6.] Cost containment and reviews for efficacy, efficiency etc. would be much easier to do with a single national record keeping system.

 Congress and President Obama could come up with a comprehensive single payer health plan based upon a model such as this by the end of 2010 which might be able to begin to be phased in starting in 2012.

The healthcare plan might initially  include all who are currently covered by existing federal health plans including Medicare, most Medicaid,  civil service and perhaps the military.    After several years others could be added so that the plan would include all of us within a few years.   Whether we should keep our veterans healthcare system or not is beyond the scope of this writing.

Obviously such a system is far more complex than my explanation can cover. It is a model for a future national health plan that I hope others will consider.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Hopes vs. the Past - Obama/Kennedy - for Example

The day before election day I feel confident that Obama will win.   Thinking of expectations for his presidency makes me think back to previous elections.   Clearly no president since Kennedy, when I was growing up, has brought the level of hopes so high.

Much of what I know of Kennedy is from later on, reading of him after his death mostly as an adult.

Kennedy's sexual escapades and health issues and the like - are really not of great interest to me.

The Myth that Kennedy was this - Great President - Who Brought About Civil Rights - equality - through his gallant efforts and was otherwise a Great Leader bothers me greatly.

Kennedy was 100% politician!    His political power rested upon keeping the Southern Democrats (the last of that era) on his side.   We forget (or never knew) of a South - where all the senators were Democrats - who used the filibuster to prevent serious efforts at Civil Rights for Blacks - really until 1964, after Kennedy was dead.    Kennedy had no majority without them.  The successes of Civil Rights efforts during the Kennedy era - related largely to the "crazy" in a way efforts of Many, Many Black people - heroic efforts- and the killings in Birmingham and elsewhere that shocked the world - despite Kennedy's lack of leadership.

Kennedy was a Cold Warrior - who had some good moments, but also - hardly embraced the freedom sought by African colonies - yes colonies - from their European oppressors.   

Kennedy - had ties to mobsters - as well as a tough relationship with J Edgar Hoover - who kept him - in a "check position" - due to his sexual escapades, mob ties, etc. - and compromised him on Civil Rights.

Kennedy, despite all this, did a lot of good, but was hardly the hero he's made out to be today.


Barack Obama obviously lacks a lot of the ghosts of Kennedy and others!

At the same time - he is a politician.   He also is a "realistic politician".   He hasn't been the success that he is from being a "diehard liberal" or crusader.   He has been a realist.   His statements on Afghanistan (and really Israel) - may be "political ploys" - but if not are a little scary.   Afghanistan is not "winnable" most likely.   Osama Bin Laden - is hardly - "the threat" - that we face - and his death - won't help us that much.

Obama has a lot of strengths.   We can hope that he will prove his greatness - first in dealing with our current economic woes.   Later on perhaps he'll lead us towards healthcare reform and other important positive changes.

Let us hope!   Let us though not be totally naive in our hope.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Health Insurance, Taxes, U.S. "Domination"etc.

As we approach an important election which hopefully will allow for some positive change, I think of some of the major issues we face.   I'd like to briefly discuss some of the important issues I see - saying things that I've often said in other postings here.

Health Insurance:  

I think that healthcare should be a right - and ideally should have No tie to one's employment status or lack thereof.   If employers had no issue of paying for health insurance there would be more incentive to hire additional workers with much less a marginal cost for each worker hired.   There would be less incentive to contract out work or hire part-time workers not covered by health insurance plans.

As I discussed in a much earlier blog entry here - I think that health insurance should be either under IRS or an agency similar to it - where we "owe" a yearly deductible and have co-payments to pay to the Government or its Carrier - similar to how we pay our income taxes.   We would have an incentive to Not overuse the system because of what it would cost us.   We would all have yearly maximum payment limits to cover potential catastrophic costs.   Medical providers would bill the Carrier and have no worries about our "coverage" or similar.  Lower income people would have lower deductibles and co-payments.

Clearly - if we have a seemingly "more realistic" health care system it needs to:

1.) Help pay catastrophic costs - so that individuals and families aren't bankrupted by medical costs,
2.) Figure out ways to cut down on our Excessive use of Expensive testing and similar when it's unnecessary - distinguishing between the needs of the Seriously Ill - from the rest of us,
3.) Figure out ways to cut the costs of those who are terminally ill or chronically ill (who disproportionaly spend a huge percentage of our medical costs) - while not cheating them out of what is best for them.


We could radically change our tax system in logical ways.   To do this we would need to eliminate nearly all deductions, perhaps even all except for dependents.   We would no longer "subsidize" the housing industry (perhaps lowering house sales costs), nor charities, as well as many other benefits of our socialized system (generally for the wealthy).

Assume that one's household income with a family with two adults and two dependent children is $100,000.   Such a household might have a deduction of $10,000 per adult and $5000 per child.  This would reduce their taxable income to: $100,000 - (2 x $10,000 + 2 x $5000 = $30,000) = $70,000.    Assuming that the first $50,000 in taxable income had a rate of 10% and beyond that was 30% - the taxes owed would be: 10% of $50,000 = $5,000 + 30% of $20,000 = $6000 = $11,000 in total or 11% of their gross income.

A similar household with a gross income of $50,000 - would owe $3000 = 6%
A similar household with a gross income of $200,000 - would owe $49,000 = 24.5%
A similar household with a gross income of $500,000 - would owe $139,000 = 27.8%
A single individual with a gross income of $30,000 - would owe $2000 = 6.67%
A single individual with a gross income of $100,000 - would owe $22,000 = 22%

One could argue about - specific tax rates and bend points for the tax rate changes, however such a system would be simple and progressive.    It would raise taxes in areas like capital gains and similar.

U.S. Domination:

I hope to live to see a day where the U.S. - actually helps other countries and doesn't feel a right to invade and decide What is best for others - generally reflecting naive, limited perspectives.   The European countries had colonies to exploit until the 1960's.   We've become the tyrant - sometimes doing good, but more frequently causing harm.

The so-called "terror" - that we face relates directly to how we are viewed by many - particularly Muslims in other parts of the world.

Let's - help make peace - in Palestine/Israel - with compromise and listening to the Palestinian cause - not being simply: "Pro-Israel".    Let's - let the Iraqi's work out their problems - withdrawing our troops and control in the coming months.   Let's leave Afghanistan's military affairs to its people - working with the Taliban if we can, but recognizing that we are destined to lose here as the Russians and others have done over many centuries.

Let's start making peace within the U.S. - helping our citizens with education, healthcare, and end to rape/domestic violence/child abuse and realistically look at a future where us getting older folks - the Babyboomers - are going to start needing much help as we age - and we can No Longer live beyond our means as a society.

Let's recognize the beauty of life - and respect others and ourselves!


Studs Terkel

I was sad to hear of the death of Studs Terkel!

He was a giant - in listening to others and eloquently and simply stating their words - telling their stories so brilliantly in many of his books.

He was also a "total person" in so many ways.

His first book, Giants of Jazz, was published in 1956. Ten years later his first book of oral history interviews, Division Street : America, came out. It was followed by a succession of oral history books on the 1930s Depression, World War Two, race relations, working, the American dream, and aging. His latest book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken : Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, was published in 2001. 

He talked of classism, racism and other serious issues through the people he talked with - in their words - and avoided the pontificating - "I know it all" - attitude we often have, particularly when we feel aggrieved or under pressures from others.

Reading the bio - above - I discovered that we shared a common birthday - he - 39 years older than me.