Monday, May 3, 2010

See Something, Say Something

I think the man who reported the suspicious vehicle in Times Square deserves to be called a hero. When I first heard the news that parts of the area were evacuated due to a vehicle, I suspected it was nothing like so many unattended bags, packages and vehicles are.

In this case, it was something and could have potentially killed or hurt a lot of people.

The T-shirt vendor wasn't enthusiastic about talking to the media, but he did give one piece of advice: "See something, say something."

One never knows what will happen and in this case it certainly was best to be safe and report the vehicle. So, the vendor definitely deserves a "Thank You!"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For Kick Ass: I looked away

Violent movies aren’t my thing. I could barely watch the movie trailer for the new Nightmare on Elm Street. I can’t remember what version or number it is in the series, but I didn’t dare look at it. For those in the movie, you don’t dare fall asleep or “Freddy” or whatever the guy’s name is will get you!

Having said that — I watched the movie Kick Ass and it was brutally violent.
It’s about everyday people — teens and a father and daughter — who transform themselves into super heroes.

I read the rating explanation before I went to the theater. I understood there would be violence. The R-rating very clearly stated: “R:Strong brutal violence throughout, language, sexual content, nudity & drug use — involving children, 118 min.”

“It’s supposed to be funny,” I told my friend Julie.

We saw the movie Date Night the day before. Our options for a Friday matinee were slim. Her boyfriend wanted to see one of the other movies playing, so we couldn’t see that comedy. The rest didn’t capture our interest.

“Surely they don’t show it,” I told Julie.

We went and sure enough they did show the violence. My eyes were glued to the screen about two-thirds of the time. The story was very good. I just didn’t like the violence. Did I think it was too much? Yes. Did I watch it? No.

For one-third of the movie, I had one hand over my eyes with my head down. The other hand was rubbing my baby belly. I’m not sure if I just got tense or just became uncomfortable in those chairs, but I don’t think Enzo liked being at an R-rated violent movie with his mom.

The only saving grace for the violence was the music. I knew almost instantly when to look down and when I could return to the screen — all based on the musical cues that followed the action.
I only bring this up, because despite not seeing a third of it — I really liked this movie. I couldn’t sit through it a second time, but it was an interesting story.

A high school student with no super powers decides to become a super hero; because he’s tired of being robbed on the street by criminals and seeing other people just look away. Instead of just “existing,” he decides to do something.

My aversion to violence has made me miss many films. I’ve never watched No Country for Old Men despite its local connection to Del Rio. I love the tagline for this movie: “Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande.”

I’m told the sudden violence in that movie would probably put me over the edge. The moral of the story is “don’t pick up anything in the desert.” I can get that without seeing a lot of people die in grisly ways.

I compared Kick Ass to my movie experience with The Last Samurai. I only watched the samurai film, because my late husband couldn’t read the subtitles and I had to play interpreter. I’m glad I watched it too, because it was a moving story.

My movie habits won’t change, because twice in a six-year span I have suffered through violence to catch a good storyline. I lean more toward comedies, romantic comedies and crying dramas.
I might consider a movie, if I hear it has an interesting story despite the R-rating for “strong brutal violence throughout.” But, we’ll just have to see how courageous I feel that day.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hey Texans, don't forget to mail it in!

Hey remember that Census form you received in the mail several weeks ago, DON'T FORGET TO SEND IT IN!

I was surfing the net on Tuesday and found a blog post on The Texas Tribune about how there is "concern" that Texans haven't responded to the Census like other states. According to that report, we're lagging behind the rest of the country. Oh, we're behind to the tune of like seven percent. Some Texas cities have response rates around 25 percent.

When we received our Census, I waited one day to fill it out and put it in the mail. I wasn't trying to buck the system. I just took my time. Technically, the form says the Census is taking a snapshot of the country on April 1. If something in our family changed by April 1, ie the baby arrived almost two months early — I was going to have bigger things to worry about than whether or not my household was accurately reflected in the Census.

Why is sending the Census form so important?

Well, it's easier and cheaper, if you simply mail the form back. If the Census Bureau doesn't receive your form, you'll be getting a followup in the form of a a Census worker showing up at your door.

While you may think you're helping the economy by giving this person a job, it's not really helping. I saw one interview saying it costs the government around 42 cents for you to respond by mail, but costs around $60 — if someone has to report to your house. How is that helping control our federal tax dollars?

The Census director's statement reported on The Texas Tribune said "For every percentage increase in mail response, the bureau estimates it saves $85 million in taxpayer money."

Sure, you may not like the idea of the Census. You may not like the millions they have spent advertising the Census and encouraging people to fill out the forms. You may not even like the 10 questions on the form. You may not believe it's the government's business to know who lives in your home.

If you believe whole-heartedly in that last line — "You don't want the government in your business" — you really, really should fill out the form to prevent a government worker from knocking on your door. All the Census workers want to do is count the number of folks under the roof — nothing more nothing less.

This is one of those times where it's really easier and cheaper for us all, if you just mail in the form. The whole idea of the Census is to count Americans across the country. The numbers are used to dole out government monies, grants, etc. It really helps your local community to be counted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Every vote counts

Every vote counts.

We say it every election cycle, but people seem to always forget this. An election with a close result is good reminder — every vote counts.

In Del Rio, the Republican party had a close election for the county judge candidate. This week, after an electronic recount Laura Allen was declared the winner with 693 votes. Her opponent Dr. Robert C. Overfelt had 691 votes.

Election day was several week ago and the numbers have changed a bit. I recall the initial tally had Allen ahead by a single vote. Yes — one vote.

Close returns are tough. What ifs abound?

What if more people had turned out at the polls on election day?

What if the losing candidate has just convinced two more people to show up at the polls and vote?

What if more people had turned up at the polls?

Our county seemed to have a low turnout. There were no lines at my polling precinct. There were no hot races like a presidential election or a county sheriff's race on the ballot. Those two tend to attract larger numbers to the polls.

This year, there were several gubernatorial candidates to choose from, but it didn't seem to create a large turn out on election day. There were plenty of county seats on the ballot, but this also did not motivate more voters to cast a ballot.

The election results are a good reminder that every vote counts. Literally, your vote could make or break a change in government. So, don't forget to vote in the next election.

Let them know what you think

I want action.

I'm tired of all this back and forth about health care reform. I want a vote — whether through reconciliation, deeming or a rule action. I'm not sure what all those terms mean and I don't think half the broadcasters, reporters, bloggers or Congressional leaders do either.

There are lots of nasty buzzwords being used to describe these procedures and to discourage the use of them. There also appears to be historical data showing that each party has used these procedures in the past.

I don't care about the politics. I just want to see a few things accomplished.

I want to see lifetime caps disappear in insurance policies. It's really easy for a catastrophic illness to cost a million dollars in a short period of time. Those benefits run out way before the life of the individual with the illness, disease or stroke may end.

I want to see an opportunity for every person to have access to health care. I'm not talking about having access to the emergency room for a sinus infection. I'm talking about the ability to see a family doctor for preventative health care issues as well as infections and colds.

I want to see the health care bill streamlined. It would be nice to have it come in a smaller package, but I also understand it is trying to deal with multiple complex issues. It sets out some pretty lofty goals to be in place immediately and phased in over the next few years.

I want to see those kickbacks removed. I don't know what the Senate was thinking when they approved some of the perks for Nebraska and Louisiana. Who knows what other states benefited from these crazy deals? The deals need to go! They are not fair to other states.

I want to see Senate and Congressional leaders pass health care reform. If it's a legal method that has been employed by Congress in the past to approve legislation, then I think it should be used today.

I sent e-mails this morning to my Congressman and my Senators. It took longer to fill out the contact information than it did to ask them nicely to support the passage of health care reform.

I know there are a lot of people who hate the idea of health care reform. That's fine. You need to let Congressional leaders know how you feel, too.

It's easy, go to this Web site and you can find the people who represent your district and state. Let them know what you think. Let them know if you are for it or against it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Georgia on my mind today

The cost of a college education has been on the minds of many recently. This morning, I saw a report about Georgia college students taking their complaints to the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Rightfully, students want lawmakers to see the people who will be impacted by their cuts.

I'm thinking about Georgia, because I'm a graduate of The University of Georgia and my immediate family remains there. I recently received an e-mail from the alumni association talking about past cuts and proposed cuts. The overall picture looks pretty grim as plans include reducing the freshman class, faculty, staff and programs.

Colleges all across the country are facing similar problems. The economy is still in recovery which means that tax collections are down. If state officials can't make their budgets, something has to give. This is where the human toll begins. Some universities are having to take a hard look at programs, fees and tuition costs. Georgians are lucky that lottery funds pay for some tuition costs. Lottery funds don't pay for all the costs associated with education, so this could mean that some students may have to drop out until it becomes more affordable.

I began thinking about college costs recently, because my husband and I are expecting a baby. We put a small amount into a college fund for our son. We aren't even close to the amount suggested to fully fund the account to pay for a college education in 18 years.

Some parents have told me that funding anything at this point may be a bad idea or worse — make me bitter. Yes, I was scratching my head, too. It turns out, parents who plan (i.e. create and put money into college accounts for their children) often get bitter when they see how not planning for college results in free money — scholarships, federal assistance and grants.

When I went to college some two decades ago, there was no trust fund or money set aside to pay for school. My twin sister and I applied for scholarships, grants, financial aid and received minimal student loans to fund our education. We worked part-time at school and at home to pay for the extras.

It seems normal for many students to leave college these days with a diploma in one hand and a student loan debt in the other. I've heard from graduates with minimal debt — under $10,000 — to those reaching $40,000 and beyond. The student loan debt often surpasses the recent graduate's first year salary, if he or she can find a job.

Bitterness is also at work for those who repay their student loans. I'm not sure how people do it, but some people apparently do not repay their student loan debt.

Higher education isn't the only area taking a hit in this economy. Last week, there was story after story about communities closing city and county schools, firing teachers and increasing classroom sizes. Schools are finding they can't operate like they have in the past. They have to do things differently.

While I cringe at all the changes (some good and some bad), I can't figure out what the alternative is. We all want our government to cut costs, but we don't want those costs to impact the economy, health care, education, children or the elderly.

I can't figure out a way around. No money seems to clearly equal a cancellation of some services.

We want it all, but I don't think that's possible. Many of us have already looked at the reset button and hit it. We've had to adjust or alter our plans, because the economy and our bank accounts didn't make it possible. Some goals have had to be put on hold. State funded education systems need to do the same thing and move forward in the best way possible in this economy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Don't judge, just help

This morning, I was reading about Sen. Harry Reid's wife and daughter's accident. In one of the articles, it noted that Reid did not stay at the hospital. He returned to the Senate to continue negotiations about health care reform.

I cringed, because I knew things like this would happen. I found this Tweet: "Harry Reid, a sure loser in the 2010 election, would rather be in DC forcing Obamacare thru, than to be with wife in hospital."

Forget the politics of health care reform. Forget that Reid is a Democratic leader.

Think about how each individual deals with medical emergencies differently.

When my late husband had a catastrophic stroke, I was able to stay with him at the hospital. I didn't return to work for four or five weeks. NOT everyone can do that. I had a supportive employer, co-workers and family.

When he was able to communicate with me, he said he didn't remember 99 percent of what happened in that ICU unit. He doesn't know what was said, done or who visited. It's a fog, because of his precarious condition and the environment. It's difficult for many to keep their days and nights straight. The machines and tubes often create noises that muffle and alter reality as well.

While Mrs. Reid has a broken back, nose and neck — all very serious — I understand why Harry Reid did what he did. It's what he needed to do. Once you observe a few medical emergencies, you'll see how each person deals with it differently. Think about it — some people cry and fall to pieces. Some people find an inner strength that no one has seen before. Some people become numb from the experience. Some people let the medical professionals do their job.

People will criticize you no matter what you do. Some people felt like I stayed at the hospital for too long. I was encouraged to leave and to begin moving ahead, but I couldn't. While I wasn't the crying, weepy type, looking back, I honestly needed that time in the bubble of the ICU waiting room to adjust to my new reality.

Money also plays a role in how many react. Some folks can't afford to buy gas for their car to visit loved ones in the hospital. Some can't afford to miss a day of work. After all, the ICU is taking take of your loved one — technically you are there for support.

Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe family contact is important for recovery. But, I don't want to judge a person for how he or she reacts. It's ridiculous to do so. That individual has enough stress. There's no reason to pile it on with snarky remarks.

My mom had a serious neck and back surgery last August. She's recovering nicely, but she has mentioned on more than one occasion that she doesn't remember my visit with her during the post-surgery phase. I was there. She knows I was there, but she can't remember it. It's just another example of where your loved one — may not even know what you're doing to help them.

Unfortunately, there will be nasty comments made about Mr. Reid and how he behaves while his wife is recovering. I think the best thing is to simply offer up a prayer or a nice thought for the family. Medical emergencies are difficult and often devastating. The last thing a family needs is a bunch of nosey folks butting in. Each family needs to make its own decision on what's best. No one else.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh, it's Census time again

I received a letter yesterday and I thought it was my family's Census questionnaire. It was not. It was a letter explaining how I will receive a letter. Silly, maybe, but the content is not.

"About one week from now, you will receive a 2010 Census form in the mail." The first line was bold. I'm not exaggerating.

The letter shared information that I already know. "Your response is important. Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share."

The letter from U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves is a great reminder. I heard some complaints about the Census TV commercials, but I thought they were pretty good at getting the message out that your response is important. Unfortunately, you can't just send out a questionnaire with instructions and hope people will respond. The Census Bureau has to be proactive. In fact, they'll visit if you don't respond.

I hope their efforts will pay off in the large return on the questionnaires. It's important to stand up and be counted as part of the Census, because it determines how federal funds make their into our community. In this economy, I think we need all the federal dollars sent our way that is possible.

While it may be an important task, it doesn't take a lot of time. It takes about 10 minutes to answer 10 questions. And, bonus — it only happens once every 10 years. I guess most people spend more time watching TV in one evening than they'll spend filling out Census forms over their lifetime.

If you have questions about the Census, visit the Web site and learn more about it. The site explains the process and how the information collected remains private. Be sure to fill it out when you get your form, your community's share of about $400 billion in federal dollars depends on your response.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why I write?

This week, the Creative Writers of Del Rio did a "quick write" about why we each write. The group formed a year ago after a new resident Diane Stroud discovered she missed her writer's group in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

She gathered writers one by one. Today, Diane has moved on to cooler climates, but her legacy remains on Wednesdays as now up to 14 writers gather to share their current works in progress or just a frustration or two about a computer glitch.

While my writing projects have been scattered and undisciplined in recent months, I'm really glad that Walt asked us to think about this.

In a few minutes, I came up with this list of Why I Write, which chronicles bits and pieces of my writing career:
  • I write for food.
  • I write to persuade public opinion.
  • I write to help people!
  • I write for release — to put an experience on paper and get it out of my head.
  • I write for purpose — to focus on one story, one day and one year.
  • I write to think new thoughts.
  • I write to share my opinion.
  • I write to challenge myself to do something different and to think something different.
  • I will write for food.
So, why do you write?

So, who's on first?

It would be funny, if it were not so serious.

I read a report yesterday about how Americans are facing an increase in health care costs. Some Californians are facing huge increases in their health insurance coverage — to the tune of 39 percent. The increase is essentially for those folks who buy individual insurance policies.

Who is most likely to buy an individual policy? Someone who is unemployed or doesn't receive insurance coverage through work.

The article points out that only five percent of non-elderly Americans have individual insurance and 60 percent are covered by employers. That leaves a large chunk of folks with no coverage or whose care is covered by government programs.

Politically, the rate hike in California, which impacts about 800,000 people, creates a new talking point for health care reform (or the new buzzword health insurance reform).

How can people afford health insurance, if the rates continue to increase? There are other cases of premium hikes in Maine and Indiana, too. My guess is that there are cases in every state.

The economy isn't helping the situation. Many folks who are unemployed and need medical insurance are signing up for these individual policies. Younger people, who are unemployed are not buying policies. They are "winging it" and hoping they don't get sick.

With a more concentrated pool of sick people buying insurance, the companies are increasing prices to cover the services. The quandary now is that folks who really need health insurance to cover their medical conditions cannot afford it. When these people with known medical issues fail to seek treatment or must seek emergency treatment without medical insurance, who pays the bill?

See, I'm thinking the government — really taxpayers — eventually pick up the tab for this medical care. While some people have died from lack of health insurance, as a general rule, we do end up taking care of many people. Services are provided whether an individual can pay for them or not.

I know many people are adamantly opposed to health care reform, but I think we're talking in circles as we argue against reform. It's like that Abbott and Costello joke, "Who's on first?" If we just listened to the details, we would understand who is really paying for medical care when people don't have access to health insurance.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Texas case puts chill in the air

A friend recently shared an article from the New York Times about a nurse, who faces a felony charge for anonymously reporting a physician to a state medical board.

The nurse faces up to 10 years for "misuse of official information." She wrote an anonymous letter to Texas regulators about a physician at her rural hospital.

She contends she had a professional obligation to protect patients from what she witnessed at the hospital. Prosecutors intend to show at trial that she had a history of making "inflammatory" statements about the doctor and intended to damage his reputation.

While reading this story, I couldn't comprehend that a medical complaint would rise to the level of a felony charge against the person making it. I have complained about medical professionals and facilities before. It's something that I believe as a patient and/or a caregiver I have a right to do.

It's simple. If something is bad, tell the people in charge. If they don't do anything, go to the next level, etc.

In Texas, it might not be that simple. This case is significant, because it's not a patient or a family member who has blown the whistle. It's a nurse. A nurse, who with access to medical charts and with a trained medical background, could provide a complaint against a physician or medical organization in greater detail than a patient or family member.

The nurse on trial and another one have lost their jobs over the complaints. If all this can happen to a nurse, what will happen to patients and family members who complain about the quality of their medical care and the people who provide it? This is one trial I hope the prosecution can't prove.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Taking care of family

It's one topic we can agree on — we should take care of our family. The sticking point is often, who does the work. If your parents are still together as a couple, the healthier parent takes on those care giving responsibilities.

With only one parent left, a child will step up and take on those responsibilities. If you are an only child, it's easier and more complicated at the same time. You have all the responsibilities. The whole process is a lot more complicated than the bumper stickers that advise: "Be nice to your kids. They'll choose your nursing home."

I was reading an article in Time titled "Who Takes Care of Mom?" by Francine Russo. The author shares her experience as being the "bad" sister, who lived far away as her mom's health failed. "She never asked me to do anything, and I didn't volunteer." That sums up what many experience when siblings become caregivers.

I experienced that myself last fall when my mother had surgery. Although I knew there was little I could do while she was hospitalized, I coordinated my visit so I was there before and immediately after the surgery. There was nothing I could really do and as my mom put it during a recent visit to my home, "I don't remember seeing you in August."

I wasn't there when my sister and brother and their families tried to help Mom and help Dad help Mom during those weeks post-surgery. I called. I asked questions. I contributed little to the recover process.

The good news is that my family knew this going into the process. My sister and I talked about this prior to Mom's surgery. We all knew my visit during the surgery would be during the easy phase of the recovery — doctors and nurses did the bulk of the work here. It was when Mom returned home with special medical equipment, home health visits, etc. that the real work began.

It's important for families — especially siblings to talk about these issues before the relationship gets strained. Caregiving is a stressful experience and there will be blowups, frustrations and hard feelings. I don't see a way to avoid it altogether, but there are a few ways to ease the tension.

Families should talk about how they plan to proceed when a parent needs assistance. Is there money for in-home care? Will someone move in? Will a parent move in with a child? Will your parents needs to live in a nursing home or other-type of assisted care facility?

It's a good idea to discuss medical directives, guardians and wills at this time, too.

It's an uncomfortable subject, but it's one that is well worth it. Discuss what your parents want and don't want. Discuss what each of the adult children in the family can do. Then, you can hopefully develop a plan that makes everyone feel good and not like a "bad" sibling.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Officials need to research before action

A deceased children's author may not appear in a third grade social studies reading list in Texas. Apparently, the Texas State Board of Education took steps to eliminate books written by Bill Martin Jr. from the curriculum. Why?

A board member thought Martin wrote a book that contains "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system." Articles about the action were published all over Texas. The story made me ask, "Say what?" as the facts unfolded in black and white (I read the article initially the old fashioned way — in the local newspaper.)

The board members apparently got the deceased children's author of the Brown Bear series and a children's book on how to say the Pledge of Allegiance confused with a philosophy professor's book Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.

In the news articles, there is a bit of back-and-forth among board members on the issue. One said she received "research" from another member about Martin. The original sender claims she did not research the issue. I think everyone can agree that no one really researched the issue.

The board members contend their intent is to pare down the list of books eligible for state curriculum standards. While it's a tough task, board members need to take their work more seriously and really research the books to be on the list.

I have a crazy idea. Board members could talk to the educators who recommended the books for the curriculum and choose books based on the merits of the selected selected. The board probably has good intentions, but it isn't showing so far. Hopefully, they will do more research before the final vote in May.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tabloids, budgets and infidelity — Oh my!

I know there are plenty of important things going on in the world today. This morning, I watched a video about the orphans in Haiti and the difficulties of treating their injuries. There are dozens of stories on the proposed changes to the banking industry. And, what about that Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance? Boy, who saw that one coming.

After reading all of that, I'm still thinking about one story that doesn't mean that much in the grand scheme of my life. It's former Sen. John Edwards' admission that he fathered a daughter with his mistress.

I've read Elizabeth Edwards memoir Resilience. I understand from her and from my own head — her marriage is none of my business — but I still read the stories. Edwards' announcement was expected a long time ago.

The National Enquirer initially broke the story. The tabloid is reportedly submitting its coverage of the Edwards affair for a Pulitzer Prize. It's an award that brings to mind war, financial meltdowns and tragedies such as the Haiti earthquake coverage — not a politician's inability to commit to his marriage vows.

I can't say whether the tabloid deserves the prize or not — that's up to the committee. The tabloid does deserves a pat on the back, because it broke a story that no one else touched. No major news organization print or broadcast reported this story until it seemed Edwards was willing to confess it.

I wonder whether the mainstream media outlets had the resources to check out the story. I've experienced this at a community newspaper level. Someone calls with a juicy tidbit that is the seed of a valid news story that impacts your community. The problem: you have four city council meetings to cover and only two writers. Do you drop the bread and butter or go for the tip?

Major news outlets said they checked out the reports of infidelity, but never confirmed it. The 2008 campaign had plenty of important stories that didn't involve Edwards' sex life. Tabloids had an advantage, because they often practice checkbook journalism where they pay sources for information. People are often willing to share a story when they get a six-figure check. With no confirmation, the whispers of the infidelity slipped through major news outlets' radar as the tabloid kept pursuing it.

The Tiger Woods sex scandal is similar. The same tabloid broke a story about infidelity, but major news outlets didn't report it for days after his car crash. I wondered at the time if he was getting a pass like Edwards. But, a real news organization needs to track a story down. Eventually, the whole big ball o' mess was aired on mainstream news outlets.

The two stories are similar because 1) a tabloid broke the story — not mainstream media outlets and 2) each man portrayed an image that didn't match their personal behavior.

These guys are not alone. There are plenty of men and women who do this all the time — act one way in public and another way in private. Regular Joes just don't rise to the level of a tabloid story.

Stories of the private lives of politicians and celebrities are very trivial when you look at bigger stories such as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Haiti earthquake, the economy, health care reform and all the political craziness in Washington. But, these stories make me wonder: How many stories aren't being covered by the mainstream media? How many reporters (or Congressmen) have had time to read the full health care reform bills? How many reporter positions have been cut at newspapers and broadcast outlets all across the country?

How has our readership/viewership demands shaped how media organizations allot their budgets? If we click first on the Heidi Montag plastic surgery story or the latest on the Conan-Leno battle for late night, what incentive do we give the accountants at media outlets to increase the newsroom budget? I'm guessing very little.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We still need to fix the health care system

With the election last night of Scott Brown in Massachusetts , a lot of people think health care reform is dead. Many people hate the reform on the table so much, they were downright giddy.

Brown's election may very well be the death of health care reform, but it's death doesn't resolve the problems we have in the system.

This new change doesn't help that there are a lot of people using our medical system, who have no way to pay for it. The change doesn't help the people, who need medications but can't afford them. The change doesn't help create a more cost-effective way of delivering health care to those in need.

I hope once all the happy dancing and finger pointing is over both constituents and elected officials in Washington will take another look at reform.

Just yesterday I was sitting in a program on pregnancy. The nurse conducting the class mentioned that a simple tape measure was once used to determine the baby's growth throughout a pregnancy.

Today, doctors rely on ultrasounds to track a baby's development. Most insurance and government programs pay for ultrasounds, so most patients aren't directly footing the increased medical bill.

Are they really necessary? The nurse presenting the program didn't seem to think so. One can debate the medical and cost merits of each method. Mothers-to-be might have some strong input on the issue. Ultrasounds give them an opportunity to see their growing baby on a regular basis. A tape measure couldn't compare on an emotional level, but it would save money.

This is just one random idea of how health care expenses could be turned into savings. I hope the momentum for change whether it began in the 2008 election or began in Massachusetts in 2010 will move in a positive direction for health care reform. We still need to fix our health care system.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Will I use any of the banned words? Maybe

"Wash your mouth out with soap!" It's a phrase we heard as children from our real parents and those perfect TV sitcom parents. It was typically a threat for saying something inappropriate like a four-letter word (you now a curse word).

Things sure have changed this century. In general, four-letter words are more common. I'm not sure they are more accepted, but they sure do surface a lot more on TV.

I may get embarrassed watching primetime programs, but it usually has to deal with the sexual content or context — not the words being said by fictional characters or by reality TV cast members.

With 2009 still not far in our rear view mirrors, there are several lists still making headlines for 2010. Time magazine reported on a list of banned words for 2010. It's not dirty words. It's a list of over-used words. The list came from Lake Superior State University folks, who have been releasing a list of words banished from the Queen's English for mis-use, over-use and general uselessness for 35 years.

While the list might not wield any power in 2010, it's interesting to take a look at the list. I don't think I'll be using No. 14: Chillaxin'. I never knew about this word before reading the list. Other words like transparency will most likely be used whether it's talking about health care reform or full-body scans at the airport.

The complete 2010 list:

1. Shovel-ready
2. Transparent/Transparency
3. Czar
4. Tweet
5. App
7. Friend as a verb
8. Teachable Moment
9. In These Economic Times ...
10. Stimulus
11. Toxic Assets
12. Too Big to Fail
15. Obama as a prefix

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jurors can take a break from social media, Internet

I am one of those people. When I received a jury questionnaire several months ago, I couldn't fill it out and return it fast enough. The jury summons appeared weeks later and I was excited. Why? Again, I am one of those people.

I served once on a county jury in a Georgia town. I was shocked then to be selected for service, especially since I worked for the county's only newspaper. It didn't matter. The county attorney was also selected for the same jury. I imagine there are a lot of factors attorneys and prosecutors go through during jury selection. I may not have been the best choice, but I'm guessing I was a better than someone else choice.

I suspect I was chosen for the federal jury last November, because I had a low juror number and a third of the people who showed up for jury selection knew the defendants. By noon, I lifted my hand to take the oath with 13 other folks.

I took the judge's instruction to not look up information about the case or talk to people about it very seriously. While at home, I checked my e-mail via my iPhone and didn't turn my computer on for the three days I served as a juror. I didn't watch the local news in case the court case was on some TV station's radar. It wasn't, but just to be safe no news for me.

I didn't think I was doing anything extraordinary until I read this Time article about jurors. Apparently, some folks can't stand to be away from Google, etc. I figured it was best to stay away from all the technology for a few days. Besides, I was exhausted after each day at court. Sure, we reported at 9:30 a.m., but we didn't leave until after 8 p.m.

Who had time to input any more data anyway? We were given all this information and we had no outlet for it -- we were not allowed to talk among ourselves and we certainly were not allowed to speak to other people about it.

It's interesting to see how jurors are influenced by technology today. Information and data needs to be presented in a way, so it captures the minds and attention of the jurors. In the federal courtroom where I served, they had an electronic "white board" that enabled prosecutors and defendant attorney's to show evidence, highlight it and enlarge the image to make a point.

TV shows like CSI often have a negative impact on the court system. Hollywood reality and crime scene investigation reality are two different things. On TV, they have the best technology and can solve a case every time thanks to clever writers. In reality, state crime lab budgets have been slashed and the scientists don't always confirm data 100 percent. Test results aren't ready in hours like they are on TV. State crime labs often have a backlog of cases and can't pass along information to detectives for weeks and sometimes months.

Jury duty is important. It's not convenient, but it's not totally unreasonable either. If your can't serve, you just have to ask for an excuse.

Jury duty isn't comfortable, because you are deciding something very serious -- guilty or not guilty. I look at jury service as if the defendants themselves had selected me. They asked for a trial by jury and I was asked (summoned) to help make that happen. They may not like the verdict I helped deliver, but the system allows them to appeal that.

At the end of the trial, I did what the courts and the defendants asked me to do. I did it all with just the evidence and information the court provided. I didn't use the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Google or anything else.