Friday 29 June 2012

Obamacare: Congratulations on doing the right thing, America!

I work hard. I make my own living. I can pay for my own health insurance. If you can't, it's your fault. You should go get a job. This isn't a charity.

You have a pre-existing medical condition? You've already had a lump removed? This is your second tumor? The insurance company has the right to make a profit. It if can't make a profit, it has the right to refuse you coverage or it has the right to charge you a higher premium. This isn't a charity.

Can't afford health insurance? Then go without. The country can't go bankrupt supporting people who can't support themselves. This isn't a charity.

As I stand off to one side and listen to the debate rage on over the question of health care, I am surprised at the amount of misinformation being passed around as fact in order to justify a point of view. Yes, I work hard and I deserve to keep my slice of the pie but who's looking at the bigger picture? I am but one person looking out for myself and my family. Who's looking out for the entire country, for the collective us?

A report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies states: "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States." (Wikipedia: Uninsured in the United States: Consequences)

What? 18,000 people die each year because they have no health insurance? Holy Hannah.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 49.9 million residents, 16.3% of the population, were uninsured in 2010 (up from 49.0 million residents, 16.1% of the population, in 2009). (Wikipedia: Health care in the United States)

What? 50 million people do not have health insurance? How the heck do they take care of themselves?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spent more on health care per capita ($7,146), and more on health care as percentage of its GDP (15.2%), than any other nation in 2008. (Wikipedia: Health care in the United States)

What? When I joke along with Stephen Colbert yelling, "We're number one! We're number one!" referring to the United States as being the number one country in the world, I didn't mean number one in spending on health care.

The U. S. [spends 15.2% of its GDP on health services, more] than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries... The United Kingdom, which spends just [6% of its GDP] on health services, ranks 18th. (World Health Organization Assesses the World's Health Systems)

In 1997, WHO ranked the U.S. 72nd out of 191 countries for its Health Performance rank. (Health system attainment and performance in all Member States, ranked by eight measures, estimates for 1997)

You have the right to be treated
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986 requires hospitals to provide care to anyone needing emergency healthcare treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. There are no reimbursement provisions. (Wikipedia) This means anybody can seek treatment even those who are uninsured.

This is also called uncompensated care or charity care. What it means is that instead of going to a family doctor, somebody without health insurance can go to emergency. They do go to emergency because they have the right to and they can't afford to go elsewhere.

Instead of somebody visiting a family doctor they go to hospital emergency. Which costs more the family doctor or emergency?

The American Hospital Association estimated that the uncompensated hospital care costs for the year 2007 to be $34 billion.

In a March 9, 2010 article from The Urban Institute, the authors John Holahan and Bowen Garrett estimated the future costs of uncompensated care for the period 2014 - 2019 to be $330 billion if the system is reformed. If the system is not reformed, the cost of uncompensated care would be between $560 and $700 billion.

Insuring people is going to cost. But not insuring people does not mean there is no cost to the health system or to the country. Anybody has the right to go to emergency and if they don't have health insurance that is the only place they can go and going to emergency is not free. Okay, it may be free for the individual but there is a cost to the system, the uncompensated charity care.

Final Word
Thank God I have a job. Thank God I can afford health insurance. Thank God I'm lucky enough to be part of the top twenty percent, never mind the 1%. I have a job. Thank God.

Thank God I pay taxes. Paying taxes means I have a job. Paying taxes means I make enough money to be even eligible to pay taxes. Paying taxes means I have money in my pocket.

But what about the people who don't have a job? What about the people who have a job but who earn so little, they still need help? What about the people who have to pay for food first then don't have enough for health insurance?

Is health a privilege or is health a right?

Obamacare is not perfect. But it is a step is the right direction. Socialism? Is helping your neighbour socialism? Is helping your country socialism? Is spending more on uncompensated charity care than on insuring people not very astute? Is spending more than any other country on health care but only ranking 72nd in the WHO's health assessment ranking something anybody would not want to turn around? Would you let 18,000 people die unnecessarily each year because they have no health insurance? You have a right to be free. You have the right to work, succeed, and travel. Shouldn't you have the right to be healthy?

From the official web site of Mitt Romney:

On his first day in office, Mitt Romney will issue an executive order that paves the way for the federal government to issue Obamacare waivers to all fifty states. He will then work with Congress to repeal the full legislation as quickly as possible.

A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote to let 18,000 people die.


Wikipedia: Health care in the United States
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 49.9 million residents, 16.3% of the population, were uninsured in 2010 (up from 49.0 million residents, 16.1% of the population, in 2009).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spent more on health care per capita ($7,146), and more on health care as percentage of its GDP (15.2%), than any other nation in 2008.

The United States had the fourth highest level of government health care spending per capita ($3,426), behind three countries with higher levels of GDP per capita: Monaco, Luxembourg, and Norway.

A 2001 study in five states found that medical debt contributed to 46.2% of all personal bankruptcies and in 2007, 62.1% of filers for bankruptcies claimed high medical expenses. Since then, health costs and the numbers of uninsured and underinsured have increased.

Wikipedia: Uninsured in the United States: Consequences
(Health insurance coverage in the United States)
A report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies states: "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States."

A 2009 Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health found more than 44,800 excess deaths annually in the United States associated with uninsurance.

Johns Hopkins University professor Vicente Navarro stated, more broadly, in 2003, "the problem does not end here, with the uninsured. An even larger problem is the underinsured" and "The most credible estimate of the number of people in the United States who have died because of lack of medical care was provided by a study carried out by Harvard Medical School Professors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler (New England Journal of Medicine 336, no. 11 [1997]). They concluded that almost 100,000 people died in the United States each year because of lack of needed care—three times the number of people who died of AIDS."

Wikipedia: Charity care
In the United States, charity care (also known as uncompensated care) is health care provided for free or at reduced prices to low income patients.
One estimate put the cost of uncompensated care for 2004 at $41 billion, of which $34.6 billion was funded through a patchwork of government programs.

International Herald Tribune - Jun 28/2012
U.S. Health Care Costs More Than ‘Socialized’ European Medicine by Harvey Morris
A sobering statistic emerged on Thursday as the United States Supreme Court prepared to deliver its judgment on Obamacare. It confirmed that the U.S. spends more per capita on publicly funded health care than almost every other country in the developed world. And that includes countries that provide free health care to all their citizens.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
OECD Health Data 2012: How Does the United States Compare
Health spending accounted for 17.6% of GDP in the United States in 2010... by far the highest share in the OECD, and a full eight percentage points higher than the OECD average of 9.5%.

The United States spent 8233 USD on health per capita in 2010, two-and-a-half times more than the OECD average of 3268 USD (adjusted for purchasing power parity).

Despite the relatively high level of health expenditure in the United States, there are fewer physicians per capita than in most other OECD countries.

The number of curative care hospital beds in the United States was 2.6 per 1000 population in 2009 (latest year available), lower than the OECD average of 3.4 beds.

In the United States, life expectancy at birth increased by almost 9 years between 1960 and 2010, but this is less than the increase of 11 years on average in OECD countries.

In the United States, the obesity rate among adults was 35.9% in 2010, up from 15% in 1978. This is the highest rate among OECD countries. The average for the 15 OECD countries with measured data was 22.2% in 2010.

American Hospital Association
Uncompensated Hospital Care Costs: November 2008
Cost of uncompensated care (2007): $34 billion

The Urban Institute
The Cost of Uncompensated Care with and without Health Reform
by John Holahan, Bowen Garrett
We estimate that from 2014 to 2019, uncompensated care costs would be $330 billion with the Senate bill and about $240 billion under the House bill. In contrast, the cost of uncompensated care over the same period without reform would be between $560 and $700 billion.

Daily Finance - Jun 28/2012
Obamacare Upheld: How Health Care Reform Will Affect Your Wallet and Your Life
By Bruce Watson
The big transition, the creeping socialism that Obamacare detractors are really worried about, will arrive in 2014. That's when everyone will either have to get insurance or pay a tax.

The funny thing is, creeping socialism probably won't feel much different than the current system. Imagine, if you will, an ordinary, middle class family. For mom and dad, who work full time, insurance will still be provided through work. They'll still go to the same doctor, pay the same copay, and head to the same hospital when things get dire. Their kids will still get the same care, too, although they'll be able to take advantage of their parents' health insurance until they're 26, if they need to.

The Examiner - Aug 3/2009
The United States does not have the best health care system in the world by Karen Harper
In fact, it's not even close to being the best health care system in the world. Republicans have fought President Obama on every bill he has worked on and health care reform is no exception. Senator Richard Shelby (R), Alabama, said that President Obama's health care plan is the "first step in destroying the best health care system the world has ever known." Senator Chuck Grassley (R), Iowa, told a constituent in a town hall meeting that if he wanted health insurance to get a job with the government.  Perhaps Grassley would like the government to provide 47 million jobs to solve the problem of the uninsured in America.

There are several important aspects about the United States health care system that make it one of the worst of all the industrialized nations.

1. Cost
The truth is that Americans pay more for health care than any other country in the world

2. Quality of Health
The United States ranks only 27th in life expectancy of 189 countries. Of the 30 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations, the United States ranks only 22nd in life expectancy.

3. Not covering the uninsured makes things worse
The uninsured, approximately 47 million, go to emergency rooms. The "health system" does provide free emergency services however providing services in an emergency room, especially for more minor ailments is expensive, much more expensive than the normal treatments associated with a family doctor. As a consequence, by not providing health insurance to the uninsured, the system bears a greater financial burden.

The New Physician magazine September 2000 issue
Case Study: The Uninsured
True Stories of Unnecessary Sickness, Death and Humiliation by Howard Bell
One in six Americans does not have health insurance, and many live sicker and die younger because of it.


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Wednesday 27 June 2012

Troy Michigan, Fahrenheit 451 and The Tea Party

The 11th largest city in Michigan with a population of just over 80 thousand is the scene of a feel-good story pitting right versus left, conservative against liberal, and the Tea Party against well, everybody else.

As a result of the economic downturn brought on the 2008 financial crisis, Troy suffered like much of the United States and the rest of the world from the hardships of the recession. Like many organisations, municipalities and governments, never mind individual households, sacrifices had to be made to accommodate a drop in income. According to reports, the decrease in property values meant a 20% loss in city revenue. The public library was one of several city services put on the chopping block unless a tax increase was passed to provide additional operating funds.

In February 2010, due to the efforts of Troy Citizens United, a highly organized anti-tax group, a proposed tax increase did not pass. In the fall of 2010, the city came back with a proposed library-only tax increase of a miniscule 0.7% to ensure the doors of the public library remained open. Once again Troy Citizens United prevailed and the increase was voted down.

The library was set to close in the spring of 2011 but supporters decided in June 2011 to try their hand one last time at passing a tax increase on August 2, 2011. If this failed, the library was set to close up shop on August 5. They had merely 6 weeks to rally the troops and turn the public tide in favour of this 0.7% tax increase to save the library but what to do exactly? In steps a guardian angel, Leo Burnett Detroit.

Leo Burnett is an international advertising firm with 97 offices in 84 countries and more than 8,500 employees. Its clients include McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Marlboro, Maytag, Kellogg's, Tampax, Nintendo, Philips, Samsung, Visa, Wrigley’s, Hallmark, Allstate Insurance, Procter & Gamble and others. The Detroit office of the firm decided to help save the Troy Library. Their chosen method? Reverse psychology.

Staff from the agency pretended to be a fake political group, Safeguarding American Families (SAFe) and started their own campaign to close the library by distributing yard signs with the message, "Vote to Close Troy Library Aug. 2nd Book Burning Party Aug. 5th". They included a Facebook page (now taken down).

Relying on the power of social media, Burnett's campaign increased the outrage factor by apparently posting videos of burning books on Facebook and Twitter, creating "check-ins" to the Book Burning Party and offering merchandise. According to reports, Burnett advertised a musical group for the party and tips on who to contact for baby-sitting services.

The reverse psychology had its effect. According to reports, people were enraged and left comments on Facebook that they were sick and disgusted by a book burning and that they would vote yes to save the library. It would seem that the audaciousness of the plan caught the attention of many outside Troy as national even international news began reporting on the story.

On July 11, 2011, Leo Burnett revealed their ruse and explained the true meaning of the campaign: "A Vote Against The Library Is Like A Vote To Burn Books." On August 2nd, 324% more voters than expected turned up to vote on the tax increase and the overwhelming majority voted yes to it. How did the campaign succeed? Leo Burnett had managed to change the question. Instead of it being a vote about a tax increase, it had become a vote about saving the library.

Uploaded by LeoBurnettWorldwide on Nov 15, 2011
YouTube: Save the Troy Library "Adventures In Reverse Psychology"

My Opinion
Who wants taxes? Who wants a tax increase? Heck, I'd be the first one to say that I pay enough, just how much more does the system want to squeeze out of me?

But wait a minute. I also want the roads, the parks, the various services and, of course, the library. However, who pays for all that stuff? I do. You do. We do. We all do; we all contribute to the greater good. It is our individual sacrifice for "our" benefit, the benefit of all of us. It is us, a bunch of individuals working together so we can all enjoy something, like a library, that individually we couldn't have.

The truth about taxes
During the 2008 presidential election, when Joe the Plumber asked Obama about his small business tax policy, Obama's response included the statement, "when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." Conservatives jumped on the idea of wealth distribution as socialism. Ooo, the "S" word. Is having a public library socialism? No, it's sacrifice, shared sacrifice for the greater good. Sacrifice is a great "S" word.

But a comparison is in order. According to The Tax Policy Centre, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution providing analysis and facts about tax policy, U.S. taxes are low relative to those in other developed countries.

What? But why? In many European countries taxes exceeded 40 percent of GDP [U.S. = 26%], but those countries generally provide much more extensive government services to their citizens than the United States does.

Gee, are there more libraries in France?

Why do I hear Conservatives jumping up and down all the time about not raising taxes when taxes in the United States are low compared to other developed countries? Why don't the Conservatives say anything about that? Or do they even know?

Final Word
This is an interesting story about public perception. Would you vote to raise taxes or would you vote to save the public library? It is also an interesting story about how Conservatives blindly follow the mantra of not raising taxes without seeming to understand the implications of this and how other things are interrelated.

I have expressed my concern over and over again that the issues at hand are complex and how it seems that everyone is looking for an easy answer. Yes, I don't want to pay higher taxes but on the other hand, I don't want the public library to close. Yes, I don't want to pay higher taxes but on the other hand, I don't want to give up the roads, the parks, the public swimming pools, and heavens knows what other services the community offers me. Distributing the wealth isn't socialism, it's sacrifice. It's a shared sacrifice. After all, it's "my" community. It's "my" public library.


Wikipedia: Troy, Michigan
Troy is a city in Oakland County in the U.S. state of Michigan, and is a suburb of Detroit. The population was 80,980 at the 2010 census, making it the 11th-largest city in Michigan by population, and the largest city in Oakland County. Troy has become a business and shopping destination in the Metro Detroit area, with numerous office centers and the upscale Somerset Collection .

Troy Public Library
Frequently Asked Questions about the Library Closing
Cathy Russ - Posted on 18 March 2010
(Updated information: May 17, 2011), [Updated June 3, 2010]
When is the Troy Public Library closing?
On May 10, the Troy City Council adopted a fiscal year 2010-11 budget by a 4-3 vote which is in line with Option 1. Option 1 reduces Library hours in 2010-11, and closes the Library on July 1, 2011.

Wikipedia: Leo Burnett Worldwide
Leo Burnett Worldwide is an American advertising company, created in 1935 in Chicago by Leo Burnett.
Now it is a worldwide company.
Today, Leo Burnett Worldwide is a part of the French group Publicis. Its clients include McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Marlboro, Maytag, Kellogg's, Tampax, Nintendo, Philips, Samsung, Visa, Wrigley’s, Hallmark, Allstate Insurance, Procter & Gamble and others. It has 97 offices in 84 countries and more than 8,500 employees.

The Tax Policy Center: the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution
The Numbers: How do U.S. taxes compare internationally?
U.S. taxes are low relative to those in other developed countries. In 2008 U.S. taxes at all levels of government claimed 26 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 35 percent of GDP for the 33 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Wikipedia: Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury. The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them.

Troy Citizens United
This organisation brings up many interesting points of discussion about the various expenditures of the city of Troy. True? False? What would a thorough investigation reveal? Just were is the truth?


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Tuesday 26 June 2012

Prince: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World

Published Feb 17/2022 by Prince
YouTube: Prince - The Most Beautiful Girl In the World (4:55)

Could U be
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
It's plain 2 see
U're the reason that God made a girl

When the day turns into the last day of all time
I can say, I hope U are in these arms of mine
And when the night falls before that day I will cry
I will cry tears of joy cause after U all one can do is die

Could U be
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Could U be
It's plain 2 see
U're the reason that God made a girl
Oh yes U are

How can I get through days when I can't get through hours
I can try but when I do I see U and I'm devoured
Oh Yes
Who'd allow, who'd allow a face 2 be soft as a flower
I could bow and feel proud in the light of this power
Oh Yes

Could U be (Could U be)
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Could U be
It's plain 2 see
U're the reason that God made a girl
Oh yes U are

And if the stars ever fell one by one from the sky
I know Mars could not be 2 far behind
Cuz baby, this kind of beauty has got no reason 2 ever be shy
Cuz honey, this kind of beauty the kind that comes from inside

Could U be
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
So beautiful, beautiful
It's plain 2 see (Plain 2 see)
U're the reason that God made a girl

Could U be
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
(U U're my girl)
It's plain 2 see
U're the reason that God made a girl
(U're the reason)

If the stars (Could U be) ever fell one by one from the sky
(The Most Beautiful Girl in the World)
Oh Yeah
I know Mars (It's plain 2 see) could not be 2 far behind
(U're the reason that God made a girl)

Could U be
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Could U be
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

Could U...


Wikipedia: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Prince song)
"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" is a song by Prince from his 1995 album The Gold Experience. It was his first release since changing his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol.

Wikipedia: The Gold Experience
The Gold Experience is the seventeenth studio album by Prince (his stage name at that time being the love symbol he created). It was released on September 26, 1995.

Wikipedia: Prince
Prince Rogers Nelson (born June 7, 1958), often known simply as Prince, is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. Prince has produced ten platinum albums and thirty Top 40 singles during his career. Prince founded his own recording studio and label; writing, self-producing and playing most, or all, of the instruments on his recordings. In addition, Prince has been a "talent promoter" for the careers of Sheila E., Carmen Electra, The Time and Vanity 6, and his songs have been recorded by these artists and others (including Chaka Khan, The Bangles, Sinéad O'Connor, and even Kim Basinger).

Wikipedia: Plagiarism
On December 5, 2007, Prince was sentenced on appeal from a ruling of the Court of Appeal of Rome (Italy) for plagiarism. The song was ruled identical to "Takin' Me to Paradise" by Raynard J, written by Bruno Bergonzi and Michele Vicino and published in 1983. The first instance of the case dated back to 2003.

YouTube: RAYNARD J. - Takin' Me To Paradise ©1983


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Monday 25 June 2012

Movie Review: The Intouchables (plus thoughts on life-altering events)

This French movie is based on a true story. In 1993, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, director of one of the world's most celebrated champagne houses, receives the horrible news that his wife has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Shortly afterwards, he suffers a tragic accident while paragliding and is left a quadriplegic. His wife dies in 1996 leaving Philippe alone to carry on living completely dependent on his caregivers to sustain his existence.

The story recounted in the film is later when Philippe, interviewing for a new caregiver, hires a most unorthodox caregiver who turns out to be something of a ne'er-do-well. From opposite ends of the social spectrum, the two men develop an interesting rapport, one where a quadriplegic sees his interest in living renewed and a part-time criminal given a chance to make himself a better man.

Philippe published his story in the 2001 book "The Second Wind" upon which the film is based.

From a purely technical perspective, the cinematography, the acting, the screenplay, etc., The Intouchables is a good film with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a respectable score of 77%. It's not a great film, but a good one. However the subject matter itself is something which certainly brings a fascination to the entire opus. We have all had our accidents, a broken leg, a dislocated shoulder and what not, but always with the idea that in time, we will heal and return to normal life. Others may even have something more tragic such as the permanent loss of a finger or perhaps part of a limb. Here, we are talking about a quadriplegic, a person who feels nothing from the neck down and who has lost all control of his voluntary muscles from the neck down. The person is one hundred percent dependant on others to live and the condition is permanent. I referred in the title of this article to a "life-altering" event but I would say that becoming quadriplegic merits "life-shattering".

A personal story
In my blog, I have written of the worst sports injury I have ever suffered in my entire life which traumatized my left shoulder and arm and left me with a herniated cervical disk and a pinched nerve. Pain is an on-going problem and managing it a daily concern. The remedial course of action is physiotherapy and the prognosis is six months to a year. However, as progress is extremely slow, I have no idea what permanent problem I may have to deal with for the rest of my life. The prospect, to say the least, is worrisome if not frightening.

In light of this very personal problem, the story of the film hit home for me. In one brief moment your life is inextricably changed and from that point onwards how you live is very very different. Of course, I'm not quadriplegic. My condition supposedly will improve. At least I have hope that it will improve. Nevertheless, having to put up with pain twenty-four by seven, seeing my mobility restricted and my quality of life greatly reduced, I could not just sympathize but empathize with the plight of the protagonist. I'm not there; I'm not even close to being there but I now have a greater understanding for those who suffer not just from pain, but from having to accept an irrevocable change in their life and I mean a change for the worse.

Whose life is this anyway?
This 1981 film starring Richard Dryfuss is about Ken Harrison, an artist, a sculptor, a man full of life and promise whose entire life is cut short by a car accident which leaves him quadriplegic. Unlike The Intouchables, this man needs not just care but life support. The story is about Ken coming to understand his plight and his decision to end his life. The big question is about quality of life versus quantity of life and whether anyone should have the right to die. In the end, he wins his court case but his win means he only asks to be removed from life support; he does not ask anyone to actually kill him.

Stephen Hawking
This world famous intellect suffers from ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known in North America as Lou Gehrig's disease. This progressive neurodegenerative disease attacks nerve cells and leads to the progressive degeneration of the motor neurons eventually leaving the patient paralyzed.

Despite his condition, Mr. Hawking leads a productive life. He has been married several times and fathered several children. If you don't see a picture of him, what would you think? He's a man, an accomplished intellect and a famous one at that.

Philippe Pozzo di Borgo
What comes after the film is also interesting. Philippe remarries and has three children. In reflecting on this gentleman and Stephen Hawking, I, like probably most people, would wonder about the mechanics of a quadriplegic having children. Certainly reflecting on life in general, a life which is completely dependent on caregivers, would make one wonder about the quality of life. Obviously one can adjust. Can the human being adjust to anything, even being imprisoned in his own body? Does the will to live push us on to endure anything?

However, I return to Ken Harrison of the film "Whose life is it anyway?" who decides to die. In that film, the protagonist describes the idea of having something then losing it and living with the knowledge of once having it and never being able to have it again as being unbearable. Is it easier to have never had sight then go blind? Is it easier to have always been in a wheelchair then to lose the use of one's legs? Ken Harrison decided to die. Stephen Hawking and Philippe Pozzo di Borgo continue. Is it all relative? Is each case different?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
If quadriplegic isn't life-shattering enough, I must make mention of the 2007 biographical drama based on the memoire of Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a massive stroke which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes. (Wikipedia) Bauby developed a method of communication by blinking his left eye. Yes, you heard me correctly. (As an aside, this film was an excellent film with a rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Final Word
I am always amused watching a French film with subtitles. Speaking some French, I get torn between listening to the dialogue and reading the subtitles. Somehow doing both gets the flavour of the film mixed up. When I use the word "flavour", I mean that listening to a French film in French without any subtitles has a certain (I'm going to regret saying this) je ne sais quoi. Of course I'm getting progressively rustier so subtitles are probably a good thing. Damn, do native speakers talk fast or what? Ha ha. Then again, I've always joked that my problem wasn't that people spoke too fast; my problem was that I listened too slowly.

This is a good film. But more importantly, it is a thought-provoking film. As I said, it may be more thought-provoking for me because of my recent accident but there may be others who have been personally touched by similar events whether themselves, a member of their family or a friend. The will to live can be a strong one but as the film shows, inspiration in the form of an inspiring person can change a life.


Rotten Tomatoes: The Intouchables: 77%
It handles its potentially prickly subject matter with kid gloves, but Intouchables gets by thanks to its strong cast and some remarkably sensitive direction.

Wikipedia: The Intouchables
The Intouchables (French: Intouchables, which translates literally as Untouchable) is a French film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. In just nine weeks after its release in France on 2 November 2011 it became the second most successful French film of all time (in number of viewers) in the French box office, behind the 2008 film Welcome to the Sticks.

Wikipédia: Philippe Pozzo di Borgo
Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, né le 14 février 1951, est un homme d'affaires français. Devenu tétraplégique en 1993, à la suite d'un accident de parapente, il a raconté son expérience et son retour à la vie dans un livre, Le Second Souffle. Son histoire, ainsi que sa relation avec son auxiliaire de vie, Abdel Yasmin Sellou, ont inspiré par la suite le film Intouchables.

[Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, born February 14, 1951, is a French businessman. Having become quadriplegic in 1993 following a paragliding accident, he recounted his experiences and his return to life in a book, The Second Wind. His story, and his relationship with his caregiver, Yasmin Abdel Sellou, inspired the film The Untouchables.]

Wikipedia: Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981 film)
Whose Life Is It Anyway? is a 1981 film adapted by Brian Clark and Reginald Rose of the 1972 television movie and play of the same title.

Richard Dreyfuss plays sculptor Ken Harrison, a quadriplegic who sues for the right to end his life. Bob Balaban plays a lawyer who helps Harrison while knowing that he is trying to win his client a death sentence; John Cassavetes plays Dr. Emerson, who is determined to keep his patient alive even against his wishes; and Christine Lahti plays Clare Scott, a doctor who falls in love with Harrison.

Wikipedia: Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is a British theoretical physicist, and author. His key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding the occurrence of gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein–Hawking radiation).

Wikipedia: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (film)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le scaphandre et le papillon) is a 2007 biographical drama film based on Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir of the same name. The film depicts Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke, on December 8, 1995, at the age of 43, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyzed him from the neck down. Although both eyes worked, doctors decided to sew up his right eye as it was not irrigating properly and they were worried that it would become infected. He was left with only his left eye and the only way that he could communicate was by blinking his left eyelid.

my blog: Health: Learning more than I really wanted to
Will the Cisco Kid ride again? Hell, right now I would be ecstatic to be able to stroll around the block without feeling tingling, numbness or pain. It's surprising how your expectations change. Jog? Exercise? Parachute out of a plane? I'd be grateful just to be able to walk comfortably. Yep, have almost everything taken away to appreciate the little things in life.


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Sunday 24 June 2012

Obama is destroying America: We're doomed!

The other week I was talking with an American acquaintance. Normally I don't discuss religion and politics as I like to keep the peace and why start something you can never finish? However with the 2012 election looming on the horizon, it was inevitable that the elephant in the room could not be ignored and some comment would be made in passing. This person said, "Obama is destroying America."

I know nothing of the political inclinations of this person but have suspected from other such comments that they could be a member of the Tea Party. At least they seem to be at the more Conservative end of the spectrum, more Republican than Democrat. This person is intelligent and well-educated so from my more liberal vantage point, such a statement seems out of character and a bit of a surprise. Since I shy away from anything political or religious (No, wait! I avoid those topics like the plague!), I let the comment slide and moved on to something more innocuous. Why are you and I still talking after all these years? Because I keep my big trap shut instead of exclaiming, "WTF!?!" when you say something outrageous.

My Sunday morning perusal of all things newsworthy in the world had me through a Twitter feed end up at Time magazine, specifically the article "An Election of Lesser Evils" penned by Joe Klein. The journalist is out on the road reporting on the campaigns and offered some frontline stories of speaking with the man and the woman in the street.

Auto Bailout vs. Bank Bailout
Klein talks of both the auto bailout and the bank bailout. In Ohio where the car industry is now doing okay, people feel the auto bailout made sense. It worked and they can see the results. It is obvious that people would agree with a bailout if the results are tangible and affect them personally. Klein adds that without the bailout, Ohio's economy would have collapsed.

However the bank bailout is not looked upon favorably. People feel it merely lined the pockets of the bankers but Klein points out that the bank bailout achieved on a national scale what the auto bailout achieved in Ohio. That is, the nation's economy did not collapse however it is obvious, in Ohio at least, that your average person cannot see the tangible results of the bank bailout the same way they can see the tangible results of the auto bailout.

Am I informed enough to be allowed to vote?
Running a country is complex. It is really, really, really complicated. However, in this time of campaigning more than ever, it is startling to realize that the success or failure of a candidate is reduced to some buzzwords around which one can rally the troops. When somebody goes into the voting booth later this year to cast their ballot, will their choice be based on seeing the tangible results of the auto bailout in Ohio and or their impression that the bank bailout did not do the same thing nationally but merely lined the pockets of those fat cats on Wall Street?

Klein interviews a woman who expresses doubts about Romney because [he] "smells like money". There again this negative attitude towards the so-called fat cats. Klein continues:

"But I guess I have to vote for him." Why? I asked. "Because I think Obama is hiding the truth about his past. I think he's a Muslim and he's trying to destroy America. One day the truth will come out."

Obama is destroying America. An entire presidency with the complexities of governing a nation and the problems of handling of $15 trillion economy, the largest on Earth is reduced to a conspiracy theory. This woman is going to vote for Romney because she thinks Obama is Muslim. She thinks this. And she thinks he's trying to destroy America.

The Polarization of America
I would like to joke by saying the Polaroidization of America and tell you all to say, "Cheese!" as I snap your picture. However I am now apprehensively looking around for the nearest exit plotting my escape before the shooting starts.

The rhetoric being passed around as legitimate political debate is absolutely nuts. There is so much misinformation, exaggeration or outright lies that it isn't the least bit surprising the woman mentioned above would vote as she says she will. How can anybody sort out fact from fiction when the talking points are formulated to scare the hell out of the population? Vote correctly or this time next your house will be taken away from you, your family will be interned, and you'll be eating gruel in a soup kitchen: Apocalypse Now Redux.

Joe the Plumber
The origin of this political personality is a perfect example of how misunderstanding and exaggeration can turn a politician into the personification of the Antichrist. From Wikipedia:

[Joe] gained national attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential election when, during a videotaped campaign stop in Ohio by then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama, Wurzelbacher asked Obama about his small business tax policy, and Obama gave a response that included the statement, "when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." Obama's response was seized on by conservative commentators, as well as by Obama's rival, Republican candidate John McCain, as an indication that Obama was interested in wealth redistribution, and had a socialist view of the economy.

Wealth redistribution? Socialism? Ah, what better way to scare the bejesus out of an American than by uttering the S word? Warren Buffett deserves every penny of his billions upon billions of dollars and why should he have to cough up any more than the next guy for the good ol' U.S. of A.? Hmmm, by the way, does anybody know who paid for the roads you all drive on? When any of you goes to emergency at the hospital, who pays for that? Where did that bridge come from? The park? Who pays for social security? Medicare? Mediaid? Wait. All those things are funded through taxes. That means tax payers paid. Wait. That's, ah, wealth distribution. What? The United States is... [gasp]... a socialist country!!!

By the way, none other than Warren Buffett himself have agreed with Obama about "spreading the wealth around". In my blog "If I can pay, the rich can pay", I wrote about the gazillionaire's take on sharing the sacrifice as per his op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Starting with the admission that he paid nearly seven million dollars in income tax last year - he says himself that this sounds like a lot of money - he notes that his tax rate was 17.4%, lower than the 20 other people working at his office. In fact, those people paid from 33% to 41% with the average being 36%. Mr. Buffett recognises that the rich are not like you and me and explains how all of us get hit with income tax and payroll tax while the rich pay income tax but virtually nothing in payroll tax.

Hmmm, so the S word isn't socialism, the S word is sacrifice as in shared sacrifice.

More Rhetoric
Joe the Plumber has moved on and moving on is to something of a political career. He is currently running in the 2012 race for Ohio's 9th congressional seat. As part of his campaign to capture the hearts and minds of the voters, he has released the following video.

Published on Jun 18, 2012 by JoeforCongress2012
YouTube: I Love America - Joe on the 2nd Amendment
In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were exterminated. In 1939, Germany established gun control. From 1939 to 1945, 6 million Jews and 7 million others, unable to defend themselves were exterminated. ... I love America.

Final Word
Joe Klein points out that without the auto bailout, Ohio's economy would have collapsed. He states that without the bank bailout, the national economy would have collapsed. Is the average person in the street capable of grasping these ideas or are wealth distribution and socialism scarier buzzwords capable of swaying the vote? Polarization. Misinformation, exaggerations and lies. Winning is the goal; winning at any cost. Come November, no matter who wins, the American tax payer is going to pay. The question then is after paying into the system, what will the tax payer get back out of the system?


Time - Jun 14/2012
An Election of Lesser Evils by Joe Kein
In the early afternoon of June 19, 2012, my third annual road trip collided with Mitt Romney's presidential bus tour in the lovely little town of DeWitt, Mich. I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later we'd come across a full-fledged stump speech, and there was Romney, in front of Sweetie-licious Bakery Caf, saying, with utterly feigned surprise, "We came here to have some cherry pie and we find all these friends standing here," as if his campaign hadn't spent the last 24 hours blocking off Bridge Street and setting up loudspeakers and security posts.

Wikipedia: Joe Klein
Joe Klein (born September 7, 1946) is a longtime Washington, D.C. and New York journalist and columnist, known for his novel Primary Colors, an anonymously written roman à clef portraying Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. Klein is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Since 2003 he has been a contributor at the current affairs Time news group. In April 2006, he published Politics Lost, a book on what he calls the "pollster-consultant industrial complex". He has also written articles and book reviews for The New Republic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, LIFE and Rolling Stone.

Wikipedia: Joe the Plumber
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (born December 3, 1973), better known by the nickname "Joe the Plumber", is an American conservative activist, commentator and politician.

Digital Journal - Jun 20/2012
Video: Joe the Plumber says gun control caused the Holocaust by JohnThomas Didymus
Joe's comments about the cause of the Holocaust have not gone unnoticed by Jewish Democrats. The National Jewish Democratic Coalition issued a response: “Using the memories of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust to make a political point is never appropriate, under any circumstances.” According to The Huffington Post, president and CEO of the pro-Democratic group David Harris, said in a statement, that the comparison was "beyond pale." He called on Wurzelbacher to "apologize and remove this offensive video immediately."


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Saturday 23 June 2012

Stephen Colbert: And the #1 threat in America: terrorist furniture!

Do we worry about the right things? It's a question which I find keeps cropping up over and over again as we collectively fly off the handle about the next big threat to our well-being while steadfastly ignoring the obvious. It seems that we become immune to the doom and gloom in the headlines and eventually lose interest to move onto something else newer and hence more exciting.

In the June 21, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report during the segment entitled "Threat Down", our humorous pundit declared the number one threat in America to be terrorist furniture. Referring to an article in The Atlantic which in turn refers to the recently published 2011 Report on Terrorism by The National Counterterrorism Center, Colbert notes that of the 13,288 people killed worldwide by terrorist attacks in 2011, seventeen were private U.S. citizens or 0.1%, one tenth of one percent of the total. The article, in referring to a 2011 consumer report, states that in 2010 (the last reported year) twenty-one people died from a falling television, piece of furniture or an appliance.

What? 17 private U.S. citizens are killed in terrorist attacks while 21 people die from furniture falling on them? Wait. Can I get my head around that one? Do I come back to the opening question? Do we worry about the right things?

I quote the journalist Micah Zenko:

This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.

If you can't properly assess the nature of a threat, how do you develop effective and proportionate solutions? Mr. Zenko uses the expression "irrational fear" and in looking at the above statistics, how rational is it to be collectively unafraid of our own furniture? But let's not stop there.

According to UNAIDS.Org, there are 33 million on the planet currently living with HIV (2009). The same report estimates that in 2009, 1.8 million died from AIDS.

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 18,000 people die each year from AIDS.

UNAIDS reports that world-wide, there were 2,200,000 adults newly infected with the disease in 2009.

Cancer.Org estimates that 571,000 people died from cancer in 2011.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), there were 34,598 suicides in the United States in 2007. The CDC reports that approximately 18,000 die each year from AIDS. In 2007, the CDC states there were 18,361 homicides.

As a comparison, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published that in 2009, 33,808 people died in traffic accidents. The CDC also reports that every year 82 people die from being struck by lightning.

I shake my head. 17 people die from terrorist attacks but 82 were killed by lightning. We are all scared to death about terrorism but don't think twice about playing a round of golf. By my calculation, Tiger Woods is 482% more likely to die by getting zapped than by getting blown up. (82 divided by 17 times 100)

Okay, it all seems funny but is the journalist of The Atlantic article onto something when he says, "an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions"?

Some estimates put the total cost of the War in Afghanistan and Iraq at $5 trillion (Wikipedia: The Three Trillion War). I have seen journalists portray this as the U.S. spent five trillion dollars to basically kill one man, Osama bin Laden. Whether it is true or false, there is no denying that a great deal was set in motion by the actions of this man on September 11, 2001. (Salon: the CIA had bin Laden in its cross hairs a full year before 9/11 — but didn’t get the funding from the Bush administration White House to take him out or even continue monitoring him.)

Are we crazy?
When I did my first and only (so far) tandem parachute jump, I was admittedly a tad apprehensive. Oh boy, now what have I gotten myself into? Is this it? Is this how I (inadvertently) end it all? (see my blog Parachuting: If God had meant me to...)

I investigated and discovered I had a one chance in one hundred thousand of dying in a parachute jump but had one chance in six thousand of dying in my car. What? 1 in 100,000 vs. 1 in 6,000? But when I get into my car, I'm not the least bit worried about dying. Heck, I don't even think about having an accident. Am I crazy? The web site howstuffworks explains why we're afraid.

* Skydiving accidents are so infrequent, they usually hit the headlines. In contrast, car accidents are so frequent, they are either not reported or we just tend to ignore them.

* Familiarity: we are familiar with cars; we drive them; nothing bad happens; we think it's safe. It's only when we check out the stats we may clue in to just how dangerous cars really are.

Hmmm, am I worrying about the right things? Are we worrying about the right things? According to the United States Parachute Association, there were 21 fatalities in 2010. And yet the Center for Disease Control says 82 people are killed each year by lightning. Am I 390% more likely to die playing golf then jumping out of an airplane?

The Colbert Report - June 21, 2012
[Watch the segment "Threat Down": threat #1: terrorist furniture]


United States:

Final Word
Politicians have known for a long time that collectively, we have the attention span of a mayfly. It is easy to sway us with talk of the next big thing without bothering with what may in front of our faces. I could blame the politician but isn't it our fault?

Do we worry about the right things? If you can't properly assess the nature of a threat, how do you develop effective and proportionate solutions? "[An] irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions." What's the number one threat in America? Probably our own inability to stay focused on the real issues. Don't forget, 189 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2008 (Consumer Protection Safety Commission), 17 children suffered a toy-related fatality in 2010 (CPSC) and 50 people were electrocuted with a household appliance in 2008 (CPSC). Oh yeah, and when you get behind the wheel of your car, be careful. Statistically speaking, you've got one chance in six thousand of not making it home for dinner.


The Atlantic - Jun 6/2012
Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism by Micah Zenko
According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.

The National Counterterrorism Center
2011 Report on Terrorism (published on March 21, 2012)

Consumer Product Safety Commission
Instability of Televisions, Furniture, and Appliances:
Estimated Injuries and Reported Fatalities, 2011 Report

Salon - Jun 19/2012
New NSA docs contradict 9/11 claims By Jordan Michael Smith
Perhaps most damning are the documents showing that the CIA had bin Laden in its cross hairs a full year before 9/11 — but didn’t get the funding from the Bush administration White House to take him out or even continue monitoring him. The CIA materials directly contradict the many claims of Bush officials that it was aggressively pursuing al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and that nobody could have predicted the attacks. “I don’t think the Bush administration would want to see these released, because they paint a picture of the CIA knowing something would happen before 9/11, but they didn’t get the institutional support they needed,” says Barbara Elias-Sanborn, the NSA fellow who edited the materials.


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Thursday 21 June 2012

Health: Learning more than I really wanted to

When your health is good, life is good. Although you probably take your good health so much for granted, you no longer are even aware of it. As a consequence, when you hear about the health problems of others, you intellectually understand it but you don't emotionally understand it. You hear the words but you do not truly grasp their meaning.

As I've written elsewhere, my entire life was upended on Saturday, April 7, 2012, when I sustained the worst physical trauma of my entire life. I am writing this in the middle of week number 12, coming up to three full months, and I am only now beginning to fully appreciate what has taken place and the true extent of my injury. I will be analysing all this for months if not years to come trying to understand the injury, the causes, the necessary remedial actions and what, if anything, may turn out to be a permanent problem I will be dealing with for the rest of my life. I will also be analysing my navigation of the health care system as I now wonder if I did a poor job of advocating for myself.

I overstretched the tendons in my left arm. I supposedly slightly separated the two bones of my forearm, the ulna and the radius, leaving the bones in my wrist out of place and the elbow slightly out of whack. I apparently unseated one branch of the upper bicep tendon, completely traumatized my rotator cuff (although I have not torn any of those tendons) never mind the entire shoulder and have caused some strain on the neck leaving a pinched C6 nerve probably due to a herniated cervical disk.

Due to the pinched nerve, I am feeling discomfort if not pain just about twenty-four by seven in my left arm. I can't walk without putting a strain on my upper body which in turn exacerbates the pinched nerve causing shooting pains in my left forearm and tingling and numbness in my left hand. When I walk, I bend my left arm and hold my left hand against the side of my neck as this elevated position seems to lessen the pinching of the nerve. When I sit, I ofttimes hold my left arm on top of my head while typing with just my right hand. Once again, the elevated arm supposedly opens the 5th and 6th vertebrae lessening the pressure on the nerve.

In a nutshell, life is not too good. Even though I am at work, my number one priority remains my health and pain management is my biggest concern. Yes, I have managed to go to the movies a few times recently but I'm sitting there constantly shifting around while I seek that elusive pain-free position. Other than that, I pretty much stay cooped up in my apartment. Taking a leisurely stroll around the block is a pleasure I have not had in three months as walking is at best uncomfortable and at worst painful.

Chronic pain
Over the years I have heard stories from colleagues, friends, and acquaintances and even from newspapers and online sources about chronic pain. Yes I heard the words but did I understand their meaning? Having never had the experience, did I grasp exactly what the words about the experience were telling me?

A couple of years ago, I did my first and (so far) only parachute jump. Like everybody else, I had seen parachute jumping in the movies and on TV. I had read articles written by those who had the experience. I had even had the opportunity to speak to people who had done it and who gave me a first-hand account of what it's about.

Nevertheless, my understanding of parachute jumping was merely "intellectual"; I didn't really understand what it all meant from a gut level. It wasn't until I was at an altitude of 13,500 feet (4,100 meters), strapped to my tandem jump instructor, watching the indicator lights over the open door go from red to yellow to green then tumbled out of the plane, the first plane I ever exited in my life which was not on the ground, that I really, really understood what parachuting meant. Oh, and what did it mean by the way? I would sum up the experience with two words, if you would be so kind as to excuse my French: "Holy c**p!!!"

That is now my impression of chronic pain. I work with a fellow who has told me over the years about his various aches and pains. From time to time I see him wearing a kidney belt as he suffers intermittently from lower back pain. Apparently due to some injuries as a youth, he now suffers from a number of problems with his one shoulder, both knees and a couple of partially herniated disks in his lower back. God, he's a mess.

However, over the years I've seen him and talked to him all without appreciating that sometimes while he's standing there talking to me, he's actually feeling pain. He's told me as such. Now I'm in the same position. I'll talk with you, smile at you, even crack jokes and yet the telltale sign is me holding my arm in a funny position as I attempt to lessen the pressure on my C6 nerve to lessen the tingling and numbness in my left hand and the sometimes shooting pain in my forearm. Okay, it's not excruciating pain as in I drop to my knees and start wailing for my mommy but it is a distracting, annoying and very bothersome pain that brings down your quality of life.

Last week, I stop to talk with another colleague who begins to tell me about how his day got off to a bad start because the muffler went on his car. As I stand there holding my arm up trying to stop the shooting pain in my forearm, he goes on about the dealership wanting thirteen hundred dollars to fix things and how he decided to drive his wife to work so he could take the car to Midas who said they could fix things for less than a hundred, and he was late getting to work, etc. etc. At some point, he stops, looks at me, looks at my arm, then says, "I'm sorry. I forgot you're hurting."

I smile then say, "Here's the deal. I'll trade you my shoulder for your muffler and I will throw in one thousand dollars cash."

We both laughed. Heck, I'll throw in two thousand dollars cash. Seriously.

I realise that just because I have a personal issue to deal with, it doesn't mean the rest of the world has come to a halt. Ha, like it would! In the past three months, I have visited my family doctor 5 times, seen both a chiropractor and a sports medicine specialist, plus visited 4 physiotherapists, a sports kinesiologist, and the Emergency ward of a local hospital. I have had almost a dozen physiotherapy sessions. And this isn't the end of it. Just yesterday, I had an EMG test.

Well now, isn't this one about as much fun as a barrel of monkeys: electrically shock me and stick needles into my muscles. What's next waterboarding? If you wanted me to talk, why not try the direct question? Geesh!

The purpose of this test is to verify the functioning of my nerves specifically looking for an impingement. First a doctor gives me the once over doing some physical tests. He has me put my arms and legs in certain positions then asks me to push back as he tries to move the body part. He notices how my left triceps is weak which is pretty obvious as I have just about not used my left arm for three months.

Secondly, a technician attaches some recording electrodes to my left hand then proceeds to zap me in various parts of my left arm. The idea is that the jolt travels up my arm to the neck then comes back down the arm to the hand where the electrodes record the activity. By the way, how about saying, "One... two... three..." instead of randomly sticking my finger in the light socket then flicking the switch? Okay, I'll live but I'm not lining up for a second turn on that merry-go-round.

Finally the doctor comes back and puts needles connected to electrodes into the muscles of my forearm and by the thumb of my hand and listens to the audio interpretation of my muscles at rest and when contracted. What is this? Acupuncture with a computer?

Conclusion? I have a pinched nerve in my neck, the C6, more than likely caused by a herniated disk. It would seem that an MRI of my neck would be in order to confirm this diagnosis but the doctor warned me that this would be considered non critical and could take some time. Consequently, I decided to be pro-active and have signed up to go back to the States to pay for an MRI out of my own pocket.

Aside: I do not want me paying for an MRI in the States to be misconstrued as a criticism of the Canadian health care system or to be considered as an argument for a two tier health system. I would like to see sufficient investments in the system so that nobody would have to look elsewhere for supplemental services. I would like to come back and discuss this in more detail especially since Obamacare in the States is being vilified as a form of expensive socialized health insurance.

Postscript: June 22, 2012
I booked an MRI in the States for June 26. I just got a call from the hospital booking me for an MRI on the same day. Consequently, I cancelled my trip to the States and will proceed with the local MRI. Despite the doctor warning me about wait times for non critical scans, the "system" has come through.

Final Word
Will the Cisco Kid ride again? Hell, right now I would be ecstatic to be able to stroll around the block without feeling tingling, numbness or pain. It's surprising how your expectations change. Jog? Exercise? Parachute out of a plane? I'd be grateful just to be able to walk comfortably. Yep, have almost everything taken away to appreciate the little things in life.

I certainly have a new understanding for what the other person may be feeling when they tell me they're suffering from chronic pain. Believe me, it sucks and it sucks royally. Yes, they may smile, they may laugh, and they may say some amusing things which will give you the impression that all is right with the world but don't be fooled. Everything may be all right in your world but everything is not all right in theirs.

Over the years I, like many people, have survived the ups and downs of living, the vagaries of life. I survived jumping out of an airplane and I will survive this. Things will be different but I will survive. I am going to be 60 years old later this year which means that statistically I have 20 to 25 years left. I'd like try to make them good ones.

Throughout this little ordeal, I have had to smile as I have been reminded that while the modern age offers many wondrous things, it is obvious, sometimes painfully obvious, that we have a long way to go. Yes, there are doctors and medical science and pain killers and MRI scans, etc. but at the end of the day, I and everybody else involved is relying on my body to heal itself.

There's a scene in one of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Dr. Beverly Crusher comes into Sickbay to find a sad-looking guy sitting on an examination table holding his arm in pain. He explains that he fell while mountain climbing on the Holodeck. Dr. Crusher pulls out some thingamajig with little flashing lights and waves it over the guy's arm. You hear a buzzing sound. The guy then moves his arm around tentatively obviously on the look-out for any pain. Feeling nothing, he bursts into a smile, hops off the table and with a wave of his hand exclaims "Thanks doc!" as he walks out the door.

I want one of those things.


my blog: Parachuting: If God had meant me to...
By the way and if you will excuse my French, do you know the saying "to be scared s**tless"? Well, I discovered it's not true. I think it took a full 24 hours after my jump before my sphincter unclenched.

Wikipedia: Electromyography
Electromyography (EMG) is a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. EMG is performed using an instrument called an electromyograph, to produce a record called an electromyogram. An electromyograph detects the electrical potential generated by muscle cells when these cells are electrically or neurologically activated. The signals can be analyzed to detect medical abnormalities, activation level, recruitment order or to analyze the biomechanics of human or animal movement.

Free Online Medical Dictionary: Electromyography
During an EMG test, a fine needle is inserted into the muscle to be tested. This may cause some discomfort, similar to that of an injection. Recordings are made while the muscle is at rest, and then during the contraction. The person performing the test may move the limb being tested, and direct the patient to move it with various levels of force. The needle may be repositioned in the same muscle for further recording. Other muscles may be tested as well. A typical session lasts from 30-60 minutes.

A slightly different test, the nerve conduction velocity test, is often performed at the same time with the same equipment. In this test, stimulating and recording electrodes are used, and small electrical shocks are applied to measure the ability of the nerve to conduct electrical signals. This test may cause mild tingling and discomfort similar to a mild shock from static electricity. Evoked potentials may also be performed for additional diagnostic information. Nerve conduction velocity and evoked potential testing are especially helpful when pain or sensory complaints are more prominent than weakness.

Wikipedia: Spinal disc herniation
A spinal disc herniation is a medical condition affecting the spine due to trauma, lifting injuries, or idiopathic, in which a tear in the outer, fibrous ring of an intervertebral disc allows the soft, central portion to bulge out beyond the damaged outer rings. Tears are almost always postero-lateral in nature owing to the presence of the posterior longitudinal ligament in the spinal canal. This tear in the disc ring may result in the release of inflammatory chemical mediators which may directly cause severe pain, even in the absence of nerve root compression.

Wikipedia: The Cisco Kid
The Cisco Kid refers to a character found in numerous film, radio, television and comic book series based on the fictional Western character created by O. Henry in his 1907 short story "The Caballero's Way", published in the collection Heart of the West. In movies and television, the Kid was depicted as a heroic Mexican caballero, even though he was originally a cruel outlaw.

my blog: Health: You don't know what you've got till it's gone
In 1970, the Canadian singer song writer Joni Mitchell released "Big Yellow Taxi" which contained the telling line, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." Yes, it is easy to take things for granted. This captures the idea of the centuries old proverb, "You never miss the water till the well runs dry." Day after day, some "thing" is just there like the sun or the moon and we become accustomed to it being there. However many things don't have the longevity of the sun and the moon and we can see those things come to an end and disappear and ofttimes it is not until something has disappeared that we may realize its value to us.


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Tuesday 19 June 2012

Movie Review: Hysteria (plus my ramblings about the female paroxysm, er, orgasm)

Female paroxysm? Orgasm? What's that boy babbling about? And what the heck does any of this have to do with a movie review?

"Hysterical paroxysm" is a 19th century medical term for orgasm. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. We'll all chuckle, maybe with a touch of embarrassment, and look at one another with an all knowing expression like we're all in on the gag and are completely aware of what's going on. But are we? Really?

Hysteria is a work of fiction surrounded by real facts. It is a period piece set in late 19th century England and involves one Joseph Mortimer Granville. The film has taken some liberties with this character but has certainly correctly portrayed a medical condition of the day, female hysteria, a condition which doesn't exist.

Female hysteria? Once upon a time the medical profession determined that a wide variety of symptoms such as faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and "a tendency to cause trouble" were representative of this supposed illness. Defining exactly what this malady was remained elusive but the cure said it all. The proscribed remedy was for a woman to undergo "pelvic massage", the manual stimulation of the genitals, by a doctor until the patient had a hysterical paroxysm (orgasm). If you're like me, it's at this point you exclaim, "What!?!"

What the heck... okay, what the hell is going on? This idea dates back to the ancient Greeks and it would seem that this whole thing could be construed as a way of denying women their sexuality however I would be more inclined to say it shows a total lack of understanding about sex and especially female sex.

In the 19th century, masturbation was seen as deviant behavior, and as even more inappropriate for women than for men, since women were believed (and taught) to be free from any form of sexual desire. Some physicians treated "female hysteria" -- symptomized by insomnia, irritability, nervousness, or "excessive moisture inside the vagina" -- with what was termed "medicinal massage", inserting a finger and gently rubbing the woman's genitalia. This led to "paroxysm", a sudden outburst in the patient which doctors (being men) believed was not orgasm, since women were thought incapable of orgasm.
-NNDB: Joseph Mortimer Granville

You do realise we are talking about a period in our history of only one hundred and thirty years ago. Wow. Like really wow. Then again, how long prior to that was the Earth flat?

Back to the movie. Our hero, Dr. Granville, is having a tough time of it making his way in the medical profession of London, England in the late 1800s. As luck would have it, he gets a job in the established practice of a doctor who is making quite a living doling out orgasms, sorry paroxysms to a long list of female clients looking to make their lives just a little more orgasmic, oops, I mean less hysterical. The hero all too willingly (but unwittingly) lends a hand (or two) to better the lives of these sorry London citizens but soon ends up suffering from what I can only suppose might be carpal tunnel syndrome. Hmmm, no Lloyds of London to insure his hands for a million bucks, er, pounds?

Thanks to the tinkering of a friend with electricity and motors, Dr. Granville invents a vibrator. Instead of manually massaging the pelvic area, he uses the device to stimulate the female genitalia and produces not only excellent results but attains said results much faster. The rest, so they say, is history.

The movie only garnered a rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes which would make it a so-so film. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. It was well shot; the setting and costumes were good and I enjoyed this peek at another era. The important aspect of the film, for me at least, was the whole question of female sexuality and how the general level of common knowledge was abysmally low.

One scene shows our hero arguing with a medical colleague about germs and gets fired for wanting to replace a dirty bandage with a clean one. It is startling to realise that at this moment in time, we as in the collective we were only beginning to understand germs. Our good doctor mentions reading about the work of Lister, a British surgeon who promoted sterile surgery, so our good doctor is merely on the verge of coming out of the medical dark ages. (Trivia: Coca Cola up to 1903 had an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. -Wikipedia)

I found this stunning. We are only talking about one hundred and thirty years ago (Granville invented his vibrator in 1883) and this is the level of knowledge? People don't know about germs and they don't know about the female orgasm. Okay, germs I can get but it is difficult to conceive that any of these women undergoing this "medical procedure" did not know their own bodies were capable of having an orgasm.

Or is it difficult?

Betty Dodson
In previous research, I ran across Betty Dodson, author, sex educator, and pro-sex feminist. (see my blog) Over the years, she has been an advocate of female masturbation in order to educate women about their own bodies and sex. On her official web site, I discovered the following emails:

I've Never Had an Orgasm - Sep 17/2010
I'm an 18 year old female, I've had two male partners. I've never been able to reach an orgasm, it feels close at times, but I push away because of the intensity, it feels so good that it sort of hurts. I and my current partner has tried a lot of different things. Is there something that I could be doing to reach an orgasm??

Married & Never Had an Orgasm - Dec 11/2010
Please can you offer me advice, I am 29 years old and dont really know where to go. I have been with my husband for 8 years now and married for the last year. I have never been able to orgasm, not with him, anyone else or on my own, if I have I have not known about it.

39 & Never Had An Orgasm - Nov 15/2010
I am 39 years old and I have NEVER had a orgasam, i have tried everything i can and ijust cant do it. I am married and I have talked to my husband about it and we have talked about it but there is nuthing he can do. I hate to have sex but i do it now and again. I have has a hystradrectomy about 4 years ago but that has nuthing ti do with it cuz i never had one befor then. I am at my wits end and I please need help.

27 and Never Had an Orgasm - Jun 6/2009
I am 27 years old, never had an orgasm. I'm married 5 years with 2 kids.

What? Time for me to once again say that I found this stunning? What is the state of sex education? Do people not know their own bodies? Heck, we're not talking about the late 19th century now; we're talking about now, another century, heck another millennium!

But is it all as stunning as that?

Rush Limbaugh
Who doesn't know about Rush going off on a rant against one Sandra Fluke, the woman brought in by the Democrats to testify for having private insurance companies cover contraception. Not only did he suggest Ms. Fluke was a slut and a prostitute, he said she wanted to be paid to have sex and that she's having so much sex, she can't afford her own birth control. (see my blog: Rush Limbaugh: That's spelled with one F and one U) Okay, Mr. Limbaugh is a sexist misogynistic boor who demonstrates a profound ignorance of sex, health issues and the economic means of lower income people, but as a visible representative of the far right, he clearly shows that the level of common knowledge about the world has not necessarily increased all that much from the time of the movie Hysteria.

The American Life League
Back in December 2011, the charitable organization Susan B. Komen For the Cure decided to revoke its funding of Planned Parenthood. This decision arose from the efforts of one Karen Handel, newly appointed  senior vice president of public policy at the charity and staunch pro-life anti-abortionist. When the plan came to light in February 2012, the ensuing public outcry resulted not only in the charity reversing its decision but in the resignation of Handel.

In investigating Planned Parenthood as a target of the pro-life movement, I discovered then wrote about the American Life League, one of the largest pro-life organizations in the United States. (see my blog Planned Parenthood: addicting children to sex!!!) While only 3% of the services offered by Planned Parenthood relate to abortion, the ALL takes exception to all their services since many of those services are related to sex: testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and pregnancy testing and prenatal services. ALL isn't just against abortion, they are against all things relating to sex including sex education. Like Karen Handel, if ALL had its way, they would see Planned Parenthood shut down.

Is it just me?
The movie Hysteria is set in the late 1800's. Betty Dodson and her work, Rush Limbaugh and his motor mouth, and The American Life League and the vilification of all things sexual are of the present day. One hundred and thirty years separate the two and yet I wonder just how much we collectively have advanced. We may all have a good chuckle at hearing about "hysterical paroxysm" but we should be damn well angry at the shenanigans of the vocal few who would see us all remain in the dark ages of the 1800's.

Final Word
The film as a film is better that the so-so rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. I think it is well worth a viewing. And by the way, once again I would advise against getting up and leaving the theatre when the credits start. The film uses this last bit of the movie to show off the many technical forms of the device throughout history thanks to the Antique Vibrator Museum in San Francisco. (see my blog: May is National Masturbation Month)

As a look back on the state of affair of the late 19th century, it is stunning to see the knowledge which is currently available to us. However, in reflecting on how much or how little the general state of our knowledge has changed, it is more evident than ever just how far we still have to go. What sometimes passes for knowledge in certain circles is nothing more than superstition or religious dogma. There is no empirical evidence to back up claims but despite this gulf between claim and reality, people persist in holding on to their beliefs no matter how ill-formed they may be. And that's enough to even make me hysterical.


Rotten Tomatoes: Hysteria: 55%
Hysteria has an amusing subject but its winking, vaguely sarcastic tone doesn't do the movie any favors.

Wikipedia: Hysteria (2011 film)
Hysteria is a 2011 American romantic comedy film directed by Tanya Wexler. It stars Felicity Jones, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rupert Everett and Hugh Dancy. The film, set in the Victorian era shows how the medical management of hysteria led to the invention of the vibrator. The film's title refers to the once-common medical diagnosis of female hysteria.

Wikipedia: Female hysteria
Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women, which is today no longer recognized by modern medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the 19th century. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and "a tendency to cause trouble".

Since ancient times women considered to be suffering from hysteria would sometimes undergo "pelvic massage" — manual stimulation of the genitals by the doctor until the patient experienced "hysterical paroxysm" (orgasm).

Good Vibrations: Antique Vibrator Museum
We display our treasures alongside our company collection online and in our San Francisco Polk Street Store. The vibes in our collection date from the late 1800s up through the 1970s. The electric vibrator had its inception in 1869 with the invention of a steam-powered massager, patented by an American doctor. This device was designed as a medical tool for treating "female disorders." Within 20 years a British doctor followed up with a more portable battery-operated model; by 1900, dozens of styles of electric vibrators, just like those in our exhibit, were available to the discriminating medical professional.

In Bed With Married Women - Mar 7/2011
Female Hysteria and Creepy Old-Timey Vibrators by Jill Hamilton
Are you exhibiting any of the following symptoms:
--Trouble sleeping?
--Fluid retention?
--"A tendency to cause trouble"?
Yes, yes, yes and oh yes?

Let's see, according to my medical book, circa 1895, you have a clear-cut case of Female Hysteria.

NNDB: Joseph Mortimer Granville
Joseph Mortimer Granville invented the electric vibrator, not as a sexual device but to relieve more mundane muscle aches. Originally called a percusser or more colloquially "Granville's hammer", the machine was manufactured and sold to physicians, but as it became increasingly popular its inventor tried to disassociate himself from the device's "mis-use". In his 1883 book on the subject, "Nerve-Vibration and Excitation as Agents in the Treatment of Functional Disorder and Organic Disease", he wrote, "I have never yet percussed a female patient ... I have avoided, and shall continue to avoid the treatment of women by percussion, simply because I do not wish to be hoodwinked, and help to mislead others, by the vagaries of the hysterical state ..."

Wikipedia: Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister
Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister OM, FRS, PC (5 April 1827 – 10 February 1912), known as Sir Joseph Lister, Bt., between 1883 and 1897, was a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery, who promoted the idea of sterile surgery while working at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Lister successfully introduced carbolic acid (now known as phenol) to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds, which led to reducing post-operative infections and made surgery safer for patients.

my blog: Sex Ed: Betty Dodson: educator, author, pro-sex feminist
Widely known as a pioneer in women's sexual liberation, her fame has come from both advocating masturbation and conducting workshops for more than 30 years where groups of women would talk, explore their own bodies, and masturbate together. In 1974, she self-published a slim volume of 60 pages entitled "Liberating masturbation: a meditation on self love" in which she encouraged women (and men) to really understand their own bodies in order to have better sex – both alone and with partners. The book was considered a feminist classic for decades. Finally, Dodson reworked the material and republished it in 1996 under the title "Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving" (208 pages).

my blog: Rush Limbaugh: That's spelled with one F and one U
Recently, the world has been atwitter on Twitter and other social media commenting left, right and centre about one Rush Hudson Limbaugh. Of course, it is easy to pile on by calling him an anal orifice or a Neanderthal or a meany... (I consult my notes) oops, that's a f**kin' meany... however I can't help feeling there is more, much more not just to this particular story, but to what the story represents. This is the tip of the iceberg.

my blog: Planned Parenthood: addicting children to sex!!!
Over the past few years, I have heard right-wing people in criticizing Barack Obama make comparisons to Nazi Germany, trying through hyperbole (I think they actually believe this to be a valid comparison) to make things out worse than they are. But just imagine what would happen if Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann or even the president of ALL, Judie Brown, somehow came to power. We would all be knocked back to the dark ages. We would be burning people at the stake, using blood-letting as a home remedy and putting chastity belts on girls. Am I exaggerating? Planned Parenthood gone. Legal abortions gone. Sex Education gone. Free condoms gone. Sex gone.

my blog: May is National Masturbation Month
In 1995, California sex advocate Dr. Carol Queen with the assistance of Good Vibrations, held the first National Masturbation Day on May 7 while declaring May masturbation month.

Surveys indicate that 90 per cent of North American men and 65 per cent of women masturbate, Queen notes, "yet masturbation continues to be maligned in our culture, censored from our education and scorned as the sexual expression of those who can't get a date. So much so that when the American Surgeon-General Joycelyn Elders endorsed the teaching of masturbation in high school sex-ed classes six years ago, she was fired by the Clinton administration. We gave our heads a shake and said it's about time we fought back. That's when we founded National Masturbation Day."


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