States Rights Attack!

Am I the only one who hears folks yelling about the Constitution and State’s Rights in the same breath, and feels their irony senses start to tingle?

Let me get the obvious out of the way:

  1. I’m not a Constitutional Scholar
  2. I didn’t play one on TV

While I’m at it, let me get the less obvious out of the way too:

  1. I’m not a historian
  2. I don’t think I’m smarter than the average bear
  3. I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn last night

I’m not even a history buff, though you might say I’m an intermittent, amateur historian. As such, I’ve been slogging through The Federalist Papers over the last year or so. I open up the copy on my Kindle when I’m having trouble sleeping.

Anyhoo, back to irony.

As I understand it, the US Constitution arose from the anarchy and ashes of the Articles of Confederation – a government (if you could really call it one) where the original states had ALL of the rights… and all of the power. My recollection from high school history was that in it’s earliest days our government was a chaotic mess, and the Constitution’s chief aim was to reign in the chaos by shifting some power away from the states, to the central government.

Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #1:

“Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments….”

Yep, I dove deep for that one, eh? All the way down to the first sentence of the third paragraph of the fist essay.

We could argue all day and into the next millennium about how much power the Constitution shifts to the central government, but I don’t think anyone can argue it does. Well, you could… but you’d be wrong.

So this is what’s going through my head when someone starts popping off about The Constitution! The Tenth Amendment! States Rights!

I wonder if they’re familiar with the history of the document they invoke, sometimes with a bit of angry spittle.

Random statement of fact

Honor Roll or not (though he is), my fifth-grader has the capacity to act much smarter than your pet. Mind you, I have nothing against your pet. I’m sure he/she is adorable and a beloved member of your family – but let’s not get carried away.

I think it’s worth pointing out my fifth-grader is a person – a little human being. I’m not advocating cruel treatment of any animals, but I think we should all aim a little higher when we think about how we’re going to treat another person. 

Yes, I know your bumper sticker was a joke. Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humor. I just didn’t think it was funny. Not even a little bit. Not when too many of us still treat our pets better than other people. 


Fighting the good fight

The latest skirmish in the Insurance Wars… a conversation with a customer service rep.**

You said you paid that bill.

“We did but we changed our minds.”

Come again?

“We paid it but we took our money back.”

I realize your reasons seem self-evident to you, but could you give me a clue?

“We sent you a letter in the beginning of the year which clearly states this procedure will now require pre-authorization. You did not get pre-authorization.”

But you paid at first…

“… a mistake we corrected.”

Finishing my thought… after the procedure was done LAST YEAR.

“Oh, well we must have thought the procedure was done this year.”

You mean two weeks from now?!?

“I don’t understand.”

It must be going around.


The date of service was November 28th, 2011. If you change the year to 2012 it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, why don’t you keep it the way it is, consider this claim as a request for pre-authorization, and pay my doctor next month?

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.”

I’m afraid it doesn’t work at all.

“Your attitude isn’t helping.”

I’ve got a long list suggesting it won’t hurt.


I’m sorry. Will you please just pay the claim? I’m not above begging.

“We’ll need your doctor to resubmit the claim.”


“Sir? Are you there?”

Sorry, I was trying to think of something nice to say.

**While the information presented is accurate, I’ve embellished the dialog a little to burn off a little frustration after the fact.

Elegance begets elegance

Steve Jobs blogMany great pieces will be written about Steve Jobs today, as his death becomes widely known while people watch or listen to the morning news. At least a few (if not many) will probably hit upon some of these thoughts, my thoughts.

Many things have inspired me. Some are obvious: my wife, my kids, my friends, my passions, my pains. Others aren’t quite so obvious, like the feel of a seemingly perfect pen gracefully marking seemingly perfect paper, as if my very soul was flowing through the tip. An outstanding piece a friend wrote late yesterday inspired me to write this post. It’s probably best you read his post now. I won’t do it justice rehashing it, yet this post will make more sense given the context of its inspiration.

When people talk about Steve Jobs they often talk about design. Some use the term to lionize the man, while others use it to dismiss him and his “so-called innovations.” For those who dismiss him, I wonder if they’ve ever held that perfect pen in their hands.

When people talk about Jobs today, they will often talk about Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Some will use these as examples of one man’s brilliance. Some will rightly say they weren’t the first of their kind to market, but the first of their kind done right, and again they’ll talk about design.

When I talk about Apple, I often mention my old PowerBook. For those who don’t know, PowerBook was the brand name for a line of portable computers Apple made until early this century – eventually replacing it with the “MacBook” when Apple changed the engine it’s computers ran on. It was a branding decision made due to the strong association the word “power” had with its old processors. My PowerBook was the smallest model: twelve inches measured from opposite corners of the screen. Everything about it seemed perfect at the time: it’s size, shape, keyboard, and build.

I wish I could give you a list of specifications and adjectives to describe it, but I’m not that good a writer. What I can say is my computer – a term not often associated with warm and fuzzy, or mythical muses – was my perfect pen. Writing was always simpler when my fingers graced its keys. Better words always came to mind. I was always more satisfied with the results.

The question is why?

The Apple trash talkers will insist I’ve been hoodwinked, a victim of the Jobs “Reality Distortion Field.” They might even tell you I’m the victim of what amounts to a cult.

But I have a different answer.

Design matters.

Thanks Steve.

Feeling it

This is well trod ground as topics go. However, I’m not afraid to boldly tread where better men have trod before!

It might be the dullest post you’ve ever kept your eyes open for, but some of you may feel me on this one.

As for the rest of you [INSERT RASPBERRY HERE]

… and I ain’t talkin’ about no damned fruit, neither!

– – –

I type.

I used to write. I was in college. I kept a journal with a great pen. It was a hand-made fountain pen, a block of golden oak turned into a wonderfully balanced muse with ink. I found it in a little woodworking shop in the mountains of northern Georgia. I was on the first “big trip” with a girlfriend, hiking the many mountain woods, looking for the waterfalls common in the area. (This girlfriend later became my wife..) It was more than just a wonderful pen, but a collection of fond memories I could hold in my hand. I poured my hopes, fears, anxieties, and joys through the exquisite, rounded tip of that glorious pen.

It’s still my favorite. I say this without hesitation, reservation, or second gestation.

There’s just no way around it. You can’t force “guess” to rhyme with “reservation.” Although, I may have stumbled on to something with “gestation.” I just hope I don’t fall down.

And yet, I gave it up for word processing years ago.

Some people feel paper is more permanent, something they can touch, that is of this world. It’s like a really small, uncomfortable security blanket. Unless you’ve got a lot of pages and some really good adhesive – then it could be a great big, uncomfortable security blanket. Computers and their file systems are a mystery to many, their contents disappearing into the ether. The act of “saving” or “opening” becomes a leap of blind faith. But paper – people feel comfort knowing they can put it someplace where they will always find it: right where they left it.

My dad ushered me into the electronic age early in life, relative to my peers. My father taught me all the important lessons: save often and back up everything. Still, I had my share of lapses and mishaps. I had to re-type a paper on Woodrow Wilson in middle school.

Woody (I get away with it only because we were tight at Princeton) was a pretty good President, but I’m still bitter. It was a maddening chore writing about him twice, and I’m convinced the first version would have been good for an easy A.

Today, batteries back up my computers’ power. A local network drive, in addition to an offsite server, back up the data. The backups are instant and unnoticed.

I know where I can find my writing too – right where I left it – in three different places. (Beat that, you slaves to paper and touch!) Up to this point, I think at least a few folks who write for a living might agree. In fact, I humbly submit my typed words are more secure than someone’s inked wood pulp.

I know what you’re thinking:
He’s not being humble at all! I smell sarcasm!

To prove my humility I’ll admit computers have an Achilles’ heel: the keyboard. For all the advantages of word processing, most keyboards can’t match the feel of a good pen gliding across the page. Keyboards lack soul. Sometimes they’re noisy distractions. Writing with pen and paper can be an art itself, as well as an inspiration. I can lose myself in the rhythm of writing and it’s tactile feedback. Give me a good pen with paper to match, and I could write things I’d never wrestle from most keyboards.

However, like pens, not all keyboards are created the same. Some are so terrible, I can’t do any writing. Many others are so-so. My fingers can feel more like they’re engaged in a chore than a rewarding hobby.

I am not easy to please when it comes to my lettered keys. I am a keyboard snob. I loved the first computer I bought with my own money – a Mac Plus with a mind boggling 40MB external hard-drive. However, keyboards in the 80’s were an abomination. A common trait was an unnecessarily large enclosure. They built them like the U.S. auto industry wanted to build cars.

If only those damn commie bastards hadn’t ruined the battleship era of the automobile with un-American, gas mileage standards, we might never have been subjected to compensating in other product lines.

With an abundance of empty space, keyboards sounded like a funky percussion instrument. The result was a noisy, echoing disaster.

I was in college at the time. It was the age of the fountain pen.

My second and third keyboards each got better than the one before it. The second was still so-so, an Apple model some have gushed over, but I was on the fence. The third came with my first iMac. I created my first web site on that first iMac Apple made. It even served up my site to the world from home for a while. (Until MySQL drove me to drink.) It was the launch pad for my blog, in every meaningful way.

A lot of folks hated that miniaturized keyboard, but it was the first that got my fingers galloping on keys.

An iBook (one of the early “iceBooks”) was my first laptop, ushering in the golden age of writing. I’ve done most of my writing on a portable since.

My PowerBook, MacBook, Aluminum iMac (with its thin, laptop like keys), and Apple Bluetooth keyboard made me almost forget about pen and paper. Now my fingers fly, almost unconsciously. Thoughts become characters on a screen (or page) almost as fast as I can dream them up. Now pen and paper feel like an obstacle. Words come, go, and are lost before my pen touches paper.

Still, I feel like I’m missing something. Typing is a skill, one that can be quite impressive, but I wonder if it will ever quite match the feel of writing.

Somehow I felt more connected to the words when I wrote them down, despite my terrible handwriting.

And yet, my lonely pen sits, it’s cap undisturbed.


Bad timing

I don’t have much to say. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around it all. It’s probably more an unwillingness that an inability.

Let’s just say our new Governor picked the wrong week to propose drastic cuts to state employees’ health benefits.

Well, for me anyway.

The boss

So the wife called me from the gym, asking if I’d taken the whites out of the dryer and put them away.

You know what? I was pretty ticked off. Who is she to call me, checking up as if I was some kind of delinquent child.

I hadn’t, but that’s beside the point. There’s a principle that’s been violated and I have every right to be upset about it.

I’m going to let you know as soon as I figure out what it is.


Love, your health insurance company

I like getting love letters from my health insurance company. They catch me off guard, but it’s nice to know someone is looking out for me.

A few weeks ago I got a letter asking about all of my other insurance carriers after I made a rather large claim. They said they wanted to make sure I could “maximize my coverage.” As they said, “We’re constantly looking for ways to deliver high quality, affordable care to our valued customers.”

Now isn’t that sweet? I could just reach out and give ’em a great big hug. I just can’t figure out how you give a corporation a hug, but if I figure it out I’ll be sure to let you know. I’m sure it’s eating you up inside too.

Then it dawned on me. They paid one hundred percent of the cost for this particular procedure. I’m not sure how you could maximize it any more from my perspective without sending me a check. Not that I’m against the whole check idea, I just don’t think it’s very likely – about as likely as you sending me a check.

You weren’t planning to send me a check, were you?

So I got to thinking. Now, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds unlikely, but it’s true I swear.

Does this mean it wasn’t a love letter?Was something more sinister was going on? Was this really a “cover our financial ass” letter, dressed up as “we’re looking out for you?”

Would a wrong answer turn the sweet nothings whispered in my ear into the grand piss-off?

“Tough shit kid, you’re on your own. Go talk to your x insurance. They’re the ones who really ought to be paying.”

Does this mean they don’t really love me, that they never really loved me?


My Medical Riff

Sit back and enjoy a good old fashioned rant, boys and girls. Don’t sit too close though. There could be some spittle involved – unintentional, of course.

I’m not going to review my medical history with you now. You’ve either been reading along and know it already, or you haven’t. Maybe you’ll get the basic idea – or not. I’m really not sorry.

The other day I hit a wall. I wasn’t walking or driving so no physical harm done, though after paragraph two maybe you figure I got it coming. It was the metaphorical wall, the one you hit when you’re beyond the normal kind of tired.

It’s when your body cries, “no mas!” even as your mind replies, “what the hell does that mean? We’re a dumb American, uni-lingual you fool!”

Whew! Look at all the hostility fly off the screen. I told you this could be a hum-dinger.

It was 11:00 am on Wednesday after the long Memorial Day weekend – a weekend I had just gotten a LOT of sleep. Cheryl and the kids had left the previous Thursday for the long weekend in Orlando, and I was supposed to meet them Saturday morning. I never made it. A combination of a cold and fatigue kept me in bed.

So resting most of a quiet, long weekend, and working one routine day at work, I should be pretty fresh right? Nope, there was the encounter with the wall, remember? So my addled, exhausted mind tried to run down the possible causes. Thinking about it, I felt like I’d been feeling more drained over the last month or so, but I’d been associating it with my sleep disorder – though it hadn’t changed (to my knowledge).

So what had changed?

Besides the cold, which could only explain one weekend, there was only one thing I could think of: the increased dose of meds my neurologist was giving me to manage headaches. Just for kicks I checked online to see its common side effects. Low and behold, there they were: fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems (though, all of which could be explained by fatigue).

I decided the wall wasn’t someplace I’d like to live full time, so I called my neurologist’s office to share my concerns. I called first thing in the morning and stuck it out for the legally mandated eight hour wait period for a call back. When I spoke to the nurse I laid it out for her much as I did for you – the last part anyway. I told her how I thought it might be this drug because it was the only thing I could think of that had changed in the last few months. We spoke a little longer. By we I mostly mean me. She had the classic, overworked, “I’m thinking about five other things right now,” dead silence thing going for her. I was interrupted by the occasional blurted question, which she’d have to repeat. The first half overlapped something I’d said.

We had a great rapport going.

Her last question almost did something I thought was impossible. It almost cured me of my fatigue. Almost.

“I see you’re taking a lot of medication, all of it I’m sure is necessary. But what makes you think THIS ONE is making you feel tired?”





Cheryl doesn’t like it when I swear on the blog. I don’t swear an awful lot in real life, but I do have a temper that’s rare but nasty. This is one of those times when I’d like to lay it down thick enough to make Richard Pryor blush. But I’m not. Well, not a whole lot anyway. Time has passed. I’ve cooled down a bit. Anyway, back to the post.

Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t want to jump through the phone, even if it was physically possible. I didn’t have the energy. Would I fall through the phone with a big assist from good ‘ole gravity? Absolutely. Maybe I was reading to much into it, but her question almost felt like a work of art, with so much condescension dismissiveness packed into so few words. I was stuck somewhere between awe and my brain blowing its cap and incinerating everything in its path.

“Um, you heard me when I said everything else has been the same, right? When I said that I meant for months. I’ve been taking all of those other medications for quite some time without any notable side effects. Again, the only difference I can think of is THIS medication.” And yes, nurse whoever the frack you are. Several of my specialists do seem to think I need to be taking the medication I’m taking. Are they perfect, or even necessarily correct? Maybe not. But how about you lay off the fucking judging until you get your medical license and read up on my full medical history, instead of this three minute multi-tasking act you’ve got going here?

“Well,” skeptically, “you could try reducing the dose again and see if it makes a difference.”

Fuck you very much. That’s what I thought anyway, I just wanted to make sure. “Thanks, I’ll give that a try.”

One fine whine

One of the advantages of US style health care is being able to obtain services without having to wait until the sun goes supernova (which could be a really long time, since our sun doesn’t have enough mass to go it alone).
– common wisdom in the US. When I say common wisdom (an oxymoron in the US) I’m refering to the part about waiting for healthcare, not the part about the sun. Most Americans probably don’t know the sun is a star just like the other pretty lights in the night sky.

My doctor wants me to see a neurologist about my headaches. Well, one of my doctors. I have several. In fact I’m seeing another one today, one I’ve known longer. She referred me to a practice in Tampa, the only one in the area specializing in headaches (so she says).

I held my breath as I checked with my insurance to see if this neurologist, the lone sentinel standing against the headache blight, was blessed by the managed care gods. She was, so with a renewed sense of faith and optimism I called to make an appointment.

They can squeeze me right in between Christmas and Thanksgiving – assuming they can get all of my medical records right away. Hah! Me and what army of copiers? Trees standing under the threatening eyes of pulp mills weep at the thought.

How do you spell “ouch?”

I’ve heard chronic headaches are pretty common in the US, though I haven’t taken the time to do the google for this post. That begs the question: where’s this free market everyone speaks so highly of? With all of this pent up demand, why isn’t there a headache clinic on every corner (next to Starbucks)?

Oh capitalism! Why has thou forsaken me?