Bad taste and butchery

I get a little uncomfortable when people start talking about “trimming” trees. My reasons break down like this: any jackass with insurance and a chainsaw can get a licence to trim trees in Florida, and Floridians in general don’t seem to like trees. That’s what I gather from the results anyway.

I’m not against all forms or reasons for tree trimming. There are times when a tree needs to be trimmed for saftey’s sake, or for the tree’s health. But that’s not what’s happening here.

I work(ed) in a large office complex on the water (Tampa Bay) with a lot of trees. The shaded, peaceful walkways felt more like a park than a place of business. Between the waterfront and the quiet atmosphere, I thought the setting was darn near perfect.

That was before someone decided things needed to be “opened up.”

Now my office feels like it ought to be a crime scene. There are dozens of formerly magestic oaks giving little or no shade, resembling palm trees more than the full hardwoods they once were. Now they look like pieces of modern art. Tall trunks stripped of all their limbs with any reach, with narrow, broccoli spear tops dot my view. Shaded court yards are now reduced to air traps – solar collectors for Florida’s already hot sun. Now we can go out and cook… or more likely, the once vibrant centers of congregation and conversation will be abandoned.

People around me are oooing, and ahhhing over the new, open feeling. I feel like I’m the only one who sees the incredibly poor taste, or recognizes the crime taking place above our eyes.

1 Comment

Why do I hate thee, DST? How about I tell you

  • What was good for 1918 isn’t necessarily so great 90 years later.
  • Contrary to common wisdom, some studies show it causes an increase in energy consumption (especially for us poor folk down south) – partly because of a little thing called air conditioning.
  • How often does common wisdom lead us astray?
  • Shifting high noon to lower noon is just asking for trouble.
  • We have nothing to fear but time itself.
  • My microwave shows the wrong time half the year.
  • You ever try riding your bike to work in the black of night?
  • Do we really need another hour to play frisbee?
  • Do you know how freaking hot it is here when the sun is up? My time feels more leasurely in the relative cool of dusk.
  • As someone who rarely, if ever, strays from the good ‘ole EST zone, that hour really fracks me up.
  • EDST doesn’t have the same ring to it.
  • Loosing sleep, even if it’s once a year, and made up later, is a crime against humanity.

Six months of billing futility, revisited

Something about that call isn’t sitting right with me. I finally got through to my insurance company, only to be told the problem: “we’re getting bills.”

Now, as some poor shmuck with little more than a family and a mailbox, this sounds like something perfectly resonable to say… if it was born of my lips. As my insurance company – whose sole purpose in the universe is to disburse healthcare dollars for – drum roll please – healthcare, this sounded fishy.

Hold onto your skull caps frends, I’m not done yet. You see, I wasn’t exactly speaking to my health insurance company. I was speaking to the company with a subcontract for the work with a certain medical specialty. No, this wasn’t an error on my part – we were both on the same medical specialty page. The problem was, the subcontractor didn’t handle claims/billing/money.

If I had it to do all over, I would have asked a few probing questions – with a pinch of sarcasm for flavor.

So what do you do when you get a bill? Do you forward it to the correct recipient? Do you notify the Doctor’s office about the error? Do you do both? Do you just ignore it, hoping it will go away? If you don’t process claims, what the hell do you do? What value do you add to my healthcare?

Alas, I felt cowed, and for no good reason. Maybe it was a case of learned helplessness. Either way, I just said thanks and called my Doctor’s office to let them know what I learned. Of course, I had to leave a message with their billing department. They were on the phone assisting other patients.

They were assisting with other insurance problems, no doubt.


It’s the little surprises that make all the difference

“Ah… Mr Kauffman? Your insurance company hasn’t paid us since your August visit. You might want to call them.” That was the office staff at one of my many doctors’ offices. We’re pretty tight, seeing as how I’ve been there a lot since August.

I might want to call them? Does this imply I might not want to call them… that I might just want to pay the bill myself and not go through the hassle? Or is it possible they might want me to just pay the bill, so they won’t have to go through the hassle?

If you guessed all of the above, you win… a warm feeling in your heart, knowing you’re at least as smart as me. Well, maybe not warm, exactly. Room temperature?

I’m not sure what this says more about: my doctor’s office or my insurance company. Is health insurance so poorly run in this country that it’s routine to wait six months for payment? Or is the office manager at my doctor’s office REALLY lax with the ‘ole follow-up?

If this is business as usual, would it really hurt anyone if it was run more like a government?


With these rings

I’m almost sure I’m revisiting this topic, but it’s a worthy subject.

What? You don’t believe me?

The other day Cheryl was talking to someone about her grandmother’s wedding ring. Cheryl wears it on the “other hand,” in addition to her own, which she wears on her “right hand,” which of course is her left. I had a little too much fun writing that sentence.

“Is that the first one?” someone asked. It was (is) her grandmother’s first – but only if you accept the premise of subsequent wedding rings. Later it was revealed her cousin had “the other wedding ring.”

Now, in case you haven’t noticed, I can be the ornery sort. Once I get something in my head and circle the logic wagons, I can be pretty dern’ stubborn. The first thing that came to mind was, “what? Was she married to someone else later who I don’t know about?” I knew she hadn’t. (I’m a big fan of rhetorical questions, as long as I’m doing the asking.) It was spontaneous sarcasm – which can be remarkably similar to sponateous combustion when used in the wrong setting. Luckily, I kept my first thought to myself. My second thought was simple.


“What was that John?”

“No. There is no ‘other’ wedding ring. There’s one wedding ring – the one when you get married. There’s one ring that represents the commitment, trust, and love of marriage. Everything else is just jewelry.”

“But the other one was blessed….” someone replied.

And that’s when I upped the rhetorical ante.

“I don’t care if you put it in your mouth and sucked on it like a Lifesaver, it’s still not a wedding ring.”

God, I loved that line when it left my lips. Who am I kidding. I still love it. I’m so proud. My problem started when no one else at the table was nearly as impressed, including my mate. A good line deserves a chuckle, or at least a grin. I got nothing. No snorts, exagerated breaths, or changes of facial expression.

How do you spell trouble? In my case, there are times when it can’t be spelled.

Maybe I’m a sentimental fool, or just plain too poor to keep my wife properly bejeweled, but surely I’m not the only one. Why bother with ceremony? Why bother observing the sacrament, believing in the real presence of your creator in the crowd, if your just going to upgrade the one durable/tangible symbol of it all when you get your first big bonus check at work? Does symbolism or sentiment have any value, or are we just plain vain?

Maybe you believe marriage is overrated, and that’s fair. Maybe I’m placing too much value in a thing, when the real prize is my wife. My ring may be plain, but it’s something my wife gave me on one of the most important days of my life. I’ll no sooner replace it than my wife.

My, what a high horse I have, eh? I could go on and on… but I’d have to get another shovel. I’ve just about worn this one down to the handle.

1 Comment

Being the other end

They have my number, so they call me.

Nothing about my job is life or death, but it’s not insignificant either. Parents, children, and court orders fill my day. The parents call me because they don’t know who else to call and I usually have an answer. They don’t always like the answer and I’m not naive enough to believe they always accept it (or act on it), but some do, and the course of lives change. It may not always be a big change. In fact it’s probably always a small one, but I like to think it’s a nudge in the right direction, making a few lives a little easier than they would have been. And they add up.

Other times, when I’m not on the phone, I’m a cog in the government machine, spinning out my little piece the best I can.

Or I’m a shot of oil, trying to help the cogs around me spin a little easier.

Or I’m a mechanic, putting a cog back in place if it needs a little help.

My job lets me do lot of different things, but in the end they’re all about helping someone else. Most of the time you’d never know. As long as I’m doing it right you wouldn’t, and that’s ok with me. I’m one of those people who’s uncomfortable with attention, even if it’s to recognize a job well done. My preferred reward is a calm, reassured voice on the other end of the phone, a coworker who’s a little more confident, or a service to the public that runs a little more smoothly with the odd line or two of code.

What bothers me… what I think might fuel my depression… I think you hate me. Well, maybe not you, but the public taken as a whole.

From my perspective, Republicans have spent the last forty years getting elected on the idea that government is THE problem (is there an antonym for panacea?), and doing a bang up job of making it true. It strikes me as a bit odd, to say the least… like hiring a manager for a sporting goods store who hates sports. But many of us keep electing these people, and the rhetoric seems to get harsher and angrier as the years pass.

Contrary to what some of you may think, we’re not issued a copy of the Communist Manifesto on our first day. We don’t observe a moment of silence on May Day, mourning the fall of the evil empire. We don’t spend our lunch hours thinking of ways to make your children gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We don’t attend secret meetings plotting new ways to subvert the constitution. Well, not since Bush left office anyway.

But what do I know? I’m just one person. Maybe most of my fellow civil servants don’t care. Maybe they don’t welcome accountability or relish the opportunity to serve. It may not mean much, but most of the people I work with care – and it’s a privilege to work with every one of them. At times we skip lunch, clutching a snack in one hand and pecking at a keyboard with the other, or work long days, like many of you do. To some extent, we even accept the stigma many of you associate with government work. These days we’re grateful just to be employed, and particularly mindful of our obligation to help those who need us that much more.

I believe government does good. I believe it does certain things for us the private sector can’t, won’t, or is ill-equipped to provide. I believe unregulated capitalism gives us ample reason to believe it doesn’t always produce the greater good, in the short term or long term.

It hurts when we’re treated like the enemy. It felt that way when our former governor stood on the steps of the capitol and waxed poetic about the day the government offices around him would be empty. It felt that way when the news showed scores of people shouting about taking their country back – as if we were all trying to take it away from you.

Boo-hoo, right? I understand I work for something that, as a whole, has a great deal of power. We should be watched carefully AND treated with a healthy dose of skepticism/wariness. I recognize not everything should be regulated. Government power should not be omnipresent or unchecked. But I also believe there’s a role for government – a necessary one – and we do ourselves a disservice when we demonize it, and everyone who works for it. I believe when you habitually treat the word “bureaucrat” as an epithet, you only succeed in driving away those of us who do care. I believe you create the thing you fear.

I believe attitudes have swung way too far to the extreme. Rather than working towards building an apparatus which serves us all, under those circumstances where it’s uniquely positioned to do so, we’ve become an angry mob… not just willing, but eager to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I’m not a soldier, but I am out there every day working to make your lives better; and every day I turn on the news I feel like someone’s spitting on me. The easy answer is to turn off the news, but that doesn’t solve anything. Not really. This post won’t solve anything either, but I hope it’s better than just sticking my head in the sand – or worse – quitting.

Maybe it was just the depression talking, but the other day I was talking to Cheryl and I asked her if it seemed like people (in general) grow more cynical with age. Maybe there’s good cause. Wouldn’t (doesn’t) that make a hell of a cycle?


Back on the healthcare rant

I love it when folks say: “I want my doctor making treatment decisions, not the government,” as if an insurance company never set treatment terms.

I loved it even more when our insurance company said they wouldn’t cover treatment for Beth’s Aspergers. Why? “Because Florida Law only requires us to cover treatment for Aspergers if it’s diagnosed before a child turns eight.”

Translation: “We wouldn’t cover you losers at all if it weren’t for those meddling, socialist pigs in government.

If you don’t like your insurance, you can just switch, right? I mean, that’s the beauty of the free market. How many of you have a job that offers a wide selection of insurance providers? No? Well, you could just switch jobs, right? Yeah, that’s the ticket. In this economy, finding another job should be no problem. Oh crap! That’s right. There will probably be a temporary exclusion of pre-existing conditions if you switch jobs and insurance (temporary – not permanent – because of those meddling socialists again).

Regulation isn’t sexy and it’s easy to pick on. The problem is, you never know when it’s working. There are few eureka moments where you learn a regulation kept you safe, healthy, or alive. Too often you don’t know they’re there until someone finds a bad one, a business ignores one (aided and abetted by a willingly blind, often Republican administration), or one doesn’t go far enough.

But isn’t regulation the opposite of freedom? Yeah, isn’t it grand when your insurance company is free to screw you over?

I wanted to say something really crude about protesting taxation with representation today… but I’ll hold off for now. I’m angry enough about the insurance thing. I could get myself in some real trouble with a double rant.


Stray comment

I was having a good day. Everything was fine until I heard one stray comment. Do you have days like this? Can one or two sentences ruin it for you? I wish I could say I have the self assurance to shrug off what other people think and say, but it’s not me. Not at all. It sticks with me. It burrows and churns through my mind, infecting everything that follows.

“I don’t get it. This guy supposedly can’t work because he’s got bipolar disorder? What kind of bullshit is that?”

This was an opportunity to intervene. I could have spoken up. I could have defended this person – a stranger, circumstances unknown. I could have spoken up for all those who can’t speak up for themselves: people who know the cruel reality of severe mental illness. I could have spoken up for my mother, who can’t be left alone for more than a few moments in the hospital because she may hurt herself, who can no longer communicate rationally with the world outside the confines of her own mind, let alone live independently and earn a living.

My mother has bipolar disorder. That’s no bullshit. I’ll tell you what is though: the way we simultaneously stigmatize and dismiss mental illness. Could we be more cruel?

I shouldn’t ask that. Things can always get worse. Anyone who knows our history knows we’re capable of much worse. I guess I just wish more of us aspired to something better.

We’ve all heard how mental and physical illnesses are perceived and treated differently; from the disparities in insurance coverage to the sympathies of the public. Instead, let’s think about how similar they tend to be. They have biological causes. They have ranges of severity. Some people respond to treatment, while others don’t (many fall somewhere in between). Some treatments poison other parts of the body, causing further complications. Both can lead to the death of spirit, hope, and body.

You could watch a hundred people get thousands of colds over your lifetime, and never see one person develop life threatening pneumonia. Obviously that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Yet someone can know one or two people with mild depression and think psychiatry is a scam?

Some of it has to do with plain old ignorance. That’s why I feel like I can’t sit still when I hear evidence of it – even when it’s just a throw away comment in passing.

And yet, that’s exactly what I did. I sat still. I let the comment go.

I wish I hadn’t. I’ve rationalized it since. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference. I would have sounded like one more fanatic from the fringe. Bringing up my personal experience would only prove my inability to be impartial.

Look ma! More bullshit.

Living hungry in the land of plenty

I work with people of meager means, but you don’t have to work with the poor to know this is a particularly harsh time. Maybe you already know recessions are doubly hard on the poor. Maybe you already know social services are cut back at the moment when they’re needed most. Maybe you even saw a column in the NYT the other day which describes the problem better than I ever could.

Maybe we’re cut from different political cloth and you find political solutions distasteful, but you’d like to do something.

This might be a good start. Or this. Some folks found some of their recent campaigns controversial, but maybe this would be a good start too.

McCain and Spain

So take your pick. Either McCain isn’t as smart on foreign policy as he’d like you to think, he really is getting old, or he makes rash, dare I say reckless, decisions. Either way you slice it, he’s dangerous.

Maybe you’re thinking, “hey, it’s no biggie… who care’s if we piss off Spain.” Maybe you think our reputation in the world is just fine, thank you very much. Maybe you’re a fool too.

Damn, that’s probably not going to convince a lot of people, is it… calling people names? Sorry. I really needed to blow off some steam.