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Archive for Life

July 4, 2017 — A declaration

This morning, me and millions of others will pause for nine minutes to hear National Public Radio’s recitation of the Declaration of Independence.

As should you.

June 13, 2017 — A telcom change

A couple of weeks ago, this site took delivery on a new mobile phone. It’s an outstanding and outsized piece of technlogy called an iPhone 6 Plus.

This new large iPhone is allowing me to change a couple of things. You see, ever since starting my newspaper reporting career in the winter of 1987, I’ve made it a habit of carrying a reporter’s notebook and pen on my person at all times. A few years later, I figured out what kind of large travel wallets I could use to carry a reporter’s notebook and a thin pen along with cards and money.

But as I started using the mobile phone as a reporting tool, I would keep the notebook/wallet separate from the phone, but would pack a very thin ink pen with a magnetic stylus on the end in the phone case.

The week before activating the new phone was an opportunity to look out for a new phone case for this large behemoth of a phone. Oddly enough, aside from a plain back case and a tempered-glass shield, I found that I didn’t have to rely on a special case made only for this model.

Instead, what I’m using is a wallet that I got from a second-hand store for $1.97. There are special slots for cards, bills, change, the phone, and even a pen with a magnetic stylus on one end.

At the same time, I also took the opportunity to change cell phone providers. My family and I have been loyal to AT&T even after the telecom breakup of the 1980s. But when AT&T raised its price on unlimited data for the third time, I decided to shop around for another provider.

As you can see from the list of this site’s suppliers in the third column to the right, we’ve changed to a company called MintSIM. We’ll see how well this partnership works over the next year.

As for the phone itself: it has a lot of gewgaws and features I’ll likely never use, but it will, as usual, serve as a great reporting tool. I’m expecting WordPress to work a lot better on the larger screen.

May 6, 2017 — It’s not just “young and healthy” vs. “older and sicker”

The debate over the nature and delivery of health care in the United States over the last 25 years has centered on two different kinds of people buying into the health care exchange systems: younger (and presumably healthier) Americans, and older (and presumably sicker) seniors.

Only it’s not that simple. This week, an acquaintance of mine in the journalism field died at the age of 25. She had a lingering illness which required some very expensive steroid treatments that altered her appearance.

Three decades ago, a co-worker, barely older than me, had to undergo cancer treatment. As our company did not offer health insurance for its part-time workers, he had to go into debt in order to survive. Regrettably, he died with a half-million dollars in debt.

Last week, a friend of mine from the dance world started getting IV treatments for arthritis. She’s barely 22 years of age. Fortunately, she works for a Federal agency, which has a level of health care somewhat better than what is offered for the average American worker.

These three people are examples of people who do not fit the dichotomy that the defenders of health care bills would have you believe.

Instead, there are two ways that you have to think about health care. One is the loss-prevention model, and the other, the pools-of-money model.

Health care is very much a battle over money, rather than the goal of good health for everyone. Think about the enormous sums of money involved: hospital corporations, big pharma, insurance companies, and malpractice insurance lawyers.

They are enriching themselves at the expense of the very people they are supposed to help. How do we know? Overall, the U.S. health care system ranks in the mid-30s when it comes to quality.

But this is where the loss-prevention model should kick in. Two of the biggest expenses in health care are (1) the last six months of life; and (2) waste, fraud, and abuse.

For true health care reform, there are going to have to be enormous questions answered. Is the health care system ready for more hospice and palliative care rather than using extreme measures to keep patients alive? Is America ready to police the delivery of health care so that fly-by-night companies offering free scooters and knee braces can be investigated?

Ultimately, it will also come to a decision as to whether we, as a society, expect that health care isn’t something Wall Street is allowed to make money from.

You’re already hearing a number of pundits, even from the Cato Institute, speaking of health care as if it is a right.

The conversation, it seems, is changing.

 

 

May 1, 2017 — Illustrative of a philosophy

If you were on the site early this morning, around 6:30 a.m., you might have noticed something a little strange with the header at the top.

A few minutes after one version of the header went up, another would be uploaded, all depending on how much white space there was around the illustration on the right or how much of the illustration bled over into the column to its left.

Following on from the time about five years ago when we used differently-colored illustrations of our logo, we’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with the logo. You’ll have noticed, for example, that the “TopOfTheCircle” logo has actually appeared within a circle of some kind the last few months.

A lot of this is to keep the concept fresh after 20 years, but it is also to experiment with many of the fine free photo applications that are available for your mobile phone. I have a couple of favorites, one of which I have used to make the opening and closing credits for “Inside The Circle,” our long-form interview show.

Yep, a mobile phone app.

Yesterday, I got to making a handful more logo treatments starting with some clean photos of the logo printed on nine different sheets of colored paper. More of this to come.

Apr. 3, 2017 — Closing a chapter

Today, I processed a form called a 1099-S.

It’s a form to file taxes that covers proceeds from real estate transactions.

With a quick scan of the criteria proffered by the software program I use to file, it was decided that the information on the form did not have to be entered because of the lack of a capital gain and the modest proceeds — far from being in the Trump clan’s income bracket.

And then, one click in a bubble was all it took to close this chapter of our family’s history.

The sale of the house had actually closed last September. Family had long since taken the goods they wanted — a soup tureen, stemware, chairs, books, pictures.

Our parents left behind, to put it mildly, a lot of possessions. I remember that, in our move from Mississippi to New Jersey in mid-1976, that we packed exactly 176 paper boxes aboard that Red Ball moving truck.

Some of the odd tchochkes are now in other hands, which is, frankly, for the best. People move around a lot more than they used to, change jobs with the ease of changing clothes, and, with longer commutes, spend a lot less time at home than previous generations.

I think we’re less sentimental of a people than we used to be. Fewer of us keep that one item from our childhood that encapsulates our sense of self. For my father, it was a hand-written bus ticket from 1937 that was the first time he left home to go to school across the island of Puerto Rico from his home town of Ponce. It was a trip across mountains that took the better part of the day, rather than what you can do today, which is take Interstate PR-2 just 71 miles to the capital.

Today, processing tax returns has also become remarkably speedy. Instead of mailing out separate forms to receive checks in the mail in about two weeks, the average person can e-File in just minutes and receive an electronic payment in a few days.

It is remarkable that, given what I thought was going to be my most complicated return, it took me less than 40 minutes to complete.

“Is that all?” I thought on a number of occasions. “This can’t be that easy.”

 

Yep. It’s a bit too easy to close a 39-year chapter of our family history.

Mar. 20, 2017 — Jimmy Breslin, 1928-2017

In the gradual shift from typewriters and lead linotype machines to white film optics to computer layouts, the curmudgeon has been part and parcel of the newspaper business. Usually a growling, gray-haired male with a cigar stub in his mouth or within easy reach of while typing, the aging newspaper columnists of a golden age would take a riff on popular culture, politics, and the news of the day, offering opinion and insight.

Today, this is most often done in debate-style shows on cable news networks.

But Jimmy Breslin is likely to be the last of his kind: a writer who linked daily events to the reader through a common touch. He wrote about the sorrow of the Kennedy assassination through the eyes of a gravedigger making $3 an hour in Virginia.

He was also the kind of tabloid writer who would inject himself into a story. Such was his role in the Son of Sam murders, when a raging lunatic named David Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven others in a deadly game of cat and mouse that alternately fascinated and terrorized the city.

Breslin published one of Berkowitz’s taunting messages, then wrote a column asking him to turn himself in. Kind of reminds you of the big-city journalists that would serve as a conduit to the police, offering a safe space to surrender, but the stakes were much, much higher in mid-70s New York.

This was a city which went all but bankrupt in 1975, saw many of its minority neighborhoods crumble and burn in rioting and unrest after a 1976 blackout, and saw its police department fall under a cloud of corruption, leading to a poor quality of life for the average citizen.

And it was a life, a vibe, on which Breslin thrived.

And given the gentrification of big-city America these days, his like is unlikely to be seen again.

Mar. 19, 2017 — Chuck Berry, 1926-2017

Several times a year, your Founder helps organize the volunteers to put on dance events at a national park near the nation’s capital.

At least once a year, the main attraction is a boogie-woogie pianist whose name is Daryl Davis. He also had a unique insight into the life of music legend Chuck Berry, who died yesterday. Davis was one of Berry’s sidemen during some of his most troubled times, when he was dealing with the effects of alcohol and drugs.

As such, Davis had gotten to learn several of Berry’s guitar licks — and learned them very well, to the point where if Berry couldn’t complete the show, Davis would pick up a Gibson guitar and go right on playing.

While you might get to know the rock-n-roll legend through his variety of songs, I got to know Berry through Davis and his storytelling, which is captured brilliantly in this story. Have at it.

And make sure sometime soon, you take a ride in your automobile, cruise and play something on the radio, with no particular place to go.