Off to Cayo Hueso

 

Sunsets with entertainment, live music, literary history, pirates, roosters, pie, drag queens, Cuba – what’s the common thread running through all of these things? If you don’t know then you’ve never had the fun of visiting the southernmost point in the United States, located in Key West, Florida. IMG_3429 (1)Settled in the early 1800’s and valued at one time for it’s position on the shipping lane known as the Straights of Florida and as a stronghold during the Civil War, Key West, originally known as Cayo Hueso, is rich in history and culture and is incredibly popular as a tourist destination, particularly in the winter. The island is probably the only place in the US that has somewhat lightheartedly declared itself an independent nation and that has it’s own passport, calling itself the “Conch Republic” (the story is too long for this post, but here is a link). It’s only 90 miles from Cuba, the many refugee boat trips over the years described lightheartedly by Jimmy Buffet in his lyrics to “Everybody’s Got a Cousin in Miami”

It was ninety miles to freedom but they took the risk

Though the ocean was all motion and the wind was brisk

The deadly gunboats never saw them in the pale moonlight

They were off to Cayo Hueso by the dawns early light

The gringo in the garden called the customs man

They answered all his questions, were allowed to land

The ladies shared a hairbrush and their husbands had a coke

Then they were taken up to Krome to meet with their kin folk

In spite of the fact that my fellow Jimmy Buffet friends and I consider Key West our mental mecca, I’ve actually only visited once about 20 years ago on a girls’ trip before I was married, when 4 of us planned a trip inadvertently during Fantasy Fest. Think of this as Key West’s version of Mardi Gras, where virtually anything goes – and I do mean anything! How does one do this inadvertently? Well, you begin by purchasing airline tickets first, THEN reserving your hotel room…or trying to. This was back in the day when I barely had e-mail, and we had no idea Fantasy Fest was planned until we tried to get a hotel room and all we could get was the last suite in Key West (at three times the price!) Anyway, I always wanted to go back and just never did, until last week. Yep, it took me 17 years, but I finally talked my husband into going. And while we had a great time, it wasn’t the same Key West that I remembered.

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The Mallory Square mermaid

We did some of the  ‘must do’ touristy things like  watching the sunset at Mallory Square, seeing Ernest Hemingway’s home, and going to have your photo taken at the southernmost point marker. I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mallory Square, but it sure was fun people watching, and I think the entertainers were as much fun as the tourists! There was a crazy Frenchman with his flying stunt cats, and watching his odd little show as he hollered at the cats’ butts and the tourists with an accent as think as peanut butter was simultaneously creepy and hilarious. Jugglers with fire sticks, accordion players, a guitar playing mermaid, acrobats and all kinds of other stuff was happening all along the waterfront. Just keep walking back and forth. Mike and I just kept looking at each other feeling a little like we’d fallen through the looking glass.  I really can’t make this crap up, Google it. Especially Dominique and his flying cats.

One of the things we did, that almost didn’t turn out well, was an evening sunset sailing cruise. (Note to self, next time check the forecast first.) I love sailing, and have been on 4 Windjammer sailing cruises in the Caribbean (think of 3 and 4 masted pirate ships, and you have the right idea!)

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Me, being Jolly Rover crew

We decided to go for a sail on the Jolly Rover, a 2 masted boat, and with a crew of 3. The guy who sold us our tickets used to sail with Windjammer, so it was fun comparing notes with him. The first part of the cruise was fine, and as we set sail they asked if anyone wanted to help raise the sails. Of course my hand was the first (and only!) one up in the air. I helped haul up the sheets which you see in the picture on the left (pull the rigging on the sails for you landlubbers) which I’ve done on other sailing trips, and think is fun, and off we went – sort of. Unfortunately there wasn’t much wind so while the sails filled, we moved awfully slowly. That’s ok though, I mean come on, I’m on the ocean, it’s warm, I’m on a boat, who cares?

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Mike and I at the helm of the Jolly Rover

We took some photos at the helm (beware of sailing hair!), then our captain checked the radar and noticed that there was a squall line coming in and there were wind warnings issued. Interestingly it still wasn’t particularly windy, but time to get the sails down and get back to harbor, fast. Out of nowhere, it seemed, the clouds came in, and we barely made it just outside the harbor when the winds picked up, and essentially blew us the last couple hundred yards back into the slip. We hustled off the boat and into shelter. Got a little rain for maybe 30 min, and then it was over as quick as it started. But it sure was a bummer to ruin the sail and the sunset!

As a writer, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to go over to Hemingway House and see how dear old Ernie lived on Key West for 8 years while he did some of his best writing. There are still  descendants of his infamous 6-toed cats and the penny his 2nd wife embedded in the concrete by the swimming pool (look up the story about how she got his last cent).

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Hemingway’s writing room

Just for the record, I loved his writing room that overlooked the pool, and I want a sanctuary just like it. Imagine a room to dream, loose yourself in like that, be at your most creative. Sigh. I might have to redo my craft room. (I think I just sensed my husband cringing.)

The thing that surprised us the most was probably the age of the people we saw. During the daytime there were people of all ages but the highest percentage were over 65, which neither of us expected. Because the bars are open until 4 am, we figure most of the younger ‘kids’ were sleeping it off during the daytime, then as sunset drew closer most of the over 65 crowd disappeared and the younger people showed up, filling the bars on Duvall, all of which have their doors open to the street, and many also have windows that are open as well, or have musicians outside on a patio, so no matter where you are you can hear music. Walking back to our hotel after dark was an interesting experience, too. We had to walk past a couple of clubs with drag queens, who would station themselves outside to try to get people to come in and watch the show. So as we would approach, we would hear “Hi there honey, how are you?” or “Hi, having fun tonight?” They were perfectly nice and polite, and the easiest thing to do was to greet them back nicely, and just say “yes”. If they asked if we wanted to come in and see the show, I just smiled and gently said “no thanks” and kept going. It’s really not fair, that they look better in a dress and makeup than I do though.

It was fantastic to get away though, from 35 degrees in Minnesota, to 80 degrees in Key West, even if the ocean water was colder than I would like. I suppose if I were laying on the beach and getting all toasty, the chilly water would feel great, but I’m not much of a sun goddess, so dipping my toes in the water it felt pretty chilly to me, but heck, it was still the ocean, which I love and miss!! I can’t wait to go back and hope I don’t wait so long for the next trip to see it.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Key Lime Pie?

Dream a Little Dream

Slowly they enter, in pairs, by fours, sometimes one, then a group to big to count, young and old. They find their seats; the anticipation palpable, if the low hum of constant voices is anything to go by. Scattered around the theater, I can spot some children in costume – a Belle here, a Gaston there. The scent of popcorn fills the air and soon all the seats are filled. The pre-movie scenes are showing on the screen and the lights dim slightly accompanied by a noticeable decrease in the sounds of talking. Then suddenly, the screen goes dark for a moment, and a voice comes over the loudspeaker.32164704480_194c0e2348_b

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to our theater. We hope you will enjoy tonight’s showing of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in 3D. As you exit the theater, please drop your glasses in the boxes at the doors. Now before we begin our showing, we have a special surprise. As some of you may have heard, cast members have been traveling around the country making surprise drop in appearances at different theaters, and we are thrilled that Josh Gad and Dan Stevens are here tonight with us! Please give them a warm welcome!”

And the place goes nuts. (Who am I kidding, me too. Just a little.)  They come in and walk right toward us, and stop to shake our hands and say hello  (because we chose to sit in the row where everyone walks past between tiers) and my husband takes a picture of me standing between them before they continue on toward the front of the theater and…Hey, it’s my fantasy, I get to direct it any way I damn well please.

Seriously though, we really are going to see ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tomorrow night, and is it just a little silly I’m this excited? I mean, I never even saw the Disney original until last week for Pete’s sake. Yeah, I know, that’s pitiful, right? But since I don’t have kids, it sort of slipped off my radar and I just never watched it. Oh I knew the basic story and all, and most of the songs, but just never saw the whole movie. Now, however, with the new movie coming up, I decided I really needed to see it so I knew what the original was. Gawd, I’m such a softie too, sniffle, sniffle, I admit I shed a tear. I’ll probably bawl watching live action. And let’s face it, I’ll watch almost anything with Dan Stevens. (By the way, if you haven’t watched Legion on FX, you’re missing an insane, unreal, amazing, fantastic, incredible show.)  And what percent of us watched Emma Watson grow up as Hermione Granger? Come on, admit it, you’re dying to see her in a more grown up role, aren’t you. No Harry, Ron or Snape, just her.

So some of the cast members really have been doing drop in surprise visits this week at theaters around the country. Of course, with the thousands of theaters that the movie opened at this week, statistically speaking I’m smart enough and realistic enough to know it’s highly unlikely they’ll be coming to our theater. But you know, can you imagine if they did? Holy smokes, wouldn’t that be crazy! I’d say my life was pretty well complete, having seen Cary Elwes live before a showing of ‘The Princess Bride’ on the big screen, and then some of the cast members before seeing ‘Beauty and the Beast’. (Just remember, it’s easier to be happy when you set the bar lower.)

I’ll keep you posted on the outcome, and let you know if it really happens. After all, a girl can dream.

Saturday night, the update, as promised. It breaks my heart to tell you this ;), alas, no real life sightings of Gaston, Le Fou or the Beast, but the movie was wonderful. I thought it was a great experience to see it in 3D, and everything about it was well done. There are a number of laugh out loud events, the songs are well performed by the actors, and it’s visually rich. I can’t wait until it’s out on Blu-ray so we can have a copy at home.

Spring’s a Coming

Wind chills of 30 below zero, snow drifts higher than the top of the car in the winter, followed by springs so short they barely exist and then summer with it’s heat, humidity and blood sucking mosquitos – yep, you need to be especially brave and hardy to live in Minnesota all your life. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The reality is much less flattering, but there’s no need to go there just yet. Instead, today I’m feeling a little like a certain well-known storyteller that you may have listened to on public radio, who tells tales of his fictional hometown.

We’re starting to awaken from what feels like a strange winter in my hometown of Minneapolis. This year we’ve seen elements of the worst of what winter has to offer us, none of which lasted for more than a day or two, and all of which were spread out just enough to ensure very limited time outside because it was either too cold, too windy, too wet, too icy, too something to enjoy being outside in winter. Please don’t misunderstand, I much prefer sun, sand and 80 degrees, but realistically if we live here, we do have to peacefully co-exist with winter and spend some time outdoors in it, so we learn how to dress for the weather. Boots to -20 or so, heavily insulated parkas, down mittens, fleece hats and scarves, and we follow it up with a hot beverage or two. (Some of us might even have a hot adult beverage or two, but that’s a story for a different day.) That all assumes, however, that whatever layer you’ve donned is enough to protect you from the onslaught of the elements of the moment. Reallistically, there is nothing that protects you well when wind chills are in the dangerous range and then just when that stops, it starts to rain. As the day ends the temperature drops and the rain turns to ice and now everything has a lovely coating of thin ice for a few days. After that melts, the temperature drops again to well below zero. And around and around we went. All flippin winter.

But the other day it was different as Mother Nature messed with us in her own slightly twisted way. Winds shifted from North to South and became almost gently and balmy. The sun made an appearance and was high enough in the sky that it could produce warmth when it touched your skin, which we Minnesotans were brave enough to show since the ambient air temperature was in the 50s. The 50s!  Folks in California pull out parkas and Ugg boots at 61 degrees, or so I’m told, but here we put on T-shirts and shorts and even a few sandals, although since many of us don’t do maintenance pedicures over the winter, our toes don’t have cute polish on and heaven forbid we show our bare toes without adornment. But I digress.

My mornings are special for me, my husband is still asleep, my furry four-legged children haven’t started chattering for the day and the world hasn’t woken up and begun to annoy me. I drink coffee, read the news and try to not get depressed at the general state of things out there. But this one day, as I sat here I suddenly became aware of something different around me. A sound I hadn’t heard for so long that I nearly didn’t recorgnize it, and I had to consciously pause for a moment and think about it. It was the birds chirping outside! For the first time in months, the birds were back and doing their spring thing. Suddenly, all the crap in politics, health care reform, wiretapping, none of it mattered. Spring was on it’s way to Minnesota.

When that happens, there is a noticeable difference in attitudes among residents here. A new spring in our steps is felt, smiles appear on our faces, we start looking strangers in the eyes again and saying hello after a long winter of being bundled up and looking down at the ground. That’s not rudeness by the way, it’s just our way of reducing the number of passages for cold air to enter under our coats – chin down to block the neck opening in case you either didn’t wear a scarf, or in case your scarf doesn’t quite cut the mustard. But hearing the birds as they are singing their little hearts out? Ah, who cares about a little cool air, we can deal with that, spring is on the way! IMG_1404 - Version 3There are chickadees, goldfinches,  and robins, oh my! (OK, we have the chickadees and goldfinches all year long, but they don’t sing a whole lot in winter, and the goldfinches turn a kind of weird shade of chartreuse. When they start looking bright yellow again, that’s another harbinger of spring.)

Of course, just as we allowed our collective emotions to get excited and think winter might be over with, just that fast she turned on us and walloped us with a reminder that it ain’t over til it’s over and “here’s 4 more inches of snow and minus 3 degrees (Farenheit, for those of you in Celcius world) for a temperature” as a reminder to not got too big for our collective britches. Oh well, I hadn’t worn my new boots yet anyway.

Crossing the Great Divide

Look around next time you’re running errands, or when you next read the headlines,  pay extra close attention and you’ll probably be surprised to find an overabundance of labels. Oh I don’t mean sticky labels, or post it notes although it might be better if I did, as those could be removed. I’m talking about the kind that are written with the virtual sharpie, and create invisible divisions. Women’s issues…healthcare issues…education issues…human rights issues…gender equality issues…LGBTQ issues…pay gap issues…human trafficking issues…abuse issues. Each of these has the ability to conjure up a picture of someone in distress in our minds, producing a familiar clench in our collective bellies.

Throughout the election cycle and now into the governing cycle we’ve been inundated with stories that cross the partisan divide, educating our nation on how these great groups of electors will solve each of these problems. They’ll fight the war on hunger, on healthcare and health insurance, on education, on trade, on pay, on this, that and the other. It’s the same story told over and over and over again, and nothing really ever changes. The only thing that’s any different now than 50 or even 100 years ago, is that by virtue of the internet and social media, the megaphone has gotten larger and louder. But are the stories really any different? Or are we just more aware of them because they are now able to be placed in front of us constantly? Isn’t it time to ask ourselves, why nothing ever changes? Why is it that when the politicians get to Washington, they spend all their time playing political tug of war? Did we elect them to do that, or is there something else happening?

In theory we’ve elected these individuals that are, in theorysupposedly bright, yet they faithfully embody Enstein’s Theory of Insanity over and over again, year after year, election cycle after election cycle. (Well, not so much a theory, really. He said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.) As a child, I learn very quickly if I put my hand on a hot stove, I get burned and I don’t do it again. So why do our politicians insist on fighting the identical fights year after year? Two possibilities exist. One, they aren’t bright enough to figure it out (in which case they should never have been re-elected) and two, they’re all crazy like a fox and know that if they actually solved the issues, they’d have no jobs to come back to. If we go with that first possibility, and we ARE re-electing them repeatedly, well then the problems really are our own damn faults, aren’t they, and we’re the ones living up to Einstein’s definition of insanity.  Which leaves the second option, they’re all crazy like a fox.

There is a central theme in a solution however, for all of the issues that the politicians  – whether they are local or national – are tasked to solve. Remove the labels – all of them. Not just from the issues themselves, but from the individuals trying to solve the problems too. No more making this about a man issue or a woman issue, or a Democrat or Republican. It’s not about you-me-us-them. It needs to start being about doing the right thing for people. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those last 4 words really are key. It needs to stop being about imposing our beliefs on others, but stopping and thinking about what that really means. How will you feel when someone else forces you to have THEIR beliefs imposed on you against your will? Just because they could? When you begin to think about things with that mindset, suddenly some of the decisions take on new meaning. What might reactions be if someone’s children can’t attend a charter school because a)they already filled their quota for children of minorities  or the poor or b) haven’t filled their quota for children of minorities or the poor so can’t take any more affluent children now even if you CAN donate $1 million to us, so now the Betsy DeVos’s of the world have to send their children to public school whether they like it or not. Or what if our lowest income families that can’t afford healthcare, no longer can get free contraception because of the defunding of planned parenthood, and suddenly we see an increase in birthrates in that demographic? If you’re one of those congressmen or women that have insisted on repeal and replace the ACA, before you continue down this path just stop for a moment and imagine you’re not a congressman/woman but an average hourly wage worker, your spouse can’t work, you live in an apartment and drive a beat up car. Close your eyes and picture it, life is tough, you can’t afford much for new clothes, let alone dining out, and the ACA is the only insurance you can get. Are you still so eager to push thru the plan you propose under those same conditions? What about if you’re a new single mom? Will there be an increase in funding for WIC? For Medicaid? For the stresses imposed on those families? (And to Matt Garza, here’s a newsflash: married couples shouldn’t be forced to practice abstinence just to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.) Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that the ACA doesn’t need fixing, it does. But honestly, ask anyone who has ever worked in a large organization with something like this, is it easier to start over, or incrementally fix, and they’ll probably tell you to incrementally fix it so you don’t make a bigger mess of it.

The issues facing us are people issues. It’s that simple. And until politicians can learn to leave their titles at the door, get off their asses and away from Capitol Hill, really learn how real people live and the real pressures they face, and finally learn to leave the partisan bickering outside the room when they meet, they’ll never figure it out. Or, to paraphrase Donald Ogden Steward and Philip Barry who wrote The Philadelphia Story, “You’ll never be a first class politician until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.”

Customer Dis-Service

Most of the time folks who are out on the front line of customer service do a wonderful job. Their work is mostly thankless, and they really are the unsung heros out there, dealing with crabby customers, screaming kids, rude people, the winkers and grabbers, you name it, it’s probably happened. But every once in a while I just run across one that makes me see red.

We had stopped in the CVS near our house to pick up a prescription, and on the way out after paying for that, I saw something I decided to get as an impulse item. I brought it to the counter, and decided I didn’t feel like paying for this item with my credit card so I was going to pay with Apple Pay, as I could see the symbol on their card reader that indicates they have payment through Near Field Communications. I pull out my iPhone, put my finger on the home button and it registered the transaction with a check mark and a buzz on my phone. Just then I hear the teenager behind the counter. “Ahem. That doesn’t work. Those aren’t set up to work”. I look up and this kid is indicating that I can’t use my iPhone and Apply Pay. When I said quizzically, “but it buzzed like it registered the tranaction” he said “yes, but it won’t send it to our register, so it won’t count as a sale.” I asked if they were going to get that updated so it worked, and he said “well, I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so.” he paused briefly, then said “but it works with the Samsung phone”.

I kid you not.

Say what? It was all I could do not to fly over the counter to choke the snot out of him right then and there. Have you ever seen the movie True Lies?  There is a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger as Harry is test driving a Corvette with a car salesman/con man named Simon played by Bill Paxton. As Harry is driving, Simon is going on and on about a supposed con job he is pulling off with a woman, who is Harry’s wife. Harry has this mental movie of punching him in the face while he’s driving, hitting him so hard his nose bleeds and Simon is knocked out cold. I had a mental movie too, coming over the counter and grabbing the kid by the shirt, screaming “Does this look like a Samsung phone? Did I even ask about a Samsung phone? Arrggghhhh!”, all of which happened in my mind in a millisecond. What really happened was me choking out “Well that doesn’t do me a whole lot of good now, does it?” all the while doing my level best to inject the appropriate amount of sarcasm for the occasion, knowing full well that my razor sharp wit was no match for his lack thereof. Futility, thy name is wasted zingers.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this happen to me either. A couple of years ago, I was at Best Buy, a big box retailer for stereo and other home goods. I’d gone there to get an amplified FM antenna for our stereo. I asked the first person I could find – who seemed to be working in the stereo department, incidentally – he had no clue what this was. So I explained it to him, thinking perhaps it might be known by another name, and a description would help. (“Well, you know the blue things that squeak and serve no valuable purpose except to make a dog nuts?” “Oh of course, we sell doohickeys.”) So I explained it and said “it allows you to get better FM reception when you have trouble, say with a stereo in the basement.” After a second he shook his head and then said this: “No, but we have an open box reciever I can sell you.” Huh? WTH.  Did I ask for a receiver? Did I, in any way, suggest I was here to buy one because mine was broken?  That one I literally said to the guy, “I don’t need a reciever. That’s not why I came in here. Is there someone else that can help me?” He found a young woman, and I repeated my question to her. She also didn’t know what it was, but at least helpfully led me to where it might be. Together we looked around the items hanging on the display wall, and then I spotted it. When I showed it to her, she said “Oh that’s what that is? I always wondered.”  I started instantly chewing on my tongue to keep myself from saying my first thought out loud, which was, “Really? Then why didn’t you look it up?” But since I was already skeeved at the first guy, I figured silence would keep them from throwing me out of the store.

I sometimes feel like I’m the only curious person left in the world. I like learning, knowledge and information. Not so much that I want to go back to school again, been there, done that and have my advanced degree, thank you very much! No, I’m talking about random stuff that you never know when you’ll need it, like knowing about presidential line of succession, or did a small private plane really crash in a Minneapolis suburb in 1973, or why am I getting an error message on my camera with a particular lens, or what’s the history of Bikini Atoll? screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-4-46-03-pmAnd how about  knowing how to fix things? There is very little in my house that I won’t try to repair, just ask my husband. I’ll install lights and new outlets, fix plumbing (although I don’t like it much), can handle an impact wrench with confidence, and wield a mean caulking gun. Most of what I know how to do, I’ve learned from my home repair books (for you kids, that’s what we used before the internet!) or by looking it up on Google and YouTube. I hate paying someone to do what I can figure out myself. I mean, why the devil should I pay an electrician $150 to install a new light fixture, when I can do that in 20  min?  Full on disclaimer inserted here: don’t take this as instructions, but it’s really not much more than “Turn off the breaker, then white to white, black to black, ground to ground. ” (If you did take what I just said as instructions, and anything bad happened, I hereby declare I told you not to take it as instructions, and it’s your problem, not mine. If I checked with my lawyer, I’m pretty sure she’d make me say that.) But I have to say I continue to be amazed at the people in my life who aren’t the least bit curious about anything. It’s not that they don’t have the ability to find the information, every single one of them owns a smart phone and can look anything up at any time. They just don’t, but instead sail blissfully through life, uncurious and unquestioning. I’m not even talking about the ones who are so buy with 2.6 children, they get a small amount of Papal dispensation. I’m talking about the rest of them that have the time and still aren’t curious. That’s so far outside of my level of comprehension.

Perhaps I’m the anomaly. I can accept that, if that’s the case, but I’ll warn you, I’m not likely to change. Oh it’s not because I’m too old to do so, but it’s because I like me like this. It’s fun! My husband and I find out the coolest stuff. Yes, there really was a private plane crash in Richfield in 1973, along with a B-52 that crashed in Inver Grove Heights in 1958, among others. I did figure out what was wrong with the camera and fixed it. Bikini Atoll? Well, there is a ton of information on the internet, and you can get a soul jarring documentary from Netflix called Radio Bikini and if it does it’s job correctly it will both break your heart and scare you to death.

And I still don’t much like plumbing.

Hail, Oceania!

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.”

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

Do those quotes resonate? Do they make you uncomfortable? How about queasy, uneasy, want to look away, or fearful? Do you feel as if you’ve heard them before? You should. George Orwell wrote them in 1948 when he published his now famous novel “1984”, about the dystopian Oceania, a superstate in perpetual war. It’s most famous words are, of course, “Big brother is watching you”, but did any of us ever dream that we would actually live in a world where we would actually start to see this fastasy become our dark, twisted reality?

We’ve already seen the start of impingement on the fourth estate. Threats to who is allowed in the White House press room, press conferences are becoming less Q&A sessions and transitioning to briefing sessions with reduced opportunities for the press to ask questions and challenge inconsistencies, tweets about climate change removed from national park websites with the fllimsiest of excuses. The accusations of “fake news!” were heard recently when our new President would not accept being challenged, in stark contrast to his predecessor who said “it’s your job as the press to challenge me. I may not like it, but it’s your job and it makes me better as a person and as your president.” Now if a member of the media dares to challenge the status quo, they’re belittled, pointed at, scolded like a child,  and told they’re being rude, knowing all the while the press room is filled not only with fellow members of the press, but also with something called a “claque”.  From The Washington Post:

“In the description of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, a claque is: an organized body of professional applauders in the French theatres. The hiring of persons to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times”

So President Trump has apparently arranged to bring along a group of individuals, whose job it is to start the cheering and the clapping. And of course if you’re in that room, when others are cheering and clapping, you’ll probably do so as well, because after all you don’t want to end up being the only one who isn’t, right?  Now the President has slammed a reporter and told him he’s nothing and reporting fake news, and the claque begins the clapping making it sound like they approve. How much longer before the only press that is left is the government controlled press? And the only information we recieve is that which we are given when the government wants to give it to us, selecting what limited information they want us to know?

This week we were introduced to alternative facts. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll hear that thrown out now every time we have the audicity to to question what we see, or make a statement about something. What happens when Congress votes on a bill, and it doesn’t go the way President Trump wants? Will he present the results as alternative facts and say that there were other votes we didn’t know about, or count, or should discount for this or that reason?

Let’s call an alternative fact what it is. It’s a lie. I’m not attaching malice or intent to the word, but it is a lie. What scares me, and what should scare each and everyone one of you,  is what happens when the impact of the lies moves further out? When it’s not about how many people attended the inauguration, but when he gets into a war of words with North Korea’s leader and tensions start to escalate? What about if his words seem like he will start to make moves in some of the countries that we’ve sworn to protect in Europe and the Middle East? Countries where there is oil, and where he now says we should have just taken it? Folks in these countries are a mite twitchy about this, and aren’t likely to just let us take their precious resources. (If you want to learn more about this, especially if you have family members in the military, please watch this video from The Rachel Maddow show. She does a fantastic job explaining this and why this is a terrifying scenario.)

Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible, without any respect for human rights.

Remember the old saying “when the shoe fits”? Well, get used to that word folks. It’s feeling suspiciously like a shoe that might fit, and I’m starting to think we haven’t heard the last of it. Before too long, maybe this really will be our world:

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The Three R’s

Repeal…Replace…Reform…

Not the usual three words we’ve come to think of when we hear the phrase “the three R’s, but new “R” words in the news lately about Obamacare. (Yes, I know I said once I objected to the term ‘Americans’, but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.) There is so much information that is hitting the media these days, much of it rather confusing and mystifying so I thought I’d take a stab at peeling back the proverbial curtain so you can see the little man behind it. Full disclosure: While I don’t  bill myself as an expert, I have worked in the healthcare for 40 years, the last 17 of it in insurance, which does make me more informed than the average bear.

What’s the difference between “The Affordable Care Act” and “Obamacare”? The simple answer, none. If you thought there was, you’re mistaken. You can’t repeal Obamacare and have the Affordable Care Act left to fall back on. If you get rid of Obamacare, you’ve gotten rid of the ACA. It really is that simple.

If they repeal Obamacare, what will I have for insurance? Assuming you applied for Obamacare because you didn’t qualify for something through an employer, or for Medicaid, Medicare or some other state based plan, probably nothing. That’s why repealing without something in place and ready to go is a problem. 

But they say that there will be access for everyone, right? So that’s good. Not so fast. There is a big difference between access and coverage. Access isn’t the same as actually having the insurance. I have access to any doctor or hospital I want to, if I can pay for it. What if I can’t pay for it? As Bernie Sanders said, “I have access to buying a $10 million home. But if I don’t have $10 million, then I can’t actually buy that home.”  So don’t be fooled when you hear the word access. It isn’t equal to insured, even though there are those that want you to think it is.

My premiums on Obamacare went up, it’s a failure. What a mess. So here is how that works. Insurance is all about risk. The bigger the risk pool, the more spread out the risk is. But it takes time for the pool to grow and get spread out, and you need to have both healthy AND sick people in the pool so that the risk is spread across everyone. In the first years of Obamacare, the most likely enrollees are the sickest, so there are likely to be more people seeing doctors and going to the hospital. That’s going to make premiums go up at first, then they’ll stabilize as other folks who aren’t as sick sign up. But you need to give it time. And have you checked out the cost of your care WITHOUT insurance? Here are some facts:

Average costs without insurance  

Emergency Room Visit $ 1,200.00
Uncomplicated Delivery $ 3300-37,000
Cesarean Section $ 8300-71,000
Daily inpatient rates in hospitals $ 1700-2300
Daily inpatient ICU rates in hospitals $ 4,000.00

So yep, go ahead and crab about how much it costs. Don’t come crying to me after you get the bill from your stay for that heart attack/car accident/fourth baby/slip on the ice and broke your leg in three places. Shit happens in life. That’s why we have insurance. 

So I heard with this new program, the premiums will be paid for with Health Savings Accounts instead of subsidies. Isn’t letting people set money aside pre-taxes better than giving them an after tax reduction? Well, I guess that depends on how you look at it. Sure the Health Savings Accounts can be a good thing, and a way to help reduce your tax burden, however it assumes a critical point: That you have enough disposable income after you pay your rent, bills, and buy food that you can afford to have your take home pay reduced. Because let’s face it, even though it’s set aside pre-tax, it will still reduce your take home pay. Maybe not in a 1:1 amount, but it will reduce it. So…this new plan takes away the subsidies from the people who needed it the most, and forces them to have a plan that can only be purchased if they have a Health Savings Account. Take the fictional Johnson family from Minneapolis. Tony and Sara make $34,000 a year, and have 2 children. Sara worked but found that all of her income was going to child care, so it wasn’t worth it and she quit to take care of their children. Tony works for a small company that doesn’t offer healthcare. Under Obamacare, they qualify for enough in subsidies that their monthly premium was $98. Now, under the proposed plan with Health Savings Accounts they’ll need to come up with $1102 a month, which is the current cost of the unsubsidized premium for their family. Does anyone seriously think that’s going to happen? Here’s a newsflash, it’s not. After taxes Tony is lucky if he takes home what $800, $900 per paycheck? And out of that has to come rent, utilities, the car payment, and food and we’re expected to believe that shaving $550 off the top of each check before taxes will reduce his tax burden enough that his paychecks will miraculously adjust enough so that he still takes home at least $800 each paycheck? It ain’t ever going to happen. And so we’ll see the number of newly uninsured skyrocket. Immediately. Because there is no flipping way that millions of people will be able to afford their unsubsidized premiums. They’ll go on Medicaid instead, paid for by your tax dollars. Look for an increase in your property taxes, sales taxes, levies and all sort of other taxes to offset those costs.

As a final note, here’s a message for all of our Congressmen/women and Senators on Capitol Hill. Stop fooling yourselves into thinking this is a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s not. It’s a people issue, and the sooner you start treating it like one, the sooner you’ll actually all stop with the craniorectal inversion and move toward real progress toward a solution.  Healthcare is so godawfully complicated it’s not going to be fixed in a single four year cycle. It will take that long to get it started, understand how your risk pools are imbalanced and how you can make positive changes. Those changes need to be incremental, and just a couple at a time, so you can measure, remeasure, perform some analysis and watch trends. As any halfway decent statistician can tell you, if you start reacting to every blip in the graph and don’t understand which part of your process is within statistical control and and what is out of control, pretty soon you’ll make such a mess of the process that everything will be out of control. Like overcorrecting a skidding car on ice. Instead, if everyone put down their swords, shook hands like adults and agreed to leave your party labels at the door when working on a solution, you might actually have a fighting chance of coming together to solve this. Follow quality improvement principles used in businesses such as PDCA and Kaizen. (This ain’t rocket science, it just requires you leave your egos outside the door. Sheesh.) Where I work we are fortunate to have developed a culture built on values that help us to become better and stronger as we work together. Some of those values are integrity, compassion and relationships and I can’t help but think that if applied as part of the process to solve this problem, maybe real change could finally begin.

How to Raise a Tyrant

I was in a department store one evening recently, and overheard a father and his toddler daughter having a “conversation”. They were about 30 feet away from the exit, standing with their cart and she was hanging on the side of the cart, whining rather loudly about wanting to get back into it to ride to the exit. Daddy was trying to reason with his little darling, saying “but we’re almost at the door already”. Too bad she was having none of it. Of course you can already see the punchline to the joke coming a mile away…”you can’t reason with a terrorist“…and I’m thinking to myself “Oh that poor, poor man. She’s three and he is SO screwed already. What he really needs is to grow a pair and say ‘no’ to her”. As in “no, you can walk” and take her hand and start walking. Oh I know, I’m probably going to have a boatload of parents jump on me and tell me you have to pick your battles, and yes, I’m sure you do. But come on, you lose one this early, are there any you can seriously hope to win?

I see it a lot, kids telling the parents how it’s going to be. Say what? That would have bought me a one way ticket to the flat of my dad’s hand! And before all of the child protectionists are up in arms, I was never beaten. Down boys and girls! I was just spanked. There is a difference, and there were times when I – and my sisters – deserved it. There was never any doubt who was in charge in our house. Dad said “Jump” and you asked “how high” as you were already poised to leap. It wasn’t blind obedience, either, but trust. I knew that he loved us and he always had our best interests at heart so if he told us to do something it was with good reason. I might not understand or like it, but there it was. As I got older, and started to question it more, well, that became an entirely different conversation, and of course by then I was too old to spank as well. But as a child, I listened to my daddy because he was in charge. End of story.

Another thing, what ever happened to vacations that were things like summer road trips, or camping in state parks? It’s like the line that Max Kellerman says in Dirty Dancing “Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days.” That’s nice. They can see Europe and the Caribbean when they graduate from college and have jobs. For now, have they seen a state park in their home state? Mount Rushmore? Yellowstone? The Grand Canyon? The Smithsonian? The Everglades? Stars in the sky when there is no city light pollution, and they realize for the first time what galaxies are? If not, maybe you’re doing them (and your bank accounts) a big disservice. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “well it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t go to [insert your favorite thing here: Disneyland/world, Bahamas, St. Martin, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii, etc.], or “I just want my kids to have all the things I didn’t have”. But did you turn out so rotten? The answer is, you didn’t, and in fact you have an appreciation for those things because you didn’t have them as a child. So perhaps it would be better to not just hand all of them to your kids, but let them work for them as they can as well. Or provide some sparingly.

I remember my parents renting a Bethany pop-up camper when I was little, and pulling it behind the car as we went different places on vacation. We would find KOA campgrounds, and park the car and set up the camper. The top would go up, the sides pull out and voila, 2 beds, a microscopic kitchen and living room. I don’t remember much about the specifics of any of the trips, but snippets…the thunderstorms scaring us half to death…the long walks to the community bathroom, especially at night…the community showers. My recollection  is that it was fun, although it’s possible I’m viewing it through a lens clouded by many years gone by. I can also remember some vacation trips we took to the Black Hills, the Wisconsin Dells, Brainerd MN to see Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, which scared me to death when Paul talked to me on the loudspeaker and greeted me by name! screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-18-57-pmHow could he possibly have known that? Of course, when my dad paid for the tickets, he gave our names to the ticket taker and the ticket taker gave them to whoever provided the voice of Paul, who then talked into the microphone and it came over the loudspeaker. What? What do you mean you’ve never heard of Paul and Babe? screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-32-12-pm

 

They’re part of the lore here in Minnesota. Paul Bunyan was a legendary giant lumberjack of superhuman strength and skill, and Babe was his blue ox that usually accompanied him everywhere.

There was an amusement park named after him in Brainerd many years ago, with a giant seated Paul that talked, and an equally large Babe. It was a rite of passage that sometime in your childhood you went there. Today the park is gone but there are still a couple of Paul and Babe statues around the state, and you can often find things named after them. Next time you meet a native Minnesotan of a certain age, ask them if they saw the “talking Paul Bunyan” as a child, and chances are they’ll smile and say “yes”. Now, many places claim to have been his birthplace, but as Minnesotans know, he truly loved the north woods of this state so much, that when he died he was buried here. Need proof? His gravestone marker which is near Kelliher, MN. screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-42-04-pm

I wouldn’t give up those memories for all the trips to Hawaii for anything. They’re so precious to me, and Hawaii will always be there, but things like this aren’t, and I’m so glad my parents had the insight to put their collective feet down with us and made us appreciate what we had, and made us learn how to behave in public, and to work and play well with others. Now if that were only criteria for running for public office.

King Me?

Many a student has sat in their Civics class in High School, hearing the familiar opening words to our “Declaration of Independence”. It begins “When in the course of human events“. Those words, and the rest that follow, were written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, adopted by the Continental Congress and then on July 4, signed by 56 members of the Congress. The youngest was 26, and the oldest was Benjamin Franklin at 70. But beyond the opening sentence and the now familiar “we hold these truths to be self evident,that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“, how much of the rest does anyone remember? When was the last time you actually read it…digested what it meant…really internalized it? 

That may be due in part to the language of the time, and blogger Leifur Thor has rewritten it in modern language. I’ve linked to his blog so you can see the additional comments if you would like but the document text is below. As I read it, a number of things resonated for me and I saw some frightening parallels. So with all due respect to my friends across the pond, perhaps we all need a reminder of why our founding fathers left England and came to America.

When it becomes necessary to end one political process due to lack of representation, it’s only fair to list the reasons why.

We believe everyone is created equal, and should be afforded the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as they see it. We believe these rights a fundamental truth, and no government’s right to curtail, now, and forever more.

That to protect these rights, governments are designed by and get their powers from its People. And when any design of government begins to remove their freedoms, it’s the sole responsibility of its People to repair or replace it.

We shouldn’t change government lightly however, for when we do, people suffer. Therefore, it’s important that whatever form of governing process we agree on, we build it well. When however through any actions this governing body we create, seeks to reduce our civil liberties, and our ability to self govern, it’s not only our right, it’s our civic obligation within any real Republic to amend or throw off such governments, and provide a new governing body that supports civil liberties for all, now, and for future generations. To enjoy civil liberties, our participation in maintaining their security lands squarely on us, the People who live under them.

Looking at the King of England’s record, it’s clear England wants total control of our colonies, compromising our liberties. Here are our facts-

He won’t allow us to create our own laws, a fundamental need for things to work here.

He won’t let us pass important laws we need now. He’s got to sign off on them and when he doesn’t we suffer.

He’s refused to let us pass laws affecting large groups of people in our colonies unless they swore allegiance to him even though they’ve had the right to self govern, clearly showing he’s a tyrant.

He requests meetings of our representatives in far away cold, and strange places for the purpose of wearing them down in to submission so they’ll agree with him.

He’s disbanded our leaders whenever we complain about human rights abuses.

By not allowing us to self govern in any capacity, it opens our colonies up for corruption from within as well as from outside.

He fights to control our colony’s population, immigration, ownership of land, and expansion.

He’s made it difficult to practice the law here, wanting himself to be the ultimate judge and jury.

He’s sent over crooks who he calls judges to dispense his will through courts without trial or jury.

He’s created new offices who’s staff beat business down through harassment to enforce his will upon us.

He’s sent the Army to watch over us, when we didn’t need or want them.

He’s done everything to make his army bigger than our system of law, and our ability to carry out justice.

He refuses to acknowledge our own laws, and tells us we have to follow his laws instead.

For breaking up our military so as to make them vulnerable, and controllable.

For protecting any of the British military personnel by mock trial from going to jail for any reason, allowing them operate outside our own laws.

For cutting off our trade with other countries.

For adding taxes without our consent.

For taking away our right to trial by jury in many cases.

For kidnapping our citizens only to be tried and convicted outside our colonies, and our own laws.

For taking us,one of England’s provinces, removing our laws, forcing his own body of laws on us, and expanding it’s boundary and making it an example of rule of law others must follow or else.

For taking away our charters (forms of legislature) that allow us to govern.

For suspending our own laws, and forcing his own system of justice down our throats.

For disowning our government, and for declaring war on us for having the desire to self-govern.

He has over-fished our waters, burnt up our towns, and destroyed the lives of many people within our colonies.

Right this very moment, he’s sending over a large army of mercenaries with no morals to kill and torture everyone now that he’s ruined our laws protecting the common man. If you think we’ve been repressed up to now, expect the worst you can imagine.

He has kidnapped citizens of our colony on the high seas, and turned them in to his own soldiers only to fight their own brothers and sisters here.

He has manipulated people and groups within our colony to fight each other, and wants rule of law similar to those savage Native Americans who live by war destroying everyone under any conditions. (Guerrilla warfare is probably what they’re talking about here since war prior to that had been fought face to face in broad daylight)

With every action above, we’ve petitioned, and been told in return to “suck it up”. By this alone, it’s time to stand up for ourselves as free people, and kick this tyrant out.

We don’t like making waves. And we’ve warned England from time to time we’ll govern ourselves, reminding England the conditions of our own immigration and settling here, yet even when we’ve shown them how it’s bad business for everyone, they just won’t listen. So it’s up to us to fight for our fundamental rights, and anyone who’s opposed to this inside or out of our borders is our enemy, and anyone forging to expand civil liberties, our friend.

So we the representatives of the people living within these unified States of America gathered here under one roof declare to the supreme judge of the world we are free. We declare we are no longer under the British crown’s rule, and all political connections are hereby over. These Free and Independent States of America have full power to each build partnerships, do business, go to war, or negotiate peace. To show we mean what we say, we offer each other our lives, our fortunes, and our integrity.