Sunday, August 30

Post Traumatic Fire Storm Stress Syndrome...

Smoky Morning Sun - Burbank, California

Red Dawn Silhouettes - Burbank, California

Time Out

Hazy Los Angeles - Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California

"..,19. What is the city's greatest secret?

I think the people of LA are its biggest secret. You have to live here for about two or three years before you realize that, if you look hard enough, you'll find lots of people who are generous and down to earth and smart and fun and who just make sense to you. But in the beginning, newbies tend to wind up at some awful club that makes them think, 'Who are these mutants and what the hell am I doing in this scary, scary city?'"
-- from 2004 LAist interview with Heather Havrilesky

"Just as Los Angeles pretends to be a suitable home for several million human beings, when it is, in truth, a horrible sprawling sham packed with overpriced stucco hovels on tiny tracts of land, a gigantic human mistake that demands resources pumped and trucked and shipped in from faraway places, so, too, does "Nurse Jackie" pretend to be a comedy (or a drama?) suitable for several million viewers, when it is, in truth, a disjointed, reckless sham packed with bewitching jokes, a wicked romp that ultimately goes nowhere. At the end of the season, Jackie is the same mysterious blank slate that she was at the beginning."
-- from Havrilesky's current article titled "Going Down in Flames"

What a difference five years makes. I agree with Havrilesky's first assessment in 2004. LA is not a comfortable or friendly city but it has its undeniable charms. I disagree but sympathize with her second compare/contrast crankiness. She's stretched the flaming metaphor from today's horrendous fire storms into the hinterlands of cable TV's wasteland. I can only surmise that she wants the nonsensical "Nurse Jackie" to self destruct for real by refusing Havrilesky's evacuation order.

Because Havrilesky continues to live in Eagle Rock - a neighborhood in northeastern Los Angeles, I'm convinced that she normally tolerates LA pretty well, but has succumbed to "post traumatic fire storm stress", a little known syndrome that afflicts everyone in the greater LA area on days like today. I'm feeling a little ptfsss myself.

When I get all ptfsssee, I remember my first end-of-summer fire season about twenty plus years ago. *sigh*.. cough, cough, gag..

My first husband and I arrived in Hollywood from the scorching desert of Phoenix, Arizona. We were both musicians and had exhausted the show band, road band, original band, bar band avenues from New York City, to Kansas City, to Denver, to Chicago, to Hawaii, to Seattle, to Vegas, and finally back to the old home town, Phoenix. The music business was such an exhilarating, tough, bitch no matter where or how we pursued it. Only one place remained that held out some hope of recognition and employment: Los Angeles.

We drove into Los Angeles and looked up at the smoggy sky, studded with bits of ash and grit. It brought tears to our eyes and a wheeze to my smoker's lungs. Back then, nothing would deter us from our creative delusions, erm.... destiny. We were young - we'd been everywhere. LA treated us no better and no worse than other big cities. It was a "why not."

We got a creepy apartment in Hollywood - on Argyle, and the husband/bass player was working in a nightclub with the "promise" of studio work to come. I had minimal typing skills which allowed me to work as a junior clerk/secretary in a small film company. Once in a while, I'd get a call for a paying gig, singing for weddings or backups. Our baby was farmed out eight hours a day to an in-home babysitter several blocks away, and we worked. We worked hard. We paid bills. We worked even harder and sometimes went to a party or a club together. We made a few friends, mostly musicians and minor film industry people. We fell into the LA industry scene where "promises" were made with firm handshakes and art was created "on spec" and "promoters" got their jingles, and/or demos, and/or creative projects for free. We fell into the hope of making money from art and we lived on the edge of the entertainment industry conveyor belt, eventually falling off and falling apart.

I took the baby, and quickly faced the reality of my dreams and illusions. A happy marriage? Crushed. Stardom? Shattered. Wealth? Let me just get my hand to my mouth, please. Do I want to move back home with Mom and Dad? I'm too old and proud. Can I claw my way back to a decent life in this place? I'm young, energetic and already clawing, so why not?

Over the years, the clawing has diminished and the reality checks have increased. Do I love LA? Sure, why not. It is a town with a few thriving industries that employ millions of hard working people. It is an industry town with fat paychecks and fat egos. The most important thing to understand, however, is that LA and most fast-paced urban centers belong to the young, energetic and hard working folk. People can yammer about natural disasters, belch out "it's not pretty" snobbery, whine about bad traffic, get righteous about bad air quality, sneer at car worship, and hide behind these negative smoke screens while they harbor the real reason they bash the big dog - it's overwhelming. People who live here have to be fearless. On a day like today, when over 30,000 acres of virgin and urban forest are burning to cinders and ash, I am overwhelmed by this place. I hate this feeling and the mental mechanisms I must use to maintain sanity, but by this time next week, the threat will be gone. I'll feel more in control of my life - free to move about the city without a mental seat belt.

Will I retire here in LaLa land? Hmmm. The older I get, the more I see the appeal of a calm, Pleasantville environment - not too hot, not too colorful, safe and predictable. I'm sure it's out there and when the time comes, I'll jump in my hybrid and find it. (Don't worry Austin, you won't see me migrate to your pristine oasis on the hellish Texas plains. I'll be looking for a nice place which includes nice people, please.)

Pleasantville's first-ever rainstorm]
Big Bob: Well, we're safe for now. Thank goodness we're in a bowling alley.

May all beings affected by wildfires know love and peace

Thursday, August 27

Hump Day

Don't Hump - Traveltown, Griffith Park Los Angeles, California

A Bird and the Bees - Gardens of the World, Thousand Oaks, California

Stuck in the Middle - Brand Park, Glendale, California

Downhill - Gardens of the World, Thousand Oaks, California

Mid-week is always a joyful time. As a child, getting to Wednesday was a slow climb and a slow downhill slide to the weekend. Teachers, homework, tests and cranky parents filled the entire week with freedom killing tasks and chores. Adults notice that Wednesday comes pretty fast and the weekends disappear even faster. Weeks are filled with freedom killing work, appointments, chores and tasks - more of them - making time stretch to its limits. What is time, anyway? I guess time is the hallmark of organization - making life orderly, maximizing opportunity and experience. Whoa! Way too philosophical for hump day...

...Let's take a "pause for the cause" and celebrate the humpdayness of it all. Hmmmm, anyone care to humpty?

Monday, August 24

Blue Monday

Blue Monday Mural - Burbank, California
Blue View - Ragged Point, California

Chess Blues

Beyond the Blue Gate - Maui, Hawaii

Splashy - Sea World, San Diego, California

Fish Mosaic - Ventura, California

Sunday, August 23

Compare and Contrast

Overcast - San Francisco Harbor, San Francisco, CA

Glimpse of Sky - Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Crowd Control - The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

Sailing the Sparkle - San Diego Harbor, San Diego, CA

Boardwalk Silhouettes - Seaport Village, San Diego, CA

The Look - Seaport Village, San Diego, CA

Wednesday, August 12


Water Squared - Gardens of the World - Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The Distortion Within - Living Room Window

Hard Rock Cafe Lights - San Diego, California

Iconic Reflections - Eagle Rock, California

"It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and, in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this?" - Thomas Paine, "The Age of Reason"

Thursday, August 6

Sully Sums It Up...

"Henry J. Waternoose: James, this company has been in my family for three generations. I would do anything to keep it from going under.
Sulley: So would I, sir.
Henry J. Waternoose: Say, I could use your help with something.
Sulley: Anything, sir.
Henry J. Waternoose: You see, we've recently hired some new recruits, and frankly, they're... um...
Sulley: Inexperienced?
Henry J. Waternoose: Oh, they stink!
Sulley: Uh-huh.
Henry J. Waternoose: I thought you could drop by the simulator tomorrow and give them a little scare demonstration, show them what it takes to be our top scarer.
Sulley: I'll start with the old Waternoose Jump-and-Growl. [Jumps and growls]
Henry J. Waternoose: [Startled] Oh! Ha ha! That's my boy.
- memorable quote from the movie "Monsters, Inc."

Am I scared about health care reform yet? Have the monsters done their jobs? Do I really understand what is in the health care reform bill, .

It's purpose is...

To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes. as introduced. It sets forth provisions governing health insurance plans and issuers, including:

(1) exempting grandfathered health insurance coverage from requirements of this Act;
(2) prohibiting preexisting condition exclusions;
(3) providing for guaranteed coverage to all individuals and employers and automatic renewal of coverage;
(4) prohibiting premium variances, except for reasons of age, area, or family enrollment; and
(5) prohibiting rescission of health insurance coverage without clear and convincing evidence of fraud. Requires qualified health benefits plans to provide essential benefits. Prohibits an essential benefits package from imposing any annual or lifetime coverage limits. Lists required covered services, including hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental health services, preventive services, maternity care, and children's dental, vision, and hearing services and equipment. Limits annual out-of-pocket expenses to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family. Establishes the Health Choices Administration as an independent agency to be headed by a Health Choices Commissioner. Establishes the Health Insurance Exchange within the Health Choices Administration in order to provide individuals and employers access to health insurance coverage choices, including a public health insurance option.

Requires the Commissioner to:
(1) contract with entities to offer health benefit plans through the Exchange to eligible individuals; and
(2) establish a risk-pooling mechanism for Exchange-participating health plans. Provides for an affordability premium credit and an affordability cost-sharing credit for low-income individuals and families participating in the Exchange. Requires employers to offer health benefits coverage to employees and make specified contributions towards such coverage or make contributions to the Exchange for employees obtaining coverage through the Exchange. Exempts businesses with payrolls below $250,000 from such requirement.

Amends the Internal Revenue Code to impose a tax on:
(1) an individual without coverage under a health benefits plan; and
(2) an employer that fails to satisfy health coverage participation requirements for an employee.

Imposes a surtax on individual modified adjusted gross income exceeding $350,000.

Amends title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to revise provisions relating to payment, coverage, and access, including to:
(1) reduce payments to hospitals to account for excess re admissions;
(2) limit cost-sharing for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries;
(3) reduce the coverage gap under Medicare Part D (Voluntary Prescription Drug Benefit Program);
(4) provide for increased payment for primary health care services; and
(5) prohibit cost-sharing for covered preventive services.

Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide for the development of quality measures for the delivery of health care services in the United States. Establishes a Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research within the Agency for Health care Research and Quality, financed by a tax on accident and health insurance policies, to conduct and support health care services effectiveness research. Sets forth provisions to reduce health care fraud.

Amends title XIX (Medicaid) of the Social Security Act to:
(1) expand Medicaid eligibility for low-income individuals and families;
(2) require coverage of additional preventive services; and
(3) increase payments for primary care services.

Sets forth provisions relating to the health workforce, including:
(1) addressing health care workforce needs through loan repayment and training;
(2) establishing the Public Health Workforce Corps;
(3) addressing health care workforce diversity; and
(4) establishing the Advisory Committee on Health Workforce Evaluation and Assessment.

Sets forth provisions to:
(1) provide for prevention and wellness activities;
(2) establish the Center for Quality Improvement;
(3) establish the position of the Assistant Secretary for Health Information;
(4) revise the 340B drug discount program (a program limiting the cost of covered outpatient drugs to certain federal grantees);
(5) establish a school-based health care program; and
(6) establish a national medical device registry.

Erm... not as complicated as I thought.

So... looks like a pretty good bill. It provides insurance companies with a captive (i.e., every American) market so they can continue to rake in the profits, and it provides Americans with coverage that is affordable, sustainable and without pre-existing condition loopholes. I like the Center for Quality Improvement/wellness provisions that recognize the importance of preventative health care. I also like the government run insurance/health care plan to give Blue Cross/Kaiser some competition and make sure low income and desperately poor people are covered.

The bottom line is that catastrophic health problems caused by accidents, disease, etc., can be addressed making everyone healthier.

Now, how do I think this beast will grow? My advanced age and California location permit me to use experience as my guide.

Three big questions: 1) Should the government provide health care? I mean is this really something that I want my taxes to pay for, just like defense, infrastructure, energy, communications.... I see a pattern here. Me and my family already pay for social security, medicare, roads, waterways, phone and electric lines, military bases, things or projects that span the entire nation and benefit everyone; 2) Does the government do a good job with these responsibilities; and 3) Could/would private corporations do a better job? My responses are yes, yes and no.

I've lived through the Enron energy rape of California. The state still feels the repercussions of this debacle. Letting "for profit" corporations provide what utility companies provide was a mistake and has plunged this state into bankruptcy. That's right. Enron and those who supported the cracked brain idea of letting the fox into the chicken coop of public utilities without proper oversight began California's economic decline. Private companies will manipulate the "market" and increase profits. That is the nature of the beast. Insurance companies are part of this herd. Maybe the alpha males of this breed.

The federal government via HR 3200 is skating on thin ice with the health care industry. In a sense, the feds want to create a viable health care utility company - allowing reasonable profits but not at the expense of the consumer. The crafty herd of health care corporations see dwindling profits and are fighting tooth and nail to kill this bill. The millions they are pouring into attack ads could be better spent finding new products, services and markets to support and enhance a national health care system. In other words, innovate instead of enervate. So, my big complaint with the bill is that it delivers a captive market (ala Californians during the energy crisis) to corporations. The only thing in this bill that saves consumers from the ravages of corporate greed is the government-run insurance plan. Without this plan, we are screwed.

Okay, okay, Mr. bored websurfer who has stumbled on my lonely blog, I agree. What has the energy industry have to do with health care? I use them to illustrate the nature of the beast. They are not utilities. They exist to make profits.

A more appropriate example would be the homeowner insurance companies who abandoned California right after the Northridge earthquake (and Florida, after the latest hurricane). Yup. We went to renew our homeowner insurance in 1995, a year after this catastrophe and ... we were cancelled even though we did not file any claims or do anything but pay our premiums on time. Republic Ins. no longer sold homeowner insurance in California. So, what to do? The state had to come up with a government insurance plan from a pool of willing companies who would not sell direct but would sell via the state so that losses could be spread out evenly. That's right, the state of California had to fill the void with an adequate plan at a reasonable cost.

So, I predict that this bill will pass with a government-run insurance option. After a short time, the health care industry will manipulate markets, abandon clients when the chips are down, go off shore, whatever they need to do to maintain their current profit margin. Millions of Americans will be left in the lurch by the corporations. The federal government will step in with a single payer, Medicare-type plan for all. More neighborhood clinics will sprout up. Big hospitals will shrink, change, or go away. The doctor and nurse shortage will decline. Americans will be healthier. People will not have to worry about high policy premiums and/or choices about losing their homes or paying for catastrophic health care costs. Mental health statistics for Americans will improve. Businesses will be able to phase out crippling health care benefits and be able to compete with other nations that have national health care. Health care as a utility will evolve, along with all of the growing pains associated with growth. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries will find ways to expand into new products, services and markets. Will this process be painful and filled with controversy. Yup. Do I want it? Yes.

So, why not simply jump to a single payer plan right now? As many progressive pundits point out, America is owned by the corporations and no one wants to stampede this skittish herd. We need to pick off what we can to survive - create a win/win wherever possible and hope for the best.