More on The Subject de Jure

14 July 2017

When my dad came down with a hyper metastatic nephroma, the only things they had were surgery and mustard gas.  Yes, you heard me right, mustard gas, the stuff they used in WWI to kill the enemy.  That was it.  As for diagnostics, there was the X-ray and exploratory surgery.

Now, in 2017, we have:

CT scans
MRI scans
Colonoscopies
Stereotactic X-ray
Proton beams
Open heart surgery
Heart valve replacements
Hart/lung/kidney and, yes, penis transplants
Retinal reattachment
Nerve grafts
Burn treatments and reconstruction
Hip/knee/shoulder and other kinds of joint replacements.
Laparoscopic surgery
Robotic surgery (e.g., the Da Vinci machine)
At least 300 medicines for cancer (but no mustard gas)
Statins for the heart
TPA for stroke
Bone density scans
Pacemakers and defibrillators
PSMA scans for metastatic prostate tumors (still experimental)
Cochlear implants
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo treatments
Dental implants
Root canals
Brain implants to control seizures
Bone implants

These are but a few. They all have come on the scene since my dad died. They all cost money because the people who develop and implement these treatments shouldn’t have to work for free — hell, would you? No? Didn’t think so.

Thanks to these people, when you or your kid gets sick, these ameliorative and curative treatments, which were undreamed of when I graduated high school in 1960, are there waiting for you.

I have a Stage 4 cancer that would have long since killed me were this the 1950s but today, I’m on a medicine named abiraterone acetate that has knocked it back by 90% in just under a month. Had the results of an as-yet experimental PSMA scan been different, I would have had the tumor burnt out by a proton beam. The abiraterone acetate costs $57,000 for a course of treatment. Don’t know what the proton beam treatment would have cost, but the machine that delivers it (a cyclotron) cost $150,000,000.

So you squawk about “paying for someone else’s healthcare”, right? Well Buster, just remember when the hammer blow strikes, I’ll be paying for your’s and you’ll get all the meds and treatments you need for as long as you need them. If you’re bitching about healthcare costs, you are one ignorant and ungrateful asshole.

-Merlin-


About the Death Penalty

8 June 2017

I’m against it. At least in the current formats: A quick buzz of electricity, the little chirp in the ear as the noose snaps the neck, the sharp sting as the needle is thrust in, the hard punch in the chest as the bullets puncture the heart. They are too quick. Here’s what I would like to see.

The convict is imprisoned 24/7/52 in a pure white cell. There will be no windows. The 4 walls, the ceiling and the floor, all white as are the bed linens. The toilet and sink are white, as are their handles and faucets. The toilet will be a bidet because a toilet can be stopped up with toilet paper. The only thing in the cell that won’t be pure white is the convict. The cell will be kept at a comfortable temperature and a white light will be kept on day and night.

The convict will not be allowed clothing as the convict might be able to make a noose. The convict will be fed through a portal in the cell door. Once a week, the convict will be allowed to take a shower and given a white towel with which to dry but during this time, the convict will not be allowed to talk with, let alone see, other convicts.

No commissary, no library, no visitation, no TV, no radio, no books.

At the end of each week, a device will be passed to the convict through the portal in the door. The device will ask the convict if he or she prefers to die, or go on living like this. There will be a colored button for Yes. The convict will have one hour to make the choice, then the device is withdrawn. Each week, the device will be presented to the convict to, again, make a choice.

When (not if) the convicts presses the button for Yes, a prerecorded message plays telling the convict the next time he or she falls asleep, the cell will be flooded with Nitrogen gas.

Sweet dreams.

-Merlin-


Healthcare in The USA

13 May 2017

With all the strum und drang about healthcare, I thought it might be a good idea to take a fairly average health problem and look at it historically.  No screaming and shouting, no sloganeering, no breast-beating, no turd-throwing.  Just the facts.  Mine.  

I’ve got cancer and my case is typical of cancer patients.  As my doctor said, “once you’ve got cancer, you’ve always got cancer”, so this is an ongoing tale — just as cancer is for 85% of those afflicted with Emperor of All Maladies.  Oh, and as I haven’t died yet, there will be more to the story.  

When my dad died of cancer in 1959, his treatment consisted of one operation then a bottle of painkillers and it took from July 1958 to March 1959 for him to die.  Let’s compare dad’s case to mine.

  • In 2000, I had the tumor shoveled out.  Cost: $32,000.  
  • PSA tests for the next five years.  Total cost: $10,000.
  • Surgery for a complication.  Total cost: $17,000.
  • Surgery for a recurrence.  Total cost:  $12,000.
  • Oncological visits for another recurrence.  Costs so far: $550.
  • Experimental diagnostic test.  Total cost: $7,500.
  • Visits with oncologist and radiologist.  Costs so far: $900.
  • Irradiation with a proton beam.  Projected cost: $55,000.
  • Immunotherapeutic vaccines.  Projected costs: $100,000.
  • More visits to the oncologist.  Projected costs: $2,000.
  • Hospice care.  Projected costs: $5,000+.
  • Painkillers and such.  Projected costs: ?
  • Final expenses – cremation.  Projected costs: $600.

That, folks, comes up to $178,500.

So I have a question for the “I’m all right, Jack” crowd as well as the smug and callous folks who say “I don’t want my hard-earned money . . .”, and the question is: Can you take a hit like this?  

Maybe you can, or maybe will you have to:

  • Sell the house and move into a shit-hole.
  • Trade-down from the nice, reliable car to a clapped-out unreliable beater.
  • Liquidate your portfolio (you have one, don’t you?).
  • Drain the kids’ college funds.
  • Bleed usurious interest for payday loans when the bills come due.
  • Beg.  On the internet, at work, from the friends, from the family . . .
  • And, finally, file a Chapter 7.

Of course, through all of this, there will be the strain of impending debilitation, pain and death.  Those things will be watching over your shoulder 24/7/52.  Don’t forget about them, for they will compound the worry over paying for it.  Not to mention standing helplessly by as you, or someone you love Gets. All.  Fucked. Up.

Sometimes the treatments will work and the poor afflicted soul will get some good years before the cancer resurfaces in some other place.  Or, Providence be thanked, an actual cure might be achieved.  Or sadly, in our retrogressing society, it could be like it was for my dad in 1959 — or like it was in 1917 where the patient was dumped in a bed, screaming, with wrists tied to the bed rails so as to not pull out the tubes.

But cancer isn’t the only grody disease out there.  There are thousands and they can be just as taxing, just as harrowing and just as costly.

Now I’m 75 so lots of good rock-ribbed Americans will say, “Enough!  You’ve had you life.  Don’t be a drag on the public purse.  Begone!”  But what if the person we’re talking about isn’t an old goat like me but a baby?  Or a high-school cheerleader, perhaps a young parent, maybe a 40-something who’s just hit his/her stride?  Or you?  It isn’t just old dudes who get sick, you know.

Well, dear reader, there’s only one cure for America’s terrible health care problem and we all know what it is:

Medicare For All

-Merlin-


Roger

23 April 2017

We’d moved to Richfield between my 5th and 6th grades and during that summer, I made a few acquaintances, among them, Roger. Roger was quite short for being in the sixth grade, like maybe a 4th grade stature, and while short is bad enough for a young lad, there was worse. Roger was slight of build, had an undershot jaw, had a pug nose that was more like an up-turned snout than anything, was covered in freckles and was topped by a thatch of ugly red hair.  Now red hair can be beautiful, as in the case of Leslie, of whom I wrote earlier, but Roger’s appeared to result from a miscegenation of  a carrot and a pomegranate.

Roger also had an unpleasant way of looking about.  While most people with switch their gaze in rapid movements then lock on until they’ve seen enough, Roger would sloooowly peer in one direction then another without really stopping to take it all in.  He did this while wearing an expression like someone coming out from under anesthesia.

Roger was, well, homely and in a mildly disconcerting way.  You really didn’t want to be around him.  Or be seen with him.

We really didn’t like Roger.


Anyway, the school year ran on and one day, my buddy Dave and I were talking about classmates and the name Roger came up.  We enumerated his shortcomings but agreed that, in Roger’s case, still waters could indeed be running deep, so we decided to befriend Roger and give him a chance.  Roger turned out to be just what everybody thought he’d be: Dull, unimaginative, uninteresting and unlikable. But we persevered.  We agreed that, while we’d try to avoid Roger, should he come trotting over, we’d hang out with him until dinnertime then go our separate ways.  This worked for the rest of the school year.

During that summer, Dave and I continued to have contact with Roger.  Through mid-summer, our contacts were always outside, away from home as we didn’t want him to come over and bother us.  We were afraid we’d never get rid of him.  One rainy afternoon, Roger invited Dave and me over to his place.  Well what the hell, sure, why not.

Inside, Roger’s home was austere.  Everything looked two-dimensional and unsullied by human contact.  Kind of sorrowful, in a way.  And neat as a pin.  The motif was dull earth tones.  On the wall hung a large Christian cross with dried reeds; it was the room’s centerpiece.  The whole effect was not pleasant.

His parents appeared. The only thing I remember about them is his father’s left hand got shot ff in the war and the stump was now graced by a steel pincer shaped like a hook. They were quiet and cordial and seemed surprised their boy could actually bring home friends. They struck me as though Roger, their only child, was their heartbreak and despair.  They hoped for the best and prayed Dave and I were it.

We didn’t stay long.  On our way home Dave and I began to put it all together and came to the conclusion Roger was a case of arrested development.  Roger would never be more then a child with some adult attributes.  It was a sad realization. Over the next weeks, our relationship with Roger petered out.

We didn’t see Roger for all of 7th grade, but beginning with the first day of 8th, we did.  We assumed he’d moved away but on the third day of school, as we waited for the bus, who should we see coming trotting down Park Avenue but Roger.  The homunculus was just as we’d last seen him over a year ago, nothing had changed.

During that time, a new fellow moved into the neighborhood.  Brad Turnquist, by name.  Brad was a year ahead of Dave and me but this bus stop served all of the grades, so here he was, watching Roger come town the street in his little boy gait.  “What the fuck is that!” Brad said with a mean-spirited curiosity.

“That’s Roger,” said Dave with a smile.  I said nothing.

There were maybe a half-dozen of us at the bus stop. A few were making chit-chat, a few had books open, some other were looking at the sky but no one paid any attention to Roger.  We kind of regarded Roger as one of those lawn elves you see stuck in the snow at Christmas time — noticed, but ignored.  Brad, however, kept looking at Roger in a predatory sort of way, then in a few moments, turned his gaze elsewhere.

A week or two later, we discovered something we’d never noticed about Roger; he loved food.  One morning, Gail Bostrom had a doughnut and on this treat, Roger came alive. “Oh, hey. Gimme some.  Come on, gimme some” and he all but reached for Gail’s doughnut the way a puppy would when it saw a morsel.  Gail tried to avoid him but Roger would not be denied.  “Come on.  Gimmee some”, he whined.  Brad Turnquist decided to save the damsel in distress.  Tapping Roger on the head, Brad said “Hey, nerd.  She ain’t gonna give you Jack Squat.  Now fuck off.”  And so Roger did.  He moved to the periphery of the little group and looked down the street toward his house.

A little later, Roger approached Brad and called him a dirty name.  “What the fuck you call me, you little shit?” asked an astonished Brad.  That Roger could have such effrontery was, well, beyond imagining.  “I called you an ishy-poo”, said Roger through his little squenched-up pink mouth, then he took a swing at Turnquist. Of course Roger missed by the proverbial country mile but never say die, Roger advanced on Turnquist while he flailed his arms in windmill-like arcs, never getting even close to Turnquist’s nose. Turnquist began to laugh as he backed away from the wildly swinging Roger.  The rest of us joined in the merriment.  But Roger wouldn’t stop, so Turnquist reached forward, put out his hand, grabbed Roger by the head and held him at bay as Roger kept on swinging.  The group howled with laughter.


Fast forward to the tenth grade.

I’d not seen much of Roger the last few years and was glad of it.  One afternoon, Dave Olson, a large bumptious fellow and I, were talking as we pulled books from our lockers.  “That goddamned Knutson,” he said.  “Little fucker won’t leave me alone.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“You know how I always have a Hershey bar close by, Right? Well Knutson, whenever he sees me with one, comes up whining ‘Gemme some, gemme some’.  Well, I finally figured out how to get rid of him.  I got an Ex-Lax bar — looks just like a Hershey bar, don’t it? “. Olson held it up as if were a great prize, and in a way, it was.  “I’m gonna re-wrap it in my Hershey bar wrapper and when the little fuck hits me up again, I’m gonna give him some.”

“Oh, Christ, Olson,” I said with a laugh, “Just don’t give him the whole bar.  Fuckin thing might kill him.”

A few days later, I was taking with Dave and he told me that Olson finally gave Roger the faux Hershey bar.  It was a big dose too, about half a bar, Dave thought.  Olson gave Roger the Ex-Lax just before the first period bell rang.  The next morning, it was the talk of the school: During an English class held in the in the last period of the day, in which Roger was a pupil, Roger began to squirm around in his seat then without asking permission, bolted for the door while holding the backside of his trousers as something within them made a soft burbling sound.  The Ex-Lax had done its magic and Roger had shit in his pants.

After shoveling out his pants and cleaning his bum as best he could, Roger went to see the school nurse who sent him home in a Taxi.

Roger’s mortification was complete.

We didn’t see much of Roger for a while and that was OK because nobody missed him.  In fact, I don’t recall seeing him at all.  He’s not entered in the year book so I’m not sure he even graduated.  However, the class website has a Dearly Departed page and, sure enough, there’s Roger’s name.  His was one of the first entries.

RIP Roger.

-Merlin-

 


There Are Two Kinds of People

12 March 2017

Years and years ago, I read a column in Car and Driver by an author whose name I’ve forgotten. In his article, he explained there are two basic types of people: The Mammonoid and the Tediophobe.

The Mammonoid is focused on the pecuniary rewards of stultifying labor. Sometimes, if Lady Luck intervenes, they will become billionaires. In any case, Mammonoids will almost always do well money-wise. However, they will be as mind-numbing and dull as a shot of Novocaine.

The Tediophobe, on the other hand, won’t mind being rich beyond the dreams of wild avarice, but hates stultifying labor more. To the Tediophobe, being like Warren Buffet and going to the same office and doing the same thing for decades on end is too horrible to contemplate, money or no.

Of course neither exists in the pure essence, there will be a mingling of the traits. Unhappily, if the traits exist in equal measure, the poor devil will be constantly torn between these two characteristics and never find satisfaction in either.

-Merlin-


27 February 2017

I have nothing to say today.  I thought I might, but sitting her at the keyboard, I realize my life is so devoid of change and variety that there is nothing to say that wouldn’t be a rehash of stuff I posted before.  Sorry.

Maybe next week.

-Merlin-


How About Maybe This?

5 February 2017

American politics is coarsened beyond anything I would have thought possible at the turn of the century.  To be sure, politics is politics and one side always finds fault with the other, but this?  Today we see families and friendships blown asunder because one’s a Democrat, the other a Republican.  One is the Scum of the Earth, the other is the Issue of the Devil.  Over time, each side has only listened to itself, causing a self-reinforcing spiral down into extremism and nonsense.

A recent example is the Supreme Court nomination of a man who is, by all accounts, is a decent fellow.  Decency notwithstanding, one side sees him as the Savior of Family Values, the other sees him as the Wrecker of Personal Liberty.  One side sees him as the apostle of financial prudence, the other sees him as stingy, insensitive and cruel.   Up until Scalia croaked, you could look at any case brought before the court and, based on its political spin, predict exactly how it would be decided.

An aside: A fellow I know said that Democrats want to tell you what to do in the board room, the Republicans want to tell you what to do in the bed room.

Scalia (unarguably recalcitrant and partisan) said this, “… politicians who pick and confirm new federal judges will naturally want only those who agree with them politically”.   Of course, in large measure, Scalia was right: A president, selecting as nominees, only those who pass through the filter of partisan correctness, contributes to the problem we have with the Supreme Court.  Contributes mightily.

Of course it’s too late to do anything about it now.  Trump has picked his man based on the man’s politics and religion. And that means some people would like to crown him with a laurel wreath and ride him through the streets in a royal triumph.  Other’s would like to string him up by his heels in a gas station and use him as a pinata.

There will be other Supreme Court nominations coming along soon, so before the vacancies occur, let me suggest a way to pick nominees that will help quiet our worst impulses.

Whenever a vacancy comes up, the sitting president will ask the bar associations of all fifty states to submit the names of three members they deem best qualified to sit on the court.  These names will come from a popular vote of each bar’s membership.  The names will be put in a fish bowl and the president will reach in and draw out, at random, three names.  These names will be publicized for all to see and after examining the three, the president will pick one.  A process like this would pretty much assure that nominees to the Supreme Court will no longer be hacks, cranks and toadies.  And who but hacks, cranks and toadies — the very people we are trying to weed out — could find fault with this concept?  Sure, people will still be miffed their guy wasn’t nominated, but they’ll be comforted by knowing the guy who did make it wasn’t the stuff of nightmares.

Imagine a Supreme Court that would say — by eight-to-one votes — a woman has a right to get an abortion at any time and, in the next breath, rule  she can walk about the streets, unhindered, with a .45 strapped to her hip?  The Golden Mean will have been achieved and that, dear reader, will cool the passions and prevent our republic from going down the toilet.

— And now that I think on it, this process might be a good way to weed out the unqualified for all elective offices.

-Merlin-