What is really scary to me?

On this Halloween, I was thinking about what has really scared me in life and in the movies. I should note that nothing in the movies is as scary as what happens in real life. The only time it comes close is to show something that really could happen.

In a horror movie called “The Kiss,” about a parasite that would enter one body from another via a kiss, the scariest part of the movie had little to do with the larger plot. Early on in the movie, the husband’s wife was electrocuted in her kitchen as she fiddled with a shorting toaster at the same time someone spilled milk on the floor underneath her feet. The family had to watch her die, but could not touch her as they would have been electrocuted as well.

But, that is not even close to the seconds that seem like hours when your child gets lost out in a public place. My youngest son wandered away from us at the zoo when we stopped for a coke. He kept walking as we paused. Those twenty seconds to find him seemed like an eternity.

Or, when my oldest went into the restroom at the ballpark as I waited outside. He walked out a different entrance and did not see me. He did remember our assigned place to meet if we got separated and that is where I found him. These scary moments are burned in my memory.

Health scares make movie scares pale in comparison, as well. On my 44th birthday, I thought I was having a heart attack on my way to meet my family. Waiting in an ER room with wires attached is quite humbling and scary. I can assure you that you do not think of your job, but focus on your family and what you may not witness in the future and your not being there for them or watching your kids grow.

However, when your child has a health scare, it is worse as you can only react and make things better. You cannot take on his or her pain and anguish. And, that makes you feel powerless. Each time our children have had lengthy illnesses, issues or allergies, it has been a little scary.

I am writing this today as last night, we attended a funeral service for an 8 year old boy, who died of a rare brain cancer. He was the grandson of our neighbors and their family has been in anguish over his fight to survive. There is nothing worse for a parent than losing your child.

In the throes of his battle, this child taught everyone how to live and love more deeply. The service was a poignant tribute to this effervescent little person with a big heart. He helped others, especially his parents, live through this horrible ordeal.

So, the scary stuff is outside the movie theater. We deal with it the best we can with our faith, love and care. And, we do it one day at a time.

 

You must ask good debate questions

I have long been a critic of the questions asked in debates. This year’s presidential primary debates have been no exception to this rule, building off the poor 2012 presidential primary debates. Last night, the moderators took the line of questioning to a new low, to the extent the panel of candidates had a field day in criticizing the askers.

Not that all questions that got a reaction were bad questions, but the number of inane questions were more than a few. I think asking about the budget deal was a reasonable question as well as asking about Rubio’s recent decision to leave the senate and missing votes, yet that question could have been framed better.

Yet, the moderators gave the gavel to the debaters. They played into a narrative that there is a main stream media bias against the GOP. This is part of a larger effort to discredit non-conservative media when the stories contradict reports on conservative media. This is a long-standing public relations ploy to discredit the other source.

As an independent voter, I have long been frustrated at the media for not reporting real news, not reporting in-depth or accurately, and not reporting news that is derogatory to funders. There is too much shallowness in mainstream news which begs for follow-up questions of people giving pat answers. This is why I tend to get my news online from more reputable sources and watch and listen to more credible news sources like PBS Newshour, BBC World News America and NPR. Documentary shows like “Vice” and “Frontline” are very well done sources of information. I have also been a long time critic of pseudo-news sources like Fox News and MSNBC for spin-doctored to biased reporting and, more so in Fox’ case, simply making things up.

A recent example showed a Fox pundit reporting as fact a story from a spoof website, a candidate picking it up and then it being reported as news on Fox News. Yet, the underlying data was never verified as made up. The sad part is this is done all too often and not only on Fox, but Fox is more known for its lack of veracity than other sources.  We must have more veracity in news reporting regardless of your political persuasion. Ironically, one of the better news sources is John Oliver’s comedy show called “Last Week Tonight,” which has an in-depth story that is steeped in fact, such as stories on unscrupulous pay-day lending, gouging by for-profit colleges, ludicrous criminal justice practices, addressing climate change concerns, not regulating the supplemental drug business, etc.

My favorite part of debates is to read the Fact Check reports (see below for a link). While the debaters were claiming media bias and crying foul with the questions, it did not stop them from spouting several untruths. Donald Trump took offense at a question which he felt was contrived, but actually was sourced by a contention he made on his website. There the moderator dropped the ball, as she could have retorted that it came from his site. Carly Fiorina spoke inaccurately about job losses under Obama when there have been net job gains. Chris Christie overstated a crisis in Social Security funding saying the problem was more grave than it is.

Yet, Christie and Ted Cruz were correct that better questions should be asked. To me, the ideas from this field are weak overall and this needs to be ferreted out. “If the deficit is so important, why is your tax plan so budget negative?” would be a good question to ask. “If economic injustice is so important, why are you not advocating investing in our infrastructure, proposing a repeal of Obamacare and not supporting a living minimum wage? Or, if you do not like what we are doing in the Middle East, what do you propose we do?” These are questions to which what I want to hear answers.

The debate did flush out a few things. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul probably need to reconsider their candidacy. Bush should have listened to his mother from the outset. Marco Rubio, Cruz and Christie showed well and should rise in the polls. John Kasich is right about the absurdity of the leaders’ proposals, but he needs to be listened to more as many of Ben Carson and Trump’s ideas are absurd. The others did not shoot themselves in the foot, but probably did not shine as well as they should have.

I have long thought that Kasich is the best candidate, but stands little chance of winning in this party at this time as he is too moderate. Collaborators who get things done are less appreciated. I also believe Rubio will eventually emerge as the candidate, yet he is giving away an advantage with his comments about the senate and desire not to run again and is running away from his greatest success in the bipartisan immigration bill which passed the senate.

So, it will be interesting what unfolds over the next many months. But, moderators please ask some good questions and know your facts.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/factchecking-the-cnbc-debates/ar-BBmz5qH?li=AAa0dzB&ocid=DELLDHP

The bane of my youth – stadium trips, line drills and gassers

People who have participated in high school sports will likely know these terms, even if they referenced them differently. While my children are more artistic and musical than me, I spent my youth on some ball field or gym floor. So, I became well acquainted with training tools known as “stadium trips,” “line drills” and “gassers.”

Stadium trips required concentration, as you did not want to fall (which I did), especially coming down. At the end of practice for cross-country or before a football season might start, we would be required to run up and down the bleachers of the stadium. If you think about most high school fields, the stadiums are fifty or sixty rows high. So, a stadium trip would constitute one run up and one run down. A coach might say do 30 stadium trips and then hit the showers, e.g. This would be a phrase you would learn to love and hate. The hate part is obvious. The love part is you knew practice would be over.

The same could be said for line drills. They usually were done at the end of basketball practice, so you knew it would soon be over. Line drills are, in essence, a series of growing sprints from the baseline (end of the court) to the closest foul line and back, then to half court and back, then to the other foul line and back and finally to the other baseline and back. The key to making good time is to slide into the line and using your hands to set yourself back up and return. It was not uncommon for the coach to make it a contest, where the winner of each line drill would get to leave the court sooner. So, the key would be to win early.

But, nothing was as bad as something we called gassers. I mentioned these before, but when training for cross-country, after running a three-mile practice run, we would rest and then end practice with gassers designed to make you faster. For my foreign readers who are on the metric system, please forgive the reference to yards. We would start with two 880s (twice around the track), then do four 440s, and finish with eight 220s. The 220s would be killers as you would round the turn and feel like someone slapped you as you finished each race. Living in Florida, I vividly recall awakening in the middle of the night to cramps in my legs, with my parents running into the room to see what was all the fuss.

So, remember these survival tips. Pay attention on the downward half of a stadium trip, slide into the lines on line drills, and drink water before and after gassers.

ACA moves into its 3rd Enrollment with tailwinds

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to move forward building on its successes. While imperfect and needing some improvements, it has made huge strides in reducing the number of uninsureds and providing affordable coverage to many. And, this is in spite of it not being fully implemented in twenty states that did not expand Medicaid.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study noted that of the remaining uninsured people, almost half (49%) are eligible for a subsidy to buy coverage. That means almost half of these people are leaving money on the table. Plus, all uninsureds are one accident away from needing a “Go Fund Me” page.

As a former actuary, benefits manager and consultant, I am all about measuring and managing risk. Insurance is principally designed to help you avoid catastrophic financial risk, which healthcare insurance does. It does this with out-of-pocket limits which prevent further costs above these amounts. But, healthcare insurance is also designed with a preventive care mission to get people to see doctors to manage their health before they become a train wreck.

This preventive care mission is important as each of us should have a doctor to watch our back. We should be seeing a doctor before we need one, so that our history is known and we can make lifestyle changes and take medicines to help us maintain our health. I use the “Go Fund Me” page with intent, as people who do have an actual or figurative train wreck will need money to pay for the high cost of care.

I think of this every time I see a motorcyclist without a helmet. In Florida, which abandoned a required helmet law, the state saw their motorcycle deaths and head injuries increase significantly. And, one hospital said the cost of healthcare for a helmetless, motorcycle accident survivor is $1.2 million. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is risk not worth taking, as it does a disservice not only to the rider, but the family members who have to step in along with the state and county to help with care and money, if no insurance exists.

So, in my view as a former actuary, parent, and volunteer to people in need, everyone should have some level of healthcare, as to do otherwise is not a wise move. The current uninsured people should consider coverage, especially if eligible for a subsidy which provides support for people with income as high as $95,000 for a family of four. I would also encourage folks who are not insured to not listen to politicians and pundits who have a political bias against Obamacare because of the name and author. An attorney in my city spends a lot of time with Republican voters who did not sign up for coverage for these reasons and hurt themselves financially when something happened to them or a family member.

The new enrollment season begins November 1 and end January 31. Please go online and explore at http://www.healthcare.gov. Or, seek out a navigator in your state.

Tell me why – a sequel

“Tell me why you cry and why you lie to me,” sang The Beatles. I have observed a few universal truths in my fifty-seven years on this planet, so let me share a few for your consumption and critique.

– the people who cry the loudest about how unjust something is does not necessarily make them right. It does not make them wrong either, so it is important to understand the issues.

– the people who require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them tend to be the least tolerant of people in dealing with others.

– the people who are more zealous in selling you some product, service or message means that the sale is far more beneficial to the seller than the buyer.

– all politicians are prone to lying given the nature of the job and its funding. It is all a matter of degree and to what purpose. In the immortal words of former Senator Jon Kyl when caught in a lie, ” You have mistaken what I said as the truth.”

– when someone says something is not political, you can take it to the bank it is political.

– someone’s history matters. We all make mistakes, but if someone has a history of exploiting people for gain, that is a good window as to how they will be in the future.

– the 80/20 rule applies to business leaders as well. 20% of leaders are effective in their jobs, with the success of  the other 80% rising and falling with the tide. A rising tide lifts all boats.

– business leaders do not create jobs, customers create jobs. A business leader will try to get buy with as few people as possible to turn a profit.

– when people squelch debate, name call or label opposition, that usually means their arguments are poor.

That will do it for now. I could keep at it, but would love to hear your thoughts. Have a great weekend.

A few old comedic actors that make me smile

Are there certain names that when you hear them make you smile? To me, there are some old comedic actors who fit this bill. They were such a key part of the fabric of my life growing up, that fond memories come rushing back when I hear their names. Although these people were not stand-up comedians,  they are burned in our memories from the funny characters they played in the movies and on television.

In no particular order, here are a few of them:

Don Knotts – he will forever be burned into our memory as Barney Fife from “The Andy Griffith Show,” but his talent took him to other roles on television in “Three’s Company” and to the big screen in movies such as “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” When I think of Don Knotts, I think of Barney being allowed to carry a pistol as deputy, only because Andy made him carry one bullet in his buttoned shirt pocket. To see Barney reach for that bullet when he felt in harm’s way is priceless.

Tim Conway – he had already made a name for himself as Ensign Parker on “McHale’s Navy” as well as other roles, but when he joined “The Carol Burnett Show,” there was no funnier person on the planet. He would leave both the audience and fellow cast members in tears with his ad libs and scripted humor. The dentist who keeps injecting Novocaine in parts of his body by mistake is vintage Conway.

Lucille Ball – there is probably no finer comedic actor than our Lucy, who we got to enjoy for so many years. She was so talented and funny, it surprises me still to see how beautiful she was. Her finest moments are the escapades with Ethel Mertz (played by Vivian Vance), especially when entering the work force. The candy assembly line to selling Vita-mita-vegimen, which had a little alcohol are skits that come to mind.

Carol Burnett – Lucy passed the baton to the new funniest person in Carol. Carol’s work early in her career was priceless, but when she got her own television show, with such great fellow actors, it was comedic gold. There are very few skits as funny as her playing Scarlett O’Hara to Harvey Korman’s Rhett Butler in a spoof of “Gone with the Wind,” as she walked down the stairs in a dress made of curtains complete with the curtain rod still attached.

Dick Van Dyke – with his TV show which included a tremendous cast to his roles in  ‘Mary Poppins,” Van Dyke was one talented man. His physical comedy was as funny as his mental comedy given his dancing skills, which flourished in Mary Poppins. I could not wait for his show to start and see him trip (or side step) the ottoman in his house, depending on the year of filming.

Mary Tyler Moore – I must confess I had a huge crush on Laura Petrie, the role she played on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” But, she was far more than a pretty face. She was a talented comedienne and dancer. She would go on to star in her own TV series under her name, which ran forever given the talent of her and her wonderful crew. She could do the best half-crying, half-frustrated routine around.

Andy Griffith – while he is remembered for the show which bore his name as well as a dramatic role in “Matlock,” where he did his funniest work was his comedic acting captured on stage. We have a CD from an old album that is as funny as it gets, where he summarizes the plots of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Carmen for us. Plus, his classic “What it was was football,” will regale you as he describes what he is seeing for the first time.

What is interesting about these talented people is each is remembered for being a part of a funny, talented cast. That made them even more funny and memorable. It is not a surprise that Dick and Mary were on the same show or Carol and Tim or Don and Andy. But, that does a disservice to the many other funny people on the shows. I also left off some other very funny heroes of mine such as Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson, Red Skelton, Moms Mabley and others. Cosby has broken my heart with the news of his many date rapes, but he was such a key part of my memories.

Who are some of your favorites? What do you remember most about them or the above?

Thunder Road

One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs is “Thunder Road.” It is a vintage Boss song as it tells a story in such a vivid manner to wonderful music. When I think of how a piano can accentuate a rock and roll song, this is the song I think of most often, especially with the closing of the song. But, with Bruce, the words always resonate and are lifted up by the tune.

Here are the first and last verses of the song, which illustrate his clever wordsmithing and storytelling:

The screen door slams
Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely
For words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free
All the promises’ll be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone
On the wind so Mary climb in
It’s town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win

To me, these words help me see Mary, with her heart beating, crossing the porch with the wind blowing her dress as she dances as she walks. I can easily hear the screen door slam with Roy Orbison singing in the background. As an aside, there is a great tribute concert with Orbison just before he passed away, with Springsteen and many others playing along that showed how much influence Orbison had on their careers.

But, back to Mary and her unnamed suitor. Note the repeated references to only, lonely and alone. Those are the thirsts they are trying to quench. She is like many people, not beautiful, but alright looking. My guess is he is in the same boat. I love the reference to the “long walk” from her porch to his front seat, which is not that long, physically, but very long mentally. It is a walk of faith in their future.

When I first heard the song, I interpreted it was a ride to take the next step in their relationship. They were headed down to the “beach road.” She had turned away other boys, but loved this one and yearned for him to say the words “ain’t spoken” she knew he felt. Yet, the last line makes me believe they are leaving town as he is “pulling out of here to win.” Are they running away? Or, is consummating a relationship and expressing his love winning? I go back and forth on this.

I would be interested in your thoughts and interpretations. Does this rank up there with your favorite Springsteen songs? What are some of your others and why?

Collaboration proves to be successful

The strident bent of a small group in Congress that is holding that body and our Country back from governance is at odds with what has been most successful over time. Governing in a democracy is hinged on the art and execution of compromise and collaboration. Neither political party has all of the answers and some within those parties are not even asking the right questions. So, if you are unwilling to collaborate, you will not know where your opinions may be off base. In short, if you are not there to govern, then why are you there?

There are two recent examples of very successful presidencies that are due to collaboration and compromise, one a Democrat and one a Republican. Both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan have been deemed by their parties and others to have had good presidencies. Yes, they had their faults and made mistakes, but they also had some similarities. The Bureau of Labor statistics show under Clinton’s tutelage, more jobs were created than under any other president, even more than under FDR. The BLS statistics show that under Reagan, more jobs were created than under any other Republican president and he ranks in the top three behind the two men noted above.

It does not stop there. Clinton left the White House with a balanced budget which he worked with Congress to achieve over the last few years of his presidency. Reagan also was tireless in his efforts to have a balanced budget, actually raising taxes a number of times after his too deep tax cut early in his presidency. It should be noted that per an economic advisor to both, David Smick, who wrote “The World is Curved,” both presidents were very big on free trade and trade agreements.

Yet, both men were huge collaborators with Congress. In fact, Reagan was best friends with Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill as put forth in the book “Tip and the Gipper,” by Chris Matthews, who was on O’Neill’s staff. Reagan and O’Neill disagreed a lot, but both loved their country, so they found common ground and passed legislation. Clinton was not best friends with the two speakers from the opposing party, Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, but he worked with them and fellow Democrat speaker Tom Foley to get things done, including the efforts to get us out of a deficit position and sign key trade agreements.

Recognizing that presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, they do provide tailwinds or headwinds. So, it should not be ironic that two presidencies where the first and third most jobs were created were under collaborative presidents. Moving forward to today’s time, our current president has also seen success on these fronts with 67 consecutive months of job growth and halving the unemployment rate which is now at 5.1%. When done, his job numbers will rank pretty good among all presidents.

Yet, so much more could have been done if he and Congress worked together more. The opposing party has set out not to collaborate with the president and is on record as such. This president could have done a much better job of reaching out to this Congress, in spite of the negative partisanship. A good example is we have let an ideal time pass (with low interest rates) for investing more in improving and shoring up our outdated infrastructure. Outside of the Stimulus Act which provided funds to infrastructure projects, we have kicked the can down the road. And, these investments are known job creators.

So, as we see the machinations of a small number of folks who want the gears to come to a grinding halt, we need to remember how we got here. Government, of course, could be more efficient, yet it does play a huge role in our economy, safety and well-being. Collaboration and compromise are the keys. Let’s focus on getting things done.

 

A weird but fun night

My daughter was home on fall break from college and one of my sons joined us after his work shift. One of the HBO stations was playing the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” which she had seen in a theater with a friend.

Since movie time together has waned some, I asked her if she wanted to watch it. My wife had not seen it. Now, if you have seen Rocky Horror, you know it is not the ideal movie for parents to watch with their children. Yet, it is so campy and bizarre it makes it less a problem than it might be otherwise. You need to understand, we are more eclectic than most parents, but this was still a stretch even for us.

We followed that with “Beetlejuice” which is Michael Keaton at his crazy best. This is also a strange movie, but it made it fun as neither our daughter or son had seen this one. To me, the best part of the movie is the waiting room to see their advisor.

So, for one Halloween style night of movies, we sat with two of our three children (the other is still away at college) and laughed out loud for three and a half hours. That is when I wasn’t wincing at the reasons Rocky Horror had a R rating. My wife said that was the weirdest movie she had ever seen.

So, it was a weird, but fun night. And, it let us “do the time warp again.”

Which country is being talked about?

Which country are the Republican candidates speaking about? The one I live in has had 67 consecutive months of private sector job growth, with an unemployment rate of 5.1% and a stock market that has more than doubled since January, 2009. Coupling this with expanded health care opportunities for many who did not have affordable access, increased consumer rights under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and fewer Americans fighting abroad, things are better than portrayed by these candidates. And, this is in a world where some countries are struggling.

However, this economy has not benefitted everyone equally, but the demise of the middle class and increase in poverty has been created over the last 35 years with technology improvements, offshoring, outsourcing and lack of infrastructure investment. Data also shows with the tax simplification plan under President Reagan which significantly reduced the upper tax bracket, the disparity between the haves and have-nots got much larger over these 35 years. But, it should be noted both Democrats and Republicans failed to halt this widening chasm.

We need to work together to address these systematic problems, which should be owned by all leaders as it has been a building problem that became more apparent with job losses created during the recession. What troubles me greatly is our desire to look past data focusing on overly simplified and often-wrong campaign slogans. There are things that we could be doing that we are not, due to these kinds of politics.

The easiest measure would be to invest in our infrastructure. Our roads, bridges, ports, railways and railway bridges are in need of repair and maintenance. There is a bipartisan plea by the former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to invest in these needs before a ticking time bomb  explodes like another huge train derailment or bridge collapse. This plea is supported by both the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO labor union. The additional reason beside the need to repair and renovate crumbling infrastructure is these initiatives are known job creators. That was supposed to mission one of this Congress.

Congress has kicked the can down the road with short-term funding for 33 consecutive quarters under both Republican and Democrat leadership. I fault Congress and the President for not making this a huge priority. Both parties are to blame for not acting on this issue as we need to be banging on a gong as this so important. Yet, we hear so little about it. The next chance to do something is at month’s end, but with the state of disarray in Congress without a speaker and the existing divisiveness in the majority party, I am not hopeful anything tangible will be done except another short-term funding.

I have written before (and will again) about other issues that will help, but this one truly is a ticking time bomb. We will have another disaster, but we should not let Congress or the President ask why did someone let this happen? Quoting Michael Jackson, they need to start with the “man (and woman) in the mirror.” Our country is not as bad off as it is portrayed, but we have real problems that need to be dealt with. Not investing in our infrastructure is one of them. Please reach out to your Congressional representative, Senators and the President and tell them to make a move before more Americans die or get hurt and let people get to work to fix these problems.