Note to politicians (and so-called news people) – STOP THE NAME CALLING AND LABELING

The United States and the world have a lot of problems that need elected officials to address. The problems are multi-faceted in causes, so they require holistic thinking, educated and civil discussion and multi-faceted solutions. Our problems are hard enough to solve when we focus on the facts and issues, but nigh impossible when we listen to name calling and labeling as a substitute for discourse.

So, politicians, here is a simple piece of advice. If you cannot understand the first paragraph, then what you need to do is please resign. We don’t need people who decide not to add value and name call opponents. That is not civil discourse, that is childish playground talk. If you cannot add value with your commentary, please keep your thoughts to yourself. At least this citizen will not be listening to you, nor should others. That includes all politicians, not just the ones who disagree with your positions. It also includes those who are berating Tim Scott calling him “Uncle Tom” because he has the temerity to be a Black Republican.

The same goes with opinion hosts who are disguised as news people, but are really entertainers. Note, that is not my word, as Fox News decided to defend one its hosts who is being sued for defamation by saying his show should not be taken seriously as a news show, as it is an entertainment show. To repeat, Fox News said one of its night time hosts is an entertainer, so his opinions should be taken less seriously.

My advice to people who watch the news or read it online, please consider the source. Do they print errata notices when they get it wrong? Is it an opinion host or a newscaster saying or writing the news? Or is it one of those paid advertisements spread between the news, hoping you do not see the word AD on it? Is it a Facebook or Instagram friend who likes to share evocative videos just to get a rise out of folks?

For democracies to work, we must have a free and read press. Sadly, there are some who wish to taint all news as bad or fake, so they can basically do whatever they want. That is what we must guard against, especially after January 6. Civil discourse is a must. If our so-called leaders and talk show hosts cannot be such, then it falls on us to show them the way. Our leaders should be among our better angels, not our worse demons.

My browser seems like a gossip column with the tribal BS – where is the news?

With all of the tribal BS going on, the folks who are supposed to report on the news seem to spend a lot of time correcting others. It has grown commonplace for very biased sources to make things up and watch the more legitimate news sources report on the lack of veracity of the biased source. To be honest,, news reports of the lack of veracity of some opinion hosts is not really news to me.

It should be noted this is all by design, as it gets people talking about nothing important overlooking the fact that things are not getting done. The other unfortunate objective is to discredit the whole news process. If sources with lots of followers lie often, and more reputable news sources get caught in a lie, it defames the news credibility. We just witnessed almost six years of a former candidate and president routinely claim that all negative news about him was “fake news.” Just because he said it was fake, did not necessarily mean it was not true.

But, this also impacts other politicians. As a group, politicians are not known for their truthfulness. And, some are well known for not being consistently truthful. This former candidate called an opponent “Lyin’ Ted” and was not far from the truth, yet he failed to look in the mirror when he made the accusation. Sadly, if a politican says something, check other sources. The body politic has earned this requirement.

So, if I see things in my browser that are he said/ she said stuff, I pass. Nowadays, if I see a picture of the former president who is not known for his veracity, I pass. The same goes for certain opinion hosts and politicians, as their words are usually less than truthful, so I pass.

The virtuous cycle – a repeat

The following post was written about six years ago. Since that time the production cost of renewable energy has fallen to be competitive and, in some cases, lower than fossil fuel energy costs. And, that is without the residual costs of fossil fuel acquisition, transport, litigation, and maintenance.

The virtuous cycle is a nice term, but what in the heck does it mean? In the context under which I most recently saw it used is with one of two ultimate rationales why the move to renewable energy will begin to accelerate and replace fossil fuel energy sources.

Of course, renewable energy has many benefits and as the cost of production continues to fall, it will be on par with current fossil fuel energy production costs. This does not even consider the other costs that can be avoided which are inherent in the fossil fuel process. And, a key rationale for the migration will be the avoidance of the significant water loss that occurs in the fossil fuel and nuclear power production process through dissipated steam and loss of water to retrieve natural gas and oil through fracking.

But, the virtuous cycle will be one that will join water as the key reason for the accelerated migration to renewable energy. In essence, in fossil fuel energy production, energy has to be used to create energy. For example, to create electricity with fossil fuel, we have to burn coal or natural gas to boil water into steam to turn the turbines which turn the electromagnet generators. We have to exhaust energy to make more energy.

With renewable energy, we need not exhaust energy to make energy. The sun will shine and the wind will blow. They are doing this already, so we are merely harnessing that energy to produce electricity thereby creating a virtuous cycle. Using monetary terms, we do not need to spend money to make money, once the solar panels or windmills are created. Yes, we need to maintain them, but we do not have to spend energy to create new energy.

This matters now as energy companies look to build new energy production facilities. As a company considers the building over years of a natural gas-fired plant, the virtuous cycle of renewable energy may render that natural gas investment obsolete before a return on investment can be achieved. Companies will migrate to cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy sources. The fossil fuel industry is big on focusing on the cost and jobs as reasons to do more of the status quo, yet the production cost will flip the other way and will become more favorable for renewables. The jobs are already there and growing rapidly with double-digit increases.

So, when  people say we cannot afford to move to renewable energy, that is actually a very short-sighted argument. When you factor all of the added costs on environment and health of fossil fuel acquisition, use, and future maintenance, the costs are already in the favor of renewables. The virtuous cycle will accelerate the move even more.

Negative news has a larger echo than positive news

We should remind ourselves that bad news has a larger echo than good news. This is why good news articles and social media posts are so needed. News agencies publish “conflict” as it sells better. The doctor who does things well 19 times out of 20 is not newsworthy, until he messes up that one time. The best offensive tackle is not newsworthy unless he is penalized or his opponent gets by him to the quarterback.

No question, division exists and civility is lacking to too many in discourse. But, what we don’t see and hear are the countless folks who are living their lives and getting along. Most people do not pay attention to the blathering untruths of people named Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, et al. We are too busy paying attention to our own lives.

If we do watch news, it is more often entertainment or sports news or something someone shared on social media that was more provocative than accurate. In fact, much of what finds may way into my browser could qualify as gossip – some one reacting to the inanity said by an opinion host who is just trying to sell ratings. My reaction before I pass on reading it is “Oh, (insert name) must have said something stupid again.” Next.

Some have prophesized this will cause our extinction. It does threaten our democracy, but will likely not cause our extinction. On that front, what we need to worry about is too many people chasing too few water and food resources. So, before we are pronounced extinct, please note it is not as bad as portrayed, but it still needs to be a lot better. Our real problems are hard enough without some opinion host masquerading as a news person making up inane things. My advice is to ignore blather and check other sources.

Lessons from Sully Sullenberger and Paul O’Neill – a review

The following post was written seven years ago when GM was having some issues that did not get communicated upward and were left to fester. This is not an uncommon problem, nor is knowing about problems and choosing not to act.

I have written before that organizations take on the personality of its leaders. Earlier this week, CEO Mary Barra of General Motors (GM), reported on the findings of an internal audit of why they did not have an earlier recall when problems arose on some cars. Many heard a lot of blame down the ladder, but we did not hear much about culpability at the top. The key question asked, but not answered, is why did people not share their concerns with management that something was amiss? The unstated answer is it is in the culture of the organization, where people at the top did not want to hear of failings or heads would roll. An analyst who covers the car industry noted there was a modus operandi of “don’t mess with the launch of new line.”

I have written before about two leaders, Captain Sully Sullenberger and Paul O’Neill, who was the CEO who turned around Alcoa and later became Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush. They have some good lessons that GM should emulate  going forward. Sullenberger was the right person at the right time as captain of US Airways Flight 1549 that he safely landed in the Hudson River. He not only studied accidents for airlines, he was on task forces to go to crash sites and help ascertain why the planes went down. So, he knew from his research and experience, what he needed to do to safely land in the Hudson.

He also knew what GM failed to remember. He was the leader of the crew, but he understood all to well that each member of the team has a role in the safety of the flight, including the flight tower personnel. His research showed that many accidents occurred because navigators and co-pilots did not feel comfortable offering input to the pilot or tower. A couple of examples might help. A plane crashed in Japan, because the co-pilot had to acquiesce to the pilot due to seniority. In this case, the co-pilot was on record as being correct that the plane was off course, but the pilot’s judgment could not be overturned. In another, the Brazilian flight crew of a doomed flight did not have confidence to disagree with an American flight tower and the plane crashed.

Sullenberger was aware of other examples that had been noted and improved over time. But, what he did every time he had a new flight crew (even one new member), was get them all together to get to know them and encourage them to speak up if they saw something amiss. Anything, even if small. He noted in his book, what gave him great comfort during these few seconds on Flight 1549, was he could hear everyone doing their job. He got quick advice from the tower, his co-pilot and navigator. He shared his thoughts quickly and made sure everyone knew what was going to transpire. When he concluded that getting nearby Teterboro Airport was not possible, he offered up and concluded, “it looks like we will be in the Hudson” which allowed rescue crews to be alerted.

O’Neill joined Alcoa which was struggling. And, his first public comments were “we are going to make Alcoa the safest company possible.” This was an odd mission to start out with and many analysts were not impressed. One analyst told his investors to sell Alcoa stock, which he later added, was the worst advice he had ever given. O’Neill knew that the only thing he could get management and union leaders to agree on was safety. So, that is where he started. He also knew that for safety to be important, managers had to talk to floor personnel to understand better the problems, so that a plan to fix them could be developed. So, communication got better up and down the line. The empowered employees starting sharing ideas on how to improve not only safety, but process as well. The company performance and stock price took off.

Both Sullenberger and O’Neill knew that they were part of a team. They also knew the best ideas can come from anywhere, but especially from those closest to the action. So, it is not only vital, but imperative, that management create a culture where ideas can be shared. Otherwise, you would be flying in the dark. It should be noted at the same time GM was having these troubles, they missed a huge market opportunity. Why? Because they were not listening.

GM piloted the first electric car called the EV-1 in California in the early 2000’s. They did not sell them or market them, but a cult-like following was growing as people who wanted to make a difference started leasing them by the thousands. Eventually, the EV-1 was killed as the result of an alleged collusive effort chronicled in the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which can be accessed by the link below. The drivers wanted to buy the cars, but GM collected them and shredded them. They wanted no evidence. The Board of Directors of GM asked why the EV-1 pilot was being shelved at the same time they were building Hummers, and management said this is the direction America car buyers want. Hummers are no longer made as they were gas guzzlers.

Here in 2014, GM could have been the predominant player in the electric car market, which will grow as more power stations and better batteries become available. Yet, they chose a short-lived strategy, made other bad decisions and had to be bailed out and only now are seeing the failure of not having an open culture to communication. The lesson that was not said by Barra is we did not have an environment where people could offer input and we would listen to them. She needs to talk to Sully Sullenberger and Paul O’Neill and set a more open path for the future. It is not ironic, that both are known for safety. And, communication.

Mid-week musings

Ever the news junkie, I have seriously dialed back my news intake. It has made my life much easier, as I need not worry as much about who said what about whom. Mind you, those stories seep in as I see my browser headlines, but knowing the lack of veracity of many of those reporting or being reported on, I need not bother reading what the latest gossip is. And, truth be told, a lot of what comes out of some mouths or fingers is gossip.

I did see where former Republican president George W. Bush has joined former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in lamenting the nationalistic and untruthful bents of their party. Both are doing book tours, which give reporters the opportunity to ask questions about the overt inanity going on in their party. People may not recall that Boehner resigned as Speaker as he was tired of herding cats to get legislation passed. And, Bush has turned out to be a better artist than first envisioned, and is helping paint what American immigrants look like.

I am delighted Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. It would have been a travesty of justice if he had not, since his crime was overt and recorded. Those who have made this issue tribal need to look at the footage and testimony to see how good a case was made. Also, we need elected leaders to avoid commenting on trials until they are finished. The best thing they can do is wish the jurors well with their jurisprudence. Their comments could be cited as undue jury influence if made before sequestering.

Speaking of veracity, I am long weary of politicians, spin doctors and opinion hosts masquerading as news people trying to re-write history, even very recent history to support their tribe.. I fully realize how easy it is to do with social media and US citizenry more keen on entertainment news. There is an conscious effort to sand away the former president’s role in the insurrection on January 6. This followed and is still following a conscious effort to say the election was fraudulent, when proof continues to be elusive.

If you are getting your news from an opinion host, my strong suggestion is to find another source. Many of these folks are mere entertainers telling you what you want to hear. It matters not if people with names like Carlson, Hannity, Maddow, Rivera, O’Donnell, Ingraham, etc. like or dislike something, as they are only sharing their opinion. And, some of opinions are less informed than their smugness conveys.

Likewise, if you are getting your news from legislators, that is unfortunately a dubious source, as well. .And, they brought it on themselves. The sad part is they don’t seem to care if caught in lie. The last president’s worst legacy is not his rampant untruthfulness, it is how he showed people to deflect scrutiny from his lies. If it is bad, it is “fake news.” One hundred years from now, when “fake news” is looked up, it should have a picture of the most recent former president in its definition.

So, take a deep breath. Stop watching entertainers tell you what to think and read and watch better sources of news. And, if a legislator says something, take it with a grain of salt. Better yet, confirm it with another source.

Time to get shot – vaccine shot that is (an update)

It is my time to get the first of the COVID-19 vaccines. I went Saturday to an event sponsored by Atrium Health at Bank of America stadium on Saturday. It was actually well organized and very quick, but more on that later. And, the only side effect is a tender arm where I was shot.

When I signed up through my hospital system, it was like buying tickets online for a concert. I had several locations to choose from, but when I hesitated to actually read something they wanted me to, my choice locations vanished. And, I had to start again. That is how I ended up at the football stadium. I promise I did not spike the football after getting shot. The other locations are drive-throughs at various hospital locations.

Nonetheless, I am glad to have started the vaccine train with its two stops. Three weeks from now, I will get number two and be done. These have been scary times the past fifteen months. I did see there is an uptick of COVID-19 in more places. Cavalier attitude toward socializing is the likely culprit along with politicians saying more political than prudent things.

Those not interested in the vaccine are an enigma to me. I cannot understand why something that is so needed is avoided. I cannot understand why something that is relatively easy to do is avoided. If people are so doing because they have an anti-vax attitude, I understand it more, but still don’t understand it enough. If people are avoiding it because of the pace of the development, I understand that a little more, but the stories of side effects get more air time than the countless no problems. Yet, if people are doing so for a political statement, that is just inane. Politicians now campaign all of the time rather than govern, so we must take what many say with a grain of salt.

The event was smooth sailing. The only waiting was for parking as it was bottle necked to one lot. I eventually bailed and went to another lot. I walked right on in and two check points later got my shot. I was out in thirty minutes counting the fifteen minute observation wait at the end.  I was encouraged when they sent me a text to NOT show up earlier than fifteen minutes before my appointment time. 

By the way, I am old enough to remember some shot we all got when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember what it was, but we all lined up for our poke in the arm. I do remember the kids behind me asking “did it hurt?” which everyone one was asked. By the way, this did not hurt. I exercised the next morning and today am without any tenderness.

Sidebar: A funny story happened, which my wife chuckled at when I told her later. The person giving me my shot was a pediatrician who was my age as she commented when I told her my birthday. When I asked her if I needed to roll up a sleeve, she said if we just unbutton the top button on your pull over shirt, we can roll it down enough to give me the shot. To my surprise, then she started doing it. And, I said don’t you need to know my first name to start undressing me. She laughed and said I am a pediatrician so I am used to just doing things. Everyone needs a chuckle, especially those doing repetitive things.

Internal Bleeding – Be your own Health Care Advocate

The following post was written about nine years ago. Since that time, some of the changes noted below have taken shape, but the message remains important. Be your own health care advocate.

A few years ago, two doctors looking to improve the quality of health care in the US, wrote a book called “Internal Bleeding: The Truth Behind America’s Terrifying Epidemic of Medical Mistakes.” Since Drs. Robert Wachter and Kaveh Shojania wrote their book, improvements have and continue to be made, but with the concern over the US’ 38th position in health care quality, while being the most expensive system in the world (according to the World Health Organization), I think it is appropriate to belabor a few of their key points, in particular, being your own health care advocate.

In today’s world, we must be the navigators of any customer service we receive whether it is at a bank, the driver’s license office or in a retail store. We must be diplomatically relentless in trying to gain the service we expect and need to resolve an issue. Service providers, in particular those in a Call Center, need to stay on script as much as possible. When your problems get them off script, then your navigation diplomacy skills are needed the most.  I mention this as context for what we also must do in gleaning good health care service.

A few years back there was a study conducted by a combined group called the “Leapfrog Group” to improve the quality of health care in hospitals. Leapfrog came up with three major ideas – (1) Electronic orders were a must (poorly written prescription orders were killing people), (2) Intensive Care units need to always have a doctor on site and (3) Medical procedures of import need to be done in centers of excellence, not where a hospital may have done only a handful of surgeries in this area. “Internal Bleeding” echoes many of these same issues, especially the one on electronic order taking. Yet, they also go beyond these Leapfrog issues.

They noted that often times in hospitals, fewer critical questions are asked closer to the time of the procedure. Sometimes, the critical mistake may have occurred very early in the process. They used the analogy of all of the holes in Swiss cheese aligning to allow a mistake to pass all the way through. They used the example at Duke University where a famous heart transplant for a minor child occurred. The doctors at this very fine medical center, one of the best, were so excited when a heart of a young deceased donor became available, that they assumed others had checked that the type of blood of the donor matched the patient. It did not and the patient died. Similar examples occurred when doctors operated on the wrong leg, arm, kidney, lung, etc. The doctors failed to ask the very basic of questions and assumed these issues had been resolved.

In addition to the above and related to the Rx orders, the authors advocate the patient understand fully what is being done to them in the hospital or before they get there. They recommend you introduce yourself to every care giver who comes into the room, ask questions of them relative to medications you are being given and make them fully aware of other medications you are taking. They recommend if you cannot speak for yourself or are uncomfortable in so-doing, to delegate this important role to someone you trust. In other words, they are recommending being your own health care advocate. This will help minimize mistakes.

Health care is both a science and an art. It also is a trial and error business, so the doctors may not know for certain what is wrong with you and have to figure it out. They will do their best, but they do not know you very well or at all. So, you have to play the role of information provider and advocate.  Using the authors’ recommendation supplemented by other sources of information and experience, you must be your own health care advocate and do the following to get the care you expect and need.

– Write as good a summary of your and your family medical history as possible. Make it available to others you trust who may need to speak on your behalf.

– Before you see the doctor, write down your symptoms and questions as you may get stage fright when you see the doctor’s white coat.

– Do not be scared to ask questions, especially if you do not understand the diagnosis or remedy – he or she is there to serve you. I tell my kids you show your intelligence by asking questions, not by failing to ask.

– Get a second opinion on major diagnoses. For example, it takes a lot of practice to read a mammogram correctly and a non-inconsequential percentage of misdiagnoses occur. Using this example, computers cannot take the place of human fingers in doing a self-test. If you feel a lump and the first mammogram shows negative, get a second opinion.

– Make sure you inform your doctors and pharmacists what drugs you are taking. There are a number of drugs that contraempt the drug you need (make its use less effective) and some which are toxic when taken together. I ask my pharmacist questions all the time about some over counter drugs that may be harmful when taken with the prescriptions my family is taking, including me.

– Take your medications as prescribed and through the dosage. Many people stop taking their meds when they start feeling better.

– Be truthful with the doctor about your drinking and extra-curricular drug use. Doctors tend to believe patients understate their drinking, so help them out and tell them the truth. You drink more than you say you do.

– Make sure you get treatment for a major problem at a place that does a lot of what you need – a center of excellence. This is especially true with back or spinal surgeries and surgeries on any major organs. If you are having heart surgery, do you want it done where they have done 25 in the past year or 250, e.g? I have two friends who are having major back complications after spinal surgeries were done poorly.

– Get all the information you can around procedures to make informed decisions. In some cases, living with a mild discomfort with medication may be better than invasive surgery. Ask the doctor what are the options, what are the chances for success and what are the risks. If he/ she doesn’t know, ask him/ her with whom you can speak.

– Be diplomatically relentless with Call Center personnel at insurance companies. Mistakes do occur and sometimes you may be allergic to a substituted generic prescription. So, you can appeal a claim if you feel under-served.

– This one comes courtesy of Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist, biologist and cancer survivor. Family history needs to recognize your environment as well. She was adopted, but her bladder cancer at the age of 21, also occurred in other family members who lived nearby (as well as other cancers). Bladder cancer is a bell-weather cancer. It is largely caused by environmental toxins. If your family, neighbors or community has some longevity in an area and more than one or two bladder cancers have occurred, start doing some fact-finding. It may be more than a coincidence. Since people move around, showing environmental causes is difficult as the exposure may have occurred years before.

– Finally, take care of yourself in a sustainable way. Walk more. Reduce portions. Eat more slowly and ingest more calories earlier in the day. These measures can be sustained whereas diets cannot.

These are just a few ideas, but the key message is be your own health care advocate as you are the only constant in any equation about your health. If you feel you cannot serve this role well, please take a trusted friend or family member with you. Doctors and nurses are marvelous care givers, but they are not perfect. You have to improve their service by being present in the conversations. It is only your or your children’s lives.

From seven words to everything is game

This post is rated PG-13, but some may view it as R given the subject matter. Please be forewarned.

Back in 1972, comedian George Carlin had a funny routine which he called the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue. Being a young teen, that was quite a risque routine, but it set a standard that no longer exists. In 2021, with cable and online programming, pretty much everything is game. And, this is just the commercials.

This can become embarrassing when you are watching television sitting with someone who was my age in 1972. They might see and hear advertisements on any of the following:

  • Erectile dysfunction for older men (Daddy what is that?)
  • Adult diapers for both men and women, even sexy ones (which I cannot figure out if that is a turn on or off)
  • Toilet paper ads on who has the more absorbent product (definitely TMI)
  • Down there care, which I have unfortunately witnessed can be for multiple needs (when we saw a woman implying down there care for her more private part as she growled like a tigress, my wife and I could not stop laughing)
  • A special razor for women for, yes, down there care (that was risque enough, then the actress started demonstrating how to use it in the shower – whoa this is TV folks!)
  • All manners of birth control (those are actually tame by comparison)
  • Pills for various sexually transmitted diseases (Daddy what is HIV or Herpes?)
  • And, recently we have seen a treatment for a male private part that is not straight, which I did not know had a technical term for it (Again, Daddy what is that?).

So, we have gone from words we cannot say to words that are implied in advertising and do appear in TV shows. Of course, part of it is due to our choice of shows, which may attract certain commercials. We like the” Law and Order; Special Victims Unit” show which brings a more adult level of commercial. Yet, seeing a special razor being demonstrated does seem a bridge too far. As for the crooked man commercial, it does go beyond the “there was a crooked man….” nursery rhyme.

Time for the adult swim – just a quick dip

We need more rational adults to tell people in leadership and legislative positions to “get out of the pool, it is time for the adult swim.” The message is simple – “you folks are too worried about keeping your job, than to do your job.” The lobbyists pay a lot of money to get these funded drones to look the other way or do their bidding.

So, with the more rational adults in charge, no more Q conspiracies, no more pretending climate change is not a problem, plastic in the ocean the size of Texas is not a problem, poverty and hunger are not problems, gun violence is not a problem, debt is not a problem, racial bias is not a problem, the lack of civility is not a problem, etc.

Finally, if the people in leadership positions start to focus on the multiple causes of real problems and actually use data and science to discuss solutions, then those biased talking heads with audiences will be forced to discuss these matters as well. Frankly, it is highly disappointing and embarrassing to witness how often these talking heads intentionally or accidentally misinform people.