25 August 2009

Endings

This year, we have seen so much fall away, so much shift and change. It has left us unsettled, in question and scared. What next? seems to be on everyone's mind.

In the last two months, we have lost a fair share of icons. Each represented something different. The "me" of the 70s. The excess of the 80s. The buy-one-get-one-free-in-three-easy-payments 90s. The integrity of newscasting through the decades. And now the "lion" of liberals.

We don't use terms like, "Sex Appeal" much anymore. But Farrah embodied it. Today, we would mock anyone who declared themselves King or Queen of something. But, somehow, coming out of the materialistic 80s, we shrugged our shoulders and played along. How many of us got sucked in to buying the latest-greatest-product-ever in the 90s? I am raising my hand as a proud owner of the Caruso Curlers. How often have we wished that Walter Cronkite read us our news? At least then it was the facts, not the hype. And, even with all his faults, we will miss the kind of public service and progressive vision that Senator Kennedy gave.

The past seems to be slipping away from us as we step into an uncertain future. These icons, these anchors, are gone now. I wonder what icon will represent this decade? Will it be Bald Britney? Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan? Will it be the crumbing Twin Towers? That bumbling idiot we were forced to call president for much too long? Will it be the two wars and the soldiers forced to fight them over and over and over again? Will it be Wall Street or Madoff? Or will it be Hope?

In the face of all these endings, it's time to begin. It's time to change, for the better. To be brave and compassionate. To be fair. To truly make this country equal. To be responsible. To provide to those in need. I hope, if nothing else, this decade will have taught us to care, to be involved and to not turn a blind eye. From September 11th to Katrina to Wall Street to today, as this decade winds to its close, I hope we will be courageous enough to write a happier ending and not be afraid to move forward.

14 August 2009

Enough Junk

I don't know about you, but I've grown a little tired of the health care debate. What's to argue? Fact: Our system is broken. Fact: We have the highest infant mortality rate of any developed country. Fact: We spend more per capita on medical care than any other developed country, yet we are one of the sickest. Fact: I have Anthem Blue Cross PPO health insurance with a premium that goes up every year while my coverage is reduced. I am healthy, I rarely go to the doctor, and I cannot afford to get sick with the coverage I have, mainly because they deny just about everything. Did I mention I have a PPO and all my doctors are in network? Welcome to having an individual policy.

My friend, who is on a group Anthem plan, is treated like gold. Mainly, I suspect, because the company the policy is through is beyond high profile. Who would want any unhappy customers there? Not with that PR team. This is just my theory. But having been denied by Blue Cross (before they changed their name) when I re-enrolled instead of paying for the three months I was off the policy (I have a cheap side), I know their game. When I wrote a letter to the CEO and cc'd everyone down the line to the underwriter who declined me and used words like "blackmail" and "extortion", they reconsidered and reinstated me.

A couple of years ago, when I finally met my $1,500 deductible during my stomach issue, for the first time, I went to get reimbursed for a single test I paid out of pocket. The claim, which was completely legitimate, kept getting declined. Why? The information they required wasn't on the form they sent me. That's one heck of an oversight, no? Instead of picking up the phone and calling me or the hospital to get the medical code and Federal Tax ID of the hospital they said they needed yet left off the form, they simply denied the claim. Even better, when I provided the first bit of information (the code), they failed to mention the second bit of information (tax ID) they required. See the game they play? Even better, they denied the use of anesthesia (Twilight sedation) for my endoscopy, that included a biopsy of my small intestine, after a peer review. Did I mention the facility and doctors were all in network, and I have a PPO? So, why do I stay with them? It's the devil I know.

The system is broken. While I'm denied sedation, the bonuses being paid out to their executives would make Solomon blush. Profit seems to trump care in that industry. Love or hate Michael Moore, we cannot dispute many of the facts in Sicko. What is happening in health care is worse than what collapsed Wall Street. Yet we are opposed to fixing it. Why? Because of the "Socialized Medicine" boogie man? Canada, the UK and the whole of Europe have survived decades on it. We have the opportunity to build on their successes and work out their flaws with 20/20 hindsight. But lobbyists need jobs. CEOs are used to multi-million dollar bonuses. They aren't going down without a fight. And they will do their best to scare us into believing we will be worse off. I find that hard to believe. And I have a PPO.

Taxes. We don't want more stinking taxes. Well, the uninsured and unhealthy people of America are already costing us plenty. But, okay, you don't want to see less coming out of your paycheck. I get it, and I have a solution: Junk food tax. Yep. You heard me, a tax on every box and bag of processed food from chips to mac 'n cheese. Every piece of candy, every soda, every bag bought at a fast food restaurant should have a tax. Not just sales tax, but a fat tax. After all, we pay a tax on alcohol and cigarettes as a form of deterrent and punishment for having such unhealthy vices. It's junk food's turn.

Junk food is not a necessity. It's a choice that is making us fat and sick. If you don't want to pay that tax, eat an apple or grab some carrots. Problem solved.

It's scary to see how obese we are. Even though we know we are a fat country, we don't put down the doughnuts and walk a lap or two. Maybe throw in a sit-up or push-up for good measure? Nah. We don't want to break a sweat. We are too tired to exercise. Well, we are too tired because we eat crap. Then, we want to call our super size "normal". Obese is not normal. Nowhere near it. Look back 40 years ago to see what a normal size was. It isn't what we are sporting now.

I come from farm people of Michigan and Iowa. I know the culinary culture of that well. Bacon grease was used instead of Pam. Things were fried, smothered and buttered. They ate that way because they worked all day in the fields and with the animals. Hard work takes heavy food. But now, we have machines. We live in cities. We work desk jobs. Yet, we continue to eat like we are doing physical labor, and the pounds pack on. Change isn't easy, but, for goodness sake, we are adults. We can make better decisions.

To be morbidly obese takes a phenomenal effort. It takes an amazing amount of calories to put and keep that kind of weight on. The human body is not meant to be that heavy. No matter how people want to spin it, it's unnatural. Period. It's not healthy. Period. And, eventually, it will kill you.

We are a gluttonous culture. Whether it is food or money or debt, it's always more, more, more. Look at the result. It's sad and frustrating. What is going to make us "get it" as a society? We can't keep indulging in this unhealthy behavior. And I don't think we should sugarcoat it any longer.

Look at our portion sizes. They are ridiculous. A great book that puts it all into perspective is The Portion Teller. Not only does author Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, tell us what a healthy portion size is, she gives us a history lesson on how they have grown in the last 30+ years, and it is shocking. Yet, with all our advances in health, science and education, we are failing at basic nutrition. We eat more with less value.

Oddly enough, there's no real way to overeat natural foods. It's this side of impossible. You will have a *reaction*. Anyone who has had too much fruit can attest to what that is. Why? I believe it's because your body recognizes what you are eating and can tell when to stop. Processed food, not so much. Your body doesn't know it (even though it should by now), so it doesn't say stop. It just stores it in case you run into a famine. When was the last time North America saw a famine? Don't like vegetables? No one does. We more or less come to appreciate how we feel after we eat them. Then we start to crave them. I am currently in love with kale and yams, and can't get enough. But who said you are supposed to like what you eat? It's fuel. Get your pleasure somewhere else.

Then there is the argument that obesity a matter of personal freedom. Really? Our personal freedom is already limited, supposedly to protect us. Helmet and seatbelt laws for instance. And, of course, suicide is against the law. Wouldn't that be the ultimate in personal freedom; to say you don't want to be here anymore and check out? An extreme example, admittedly, but this proves that your life really isn't your own to do with as you please. And all morbid obesity is is a slow suicide. So why are we coddling it? We throw drug addicts and alcoholics into rehab. Why aren't we having interventions for the obese?

There should be a price to pay for the weight being put on the system from making unhealthy food choices. Why should being unhealthy come so cheaply? And why should we have to pay a higher price for organics? I'm willing to shell out a tax on my cake and the 88% cacao chocolate bar I can't live without...and even those baked, organic, blue corn chips I find so tempting. Especially if we all will end up getting better health care.

Health care starts with the individual. How you choose to live impacts the system (aka "all of us") as a whole, for better or worse. Right now, America is at its unhealthiest. We need to take a look at how we eat, why we eat it, and why we don't love and respect ourselves enough to take the best care of our bodies that we can. After all, we are Americans. We can do anything, right? So, let's start with taking care of ourselves. Every one of us.

Enough junk. It's time for a change.

06 August 2009

Coming Home

First, there's the rush of getting everything done. Not just packing, but dealing with a client, then another client, the errands across town. Don't forget to eat something. Stop by CVS, the mail box, inhale lunch, and fill your suitcase. Get gas. Get the car washed (I know, it's kind of silly, but it brings me luck), then put everything in the car and go.

Even with traffic, it's the quickest six hours I know. I went a new musical route this time and listened to an old playlist. I'm one hell of a DJ, I must say. It was two-and-a-half-hours long. I listened to it twice.

I ate dinner at 85. Miles-per-hour, that is. I drank 64 ounces of water in less than five hours, and only peed once. I made it all the way to Santa Nella for that. I sped through the gusty winds that blew as the 5 was about the meet the 580. I was surprised how cold it was in Dublin. No, not *that* Dublin.

I've learned to compact my luggage over these visits. Even though this is only for a weekend, it's still a tad cumbersome; I have part of a birthday gift to bring. It's rather oversized for something so temporary. I made it all in, gracefully, in one trip.

Immediately there was laughter. Even a snort. And hugs. The adorable alarm-clock was already asleep. The magic coffee maker poured me a beer, then told a joke. We stood in the kitchen laughing, excited for the weekend and all that it holds. And now it's off to bed. A big day tomorrow. A bigger day the day after that. On Sunday, I'll pack it all back up and make the drive again, only heading South instead. Right now, it just feels good to be home.