Monday, January 31, 2011


A writing group friend’s life ended prematurely -- “…peacefully, surrounded by family,” -- was the startling and sad news I received recently. I’m still processing the thoughts and feelings associated with this loss. Mark, (not his real name,) was one of numerous interesting people I met in the first group I joined for this new-to-me writing activity that I had decided on a whim to pursue after starting this blog.

About five years ago I introduced myself to this group and explained my writing would be for my blog – a term which elicited perplexed looks on almost everyone’s face. I later learned Mark, young talented personable man in his fifties, was the only group member who even knew what a blog was. During the ensuing years he was always very supportive of my writing as I was of his. We shared a similar sense of humor with a quirky thread that often paralleled each others.

Our writing group meetings were structured to be rather casual. Attendance was flexible with necessary late arrivals acceptable. Mark was rarely late and when he occasionally was absent his honest, perceptive, sometimes humorous comments were missed by all. He had shared that he was self-employed, engaged in information age computer technology assignments, so had unpredictable deadlines impinging on his leisure writing time. The group had no required writing exercises, but if new prose or poetry forms were presented we were encouraged to use the opportunity to try them. This was a challenge Mark generally accepted by producing quite remarkable results.

Mark was a prolific writer of material of varying length, mostly fictional stories, which we greatly anticipated reading. A few of his stories were of a science fiction nature or pure fantasy. He created stories that were sometimes peopled by characters who were emotionally wounded and other individuals that were mentally warped who could be wicked dregs of society. Accurate depictions of socially phony individuals with the classic personality traits of various social levels were satirically funny in some of his tales.

Mark had a viewpoint he could express in multiple ways through direct storytelling, with subtle nuances or bold assaults on the readers psyche. He created unusual plots in ordinary settings, often with strangely unique, even weird characters. A few were truly reprehensible as could be their behavior. Occasional descriptive nouns and adjectives he used, or action descriptions, aroused offense in rare instance, but that language enhanced story significance and was not gratuitous.

Eventually, Mark began to share a novel he was writing that he first presented to our initial writing group. We were all soon emotionally invested in his realistic characters, following the complex plot, and appreciating the colorful setting he was creating. The story on the page stimulated strong emotional reactions in the characters and among the readers as their very human behaviors were revealed within his fictional, but specific real life situations.

Mark continued to develop his novel through those five years as our group evolved in member composition, with changes in meeting location and leadership. This past year, after a short summer break, we resumed meeting in the fall. He continued to seek our group’s critiquing, but a year or so earlier had become a dynamic force in a new much more structured writing group that was demanding of increased time commitment. Now his book was ready for further author editing, then referral for professional editing in conjunction with his seeking a book publisher.

Last fall Mark began missing several consecutive weekly gatherings. We were shocked to finally learn this strong appearing, healthy-looking man had been hospitalized. He was in and out of hospital with a heart problem medical diagnosis. We were shocked when eventual medical revelations indicated he needed a heart transplant. About this time we also became aware that he had no health insurance.

These developments raised grave questions in our minds about his recovery and what health services would be available to him. The whole situation seemed almost unbelievable to us, and perhaps to him also. He reportedly carefully considered all factors associated with this major surgery, including organ rejection issues, and finally concluded that the heart transplant procedure was an option he would not choose. He returned home, and after a time, unexpectedly to us, he left this world.

When I learned Mark had died, that fact was mind-numbing to me as I hadn’t grasped the idea his death was eminent. My thoughts that morning I was told of his passing had been focused on a radio news item I heard that the United States has fallen to 37th in life span expectancy in a ranking of countries. Reasons given for this shameful standing included our nation’s lack of a national health care system.

Mark’s death prompted me to not only mourn losing him prematurely, but to wonder how a young Boomer-age man in the prime years of his life, with so much unrealized potential, could have failed to receive earlier-in-life health care that might have prevented his death?

I don’t know all the specifics of his life, but he had shared some of them during these years. He appeared robust and healthy, of normal physical weight and stature. He did not smoke or engage excessively in other self-destructive behaviors to our group’s knowledge. He never mentioned any serious illnesses or diseases that might have been associated with the development of his heart condition. If we had difficulty accepting his medical diagnosis I can’t begin to imagine what an incredible shock it must have been to him.

I recalled that a year ago last spring Mark had traveled with a well-known national politically oriented organization to a large California city up the Coast from Los Angeles. He engaged in pre-primary election campaigning on behalf of State candidates and issues that he strongly supported. He had been equally active in the Presidential election campaign two years ago. Mark had a busy life with his work contracts, social life contact with U.S. family and friends around the country and world. I know he had a vital interest in our nation’s health care system and welcomed expected insurance coverage changes.

Knowledge that Mark had no health insurance has stimulated secondary over-shadowing thoughts about his death. We all could ask many rhetorical questions about why far too many people in our nation lack optimum health care? Why our nation’s health care ranking is so low? How can we best refine the current health plan but not totally repeal it? More questions come to mind that others may wonder about for themselves, much as I’ve asked myself specific questions about Mark’s situation:

Why didn’t he have health insurance?
Was purchasing health insurance beyond his financial means?
Had he believed his odds were high for having no serious medical issues?
I wonder if he had ever received any preventative health care?
How would his life scenario have been different if he could have had preventative health care?

I’m absolutely sure that Mark’s individual health insurance coverage rates would have been very high, based on accounts from other independent contractor Boomer age consultants with whom I’ve spoken. My own family, in generations following the Boomers, have been subjected to excessive obscene health care rates and increases from which none of us are immune. And insurance rate increases persist. California insurance companies have merely put announced increases on a three month hold. The premiums the insured described above must pay are excessive, and seem unlikely to lessen unless further major overhauling of insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies is undertaken. But that does not presently seem to be on anyone’s agenda.

I’m confident that Mark would be seeking further refinement of our health care system and approve of the perspective here with my writing about him. I do wish he could express some opinions himself. Several times in recent years he initiated conversation with me indicating he was seriously considering starting his own blog and wanted to talk further about doing so. We never had that conversation. He never started that blog. His time ran out too soon.

A young writing group contemporary was stunned Mark had died since she had been unaware of his problems. She emailed me:

“I do keep realizing it is a privilege to be allowed to experience growing old when I consider how many people are deprived of it.”

Rest in peace my writing friend.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Contrary to what some people believe, encouraging a toning down of dialogue to civil level in no way jeopardizes effective debate but may facilitate meaningful discourse.

Serious injuries, tragic deaths and psychological trauma occurring quite unexpectedly in Tucson, Arizona was the radio news to which I awoke one morning over a week ago. In the succeeding moments I listened to rapid up dating accounts of events culminating with my relief upon learning that the perpetrator had been caught almost immediately as he attempted to re-load his weapon. Primarily, I followed the news reports hoping those who still lived would survive with little or no residual effects though I understood the challenge of such an expectation for Arizona’s Congresswoman Gifford.

Soon news reporters, officials and others interviewed were speculating on an answer to the question that I was also thinking – WHY? Why had this atrocity happened? What was the motivation for such a heinous act? I welcomed the eventual reassurance there were no other related events like this happening elsewhere.

There seemed little doubt the Congresswoman shot at point blank range was the target which subsequent information has suggested to be true. More questions came to my mind. Was this deadly act triggered by some words she had expressed or action she had taken? What prompted this violence that had impacted so many innocent lives of variously aged individuals? Was this a protest against our government? Was it about politics? What was the thinking of the now-identified young college age former student arrested as the shooter?

Various news items began to reveal this young man’s own writings, also videos with accounts and reports of his words evidencing unusual, increasingly strange, even bizarre behavior. He is alleged by many to be mentally ill while some would suggest this is not so.

A lot of accusations have been and continue to be made about the causes of this horrific event and others in recent years. Some suggest significant adverse influencing factors for such a violent act can be attributed to various individuals engaged in inflammatory radio and TV broadcasting. Exacerbating their negativity are written media rages and Internet rants. Despicable violence-laden metaphors are thought to be incendiary from those who are, or aspire to be, leaders in our local to highest legislative government offices.

There are those I am convinced who use outrageous means to deliberately appeal to the baser instincts of humanity for the primary purpose of self-aggrandizement to elicit excessive monetary rewards. They do this by expressing extremist political views using half-truths, outright lies, bitter angry rhetorical language couched in innuendo espousing not-always-so-subtle hate and intolerance laced with vitriolic derogatory name-calling. Deliberate divisive polarization of our nation’s populace is fomented for selfish personal and ideological goals under the guise of patriotism. Anyone who holds different views or provides contradictory facts is smeared with false labels designed to destroy credibility.

I’ve long disliked labeling terms so loosely applied to individuals as being accurately descriptive partially because they’re often misused with definitions not uniformly understood so are misleading. People often have differing perspectives of the same label term and erroneously assume everyone has the same meaning interpretation. Most thinking individuals have a range of positions from the conservative to the liberal depending on the issue. Lock step of only one view on all issues most frequently is a position occupied by radical extremists on either end of a topics continuum. A result can be escalating high emotional energy being expended in arguments that may not even stem from a shared factual base.

Reason suggests use of such deliberate labeling terms and name-calling negativity can be emotionally arousing stimulation that can further distort a mentally unstable individual’s already convoluted thinking, possibly contributing to some destructive behavior. Responsible mature leaders recognize this potential and conduct themselves in society’s best interest by using reasoned words and actions.

Consideration must be given to the fact we humans seek logical rational explanations for what we may not understand as occurred with this shooting atrocity. We cannot discount the possibility the act’s reality may be more akin to chaos than the reason we seek. However, we would be remiss to ignore changing some behaviors that are potential causal factors when we can. Anyone intimating that debate is stifled by using civil discourse about pertinent issues is making a ludicrous irresponsible argument.

A promising suggestion I’ve heard in an effort to create a more civil union would be to eliminate the “us and them” seating in both Congressional houses. Instead of the political parties clustering in separate groups, Congresspersons could integrate. If necessary, their random assigned seating might facilitate their establishing relationships enabling them to better serve all their constituents in an atmosphere with more collegiality.

No doubt many more facts are yet to be revealed about this Arizona tragedy, but whether or not we will ever know all the factors influencing this shooter remains to be seen. Meanwhile, we mourn all those who died and are encouraged by the recovery of the injured. We especially are anxious that Arizona’s Congresswoman Gifford continue her medical progress, a hope our President eloquently and emotionally expressed in his recent speech to the nation.

A Candlelight Circle of Hope for Congresswoman Gifford who graduated from our local Claremont, California's Scripps College will be held tonight which you may read about on the site link.

Friday, January 07, 2011


I don't know whether to laugh or cry with what's happening in the legislative halls of our government. There's little doubt about my reaction to insurance companies horrors which will blatantly be blamed on the Health Care Plan by those dedicated to undermining it, rather than refining it. I fear the track record of so many Americans unthinkingly believing lies (even after the falsehoods have been exposed,)suggests they might do so again on that issue.

These thoughts have been prompted because I've been reading news accounts of the goings on in Washington D.C. with all our newly elected Congresspersons. Many of the Tea Party's Tea Pots are reportedly quickly adapting to Washington ways, including hiring those lobbyists they condemned prior to election. H-m-m-m!

Then there's that House majority group that has said they are amenable to compromise, but also have been quoted as saying that the minority party has to do all the compromising. That's not compromise -- that's worse than bullying.

What do we make of House majority party's b-i-g-g-g gavel symbolism?

TV's Jimmy Kimmel Live had a little video editing fun with Pelosi passing the large gavel especially requested by the new Speaker of the House Boehner:

I'm really impressed with the political theatre that same majority group demonstrated by reading the U.S. Constitution to all the members. I guess I rather naively thought all the Congressional old timers would have read it. Or was it for the newcomers? Had they not read those words earlier this year before taking their oaths to uphold the constitution? In fact, I thought any individual taking such an oath would have long ago had their own copy before they ever decided to serve in our government. Wouldn't that be kinda basic job preparation?

The Heritage Foundation offers a free pocket size copy of the Declaration of Independence and U. S. Constitution that can be ordered by clicking HERE.

With all the serious issues facing our nation, the House majority's grandstanding vote to re-call the previously passed signed-into-law Health Plan is a waste of time and energy. Everyone knows the Health Plan will not be reversed by this action. More political theatre! This is the same political party whose leaders have repeatedly said they're committed to the demise of Social Security and Medicare. They've persisted for many years in ignoring numerous proposals that could preserve these programs that provide a citizen social support system.

Congressional members from all political parties bear responsibility for the fact the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies continue to financially abuse the American public. Last year a major insurer attempted to raise rates an obscene amount but was denied in California. Conveniently, that was at a time when the major insurance companies were presenting themselves as cooperating with the Health Plan which they realized would become law. That same insurance company did manage to raise the rate $100 a month on a healthy young single parent in an opposite Coast State.

Now with the House majority party clearly supportive of the health insurance companies I expect we'll see a new onslaught of efforts to increase insurance rates. Already, here in California we see the insurance companies tactics as described in the Sacramento Bee:

"...plans to raise premiums by as much as 59 percent on nearly 200,000 Californians who buy health coverage on their own."

As I write this, other States are experiencing health insurers raising rates. Most States Insurance Commissioners have no legal power to rein in these increases. The Federal Government can only advise individuals to protest by contacting the Governor of their State.

Placing some rate increase limits on insurance companies would be meaningful legislative action that should be taken in each State.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


New Year 2011 brings wishes your life will be

. . . joyful with family and friends

. . . happy, healthy and prosperous

. . . filled with smiles, laughter and love

Remembering Billy Taylor, appreciated as a pianist, educator, composer and Jazz advocate who died December 29, 2010.

For more about him please visit: Thanks to jazzvideoguy for sharing this video of Billy Taylor in a solo piano performance:

New Years Eve we often hear various renditions of this standard tune many will remember as a “Sing along…” with Mitch Miller, who also passed away this year. Here’s Mitch and his “gang” with this old and probably rare recording of “Auld Lang Syne” preceded by “Annie Laurie.”