Anecdotes of a Dreamer

Albert Einstein was a frickin genius! That whole time- relativity thing really rocks! When you are five years old, a day is a lifetime. When you get to be fifty seven, time flies. When I am focused, time expands and good things happen. When left to my own devices, time compresses and shit happens. I have the gift of time. With this gift, I would like to share my insights for survival while keeping my idealism intact. Some are fiction and some fact. Somewhere, its all true.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Honest Man?

When I was eighteen years old, I was recruited by my friend, Bill Recktenwald (then the Chief Investigator for the Better Government Association) to work as a poll watcher during the 1968 US presidential elections. I, in turn, recruited my friend and college classmate, Clarence "CJ" Johnson (longtime gymnastics coach of the University of Illinois Chicago).

We were given a list of people that were suspected of using false identities to vote for either Richard Nixon or Hubert Humphrey. After the 1960 Kennedy win, during which Chicago's Mayor Daley was purported to ask of the Kennedy campaign, "How many votes do you need?" it was presumed that both sides would try to cheat. Hence, the Chicago political axiom, "vote early and often."

They assigned us to a precinct in the middle of Skid Row at a flophouse hotel. We had dozens of names and we were supposed to challenge anyone on the list who showed up to vote. Some of these identities were deceased, some had addresses in the middle of intersections and all of them were what we would today view as homeless people. During this period of history, all of the bars and liquor stores were closed during voting hours, so it was easy for the bad guys to provide liquid reward for votes.

By the middle of the day, we had challenged about eighteen people, much to the chagrin of the precinct captain and other election workers. One of them, one Jesus Zabala, pulled out a knife to threaten us. At this point a policeman took CJ outside and told him that it would be very unhealthy for us to continue these challenges. In 1968, in Chicago, it was not a very good idea to ignore the warning of the police. We took the hint and left before the polls had closed. I'm sure they slipped in a few dozen votes.

This anecdote and the other events that occurred during the summer of 1968 are a preamble to my view of politics and my conclusion that whether in the USA or elsewhere, politics is dirty business. I have been trying to think of a single politician who always told the truth, at least after his first political campaign. The only people that come to mind are Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and look what happened to their political careers!

The bottom line is that ALL, ALL politicians are liars. Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Communist, Fascist, blah, blah ,blah.

All politicians have one goal: keep power.

All politicians are on the take, one way or another. An honest politician is one who stays bought.

All politicians operate out of self interest. There is absolutely no such thing as a selfless politician.

Fortunately, sometimes these factors still work in favor of the constituency. When the public good converges with a politician's self interest, we the people win. It happens enough to keep us moving forward (most of the time). However, when the politician's drive to keep power overwhelms his common sense, we the people, all suffer. Decisions are not made for the good of the people, but to maintain power at all costs. Dr. Castro comes to mind as the perfect example of this condition. If US politicians had the same raw power as Dr. Castro, I'm sure that we would suffer a similar fate. As it is, too much power in the hands of a single group of people is a recipe for disaster. When our government works well, it does so because of a balance between ideals and pragmatic reality. When the balance shifts either way, shit happens. Just look at where we are today.

Our job is to remind our leaders that they derive our power from us. When our leaders come up for re-election, we need to examine what they have done for us and the "common good." If their greed has been tempered with truly good work, then we can send them back to work. If they begin to realize that re-election is not automatic, they might actually try a little harder. Lobbying as we currently know it must be stopped. Influence peddling and corruption are cancers that eat away at any democracy. It's all too easy and common for our leaders to control us through the exploitation of our fears and prejudices. If things get too easy, they create issues to stir us up. When we allow our leader to do this, we deserve the outcome.

Even though I have been a life-long Democrat (born and bred), I've come to the conclusion that a government that governs least, governs best. I guess that makes me a Libertarian Democrat! Our lives are not enriched by a government that manipulates what we think and what we do. The government should pass no law that restricts the action of its citizens if those actions do not cause harm to any specific individual. Laws that protect the "community" from harm are often pretexts for limiting the rights of a minority or other unpopular group. I see no contradiction with this idea and our current fight against those who would change our world through terrorism. While we cannot recede into isolationism; our future actions with relation to our neighbors should be positive and supportive. We should encourage governments that understand the principles of democracy and free speech and disassociate ourselves from governments that use their powers to dominate their people through fear and violence. Our own government should pay attention to the Bill of Rights. We don't need corporate welfare anymore than we need longterm welfare for individuals and families. Politicians that wrap themselves in the flag and tout their support of "family values" are using the fears and prejudices of their constituents to divide and control without addressing the base cause of the problems facing the US in an ever more competitive global society. We all want personal safety, and the liberty to pursue our dreams and aspirations. We don't need a bigger government; we need a government that provides the conditions for us to grow and thrive. Our current "cultural paradigm" is creating a society of stupid people that crave more governmental control and less personal responsibility. We the people have the power to change this paradigm into one that values the individual and protects the rights of ALL of its citizens (and residents).


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What happened to healthcare in the USA?

Gosh, it's been a month since I've written anything. Since my last post was an actual anecdote, Ifelt like Andy Rooney, so I'm back with a commentary.

What in the hell happened to healthcare in the USA?

I'm old enough to remember the days of home visits by the family doctor. Usually driving a Cadillac, Lincoln or Chrysler Imperial, probably black and sporting a conspicuous MD tag so that he could park wherever he felt like parking. He would enter the house, smoking a cigarette and carrying the ubiquitous little black bag. He would examine you thoroughly, treat you (shots, stitches, etc) make you better, and be off to see his next patient. The cost was probably ten bucks and no paperwork was ever needed. Maybe he wrote a prescription or scheduled a followup at the office. If surgery was needed, he probably did it himself. I know that my family Doc (Dr. Deutsch) delivered me via C-section, pulled my tonsils at five years old, repaired my knee at fourteen and gave me a talk about responsible sex (no hookers) when I went to France at eighteen years old. He saw me through all of the typical childhood diseases and injuries. He also treated my parents and grandparents. Drugs only played a small part in his treatment regimen. I know that for most of that era, we did not have health insurance. Healthcare did not cause my working class parents to go in debt and medical malpractice had yet to be invented. At some point during the 1960s, we did get Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

At about the same time that health insurance became in vogue, doctors stopped making house calls and drug companies began to play a larger role in "winning" the battle against disease. As technology increased and new drugs came on the market, the cost of healthcare rose sharply along with a loss in personal, individualized care.

The cost of producing "wonder" drugs had increased at such a rate, that the drug companies successfully lobbied our leaders in Washington for faster approval for new drugs so that more people could be saved more quickly. The FDA invented "fast track" in the early '80s so that new drugs could reach that market in a matter of months instead of years. Oh please, help us save the sick people! The drug companies argued that testing a small number of people over a short period of time was just as good as testing a large number of people over a long period of time. After all, getting new drugs on the market was in the interest of the public good.

A good example is insulin. Since the late 1920s, animal based insulins were found to be effective in treating type 1 diabetics. These insulins were stable, predictable and had been modified to work for virtually every metabolistic nuance. There was Regular, NPH, Lente, Ultralente and some mixtures. If a diabetic followed the guidelines as proposed by their doctor, watched their sugar and carb intakes and watched their weight, they could live relatively normal lives. They would occasionally check their sugar with a reagent and later a urine test strip. If the diabetic was bad and did not follow the guidelines, they would get neuropathies, retinopathy, kidney failure and eventually, die. The problem with pork and beef insulin was not their effectiveness, but their lack of profit. Good diabetics would see their doctors two to three times per year and use a bottle or two of insulin per month.

Then came "human insulin." This was the first drug fast-tracked by the FDA after only 40 non-diabetic men were tested for less than six months. This so called "human insulin" is made from yeast or e-coli bacteria and recombinant DNA. It is no more human that a hunk of plastic. In essence it is less closer to human insulin that either pork or beef insulin. Don't take my word for it, check it out. This new insulin works in a similar fashion to the "old " insulin, except that it is not as stable, is metabolized more quickly and has five times greater the side effects. It requires a diabetic to constantly monitor their sugar levels (up to ten times per day), take up to 6 injections per day, perhaps get an insulin pump, visit the doctor more often, get a prescription for glucagon (in case their sugar drops below 50), and get an a1c test every three months. If they don't follow a strict regimen, they will get neuropathies, retinopathy, kidney failure and die. Additionally, if they carefully follow every guideline given by their doctor, they might get an asymptomatic hypoglycemic attack and die. The drug companies make the new insulin for pennies and sell it for major bucks.

My wife is a great example of someone who has suffered as a result of "advances" in medicine.

She was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1964, when she was thirteen years old. This was during the early years of Cuba's revolution and the medical system was very similar to the U.S.
Her endocrinologist prescribed a regimen that kept her pretty healthy until the 1990s. Insulin had been improved and routine glucose testing had begun, but my wife had never had an adverse event in more than thirty years. An auto accident in 1994 uncovered the beginnings of neuropathy and some of the other issues that long term diabetics incur. Being an artist, the pain to her extremities was disconcerting. As her condition worsened, we began to see the doctor more often. By 1999, we were told that Eli Lilly had decided to discontinue natural insulins. Through the advice of her doctor, she switched to Humulin L. Within 24 months, her glucose levels were not as controlled as before and another insulin, Humalog R was added. With natural insulin, she was taking one injection daily, with only one major adverse effect from long term usage. Now she was required to take at least three injections every day, test her blood sugar level 3-5 times per day and her other symptoms were progressively worse. Her neuropathy was unbearable and she began having numerous hypoglycemic events. The doctor prescribed an anti-depressant which relieved some of the neuropathic pain, but had side effects that were very unpleasant. When she discontinued the antidepressant, she went through withdrawal and had to resume taking the drug and weaned off of it slowly. Meanwhile, she was having an average of eighteen hypoglycemic events (blood glucose readings below 50) per month. At least ten of these events would have resulted in death had I not been there to assist her. These events culminated on April 30, 2004 at 4:00 a.m. with a glucose reading below 20 and a trip to the ER via ambulance. Some internet research made us aware that a significant number of diabetics are virtually allergic to synthetic insulin and become increaingly resistant to treatment. I also discovered that Eli Lilly was still producing natural insulin, even though most pharmacists and doctors would tell you that it was discontinued. After some resistance, we were able to get a prescription for natural insulin, and my wife's condition showed gradual but sure improvement. She also found a number a natural supplements that, over time, greatly relieved her neuropathic symptoms. Then Eli Lilly did the unthinkable. Due to shrinking market share, natural insulin was discontinued in April 2006. Of course, it pretty hard to increase market share of a product that was perceived to have been discontinued for more than six years! Now the only options were to switch back to a product that would worsen the quality of your life and eventually kill you or, get an import license from the USDA and get the natural insulin from the UK. Our government supports Lilly's decision and the FDA says that they cannot force a company to manufacture an unpopular and unprofitable product that is used by only a small number of people. Go figure! Our decision was obvious.

A diabetic in the '70s would spend less than $10 per month to treat their condition. In 1972, a bottle of insulin cost less than one hour at minimum wage. Today, a diabetic without health insurance would pay in excess of $250 per month if they were lucky. And don't tell me that their quality of life is any better than that 70's diabetic who lived by the book!

What about glucose lowering drugs, cholesterol medicines, blood pressure medicines, anti-depressants, chemotherapy, hormone therapy ... Ninety percent (?) of drugs currently in use were not around twenty or thirty years ago. Nobody knows the long term effects of most the these drugs, because they were never tested for long term results. Every one of these new "wonder" drugs has a list of side effects that would scare a combat veteran. It seems that the main goal of drug therapy is not curing the disease, but keeping the patient dependent on the drug and the seeing doctor for as long as possible. Doctors get their information and continuing education from drug companies. Because of the ever increasing cost of doing business, doctors don't have time to research any of these issues in depth. If they don't see X number of patients per day, they can't survive. Insurance companies pay less and less per treatment each year while other costs keep rising. While doctors are not poor, they are being pressured from all sides to cut costs and see more patients. What a system! You and I suffer from a healthcare system designed to keep big business even bigger with virtually no accountability.

We need to change the basic paradigm of healthcare in the USA. We need to look at how other countries are doing and find a way that meets the needs of the consumers and works towards a goal that will give better healthcare to all americans. Changes in drug approvals and health insurance, along with tort reform in the area of malpractice will contribute to an improvement of the system while allowing everyone to still make a buck. Citizens and professionals in non medical fields need to network with doctors, universities, insurance companies, and yes, drug companies to find common ground to stop the madness and get us back on thre right track. We can't ever go back to the '50s; actually, we can do a whole lot better than that.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

El viejo, el mar y el futuro yerno ( The old man, the sea and the future son-in-law.)

I just realized that after four postings, I have yet to write an anecdote. So here is the first true anecdote of a dreamer. Forgive the errors in punctuation and spelling, this blog does not allow me to switch between Spanish and English.

When I first met my wife in 1973, we immediately formed a bond that has lasted until the present time. Not to say that there haven't been challenges along the way. As in any long term relationship, there are events that serve as punctuation marks that move the relationship to the next step.

On Memorial Day weekend 1973, we were invited by my future father-in-law to take a trip to Key West. I am always up for a road trip, so I thought this was a great idea. Little did I know. We all got into "el profe's" car to take the eight hour drive from home. We shared the driving and about five and a half hours later, we arrived at Islamorada. We were to meet Pancho, an old guy who had been the mayordomo on el profe's finca in Cuba. Pancho acquired ownership of a wooden Chris Craft cabin cruiser made from timbers salvaged from the Nina.
When I first set eyes on the vessel, I asked my novia if we were supposed actually take it out to sea. She spoke to el profe (this was before my conversion to Hispanicity) and he said that all we had to do was to apply a little fiberglass to the bottom of the boat and all rrright very well fandango.

We went down to the boat supply store and purchased fiberglass cloth and chemicals. I'm starting to think that maybe this was not such a great idea. Well, we spent the afternoon applying fiberglass along most of the bottom of the boat. El profe then says we're going to Key West to spend the night with a primo who is a doctor. By now, all I want is a shower, a drink and a good meal.

A couple of hours later, we arrive at Key West and try to find la casa del primo.
We find it and after introductions and a brief reunion, we head out to El 4 de Julio restaurant, perhaps the only Cuban restaurant in Key West at the time. Being a doctor on a small island, el primo was immediately treated like royalty. We had a great dinner of typical Cuban food, cafe cubano and more than a few drinks. I didn't even care that I had not yet showered.

We got home pretty late and got up early to return to Islamorada. The fiberglass had set, so we asked the boatyard to lower the venerable vessel in to the water. El profe jumps into the boat and starts to tinker with a motor that appeared to be handmade by Henry Ford's father. There was all kinds of noise coming out of both the motor an el profe. After about twenty minutes, el profe notices that our boat is taking on water. He tries to get the bilge pump to work, to no avail. He then asks me to get a cubo. At that time my spanish was limited to hola and gracias, so I had no clue what a cubo (bucket) was. I thought he said "tubo" which I thought meant hose. I ask the boatyard guy for a piece of hose and he gives me about six feet of hosing. I run back to el profe and by now the water is past his ankles. I hand him the hose and he immediately starts screaming at my novia, "Que se cree el gringo de mierda, que voy a chupar el agua? (Does that shitting gringo think that I'm going to suck out the water?) I ask my novia to translate and through the laughter she makes up some nonsense, but tells me to find a bucket. By the time I get there with the bucket the water is up to his knees and he is apparently cussing up a storm. He asks my novia, "Con eso es quien tu te quiere casar? Me cago en el cono su madre!" ("This is the person you are going to marry?) (The next phrase does not really translate very well, but it's very, very bad thing to say about my mother.) I'm getting pissed at the tone of this whole conversation and she keeps laughing and making up bogus translations to her father's diatribe.

Meanwhile, he's going down with the ship. We called to boatyard guys, and they pulled the boat out of the water with him inside. It looked like a cartoon. As they pulled the boat up, water was coming from everywhere and steam was coming from el profe's ears. By this time my novia was practically rolling around on the ground with laughter. I'm yellling at her that this is the last time I ever go near a boat with her father (it wasn't). We ended up renting a small motor boat and spent an hour or two in the flats west of the island, fishing for nothing. We had some canned beer, but forgot to bring an opener (this being before the time of the pop top) and had to open the cans with a knife.

This event, more than any other, made me want to learn Spanish. I enlisted my novia, her mom and her aunt to be my tutors, and by the end of the year, I was on my way to becoming Hispanic. This event should have taught me to be skeptical of any idea or project that originated from El Profe. It actually took me ten to fifteen years to learn that lesson. Oh well, it's all good, and vayanse pa' carajo!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Is global warming for real? Maybe, but...

Not a day goes by without several news stories about global warming and the coming catastrophe. People repeat "facts" and express opinions about complex scientific ideas that are poorly understood and even disagreed upon by climatologists, geologists and other earth scientists. It seems that anyone who disagrees with the current cause de jour is dismissed as unenlightened or on the payroll of big business. While many people can agree upon certain facts regarding rising global temperatures, calving glaciers, potentially rising sea levels, etc., nobody can say with any degree of certainty if we (human beings) are the cause, or whether the changes are due to a natural cycle of the earth (or even the solar system). It is typically like us as a species to take credit or blame for everything that happens on earth.

Do we have a duty to stop pollution? Should we find cleaner, renewable resources to power our homes, cars and industries? Should we conserve our resources and protect our fellow inhabitants of this planet? Yes, of course, to all of the above. It is our duty to leave this place better than those that came before us.

It's ironic that our goals of ending hunger, disease and poverty, and raising the standard of living for 75% of the world's inhabitants is counter productive to the goals of creating less greenhouse gases and pollution.

Rather than alarmist cries of doom and catastrophe, perhaps we should look for solutions that are not mutually exclusive. We in developed countries have all of our goodies, but would deny the same amenities to developing countries. How kind of us!

For a discussion of other points of view on this issue, check out this website:

Also, Michael Crichton wrote a terrific book titled, State of Fear. This is one of the few novels that I've ever read that is fully foot-noted and annotated.

I have a feeling that the real answers to global warming are much bigger than us. That should not stop us from from researching, inventing and striving to create a better world for all of it's inhabitants and our global environment.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Are the Ten Commandments relevant to a global society?

If you live in the United States, you are probably aware that fundamentalist Christians feel that they are being repressed by the concept of the separation of Church and State. Many believe it is acceptable and in fact their duty to display the symbols of their faith for everyone to see and follow. Of course, we live in a multicultural and multiethnic society that is diverse in beliefs and practices. If I were to engage in a discussion of the Ten Commandments (Decalog) as presented in the Old Testament, this post could be many thousands of words long. If you want to read a discussion of the Decalog, see .
This site presents discussions from many points of view.

From my own personal perspective, I believe that some of the traditional Ten Commandments are irrelevant, discriminatory, exclusive and unjust. I know that many Christians will be shouting "Blasphemy" or "Heresy!" If you are a fundamental literalist, so be it. No amount of discussion or reasoning will change your mind. If you are more open minded, you might allow modern interpretations that are more relevant to our world. Again, I refer you to the website above for a full discussion of the many interpretations of the Ten Cs.

Back to my original thought. If we were to create a modern code to live by, what should it be?

Here are some thoughts:

First, do no harm. This is borrowed from the Hippocratic Oath. It is a very broad statement that covers everything from personal relationships to the environment.

Second, respect yourself and others.

Third, be tolerant of people who are different than you.

Fourth, be intolerant of injustice and cruelty.

Fifth, love the one you're with. (Thank you Steven Stills)

Sixth, take responsibility for your actions.

Seventh, use the gifts that were born with.

Eighth, seek a higher purpose.

Ninth, share with others.

Tenth, leave the world a better place than when you arrived.

It's all good!

Change the order. Add other thoughts. Give your opinion.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My list of essential books that foster an open mind.

Part of who we are is what we read. What we read is determined by our interests. But, what we read changes our outlook and makes us expand our interests in new directions. It's interesting to see how our interests change and how we evolve over the years. We should all make a list of five or ten (or more) books that have affected our thinking. Many of us might start with books that were assigned to us in school, but my list will begin with books that I read on my own.

1. Tom Swift and his Flying Lab (Victor Appleton II)
This was the only Tom Swift book that I read, but it ignited a spark. Anything is possible.

2. Catch 22 (Joseph Heller)
The total insanity of even a just war.

3. A Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein)
I subsequently read virtually all of Heinlein's works. His imagination, outrageous irreverence, libertarianism and surprisingly diverse points of view left me enthralled.

4. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
Her "Objectivist" philosophy with its distrust of big government and collectivised big business have stuck with me for more than thirty-five years. The power of the individual effort can overcome almost anything.

5. The Winds of War (Herman Wouk)
His books inspired my interest in history as fiction. The picture that he paints is frightening and yet beautiful.

6. Winter's Tale (Mark Helprin)
This is a magical book that I have read at least five times. I'm not real sure how to categorize it, but it is reminiscent of Garcia Marquez and Eco. His New York is an incredibly fantastic place.

7. Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco)
Templars, Rosicrucians, Communists, Fascists and Candomble! Wow!

8. El Amor en los Tiempos de Cólera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
I think I see a common thread...

9. Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson)
One of the first novels that reflects the 21st century from the historical origins of the computer. I am hooked on Neal's work. The Waterhouse and Shaftoe families will ever be a part of my multiverse.

This is my essential list. I've chosen nine of the thousands of books that I've read. I could have chosen many, many more. I am a little bit compulsive, so when I find a writer that I like, I will usually read their entire body of work.
Here is a partial list of writers whose work I have read: Heinlein, Lovecraft, Clarke, Asimov, Farmer, Dickson, Michener, Wouk, Rand, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Garcia Marquez, Allende, Auel, Hammett, Grimes, Greeley, Grafton, White (Stephen), Stephenson, Cussler, Griffin (W.E.B.), Crichton, Cook, Palmer, et al.

I think you get the picture. I don't mind the wildly fantastic, and I'm not a real deep thinker. I enjoy quirky, original, slightly twisted, individualistic viewpoints. I think that all of the above writers share those qualities and express my personal philosophy. Within those books, there are elements of spirituality that are not orthodox but have guided me throughout my life.
More on that later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

¡Saludos a mis lectores!

I originally started this blog as means to express my fears about events that were ocurring in my life. Those events have passed, but will always be part of my life, like all of the other events that preceded these events. While events do not define us, they contribute to the fabric that makes up our lives. How we react to the events provides a hint of who we are and what we have become.

I am a fifty-five year old dreamer. The life that occurs between my ears is far more exciting and richer than I could possibly accomplish externally. By now, I'm comfortable with that. I like it. It used to bother me that I couldn't acheive all of the things that I could conceive. Now I realize that it doesn't really matter. My own reality is just as valid as anybody else's reality. I own my accomplishments and failures and am proud of all of it. I have earned every line, wrinkle, chin, scar and grey hair. I have also earned the consequences that come with those features. But in the end, I'm still a kid who believes that anything is possible and life is an adventure. Somehow, when I crossed over from my twenties into my thirties and beyond, I never lost the idealism of my youth. I still believe in justice, fairness, equality, kindness and the goodness of mankind. I do not believe that we will destroy our planet or our species. We are survivors. We learn to cope. We make many mistakes, but we are occasionally brilliant enough to avert disaster and push on forward. I am continually amazed at our ability to grow. While we are often cruel, cowardly and selfish, our capacity to love, share and sacrifice give us a glimpse of our Creator's genius.

Join me and share your thoughts and dreams. I'm not sure if my thoughts are interesting to anyone but me, but I will shre them with you in the days ahead.