Monday, November 23, 2009

Thr Heroes of Healthcare

I hate to admit it, but some political strategists are geniuses. They have taken something that has been hated, reviled, and scorned by Americans for generations and turned it into an institution that many now believe we must protect, foster, and preserve. No, I'm not talking about telemarketers who call during dinner. I'm talking about the medical insurance industry. Over the years, I've heard many people say, "I love my doctor," but, until now, I never heard anyone say, "I love my health insurance." But to some, medical insurance companies have become the Heroes of Healthcare. During the Great Healthcare Debate, legislators and their "gullibles" are saying they like their current healthcare system so much that they don't want anyone to touch it. In fact, there are claims that the very idea of changing the healthcare system is unAmerican.

Obviously, if people don't like a certain approach or the principles or cost of any of the proposed legislation, they should object. I'm talking about those who now claim that we don't need to change anything about healthcare at all. Not a single Republican voted to even open up debate on the issue. Obviously, they don't think we need to change anything. They're probably even okay with not having any current magazines in the waiting rooms.

When both of my kids were born, we got bills from the hospital that included tests for my wife that she didn't get, treatments that she didn't receive, and medications that weren't prescribed for her. Each time I complained to the hospital. They said it was their procedure to bill for all of these things. It was a "package" -- like one of those Las Vegas "Three days, six nights" things or whatever they're called. They couldn't understand why I was so upset, since my insurance company would probably pay for the overcharges. I told them I was upset because the bills didn't represent the truth. They immediately corrected them. They didn't argue or fight or even put me on hold listening to "Moon River." This showed me that they knew the bills were unfair. Unfair? They even charged my wife for ice. I guess we're lucky they didn't ask us to chip in for the air-conditioning.

Do you know even one person who doesn't have a similar story?

One of the objections of the nay-sayers has to do with the government getting involved in healthcare. Haven't they ever heard of Social Security and Medicare? Would they like those to be abolished, too?

And of course there's the cost objection. These people didn't object to government spending when it came to the Bush and Obama bail-outs of the financial industry, but they don't like the idea of spending whatever it takes to fix healthcare. Oh I forgot, they don't think it needs fixing.

Oh, really?

The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, yet, the last time the World Health Organization put out its rankings, we were 37th in healthcare – in between Slovenia and Costa Rica. Don't those who oppose any change think we should at least move up to, I don't know, maybe 15th and kick Iceland's butt out of there?

Usually, our medical bills are so hard to read, that most of us don't bother trying. Couldn't the billing system use a little reform?

When a ride in an ambulance for three blocks costs hundreds of dollars, shouldn't someone look into that?

Is waiting eleven hours in an emergency room okay with those folks who don't want anything changed?

If the Senators were all really voting their "consciences" as so many of them claim, don't you think at least a dozen or so Democrats would disagree with parts of the bill and at least a similar number of Republicans might think, "Hey, that's not bad?" It's an amazing coincidence that on something this complex so many consciences happen to line up with their party's agenda.

I just hope that a whole bunch of Senators don't yell so much in opposition or in favor of the healthcare bill that they hurt their throats. It would be a shame if they had to seek medical attention. Oh, wait a minute. It wouldn't be a problem for them at all. Members of Congress already have great healthcare.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is Disney Goofy?

When it comes to our jobs, we are all replaceable. The current recession has certainly brought this home to many people. There's always somebody who is younger, smarter, or closer to the boss' cousin waiting to step in and take somebody's job. But how would you feel if you lost your job to a cartoon character? That's kind of what happened to noted sportscaster Al Michaels. Michaels is the famous voice America has been hearing on Monday Night Football for years. Next year, he'll be broadcasting Sunday Night Football on NBC. And he'll have that NBC job all because of a cartoon character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

It's a bit complicated, but Disney owns ABC and ESPN. Universal owns NBC. Michaels has been working for Disney who wanted Oswald who was owned by Universal. So they made a swap: NBC got Al Michaels, and Disney got Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I wonder how many MBAs they needed to work that out.

Of course, there were other parts of the deal. NBC gave ESPN more access to certain sports events, but the clincher was Oswald. In case you never heard of this lucky rabbit, you're not alone. He was a character created by Walt Disney more than eighty years ago, before Walt came up with that famous mouse of his. Somehow he lost the rights, and somehow Universal/NBC got them.

When I first learned about the deal a few months ago, I thought it was a bit strange. But when I heard Al Michaels' voice the other night on Monday Night Football, I couldn't get it out of my head that this man -- the announcer who, at the 1980 Winter Olympics, came up with the phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?" -- was being traded for a fictional character.

Reacting to the deal, Disney president Robert Iger commented, "... Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself." I guess the corporate people at Disney thought it was important for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to finally get away from the bad influence of the likes of Woody Woodpecker and start hanging out with someone like Bambi.

I admit that I don't understand big business, but are the Disney stockholders really excited that after all these years, they've finally recovered Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? Are they saying things like, "I'm not interested in profits or losses as long as we have Walt's rabbit again?"

What about the kids who watch cartoons? Have they been moping for years, uncooperative at home, and uninterested at school because Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has not been part of their lives? In fact, is this rarely seen rabbit what's been missing from American culture all these years? Would the crime rate have gone down and the literacy rate have gone up if we all had just watched Oswald as children?

Who knew that a cartoon character that most of us had never heard of could be so important? And if Oswald is this significant, other cartoon characters might have equal value in American society. When our economic situation started going downhill, should our top economists have consulted Scrooge McDuck? Instead of concentrating on Brad and Angelina, should all those gossip magazines really be focusing on Boris and Natasha? Rather than turning to all those diet gurus, should millions of Americans be commiserating with Porky Pig?

Oswald won't be calling the football games next year instead of Al Michaels, but maybe we're just a slip on a banana peel away from something like that happening. A television performer's career is precarious at best. We've all seen actors and actresses replaced on shows by others who are younger, blonder, or willing to work cheaper. But at least these people were replaced by actual humans. How would you feel if you got back to the office from lunch one day and Tweety Bird was sitting at your desk?

Anything's possible in television. Trading places with cartoon characters could start a trend. Who knows? Maybe David Letterman will end up at ABC in a trade for Fred Flintstone. At least CBS wouldn't have to worry about Fred fooling around.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Heels Who Caused The Recession?

There are many theories about what caused the current recession. Some feel it had to do with sneaky mortgages. Others believe it was the result of greedy Wall Street. And there are those who always look for somebody to blame who believe our financial problems are the result of the Republicans, the Democrats, aliens from outer space, or some secret society that meets every Thursday at the Holiday Inn. All of these people should just look down at their feet. That's right. I'm suggesting it's possible that shoes caused the whole financial downturn.

In recent months, many consumers have not been making purchases unless they think the items are absolutely necessary. This has been the case across the board -- except when it comes to shoes. All kinds of shoes have been selling very well in the last few months while the rest of the economy continues to struggle.

People almost always buy shoes for themselves. I don't know about you, but I don't think I've ever gotten shoes as a gift. You never hear the slogan, "Say it with shoes." So some people buy shoes for themselves as a treat. The thinking goes like this: "We can't afford a new car or to renovate the kitchen, so I'll buy myself a nice pair of shoes." If people are feeling low because of their low bank accounts, I guess they feel that shoes will lift their well as their arches.

I worry that with some of the wealthier consumers, there might be a "let them eat cake" philosophy. Perhaps there are people who think things like, "I don't get why those people who lost their houses are so upset. Why don't they just go out and buy some new boots?"

Jennifer Black of the research company Jennifer Black and Associates says, "It's just fun to shop for shoes. Maybe part of the fun is you don't feel fat." I've never had fun shopping for anything, but I guess some people do. I understand what Ms. Black is saying: Buying shoes is not as tortuous as shopping for a bathing suit or jeans that you can only put on if a pulley is involved.

Another group of people feel that a new pair of shoes is simply more of a necessity than a new purse or a new tie. Still others buy shoes they feel they need for an inexpensive vacation. Instead of going to a fancy resort, some people are taking advantage of free outdoor activities -- activities in which they wear new outdoorsy shoes.

All of these reasons help explain why shoes are selling so well these days. Congress didn't have to pass a stimulus bill for flip-flops. Shoe sales were $1.5 billion for October, which is the best October shoes have had since 2006.

Because of all of these reasons, I'm suspicious of the shoe industry. For every analyst who's trying to explain why shoes are selling right now, I'm sure the shoe companies have at least one or two analysts of their own. So they would've known ahead of time that during a recession, people would still buy shoes. They would have known that since consumers won't be buying many other things, people might buy more shoes than they'd purchase during good economic times. So a recession might actually help shoe companies.

That's why I'm suggesting that the shoe industry may have caused the recession. Call it the Cobblers' Cabal. Isn't it just possible that those who are able to convince people to buy incredibly uncomfortable shoes are smart enough to bring about a recession? Countless people who don't even run to catch a bus buy expensive running shoes. This is the business that, through brilliant marketing, has millions of people walking around in fur-lined boots in the middle of summer.

To you doubters, let me remind you that during the disco era, people actually bought platform shoes with a see-through heel that contained live goldfish swimming around. If the shoe geniuses can convince the American public to wear little aquariums on their feet, surely they could bring about something as simple as a recession. I'm telling you, there's no business like shoe business.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Smart Dogs

Just about everybody thinks their dog is very intelligent. I never felt that way about any of the dogs I have had. I found the dogs were lovable, cute, loyal, cuddly, and great company, but I never thought of them as that smart. I used to tell people that I never met a dog who could beat me at chess.

On the other hand, I had to admit that dogs did seem smarter than people in some ways: a dog would never bomb a country killing hundreds of thousands of people. A dog would never accidentally send out an e-mail to his boss, bad mouthing the boss. And a dog would never tell a woman that she "looks thinner in the other dress."

The New York Times recently reported that Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia has done some interesting work with dogs and intelligence. He found that dogs can do pretty well on language learning and other tests devised for infants and toddlers. He went so far as to say that the average dog is about as intellectually advanced as a 2-to 21/2 year old child. That's where I feel he went too far.

A dog as smart as a toddler? Show me a dog who is smart enough to always spit up on his mother's outfit right before she's supposed to go out.

But all of this discussion of who's smarter, a dog or a human isn't looking at things right. I was guilty of the same thing until recently. Perhaps like most people, I was thinking of dogs' intelligence as the same kind of intelligence that humans have. It's like people who feel that if there is life on other planets, those beings will have the same kind of thoughts and feelings that we have. Dogs don't need to be smart the same way we are in order to be smart.

Service dogs have been demonstrating this more and more. Not only can they smell drugs in a suitcase -- or that salami you thought you'd be able to sneak in, but they help all kinds of people with various medical needs. We're all used to seeing dogs helping the blind. Lately, dogs have been paired with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with posttraumatic stress disorder. Somehow, the dogs seem to know how to calm down these veterans when the vets need it most. Some small studies have even indicated that because of their good sniffers, dogs have been able to sniff out lung and other cancers before doctors can detect them.

Dogs also work with epileptics. They become anxious before their human buddy has a seizure. Then they bark and lick his or her face and arm. Nobody knows how a dog could know this in advance. Perhaps it's a kind of intelligence we just don't have.

Rather than just appreciating what wonderful minds dogs have, I fear that there will always be some people who compare their intelligence with ours. I used to be the same way, like when I'd say my wise guy line about dogs not being able to play chess. So I believe there will always be people who will mock their intelligence by saying that "obviously humans are smarter than dogs in every way." To them, I'd just like to present an image that most of us see every day. An owner and a dog are walking down the street. The dog does, well, what comes naturally, while the owner cleans it up. Which one is the smarter one?

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by