Monday, March 19, 2018

Money and Guns

America has a problem. A gun problem, you suggest? By the way, the gun problem is not a mental health problem, although I can imagine people in countries where gun deaths are exceedingly rare may roll their eyes right now, sigh, and think, “No, it is a mental health problem. Any country that chooses guns over human life is crazy.” It’s also possible to argue the mental health issue is with people who cannot open their minds to listen and comprehend other viewpoints. Clearly, something is wrong when America is powerless to stop mass shootings, school shootings, murders and suicides by gun. No, the problem America has, the problem that has robbed America of its social power, is actually Capitalism.

Watergate 1972

In August 1972, several men broke into the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. Initially, it looked like a run-of-the-mill burglary, but then the burglars started talking and revealed that the burglary had been politically motivated, an attempt to hurt the Democrats during the presidential election campaign that year (nowadays, this type of disruptive and disinformation activity is done in cyberspace through social media). Two enterprising investigative reporters at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, covered the story for that newspaper, and Woodward found a source, Deep Throat, who agreed to help them. One thing Deep Throat told Woodward repeatedly was to “follow the money.”

In the Watergate case, following the money led Woodward and Bernstein right into the Oval Office, and eventually their reporting contributed to the Senate investigation into Watergate and finally the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974. Today, I think if we could all follow the money involving every aspect of the guns issue, we may be able to find the reason America is so powerless to enact laws that regulate (I know, dirty word) gun ownership, the type of guns available to civilians, and maybe enable America to join countries like Japan and the UK where gun ownership is regulated, i.e. countries that have chosen to support human life.

The Second Amendment

This amendment to the US Constitution reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I recently read a deconstruction of this amendment with respect to what the Founders intended. At that time, the US did not have an army (or navy, air force, or Marines), and the Founders did not want a professional national army because they were nervous that such a military might grow too powerful and overthrow the civilian government. At that time, “a well regulated militia” was the equivalent of the National Guard today. They were reservists who were trained and could be called upon to defend their communities if necessary. This reservist militia needed the right to keep and bear arms, hence the Second Amendment. Today, the Second Amendment gives the National Guard the right to keep and bear arms, not every Tom, Dick, or Jane.

The National Rifle Association (NRA)

Under the NRA’s Bylaws Article II, there are five purposes and objectives and the first includes the following: “To protectthe inalienable right of the individual American citizen guaranteed by such Constitution to acquire, possess, collect, exhibit, transport, carry, transfer ownership of, and enjoy the right to use arms, in order that the people may always be in a position to exercise their legitimate individual rights of self-preservation and defense of family, person, and property, as well as to serve effectively in the appropriate militia for the common defense of the Republic and the individual liberty of its citizens” (remember the Second Amendment above?). The second purpose and objective is “to promote public safety, law and order, and the national defense,” The next three purposes and objectives deal with the education and training of law enforcement, sport shooters and hunters.

I recently learned more about the history of the NRA than I knew before from a post by Daughter Number Three who linked to this podcast at Radiolab. Originally, the NRA existed to educate and train people in the proper and safe use of guns for sport and hunting. In the late 1960’s that all changed when a radical group of gun owners, feeling threatened by California’s ban of loaded weapons in public and afraid the federal government would eventually follow suit and take away their guns, joined the NRA and took it over. They turned the NRA into what it is today, i.e. an association whose first two purposes and objectives aim to arm every American citizen and protect the right of Americans to own guns, using the Second Amendment (ignoring the first clause of it) as the law that supports them.

There’s millions of dollars in ignoring the words, “A well regulated Militia,” and the time in which the Founders lived, their hopes and fears for the fledgling nation, and their complete inability to see into the future when muskets would become AR-15s. Ignoring and twisting the meaning of the Second Amendment allows gun manufacturers to produce and sell handguns, rifles, and military arms to civilians and make millions of dollars, allows the NRA to support and protect those manufacturers as well as lobby (with millions of dollars) Congress and state governments to stop any legislation that would affect the availability of guns. Because the American political system relies heavily on money, politicians need money in order to campaign for office. So, politicians are vulnerable as a result to being bought, even if they may not want to face that fact. The Citizens United US Supreme Court decision created the conditions for Capitalism to interfere with the governance of the country.

Let’s Follow the Money

If you read or follow more than one news source to get a balanced view of current events, it’s fairly easy to put together just how powerful money and Capitalism are in America.

So let’s take one recent proposal in response to recent school shootings – that teachers in schools be armed with guns – and see what that means in terms of Capitalism. Those making the proposal – politicians, the president, the NRA – could not point to any kind of solid research to support this proposal simply because the Dickey Law prevents research into gun violence. The Dickey Law was written and passed at the behest of the NRA in order to protect the firearms industry from public health and safety research that would reveal the need to regulate firearms ownership. Since this proposal to arm teachers was made, I’ve seen at least 2 reports of teachers accidentally firing guns in classrooms and injuring students. I’ve also seen a hypothetical scenario in which a teacher has disarmed a student who was either threatening to shoot or had been shooting people, and when the police arrive, they shoot the teacher whom they see with the gun. Common sense about human behavior would suggest that it’s a really terrible idea to arm teachers, even teachers who are experienced with firearms. But common sense has nothing to do with this. Money does.

How many teachers are there in America? According to the Department of Education, in the fall of 2017 there were 3.2 million fulltime teachers in the American public school system. If a good quality handgun with ammunition can be bought for $300 each, then how much does that mean in sales for gun manufacturers? About $960,000,000. The teachers, or more precisely, the school districts, are a new market for guns that didn’t really exist before. But who is going to pay for all those guns? The parents of the students? The NRA? State government? Or the US Department of Education? The gun manufacturers will make a killing on this deal. And that’s Capitalism.

Money and the American President and Congress

Money pours into the Republican and Democratic coffers for those who represent the American people from gun manufacturers and the NRA. I recently read that the NRA contributed over $30 million to Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016 in addition to running ads supporting him. That makes the Republicans and Democrats who accept that money beholden to the NRA and gun manufacturers. Since Citizens United, individual and corporate political contributors, and lobbyists give their money in order to buy influence or to buy what they want from government. This aspect of American politics, elections, and government has worsened since the 1970’s when Paul Manafort started his lobbying firm with two partners.

Until America has real campaign finance reform and regulates lobbying to exclude monetary contributions, freeing elected representatives to govern and to truly represent the people who elected them, money will continue to rule America. Money or profit will trump human life. Unregulated Capitalism will trump human life. Greed trumps human life.

What would gun ownership regulation look like?

I’d suggest researching what other countries like Japan or the UK have done to protect their populations in terms of laws and regulations that control guns.  Here are some of my ideas:

  • Establish a minimum age of 21 for gun ownership.
  • Require proof that prospective gun owner is licensed to own a gun.
  • Require that guns can be bought only from licensed dealers.
  • Require a one-week waiting period between the purchase and pick-up of the gun.
  • Require criminal and mental health background checks for all individuals who wish to purchase a gun.
  • Require education and training for prospective gun owners similar to that required of new car drivers with remedial training every 5 years.
  • Require prospective gun owners to pass written, oral, and marksmanship tests in order to obtain a license to carry a gun. 
  •  Require prospective gun owners to register their gun within 7 days of purchase.
  • Establish by law the types of guns available to civilians, excluding all weapons developed for military use as well as semiautomatic guns designed to fire multiple rapid rounds. 
  •  Establish by law the types of ammunition available to civilians, excluding all ammunition developed for military use.
  •  Require all gun owners to carry weapons liability insurance.

These ideas are based on what Americans must do in order to drive and own a car and would present as much of a hardship for Americans as they experience learning to drive a car, passing their driving test to obtain a license, registering their new car, and purchasing car insurance. Perhaps the NRA could step up and provide the resources and means to regulate gun ownership and use. I doubt they’d want state governments to create Departments of Firearms, like Departments of Motor Vehicles, to deal with the licensing and registration requirements, and they certainly could take a leadership role in the education, training, and testing of applicants.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Get Your Geek On!

For the last six weeks or so, I've been missing in action here at Eyes on Life due to an intense search for a new fulltime job, among other pressing projects. When I began this blog in January 2012 (6 years old!), I'd envisioned a running commentary on current events and other things that interested me out there in the Zeitgeist. At some point, I modified that mission by adding Successful Patient posts that deal with healthcare topics. Going forward from today, I plan to return to and continue the running commentary on current events as well as contributions to the We are the World Blogfest (#WATWB), and more Successful Patient posts on healthcare topics. Today, though, I want to just have fun!

People, not only girls, like to have fun. Like other people, I gravitate to activities and subjects that interest me the most. What do I love? I mean, really, really love? In other words, what turns on my Geek?

What a minute!  Geek?  Isn't that a derogatory term? Not really. Although to people who aren't familiar with it, perhaps. Geeks are people who pursue one or more passions in their lives with almost obsessive attention. They really loooooove what they love! I think most people have a geek inside just waiting to come out to play.

I'm a geek and proud of it. In fact, I'm a geek at least three times over because I love with obsessional passion at least three things in my life. For example:

Writing and Reading

To me, these two go hand-in-hand. Learning to read as a child opened the door to telling stories that opened the door to writing stories for others. As an adult, I've found that I'm happiest when I'm writing whether that's fiction or nonfiction -- although fiction tends to give me a high that nonfiction doesn't. When I'm not at my desk writing, I'm thinking about writing, or my imagination is working behind the scenes so that she's ready when I finally do make it to my desk.

I love to read. I've been a voracious reader since elementary school, and my interests have ranged over every genre. My favorites are psychological thriller, espionage thriller, science fiction, and mystery. If a novel can blend all those, I'm in heaven. But I continue to read lots of different books and genres, including nonfiction like history, biography, and memoir. Doing research for a story I'm writing broadens my reading range too. I love books. I love to buy books. I mean, I really love books. As my income has decreased, though, I've had to stop buying books which really hurts. And I've needed to clean out my substantial library and sell books. This is painful. But now I really, really love going to the library! Sometimes I feel a little crazy thinking about all the books in the world and that I can never actually own and read all of them. Favorite authors? John le Carre, P. D. James, Patricia Highsmith, Daniel Silva, Arthur C. Clarke, Connie Willis, and maybe tomorrow I'd add even more.

Classical Music

Music, but especially classical music. I really, really love it, and if given the chance, I love to tell others about it and why I love it. My imagination feeds off it. Classical music soothes my body, mind, and soul. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me feel fully human. I've performed classical music (on French horn, on piano, and singing), and I've studied it (my Bachelors degree is in music). I've written about my personal experiences with it as well as set stories in the classical music world. I love reading novels set in that world, and reading biographies of musicians -- performers, conductors, composers. I've even written advertising copy about music performances and worked for a symphony orchestra, and written about music at this blog. And above all, I listen to it nearly all the time -- in live concerts, on the radio and YouTube, or from my collection of CDs -- music from all periods including the newest of the new.

But classical music isn't the only type of music I love. I love movie soundtracks (really, they're classical music), classic rock and roll, big band swing. I'll listen to anything once. Recently, while doing housework, I got out my Janis Joplin, Chicago, and Bee Gees to entertain me while doing something I detest doing. And I'm just getting into Bruno Mars' music. I'm open to suggestions!  What's your favorite music?


Yes, I'm a medical geek and have been since my childhood watching medical dramas on TV. My mother had an enduring interest in medicine -- she'd worked as a nurses' assistant at one time and volunteered at our local hospital -- and urged her children to consider medicine as a profession. For a while, I wanted to be a nurse, but then discovered how much math and science was involved while working in college as a nurse assistant in nursing homes.

The human body is amazing, fascinating, and full of surprises. Each is unique. Health and wellness is a concern for me, and I've had a great deal of experience dealing with all sorts of medical professionals, pharmacists and medications, and medical insurance, and I'm participating in medical research. I've written about some of my experiences here under the Successful Patient tag. I love reading about medical subjects, watching medical shows on TV, and sharing my own knowledge with friends and my blog readers.

What's the difference between a Geek and a Nerd?

I think of Nerds as extreme Geeks. Both are highly intelligent people with the ability to concentrate for long periods. Nerds tend to be shyer than Geeks, not have as developed social skills as Geeks, and immerse themselves in their obsessions much more than Geeks. Neither is bad or good. They just are. If you're interested in something they're interested in, Nerds can be a wonderful resource for learning as well as Geeks. Nerds have gotten a bad rap, I think, because of the stereotype of them not caring about grooming or personal hygiene, eating a lot of junk food, and being narrowly focused on only one thing to the exclusion of everything else. 

What interest(s) are you passionate about?  What gets your Geek on?

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney, Inc.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Music Knows No Boundaries #WATWB

After a break for the holidays in December, We are the World Blogfest #WATWB returns for its 10th installment this month! The mission of this blogfest is to shine a light on positive news on the internet, news that highlights love, humanity, compassion, and peace. We'd like to reach as many people as possible with our positive news stories, so please feel free to share and link to this post!

I am a firm believer in the power of music. It can be rock music, folk music, a Broadway musical, or someone singing in the shower. The sound frequencies of music have a physical effect on the human body, too. Music is an art that anyone can enjoy no matter where they are from or what they do for a living. Music knows no boundaries.

 The video above from YouTube is of Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2.

One of my first stories for We are the World Blogfest was about music and Sharing Notes, a group in Chicago that takes music into hospitals to lift patients' spirits and help with their healing. I'm always on the lookout for positive stories about sharing music, and my We are the World Blogfest #WATWB contribution this month is a story about sharing music to cheer up a victim of a crime.

As part of their job, two Mansfield, England policemen visited a 93-year-old man who been recently the victim of burglars. The two chatted with the man for a while about his life and experiences as a pilot during World War II and the loss of his wife. Then, as one of the policemen said....

“I noticed he had a piano with music open – one of his favourite Chopin pieces he said, a nocturne. I told him it was my late grandma’s favourite too! I said I could play, so he invited me to play for him, which I did."
Mansfield Policeman at the piano (Photo courtesy

The policeman's partner videotaped the whole thing, including the way the elderly man's hands moved to the music. That video is here. Needless to say, this policeman's willingness to play the piano really made this burglary victim's day!

The We are the World Blogfest's co-hosts this month are Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Lynn Hallbrooks, Eric Lahti, Damyanti Biswas, and Guilie Castillo. Check out their blogs for their contributions to #WATWB! If you'd like to read more news stories that focus on humanity and brotherhood, you can find a longer list of #WATWB blogs with links here (scroll down to close to the bottom).

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Successful Patient: The Importance of Continuity of Care

In Minnesota during the last year we've witnessed a major medical insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, wrangle with a major provider of medical care for children, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, a highly respected medical facility known for treating the toughest cases. The dispute between the two was about money. This dispute resulted in them parting ways, leaving about 60,000 BCBS patients without in-network care. Of course, they could continue to go to Children's Hospitals and Clinics and to the same physicians, but they would be required to pay more because this provider is now out of network for BCBS. Parents of sick kids now must face exorbitant medical costs alone or change providers.

There are other excellent pediatric medical providers in Minnesota. That's not the point. What is at stake here is continuity of care.

What do I mean by continuity of care? Let's look at an example. I'll use my experience. During the last four years, I've had nearly as many medical insurance plans covering my medical expenses. Every time I've been forced to change plans, I've been very careful to make certain that all my doctors, clinics, and preferred hospital are in-network providers for the new medical insurance plan. I've been going to my primary doctor for about 20 years. She knows me, knows my medical history, and because she has that knowledge I don't have to explain my medical history every time I see her. She also knows the best way to treat any medical issue I might have, and also knows the best doctors to refer me to for a specialist. It is much the same with the specialists that I see -- I've been going to them for a significant amount of time and they know my body and my health status. Keeping all these doctors in-network provides me with continuity of care.

If I were to be forced to change my doctor because a medical insurance company has that doctor out of network, then I lose that doctor's knowledge about my body and my health. I lose continuity of care. There may be other perfectly competent doctors in network for the medical insurance company, but none of them have the knowledge about me, the experience with me, and my health that my doctor has. That kind of knowledge and experience saves time and money in the long run.

Medical insurance companies look at me as a "loss" because I have one or more chronic conditions and will be making more than one or two claims during the year, as well as buying more than one medication. Medical insurance companies really don't want me on their plans because from their perspective, my claims are lost money to their bottom line. And no matter whether a medical insurance company claims they are nonprofit or not, they are all in the business of making a profit.

Because medical insurance companies only consider the financial side, they don't give a hoot about continuity of care. Has your medical insurance company dropped medications from its formulary in favor of other medications that are cheaper? One of the things pharmacy benefit managers for insurance companies will do is require that a patient use the formulary medication to see if it will be effective (and they will save money). They do not make this "suggestion" after consulting with a patient's doctor to find out if the doctor concurs. They tell the patient and the patient's doctor that this is what they must do, effectively telling the doctor how to practice medicine (although insurance companies take care to state on their websites and in the printed materials that they do not practice medicine. The way they conduct business becomes, in effect, practicing medicine -- and without a license.).

Last year, for example, my medical insurance at the time dropped one of my medications from their formulary. I'd been taking the medication for 8 years and it had been extremely effective for the condition I had. Continuity of care would say that I should remain on that same medication and not make any changes. My doctor submitted a prior authorization request for that medication, call it Med A. The pharmacy benefit manager denied the request and the reason was that I had not tried Med B, used to treat the same condition and about $150 cheaper per month. So, my doctor prescribed Med B which had a step up dosage, i.e. I took 1 pill per day the first week, 2 pills per day the second week, 3 pills the third week, and the full dose of 4 pills the fourth week and every week thereafter.

Immediately on one pill per day, I experienced severe side effects: dizziness so bad I couldn't stand up for very long, nausea, balance issues, increased pulse rate, runny nose, and frequent urination. I missed a day of work as a result. The second day, the side effects had diminished but were still with me. I powered through. When I increased to 2 pills per day the second week, that's when the allergic reaction began on top of increased severity in the side effects: itchy throat, itchy bumps in my throat, sneezing, runny nose, and increasing fatigue. After 2 days the second week, I stopped taking the Med B pills, but the reaction continued with spikey fevers. I missed 3 days of work because of this reaction. It took another week for my body to return to normal.

So, I'd tried the Med B, the cheaper drug on the medical insurance formulary. My doctor submitted a new prior authorization request, describing my body's reaction to Med B. The pharmacy benefits manager denied that request, telling my doctor that I "had not taken Med B long enough." It would be another 3 months before I was able to return to taking Med A -- during that time I was dealing with the health condition also because I was not taking Med A -- because I changed medical insurance companies. The only reason the medical insurance company wanted me on Med B was because it was cheaper not that it might be a more effective treatment. In fact, as a result of the medical insurance company's actions and the pharmacy benefit manager's actions, they were essentially practicing medicine and prescribing a treatment for my health condition in order for them to save $150 a month. They totally destroyed continuity of care and they hurt me physically.

Money is no substitute for continuity of care whether that means keeping a medical provider or a medication. Medical insurance companies are walking a very thin line right now as they do everything they can to cut "losses" and increase their profits. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is in trouble not because of the legislation itself but because insurance companies have worked in every way to undermine it. As I've said to friends, ignore medical insurance companies' advertising that claims they listen to their consumers and they're only thinking of the best way to save money and pay for effective treatment. They are not.  If they truly were, they would support and work to maintain continuity of care for consumers.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Being a Survivor During the Holidays

Let's face it: this time of year in America can be horrible, sad, painful, and the pits for some people.  How do they survive all that Christmas music, wishes of "Merry Christmas!" and the pull of family? It's really no joke, folks. This can be an excruciating time of year for many different reasons. Maybe someone is facing the first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Maybe someone has survived childhood sexual abuse which intensified during the holidays when s/he was a child and those memories make this time of year extremely painful and depressing. Maybe someone no longer has family, or children, or is sick and stuck in the hospital.  For each person, the reason is real, personal, and needs to be respected by others (who may love the holidays).

For me, the holidays are depressing, especially this year because I just lost my job. I'm not in a celebratory or Christmas mood at all.  My friends, for the most part, know that the holidays are a tough time for me. The family that I have left now are scattered all over the place, and anyway, anything that feels like family for me during the holidays makes me anxious and depressed.  It was really never fun in my family around the holidays. Over the years, I've developed some strategies to get through this time with my good humor intact and keeping the depression from getting too deep. I especially enjoy confounding traditions and customs that I grew up with in my family.


I love movies, and this time of year usually sees a bonanza of new movies in theaters. I stay away from holiday-themed movies. Going to movies on Christmas Day has been a wonderful way to enjoy the day. This is something that would never have been allowed in my family when I was growing up.  But it's surprising how many other people are thinking the same thing and head off to the movie theater. I also enjoy going with friends during December. For example, last weekend a bunch of us went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi and then went out for dinner afterward. Relaxing, fun, and the company and conversation were great.

Not Cooking or Baking

It often astounds me just how much food -- not all of it terribly healthy -- is available and consumed during the month of December, not to mention alcoholic beverages. I used to love Christmas cookies, fudge, candy, pies, and all the rest of the food traditional to the holiday. It was a big deal for my family when I was growing up. I remember watching my mother work so hard to get all the food made and not receive acknowledgement or appreciation from the men in the family. Then I went through a period in my life when I ate pizza for Christmas dinner and nothing else because it was easy and required little time. Now, I take this holiday season as an opportunity for thinking about what a gift it is to my body to take care of her with healthy food and exercise during the year and especially during the holidays.  After all, I have only one body and it's important to take care of her.


I can take only so much Christmas music before I feel depression darkening my mind. It's not really the music itself that depresses me, but the memories around the songs, or feeling bombarded with the music everywhere without relief. I love music.  I grew up playing musical instruments (piano, French horn) and singing in choirs.  I really enjoy a superb performance of Handel's Messiah early in December, and then I'm done with Christmas music for the year. What do I listen to instead? I listen to a lot of J. S. Bach's instrumental music, symphonies by Bruckner, concertos, and movie soundtracks. Or silence. We fill up the air around us with so much sound, so many loud sounds, and it's so relaxing to just have silence. The video below is J. S. Bach's French Suites for piano.

Stay out of Stores

In high school, I began to realize that Christmas was the ultimate capitalist holiday. It's now "traditional" to shop for presents, spend a lot of money at this time of year. America is the consumer paradise -- buy, buy, buy.  Don't have the latest gadget? Better get it for Christmas!  Since I joined the ranks of the Working Poor, I've come to realize how little I need to own, and that doesn't include the latest gadget. I admire people who put a real cap on their spending at this time of year and emphasize instead getting together for fun activities. So, I stay away from stores as much as possible which isn't terribly difficult when I don't have the money to spend anyway!


I love to read, and one of the most wonderful gifts I could give myself is an entire day of reading, from the time I get up until I go to bed at night. This strategy for Christmas Day isn't for everyone, I realize, but it's perfect for me. I pick a novel to read for Christmas Day and then I enjoy the quiet in my apartment building (many residents have left to visit family) as I immerse myself in a good story. Over the years I've varied this somewhat by making a special meal at mid-day, or going for a walk in the afternoon through the neighborhood, or reading only until evening then watching a DVD before bed.

Being alone during the holidays can be painful, especially if well-meaning friends and/or family hound you about it. If you enjoy being alone, enjoy solitude, tell them! I'm an introvert and really enjoy my solitude, especially balanced with occasionally spending time with friends.

Whatever you do for the holiday, I hope that it is your choice. Whatever strategies you have for getting through this crazy season, I hope that you enjoy them and survive the holidays with your sanity and good cheer intact.