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A Few Words about a Supreme

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on 13 February came unexpectedly. Far be it for me to speak ill of the departed but, having said that, I fully expect there to be many critical opinions voiced regarding his philosophy and tenure, and I suppose that mine will be counted among them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Justice Scalia was a “bad man”. I just think that despite his purported brilliance, he was a Constitutional Neanderthal. After all, this is a guy who reveled in his view of the Constitution as a “dead” rather than a “living” document, a severely myopic view that supported the assumed perfection of the 18th Century society and minds that created our core document. Scalia refused to face the simple reality that time brings change and, with it, the need to adapt to evolving mores, priorities, and advances in knowledge. The Founding Fathers may have been brilliant and perceptive within the context of their era and, in some respects, beyond it, but we are now well over two hundred years farther along, and American society, not to mention the world in general, has grown more complex, sophisticated, and dangerous. Justice Scalia wished to preserve the nascent state of America despite overwhelming evidence that we simply are not the country that we were at our founding..

Scalia’s domineering personality, sarcastic wit on the bench, and reactionary philosophy combined over the three decades of his service on the Supreme Court to wreak havoc on established and evolving law. Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, a blow against voting rights for minorities…in his votes in these and other cases he as well as his conservative brethren vomited their contempt in large, discrete chunks for any semblance of social equality and fairness. Out of step with his time, he helped to fuel the fires of intolerance and made a travesty of those values and privileges that most Americans, and certainly most minorities, accept as the core of what makes America America.

I believe that the long historical view of Scalia will be that he had a markedly negative but fortunately transient, dramatic impact on the legal and social environment of the country, and that ultimately his efforts failed. He will be seen as a man out of his time attempting to use his position to reinstate an imagined era he felt was better than the one in which he lived. It will be broadly recognized that, paradoxically, his strict constructionist views actually favored far less freedom rather than more. As it is with other conservatives, Scalia was a man who believed that freedom was paramount as long as it didn’t conflict with his own biases. In an era in which the conservatives who supported him rail against activist judges, Scalia was one of the worst.

And so, I will not miss Justice Scalia, but I understand why Republicans, even before rigor mortis set in, trumpeted their desire to stonewall any – any — replacement nomination that will be made by President Obama. All of which leads me to believe that we truly need a Democrat as our next President, because another angry, reactionary, sarcastic, ultra-conservative driven by a right wing political agenda (don’t forget Bush v. Gore) is the last person this country needs on the Supreme Court. It’s critical to recognize that the country is speeding headlong towards a minority majority population, and radically conservative political views are ultimately doomed, no matter what happens in the short term. The fear, however, is that a lot of bad stuff can happen in the short term. History tells us that, at some point, events simply cross a line, and people rise up, unwilling to take it anymore. If Republicans don’t allow that uprising to take place at the ballot box, they may forever regret their unswerving support for the Second Amendment. Their behavior in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death suggests, however, that they don’t yet understand what they are risking. I’d like to think they’ll come to their senses, but based upon the recent behavior and pronouncements of those seeking the Republican presidential nomination, my hopes aren’t high.

Whither Obamacare?

Most readers of this blog are unaware that I am a retired physician. In 1977, after finishing my specialty training in ob/gyn and a fellowship in family planning and the treatment of sexual dysfunction, I entered the private practice of medicine. Eight years later, I left private practice to become the gynecologist for the student health service of a large university. From there, I went on to take control of a troubled clinic near Los Angeles International Airport, my predecessor having been summarily fired for moral and ethical indiscretions. Moving on from this clinic, I subsequently pursued a career path that led me to chair the ob/gyn department for a large managed health care plan, progress to become Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs for an HMO/PPO organization, and move to two other organizations before landing in my final job with a major health plan and insurer for which I spent the last fifteen years of my career. In this latter job, I was primarily focused on the management of quality of care in our physician, hospital, and ancillary provider networks. I relate all this to make the point that I’ve seen health care from just about every possible angle during the course of my professional life, and it has afforded me significant perspective on where we’ve been and where we ought to head.

This blog piece cannot hope to address the entire problem of the health care mess we face in the U.S. Simply stated, U.S. health care costs exceed by a large margin those of other western European countries and our outcomes (infant mortality, for example) lag woefully behind those same countries. The often stated (by Republicans, at least) mantra that we have the best health care in the world is, simply, not true, and it’s a national disgrace.

The Affordable Care Act (aka, the ACA or Obamacare) was implemented in the attempt to address some of the myriad issues confronting our health care environment. Note that I’m not calling it our “system” here because, in reality, we don’t have one. What we do have is a patchwork of medical care models that operate inefficiently and make almost no one happy.

The only viable permanent solution to the problem is universal health care coverage, a model into which many with vested interests will have to be dragged kicking and screaming. How might such a model work?

First, it would be sort of like Medicare for everyone. A baseline safety net would be established so that everyone would be covered for essential services. Yes, it would be a government program, but we know that Medicare works and works well. This would get the private insurance companies and their confusing plethora of care plans out of the business of providing basic health care. We would allow them, however, to sell supplementary policies for people who could and would want coverage for additional types of services including, just for example, certain plastic surgical procedures and advanced reproductive technologies. We could also use private insurance companies as the fiscal intermediaries for our model. Competition between companies to provide this service would incentivize efficiency and help to hold administrative costs down. Coverage guidelines would be centrally set, as they are for Medicare, and without the current, nonsensical variation we have now based upon company whim and, largely, state legislation.

Unfortunately, President Obama threw in the towel during the partisan and special interest haggling that went on as he fought for the ACA. The process, however, ended up producing a program that has had beneficial effects for many who now have coverage they formerly lacked. Admittedly, it has hurt a few and, worse, not succeeded in providing care for some people at all.

Democratic nomination seeker Bernie Sanders is militantly vocal about wanting universal health care but, unfortunately, although I agree with his sentiments on the matter, he’s a bull in a china shop and probably not electable. Even if he were to be elected, he probably could not create the revolution he seeks, as Congress will not be coerced. The better bet, although it would be slower to play out, is Hillary Clinton’s approach. She advocates incrementally improving on the ACA. Admittedly, this is not as exciting as a revolution, but it’s far more likely to take us in the desired direction. Furthermore, this is the only approach with any prospect of long term success.

Finally, if a Republican wins in November, it’s unlikely that he (not she — Fiorina has no chance) will be able to fulfill the oft-repeated pledge to kill the ACA. Some 17 million people now have insurance that they didn’t have before and, among other benefits, pre-existing conditions are now not allowed as coverage exclusions. In general people are happy with their coverage under the ACA, and killing it would be disastrous for Republicans. Would, say, a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio really take all this away with nothing else to offer and risk incurring widespread public wrath? Unlikely.

So, although this discussion has been brief, it does point to a direction for the future with respect to health care. Bernie is too militantly cranky and the Republican Congress is not likely to respond in any functional way to him. If we want to straighten out what’s wrong, we have to support Hillary. She’s the only one who both makes sense and has an approach that might work.

BUT, having said all this, I will also say that health care isn’t the only issue of importance in the process of selecting a Democratic Party candidate. Hillary Clinton carries some real baggage with her: Her vote in support of enabling George W. Bush to invade Iraq, her e-mail kerfuffle, and her lack of ability to rally the support of younger voters and, in particular, that of younger women, are major concerns. Bernie Sanders, also not without his own baggage, nevertheless has drawn remarkable support from younger voters, but he does not have the same level of support that Clinton has from voters of color. Sanders is saying things that positively need to be said, if a bit too bombastically. His blow-things-up rhetoric is unlikely to play well with Congress, and he really should bury his repeated statement that he’s a democratic socialist. It’s not a problem for many that he is one, but his flaunting of the label is most assuredly hurting him among many voters whose support he’ll need if he’s to win in a general election.

The bottom line is that both Sanders and Clinton are on the correct side of the issues and, despite their individual drawbacks, either would be far better than the reactionary Republican opposition. But if health care is your main concern, Clinton definitely has the edge over Sanders as the person who is most likely to take us in the direction we need to move.

Where Are The Sales?

I just received the annual report from WordPress with the 2015 statistics for seductivepeach.com. Over the course of the past year, the blog was viewed in 71 countries around the world, a fact that both surprises and delights me. So, as 2015 ends and 2016 begins (I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve), I want to thank everyone for their support and interest in my ramblings and rantings.

Having expressed my thanks, I still want to ask a question to which I probably won’t get an answer. With so many readers in so many countries, how come I sold so few of my two books in 2015?

Zendoscopy is the sometimes hilarious, sometimes wrenching story of Sherman, a somewhat square peg of a kid coming of age in the round hole of his 1950s and ‘60s Southern California world. The book has received excellent reviews (check them out on Amazon.com), and I’ve done book signings and taken ads during the year. Yet, still, very few sales. If you haven’t read (bought!) the book, please consider doing so as we enter 2016. And if you like it, please write a review on Amazon.com or any other online site that accepts reviews. And tell your friends about it, too!

Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe , my other book, was published back in 2004. It, too received favorable reviews but has sold many copies. It’s a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories written over a period of years when, in my former (I’m retired) career as a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, I needed to kill time in the hospital waiting for women in labor to deliver their babies. It’s a fun read if you’re into those genres, and I hope you’ll consider getting a copy in the year to come.

Both books are available in hardcover and e-book formats, so take your choice. You’ll find the hardcover (trade paperback) versions of each on any of many online sites, and the e-book on Amazon.com. I recommend buying from Amazon.com and posting reviews there. Of course, if you live in Southern California and buy the hardcopy version, I’d be glad to autograph it for you.

Finally, the not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy should be ready sometime in 2016. Several of the characters from Zendoscopy appear in the new book, but the story is totally new. If you’d like to find out more about Effie Mae, Larry, Saltzman, and Consuela, you’ll certainly want to pick up the new book when it arrives. I’ll be announcing its title a little later in 2016, so keep watching the blog or check me out on Facebook.

In the meantime, have a safe, happy, and healthy new year, and let’s all hope that in 2016 we’ll begin to see a more peaceful and tolerant world. And that goes for the behavior in Congress, as well!

Curmudgeonly Holiday Cheer

If you’re like me, you always feel a little ambivalent as the holiday season gets into full swing. And not without good reason, I would humbly suggest. And in the interest of perhaps making some of you understand that you’re not alone, I hereby offer a list of some of the things that annoy the hell out of me every year:

  • Christmas wreaths on car noses. Highly stupid.
  • Reindeer antlers affixed to the sides of cars. Almost as stupid as the wreaths.
  • Endless, and I do mean endless, e-mails from retailers, often including multiple missives from the same vendor in a single day. Eddie Bauer and Amazon.com, go f*** yourselves.
  • Holiday music on the radio, everywhere on the radio. Rum pum pum pum.
  • People who are actually offended when wished “happy holidays”, and who see such well-intentioned good will as an act of war on Christmas. Conversely, those who automatically wish me a merry Christmas or happy Hanukkah, presuming to know my religious leanings (and generally getting them wrong). For the record, I’m a Festivus kind of guy.
  • Which reminds me, what war on Christmas? Everywhere I turn, I’m bombarded by Christmas. The only war on Christmas I see every day at this time of year is the one being waged at its spirit by avaricious businesses.
  • “Black Friday” sales that start weeks before Black Friday and, as I write this, are still going on, albeit now being called by other names, such as “pre- Christmas” sales. What does buying a new mattress have to do with Christmas?
  • The same automobile commercials repeated over and over again, usually within bare minutes of one another.
  • Inconsiderate, reckless driving by people too harried, distracted, inebriated, and/or just plain irritated to be paying attention to the road, other drivers, and pedestrians.
  • Those Salvation Army bell ringers who feel it incumbent upon them to voice cheery good wishes in hope of attracting my attention and a contribution. You want a contribution, don’t confront me like a street beggar.

And now, for the things that don’t annoy me during the holidays:

  • People who refuse to patronize stores that stay open on days when employees should be free to spend time with their families.
  • Car manufacturers that don’t bombard the airwaves and cable with repeated ads with annoying music and, all too often, jolly Santas driving their vehicles.
  • People who do wish me to have “happy holidays”.
  • People who remain attentive and courteous behind the wheel, despite the awful provocations of those who don’t.
  • Salvation Army bell ringers who keep their mouths shut as I walk into the local Ralph’s.
  • Anyone, and I mean anyone, who wishes me a Festive Festivus.

Happy holidays, everyone!!!

Preaching to the Converted

Regular readers of this blog are pretty well onto my politics and so are probably expecting me to get into regular rants against what has become of the Republican mindset and, specifically, the ignorant and bigoted blather coming from the nomination seekers as they each try to outdo one another in their rush to the lunatic right. Well, I hate to disappoint, but I’m not going to do it, at least right now. Why? Because those who’ve read the 89 prior blog entries on seductivepeach.com are pretty much the converted. People who might perhaps gain some perspective from the liberal (educated?) view of things aren’t my readers, and my simply blowing off steam to those who already agree with me seems a waste of my time at the keyboard. Oh, I’m sure that despite this I’ll have more to say as we go through the primary season, but I’m going to try not to be the creator of a weekly harangue, even if venting my frustrations is somewhat therapeutic for me. So ‘nuff said for now.

It’s the holiday season once again, and Decembers seem to come and go at a furious pace as I get older. As always at this time of year, it’s time for the wife and me to catch up on all the recent movies we’ve missed, to visit with some friends, to eat (and eat and eat), and to wonder over why, in the words of the famous philosopher, Rodney King, we can’t all get along.

As I’ve often said in my postings, I’m not religious. I was raised in a secular environment (although my mother was a wishful agnostic who did send me to Sunday school for awhile – it didn’t “take”) and classify myself as a secular humanist. Perhaps because of this, religious intolerance and racism simply failed to resonate at any level with me. And so, instead of talking about the horror that just transpired in San Bernardino – incomprehensible in and of itself – I’d like to take the rest of this week’s entry to address what’s happened since the mass terror attack.

And what has happened? On one hand, there has been much caution urged by saner voices, pleas not to generalize feelings about the two terrorists responsible for the massacre to the Muslim community as a whole, the majority of whose members are as appalled as the rest of us and who, in addition, are coping with feelings of guilt and shame over what they see as a perversion of their beliefs. On the other hand, however, are a motley crew of gun supporters, Republican politicians who offered nothing but an exhortation for us all to pray (and in some cases, most notably that of Donald Trump, have suggested barring any further immigration by Muslims), and radical right religious bigots who, predictably, are venomous in their expressions of hatred toward all Muslims.

Those who express their hostility toward Islam – primarily right wing Christians – seem conveniently to forget that Christians’ behavior over time has often been as lacking in virtue as what we are seeing now. Just to name one example, the Inquisition wasn’t exactly a shining moment in the history of Catholicism. And are white supremacist Christians any more admirable than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists? Those filled with anti-Islamic hate tend to forget that most mass shootings and assassinations in the U.S. have been committed by white male Christians. I’m no Bible scholar, but it does seem that some have forgotten the injunction about not casting the first stone.

I’m not religious, and some would say that I therefore am not qualified to give those who are among the faithful any advice. Still, I would ask those of all faiths (and of none), to look deeply and honestly within themselves, to look at history, and to consider that those who committed the recent San Bernardino shootings constitute a lunatic fringe and not the larger body of Muslims in the U.S. who actually deserve tolerance and support in what has become a very painful time for them.

So, I’ll end by wishing happy holidays to all, and my hope for progress toward peace in the new year.

A Book Signing Disappointment

On Saturday, 11/21, I did a book signing at my local branch library. To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement. More like a minor disaster. But let me begin at the beginning.

The local library has for several years held a local authors fair, always in the fall. I’ve never been able to participate due to schedule conflicts but, this year, it looked like I’d be available. So, in July I paid my $20 registration fee and provided the requisite two copies of the book that they’d make available in the library, and sat back to wait for the November event.

Several weeks prior to the event, the library staff member who was responsible for organizing the event sent out by distribution e-mail advertising the event and listing the participating authors. My name was missing as, I later learned, was at least that of one other author. I e-mailed the staffer, who apologized but sent out no revised list. After a couple of weeks, I sent another e-mail but still saw no revised list. Finally, I sent a third e-mail, after which I learned that she had, in fact, made the correction but only on the library’s website. No distribution e-mail ever went out.

As the time for the event approached, no local publicity appeared, and on the day of the event there was no prominent signage at the library. Desk staff did not direct library visitors to the “Community Room” where the event was being held. In the room, itself, staff at first said that table assignments for the authors would be forthcoming. Then they said to sit wherever we wanted.

The signing was to begin at 10 AM. At that time, the only people there were the authors. Undaunted, the event organizer got up and gave a welcome speech addressed to the authors and to the attendees.

Over the three hours of the signing, there was minimal foot traffic – how could it have been otherwise with no publicity, no effective signage, and no attempts by staff to direct traffic to the room? I sold one book. Someone else sold three. Of the fifty participating authors, many sold none.

The event ended at 1 PM. No one from the library was present to thank the authors. We all just packed up and left.

And that, dear friends, is how not to run a book signing. I compare it to how a signing that I did at Vroman’s the big bookstore in Pasadena, ran a signing I attended. Well advertised. Four authors, not fifty. Each of us given time in front of an audience to speak and/or read from our book, followed by the four of us as a panel to answer questions. And then? Yes, the signing. Now, that’s how to do it.

As a self-published, little known author, it’s a tough enough row to hoe to get noticed. In this case my local library’s intentions were admirable, but the execution was execrable. Well, maybe next year…

The Donald

Unless you’ve been living in a Lower Slobbovian cave for the past couple of weeks, you’re well aware by now that Donald Trump, has entered the Republican race for the party’s 2016 nomination for President of the United States. And I say, “Whoopie! This is GREAT!!!

Why, you may wonder, would I be so delighted over this arrogant, bigoted, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal’s Presidential quest? The answer is straightforward and simple: because finally a candidate has stepped forward who is unafraid to bare (dare I say flaunt?) the repellent underbelly of the Republican Party, and having it exposed for what it is is truly a marvelous thing.

Lest you disagree with me about this, simply look at what the other GOP nom-seekers are saying. What, you say? The silence is deafening? But then, of course it is. They mostly all agree with him and are simply afraid to say it. Well, except for Ted Cruz, who’s gutsy and idiotic enough to defend the indefensible. And then there’s Jeb Bush, who might just also secretly agree with the bad-haired one but who out of fear made a wimpish, pandering pronouncement in Spanish only that, well, Trump’s ideas aren’t his own. What? Maybe he just borrowed them from someone else? And what about other Republicans? Where are they in all of this? Hiding, it seems, nakedly unmasked for the detestable specimens of humanity they are..

The ugly truth is that the Republican Party has become a slimy right wing backwater wherein dwell bigots, the religiously misguided, the terminally selfish, and a wealthy class of economic narcissists who’ve turned the U.S Congress into their private sandbox. And who out there in the wider public votes for them in election after election? I’ll tell you. Double-wide dwellers who wrongly think their candidates actually care about them, and those who know no better than to follow the lead of Fox demagogues and ignorant imbeciles like James Inhof and his fellow buffoons.

Climate change? A hoax!

Obamacare? Socialism!

Women’s rights? Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant!

Immigration: Rapists!

Infrastructure maintenance: No new taxes!

The Middle East? Bomb it!

The environment? Frack, baby, frack!

The sanctity of life? Long live capital punishment!

Gay marriage? An abomination that will destroy our country!

And there you have it: most of what the GOP stands for today. So, Donald, keep up the good work. It seems that the heavy weight of responsibility has settled upon your shoulders. Yes, only YOU can ensure defeat of the party in 2016, so keep up the good work, because only you are getting the true Republican word out. A lot of us are depending on you. Don’t let us down.

On Sequels, and Thanks

Hollywood seems to have no problem grinding out sequels. Especially those involving comic book characters. Most are brainless summer action movies (and we’re into the season now), and it’s amazing how well these films do at the box office. Or not. Most of the movie going public isn’t very demanding when it comes to intellectual stimulation. Just include enough things blowing up and give ‘em a huge tub of faux-buttered popcorn and a 32 ounce soda and they’re in heaven. Actually, I haven’t figured out how they can sit through two hours, drink all that liquid, and not wet their pants. Or, maybe they do?

Anyway, I can’t help thinking about sequels these days because I’m in the process of writing a sequel to Zendoscopy, my funny, sad, risqué novel about a young fellow’s coming of age. The main lesson I’ve learned is that while it may be easy to write a sequel, it’s damned hard to write a good one. On my first try, I gave up after three chapters and started over again. On my second try, I made to eleven chapters before realizing that what I’d written had nowhere to go (not even down). Frankly, even what I had written offered nothing much of real interest in any of its chapters.

So, it was back to the bloodletting as I started pounding out the third iteration of what was to be Zendoscopy 2. Several chapters into it, I realized that I was heading down the same, pointless path, and that’s when inspiration finally struck. I realized that I’d said all I wanted to say about Sherman, the hero (I use the term loosely) of Z1. The sequel, then, really couldn’t be about him, although he could have a cameo role. Instead, it would have to be about other characters from the book, and maybe not even any of them as the central character. With this realization, the story has taken off. It’s now a sequel only in that some of the characters from Z1 make appearances, some even in major roles, but there are completely new characters as well, with the story largely focusing on one of them, a hapless, bumbling fellow named Horace Tibbles.

The book is about halfway through its maiden draft. With some luck, perhaps it’ll be done by the end of the year. It’s as yet untitled, but I’ll let you know as soon as it’s got a name.

Finally, regular readers will have noted that that the blog has been quiet for several weeks. I was traveling, and after returning home I underwent shoulder surgery. For those of you who haven’t given up on seductivepeach.com, I extend my thanks for your patience and, especially, for coming back!

Mispronunciations

OK, I know that the English language is complex. Spelling doesn’t always correspond with pronunciation, and vice versa. But one should expect TV and radio journalists, and especially experts in various fields, to pronounce the terms relevant to their topics correctly.

In California and much of the great West, we are experiencing a terrible drought. Perhaps it is in part a function of geologic climate cycles, but it is certainly exacerbated by human related activity. Spewed exhaust from vehicles, major industrial factory and power plant emissions, as well as less evident sources of global climate change with overall planetary warming all undeniably contribute to the degradation of our environment, including the Western drought. So what does this have to do with pronunciation?

Some experts (and others) are recommending desalination on a large scale: taking water from the ocean, removing the salt (and other impurities), to generate potable water. I repeat that the process is called desalination. It is not “desalinization”. Every time I hear someone talk about “desalinization” I grind my teeth.

Other mispronunciations also drive me nuts. How many times have you heard people say “deteriate” when they mean deteriorate? I’ve heard TV news people mispronounce the names of local cities. The city of Tujunga is pronounced “tuh-hunga”, not as it’s spelled. The city of Alhambra is not pronounced “Alhombra”. And Cahuenga (a street in Los Angeles), is pronounced “Cah-wenga”, not “Ca-hunga”, In each of these cases, I’ve heard locals mispronounce the names.

Then there are the colloquial mispronunciations. In Los Angeles County, the city of San Pedro is pronounced “San Pee-dro”, not “San Pay-dro”. When anyone uses the latter pronunciation, you know immediately that ”they’re not from around here”.

As a physician, I’m used to hearing frequent mispronunciations on medical television programs. “Dilatation” instead of “dilation” is an error made not only on television but also by medical personnel. (Pupils and the uterine cervix don’t “dilatate”. They dilate.) Sometimes medical mispronunciations can be hilarious. I’ve heard all of the following: “Smilin’ mighty Jesus” for spinal meningitis. “Fireballs of the Eucharist” for fibroids of the uterus. “Cedars-Cyanide Hospital” for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

There doesn’t seem to be much we can do about all this – it’s been going on as far back as anyone can remember and will probably go on forever. But, hey, do yourself a favor and check out the pronunciation of terms that are new to you. If nothing else, it’ll save you from appearing ignorant to those more knowledgeable within earshot.