Archive - Feb 2014


February 26th

Nursing home closures

The nursing home in tiny Hoffman, MN is forced to close.

These closures are due entirely to deliberate--and faulty--state policy. Almost every nursing home in rural Minnesota, particularly in Northwest Minnesota, is in trouble. Reimbursements from the state have been cut drastically over the past few years. It is impossible for nursing homes to stay afloat. Rural nursing homes have gotten the short end of the stick. Their employees don't need very high wages, the argument goes, because their cost of living is low. So the CNAs who do the miserable and necessary work, who provide the care, get by on $10/hour. 

No wonder they leave to work elsewhere. 

Here is what has happened while we all looked the other way: 

1) The state figured small-town nursing homes were too inefficient and could be replaced by cheaper options, so they cut the number of beds allowed. Drastically. 

2) The state not only cut the reimbursement for residents on aid, but it limited the amount nursing homes could charge anybody, even those who have the funds. This is "rate equalization," which is theory may seem like good policy, but which is in practice going to speed the demise of rural nursing homes. 

3) Pay for staff has fallen way behind pay available at other jobs in the area, and at health care jobs elsewhere. Staff cuts are stressing those who remain. Morale is rock bottom. Nursing home staff rightly feel unappreciated. You can say all the nice things you want about the work they do, but until they get a living wage, it is just hot air. 

The problem is going to get worse. Although the number of elderly people needing care dropped a little in the last couple of years (due to a temporary drop in birth rate during World War II), it is about to explode as the baby boomers advance en masse towards decrepitude. 

Rural nursing homes are often the biggest employer in town. The nursing home can be a community center. 

They must be preserved and improved, for soon we will need them ourselves!



February 25th


Just for kicks, I went on the MNSure website, registered, and evaluated a bunch of insurance options. I didn't qualify for subsidized health insurance, but I sure enjoyed looking at the options I had to replace my present plan. 

Within an hour, I had replaced my present plan with one 65% cheaper, and had added Lance to the plan--at a small cost, since he is young and healthy. All in all, our household is completely insured for less than half what I paid before. My deductible is higher, so it isn't apples to apples, but when I look at what I was paying, even with my tonsil surgery this summer, I would have been better off just paying it out of pocket than paying my premiums for the past 18 months. 

I have heard similar stories from others.

Although the program's launch was less than ideal, so was the launch of Bush's prescription drug program. 

What I would emphasize is, I received no subsidy. My insurance remains a contract between me and a private insurer. However, my rates came down due to a government-sponsored marketplace where competition and comparison was encouraged. 

If nothing else, it is obvious that Obamacare, even if it won't work for everybody––is going to work for most, is a good idea, is not socialist, is not going to result in the collapse of our civilization, is not, as Michele Bachmann claims, going to be overturned through prayer, and will soon be taken for granted--and may reduce costs of health care in this country. 

The rabid, insane opposition to Obamacare was not in response to any unwisdom of the policy; it was due entirely to hatred of our President. When you don't call it Obamacare, polls show its individual provisions are popular. Attach the label Obamacare to the Affordable Care Act, and you upset the ignorant bozos who don't like that we elected a black president. 

It is that simple. 

Our drunken Founders

They could really put it away, George, Thomas, Benjamin and the crew.  

An excellent Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition gets underway with a section entitled "A Drunken Nation." He details the heavy drinking of the early Republic, and the social problems it created. 

The article cited in the post above shows how artists renderings of the Founding Fathers were later altered to eradicate evidence of their libations. 

February 21st

BWV 533

Here is one of Bach's simpler major works for organ, a Prelude and Fugue in E minor. This one is sometimes nicknamed the "Cathedral" because it seems to have been composed for a space with ample reverberation. 

The organ in this video has been refurbished to 1750 standards. Imagine what this organ would have sounded like to the ear of a person in 1750, an ear unpolluted by loudspeakers, earphones, car stereos and all form of electronically reproduced music. Maybe they heard a ukelele on the way in to the church. But that's it. Those cathedrals, and their organs, were designed to overwhelm the peasants into a fear of God (and the priests representing He or She on earth) and I'll bet they fulfilled their purpose. 

I am fond of this piece because it contains Bach's genius without overwhelming the ear with so many notes that it becomes incomprehensible to the mortal human. The fugue, which begins around 3:30, is a stately and slow exposition of the form, one more accessible to the modern ear than some of Bach's more dense and agitated fugues. 

When I took organ for two quarters in college, I played a Bach piece (badly). At one point, I played for my instructor, the venerable and revered Dr. Edward Berryman, and I started to lift my hands dramatically off the keyboard after completing phrases, just as this organist does in the middle of the piece. Dr. Berryman stopped me and said, "What's this all about?" and mimicked my dramatics. 

Never again. 

UPDATE: Here is another version of my candidate for the most beautiful piece of music ever written: Mozart's Laudate Dominium. Every note is perfect. 

February 20th

Spring Training

The pitchers and catchers are reporting for spring training. In one week, the Twins play their first spring training game.

I am lukewarm about the team's chances this year. I think they should have brought in a more aggressive, less accomodating manager, somebody who incites a little respect, even fear from the players––a Billy Martin, without his propensity to ruin a pitching staff. 

Or, Tom Kelly. But Kelly is weary of young players and their entitled attitudes.  

Or, just for the joy of it, Ozzie Guillen. After all, it is a game meant to entertain the fans, and Ozzie would make sure there were fannies in the seats. Ozzie would be able to communicate directly with the young Latin players. Oswaldo Arcia. Miguel Sano. Pedro Florimoen. Josmil Pinto. 

But alas, we have garden variety Gardenhire for two more years, managing with one foot firmly on the brake. 

The reporting from spring training is always awful. I get no satisfaction at all reading the obligatory and blindly optimistic reports about somebody who lost ten pounds, or who lifted weights for the past three months, or who might be ready by June, or has a new attitude thanks to his newborn child, or who thinks this might be the year, at age thirty, when he finally puts it all together. 

Sidney Ponson. Ramon Ortiz. Tony Bautista. Hope springs eternal for the washed up. 

Josh Willingham is "open to an extension" from the Twins. Well, that's nice! How about hitting a few home runs first? I think they need to release him and make way for the young guys. You don't need two muscle-bound mediocre corner outfielders on a team, and I think it is more likely that Jason Kubel will return to form than Willingham. But even Kubel should be let go if the young guys step up and do the job and who can play the field as well. 

If I were in charge, I would put Joe Mauer at third, where his arm will be put to use, and put sore-armed third-base super-prospect Miguel Sano at first. Send Trevor Plouffe to Houston. Put Arcia, Buxton and Hicks in the outfield and let them play. 

Starting pitching: If it comes around, and it could, as there is a lot of talent there, the Twins will win. If it doesn't, they won't. The bullpen follows the starters. If the starters do well, the bullpen will be rested. If not, they'll get tired and start to falter. 

I think I'll wait until May or so to see if I want to re-start my TV subscription. 



February 17th

Tonsil aftermath

Funny how when we get better after a health issue, we forget what it was like not to feel so good. 

Such is the case with my tonsillectomy last summer. The surgery and its aftermath were miserable. However, the surgery has changed my life. 

Every previous winter, even when have gone south, I have been plagued by sore throats and a sore neck from swollen glands.

This winter? Nothing. Not even a cold. No rounds of antibiotics. No swollen glands. 

What a huge relief! 

I feel normal. 

The only trouble with feeling normal is you forget that you used to not feel normal, and you take it for granted. 

Since the surgery, I have met many adults who have had their tonsils out. All suffered great pain, as an adult tonsillectomy is a different animal than one done in childhood. When the doctor says you will not do anything for two weeks, believe it. You won't, not in obedience to doctor's orders, but because it hurts too much! 

However, if you suffer chronic tonsil pain, just make an appointment and get the buggers removed. To deal with the pain, I found that going to Twins games alone and drinking several margaritas did the trick better than those wicked narcotics. 

February 16th

Balboa Park

Balboa Park in San Diego is like a permanent state fair. Lance and I went there today. My main goal was to hear the weekly pipe organ concert at the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. But we also took in two of the fifteen museums on the premises. 

The museums were just our size and speed. We spent half an hour in each. The Timken Museum of Art is only about six rooms, but there is a wonderful representation of some of the greats, including Rembrandt, Bierstadt, and one of my favorites, Thomas Gainsborough

We then went to the Museum of Photography, which featured a diverse, yet manageable display of work. 

After that, the organ concert on the Sprekels organ. The pictures on the website are from today's event, where dogs were welcome and howled throughout. The organ, built in 1915, was impressive and in great shape. It was fun to have a big crowd on hand as Dr. Joyce Williams played a Bach piece, to their appreciation. 

In some ways, the world is getting better. The renewed appreciation for pipe organs in this country, which has resulted in dozens of renovations of once abandoned instruments, encourages me that all is not lost. 

Our Michael is off on an adventure. He left the house at noon today and said he would be back at 10 p.m. tonight. He loves to walk and walk. Tomorrow, he is taking the train to Los Angeles to walk and walk there. He prefers to go alone. "Otherwise, I feel like a parasite!" he says. 

"I can sleep when I return to China," he said. 




February 13th

Beach fun

The beach is growing on me. Yesterday, I went wading. The water is cold, but I got used to it. Today, I took a several-mile walk and watched the surfers try to catch waves. They are amazingly persistent. I can see why surfing must be one of the most strenuous sports: just paddling to where you might get started is a chore. 

On the beach, families play. All nationalities. A couple of women of Mideastern descent walked covered in their flowing robes, while a few feet away an Anglo woman made you wish she had flowing robes! Old men took off their shirts, so I did, too, despite my Minnesota whiteness. You can do pretty much whatever you want and nobody will care, or stare. 

Michael is out on an excursion. He loves to explore on foot wherever he visits. Just the other night, he walked twenty miles on the Monterey Peninsula. He has his phone, so I will try not to worry. There, he came in the door. He spent the afternoon watching people on the beach play volleyball, and most interesting to him, training their dogs to fetch. 

To Michael, a "lonely beach," which we Americans seem to think is ideal, would be anything but. "If there aren't crowds," Michael said, "I would feel like I am in exile!" 


February 10th

Old friends


Seven years ago, Lance and I took a trip to China and were hosted by my cousin Roy and his partner Michael. We haven't seen them since--until today. Lance and Michael picked up right where they left off. Both are quiet, sensitive, introspective souls. While Roy and I jibber jabber about politics, they sit back. But when they get off to themselves, they get the last laugh (seen here) as they commisurate about living in the wake of a domineering, ever-pontificating Bergeson.

Michael was our guide and interpreter seven years ago. He was raised in a sandstone cave in western China. He appreciates everything he sees. Today was his first experience in an outdoor pool. 

Although Roy must return to China in two days, Michael will stay with us for a week. It will be fun to show him some things, as he was so good to us in China. His appearance in the United States is entirely due to a relaxation of visa regulations which happened about four years ago. When we met Michael, there was little hope he could come to the United States. Now he and Roy can travel here freely.

(And spend here freely, by the way.)


Help from Kelp


The life-long goal of rocks deep under the ocean waves is to escape from their watery grave and once again bask in the sun as they did 14.3 million years ago. Kelp can help. Here we see a seaweed which grabbed onto several rocks and then pulled them to shore via wave action.