Turning scars into art – A podcast with Jane Devin

Jane Devin, author of Elephant Girl

UPDATE: Jane’s book is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Other formats to follow, so please follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

I was following the babble of Neil Kramer one afternoon and one of his tweets led to me to Jane Devin. She was just another blogger who published articles on Huffington Post but anyone who could wrangle a byline on HuffPost was probably someone worth reading. I read her post there and click over to her blog.

I should have read in the reverse order.

I think I lost a few hours poring over the shards of her soul pieced together in the essays on her blog.

I learned that Jane recently took a nine-month road trip across America and wrote a blog about the experience. Following the road trip, she wrote a book, Elephant Girl, from the cab of a borrowed truck in a coffee shop parking lot. But if I say any more, it would ruin the story.

So, in her own words, Jane Devin talks to me about Elephant Girl. I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I did interviewing her.

When Elephant Girl is published later this year, we will have information on how you can pick up a copy. It is an intense memoir of “a challenged life lived with imagination.” It is worth every minute your heart and soul will lose within its pages.

Editor’s note:
Jane has established a Facebook page for her book. Please like it.

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There is no right or left, only power. The real debt ceiling crisis

us constitution article one

Before I begin, I would like to disclaim that I am not a Constitutional lawyer nor do I pretend to be. But I am an avid reader, one who has read a lot of literature surrounding the pre-Civil War through Reconstruction period. The “mood” of the country, including its values about government, is richly portrayed in these works. I can also read the Constitution, especially the plain language parts that have not been seriously mangled by case law.

Since the end of the mid-term elections last year, the media and Tea Party have been debating this issue of the debt ceiling, mostly as a taunting device against the Tea Party debt and deficit ideology. It made for a good story line of hypocrisy. Most Americans had never heard of such a thing before this, but it sounded bad. Real bad. And for the Tea Party, it also sounded like something that could be used for political leverage.

But since few Americans have ever read the Constitution, fewer still have any idea what the issue is really about. The issue has nothing to do with debt or deficits; it has everything to do with the separation of powers. Congress needs to avoid forcing the Supreme Court to “fix” a glaring hole that House Speakers have been successful at covering over since 1787.

John Boehner knows that. So does president Obama. And by sending a letter to the Speaker in January asking for a clean debt ceiling vote, Timothy Geithner demonstrated that he also supected how the markets would react if it were ever seriously brought to their attention.

And the Tea Party has done just that. Oops. Really, really big oops.

The Constitutional issue:
Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts” and “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” In short, it gives Congress and Congress alone the power to tax, pay debts and borrow. Despite what the Republicans would like all of us to believe, the president has no taxation, spending or borrowing power. Zip, nada, nothing.

Article 1, Section 9 says specifically, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” That means that not even one dollar can be spent that is not appropriated by Congress. The president may have a discretionary budget for the various executive branches, but all of them exist and get paid for through the laws Congress passes.

The US Treasury is responsible for managing the money and cutting the checks, but it can only do so under the authority of the Congress. Blaming the president for spending is like beating up the newspaper boy for bringing me a paper with bad news in it. It is dumb and misdirected. But, since he is right there, he’s smaller than me, and there is only one of him, not 535, it is easier to focus my rage. The bottom line is the president has no legal authority to spend money the Treasury does not have.

Or does he?

The Constitution makes no mention of what to do if the Federal Government has run up bills because of laws enacted by Congress for which there is no money to pay. The Constitution says that only Congress can borrow money, but it does not obligate them to make sure money is there.

But then along came the Fourteenth Amendment that cemented the obligation of the United States to pay its bills for laws enacted by Congress. “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Still, it does not spell out specifically what to do if the United States Treasury runs out of money.

That, specifically, is the glaring hole raising the debt ceiling covers over and has for a very long time. Neither the Congress nor the President really wants the Supreme Court to decide how to fix this Constitutional issue. For each branch, it would be ceding power to the third branch; something that is even more loathsome to Republican legislatures (actually, all of them regardless of their party) than taxes.

More than likely, the Supreme Court would rule to compel Congress to act by either raising taxes or borrowing money to cover the shortage. And the debt ceiling approval from Congress would be lost forever as leverage. The House does not want to risk that.

But the Supreme Court could also rule that the Treasury Department can continue cutting checks without the approval of Congress, adopting the Gephardt Rule that had long been in place as law. Basically, the Gephardt Rule says by default, Congress is authorizing an increase in the debt ceiling when it enacts a new law. (More complicated than that, but you get the general notion. Google has more info.) That would put the president in the undesirable position of being responsible for increasing the debt and deficit of the United States of America. No more blame game. It would also destabilize the “borrow” powers, much like “declare war” and “wage war” is right now. Congress does not want to risk that.

The effect of pledges
I always found it somewhat perplexing that George W. Bush did not advocate to raise taxes after 9/11 to fund the War in Afghanistan when he clearly had the political capital to do so. Instead, Congress opted to borrow the money, mostly by selling US Treasuries to China. As it turns out, since most Representatives and Senators signed Grover Norquist‘s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, raising taxes was not politically possible. But borrowing money was. The pledge allowed for drunken spending by incurring unsustainable debt, but not increased taxes.

That was the first major step in plunging the United States into the debt it now finds itself. Add another unfunded war, Iraq and Medicare Part D on borrowed funds coupled with revenue reductions that Bush tax cuts created , the largely unregulated banking and mortgage industries and in short order, you clearly have a growing debt issue that is not easy to hide.

Follow the money
The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton understood the United States of America was only as powerful as its ability to pay its debts. As a new country, the States could bluster all they wanted about life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, blah, blah, blah, but if it could not pay its debts, none of that mattered. The policy has held up well throughout history. We are after all, a market-driven race, sprinkled here and there with altruism. Sparingly.

But times have changed. The stock markets have gotten more global. There is no patriotism in corporations, only profit. The goal is to make money, whether you bet on or against the US Government. From what we have learned with the collapse in 2008, a lot of people can make a lot of money betting against the United States.

What has held and made Congress blink first in years past when the debt ceiling card was played with the threat of the Constitutional hole being exposed and the ability of the president to be able to clearly articulate the issue to the American people. Newt Gingrich tried it and quickly learned how skilled Bill Clinton was in talking plain language with ordinary folk. George Bush was never really challenged on raising the debt ceiling as he operated mostly with a GOP Congress, bound by the Norquist pledge.

But Barack Obama was something new. The GOP leadership — while apprehensive about going to the mat on the the debt ceiling issue — gambled that Obama would not be able to articulate the issue clearly enough to get the American people on his side. And they are kinda right. But what the “mature” GOP leadership did not understand fully is how cancerous and ideological the Tea Party would be.

I’m not sure if the legislators the Tea Party got elected are oblivious on the Constitution, are singularly focused on debt, deficit and taxes to the exclusion of their other responsibilities or are just stooges for the greater monied bosses that got them elected. I don’t believe in conspiracy theory, but I do believe in the power of mobs and the infectious contagion of simple ideology in favor of nuanced, reasoned thought. We are, after all, the country of fast food, the sound byte, CNN Headline News, Twitter and Snooki.

But the markets have become spooked, whether by sheer stupidity brought on by ignorance of the Tea Party-backed legislators or a long-formulated master plan I don’t know. And since we have ceded power of our credit over to the world-wide credit rating agencies (and kinda pissed them off with things like Dodd Frank) the great power of the United States of America is no longer really in charge of its own destiny.

What I do know is to follow the money and to ask who is likely to profit exponentially from the credit downgrading of the United States of America. I’m sure that is where we will eventually find our answer to what is really motivating the Tea Party, whether they are complicit or not.

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Me and Cory Booker are best buds

Just how cool is it that Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ says “hi” to a dog? Yeah, makes this heat wave seem about 40 degrees cooler! Like being in one of those Silver Bullet commercials.

Cory Booker says hi to a dog on the Internet

That makes two mayors who are my best buds; Gary Leitzell of Dayton, OH and Cory Booker of Newark, NJ. Mayor Bloomberg, you out there?

Any other mayor out there, just tweet me or drop a comment. We’re forming a club. The Cool Mayor’s Club.


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Is it hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk?

We all got ourselves scared silly by the apocalyptic weather reporting around here and after obsessively checking to make sure the water dishes were full and the hammer to bust out a car window was safely stowed in the van, we just plumb ran out of things to do.

And then our minds started to wander.. And wonder.

Being the scientifically inquisitive dogs we are, we decided to test that myth of a sidewalk being hot enough to fry an egg.

The MythBusters Adam and Jamie would be so proud.

Enjoy our experiment.


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What’s next for NASA? Ummmmmm I dunno

Atlantis Space Shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center July 21, 2011

I watched the space shuttle STS135 Atlantis touch down this morning and I felt as if that was the ending of something really big. I think what is happening is something more than simple nostalgia even though I am part of the generation that saw the first man walk on the moon July 20, 1969.

I think something bigger is happening to the human race, something that is not so good as we think it is. I think we are losing our quest for meaning.

Colleges have turned into trade schools where there is very little learning and lots of job training. Professors are demonized and teachers are vilified. Lots of people have hopped onto the bandwagon of questioning whether or not a college degree is worth the money; not based on whether or not you come out thinking more clearly or having received a strong liberal arts education that gives you the tools to ask questions steeped in meaning, but whether or not the degree qualifies you for a job.

We’ve choked off stem cell research even though it holds the biggest promise in curing cancer, paralysis and other diseases. We’re starving education budgets and breaking unions in favor of giving wealthy capitalist barons tax breaks so they can employ a vast army of under-educated workers they will toss away when joints and muscles break down after years of hard work. We publish books by Snooki and Bristol Palin instead of talented writers. We argue about whether or not gay people are worthy of respect as human beings instead of just accepting the differences. We deny the dignity of health care as a basic human right. We throw away people when they get too old to work. We allow superstition, fear and faith to trump empirical facts and science. We are willing to bring down the most powerful government in the world simply because the man at the top is a member of the wrong race.

For what? A few extra short-term dollars? A few more minutes of power? What happened to our collective quest to discover who we are, why we are here and what our place is in the Universe? Did we give up or are we now satisfied that planet Earth is all we will ever have? Are we satisfied that the Universe really exists as one little race alone on a spinning rock in space, guided by a God we should seek out and worship?

Inevitably, the question of “What’s next for NASA?” gets asked in every newscast and with every interview. The answer is always the same; a short pause and then some mumbling about re-definging direction, cost-efficiency, saving tax money, blah, blah, blah that nobody really believes.

But the real question is: “What’s next for the human race?”

That is what we are really struggling with when the question gets asked.

*The we I am referring to is the human collective, not any one group. Whether or not you is one doing one of the above, you will most assuredly be swept along as the current gathers speed. It is already a raging torrent.


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What I take for granted

dog with writers block

Twelve hours ago, I woke up and stared at the glowing screen of my computer. I had not yet written my #letsblogoff article and since I had a full morning ahead of me, I decided to get this done so it wouldn’t cause me any stress. And I stared at the screen. And stared. And stared.

It seems as if I had taken the ability of my brain to produce #letsblogoff ideas for granted. And it was now teaching me a lesson.

A hard lesson.

There were no ready parables surrounding the theme, no pithy stories bubbling right below the surface, no snarky diatribes flowing from my fingertips. Nothing was happening except the cursor blinking on a white phosphorus screen, mocking my inability to get a story going.

Cruel irony given the theme this week.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe otherwise in procrastination and sloth. I believe in distractions and the frailty of the human soul that gives in to those distractions. I believe deadlines and topics are great motivators to write concisely and to schedule. Yet, I find myself staring at the screen as the cursor blinks faster and the mantle clock ticks louder.

So this post is the result of my taking the ability to write a #letsblogoff post easily for granted. For that, I apologize if you have wandered here to read something clever. I feel like I am cheating you.

To make up for it, though, I have some spare change; a short list of stuff I take for granted without explanation.

The air I breathe, the water that comes from the tap, The New York Times on my doorstep by 5:00am, the sun coming out tomorrow and mostly the tomorrow I assume will come.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, What do you take for granted? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Politics shut down Minnesota, but beer brought it back

Politics may have shut down the State of Minnesota, but the threat of having no beer brought it back pretty quickly. The only thing more dangerous than a drunk Minnesotan camping out in a tent in the wood is a sober Minnesotan who has no place to go.

Oh, settle down folks, I’m not ripping on Minnesotans. I is a proud native so it’s more self-depracating than anything. At least that is the one thing that is still not taxable.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders announced yesterday evening they have reached a budget deal to end a two-week government shutdown. Both sides didn’t get what they wanted, each side will claim the other has caved, the voters have spoken, blah, blah, blah. I read through.. ok, well I skimmed through the majority of the … ok, I skimmed the first line of each comment on the blog post and most talked about the political crap that surrounded the fight.

It was really all about the beer.

But the GOP will use this “success” with other states and shut them down as well to get what they want passed. The voting public will become really fed up with the tactic eventually and the pitchforks will come out. In the meantime, it will be entertaining to watch supposed fully-formed adults run our government like they are negotiating playtime with the brightly-colored alphabet blocks in kindergarten.

The rest of us know government shutdowns don’t work because it is not really shutting the government down. It is a bunch of chickenhawks playing pretend freedom fighter on a fake battlefield. Here is what a real government shutdown would look like.

  • Close all the state highways and freeways
  • Open the doors to the prisons and penitentiaries and let the prisoners go. No guards need show show up for work.
  • Close all the gas pumps and convenience stores as there is no agency with taxation authority to collect taxes on alcohol, fuel or cigarettes.
  • Lay off the highway patrol.
  • Cease salary and benefits to ALL state employees, including the governor, legislators and judges.
  • Close the state courts. Counties and cites are ok, but no state courts.
  • Cease enforcing all state laws.
  • Cease collecting all state taxes. Any taxes owed during the shutdown are automatically forgiven.
  • Close ALL state departments, including the BMV, Attorney General’s Office, etc.
  • Close all the schools.

You get the idea.

If anyone is going to irresponsibly shut down a state, they should be prepared to have ALL state services deemed non-essential, not just the artsy-fartsy ones. By reserving things like law enforcement, roads and penal systems as “essential,” we are admitting we need government by default. By not shutting everything down, we are just faking it. By deeming some services non-essential, we are creating a dual class of citizens; those who matter and those who don’t. (GOP, take notice that the beer-drinking, hard-working, unwashed masses kinda matter here.)

The next governor — Democrat or Republican — who gets threatened by a shutdown should call the bluff. Shut down the roads, open the prisons and suspend lawmakers salaries. We’ll see how far this shutdown strategy takes us.

If you’re going to rattle your saber, you damn well better know how to use it. Or be prepared to die trying.


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Dog Days at JD Custard

On July 17, JD Custard is celebrating Dog Days of Summer. Show up, have some great custard and each dog receives a free Dogwich.

Hours are 12:00 noon until 10:00 pm in Englewood. Take a picture of your dog eating his/her favorite JD Custard treat and share it on their Facebook page.

Be sure to follow @jdcustard on twitter too.

Custard makes you cute. It makes your dog even cuter. Really. (ok, not really.. our lawyers made us say that.)

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The financial education of Eric Cantor

After listening to Eric Cantor talk one too many times about how rich people and small business create jobs as a result of keeping their taxes low, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to give him a short lesson on how poor and rich people spend money differently. It’s not very complicated or that long of a lesson, so he can even read this blog post on his iPad while the president is talking during the meeting tomorrow. Really, nobody will notice.

How a poor person spends money
For purposes of this post, let’s say a poor person is someone making $10.00/hour at a full time job, even though there are many more people making far less at minimum wage ($7.25/hr just to refresh your memory. It was an issue the last election.) Besides, the math is easier at $10.00/hour.

Working a full day will gross this person $80.00 each day or about $67.00 net after payroll taxes (that is the Medicare and Social Security contribution in addition to income tax, which they are likely to get back as a refund at the end of the year, so we won’t count that.) At the end of the week, that is $400.00 gross, $335.00 net.

That is the income part. Now, let’s look at how they think about their paycheck.

Rent is usually seen as “Can I cover this month’s rent with one paycheck?” If the answer is yes, that is good. Most often, though, it is a week and a half, maybe two. But poor people never do a percentage of income calculation. They don’t see that housing is costing them 25-50% of their net pay. They just look at weekly paychecks.

Let’s take a look at one more example; buying lunch. If a poor person goes to McDonald’s during lunch and it cost $8.00 it never occurs to him that he just spent 12% of his net pay and has worked a whole hour to pay for a lunch that took ten minutes to consume. Poor people just simply do not do this math; it is too scary. It would paralyze them and make them unsuitable for the cheap labor capitalism needs to maintain productivity.

If you gave a poor person a $1,000 check, he would go spend it on something like a television or toys for his kids or some material thing that some company made and hopes to sell. Most likely he would treat his family to a steak dinner at the Roadhouse and maybe buy a tshirt at the next soccer tournament his kid plays in. I’m not perpetuating a stereotype here, just making an observation about how most poor people would spend a “windfall.” You can do the math about how many televisions you need to sell for companies to make more, and hire more sales people to help people buying sets, etc, etc. to get to a real stimulus number. In short, poor people circulate money which gets the economy going.

How rich people spend money
I’m going to skip the income part of rich people and say that they make way more than $80.00/day gross, $67.00 net. Let’s say that is their per minute rate. The difference lies in their awareness of how much things cost as a percentage of their income and how much return they can make on a dollar invested. They are aware of their housing costs, their health care costs and the rate they paid in taxes last year. They are also aware of the rate of return on their portfolios and whether it makes sense to spend or invest money received as a windfall.

If you give a rich person $1,000, they won’t need it for anything. Instead of buying something or creating a job, they will simply turn it over to their portfolio that invests in companies that are rewarded for keeping head counts and the wages for those they need low. The money is not circulated into the economy; it is just parked in a stock market where gains and losses are recorded in some computer. The money is doing the exact opposite of what the economy needs. Sure, it contributes to creating wealth, but all wealth really is is money someone didn’t spend.

$1,000 to a rich person or a company is nothing. A tax break is seen as that $1,000; not enough to actually do anything like create a job but large enough to not just throw away. It goes into the bank or the portfolio. For a company to create a job, it needs to either see a lot of demand for its goods and services or it needs to have very, very large incentives. In all instances, it will take the former.

Mr. Cantor, your theory of business people creating jobs by cutting their taxes just doesn’t mesh with the way they think. I know this because I is one of them. I was also once a poor wage earner so I know how they think. The rich are hoping you keep saying your line because they are accumulating wealth a little bit each year and the poor don’t really understand finances all that much to know that your line is crap.

But you know the difference. And to continue perpetrating your perverse logic under the banner of fiscal responsibility is anything but.

*I should disclaim my motivation for trying to educate Mr. Cantor on how poor people spend money. My business is going to need a lot of poor people spending money irresponsibly on their kids in the near future, so if given the choice, I’d much rather have 10 million poor people with an extra $1,000 in their pockets than 400 really rich people socking money away in the stock market.

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Tradition also means change

Whenever I hear people talk about traditions, a quick story flashes through my head. I don’t know if it is true or not, but it’s still a good story.

A young woman was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family. They had always gone to the in-laws to eat dinner and she was very much looking forward to impressing both sides of the family at her first hosted Thanksgiving with dishes and traditions that were passed down to her. When it came time to prep and cook the turkey, she cut it in half along the breast bone, laid each half in two separate pans and cooked it like that — just like her mom always did it and her grandma before her. When the turkey was served, it was “reassembled” for display. She never saw a turkey roasted whole before she married and went to her in-laws last year and started helping prep the meal.


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Something to think about over this Independence Day weekend

This week, the Chinese unveiled the largest sea bridge in the world. It only took them four years to build this at a cost of $2.7 billion dollars. They used Chinese engineers and Chinese labor. No American intellectual capital was sought out as none was needed.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story about how the Chinese were supplying the finished rails to replace aging infrastructure on the Oakland Bay Bridge. It was cheaper to build in China and ship over the Pacific Ocean than to make in the United States. My guess is there was too much pain-in-the-butt-ism on who was going to pay for it, some Congressman railing over rejecting stimulus money for infrastructure projects, stuff like that to make it worthwhile to “make in the USA” before the bridge collapsed on itself.

And this week, Congress spent most of the time on vacation or railing against the president on how he insulted them by “lecturing” to them like the dick he is. And all I could think of when Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner was talking is why the Chinese showed up for work, rolled up their sleeve and built bridges while these guys whined.

Something to think about on our Independence Day weekend. If the Chinese keep up this pace, I wonder how long we will be independent from them.


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How not to do customer service in the medical industry

Last summer, I developed some neurological symptoms that are more of an annoyance than anything. So I did what any responsible person would do; researched everything on the Internet and diagnosed myself into the worst possible case scenario. When that failed to cure up my symptoms, I went to see my doctor. He sent me to a battery of tests which were only limited by the amount of money in my bank account.

He could not come up with a diagnosis. Nor could a local neurologist. So, he shrugged and said, “I think you need to go up to the Cleveland Clinic and see what they think.”

Wow! These guys can make paralyzed people walk! Certainly they would have an answer. Or at least a wild guess. Or even a stupid notion. After some calls to my insurance company, clinic, etc., assuring me that things would be covered, I scheduled a day to drive to Cleveland and get poked and prodded and such. Long story short, they ended the day with the same perplexed head-scratching and “We dunno” diagnosis that my doctor gave me.

“But we need to schedule you in about 4 months for some more testing because we think you still have some money left in the bank. Would that be ok?”

Sure, no problem. Until I got their bill.

It turns out my wonderful insurance company discovered that Cleveland was not merely a suburb of Dayton but a whole other city outside my treatment area. They would reimburse at a much, much lower rate than they said. Sorry. You understand.

I didn’t. What could I do?

Call the clinic. Perhaps they can help.

They couldn’t. Or rather, wouldn’t. 90 days, Mr Dogg. You must pay the balance in full within 90 days. “But you guys didn’t actually do anything!”

It is not like I didn’t have the money or was unwilling to pay. I have been paying them; just not at the rate they wanted me to. I even sent them two letters explaining my payment plan with no response. As we were both disappointed in the visit results, I felt that we at least owed it to each other to share in our disappointment, to learn from the experience and grow together. To my surprise, they did not share my point of view and have since sent me to a “goon squad” over the last few hundred dollars.


So, I called them this morning. Surely, they would see the folly of their mistake and call off the goons. Again, I was very, very wrong. I had forgotten for a brief moment that I was not their customer. My insurance company was their customer. How happy or disappointed I am was irrelevant to them.

I will pay them in full eventually. But instead of them this week, I will pay my landscaper. He has not disrespected me. Maybe I’ll pay them next week.

But this little story should not go without a lesson to be learned by the medical industry. After all, you guys will be getting more and more business from us as we all get older and need more care. Health insurance companies are kicking us off plans left and right, employers are jettisoning full-time people in favor of two part-timers they don’t have to pay benefits for and Congress is cutting Medicare. You should probably learn to handle us a little bit better, or at least with some more flexibility. Tightening the deadlines and being quick to send bills into collections rapidly is short-sighted at best. It is not a sustainable strategy.

And then you have folks like me who just shrug and say, “I was gonna pay them today, but I’ll just wait a bit longer.” In truth, if the Cleveland Clinic let me say my piece without being being hard-nose pricks, they would have had their money today. Bummer that, too.

So, with that goal of keeping us both in business, I have some feedback you may want to take to heart.

What you say:
We printed the payment terms on your statement.

What we hear:
You dumbass. Can’t you read the crap you put on your bill with edge-to-edge printing? It’s your fault you are in this mess. We told you 90 days, damn it. Did you think we were kidding? We are an unfeeling, inflexible cold-hearted corporation that needs money paid on time, you deadbeat.

What you say:
Would you like to talk to a supervisor?

What we hear:
I’m getting tired of talking to you and will give you to someone who has no heart and is immune to anything you have to say. He will be a bully to you and will belittle your concerns. At the end of the conversation, you will not only not get any concession from us, but you will feel like a worthless piece of crap.

What you say:
According to the terms of your contract…”

What we hear:
I have stopped listening to you a long time ago and think that you are just too stupid to even be able to read.

What you say:
I can adjust the terms, but I won’t.

What we hear:
I am an arrogant prick. I have power over you and I will wield it without mercy, you piece of crap.

After all is said and done, we all know you are a business. We know that you hold all the cards. We know you can wreck our hard-fought FICO Score with one keystroke. We do not need to be reminded that we are merely walking wallets to you. What we would like to believe is that we have a personal relationship with you, with our doctors. We want to believe you care about us as a whole person, not just our ability and willingness to pay.

If you can’t fix what ails us physically, can you give us that one little lie at least?

It occurs to me that the supervisor I spoke to this morning failed miserably at his job. He got so caught up in his own ego with proving me wrong that he forgot his primary job was to collect money for his employer, The Cleveland Clinic. It occurs to me also that I now have the upper hand in this arrangement as I and the collection agent are in a position to cost CC money they would have had to spend by working directly with me. The direct cost of ego is the fee the collection agency will charge CC. I wonder what sort of deal the collection agent will make with me? It’s now worth a phone call. Are stubborn, combative people in your customer service department costing your company money? Bet they are.

*I don’t mean to pick on the Cleveland Clinic specifically. They were just the organization in my experience. But they did hire some pretty heartless, unempathetic people in their patient financial department who could maybe use some sensitivity training. But, maybe it’s working for them. I won’t ever go there agin, but that should in no way affect your decision to see them if you want. In truth, all these hospitals are getting like that. I won’t go to one local hospital for services any more simply because they start the harassing calls on day 31. There is another hospital across town that waits at least until day 60 to start calling. And they are nicer people.


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What do you want from me?

The question came over as casually as any other, but it was a loaded one. “Why are you being nice to me?” she asked.

“I’m nice to everyone,” I replied. It was the truth. I am.

But her real question was, “What will you eventually want from me for this favor?” I understood that is what she was asking, but kinda ignored it. The truth is I am nice to everybody. I really am. With no expectation of anything in return.



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Recharging around here is easy.

Nap, walk, eat.

Pick one or more; they all work equally well 🙂

I have not had a “real” vacation in over thirty years. The idea of taking an entire week off to do nothing — or worse, planned activities — gives me more stress than working through the whole year without a vacation. Instead, I take mini-vacations that look like goofy off to everyone else around me.

A twenty-minute nap, a cup of coffee on the deck, a walk in the park with the dogs, reading several chapters of a book, a trip to the grocery store for nothing I need, reading blogs, doodling in my journal, a trip to NYC under the guise of attending a conference or something randomly silly like this. Any and all work to “recharge.”

I’m not a big fan of running down the batteries and then recharging the way most Americans work, which is why I built a business out of not having to be anywhere specific for any particular reason. Moderation works in recharge mode as well.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, How do you relax and recharge? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Three things I learned at #140conf NYC

To say that I learned three new things at the #140conf (June 15-16, 2011 in NYC) might be stretching things a bit. Perhaps I mean to say that three of my observations and assumptions about human behavior have been affirmed.

Before I start at the 140conf, I need to back up a little to a few days before I left. I had hoped to travel with just my MacBook Air, but had not yet found the time to synch up my user account, preferences, email — everything that makes the Mac a useful road machine. I started the Migration Assistant and figured it would take a couple hours to synch up from a Time Machine backup only to discover after an hour of “prep” time, it would take over twelve hours over WiFi. So, I stuck in a USB drive and found out I would only save an hour or so.

What?!!??!! Grrr….. I have collected far too much stuff. Too bad the MacBook Air did not have a FW800 port. *sigh* So, I travelled to the conference with two laptops; my huge MacBook Pro 17″ and the really light MacBook Air. Let’s stow that experience for a while; it will be relevant later on.

We arrived at the 92Y early, registered, did some light networking and found seats, tweeted, check into Foursquare — all those things that one does at a social media conference. The sessions began and about 11:00, I started to regret my decision to not grab a cup of coffee before hopping the train from the Roger Smith to the 92Y (I know, I know it would have ended badly but maybe if I kept the lid on.) So, we popped out quickly and grabbed a coffee and scone from Juliano’s across the street. And maybe we stayed a little bit. Maybe. The coffee was good and the view out the window was spectacular.

We made our way back to the 140conf and found the house crowded, with standing room only. Why? As we squeezed into the gallery, we heard Ann Curry speaking. Ah, ok. After a few minutes, she ended her speech to thunderous applause and then a mass exodus of attendees.

Cool! Great seats for us!

Affirmation #1: Most people hanging in the social media space are only doing it to be seen and heard in the space of the A-listers or celebrities.

We found some seats and were treated to a short presentation by Krupali Tejura, MD (@krupali) a Radiation Oncologist. Her story was soft spoken but touched a spot in my soul, leaving me to tweet:

You can extend a life with length or depth. I wonder how many of us would choose depth? @krupali #140conf #randomtakeaway

Nobody calculates the ROI of anything worth doing.

Life is fantastic. It is the business of making a living that is tedious.

My next thought was how sad it was that the hundreds of people who rushed past me not moments ago — smug in the feeling they ate the main course of the conference — missed the most important human connection of the entire conference. Krupali was a nobody. She was even pre-empted by Curry who arrived too early. Yet for me, she provided the value for the conference. I only hope that if I ever need an oncologist, she still has the passion for humanity that brought me close to tears.

Affirmation #2: Most people will rush through life and never notice the small flowers life places at their feet. Most even deliberately trample them flat.

When I returned home, I wanted to share Krupali’s story with a lot of people. I knew that Jeff Pulver was life-videotaping the conference and was confident I could point to the video segment at UStream. After over an hour of trying to find the clip, I just gave up. I am sure Krupali’s story is somewhere in the stream; I don’t have the time or desire to sift through two days worth of stuff to find it.

And this is where we started out. While the 140conf would argue they are “curating,” I would argue that they are just hoarding digital stuff. There are no timecodes, no keyframes, no markers to point to any of the workshops. To be useful, the video should link back to the schedule with time codes and clip titles. The titles are even inconsistent with the schedule (Act I, Scene 1? When is that? Wed morning? I think so, but not sure….)

Affirmation #3: Few of us are truly curating all this digital stuff. What we are doing is probably more accurately labeled as hoarding.

Those are my take-aways from the 2011 #140conf in New York. What were yours?

Dr. Krupali found the clip and here it is below. Thank you.


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