Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Curmudgeon is a Deadbeat

At least his dentist’s office thinks so.

The Curmudgeon has been getting his dental work done by the same practice since his sophomore year in high school – about forty years.  The practice has moved twice in that time and gone through several sets of owners and even more dentists, but it’s the same practice.

Recently, ownership changed again, and its prospects appear bleak.  The Curmudgeon recently needed a crown, which insurance doesn’t cover, and spent more than $1000 out of pocket for the work.  Identifying that he needed a crown, however, required an x-ray, and because he had x-rays taken during his previous exam and the office failed to submit the claim to his insurer properly, The Curmudgeon received a bill he shouldn’t have received, for $17 for the x-ray.  Rather than make a stink about it, he just paid the bill.  (A rare instance of restraint on his part, it should be noted.)

toothBut that’s apparently not good enough for the new ownership, which goes by the name of “Doc Bresler’s Cavity-Busters.”  When Doc Bresler felt that too much time had passed without receiving payment, he turned the matter over to his collection office, which decided to pester The Curmudgeon about his $17.

How much time is too much time?

Apparently, a week.

Yes, a whole week.

The Curmudgeon has a simple bill-paying system:  he pays his bills on Monday night, and whatever bills he has on Monday night, he pays.  Even if it’s not due for two weeks, he still pays it.  That means that the Doc Bresler bill, for a whole $17, arrived no more than six days before he paid it.  By the time the call came, in fact, on a Thursday morning, the check was already in the mail and had probably even arrived.

So that seems to be the new standard.  According to the Doc Bresler way of doing business, patients apparently need to receive their bills, stuff cash in an envelope, and drive it immediately to the office.

That doesn’t leave much time – but maybe time enough to search for a new dentist who respects his patients a little more than Doc Bresler does.

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Finally, Something That Could End the Federal Government Shutdown

The problem of hundreds of thousands of federal employees without paychecks and countless government programs shut down or curtailed hasn’t inspired Congress to get off its duff and act to end the government shutdown.

Now, however, something has happened that may inspire congressional action.

Something earth-shattering.

Life-altering.

coffeeParadigm-shifting.

(And, obviously, hyperbole-inspiring.)

The Washington Post reports, at length and with great gravitas, that the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. is losing its one and only coffee shop.

Now if that doesn’t get lawmakers to jump off the sidelines and back into the game, nothing will.  Screw the seniors, forget the kids, who cares about federal workers, but dammit, Congress needs its morning coffee!

 

Shall We All Feel Sorry Now for Lawyers?

The New Republic magazine recently published a lengthy article about how hard times have hit the legal profession – specifically, big law firms.  Once upon a time, anyone who managed to land a job at a big firm was automatically on the road to pretty significant wealth – regardless of how hard they worked and how smart they were and how effective they were on behalf of their clients.  It was like tenure:  once you were in, you were in forever, only unlike teaching, it meant automatic big bucks.

But when the economy started to tank – and yes, this is one of those times when The Curmudgeon believes it’s appropriate to blame something on the economy – big law firms came upon hard times as clients began to look at their bills and question why in the world they were paying so very much for so very little.

So now, law firms have joined the rest of the world:  they’re working leaner and meaner, weeding out people who can’t really perform and produce, and learning to live a little less lavishly and without the sense of entitlement to great wealth.  The New Republic article describes the law firm industry’s decline in great detail and gives lawyers ample opportunity to see their “Woe is me” laments in print.

So now, The Curmudgeon asks:  shall we all offer a great big “Awwwwwwwwww” for the legal profession?

The Light Bulb Goes On About Junk E-Mail and Spam

The Curmudgeon has always been a combination of amused and mystified when he hears and reads of people complaining about junk email.  After all, how much junk could people possibly receive and how difficult is it to delete what’s obviously junk without even bothering to open it?

These observations were based on personal experience.  Until about nine years ago The Curmudgeon entered the electronic world through America Online, which, in hindsight, did a pretty good job of keeping the junk at bay.  Then he moved from dial-up to high-speed through Comcast, his cable television provider, and Comcast also did, and still does, a very fine job of shielding its customers from the hucksters of the world.  Even though The Curmudgeon does a decent amount of shopping online, which is supposedly the gateway for spammers to get, sell, use, and abuse someone’s email address, he barely averages a single piece of junk email a day.  Seriously:  he’d be surprised if, at the end of the year, he has received as many as 365 pieces of unsolicited email (and in leap years, 366).

As noted a few weeks ago, The Curmudgeon’s father passed away recently and it fell to his son to address a number of matters related to dad’s “estate.”  (“Estate” goes between quotation marks because after paying a few minor bills and taking care of burial, there’s really nothing left of the “estate” beyond a few mementos with no financial value but great sentimental import.  That, by the way, is not a complaint:  The Curmudgeon has always emphasized to both of his parents that they owe their children no inheritance and that they’d be much better served by enjoying whatever resources they have while they can still enjoy them.)

Dad was not very computer-savvy.  Anticipating the possibility of giving his computer to a family with four children, The Curmudgeon checked it first for files; he found not a single file.  He checked it for bookmarks – possibly to porn sites (dad was not a saint); he found not a single bookmark.  Twice his son had taught him how to use bookmarks but the student apparently ignored his teacher and instead kept a very neat notebook by his computer with the URLs of web sites that interested him.  Dad barely knew how to use Google, or even Bing (does anyone actually use Bing?), so instead of doing web searches, he would send his son an email telling him what he was looking for and son would then do the search and send dad appropriate links.  Why do the work, dad apparently reasoned, when he spent all that money sending his kid to college so the boy could do the work for him?

Sitting atop the notebook with the URLs was a piece of paper, laminated – another dad thing – with dad’s email address and password, so when The Curmudgeon returned home he opened his father’s email with an eye toward notifying anyone his son had not already contacted of their friend’s passing.  While the email address was not a Yahoo account, it was reached through the Yahoo portal, and when The Curmudgeon opened it, he found a surprise.

Spam.  Junk email.

spamA lot of it.  Seriously:  a lot.

Dad spent very little time on his computer the last two months of his life and there were hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of email, virtually none of it personal (including notices of new items posted to his son’s blog, which dad rarely understood).  It was the usual junk email fare:  porn sites, cheap prescription drugs, get-rich-quick schemes, and the like.  In addition to all of this junk was an entirely separate area for spam:  the junk that Yahoo’s flaccid filters somehow managed to catch.

Surely, The Curmudgeon realized, it must be this way for many others, such as those who use Yahoo, gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, and other such major email hosts.

And suddenly The Curmudgeon understood all the complaints about junk email and spam.

Today, The Curmudgeon has no idea how to terminate his father’s email account.  He canceled the account of the phone company that provided the internet access and assumes the account either will disappear at the end of the current billing period or a few months after that, if the provider continues to send bills for services no longer rendered that will obviously go unpaid.  In the meantime, The Curmudgeon checks dad’s email account every few days and is astonished by how much accumulates:  about fifty new pieces a day, none of it from anyone who knew dad, and another 100 or so pieces daily that go directly into the spam folder.  Just for sport, The Curmudgeon has been attempting to delete everything in that spam folder.  The folder notes that it has “999+” items in it and you can delete fifty at a time, and even though The Curmudgeon deletes ten groups of fifty every time he logs on, the “999+” figure never budges – and he suspects it never will.

So for once, The Curmudgeon has something good to say about Comcast, his internet service provider, because even though his access is frequently down, at least the company protects him well from junk and spam.  He also has new-found sympathy and understanding for those who complain about the endless streams of junk and spam they receive because for the first time, he now understands that they truly are endless streams and not the mere trickle of his own experiences.

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: Substitute Teacher

As he has written in the past, The Curmudgeon attended a five-year high school.  On the very first day of classes at Lincoln High, his very first class was a health class.  At least in Philadelphia, and he imagines elsewhere as well, high school health is taught by gym teachers who act like being required to teach a class that doesn’t involve a whistle and a jock strap is some kind of punishment.

So there we were, on the first day of classes, not knowing many of the other boys in the class, and Mr. Allen, the gym/health teacher, is taking roll.  He calls out a name and no one responds, so he says it again, pronouncing it “Huge-ez.”

No response.

“Huge-ez.”

Abraham-Lincoln-High-SchoolAgain, no response, but a boy raises his hand.

“Hughes,” the boy says.

Forty-three years later, The Curmudgeon still finds this amazing.

Mr. Allen, later to be Doctor Allen – a thought The Curmudgeon still finds frightening – stands corrected, pronounces this very common name as it’s supposed to be pronounced, and moves on, blissfully unaware that this tale, repeated at dinner that evening, will become part of family lore and come up in conversation every few years for more than forty years.  (The Curmudgeon has written previously about Mr. Allen; find it here.)

The Curmudgeon thought about Mr. Allen recently when Little Sister, a teacher, sent him a Key & Peele clip about a substitute teacher with a similar problem.  It’s a lot funnier than Mr. Allen – and not nearly as sad.

Find it here.  Enjoy.

The Funny Thing About That Unpopular, Confusing Health Care Reform Law

Just wondering:  if the health care reform law – what its opponents call “Obamacare” – is so incredibly unpopular and so mystifyingly confusing, how is it that millions of people jammed the federal government’s web site looking to reap its benefits on the very first day the law’s insurance benefits took effect and have continued doing so ever since?

So maybe it’s not so unpopular?

And maybe it’s not so confusing?

Again, just wondering.

The Doc-in-a-Box

Not too long ago The Curmudgeon suffered from a cough, and when it persisted for more than a week he reluctantly concluded that it was time to seek some professional medical attention.

The problem is, The Curmudgeon doesn’t really have a family doctor.  For the most part, he’s been remarkably healthy during the nearly ten years he’s now lived in New Jersey.  He had a doctor he was using for minor things, but when that doctor left his group practice and moved farther away than The Curmudgeon thinks is desirable for a family doctor, The Curmudgeon decided to use one of the doctors who remained behind in the abandoned group.  He didn’t know her very well but she seemed reasonably competent, so to the degree that The Curmudgeon felt he had his own family doctor, it was her.

The problem with family doctors – most, if not all of them, The Curmudgeon assumes – is that they have no idea how to run a medical practice.  A trip to the doctor takes a half-day because they routinely run one to two hours behind schedule.  Their time is much, much more valuable than yours and they’re doing you a favor by seeing you, they seem to think, so when you go to the doctor, you pretty much have to resign yourself to this kind of shabby treatment – not to mention using a half day of valuable sick time.

But when The Curmudgeon woke up in the middle of the night coughing, he decided that the time for waiting for Mucinex and over-the-counter cough medicines to do the job had passed and he needed professional help.  He also decided that since whatever he was suffering was almost certainly minor, he would try one of those doc-in-a-box operations – in this case, one of those places that’s set up shop inside a large chain pharmacy.  The Curmudgeon was fortunate:  there was such a place just a few minutes from his house.  So while he waiting for his coughing fit to subside, he went to the drug store’s web site to check the operation’s hours and learned that it started seeing patients at 8:30.  Not bad, he thought:  he couldn’t even get a live person on the phone at his doctor’s office until 9:00.  He would be at the drug store door at 8:30, he decided.

An hour later, when The Curmudgeon awoke with yet another coughing fit and was waiting for it, too, to subside, he remembered that there was a new hospital-affiliated “urgent care center” even closer than the drug store.  After a minute or two of trying to remember its name, he did a quick web search and learned that it opened a half-hour earlier, at 8:00, and was staffed with a real live physician.

Sold.

So at 7:55 he got into his car, made the quick drive, and pulled up at the urgent care facility at 8:00 sharp.  There were no patients in the waiting room, he signed in, and was handed a clip board with a form that didn’t really have that many questions.  The person working at the front desk apologized for the length of the questionnaire and promised that once they had that information, future check-ins would go much faster.

The co-pay for the visit, The Curmudgeon was told, was $40 – more than the $20 co-pay his insurance plan charges for primary care and specialist visits but less than the $75 an emergency room visit would cost (which also would have been totally inappropriate for a glorified cold).

The Curmudgeon next turned to the clipboard, where he found questions that were very, very superficial and included virtually no medical history.

The Curmudgeon was quickly led into an examination room, where a nurse asked about his current problem, took his temperature, and checked his blood pressure (very good, by the way).

Then came time for the medical history.

“Do you have any history of heart disease?”

“No.”

“Any history of heart disease in your family?”

“Yes.”

No follow-up question.  The Curmudgeon was puzzled.

“Do you have any history of cancer?”

“Yes.”

No follow-up question about what kind of cancer or if The Curmudgeon was currently being treated for it.

“Any history of cancer in your family?”

“Yes.”

No follow-up question.

“Any history of diabetes?”

“No.”

“In your family?”

“No.”

“Any drug allergies?”

“No, but I’m sensitive to mycins.  When I take them, I know where I’ll be spending the next few days.”

And that was it.  No question about what medicine, if any, the patient might be using.

After just another very brief wait, the doctor arrived.

She was young.  Very young.  Looked about seventeen, but presumably was at least thirty.  She also looked like she could use a good meal, she was so slender, and she also was all bent over.

“I hurt myself at the gym this morning,” she explained.

The examination was pretty perfunctory, but then, examining someone who’s only complaining about a cough isn’t exactly brain surgery.  (But this isn’t how “real” doctors work.  About twenty years ago, The Curmudgeon’s mother visited her family doctor for a muscle strain and he went about his business as he always did, working from the top down.  Ten days later, mom was in the hospital having her thyroid removed because the doctor found something wrong.  That’s good doctoring – something patients will be unlikely to find, and ill-advised to expect, at a doc-in-the-box operation.  But we digress.)  The doctor concluded that The Curmudgeon had an infection, which he realized meant she would prescribe an antibiotic along with something for the cough.  At this point, The Curmudgeon decided that he should mention a medicine he takes that tinkers with his immune system.  She didn’t ask why he took it, which was a little troubling because this particular drug can be used for an interesting range of significantly different medical problems.  With that the doctor departed, and a minute later the nurse returned with a print-out of two prescriptions and medical advice for four different kinds of problems.  The patient, The Curmudgeon assumed, was expected to match his own medical condition to the appropriate set of instructions.

At 8:30 – exactly a half-hour after arriving – The Curmudgeon turned the key in his ignition for the four-minute drive home.

So what’s the verdict?

Caveat emptor:  let the buyer beware.  Certainly, these doc-in-a-box operations are suitable for minor coughs, colds, scrapes, and bruises.  When you go, though, you really need to offer relevant medical information about yourself, and you need to take the initiative to do it because they’re not going to ask because they don’t care because they don’t anticipate having any kind of relationship with you.  The Curmudgeon certainly wouldn’t go for anything that offered even a hint of mystery or that might require blood work or a follow-up visit.

And watch out for the cost:  more than a month after his visit The Curmudgeon received a bill from the urgent care center, which claimed his insurer’s payment came up $20 short.  So the visit, previously thought to be just twice that of a real doctor’s office, turned out to be $60, or three times a real doctor’s office.  Then, two months later, he received a refund check for $40, suggesting that the facility’s financial practices are about as shaky as its medical practices.

The News: Live!

Philadelphia has a radio station that broadcasts news twenty-four hours a day.  Its broadcasts are divided into half-hour segments, and recently, it tweaked how it launches those half-hours.

Now, the half-hour that begins at thirty minutes after the hour starts with “Live!”

Why?

Because people might otherwise think the news is all taped?  To ensure that listeners can be confident the news isn’t a rerun?

A Brief Tale of Two People Who Were Fired (Yesterday)

Two people of prominence were fired in Philadelphia yesterday.

Early in the day the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team announced that it had fired its head coach, Peter Laviolette.  In more than three years with the team, he led it to one Stanley Cup final.  He also won a Stanley Cup for another team.  His crime this year was that his team lost its first three games of the season.

An hour or so later the Philadelphia Inquirer announced that it had fired William Marimow, the paper’s editor.  Marimow has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for news reporting.  His crime was trying to keep the newspaper’s focus on actual, hard news.

Two men, at the top of their profession, fired on the same day.

The Laviolette firing was splashed all over the media:  television, radio, the internet.

The Marimow firing?  Not so much of a splash.  More like a trickle.

One man coached an ice hockey team.  The other ran the most important newspaper in the fifth-largest city in the U.S.

What’s wrong with this picture?

“The Optics”

We’re no longer concerned with appearances, don’t care about how things look to other people.  No, that’s so 2012.  Now, we’re concerned about “the optics.”

Yes, the optics.

Consider a recent Washington Post article about Hillary Clinton’s role at the Clinton Foundation, where they’re now replenishing the fund’s endowment (Bill’s apparently quite a spender).  Hillary’s helping to raise some money, but it’s also still expected that she’ll soon be raising money for an entirely different cause:  her campaign for the presidency.  Might that not look strange to some people?  A spokesperson for the foundation conceded as much.

“It’s the optics of it – it would be horrible,” said one Clinton Foundation fundraiser.  “They just want to get it done to give her the option so if she wants to run, the foundation is taken care of.”

Yes, the optics of it.

The web site for the group “Climate Science Watch” notes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has apparently abandoned its attempt to remove wolf experts from a panel reviewing a proposal to eliminate protections for gray wolves.  Why?  Because it obviously doesn’t look good to remove wolf experts from a government panel reviewing wolf-related issues?

If only it could have been that simple – or at least stated that simply.

No, it was “the optics of the situation” that led to the decision not to drop the wolf experts, according to a wildlife service spokesman cited by Climate Science Watch.

In Canada, someone with the highfalutin title of Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship (and people think the U.S. government is bureaucratic) is kicking up a stink because police outside Montreal do not ticket cars parked illegally near a synagogue during the Jewish high holidays.  It’s only for those days, not the entire year, and the synagogue was founded in 1768 – before there even were cars – in fact, nearly 100 years before the country we now know as Canada was even born.  So what’s the problem?

“When a provincial politician gets hot under the collar about where Jews park their cars a few days out of the year, the optics reek of anti-Semitism,” a columnist for the Victoria (British Columbia) Times Colonist writes.

The optics.

When President Obama was on a political tour in late August, touting his ideas about keeping down the cost of attending college, some people thought he should be in Washington, trying to figure out what to do about Syria’s use of chemical weapons.  The Washington Post reports that during a press briefing, a reporter asked a presidential spokesman, “And was there any pause given at all to whether the optics are good of going on a bus trip today to talk about education when that bloodshed is happening?”

The optics.

Late August is a period for political fundraising events in California, and lobbyists and special interest groups stream into the state capital to make their bribes – er, contributions – and spend some time with elected officials.  Critics think it’s unseemly, and some would like the legislature to ban such events while the legislature is in session.  Some think that’s a cynical way to look at politics, and one political consultant, according to the Sacramento Bee, observed that “If the optics are that money influences votes, then (ban) it all year long, not just a couple of weeks per year.”

The optics.

Next we return to Canada and a Toronto Star report about a young man who was struck by eight bullets – yes, eight bullets – during a confrontation with Toronto police on an empty streetcar and then Tasered.  The man had only a small knife, not a gun, and he was felled by the first three bullets, and then, while on the ground, absorbed five more (a ninth shot missed).

All of the shots were fired by a single police officer – and that made it hard to explain, according to the man who once trained Toronto police officers in the use of deadly force.

“The optics are horrible.  He’s the one that’s going to have to answer why he shot nine times.”

The optics.  Because appearances were the issue here, not the idea that a single cop shot a single suspect eight times, including five times after he had already leveled his target.

And we shall close this short trip into silly buzzwords with an excerpt from The Hill, an online publication for people who live in and around the silly world of Washington, D.C. and our federal government.  When President Obama gave a budget speech critical of congressional Republicans just a day after the mass murder at the Washington Navy Yard, a hard-hitting Hill reporter, like most reporters finding it easier to write about the politics of a policy speech rather than bother to learn the, you know, actual policy matters, wrote that “President Obama on Tuesday defended the optics of delivering a speech hitting congressional Republicans over the federal budget as police in the U.S. capital respond to the Washington Navy Yard massacre.”

Because forget the economy, forget the tattered state of the world, forget those undereducated, underfed children, but some silly reporter wants to know what Mr. Obama thinks about the optics of speaking publicly about important matters of public policy.

The optics.

The optics.