Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vox Populi-The Boards

To read some reaction to last Sunday's post go here.

My only response is that I don't know how some of the posters got it into their heads that I am female.

Oh well....

BTW...I'm not.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

The big news around these parts lately concerns the clandestine attempt by the Board of Trustees at the University of Central Arkansas to give its President, Lu Hardin, a $300,000 bonus. To make a long story short, the Board voted to do this in executive session so that the payment to Hardin would not be reflected in the minutes. Why they felt compelled to do this is anybody's guess. The proffered reason is that the Board wanted to reward Lu for a job well done and didn't want him looking elsewhere for employment.

Of course another bandied about theory is that it occurred to somebody, probably Hardin, that it didn't look good for him to be getting a big honking raise when the faculty was not getting one. Anyway, word leaked out and the press pounced. Hardin, in a bit of parsing that even Bill Clinton would admire, initially denied that the bonus amounted to a "raise" simply because the payment was agreed to when he signed his contract upon his appointment years ago.

No matter. He and the Board were exposed. And all hell broke loose. The Arkansas News Bureau's John Brummett explains it all here. He also takes the opportunity to take UCA for holding itself out in its advertising as "The Center of Learning" about which I want to elaborate upon today.

In the first place, you must think exceedingly highly of yourself as an educational institution to refer to yourself as "The Center of Learning." UCA ain't exactly Oxford. However, they did produce a Rhodes Scholar and he is currently reading the law there. I know this because they put the kid is one of their "TCOL" spots ( Come to UCA! Become a Rhodes Scholar!). Hell, Notre Dame doesn't even refer to itself in such grandiose terms and they think they are Harvard with rosary beads. Hendrix College, my Alma Mater, toils quietly on the other side of Conway, turning out doctors, lawyers and Methodist preachers as it has done for decades while referring to itself as, well, Hendrix College.

Grandiose bullshit aside-and that's the worst kind of bullshit-it occurred to me as I read John's column that referring to yourself as TCOL is not quite as complimentary as it sounds at first blush. "Learning" connotes a certain elementary acquisition of knowledge whereas "Higher Education" pertains to a more in depth and technical field of study. For example, I learned to read as a child. I read history and philosophy in college. Also, for the last couple of years I have had the privilege of being around folks who are hearing impaired. So I have "learned" a little sign language.

Get the distinction?

This had to have occurred to somebody at UCA when they concocted this ad campaign. My guess is that, despite the fact that they are really into themselves over there, referring to themselves as " The Center of Knowledge" was really a bit much seeing as how such a suggested title would cause the likes of a Princeton to blush. And UCA ain't Princeton either.

Listen, Lu Hardin is an allright kind of guy who by all accounts has done a bang-up job over there. He made a mistake. He gave back the money. He apologized to the faculty and to the Board. He praised the Board member who blew the whistle for having done the right thing. He seems genuinely remorseful. As far as I am concerned that should be the end of it.

In his column Brummett makes a valid point that this is the kind of thing that can happen when people forget that the institutions they serve are bigger than they are. And that we are all just temporary employees in the great scope of things.

True enough. In his amusing little book "On Bullshit," Princeton Professor Harry G. Frankfurt made another observation that is equally apt. He says that the bullshitter really does not believe himself to be lying even though his bullshit may not stand up to scrutiny. The corollary to this would be that the bullshitter tends to get into trouble when he starts believing his bullshit. Or as the old saying goes, "The con artist never believes in the con."

This "Center of Learning" stuff is bullshit. It would be bullshit if Stanford were putting it out. The larger point is that trouble like what went down last week is what can happen when you start believing your bullshit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This is last night's WNBA dustup between Detroit and los Angeles. What made this special for me was not the sight of a bunch of muscled up chicks throwing down all that was pretty cool.

What I loved was the sight of former NBA tough guys Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Michael Cooper acting as peacemakers in trying to break up the action.

I had just walked in the door last night as this was going down. I was transfixed. One of the best basketball fights I have seen in some time.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Random Sacreligious Thoughts While Watching The British Open

Is it just me or are these link style courses they play the British Open on just glorified goat tracks?

My Sunday Feeling

You may remember my elderly friend Miss June. I grew up with her daughter Judy and we have remained close friends as year succeeds to year to paraphrase the old hymn. You may recall that her husband passed away a year or so ago. Anyway, June has decided-on her own no less- to sell the old house on Belmont and to move into an apartment at Good Shepherd Retirement Center. I had actually heard about this before Judy called last night from my friend Mary Kay over in Alabama who posts comments here under the pseudonym Lucy or Lucysgone. Seems Miss June is getting a place next door to Lucy's mother.

The Internet has really flattened the Earth hasn't it?

Anyway, Judy is ecstatic that her mother has decided to move. What she is less than ecstatic about is that June is moving into an apartment that is only 400 sq. ft. Is that because June can't afford a bigger place? No. Judy is a loan officer and financial consultant. She has taken good care of her mother's finances. June has more money set aside than she can spend. She has hers and Oather's pensions coming every month. On top of that, she has a long term care policy that will kick in whenever she has to go to assisted living or the nursing home.

Despite Judy preaching to her Mom until she is blue in the face, June is afraid that she might outlive her money. And because of this she is taking a space about the size of my dining room. Is this because June is crazy or because she can't add? No.

It is because she saw pictures like the one above of people standing in line to withdraw their money from California bank IndyMac whom the Feds just shut down. This is less than a month after they took over ANB up in Northwest Arkansas. Now, a run on a bank is a terrible thing and I know from experience that the FDIC generally is poised to take a bank over way before half the town starts lining up outside the doors. But panics are just that. And they sometimes get out ahead of the regulators.

And the pictures they produce take an incalculable toll on the psyches of elderly folks like June and my Mother who saw first hand how forces both seen and unseen collapsed the financial system during the Depression. Banks failed. Factories shut down. People lost homes and farms. The fact that the banking system in this country is basically safe and secure and that only the investors and those people who are idiotic enough to exceed the limits for deposit insurance will lose a nickle is scant comfort to somebody who remembers going hungry as a child.

This must have been on Mom's mind the other day. Either that or they were talking about the high price of gas at lunch or something at St. Andrews. She told me that she thought she needed to get a job.
Me: Huh?
Mom: I want you to find out where I can get me a little job so I can help you boys.
Me: Mom, we don't need any help. We're doing just fine. You don't need a job. You have plenty of money.
Mom: I'm not so sure of that.
Me: I am.
Mom: Get some paper. I want to write a letter.
Me: Okkkkkkaaaaaaay.
I found some paper and I borrowed a pen from the front desk.
Me: Ok. who we writing a letter to?

She started squirming in her chair. As usual the words weren't coming to the top.
Mom: No. Oh Lord. I can't think. I just want things lined out.
Then it occurred to me.
Me: Mom, you want me to write you a will?
Mom: Yes! A will.
Me: We did that 15 years ago.
Mom: We did?
Me: Yes ma'am. Everything is lined out. Everything is fine.
Mom: Lord, I don't know..........

Judy has thrown up her hands. There are only so many fights that you can take on. There has to be an Estate Sale. There are realtors to consult. There are only so many hours in the day. If June thinks she has to live like a miser, fine. There are worst places to do it than at Good Shepherd. Once she settles in I will take a run at her. Parents never listen to their kids. Maybe she will listen to me. Maybe not.

Typically, whenever a bank fails somebody gets indicted. This is because if you play by the rules, the bank will not fail and the taxpayers will not have to take over the bank. The Officers at IndyMac and ANB ought to be sweating bullets now. Because the Feds will start looking up their asses with a flashlight. And rightfully so.

Because not only is a run on the bank an ugly thing. Not only because you ought not to gamble with other people's money. The regulators ought to come down hard on them for no other reason than pictures of folks lining up outside of banks scare the bejeezus out of the remaining members of the Greatest Generation who hoped to God that their kids would never have to see such a terrible thing.
And they deserve far better than this.

Editorial Note: Many people have been kind enough to call and write over the past week to ask about my health. I am fine and will write more about it later. I guess I thought that this would be clear when I didn't write about being scheduled for brain surgery or something. I guess I was more interested in the process of accessing what my cousin calls "the system" than the potential symptoms themselves as I was fairly well assured by my doctor that the brain scan was mostly a precaution.
But I am in no danger. I feel perfectly well. We still don't have all of the answers but we have excluded the worst case scenarios.
Thank you again for your concerns. It means a lot to me. To those who were alarmed, I apologize. I should have been more thoughtful. That was certainly not my intent.
I'll write more about it soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby-The Louvin Brothers

The Louvin Brothers, were an old Gospel act that specialized in gothic songs about what tragedy can befall you when you turn your back on Jesus, leave the farm and go to Knoxville. Many of the subjects of their songs tended to drown in the river. Which is what Baptists might confuse with irony.

Charlie and Ira Louvin have been described in one recent textbook on country music as "unhinged." Ira-the one on the left- exceptionally so. Just watch his eyes while he sings.

Anyway, this is how crazy Ira was.
His wife shot him 5 times. And he lived. He died in a car wreck three years later.

Only the genuinely smooth running crazy can pull that off.

Have a nice night. Hope you don't have bad dreams.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This Time He Needs The Money

53 year old Greg Norman is one stroke behind the leader at the British Open after 2 rounds. As PM might say, having to pay 10 million bucks to get rid of the ex tends to concentrate the mind.

Really. 10 million so he could get clear to marry Chris Evert.

And somewhere, somewhere being not in the field of players after he-no!-failed to make the cut, somewhere John Daly is thinking, undoubtedly over a cold one:

" And they say I'm an idiot."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Me and Uncle Earl

If you remember your Louisiana politics, you will have heard of the time Earl Kemp Long got put in the nervous hospital by his family over his dalliance with a stripper named Blaze Starr which we may assume was not her baptismal name. Uncle Earl eventually got sprung when one of his political cronies became the head of what passed for the state mental health system at that time.
When he ran for Congress after he left the nuthouse there was some badinage among his opponents during a debate that Uncle Earl was tetched in the head. Earl pulled out his discharge papers and allowed as how he was the only guy running for office that was declared sane.
My CT scan-and that is not mine depicted above-shows a "normal brain" which most of my colleagues dispute.
My brain is certified normal. That's all I need.

Why I Hate Golf

I have been playing golf now for 10 years or so. I have seen a hole-in-one and I came close to making one myself about a month ago. My brother John is a scratch golfer. He had a golf scholarship in college. He has never made a hole-in-one. My buddy PM plays to about a 2 handicap. He has made a hole-in-one. But he was playing by himself so it doesn't count. Besides, it was a range ball that he found on the tee box which would have looked stupid on a trophy.

I was talking to my friend Peter today. Peter III has just taken up the damn sport. Has played maybe 5 times.

You guessed it. Last week young Peter made a hole-in-one. Said it was a short par-3. He hit the front of the green and it rolled right in. Which is how you are supposed to do it.

I hate golf.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

I am fortunate to have really good health insurance. I have stayed with the same provider for the last 20 years or so, mainly because the numerous doctors I maintain on the payroll all really like my provider and I have never had a minute's worth of trouble with them.

At least not until last week.

My doctor scheduled me for a certain diagnostic procedure at a local hospital. He made the referral because he felt it was medically necessary to get some answers really fast based on some rather interesting symptoms that had popped up out of the wild blue yonder.

My provider sent a fax: Coverage Denied.

This particular physician is quiet and almost sphinx-like in his demeanor. Jim is gentle and kind. He is the kind of doctor who has this almost Svengali-like power over elderly patients who are drawn to his unassuming ways. Think Fred Rogers with an Ozark accent.

Ray, his nurse, called me the day before the procedure to give me the happy news. He said that a peer to peer teleconference between Jim and the provider's review physician had been scheduled for the morning of the procedure. One more thing. Ray told me Jim was pissed.

Wow. Guys like me uncork over any of a number of slights and injustices, most of them imaginary. You have to go some to light Jim's fuse.

OK. I wasn't real happy at this news. I mean, it's not like I didn't have the money. But it was earmarked for repairs to my deck. Not for a medical procedure. But it wasn't the end of the world. At least I could come up with it.. Little did I know that the screwed up way we finance medical care in this country would inure to my benefit in any event simply because I happen to be reasonably solvent.

The insurance lady at the hospital called me the morning of the test to tell me that the decision by my provider not to cover the procedure was under review. I told her that I knew that. And just so I would know, I asked her how much the procedure cost.

" Ummmmmm....generally around $3000.00," she said.

" Great," I said sarcastically. "OK. I guess I'll just wait for the bill to get the final amount." I hadn't planned on shelling out 3 grand this month on anything other than home projects and airfare to Chapel Hill. But then again, I hadn't planned on that trip to the ER earlier last week either. Stuff happens. Again, I am fortunate. I had $3000.00 that I could shell out if I had to. Lots of folks can't say that. You got to look at the big picture sometimes. You have to count your blessings.

" Well," the insurance lady said. " If you can pay cash today, we'll give you a 58% discount on the charge."

" Huh?"

" Yes."

I was dumbfounded.

" Let me get this straight," I said. " If my provider changes its corporate mind and decides this thing is indeed medically necessary and not the equivalent of a face lift or something, y'all charge them the full rate and my copay is 700 bucks. "

" Um-hmmm"

" But if I just make an appointment, and show up to get a CT Scan of what passes for my brains, y'all will back off to (I did the math in what passes for my brains) around-what?-$1200 bucks?"

" Yeah. Something like that."

" No disrespect but that's insane."

" I don't make the rules, sir. I'm just reading off the screen here."

Think about it. Even if insurance covered the procedure, it would only pay what was reasonable and customary. So it wouldn't pay the quoted rate if it didn't want to. I wouldn't be charged the quoted rate if I could pay cash on the barrel head. And how did they come up with a number like 58 per cent anyway? Surely they meant that's all I would have to pay up front and they would bill me the rest later. But that's not what she said.

I've seen a more straight up pricing system on used car lots in Louisiana.

The hell of it all is that the only people that get charged the full rate are the uninsured. And they can't pay. But I guess that the hospital can then write off the full amount charged as bad business debt.

The good news is that Jim evidently beat the provider down. They covered it. My eventual hit is "fixed and liquidated" by the terms of my insurance policy and not governed by some arcane internal accounting practice which prices a procedure not based on what is worth but rather upon who is paying.

Like I said, I am fortunate and I know it. However this was going to shake out was not going to bankrupt me. But there's a whole lot of people out there who don't have insurance and some of these people typically can't come up with 3 grand either.

Surely to God there is a better way to manage medical care in this country.

Because, like I said to the insurance lady at the hospital, this is insane.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sounds Like He Used Polycarp's Lawyer

The Associated Press reports that golfer Greg Norman shelled out cash and assets worth 103 million in a divorce settlement with his ex. Not learning any lessons from this, he recently married former tennis star and serial bride Chris Evert.

This reminds me of the time a friend of mine took up with a married doctor. He was in the process of leaving his wife for her. She said it was going to cost him about $250,000 bucks to get shed of the ex. She asked me what I thought. I, in turn, asked her to kiss me. She gave me a chaste peck.

"No," I said. "Lay one of your 'let's start some trouble' kisses on me."

She shrugged her shoulders and then proceeded to pull my adenoids out.

When she was through she stepped back. "How was that?" she said.

After my lips had regained their feeling I said, "That was a lot of fun. It wasn't worth $250,000 though."

I mean, even though Chrissie is depicted here wearing the hell out of that dress, she ain't worth 103 million.

Expect a bottle of Greg Norman Estates wine to go up.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Vox Populi-The Emergency Room At St. Vincent's At 8 AM

While waiting for the doctor-long story-I overheard the following conversation between a woman who was hard-of-hearing and an exasperated physician concerning her son in the examination room next to mine. The Doc apparently knew them well:

Doc: " Where's he getting his money to buy beer?"

Mom; " I don't know."

" You giving him money to buy beer?"

"Nooooo! Lord no, Doctor! I ain't giving him no money to buy no beer!"

" Okay. Okay. Did you tell the folks up front that he drank 3 six packs of beer? My God!"

" No. He drank 3 six packs of Cokes?"


" At least that ain't no beer."

" No. Don't get me wrong. If he's gonna drink I would rather him drink Coke. But still that's a lot. Especially on top of all the beer he drank. Just because it's not alcohol doesn't mean it's good for him."

" Um-hmm."

" Okay. I'm gonna order some tests. I mean, that's a lot of stuff. That's my point. Does he just sit around all day and drink stuff?"

" I don't know what he do all day. I got to work."

" Okay. I'll be back in a minute."

I heard the door open. I saw the Doc walking down the hall past the room where I was cooling my jets.

He carried the chart in his left hand. He was rubbing his forehead with his right.

I recounted this story to Nurse Bob.

" I hope to get back to ER work someday," he said. "It's hilarious."

After my Doc came in to make sure I was going to live, the Really Hot Nurse showed up to patch me up.

Me: " It's a lot calmer in here since I was last in here for stitches 10 years ago."

RHN: " What did you manage to do to yourself then?"

Me: "Kid rounded corner on a bike and hit me. Sliced shin to the bone."

RHN: "Oooooooo......"

Me: " Lots more action that day. There were a couple of guys wheeled in with gunshot wounds and there was one guy that had been stabbed a little. And one woman was being wheeled in on a wheelchair and she was giving birth. It's pretty calm today."

She looked at her watch.

RHN: " Welllllllllll, the shooters and their victims have not gotten out of bed yet. I have no explanation for why we haven't had a baby today. But that's why I like ER work. Never a dull moment."

With that, she took off her gloves and patted me on the back.

RHN: " Okay. You're good. They'll bring you your papers and a prescription."

She pointed her finger at me.

RHN: " You. Be careful.'

I left St. Vincents just as one of the chaplains read the morning prayer over the PA system.

And I was glad to be out of there.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Sacha Baron Cohen's latest project resulted in near riots in Ft. Smith and Texarkana when 'rassling fans in those fair cities were duped into showing fup for a faux Mixed Martial Arts involving simulated gay sex during the bout. Of course, this was all being captured on film for Cohen's next project in which he portrays a gay German journalist named Bruno.

Check it out here.

Wally's Travelogue

In his last couple of columns, noted cosmopolitan Wally Hall has been regaling the readers with the account of his trip to Italy. Today he told us about the sights he witnessed while on the week long Mediterranean cruise that was part of the package.

Only Wally could talk about the island of Majorca after the greatest Gentleman's Final in the history of Wimbledon and fail to mention that the winner, Rafael Nadal, is from Majorca. Maybe if he had ever heard of Rafa, or knew that Wimbledon was even being played, he might have asked the locals what they thought about the hometown boy. But that would require him to acquire an interest in something other than the Razorbacks, whatever Charles Cella tells him to write about, and his softball tournament. Which is way too much trouble and ain't never gonna happen.

You get the sports page you deserve.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Don't Tell Aunt Charlsie About This

The NY Times ran a fascinating story about the discovery of a stone which is described as a "Dead Sea Scroll" on stone. Depending on how it is interpreted, the inscription on the stone stands for the proposition that belief in the death and resurrection of a Jewish leader existed before Christ and was possibly part of mainstream Jewish thought of the time.

Which ain't exactly what you are likely to hear from the pulpit at, say, Lifeline Missionary Baptist Church. Check out the story at the jump:

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Sorry About That

The last post appears as one long run-on sentence because won't let me edit again. This happens every so often.

Oh well......

My Sunday Feeling

George W. Bush paid a visit to our fair city last week. This is the picture that ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of him meeting 12 year old Robby Powell of Conway. Robby is my nephew Henry's best friend. They have tried to eat me out of house and home on more than one occasion. Robby's dad is the Athletic Director at the future football powerhouse known as Hendrix College and his mother grew up with the Previous Administration around here. So we go back a long ways.
Robby was chosen to receive an award for public service from the President. As I understand it, he and Henry had a classmate with a rare iron deficiency that affects the brain. Robby came up with the idea to sell Lance Armstrong-like bracelets to raise money for research into this affliction.
Imagine. Here you are 12 years old and you are standing there on the tarmac amongst soldiers, local dignitaries, and the hired killers known as the Presidential Detail of the Secret Service. The door on Air Force One swings open-Air Force One!-and there is the Man In The Blue Suit coming down the stairs. To see you.
By your own admission you had never met anybody more powerful than the Mayor of Conway before that day. And yet here you are, Danny and Sloane's kid and Henry's buddy, shaking hands with the President. Even better, he reaches in his wallet to donate some money for the cause and he puts on one of your bracelets. You are overwhelmed by the experience. The Air Force detail was not standing more rigidly at attention than you were in the picture. But that's OK. Political theatre is an acquired taste. Nothing in your 12 years on this planet could possibly prepare you for this moment.
Now it is well established in these chronicles that I don't have much use for Republicans in general. (I do have Republican friends. We just agree to disagree and refrain from discussing our differences. Even though they are completely wrong.) But what for the life of me I do not understand is how folks cannot put aside their partisan political beliefs for 5 minutes to appreciate a moment such as this. Some of my friends cannot put their intense hatred of George Bush in their back pockets to even acknowledge that it is a wonderful thing when the President comes to town.
It is a wonderful thing to live in a country where we require our leaders to at least feign a common touch. Do you think your average Brit can relate to somebody who gets to sign her name Elizabeth Rex? What do you think your average Zimbabwean thinks of Robert Mugabe? No sense in asking. They wouldn't tell you for fear of getting killed. Can you picture Vladimir Putin pretending to be interested in some kid raising money for a rare disease? Give me a break.
George W. Bush may be more Ulysses S. Grant than Dwight Eisenhower without the military sense of either. But he is the President. Say what you will, but he didn't get put up there by stealing an election. Ok. Well, that's not the only reason he's up there. Millions of people voted for him twice and if the polls are any indicator, some of those same people believe he has been a disaster as President.
But as old professor at Hendrix used to say, " The good Lord looks after drunks, little babies and the United States of America no matter what kind of goddamned fool is in the Oval Office." This administration may put that old bromide of Professor Meriweather's to its sternest test.
But put all that aside for a moment. You can do it.
Imagine you are 12 years old and the President is coming down the stairs and calling your name. Imagine you happen to be a mom hosting a kiddie party. You have a yard full of squealing girls running around in bathing suits through the sprinkler. It is a mere coincidence that you live along the path of the President's motorcade. You hear the sirens. You feel the rumble. The girls shush as the procession comes by. One of the 2 or 3 black cars stops. The Man In The Blue Suit Steps out, surrounded by his grim faced guards who do not smile. Not even at the happy sight of soaking wet little girls.
George W. Bush puts his arms around the wet little bodies as he poses for pictures. You don't know what else to do so you offer him a glass of lemonade which he actually accepts. You are stunned by all of this. Then it dawns on you.
He may be the Most Powerful Man On The Planet. But he is also a father. At one time back in Midland, before Katrina, before Iraq, before 9-11, he had little girls in his house too.
And you understand. After all, even God Himself did not have a daughter.
And you are glad you are an American.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Sic Transit Bozo

Larry Harmon, the creative force behind the cultural icon that is Bozo the Clown, died this week. On a lighter note, and while we are commemorating Bozos that have gone on to join the Choir Invisible, so did former United States Senator Jesse Helms.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Vox Populi-Something You Are Not Likely To Hear Either A Yankee Or A White Person Say

I ran into a black friend of mine today named Miriam whom I hadn't seen in awhile.

" What do you know, Miriam?" I said.

" Daddy used to say 'Not much save for Christ and Him crucified.' " she replied.

What a wonderful expression. I had never heard that before.

And I doubt that I would have ever heard it had I been situated much further North of Memphis.