Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why medical care is so expensive...

From my home state of Ohio...

"An Ohio man intended to save the life of his older sister by donating a kidney to her -- a sacrifice on his part that ended in vain a year ago when a nurse mistakenly threw away the donated organ.  
Paul Fudacz Jr. and his sister, Sarah, say the University of Toledo Medical Center "utterly botched" their kidney transplant surgery. The medical center this week said it has "worked hard to learn from this incident" and apologized to the family."
We might have hoped that the medical center had done its "learning" before this criminally negligent tragedy occurred.

Over the past few years, I've been in that stage of life in which I've had to make regular hospital and doctor's office visits with some older relatives. Let's just say that I haven't been impressed by what I've seen. Having worked in the manufacturing industry, where efficiency and accountability are rigidly enforced, I've been astounded by the gross incompetence that I've observed throughout the medical industry.

There are, of course, some individually brilliant physicians and researchers. However, hospitals, given what they do, are probably the most poorly managed institutions in our economy. Record keeping is poor, at best; and there is very little sense of what manufacturing enterprises call "quality control".

I can understand why many people call for more government oversight and involvement in our medical system. But the fact remains that government seldom makes anything more efficient. Government leading the medical industry is truly the blind leading the blind.

What the medical industry needs is intervention from the manufacturing sector. When I worked in a factory, we accounted for every single component that we used in the production process. 

But the University of Toledo Medical Center can't keep track of a human kidney.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The elusive "plot" of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

I'm most of the way through John Steinbeck's Cannery Row (published in 1945), only to discover that the novel lacks anything vaguely resembling a central plot. 

I should mention in preface that I am generally a fan of Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath, The Winter of Our Discontent, and East of Eden are among my favorite mid-20th century novels.  All contain strong plots, strong main characters, and plenty of conflict.

Cannery Row, meanwhile, is comprised of a series of vignettes that are loosely connected, all of which take place in Monterrey, California. The storyline might best be described as a series of "character studies".

Structurally, Cannery Row reminds me a bit of William Saroyan's The Human Comedy, which was published two years earlier (though Cannery Row is much, much darker and far more adult in its themes and subject matter). 

Cannery Row is probably worth reading if you are a diehard Steinbeck fan, but I would recommend that the neophyte begin elsewhere. If you are new to Steinbeck, start with one of the following:

East of Eden
The Winter of Our Discontent
The Grapes of Wrath
The Pearl
Of Mice and Men

These five, of course, are mainstays of high school literature classes, and perhaps for good reason. Steinbeck wrote some great novels, but I wouldn't necessarily say that his novels were all great. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Bill Gates doesn’t own a television

A few years ago I read James Wallace’s and Jim Erickson’s book, Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire. The book chronicles the early years of Microsoft. It covers Gates’ teenage years, and the years during which he took Microsoft from a two-man company (run by Gates and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen) to a major force in the software industry.

You might love Bill Gates or you might actively dislike him. (I’ve found that Gates’ detractors have become less numerous in recent years, since Gates has retired from the day-to-day management of Microsoft. Gates is now better known, perhaps, for his charitable work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has undeniably accomplished a lot of good.)

But whatever you think about Bill Gates or the products of Microsoft (full disclosure: I’m an Mac addict, myself), you can’t deny that Bill Gates has achieved results. In 2011 Gates was identified as the wealthiest American, and the world’s second wealthiest person. Microsoft—a company that was virtually unknown in 1980—is today the largest software firm in the world, with annual sales of $78 billion.

Not a bad set of results for a college dropout. (Although Gates was accepted at Harvard University and took classes for a while, he dropped out after completing his sophomore year.)

One of the interesting facts revealed in Hard Drive is that Gates did not own a television set during the high-growth years of Microsoft. The entrepreneur could have easily afforded one, of course; but he chose to forgo the purchase and ownership of a TV.

Why? The simple answer was: focus. Gates seemed to realize—even at a very young age—the gargantuan effort that the achievement of his goals would require. He also realized that television was a major form of distraction.

There are many sources of distraction, of course, both internal and external. Within the category of external distractions, however, the electronic media is easily the most common and the most insidious. And “electronic media” has become far more seductive and pervasive than it was in the late 1970s and 1980s, when Gates was building Microsoft. Today there are hundreds of television channels (thanks to satellite TV and cable). And then there’s the Internet—which is replete with Facebook, YouTube, and other avenues of endless distraction.

Because these distractions are so deeply engrained in our individual lives and society as a whole, it is easy to fall into the unexamined belief that these things are necessities.
We forget that it is perfectly possible to lead a comfortable, fulfilled life without spending several hours before the television each day. (Bill Gates certainly proved that.) And why you might not want to give up the Internet entirely, it is certainly worthwhile to examine the time you spend on the Internet, and how you spend it.

One 2011 study revealed that Facebook users who own smart phones checked the social media site fourteen times per day. Seventy-nine percent of such users also checked the site within fifteen minutes of waking up.

All that non-productive Internet time and focus could be applied to the achievement of your goals. Over the course of a year, you could dramatically increase your results toward your goals simply by redirecting your Facebook time to more productive pursuits. The average American spends about eight hours per month on the site—the equivalent of a full workday. So eliminating Facebook from your life would be the equivalent of giving yourself more than two full workweeks per year (based on a five-day week) to take concrete steps toward your goals.

In May of 2011, Americans spent 53.5 billion minutes on Facebook. So imagine how much more we could achieve as a nation if everyone took this advice. Imagine how many more doctorates would be earned, more books read and written, more businesses started.   
I think it's safe to say that Bill Gates owns a television today. (Although, having never been a guest in his home, I can’t say for sure). But Bill Gates has now achieved his goals. When he was working to achieve them, television was something that he did without.

If you find yourself too busy at the end of each of day, perhaps you could also consider life without TV—and without other forms of electronic distraction, as well.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"The Dreams of Lord Satu" free on Kindle, August 18 to 22

This is kind of a science fiction horror story, and one of the ones in my first collection, Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense.

You can download it for free (the single short story) on Amazon Kindle from August 18 (Sunday) through August 22 (Thursday) of the upcoming week.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Advice: "See the world, or settle down?"

Viewers of my YouTube channel occasionally send me questions about various topics--academic, language-related, and personal. 

In this video, I respond to a twentysomething viewer who is torn between an opportunity to teach English in Japan, and an offer of an entry-level sales job in the Midwest (Indiana). 

The viewer's basic dilemma is this: A few years in Japan would fulfill a dream that he has had for a long time. On the other hand, he feels vaguely irresponsible about turning down a "real" job in entry-level industrial sales in Indiana. (Yes, teaching English in Japan is technically a "real" job; but it isn't a job with a "real" future or discernible career path.)

What follows is a discussion about the balance between the youthful urge to "see the world" and "have adventures", versus the practical, adult need to eat, clothe yourself, and pay your bills.

It is important to put your early twentysomething years (like all the years of your life) to productive use. At the same time, though, it is also natural for your decision-making calculus to change over time, as your life circumstances change.

Or to put it another way, 23-year-olds shouldn't always think like 50-year-olds. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting started with Dickens

A viewer of my YouTube channel asks, "Which Charles Dickens novels should I start with?" 

As I indicate in this video, I recommend starting with A Christmas Carol. This one is very easy to read, and the basic plot will already be familiar to most readers. (As I note, there has even been a Donald Duck version of A Christmas Carol. How much easier can you get?)

Next, you'll be ready to tackle something a bit more serious. At this stage, I recommend:

A Tale of Two Cities
David Copperfield

After that, you might try Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Reader review of "Termination Man" (7/17/2013)

As I've mentioned before, Termination Man is my most autobiographical novel to date. It is set in the automotive industry, where I worked--in one capacity or another--for about 20 years. 

Click here to read the first thirty chapters of Termination Man.

The last U.S. war veterans

It is kind of interesting to note that that the last Revolutionary War veteran, Lemuel Cook (below), died in 1866, just as Congress and the defeated Southern states were hammering out the contentious issue of Reconstruction.

Also worth noting is the fact that U.S. WWI veterans passed into history in 2011, with the death of Frank Buckles (below) (1901-2011).

The next group to pass will be the World War II vets. Most of them are now in their nineties, and they are dying at a rate of 600 per day. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans estimates that the last WWII vet will die by 2036; but these men and women are already becoming rare. 

As I heard about WWII secondhand from my grandfather (who died in 1998), I feel privileged to have known at least of few of these brave individuals, who literally saved civilization about seventy years ago.