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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

I feel like my posts from the last couple of days have been incomplete, and suggested that people were exaggerating the impact of the coronavirus. I do think it’s wrong to panic, but that doesn’t mean I think you should ignore advice to stay inside. Your risk of dying might be small, but by congregating, you are increasing the risk to more vulnerable populations. I myself am going out for items like groceries, usually during periods where there aren’t a lot of people around.

Don’t panic. Be safe. Keep social distance. And then feel free to enjoy my advice about not panicking during the markets.

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One of my many maxims: 100% of financial advice is bad if the person giving it doesn’t know your personal financial situation. That goes for most of the money TV shows and columns, too. It often goes for real estate agents. It goes trebly for Jim Cramer. And it goes for ALL trading tips.

Now that the coronavirus has given the market its cold, let us consider the parallels. Both the virus and the markets likely have us so anxious that we distort the risk and actually do much riskier things (or at least unhelpful ones) rather than just relaxing and washing our hands (*and staying indoors). I’ve known CEOs who wanted to sell at the market bottom in 2008. It was not wise. But that’s what happens when the adrenal gland takes over a CEO’s body.

There are certain things to keep in mind about this market. If you have investments that lost value and are now thinking of selling them, you are going to lock in your losses. If your attitude is, “I was going to need that money soon,” you shouldn’t have been invested in stocks in the first place. Money earmarked for use within five years should be kept in a money market fund. Stocks (mainly those pursued through mutual funds) are there to grow over the long term. You take short term risks of failure for that almost certain growth. And a pandemic is one of those risks. If you are thinking of shifting money around hoping for some short-term rebound on a few hot stocks, keep in mind that the things best set to go up in value are the things that just lost you a lot of money. And what’s more, by trying to pounce on some hot stock tip, you have forsaken the responsible act of investing for the hell that is trading. Trading (let’s just call it gambling) is a world where 80-90% of people fail and those who succeed don’t realize the tax obligation they are generating in return for that big risk they took.

I’m not a doctor, but I hear a lot of risk distortion about the coronavirus as well. I still hear mortality rates being from 1% to 3%, which means I think a lot of people are giving in to the same anxiety that that CEO was. But when you move into certain cohorts and people with compromised immune systems, the mortality rate is much higher. My advice is to save your concern for the elderly. I was admonished by an older lady two months ago for covering my mouth the wrong way when I coughed. I thought it was funny, but I have to consider that that is a life and death problem to her. We also have to consider that our older relatives might need physical isolation, but emotional isolation also takes a toll on an elderly person’s health. So staying away is likely helpful–but so is calling them.

My wife has a master’s degree in epidemiology, but I’m not a doctor. If you are, feel free to correct anything wrong I’ve put in my post about medicine. But I’ve been writing about money for 22 years and get nervous seeing people make the same mistakes over and over on weeks like this one. If you are one of my friends who made a bunch of money on Apple since 1999 or have some “foolproof” personal strategy, feel free to keep that on your own page and off mine. Your information is incomplete and fosters the trading mentality. It might have worked for you, but again, it’s deadly irresponsible information for someone with a different risk profile who doesn’t know the pitfalls. It’s like you coughed around the wrong person the wrong way.

*I did not originally post that we should stay indoors and practice social distancing. I was catching up myself on the responsible behaviors pursued during a pandemic and it is now responsible of me to add these things I’ve come to understand about public safety amid health crises.

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… Or maybe we can take the “quotes” off Obamacare now, a sneering portmanteau word used almost exclusively by detractors of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now that the law has been upheld by the Supreme Court, perhaps the pejorative meaning will someday disappear, and posterity will be kinder to the word, a herald of a time when millions of people got health care insurance, and it will cease to be used as a horrible shibboleth by a certain kind of American breed who insist that suffering is the mandatory price of freedom.

At the very least, this morning, we have avoided the distasteful sight of watching a small number of partisans carry on in front of the world and actually cheer for the vulnerability and frailty of their fellow countrymen. “Let ’em die,” as Republican conventioneers like to yell at the uninsured, ought to be the standard for sneers, not “Obamacare.”

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Many young mommies might hear from their OB/GYNs that they have a “low-lying placenta.” This can be a great worry in the third trimester, because it means that the placenta is blocking the cervix, increasing the chances of a C-section. But never fear, young mommies! There is still time for the placenta to move up into the right position, closer to the upper uterus where there is better blood circulation and nutrients–and thus less risk of pre-term delivery.

However, if after 28 weeks the placenta is still low-lying, it’s time to reduce or stop exercise and leave off the sex. I know that daddies will be unhappy, but baby will thank you!

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Baltimore, Maryland (API) George Hunsacker, a 50-year-old mechanical engineer from Prince George’s County, was getting a root canal one day last November, and recalls that just as he was getting the finishing touches on his enamel polish, his dentist turned to him and politely asked how he would be footing the bill.

The question came as a surprise for Hunsacker, who had hoped to pay through his employer’s insurance plan as he always had. But his dentist suddenly turned belligerent.

“Insurance?” Hunsacker recalls his dentist saying. “Why don’t you just pay me in chickens? Do I look like a friggin’ idiot?”

The dentist then suggested that Hunsacker call his wife and have her raid all the gold in the house, specifically any gold that might have once belonged to a grandparent or that had been passed down as a family heirloom. When Hunsacker said that the only gold was in his daughter’s mouth, his dentist said, “Well you ought to send her over. I’ll get the pliers warmed up.”

All over the country, such stories have become commonplace as America’s dentists increasingly stop accepting insurance, vouchers and the almost worthless U.S. dollar and start demanding instead up-front payment in gold rings, bracelets, pendants, ingots, bars, and scrap. Gold, they say, is the most stable medium of exchange right now–perhaps the only medium of exchange–at a time when the U.S. economy is in a free-falling spiral into the abyss, its fiat currency a laughingstock of the world.

“There’s only one thing that makes a crown in my office, and that’s gold,” jokes Alec Brommelstein, a DDS in Red Bank, New Jersey. “If you don’t have some gold in your house, then I suggest you lay off sweets, because I’m not fixing your god damn teeth anymore.”

Economists are quick to remind U.S. consumers that no paper currency of the world has ever survived, and the U.S. dollar will likely be no exception.

“It’s been propped up for too long by foreign countries using it as a reserve currency,” says economist Ralph J. Exley, a FOREX trader and former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Idaho. “Pretty soon though, the Chinese are going to be asking, ‘What do we need this shit for?’ America’s going down the tubes.”

“Kings have used gold since the days of ancient Egypt in 1500 B.C. to run their countries,” said Jack Angstrom, a dentist in Manhattan, Kansas. “Meanwhile, insurance company payouts have not kept up with inflation. That’s why I’m going to have to go in and rip this little girl’s teeth out without any Novocain.  It’s sad, I know, but it’s a fact of life.”

Angstrom then disappeared into a dental suite from which blood-curdling screams emerged moments later. Outside, patients lined up carrying the ductile, malleable and shiny metal in the form of scrap, jewelry and other melted down forms, items often carried in briefcases, on dollies and in baby prams.

Most dentists in recent surveys said that they saw insurance companies as hostile to their business models, with 54% of dentists calling insurance companies “scum bags” and the other 46% calling them “homunculuses with tiny vestigial dicks.”

“The insurance industry has been very good to dentists,” said Simon Kennedy, a spokesperson for the Association of American Insurers. “You can believe me or not. I don’t care. We have a shit load of lobbyists.”

Dentists acknowledge that gold has many drawbacks. It doesn’t pay interest–which represents an opportunity cost–and sits idly while other assets appreciate. There are also costs to hold it. However, Brommelstein says none of this will matter in the end as governments expand the money supply, making the U.S. dollar worthless at the same time global warming turns the world into a Malthusian wasteland where humans are hunted like game animals for sport.

“Insurance is a thing of the past,” he said. “The dollar is the thing of the past. Anything but you giving me the sweet precious luminous metal that is gold is a thing of the past.”

He then turned back to a phone call he was taking.

“If you want me to straighten your god damn son’s teeth for his bar mitzvah, I suggest you bring me some of that sweet, sweet gold,” Brommelstein said into the phone. “Take it off your wife’s god damned finger if you have to.”

Image: djcodrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What factors led to the end of our marriage and/or the end of health care reform legislation in Congress?

–*We failed to articulate our goals to each other.

–*We kept fighting over money.

–*There was a lot of mutual suspicion about what the other side wanted.

–*We turned to outsiders for help and they turned out to have their own selfish interests.

–*One side didn’t know how to think for him or herself unless Glenn Beck told him or her first.

–*…or Oprah.

–*We weren’t sure how to handle the necessary abortion issue.

–*Every time we tried to talk about things reasonably it deteriorated into shouting matches.

–*Each of us accused the other of patronizing and sabotaging the other in public.

–*There was a lot of increasingly nonsensical, paranoid and loony right-wing talk coming from one side.

–*”I don’t need another mother.”

–*”I don’t need another father.”

–*Turns out one of us was a racist.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (API) Nurse Claire Simonton, an RN at local Hazelton Hospital, has seen many types of patients in varying conditions cross the threshold of her emergency room over the past four years. She’s dealt with overdoses, gunshot wounds, toys swallowed by children, etc. But nothing prepared her for the frankly sickening sight last Friday night when Dr. Saul Jacobs wheeled out an EKG machine for a 15-year-old girl who’d come in with a broken arm, witnesses said.

“Wait a minute,” said Simonton. “That’s an EKG.”

“Yeah,” said Jacobs. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“An EKG?” repeated Simonton, her jaw practically lying on the floor at the utterly flagrant use of an unnecessary procedure meant to overcharge the insurance company. “Really? an EKG.”

“You know, we just want to be sure the girl’s OK.”

“With a broken arm? You’re worried about her having a heart attack? Am I on crack? Am I going blind? Or am I actually watching you bring in an electrocardiogram for this girl?”

Simonton and Jacobs sat picking over this mordant rhetorical question for several minutes while the patient, Nancy Wallis, sat in confused silence holding the broken arm, an injury she’d sustained in a Friday night fender bender.

“I just want to make sure I understand this correctly,” said Simonton, laying on the ironic sing-song rhythms, Jacobs thought, a little bit thick and with a great deal of sanctimony, “That girl has a simple broken arm, and probably just needs a splint. But we’re going to give her an EKG. How about doing an echo-cardiogram as well? Or how about a PET scan on her brain? Or why don’t we do extensive blood work and a stand-up MRI?”

“Well it can never hurt.”

Really?”

“I wish you’d stop saying it like that.”

Simonton and Jacobs traded such barbs for several minutes using lots of patronizing rhetorical flourishes and sneers in the five minute conversation, their icy exchange playing out against the backdrop of the most farcical aspects of American health care, specifically doctors’ declining fees for service, an economic fiasco that has them scrambling to overbill insurers and rip them off however possible through procedure miscoding, double billing and other kinds of accounting shenanigans.

“Gee,” said Simonton looking over the girl. “You don’t seem like you’re about to die of a heart attack at all. How strange. And here I thought you were 80 years old. I guess nobody can really be sure about anything these days unless we’ve first checked it with outrageously expensive modern medical equipment. Why as far as I know, you might have a heart like an 60-year-old obese smoker on steroids.”

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” said the patient. “I just busted up my arm a little. You guys are freaking me out.”

As they wheeled the EKG over to the girl and began performing the expensive procedure, Nurse Simonton continued her stream of wry badinage.

“Oooooh!” said Nurse Simonton. “Her heart looks good. In fact, it looks like any heart you’d find in any 15-year-old girl. How’d that happen, I wonder?”

After 30 minutes the exchange ended when Jacobs went home for the night, first delivering a parting shot.

“You really ought to watch your mouth in front of the patients,” he said.

“Take it up with my union rep, asshole,” answered Simonton.

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If you’re like me, you’re always looking for new ways to get people to visit your blog. It’s fun to create a community and get people talking about the important subjects of the day.

But many people are unsure how to get their blog seen and make sure their voices are getting heard. That’s where it’s helpful to know a few tricks of the blogging trade.

The secret is tags. These are the subject words that people search for–the things they are most interested in, and the items they plug into popular Web browsers like Google and Yahoo and Bing.

And the biggest secret of all is that you have to use the tag word “kittens” at all times, no matter what you’re talking about.

Let’s say that you’ve just done an excellent blog post on the state of the stock market. As we all know, it’s been a tough year. Stocks plummeted last September, and the American economy is largely thought to be in a tailspin because of the antics of a few no-goodniks such as those who sold bad mortgages and tried to palm off the bad debt on insurance companies and investment banks. Let’s say you’ve got a Nobel prize on the subject and you really want to get the word out that people were not paying attention to the market’s systemic risk when they looked for 10% annualized returns. You are biting your nails, because you are the only person you think in the world who understands that the algorithms just aren’t taking into account all the stochiastic random elements that cause markets to collapse. You worry that portfolios will be smashed and retirees rendered homeless.

Now say that out loud. You sound pretty dull, don’t you? Would you want to read that yourself? Probably not. It’s OK to laugh. We’ve all sounded like a self-important asshole at some time or another.

But that’s OK; fear not.

All you have to do is turn it all it around! If you had just added the word “kittens” to your tag, you’d have millions of people at your doorstep just dying to hear all about your dry “systemic risk” stuff.

Try this instead when you’re tagging: “derivatives,” “Lehman Brothers,” “Paulson,” “Goldman Sachs,” “conflict of interest,” “kittens,” “kitten in box,” “kittens with yarn.”

Or maybe you’ve got questions about the current health care plan in Congress, House Bill 3200: America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. Now health care is a confusing topic. Maybe you are a patient who has no insurance. Maybe you’re a doctor who is worried about out-of-control legal costs. Maybe you’re worried that too much government intervention would distort rational, efficient pricing of health goods and services. Perhaps you find it immoral that America is rated 37 on the World Health Organziation’s chart of best health care because of our lack of services to the impoverished.

Well, that’s all well and good, but … is that all you’ve got? Really? Is that your pitch? Where’s the hook? Where’s the sizzle that sells the steak? How do you ever think you’re going to fish in the kind of readership you want with a lot of fancy words that go over people’s heads? Aren’t you talking up your own wazoo a little bit here?

Try this on for size, and add these tags: “health care,” “Obama,” “socialism,” “kittens,” “Momma,” “meow.”

Why, before you know it, you’ll have millions of people coming to your blog to hear what your problems are with the new 1,000 word health care bill, or maybe they’ll just be looking for your kitten videos. You can offer them one or both. It doesn’t matter! All that matters is that you’ve engaged your potential readership with language they can understand and you’ve brought them important information on a topic that will be important to them in the future, if not right this second.

After all, most people are only thinking about what’s going on this second. The future is a scary place! Would you want to live there? No! In the future, we’re all dead. But right now, in this moment, we have to enjoy the little things, and what we enjoy most is bright, furry, cuddly, fuzzy felines.

Perhaps you have been following the latest gossip about Pakistan and its unsecure nuclear weapons installations, which are dangerously close to the front lines in a war against fundamentalist Muslim Taliban militants who have already begun making strikes against nuclear labs, perhaps in an effort to steal technology. You may have spent your entire life in the intelligence community and know more about the real dangers than almost anyone else. You spend so much time thinking about nuclear Holocaust that you can’t sleep and it’s making you crazy in a way that literally changes the color of your urine.

But in the end, doesn’t that make you kind of a smarmy know-it-all? I mean, if you’re going to bring passionate, thoughtful national security items to the forefront of our dialogue, you’ve got to know how to speak the language of everyday folk. And what could be more heartwarming than pictures of kittens nursing at mama cat’s milk-swollen belly?

Don’t believe me? Try these tags and get results: “Pakistan,” and “nuclear facilities,” “Wiki Maps,” “Taliban,” “nuclear stockpiles,” “rogue states,” “black market,” “terrorist groups,” “kittens,” “nursing,” “meow, meow,” “vomit,” “hairball,” “poop,” “Roomba fight,” “vacuum cleaner.”

See, aren’t you already starting to see how the right kind of tagging will get your blog instant validation and notoriety?

People love kittens with great passion–almost as much as they hate the threat of nuclear annihilation. What you’ve got to do as a blogger is pick up on the topics of the day if you want to become a tastemaker, a pace setter and a thought leader. But you’ll never get there if you don’t learn the tricks of the Web world. So stop sucking your thumb and start thinking like a Web champion.

Don’t think in abstractions your whole life, think in fun, vibrant tags, whether it be “cat,” or “kitten,” or even “warm pussy.” And soon you’ll be getting the drift.

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South Beach Diet Haiku

Sugar, fruit and bread,

Oh, how I long for you. Ugh!

Chicken strips again

***

The doctor attacked

My glycemic index. I

Din’t know I had one

***

Cut down my morning

Carbs; no bagels; no berries

Feels like fresh hell, this.

***

“Your blood sugar goes

Up too fast,” he said. Well how

else would things get done?

***

No honey, I don’t

Want another damn omelet.

Bitch wants to starve me

***

Ordering Splenda

In Starbucks for my latte

I feel like some skirt

***

Hmmmm …. Tofu eggs or

A bullet through the left eye?

A tough choice, this one.

***

Chocolate makes you

Feel like you’re in love. I feel

Like firing some guns

***

Low carb diets make

Your breath smell like a little

Man died in your mouth

***

It’s how the fats break

down, or so they say to me

It’s science I guess

***

“How about carrots?” “No.

Not until phase two at least.”

“What the F, man! Shit!”

***

Great! Wow! I can eat

All the string cheese I want ’til

It falls out my ass!

***

String cheese! Fucking string cheese!

String cheese string cheese! Fuck fuck fuck!

Fuckin’ fuck string cheese!

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Hello, I’m writing to you from the place where I sit atop Eric’s kidneys. I am Eric’s adrenal gland, and I account for the stimulation of certain hormones and neurotransmitters in his body.

I’m addressing you directly because I sometimes feel like my function and my role in Eric’s life is misunderstood. Sometimes, I’d even say people are trying to talk to Eric when I’m pretty sure they are talking to me, and vice versa. This gets to be pretty confusing, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to clear the air while Eric is sleeping.

I’m a fight-or-flight kind of gland. I make no bones. Eric might like to sit down with you and have a nice discussion—debate with you about aesthetics and politics over a brandy cordial or a cheese flight—but I, the adrenal gland, have nothing to do with that. I’m really a very simple kind of organism. All I pretty much ever want to do with you is have a fight or run away.

You see, I respond to stress. There are a whole lot of funny sounding chemicals involved in this, but suffice it to say that whenever there’s a real threat, I take over. I’m kind of like Kevin Costner in that movie The Bodyguard. Eric may think he’s in charge, but that’s just arrogance, mainly because of certain other organs in his body, and I won’t say them name. I don’t brag about what I do. I’m a gland of few words, and when it’s time to fight or flee the scene, I’m the guy you want to talk to, not Eric or his hypothalamus.

Sure, you say, Eric often writes about philosophy, the arts, finance and politics, and sometimes what he writes is nuanced and refined and involves logic and counter-intuitive arguments. Again, I’ve got no time for that. I’m a straight talker and don’t enjoy hobnobbing with a bunch of effete ponces.

The other day, for example, somebody came up and asked me, “Hey, adrenal gland, don’t you think that this bill in the U.S. Senate is necessary to give more people health insurance?”

“You mother fucker!” I screamed, “I’m going to bash your head in with a baseball bat.”

So I guess you’d say my view of life is simple, right? But let’s look at another example.

The other day a woman came up to me and said, “Look, Obama’s tax plan will harm small businesses, the ones who really drive this country’s economy.”

Now this was a very different case, because this woman knew karate. So after she made her point about economic stimulus, I quickly turned on my heel.

“Fuck you, you castrating devil bitch harpy!” I screamed as I ran away down the street toward the river. “You can’t catch me.”

Now as far as I know, this woman was making an excellent point. But the bottom line was, she represented a direct threat and source of stress that would impair Eric’s ability to store energy and recuperate and repair. It’s nothing personal. It’s just my function.

I even have moments where I can’t make up my mind.

“We need to tax the rich more,” someone told me recently.

“I’m going to kick your mother fucking ass,” I said. “No, wait … I’m going to run away! No! No! … I’m going to kick your ass.”

Of course, there are lots of times when I have nothing to say at all. Like when someone is admiring my shirt or asking me to go see a Fassbinder movie. Like I said, I’m a steak-and-potatoes kind of gland, and if I’m not fighting or running away, I’m really at a loss.

There is a proverb that says a fox knows many tricks and a hedgehog only one. But I am an adrenal gland, and I know exactly two: throw down or bug out. Fist city or Splitsville.

I’m not into arguments about right or wrong, what’s fair, who did what to whom, or how much money you owe me. I’ve got a very simple view of life. Like Ronald Reagan. Also, I am much bigger relative to body weight than I should be for evolutionary reasons, which not only means that I’m important to you, but also that you’re likely going to be doing what I want quite a bit of the time. You might not know this, but I swell up in the resistance stage, and even if you got rid of one half of me, the other half would blow up, like in The Blob, and take over. This is called hypertrophy, and I don’t want to bore you with the science, but it basically means I’m one star-shaped endocrine gland with whom a person should not ever fuck.

Sometimes Eric tells me, “Adrenal gland, don’t you see how the world couldn’t work if everybody were like you all the time?”

Of course, it’s like he’s talking to a wall. Sure, call it obstinacy on my part. But I know in his heart, Eric wouldn’t have me any other way. One day he’ll be running from muggers screaming like a little girl to protect himself, and he’ll thank me. Or maybe, for reasons I can’t fathom, he’ll be engaging in hand-to-hand mortal combat with a Mexican drug lord in Tijuana. He’ll thank me then, too. Some days, I know Eric better than he knows himself. That’s just the life of a gland.

I hope this has helped all of you clear up some of the confusion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run away from you because you represent a direct threat to my security and other bodily housekeeping functions.

Signed,

Eric’s Adrenal Gland

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