Addictive – Hmmm – Maybe

I had to laugh the other day when I saw the article where Alec Baldwin got kicked off an American Airlines flight because he was supposedly playing the Zynga game Words with Friends.

The game Words with Friends is very similar to the scrabble board game that most families had in the good old days. It’s a world of parallel words, bingo stems, hookers (not the street variety), mystery letters and small words like QI, ZA and JO.

During the game a player needs to decide whether to play long words, short words or play an offensive or defensive game. One famous celebrity called the game the crystal meth of online games. You can play up to twenty games simultaneously and I am currently playing ten games with friends right now.

Words with Friends is available for free from Facebook and I think there is an app you can get if you have an I-phone or an Android (not sure about this). To be honest I have gone a couple of days without playing the game so I am not sure whether or not I would call it addictive. Perhaps I will ask my friends who play Farmville, Mafia Wars and Gardens of time if it is.

Penile Pumps And Public Spending

A story has been rolling around the internet about how, since 2001, Medicare has spent $240 million — i.e., almost a quarter of a billion dollars — on penile pumps for elderly men who are experiencing erectile dysfunction.  The Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services Local Coverage Determination states that, for Medicare to pay for such a device, the “patient’s medical record must contain sufficient documentation of the patient’s medical condition to substantiate the necessity for the type and quantity of items ordered.”

This is the kind of story that, obviously, can become the subject of jokes and double entendres — but I think the jollity just obscures a deeper, serious question.  When the federal government pays for medical care, what is it supposed to be paying for?

Is it simply paying for whatever care is necessary to keep someone alive?  Is it paying for a level of health necessary to achieve a certain quality of life?  Or, is it obligated to pay for whatever drugs, devices and other forms of treatment that the covered person thinks he or she needs to keep their health as close to 21-year-old perfection as it can possibly be?

If it is the first option, then we are going to spend a lot less — but some governmental agency is going to be making some brutal baseline decisions.  If it is the second option, then bureaucrats are going to be making uncomfortable judgments about what constitutes a “reasonable” quality of life.  And if it is the third option, our debt-ridden nation is going to be spending millions of dollars on things like penile pumps for aging men who think their bedroom performance level should be as close as possible to what it was when they were horny 20-year-olds.

The comical penile pump spending story, therefore, is worth pondering as an example of the kinds of questions that are raised when the federal government becomes a primary payer for health care.  I’m not quite sure where I come out on the three options described above — but I do think it is ludicrous that the federal government has spent nearly $250 million on penile pumps in the last decade.

A Contagion Of Yawns

We’ve all seen somebody yawn, and then yawned in response.  We can’t help it.  Why are yawns so darned contagious?

No one knows for sure.  A recent Italian study, however, provides support for the theory that contagious yawning is connected to the yawnee’s empathy for the yawner.  The study determined that you are more likely to yawn in response to a yawn from a family member than a yawn from a mere friend.  Earlier studies that also support that theory found that children with autism, who are viewed as less capable of empathy with other children, also are less likely to engage in contagious yawning.

Many scientific studies seem to be hopelessly abstract, but this one actually has practical use.  If you’re looking for empathy in a spouse or a friend, just yawn around them.  If they don’t yawn in response, head for the hills.

Curse Of The Purse

The other day I was pondering why Kish’s key ring weighs approximately 30 pounds, and I concluded that purses are to blame.

This began because I needed the key to Russell’s car, which is on Kish’s key ring — along with 50 other keys, tokens, and bric-a-brac.  I think the key to the diary she kept in 7th grade may be on there somewhere.  Her key ring features a small tag, added at the insistence of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, that reads:  “To avoid back injury, please lift with your legs.”  The heft of the key ring is such that, wielded by an expert, it could stun a charging rhino.

Why is this so?  I’m convinced it’s all about purses.  There has been a clear correlation between increasing size of the key ring and the increasing size of the purse.  Long gone are the days of the small clutch.  No, we are in a period of purse proliferation, where women seem to be competing for the largest, roomiest purse.  Kish’s latest skirts the fine line between purse and duffel bag.

If your purse is huge, there is no incentive to edit the key ring and remove the stray key from a car sold five years ago.  With the luxury of near-infinite space, you can lug around every key you’ve ever used — secure in the knowledge that you’ll never be caught embarrassingly keyless at a crucial moment.

Did the need for a weighty key ring lead to the development of gigantic purses, or did advances in purse technology produce hernia-inducing key rings?  Forget the chicken and the egg — what came first, the enormous purse or the heavyweight key ring?