(I’m a bit irked that Cleveland’s first game of the year is a night game played out on the west coast, but I can understand the sensible decision to avoid playing baseball in Cleveland on March 31.)
Today I went to wash my hands in the restroom and noticed one of those dispensers of overly scented hand soap. In big bold letters, the dispenser touted the soap as “Deep Cleansing” — which made my teeth grind a bit.
What’s with the trend to replace “clean” with “cleanse”? Virtually any product that approximates the effect of soap and water on human beings now uses “cleansing” rather than “cleaning.” So, you see phrases like “deep cleansing,” or “gentle cleansing.” I’ve even seen an ad in which the actor says she likes “feeling cleansed” rather than “feeling clean.”
Why is this so? “Clean” is a perfectly good word that has been used for centuries. “Deep cleaning” certainly sounds more thorough than “deep cleansing.” So why isn’t it used?
I’m guessing that there are two reasons. First, no doubt advertisers and marketing managers have done studies that show that people will pay more if a product promises “cleansing” rather than “cleaning.” Maybe it sounds more highbrow. Second, “cleansing” has a softer sense to it. “Cleansing” sounds like something that might happen during a gentle spring rain, whereas “cleaning” conjures notions of attacking a dirty item with a stiff wire brush and Mr. Clean. (Of course, “ethnic cleansing” runs counter to this linguistic theory.)
It’s all part of the reason why I like to buy the generic versions of household products. They tend not to be infused with ridiculous scents, they tend not to be packaged in ludicous designs, and if they’re hand soap or hand cleaner, they use those simple, time-honored words. It helps that they’re cheaper, too.
Today is March 31. It’s the “Obamacare” deadline that we’ve been hearing about for months, the end of the open enrollment period on the health care exchanges — although the federal government has extended the deadline for a week, to allow people who claim to be in the midst of applying to complete the process.
How is the process going? We know for sure that a lot of money and effort has been spent in encouraging people to apply by the deadline. The federal government has spent millions on TV ads and social media banners, alerting people to the deadline and encouraging people to “get covered.” President Obama himself has led the charge. Over the past few weeks, you couldn’t go to a website or social media outlet without seeing an ad. It’s been, by far, the largest, most visible, and probably most expensive government-sponsored ad campaign in my lifetime. It’s blown the “click it or ticket” and anti-drunk driving campaigns out of the water.
Has the ad campaign worked? According to information provided by the government, enrollments surged as the deadline neared. By mid-March, the government reported that 5 million had enrolled, then 6 million a few days ago. Some people hold out hope that enrollments might hit 7 million. The 7 million figure has some significance, because the Congressional Budget Office initially forecast that 7 million enrollments were needed during the open enrollment period, although the CBO later revised that forecast to 6 million.
It’s not entirely clear what these numbers represent. There are supposed to be 48 million residents in the United States who do not have health insurance; 7 million is only a small fraction of the uninsured whole. What do we do about the remaining millions of uninsured people? Moreover, it’s not clear how many of the people who have enrolled through the exchanges were formerly uninsured, either. Many of the users of the health exchange websites apparently were people who were insured but whose policies were terminated because they lacked mandatory provisions required by the Affordable Care Act. There are also valid questions about how many of the enrollees have actually paid premiums and therefore have coverage.
There will be a lot of information coming our way over the next few days and weeks about Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act is such a hot-button issue — and the impending elections in November will keep it so — that supporters and opponents of the law are sure to massage and select the data to favor their positions. The average voter would do well to apply skepticism to the messaging from both sides of the Obamacare debate.
If you’re someone who bought a new policy through healthcare.gov, the ultimate question about your fellow enrollees is: who are these people, and how sick are they? Insurance fundamentally involves a pooling of risk, and the cost of health insurance is directly tied to who else is in your pool. If you’re in a group with lots of young, healthy people who don’t need much health care, your premiums will be lower than if you’re in a group with a preponderance of sick people who regularly need expensive medical attention. We won’t know the true actuarial makeup of the new plans until the people who are covered begin to make claims, the claims get processed and paid, and the insurance companies look at the results and decide whether the pricing of the plans needs to be adjusted — and if so by how much. If health care costs increase dramatically, few people are going to consider Obamacare a success no matter how many people have enrolled.
It will be nice to see some new ads once the March 31 deadline passes, but everyone needs to take a deep breath. This initial deadline is just one step in a very long process, and we won’t know the outcome until we are much farther down the road.
In the older cities of the world, any modern excavation could quickly turn into an architectural dig. This happened recently in London, where some railway project unearthed a number of skeletons — leading researchers to believe they have found one of the major burial pits for the victims of the Black Death.
The Black Death had an unimaginable impact on medieval Europe. It first arrived in England in 1348, but resurfaced periodically for many decades. There was no medical science, and no one understood how the plague spread — but they did know that it was incredibly deadly. In England, the plague is estimated to have wiped out 60 percent of the population. People died by the thousands, and in places like London were buried in common mass graves. The railway project workers apparently found one of them.
It’s hard to conceive what the world was like during the plague years. One of my favorite books, Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, brilliantly captures the impact of the Black Death. Many people concluded that the plague was some form of heavenly retribution for earthly wickedness, and different religious cults adopted different approaches — such as self-scourging — to try to erase the sin that they believed was producing such horrible punishment. Others concluded that they were doomed anyway and adopted lives of carefree hedonism. As the death toll mounted, social order broke down. Priests refused to give absolution to dying plague victims. Families abandoned stricken relatives. Long-cultivated fields returned to wilderness because there weren’t enough serfs to tend to them. Gangs of robbers and mercenaries patrolled the countryside. And explicit representations of death and dying, complete with worm-eaten corpses, became commonplace in art and literature.
The 14th century was long ago, but the discovery of the mass grave in London makes me wonder — if a terrible pandemic struck the modern world, decimating the population and making death a constant, everyday reality, would our reaction be so different?
I don’t care about any of that. I’m tired of seeing our back yard shrouded in whiteness. I’m tired of wondering whether I’ll ever be able to sit outside on our patio again. I’m fed up! I’m declaring it, and I don’t care if it’s a jinx. I’m saying that last night was the last snow we’ll get during this winter that won’t go away. At least, the photo above will be the last time I take a picture of snow until we live through a real spring, a real summer, and a real autumn — whenever that might be.
The earthquake was a 5.1 in magnitude, causing merchandise to fall off the shelves of stores — and, no doubt, causing Californians to wonder whether it was the first little tremor in the Big One that every resident of the Golden State quietly fears may someday be coming. The precariously lodged tectonic plates of the San Andreas Fault shift, the ground moves, and as the world rumbles, for a cold split second, everyone wonders how long it will last and how bad it will be. Then it is over, and life goes on.
I’ve only felt an earthquake once, and it was small tremor that touched Columbus from a epicenter that was far away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel the ground slithering and grinding before my feet. It must be a strange sensation — and also one that you just come to accept as a risk of living in California or one of the other earthquake zones in the world. Some of the world’s most beautiful places pose risks of hurricanes, or mudslides, or earthquakes, or floods, or other natural disasters. If you live there, it’s part of the tradeoff.
If you go to the earthquake page of the U.S. Geological Service, you see that earthquakes and aftershocks are commonplaces in California. Each of those incidents would be deeply memorable, long-discussed events for those of us in the solid-grounded Midwest. How many of our friends in California even notice all of them?
Normally I don’t remember my dreams. Since I’ve started using crutches, however, I’ve started to have vivid nightmares about falling.
If you accept the standard explanation of dreams — that they are a kind of post-day brain dump, when the conscious brain is out of it and the subconscious brain riffles through the images of the day just ended — my falling dreams shouldn’t come as a surprise. I know that I can’t put weight on my left foot, because it would painfully bend the steel pins in my toes and make them harder to extract. So, even something routine, like a short trip to the bathroom, becomes a cause for careful attention and concern about a slip and fall.
But there’s more to it. I scrabble up the stairs on hands and knees, dragging the crutches up the stairs with me, then use a chair at the top of the stairs to rise, balance, and get the crutches under my arms so I can move along. The transfer from chair to crutches is inherently unsteady, and I’m doing it balanced on one foot at the top of the stairs, wondering if a loss of balance will send me tumbling down the steps. The same process occurs when I go down the stairs, of course. And then there’s the silly worry about somehow falling out of bed and landing on my bad foot. I’ve never had that happen before, but now the possibility nags at me.
I don’t ever remember having falling dreams before, but they aren’t very pleasant. They’re not limited to the bed or stair scenarios; just about any falling context will do. I awaken with a lurch, arms flailing and grasping for a hold, heart pounding, hoping that the startling experience doesn’t itself cause me to tumble to the floor.
I hate these dreams. For years after I finished any form of schooling, I still had the occasional “failure to study for an exam that’s happening today” dream, and they never failed to get my pulse pounding. Now I wonder: long after these pins are removed and I’m walking normally again, will I continue to have these scary falling nightmares?
The other day Kish and I were driving, listening to some classical music and using the car’s GPS feature to direct us to a place we were visiting for the first time. That combination of activities didn’t work out very well.
Why? Even though the classical music was being played at low volume, the monotone female GPS “exit in one mile, then right turn” voice couldn’t be heard distinctly with a Beethoven piano concerto in the background. So, we were left with the option of turning off the music and driving in silence because we never quite know when the GPS voice will speak (an intolerable choice for me) or not hearing the directions, which doesn’t exactly use the GPS function to its maximum potential.
I suppose you could design the GPS speaking function to cut off the music automatically whenever a message is being delivered, but that seems a bit presumptuous. I think the better solution is to offer a range of accent options so that the GPS voice can be heard above the music — accents that are so different and distinctive that the driver immediately sits up, takes notice, and gets the message.
I think a strong hillbilly accent would do the trick, if you could get used to the concept of taking directions from Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. Maybe an over-the-top Cockney accent, with a few “guv’nors” thrown in, would work, too.
It’s because people desperately want to get outside after a long, cold winter. They want to smell the faint fragrance of spring flowers wafting on the warming air. They want to shed their overcoats and feel the sun on their faces. They want to walk on springy green grass, see flowering trees bloom, and listen carefully for the return of songbirds and ducks that had flown south for the winter.
That’s why it especially sucks to be laid up and crutch-dependent when spring rolls around. Today the temperature in Columbus actually reached the upper 50s. I look outside the window of my study and feel like the boy in the bubble. The pins in my toes cannot be removed fast enough!
There are conflicting reports from North Korea about whether men have been ordered to get a haircut that matches the styling of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Un. Some websites are reporting the story as the truth; others are saying it’s a hoax.
Either way, the story is getting a lot of play — primarily because the Dear Leader’s haircut is so distinctive. The hair on the sides of the head, around and above the ears, is shaved down to the bare scalp. Then, some kind of industrial lubricant is liberally applied to the hairs on top of the head to give them a deep sheen and allow them to be combed straight back and parted in the middle. The awkward result looks something like a wet plastic mat covering part of a cue ball. It’s a look you’d expect to see in a prison or a mental institution.
The “required haircut” story has legs because it’s plausible — North Korea’s conduct is so unpredictable that people will believe just about any news story emanating from that country — and because it’s outlandish even by North Korean standards. Could Kim Jong-Un actually be so besotted with the state-created cult of personality about him that he thinks his haircut looks good? Would a country that starves and enslaves its people go so far as to dictate an item of personal choice like a haircut, and force its unfortunate citizens to get an unflattering one at that?
We’re lucky we live in a free country where our leaders don’t insist that we adopt their hairstyles. I’ve now lived through the terms of 11 different Presidents, which would mean a lot of hairstyle changes — especially since I’ve stuck to pretty much the same style for the past 30 years or so. And some of our presidential coiffures weren’t exactly trend-setting, either. I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt the Ronald Reagan Brylcreem pompadour or the Richard Nixon straight comb back — although either of those would be preferable to Kim Jong-Un’s institutional trim job.
The politics of marijuana are changing.
As exhibit number one, consider Michelle Malkin, a reliably conservative political commentator. Yesterday she wrote about her visit to a marijuana shop in Colorado — not to rip the legalization movement, as you might expect, but rather to describe the positive impact marijuana use has had for her mother-in-law, who is dealing with cancer and has experienced problems with loss of appetite. By using the legal marijuana in Colorado, her mother-in-law’s food intake has improved, leading to hope that she will get stronger and weather the ravages of cancer treatment. And, as a bottom line, Malkin notes that the operators of the shops carefully run neat businesses, pay taxes, employ people, and provide goods and services that people like her mother-in-law want and need.
A number of states have changed their marijuana laws in recent years, but Colorado appears to be the focus of attention. In states like Ohio, where there doesn’t seem to be an significant movement toward either approval of medical marijuana or decriminalization on a state level, I expect that legislators are taking a hard look at the Colorado experience. Are significant additional tax revenues are being produced? Is there any appreciable effect on crime? Are people like Michelle Malkin’s mother-in-law benefiting? Is the legal sale of marijuana having any impact on tourism? The answers to those questions will tell us whether states like Ohio, which tends to be a follower rather than an innovator, may change its marijuana policies.
From the teenage years forward, every modern male is bedeviled by the same nagging question: how do I dance without looking like a spastic imbecile?
John Travolta may be the only man alive who is truly confident in his dancing abilities. Most other guys are worried that their attempt at a cool dancing persona in reality mirrors the humiliating leg-kicking, arm-jerking efforts of Elaine on Seinfeld. And, if you’ve seen your average guy on the dance floor, you know that those worries are painfully well-founded.
Fortunately, science now offers an answer. Researchers have studied how women respond to dance floor moves, using neutral, genderless depictions of dancing figures in an attempt to take personal looks out of the equation. The results are surprising. It turns out that women like large movements of the head, neck and torso, as well as quick movements that involve bending the right knee. Putting all of the moves together looks something like the funky chicken — except that there is no apparent relation between arm movements and perceived dancing ability.
What about the study tell us about bad dancers? Click on the link above, and then click on the short video that women uniformly found to represent bad dancing — then tell me if you haven’t seen the precisely the same pathetic, shuffling, inane moves on the part of 99.9 percent of the men who give dancing a shot. And guys . . . take a good look, and then vow never again to trip the light fantastic unless it’s at one of your kids’ weddings. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.
Delaney Clements is an 11-year-old girl in Colorado who is fighting neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that targets children. The treatment for her condition includes chemotherapy, which has caused her hair to fall out.
The pre-teenage years being what they are, a bald kid might feel awkward and self-conscious — but fortunately Delaney has a friend named Kamryn Renfro. Kamryn wanted to show support for her friend, so in a selfless gesture she cut off her own hair. Kamryn thought it was the right thing to do, and Delaney loved the gesture.
But Kamryn’s school had a different reaction. The Caprock Academy has a dress code that bans shaved heads, so the school wouldn’t allow Kamryn to attend classes on Monday.
Kamryn’s Mom wasn’t happy and posted a message about the school’s decision on Facebook. Delaney’s Mom did, too. And that provoked a firestorm of controversy with the Caprock Academy at its epicenter, one that overwhelmed the school’s website and telephone system. The school let Kamryn attend classes yesterday, and last night the school’s board of trustees voted 3-1 to waive the dress code in exceptional circumstances, such as when a child shaves her head to show solidarity for a friend who is dealing with cancer. (Amazing, isn’t it, that one of the trustees actually voted against such a waiver?)
There’s nothing wrong with reasonable dress codes. I imagine the original motivation for the bald head ban was concern about skinhead high school boys intimidating other students. Obviously, however, a young girl’s simple act of kindness is so far removed from that scenario — or any situation that might raise issues about safety, uniformity, and distractions, which are the stated reasons for the existence of the Caprock Academy dress code — that her ability to go back to school with a shining dome should never have been questioned. Any dress code policy that is so rigid that it produces a contrary result should be modified to give administrators appropriate discretion — or else the school eventually will end up wearing the dunce cap in the corner of the classroom.
Kamryn Renfro did a very nice thing — the kind of act that would make any parents proud of their child. It’s unfortunate that she had to miss a day of school because of her show of support for her friend, but as a result this student taught her school a valuable lesson about reasonableness and flexibility. Kamryn’s gesture may end up being more significant than she ever imagined.
The vernal equinox occurred on March 20, which means the Sun has passed the celestial equator, periods of daylight are now longer than periods of darkness, and spring has officially arrived. Who cares about that, though, when you can look out the window of your study and see — as the photo above shows — snow pelting down and a few inches accumulating on a lawn that should be pushing up green shoots of new grass instead?
I feel like I should be one of the Starks of Winterfell, wrapped snugly in smelly furs, intoning grimly that “winter is coming” and warning of the perils of the White Walkers. This year in Columbus, winter has come . . . and stayed, and stayed, and stayed. It’s the Winter Without End. All we’re missing are a few direwolves and an 800-foot-high wall in the backyard.
Recently one of my friends mentioned that he had a picture on his cell phone of his kids playing in the snow that fell in October. Winter started about then, and it’s still here!
If I had the money, I’d buy every empty condo property in south Florida I could find. After this brutal midwestern winter, I think we’re going to see a fresh exodus of snowbirds who’ve had it up to here with snow and cold and ice and will pay through their frostbitten noses for a chance to feel the sun’s warmth.
Today I went to the doctor. He took a look at the toes on my left foot, saw that there wasn’t unseemly swelling, and declared that I could get my stitches out. The removal of the stitches made it a red-letter day.
It’s only the first step (pun intended) in the process, but it made me feel good nevertheless. Next week, barring some complication, I’ll get the pins taken out of my toes, and that will be a real cause for celebration. When I’m finally pin-free, I’ll be able to toss my crutches aside and also take a shower again — which I haven’t been able to do for two weeks because I can’t get my left foot wet. I’m not sure which development I’ll welcome more, because both are very eagerly anticipated.
I’m perfectly comfortable with my decision to have the operation, because my hammertoed condition really left me no alternative. However, I have missed my morning walks, and the sense of structure and order that they brought to my days, more than I would have imagined. I dream of once more being able to take my pre-dawn strolls along the Yantis Loop, following the white fencing, listening to music of my choice on my iPod, letting my mind wander to wherever it chooses to go.
Unpin me, I say!