Saturday, August 27, 2016

Terry Foster: Hypertension and Health

It's important to keep in mind how fragile and precious your health and life really is.
No one knows the day that he or she will leave this world or how he or she will depart. But sometimes life gives us little reminders that nothing is guaranteed. Local writer, sports radio talk show host, and former Detroit News journalist Terry Foster was reminded of that recently when he had a mild stroke that was apparently brought on by hypertension. Foster was already dealing with Type 2 diabetes. Hypertension and Type 2 diabetes often occur together. Although it appears that Foster had his blood glucose within safe levels he did not have his hypertension under control. So what happened, happened. This is just another reminder of how important it is for people, particularly African-Americans, to avoid these conditions in the first place or stringently deal with the conditions if they are unfortunate enough to have them. Proper diet and exercise are not only what we owe to ourselves and our loved ones as joyful payment for being alive but good food and vigorous movement are also some of the most effective tools we have to fight hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Some people still consider it a sign of virility to avoid seeing a doctor. I think that the wiser move is to treat going to the doctor the same way you would maintenance on a car or home-- a routine if occasionally unpleasant task that must be done in order to avoid larger costs down the line. The scary thing about hypertension is that you may have it for quite some time and feel no ill effects. You'll feel fine right up until the moment when you have a stroke, go blind or undergo even worse experiences.

Highly engaged listeners and video stream viewers could have noticed a few weeks ago that Foster seemed to be having difficulty with some words. He says now that he was in denial.
“I was struggling with my speech and my fine motor skills in my right hand were off,” Foster said. “I was typing slower, I had slower reaction times and I thought it was the effect of a bad cold that I had, but obviously it wasn’t and I was on the air for a couple of days and I was struggling with my speech. At some point, I was kind of getting scared and said ‘I need to go in and see what’s going on’ and that’s what that was.”
What was the last straw?

“It was slurred, I couldn’t say ‘971 The Ticket,’ I was like saying ‘nine-one the Ticket, like that. There were certain words that I could not say or they were child-like when I said that,” Foster said. “And so, I think, to compensate I started talking louder and slower and that was the big symptom right there.”

Now, he has a message for his listeners, the men, especially. Don’t skip doctor’s visits. And no matter how strong you feel, no one is invincible. Foster said he hadn’t been to the doctor and didn’t know he had high blood pressure, which was 220 over something he can’t remember when he showed up at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield suspecting something was wrong. Like most, he was eating inconsistently, high-fat foods sometimes and healthy meals other times.

Book Reviews: Almost Infamous, Finders Keepers

Almost Infamous
by Matt Carter
I thought that this book was very funny. It put me in mind of similar work which I reviewed before here.  It's not quite as deep or as biting as the Dr. Brain.. book was but it pushes many of the same buttons. The title is apparently a pun and reference to the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous , which was about a feuding rock band on the way up. This makes sense not only as a joke but because the lead character in Almost Infamous and his friends experience life as would be rock stars. They're motivated by the same dreams of fame, fortune and women (or men depending on which friend is doing the dreaming). They have the normal rock star problems of greedy business types, internal team rivalries, career burnout and substance abuse. And like many would be rock stars they must decide if their success is worth doing what many people might see as selling out for the almighty dollar. The book is told in first person, which I'm usually not a fan of but having completed the story I don't see how it could have been told in any other way. This was a relatively short novel, but there weren't any wasted words. There is no skimming this book. Every sentence or seeming sub theme has a purpose. The reader doesn't need to be a comic book fan to enjoy this story. The humor is broad enough so that even someone who avoids comics or claims not to understand parody and satire will probably get almost all of the humor contained within. Although I think you will rather quickly pick up on where the plot is going the joy is in getting there. Like the Dr. Brain.. book Almost Infamous imagines a world in which superpowers, mutant or otherwise are real and have been for quite some time. Not only are superheroes and supervillains a reality but so are the lost continents of Lemuria and Atlantis, both of which have exchange student programs with the greatly expanded United States.

Aidan Salt is a bored high school student who could probably be described as lazy, if he cared to do enough work to reach that status. No, Aidan has only a sub average life waiting for himself. He's not stupid but no one would call him smart either. Aidan's primary interest is in getting the pretty girls in his high school to notice him and help him shed his unwanted virginity. So far neither of those things has happened, much to Aidan's irritation. But as Aidan's father once said, Aidan is something of a late bloomer.  Although superpowers usually manifest at puberty, at eighteen, Aidan suddenly develops superpowers of telekinesis. And these powers seem to be all the stronger for having been delayed. Like the John Lee Hooker song states, "It's in him and it's got to come out!".

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Trump Hints At Flip-Flop On Illegal Immigration

If you pick an issue, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has probably been on two or more sides of it. He has explained this as growth and as good business. For Trump, business exigencies require that you really do run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Fundamentally Trump seems to be about doing whatever is best for Trump. He doesn't appear to have very many fixed ideological commitments. Fame, fortune and adulation seem to be what motivate him. Still when you enter the political arena, Hillary Clinton's "I'm not Trump" campaign notwithstanding, it usually helps to have a few key issues where you put your foot down and define yourself. This will hopefully animate your base. If done properly a politician's strong stance on an issue can even win grudging respect from the other side and/or attract independents to his team. For Trump and his successful quest to become the 2016 Republican nominee for President this defining issue was illegal immigration. Illegal immigration in today's environment is also a magnet or pointer for a host of other associated themes such as ethnic and economic nationalism, fears about the browning of America, crime, disdain towards cosmopolitan bi-coastal elites, anger over the hollowing out of good paying middle class jobs, deindustrialization, declining male status, nostalgia over the loss of the "good old days", and many others, some of which Trump didn't have to say out loud. Some of his supporters certainly picked up on what he was putting down. One such supporter was writer and media critic Ann Coulter, who was, to put it mildly, in support of Trump's heretofore, strong stance against illegal immigration.  But like the song says, everything must change. Recently speaking to Fox News personality Sean Hannity, Trump gave himself a little, well a LOT, of wiggle room regarding his intentions towards the illegal immigrants who are currently living in the US. 

Trump earlier this week said he may be open to some "softening" in the immigration laws."There certainly can be a softening, because we're not looking to hurt people," Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity during a town hall earlier this week. During that event, he raised the idea that people living in the country illegally would pay back taxes, "but we work with them."  
Questions have been raised about Trump's stance on immigration after his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said last weekend it was "to be determined" whether Trump's plans would include a deportation force to remove the 11 million people living illegally in the country.
“They’ll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them,” Trump said. Trump claimed that his supporters have urged him to soften his stance on immigration, even though he has staked much of his campaign on his tough stance on immigration and portraying immigrants as “rapists and criminals.” 

“When I go through and meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and they’ve said, ‘Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it’s so tough, Mr. Trump,’” he told Hannity. “I have it all the time! It’s a very, very hard thing.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Louisiana Floods Are A Bad Look For Obama

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina touched down in Louisiana, destroying 80% of the properties in the New Orleans metropolitan area, cutting off power to some 900,000 people, and claiming the lives of over 1,000 people in Louisiana alone. To say it was a major national crisis is an understatement.  One of the biggest narratives that came out of the Hurricane Katrina story, aside from the raw destruction and loss of life, is how woefully unprepared and inadequate the federal government's response was to the devastation.  President Bush, who was on vacation at the time in his home state of Texas, was personally criticized by many local leaders on the ground in Louisiana, as well as by regional and national leaders, for failing to provide a competent and expedient response.  To make matters worse, he flew over the affected area in Air Force One on his way from Texas to DC, giving the appearance that the President didn't really care about the thousands of people on the ground who were suffering.  The federal agency charged with actually putting boots on the round, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA"), failed to send any relief to the area until days after the hurricane had already made land fall.   In sum, the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina was both an actual failure as well as a perceived failure.

Fast forward to August 2016.  Louisiana has once again been hit by a natural disaster in the form of a flood which, although not as devastating as Hurricane Katrina, has destroyed over 40,000 homes and has taken the lives of 13 people.  In contrast to the federal government's failure to properly respond to Katrina, the response to the 2016 floods has actually been good:
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has a better view than just about anyone, went on MSNBC Thursday night and told viewers that "I don't feel forgotten by the federal government…We have what we need from the federal government."
Edwards and his allies stressed Thursday that they've been in daily communication with White House officials. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, an emergency response specialist who before joining the Obama administration oversaw Florida's disaster responses, has been here. So has Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. President Barack Obama started issuing disaster declarations quickly, which frees up federal resources and gets the ball rolling on longer term needs. Inspectors are on the ground. It's a miserable time for the many thousands affected, but a faulty response isn't making it more miserable.
In short, as far as the federal government goes, this is not Katrina.
So the actual response from President Obama and the federal government has been positive.  The perception of President Obama's response, however, has not been as great.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Brooklyn Banker, Criminal

The Brooklyn Banker
directed by Federico Castelluccuio
Federico Castelluccuio is an Italian actor and painter who is probably best known to American viewers as Furio, the handsome, tall, vicious, intense, lovestruck mafioso bodyguard/hitman on HBO's series The Sopranos. This film was his feature directing debut. Well not everyone hits a home run their first time at the plate. This movie was enjoyable enough at times but overall because the subject matter has been so well trod over the years, a film really has to shine in order to stand out in this genre. The Brooklyn Banker is a quiet little film that purports to tell a story of what once was, when Italian American organized crime, the Mafia, ran the streets of the titular borough. This film was looking to be gritty but not excessively violent. It name checks and tries to model itself after the early work of Martin Scorsese, most notably Mean Streets. But I thought that the male lead of The Brooklyn Banker was ever so slightly miscast. Or maybe the character wasn't written well enough or with enough detail. In any event although the character is someone that I should have had some sympathy for or identity with, a middle class striver who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd, I didn't have much sympathy for or interest in the character at all. There were a number of times that I thought he was something of a jerk. I was not invested in his success or well being. To paraphrase a presidential candidate, he was low energy. And that impacted almost everything else in the movie. This movie uses most of the familiar tropes and cliches that make up Italian-American crime stories, the street smart wife, guys in the neighborhood upset about THEM moving in, religious festivals which bring everyone together, the priest who knows what's what, Sunday family dinner, making the sign of the cross, etc. You've seen this story a million times before. That's okay. As discussed some people think that there are really only a handful of original stories once you strip away all the fluff.  But if it's unfair to demand amazing originality from every last movie, it's not too much to demand entertainment. And I didn't think that The Brooklyn Banker rated all too highly on that front. It wasn't something that left much of an impression on me.

Why Kellyanne Conway's Release of Trump 2.0 Will Likely Fail

You've likely heard the expression "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig" used to convey the seemingly self-evident concept that changing the superficial appearance of something does not actually change whatever the thing is underneath.  Or as the great Jay-Z once put it "you can try to change but that's just the top layer; man you was who you was before you got here."    Well, this basic concept has apparently been lost on the Trump campaign.  This week Trump, who was already on campaign manager number 2 (Paul Manafort), replaced Manafort with political pollster Kellyanne Conway in his latest attempt to roll-out a new and improved Donald Trump to the general electorate. There's just one problem with that: the general electorate has already met Donald J. Trump, in all of his glory.

The polls in all 50 states have reflected an unmistakable reaction to the Republican standard bearer's off-putting and strangely self-centered campaign rhetoric for the past several weeks since the RNC and DNC conventions.  Every single poll that's out there has shown that Hillary Clinton has taken a significant post-convention uptick while Trump, conversely, has taken a drastic downward spiral.  And it's not so much that Hillary is winning as it is that Trump has been losing.  He's somehow managed to alienate immigrants, Muslims, minorities, women, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, military families, college-educated voters, non-college educated voters, babies, your pet dog, etc. Name just about any demographic and chances are Trump has found a way to make them do a face palm.

Enter Kellyanne Conway.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Religious Accommodation in a Diverse Society: Is It Still Possible?

We've previously discussed religious accommodations in employment and education. It's hard to find agreement on these issues. What is important or sacred to one person may be minor, downright stupid or immoral to someone else. Even people who have otherwise supported broad religious accommodations have also recognized the danger that unlimited religious exemptions poses to many societal mores or laws. Religious freedom can't be a "I don't have to do anything you say" card. I am not religious though I mostly respect those who are. I don't think that we can make a general rule about when religious accommodations should be made. There are just too many different religions and dissimilar ways of experiencing the world. We must examine situations case by case. Most of us will probably agree that we shouldn't force people to violate their strongly held moral or religious beliefs absent an equally pressing moral claim. We can say that we won't allow religious claims to override actual physical harm to another human (but in the case of circumcision of infant boys we do just that while holding to that belief to outlaw FGM). We either don't permit or strongly discourage people of the Hindu faith from burning offerings and throwing them in the local river. The idea of "physical harm" is of course subject to our subjective ideas about damage. While I grudgingly admit that the relevant or applicable state laws might require it, my personal bias is that I am queasy at forcing an objecting photographer, painter or baker to produce goods or services for a gay wedding. I'm skeptical that the alleged harm outweighs the individual's right to expression. But religious accommodation is available to people of all faiths. Religious accommodation is not just something used by "backwards" conservative Christians to "mess with" liberals and gays. Religious accommodation is about more than gays and birth control. Some Orthodox Jews in NYC have worked it out so that some public pools are separated by gender at certain times of the day. I have a problem with this arrangement because everyone is paying taxes for this. Other Orthodox Jewish men have refused to sit next to women on airplanes. I have no sympathy for their claim. If they want to move they should do so but the woman shouldn't move nor should the plane be delayed. An Orthodox Jewish woman obtained a job offer as a 24/7 oncall data manager but only then informed her putative employer, the Dallas County Sheriff's office, that she would need to leave work before sundown on Friday. Always. Additionally she wouldn't be answering the phone or driving during the sabbath. So if there was an emergency during that time period obviously she would be unavailable. The Sheriff's office withdrew the offer and since this is America the woman sued. I don't think she should get anything because she can't fulfill the job's core requirements. Some Muslims, who are required to pray five times a day, sued their employer because they don't think the employer is making enough of an accommodation to their prayer needs. As the country becomes more diverse these problems will occur more frequently.

Music Reviews: Helen Foster: You Belong To Me

When you think of soul music, rock-n-roll, doo-wop and R&B, Nashville is probably not the first Tennessee city to come to your mind. Memphis would likely be. But mid 20th century Nashville not only had a thriving country scene but also plenty of musicians working in other styles. Most of them didn't become as well known as their Memphis counterparts but they were essential to the development of just about every form of popular music in the 20th century.

As discussed previously many of the distinctions that people make with music are often more marketing descriptions than important or rigid differences. Often a working musician had to be proficient in a wide variety of styles if he wanted to eat. For example, future music legend and jazz saxophone giant John Coltrane could be heard on a few Nashville R&B recordings, most notably Gay Crosse's and the Good Humor Six's No Better for You. Musicians have always listened to each other and been influenced by one another regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. 

Just as Whitney Houston would later have a hit with a song penned by country star Dolly Parton, R&B singer Helen Foster had an early fifties hit with the song You Belong to Me. This song was originally written by country musicians Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart with lyrics adapted from a Lousivile librarian by the name of Chilton Price. The song was a hit in the pop (white) market for singer Jo Stafford. Helen Foster redid it for the R&B (black) market. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

It's The Electoral College, Stupid

The Final Electoral Vote for 2012 - Obama: 332 - Romney: 206
As we head toward the 2016 presidential election, you've probably noticed a lot of attention placed on the national polls.  Well, actually, you've probably noticed a lot of foot-in-mouth disease from Donald Trump who seems determined now more than ever to roll out a new controversial statement about every 24 to 48 hours, but aside from that, you've probably noticed some national polls, right?  Ok then.  Well guess what?  National polls are irrelevant.  Why?  Because we don't elect the President with a national vote.  We have this thing you likely learned about during your high school civics class called the Electoral College.  It was boring then and it is boring now so I won't bog you down with the details.  There's a whole wikipedia page on it HERE if you're feeling particularly academic.  The bottom line is this: the President of the United States is actually elected by each of the 50 States on a State-by-State basis.  In other words, STATE POLLS MATTER!

One other thing you should keep in mind about the Electoral College: not all States are created equal.  What I mean by that is, some States get more votes than others.  Why is that?  Because some States have a higher population than others.  For example, a State like California has the biggest population out of all 50 States, therefore it gets the most votes for President (55 votes).  Conversely, a State like Delaware has one of the smallest populations in the country, so it only gets 3 electoral votes.  There are 538 electoral votes total; a candidate needs 270 of these (50.1% of 538) to become President.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Simpsons endorse Clinton for President

Everyone should vote for the person they find most qualified to be President. I am going to be greatly amused by the reaction of whoever loses in the fall election because both of the major party candidates are disliked and distrusted by large swaths of the voting population. No one can tell what the future holds but of late Trump has been doing everything he can to alienate not only swing voters but also some of his presumed base. It's not too late for him to turn perception around. But with The Simpsons show painting a picture of both candidates which is pretty true to life, Trump may have some difficulty breaking thru his self-built caricature as a crass loudmouth whose contempt for knowledge is only exceeded by his self-regard. Or to put it another way I found this amusing and thought you might as well.

Book Reviews: I Would Die 4 U

I Would Die 4 U
by Toure
What makes someone become a creative talent? What makes a creative person become a star? And what makes a star become a generational icon? No one really knows. Most of this sort of thing is always discussed in hindsight when everyone is always right. It obviously helps someone's chances of success to be at the right place at the right time but as others have pointed out the harder they work the luckier they seem to become. Toure tries to answer these questions about Prince (this book was published three years before Prince's death). The questions are probably a little too big for Toure or for anyone. 

Prince was notoriously uncommunicative about his private or family life. He either gave deliberate misinformation or simply refused to answer those types of questions. There are only a few times that he discussed his parents or upbringing with the media. And the target audience would have no way of knowing what was fact, what was exaggeration and what was fiction cooked up for marketing purposes. On the other hand Prince lived for music. He may have, purposely or not shared the answers to those questions in some of his songs. That's where Toure, who did get his share of interviews with the late icon, looks for meaning. Toure also looks into Prince's childhood. Toure argues that Prince's dual rejections by his mother and father left him simultaneously craving a stable family situation and utterly unable to engage in any situation where he wasn't in absolute control. Because Prince shared a broken home with millions of Gen-X children, he became an icon of that generation, or so goes Toure's argument. 

Similarly Toure posits that Prince's skin tone and occasional androgyny and cross dressing (despite an apparently fierce heterosexuality) allowed him to position himself as a rock crossover icon in a way that wasn't as easy for darker skinned or more traditionalist black male musicians in a time before rap's explosion. Prince played this up by going out of his way to have backing bands that were mixed by gender and race, something that is quite unusual even today. Prince also used the Purple Rain movie to claim that he was biracial (he wasn't). Prince didn't attend either of his parent's funerals, something which at least hints at some unresolved family issues.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Bill O'Reilly and Slavery: Slaves were well fed

We spoke earlier how some people were taken aback by Michelle Obama's reference to the fact that the White House was built in part by slaves. The First Lady contrasted that history with the observation that she and her daughters, black women, now wake up in the White House as its most important residents. Ain't America grand? This was, as far as I was concerned, an obvious, non-controversial and even somewhat trite observation. America had formal slavery until 1865.The White House was built before 1865. It would have been amazing if the White House hadn't had some sort of connection with slavery. But for one Bill O'Reilly, self-styled historian and Fox News talking head, it was important to claim that the slaves were "well-fed and had decent lodgings". Right. Let's say that a man rapes a woman. At the resulting trial he argues for leniency claiming that "Hey let's not forget that I wore a condom!" Would that matter?
Could a commandant at a German death camp circa 1945 point to decent lodgings and continual exposure to Wagner's greatest hits as under appreciated benefits for his prisoners "customers"? 
When a parent spanks their child and sanctimoniously tells them that "This hurts me more than it hurts you!" are they really telling the truth?
The answer to each of those questions is of course no. 
As a matter of historical fact slaves were not well fed and did not enjoy decent lodgings. Some of the people who were there at the time reported that the slaves didn't enjoy the finer things in life, to put it mildly. Abigail Adams, First Lady during the construction of the White House, had this to say concerning slavery
The effects of Slavery are visible every where; and I have amused myself from day to day in looking at the labour of 12 negroes from my window, who are employd with four small Horse Carts to remove some dirt in front of the house. the four carts are all loaded at the same time, and whilst four carry this rubish about half a mile, the remaining eight rest upon their Shovels, Two of our hardy N England men would do as much work in a day as the whole 12, but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, or fit for  to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast, Such is the case of many of the inhabitants of this place

ObamaCare Revisited: Premiums Go Up

Surprise, Surprise Surprise! The premiums for most 2017 ObamaCare policies will go up even higher than expected. For example some non-profit companies are considering 60% premium increases

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, which has about half the state’s exchange customers, wants to increase premiums almost 60 percent for 2017. Scott and White Health Plan wants to ratchet up premiums over 30 percent, and Cigna, 24 percent. Aetna and Oscar are planning double-digit increases, too. UnitedHealth, the country’s largest insurer, is pulling out of the exchange business in Texas and over a dozen other states. In justifying its rate increase to state regulators, the company said it paid $1.26 in claims for every $1 in premiums collected last year. For the state’s largest insurer, that resulted in a loss of $770 million in the individual marketplace. And Blue Cross is projecting another loss this year for its exchange business.

Every day there is a new story about this or that insurance company raising rates, leaving the exchanges or halting expansion plans.

Insurers want to crank up the cost of health insurance premiums by as much as 45 percent for Illinois residents who buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the most popular insurer on the state's Obamacare exchange, is proposing increases ranging from 23 percent to 45 percent in premiums for its individual health-care plans, according to proposed 2017 premiums that were made public Monday. The insurer blamed the sought-after hikes mainly on changes in the costs of medical services.

Aetna (AET) said Tuesday it is canceling plans to expand into five more states next year and will reassess its involvement in the 15 states where it currently offers coverage on the individual exchanges. Aetna -- which expects to lose $300 million (pre-tax) on its Obamacare business this year -- must conclude its review by the end of September and notify states where it intends to withdraw.
" light of updated 2016 projections for our individual products and the significant structural challenges facing the public exchanges, we intend to withdraw all of our 2017 public exchange expansion plans, and are undertaking a complete evaluation of future participation in our current 15-state footprint," said CEO Mark Bertolini in a second-quarter earnings statement.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trump Hits All New Low...Even For Him

"There have been Republican presidents with whom I disagreed with but I didn't have a doubt that they could function as president. I think I was right and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues but I never thought that they couldn't do the job. And had they won, I would have been disappointed but I would have said to all Americans: 'this is our president, and I know they're going to abide by certain norms and rules and common sense, will observe basic decency, will have enough knowledge about economic policy and foreign policy and our constitutional traditions and rule of law, that our government will work and that we'll compete four yeas from now to try to win an election.' But that's not the situation here. And that's not just my opinion, that is the opinion of many prominent Republicans. There has to be a point at which you say 'enough.' And the alternative is that the entire Republican party endorses and validates the positions that are being articulated by Mr. Trump." - The President of the United States, August 2, 2016

This latest observation by the President is in direct response to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's attack against the Muslim parents of an Army Captain who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.  This has brought about a whole slew of denouncements from both Democrats and Republicans who all agree that while there may not be too many things that are out of bounds during this election season, attacking the parents of dead soldiers is one of them.  Journalist Ezra Klein captures the reason why this is problematic here: