Health care reform still not quite there or prehaps even close:

•February 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

med bills 1

Recently a friend of mine experienced the pain and discomfort from a back injury.  Actually the injury occurred several months ago and since then he has been to several doctors, had a MRI, along with a few x-rays.  As of today he is not sure what is wrong with his back or if anything can be done to ease his pain.  He is stretching and doing exercises to help control the pain but is still not back to his normal active self.

Now enter, the healthcare system.  During his last trip to the doctor he was informed that the first MRI did not extend low enough to observe the problem.  I don’t know, dear reader if you have ever had an MRI, but they are terribly expensive in this country. So, he was instructed to have an additional MRI done.  After scheduling it at Hampshire Memorial Hospital, he received a phone call from his insurance company informing him that if he had the MRI done at Hampshire, which is part of the Valley HealthCare System, it would cost him close to $800 out-of-pocket; but if he was willing to drive an hour to Berkley Springs Memorial Hospital, (which is part of WV University Healthcare) then it would cost him less than $200 out-of-pocket. Valley Healthcare as well as WV University Healthcare are very large and ever-expanding mega-healthcare systems.

med bill 2

Now, I want to make sure you understand what I am getting at.  If my friend is willing to drive an hour to another hospital rather than use the hospital right down the street, he can save almost $600. He chose to drive an hour.  The question here is: why?  Why would one hospital work well with an insurance company and the other would not?  I assume the equipment costs are similar.  Their operating cost should be similar as well, so what is the reason for this huge difference in out-of-pocket expense?  Get ready for this! I was told by one individual that Hampshire Memorial Hospital was owned by an out-of-state company and the Berkley Springs hospital was owned by an in-state company.  The obvious question here is, why does that matter?  I have watched TV shows that explored this phenomenon of variations in cost, but never actually saw it in real life.  Stated another way, we need to shop around for a hospital system that charges more consistent reasonable rates.  This is rather bizarre if you think about it enough, but we never discuss money with a doctor when we have something done medical.  It is not in our culture customary to ask the hospital or the doctor how much a procedure will cost, so we just pay, along with the insurance company, whatever they ask.

To sum up, my advice is to shop around.  Ask the hospital what a procedure costs.  Ask the doctor that same question.  Talk to your insurance company as well about different cost options. As usual, you are the only one watching out for you!

This may seem harsh, but S#%@ happens

•January 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment



Several months ago I was listening to the radio while the announcer talked about the German pilot who crashed a passenger plane into the Himalayan Mountains.  Before the evidence was even collected or the facts of the case exposed, the announcer was discussing additional rules regarding the selection process of commercial pilots.  There is little doubt that what happened was a terrible event and should be avoided at all cost, but I wonder when we will reach the number of rules needed to protect us against  the random craziness of individuals.  I find it hard to believe that the German airline, as well as any airline, does not spend considerable time vetting its potential pilots.  In today’s world with unfettered access to the internet it has become much easier to determine if a person has prior episodes that would determine the applicant unsuitable for a position.  That said, we as a society continue to create additional measures to attempt to decide if a person is suitable for a position.

I can mention several situations that might call out for additional rules to further vet applicants.  What about teachers who take advantage of their students in sexual ways?  How about the Catholic priests who take advantage of the young boys?   Remember the Air Force officer with a psychiatric degree that gunned down several people on a military base.  He was supposed to help to avoid that type of situation!  Are you seeing a pattern here yet?  I could go on for several pages.  Our society has become extremely complex and difficult to manage.  Couple this with the fact that there are lots of people out there who are not playing with a full deck of cards.  In today’s world we look at everyone with a suspicious eye.  We trust no one, yet somehow a small number of deranged people end up in situations where they can cause considerable mayhem!

So, I have stated the problem, what is the answer?  How do we monitor every person in every situation and avoid these kind of crazy violent actions?  Maybe the answer is, “we don’t or we can’t.”  Maybe, when you have millions of people living in close proximity in a stressful environment, a statistically small number of people leave the real world behind and perform reprehensible acts.  Maybe this is the price we pay for the society we have evolved into!  I am certain that this is not the answer that most of us want to hear, but it may be the reality of the situation.

The cavemen were constantly faced with the potential for their life or a family members’ life to be taken at any given second.  Could this be our cross to bear?  Is this nature’s way of keeping us on our toes?  Like I said before, maybe this is the result of an overcrowded environment.  Several decades ago a group of scientists placed a small colony of rats in an environment with enough food to support the existing population.  The population remained relatively constant and the rats behaved in a normal rat-like way.  As a comparison, they took another group of rats and placed them in a similar environment but fed them as much food and water as they wanted.  The population of the community began to grow until it was severely overcrowded.  As the community of rats grew, the rats began to behave in bizarre ways, exhibiting destructive human behaviors seen in many parts of society today, such as rape and brutal attacks on their fellow rat. So, just how different are we from the community of rats?  Probably not that different if my logic is sound.  Maybe we are just rats in a maze and maybe it’s a little too crowded.

rats 2

Bright Star by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, a must see!

•January 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment


On Tuesday night, my friend and I attended the show, Bright Star at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.  The show will only be there until January 10th,  so it may be difficult to see it there, but you should make it a point to see this amazing play sometime in your near future!  The plot twist and turns with beautiful mountain music and terrific voices.  At points in the play I cried, I laughed and became angry.  The story was written by comedian/musician Steve Martin. Edie Brickell and Steve produced the music. Do yourself a favor and see this play, you will not regret it!


Was Jesus a Democrat or a Republican?

•December 24, 2015 • 2 Comments



What would Jesus do? This is the focus of this article. I listen to so many folk spouting Christian doctrine and using it to support their individual causes and beliefs, so it has become apparent to me that Jesus may not have at all approved of some of the ways he is used to defend their point of view. Probably tops on my complaint list is the pointless killing of other people. Our propensity for war is, with few exceptions, rarely justifiable and quite insane! The number of wars over the last 1000 years is obscenely high. The number of humans killed in combat is likely equal to a surprisingly large percentage of the current population of the earth! The quote cited below appeared in the New York Times:

“At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century. Estimates for the total number killed in wars
throughout all of human history range from 150 million to 1 billion. War has several other effects on population, including
decreasing the birthrate by taking men away from their wives.  Jul 6, 2003.”
Assuming all these people reproduced, it would be hard to even guess what the current population of our planet would be otherwise. So, in a sense, war has been a form of population control. That strikes me as very sad and cynical. Additionally, ‘going to war for Jesus’ or killing people in a Planned Parenthood facility is not something I think Jesus would approve. Not to forget, it is pretty obvious that the number of children that survived childhood in the past was extremely small; I doubt that Jesus ever thought about the current issue of over-population on planet earth. I believe Jesus was a left-wing, tree hugging, anti-gun, liberal pacifist, and under no circumstance would have taken another’s life. I am pretty sure he also was against accumulating large amounts of natural resources and wealth like many of the mega-churches do today. His disciples were very poor and little interested in monetary gain or status.
Recently there have been numerous books describing Jesus’ potential return to earth. In most of these novels, Jesus is quite disappointed over the current state of religion. All joking aside, if we are his chosen people, he has to be wondering why he chose us; we are destructive, mean, ruthless, bellicose and generally paranoid about anything we consider alien. We even fight over the color of a person’s skin! We are destroying our beautiful planet at a pace some think is breathtaking! Yes, sometimes we show compassion and caring for our fellow beings, but that usually occurs when they have been subjugated by another group of humans or nature’s fury. Maybe it is something like rooting for the underdog. If we see someone being beat up by others or blasted by nature’s relentless show of force, we step in to help out. I am not sure why; maybe we are thinking into the future where we might possibly need some help.
So anyway, Jesus, what would you say about the current human condition on planet earth if you were to visit us? I can not believe it would be good.

Come sing a long

•December 11, 2015 • 2 Comments
The DIng-a-Lings

The Ding-a-Lings.  Steve Bailes, John Hott and Charlie Streisel


I got this crazy idea that people might enjoy singing Christmas songs out in front of the courthouse, right in the middle of Romney, WV.

So,  I gathered some friends, dusted off my guitar and we have been practicing whenever we can so we can create some Christmas cheer!

On December 21st at 7 pm on the courthouse steps you, yes you…can come sing with us as we celebrate community and friends right in the middle of

Romney.  Hope to see you there!

A Christmas story told again and again and….

•December 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment


This is one of my favorite stories and it helps me remember what Christmas is really about. If you read it last year or the year before, read it again and if you are new to my blog, I hope you enjoy this touching story. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! You can find Naotaka Maehara on Facebook. Maybe someday parents will sit around the fire and read this to there children…or maybe not…

Naotaka Maehara arriving in Augusta

The other day my friend Steve Bailes called me up to ask if I would be interested in housing a young man from Japan for the evening. He is riding his bike across America, having left from Vancouver 70 days ago. He was coming from Clarksburg and would arrive on Saturday if things worked out. I agreed, and contacted Nao (pronounced NOW which is short for Naotaka Maehara) by email to invited him to stay with us for the evening. He replied that he would like to stay with us Saturday evening. The next two days were interesting as I stayed in contact as much as possible via e-mail. If you remember, this past Wednesday and Thursday we experienced our first major snow fall of the season so Nao was right in the middle of it with the continental divide directly in front of him. To make a long, involved story shorter, he made it across the mountains to our home by 4pm on Saturday. I quickly suggested he take a bath to get warm. He agreed and headed for the bathroom. About an hour later he emerged, hungry, relaxed and anxious to get to know us. Steve had asked if he could come over and meet Nao so I suggested that we do dinner ; at about 6pm Steve and Terry arrived. It was one of those magical evenings that happen so rarely. We talked, exchanged stories and ate until we were ready to pop. Nao turned out to be charming, pleasant and a very gracious guest. I will remember the evening for a long time. With my fading memory that could be months from now. After dinner, us guys went down stairs to give Nao’s bike some tender loving care, which it needed badly. We reattached the front racks, cleaned and oiled the chain, pumped up the tires, and gave it a quick inspection. Later Nao and I went upstairs to spend almost two hours planning his route to New York City. He was ready for his journey to continue in the morning. After I went to bed, Sue stayed up until midnight talking with Nao about who knows what.

Resting after dinner

Relaxing after dinner

The morning came; Nao had several bowls of cereal and began to ready himself and his bike for his journey to New York City where he was scheduled to arrive on December 23. We created a Skype connection so that he could contact us with his computer, if needed. Shortly thereafter, Nao headed down the driveway.

After Nao had left, we found a note in his bedroom. In the note was a twenty-dollar bill. At first I considered getting in the car and catching him to give back the money but after reading the note I decided not to. This is written in Nao’s own words. He has only been learning English for three years. I’m impressed!

“I met woman in that time. (before he met us) She listened my serious talking and gave this $20 to me. She gave money and I received money. And also I received her kindness. She said, “I can’t help you now, but use this money and stay in hotel. I want you guys receive this $20. I mean it is not a staying fee, it means a woman’s kindness.”

I will keep this twenty and pass it forward when the time comes. Experiences like this one only intensify my belief that life is about the people you meet and the memories you take from those meeting. My only hope is that someday I will get to see Nao again!

What is wrong with America?

•December 1, 2015 • 3 Comments


When I meet people from other parts of the world, I often ask them, “What do you believe is wrong with America?”  I get different answers, but the answer that has impacted my thinking mostly is the one I received from my new friend from Australia;  not just because it was right on the money, but its grand simplicity at addressing our core issues.  Before I tell you what he said, I want you to consider some of the nightmarish things that go on in our great and prosperous land.  Take the recent events that are transpiring in Baltimore, Maryland where groups have taken to the streets, vandalizing, stealing and threatening the very fabric of the city.  This has occurred supposedly because a black man was killed in transport to a police station.  Since a large part of the Baltimore police force and administration is black, I think this falls outside the scope of racism and is a much more deep-seated problem in our inner cities.  If this occurred as reported and the police were responsible for this death, there should be prompt and serious action taken against these officers.  There is little doubt, based on recent videos and accounts, that many of our police departments have small rogue elements who are capable of all kinds of barbaric behavior.  In Baltimore it began as a peaceful protest, but our press wanted little to do with such a non-spectacular event.  This is when it gets very interesting.  The angry, poor and unemployed decided that this would be a great opportunity to act out and maybe get a new TV or just have some anger-induced fun!  These are not people with jobs and fulfilled lives but people who have lost hope in the system that has poorly educated them and so, given them little hope for the future and generally subjugated them to a life of getting high and selling drugs for a living.  People with decent jobs and families are generally not out on the streets causing mayhem, but people who have lost hope are screaming loudly in the only way they know that their life in America’s inner cities suck!

Now consider the folks in our country who are trying to survive with a job at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s on a meager wage that provides only a modicum of what it takes to live a respectable life in this wealthy country.  Try to raise kids, have a home, pay the heat bill, buy food, service a car, see the doctor when needed on a salary that amounts to as little as $14,000 a year.  There is no doubt that we as a nation spend countless billions of dollars on programs to help people struggling to survive, but the results of these programs are difficult to assess accurately and spread thinly over a large range of problems.  Somehow, we as a people must find a way to allow all to have dignity and self-respect. No longer can we allow more and more people to “fall through the cracks” and become less likely to be a useful member of society.  If we do not change our ways, Baltimore and Ferguson will become the norm is this country.  Inner city riots will be routine events. Eventually the media will lose interest and riots will become a small byline, but the riots will escalate until someone in power listens and is willing to do something about it, or the problem will migrate from our the cities to our gated communities that the rich believe offers them a sanctuary from civil disturbance.
So, what is wrong with America? As my new friend said to me in his Aussie way, “You folks don’t take care of one another.”  When he said this, I sat there for a few moments taking in the grandiosity of his simple statement.  Isn’t that what the bible says in Matthew in 22:39?- “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Aren’t all men our neighbors in the eyes of God?  So, what is wrong with our country?  The answer is right in front of us if we could only open our eyes to see that we need to start caring for all people.  Thanks, Gerry, for the incredible insight!





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