Archive for December, 2009

Christmas Hygiene

“What do you want for Christmas, Dad? Maybe some floss or something?”

“Some what?!?” I asked, hoping that I had misheard him. Surely I’ve shown him higher hopes and deeper desires than dental floss during his six years of life. On the other hand, I am the son of a man who has received Aqua Velva for a record 38 consecutive Christmases.

Turns out I had heard my firstborn right. He actually asked me if I wanted floss for Christmas. Woe is me. My progeny either thinks I am a mind-numbing bore or that I have really bad teeth. Or worse: both.

Later that day, I took him and his brother to a heartwarming holiday classic in the league of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. A story of hygiene-less rugrats who commandeer a timeless Christmas tradition: Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We saw the play at Magik Theater in downtown San Antonio.

For review, the Herdmans are a ragtag, uncouth, welfare-receiving bunch of bullying boys and girls. While their parents are nearly non-existent, their social worker is virtually ever-present, trying to bring order to chaos.

When Leroy Herdman is tipped off that Twinkies are served at Sunday School, the straggly siblings find their religion, of sorts. At least enough to show up for the annual church Christmas pageant auditions.

After intimidating past stars into relinquishing their roles, the Herdmans secure lead parts. Ralph is Joseph. Imogene plays Mary. Gladys gets her wings as first angel.

The church is appalled. How could such riffraff be let into God’s house to perform God’s sacred nativity? Mary and Joseph will look like refugees. No one will come to the pageant.

Everyone came to the pageant – to see what the Herdmans would do.

While clearly comical, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever resembles Christ’s redemption of a messy world. Some of us think we are star performers who deserve the prestigious perennial parts we play. In reality we are Herdmans of sheep without a shepherd, simply searching for a meaningful place in a confusing world.

Then, in the midst of our self-serving, our wandering, our posing, we are swept up into the unlikely story of Christmas. Like Imogene (a.k.a. Mary) Herdman, we find ourselves crying and clinging to the blanketed savior of the world. His humility overpowers our arrogance. His future overshadows our past.

And we give all we have to give. In “wise man” Leroy Herdman’s case, a canned ham out of the family’s welfare food box. Next to God’s treasures, our gifts are equally useless. Nevertheless, a miracle of Christmas: God still wants them – and us – bad teeth and all.

Neither Imogene’s hygiene nor Leroy’s clean corduroys made either acceptable to a flawless Creator. The Herdmans merely opened their hearts to the everlasting Bread of Life, the best Christmas gift ever, stumbled upon while seeking a temporal Twinkie.

Taking on Trial Lawyers

How should I feel that a key Senate shepherd of monumental Democratic health care legislation recommended his girlfriend for a top job at the U.S. Department of Justice?

Perhaps I’m already jaded that the 68-year-old senior Senator from Montana has a live-in girlfriend or that he divorced his wife of 26 years shortly before he and his girlfriend itemized.

Regardless, it doesn’t make me confident in Max Baucus’ ability to craft historic legislation impartially. If he recommends girlfriends for jobs without disclosure, does he also give preferential status to industry players sympathetic to his campaign coffers?

Take trial lawyers, for example. Of the winners in the health care reform process to date, they must be near the top.

Besides a toothless measure in the House version to promote incremental malpractice system reform (the measure prohibits limits on jury awards and attorney fees), no significant tort reform can be found in the current bills. This, when the President himself acknowledged the need for reform in his September speech to Congress.

Baucus even once floated the idea of special health courts designed to resolve medical claims more efficiently and cheaply. The President and other Democrats like Senator Baucus may believe in the need to limit lawsuits from driving up medical costs, but their faith thus far hasn’t surpassed their fear of the plaintiffs’ bar.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean put it bluntly, “The reason that tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers…” And why? Because the trial lawyers give big money to Democrats, big money they earn, no, get, from going after those with deep pockets, such as doctors.

Texas is proof positive that lawsuit reform works. In 2003, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature passed monetary caps on the amount of non-quantifiable, punitive damages (e.g., pain and suffering) that a medical provider should have to pay in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Since then, according to the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, the volume of malpractice lawsuits has dropped, as have direct liability insurance costs. A less quantifiable, but no less real number is the amount of indirect costs saved: the tests and treatments physicians would otherwise order to protect themselves from lawsuits, a process loosely called CYA (cover your analysis).

Lawsuit reform has increased the number of doctors in Texas and the newcomers haven’t been rogue residents from America’s backwoods. The Texas Association for Patient Access (TAPA) asserts that less than one-half of one percent of the 16,000 doctors who have relocated to Texas since 2003 have been subject to disciplinary action.

Prior to 2003, OB-GYNs were less common in the Rio Grande Valley than snowfall. Today, according to TAPA, there’s not a single OB opening in any of Christus Health Care System’s South Texas clinics.

The Democrats should not fear betraying the plaintiffs’ attorneys now. The socialized health care system they are leading us toward will betray them soon enough. Once the wealth in doctors’ so-called deep pockets gets spread around and medicine becomes just another moderately paying bureaucratic service, the lawyers will have little left to sue.

Faith on the Field

One second remained on the clock in the 2009 Big 12 Football Championship on December 5, in Arlington, TX.  The Texas Longhorns trailed by two. Their senior placekicker, Hunter Lawrence, took the field to attempt what remarkably would be his first last-second field goal attempt in an otherwise accomplished college kicking career.

Nebraska gave him a timeout to ponder the implications of the kick. The third-ranked Longhorns had been 14 point overdogs against the Cornhuskers. They shouldn’t have been within two touchdowns, much less trailing by two points.

The Heisman trophy hopes of Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy hung in the balance. So did an undefeated season; a Big 12 Championship; and a sojourn to sunny Southern California for a BCS National Championship matchup against top-ranked Alabama. Not to mention the burnt orange admiration of the two boys I tuck into bed each night.

(When our favorite NFL team started the season 0–6, my 3-year-old asked for help replacing his Tennessee Titan jersey with his Texas jersey because “the Longhorns are very better.”)

Under the bright lights of the $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, Mr. Lawrence prepared to kick a potential game- (and season- and career-) winning walk-off 46 yarder.

As he did, teammate and holder, third team All-American wide receiver Jordan Shipley, whispered something into his ear. Not “get it up quick” or “you can do it” but an obscure Old Testament scripture.

Jeremiah 17:7 – “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.”

Moments later, Lawrence’s kick sailed just inside the left upright. Pandemonium ensued. Mack Brown’s troops stepped back from the brink to play another day. And at least a couple of Longhorns remembered that life is bigger than football.

Quoting scripture doesn’t guarantee on-field victories. Just ask Florida quarterback Tim Tebow whose Gators fell that same Saturday like a ripe orange in the hot summer sun.

But it does remind the gridiron warrior that a certain battle’s already been won. That games are about having fun. That sports are about building character – character for things that really matter like honoring a spouse, raising kids, contributing to a community. Sports are a means, not the end.

Recently, living golf legend Tiger Woods revealed that his sport had become the end. He sadly self-destructed before our very endearing eyes. Perhaps he should hire Jordan Shipley as his caddy in a round of life. He whispers really good reminders in pressure situations.

In Desperate Need of Exercise

A politician quipped over the weekend: “The American population is like an NFL football game: 22 people on the field in desperate need of rest; 70,000 people in the stands in desperate need of exercise.”

In our illness-based system, eighty percent of health care spending is on chronic diseases, he noted, while endorsing a wellness-based system that prioritizes prevention.

The politician spoke as “health care reform” barreled through the Senate like a basket of linens through a hospital corridor. Just 2,074 pages and $848 billion of government meddling in a $2.5 trillion industry.

I’m not opposed to all government meddling in pursuit of health. I’d support meddling that shuttered high-fat fast food restaurants, subsidized gym memberships or taxed the high fructose corn syrup out of soft drinks.

Senate leaders claim their meddling will extract $436 billion in Medicare savings. If that feat is truly possible, can they not just do it without a trillion dollar spending bill?

And if big government is so equipped to manage the health care of millions more Americans, why are there $436 billion in Medicare inefficiencies to begin with? Why have CBS’ 60 Minutes and others exposed billions in Medicare fraud?

The Senate bill’s proponents call the measure justice for the uninsured. Smells more like generational theft to me.

Truth is, no level of Congressional spending or bureaucratic attempts at cost-control can hold a candle to old-fashioned, fruit of the Spirit self-control. No amount of health insurance will necessarily make people healthier.

More times than not, health is a choice, and poor choices lead to poor health. A short walk through any given hospital reveals the predominant correlation between obesity and malady.

I’m no model of self-control. Heaven knows I’ve had my fair share of bedtime Blue Bell bowls. But I did cut my cable TV subscription instead of my YMCA membership during the Great Family Budget Cuts of 2009.

And if those cuts had eliminated my family’s $10-per-day health insurance premium, a network of government safety nets already exists to protect the needy.

We have Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the impoverished, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for kids up 200% of the federal poverty level, the VA for veterans.

Speaking of the VA, former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean upholds it as a working reason for a socialized universal system. He forgets that VA health care is a great reward for great sacrifices made. It’s a wise investment made by the taxpaying American public to encourage service to one’s country.

On second thought, perhaps the VA is the solution for the uninsured: If you’re too poor for private insurance but too rich for Medicaid, join the armed forces and you’ll get the best health care available. Of course, you may have to pass a fitness test to get in.

So, who was the quipping politician that compared most Americans to unexercised bleacher creatures? Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, author of Quit Digging Your Grave With A Knife and Fork and shedder of more than 100 lbs. of excess baggage.

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