Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gunplay at San Francisco

My grandfather, James A. Cowsill, Sr., was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1883.  A few years later, he and his family moved to Washington, DC.  Shortly after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he came to California to work as a bricklayer. 

My cousin came across this newspaper article from 1909, featuring some fun he had during his bachelor days.

He married my grandmother in 1913 and reformed his wild ways.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Left Too Long

Three factors have to be considered in establishing a national health care plan: (1) Who is to be covered; (2) The quality of care; (3) Cost.  Unfortunately, as (1) and (2) increase, so does (3).  The U. S. is now faced with a difficult debate about quality of health care, coverage, and cost, at a time when the percentage of seniors (who consume a majority of services) is rising.  They have left it too long.

Fortunately for Canada, some of the contentious issues were decided forty years ago.  It has universal health care coverage for illness and injury, and participation is mandatory.  It is not faced with the dilemma of having 15% of the population without coverage. The young pay premiums, thereby effectively subsidizing the more expensive costs of seniors; and issues such as pre-existing conditions don't arise.

Extending coverage to previously uninsured in the U. S. increases costs.  For those who choose not to insure until they have a medical problem, the cost can be prohibitive; and to provide them with the same cost coverage as those who have always carried insurance, unfairly increases the cost for the latter.  In an aging population, the outlook is unpleasant.  Therefore, the new health care legislation made private health insurance mandatory.

Of course, people don't like to be told what to do, particularly when it means higher costs.  But you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

It's possible that health care costs might be reduced.  Many of the tasks performed by doctors; e. g., vaccinations, prescription renewals, review of routine medical tests, and physical exams, might be conducted by lesser trained health care practitioners.  However, the number of procedures requiring high-trained specialists will probably grow.

The best choice for the U. S. would be to have a public option to private insurance, with assistance for low-income persons.   The plan should be mandatory and tax-deductible, leveling the burden, making coverage universal, and eliminating the issue of pre-existing conditions.  Unfortunately, it looks like the disagreements will go on and on, given the number of competing interests, and the ability of these interests to promote dissent, rather than to resolve it.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

You Remember Some Things

To quote Forrest Gump, "It's funny how you remember some things, but some things you can't".  Some things that you do remember are assassinations of prominent persons.  I'll probably remember the shooting in Tucson this past weekend and the circumstances surrounding it.

In October 1963, U. N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was jeered, spit upon, and hit by a sign during  a United Nations Day speech in Dallas, Texas.  A few weeks later, President Kennedy visited Dallas in an attempt to improve his popularity in the state.

I was at UCLA at the time, and we wondered how the President would be received in Dallas.  At about 9:30 am, I was listening to a lecture in American Literature on "The Great Gatsby".  The discussion turned to the sacrifices that persons in public office sometimes make, at great cost to themselves and their families.   When I got back to my fraternity house at 10:00 am, Lowell Hahn came in and said, "Did you hear the news. Kennedy's been shot".  We didn't believe him; it was Lowell's idea of a joke.  Then Al Bock came downstairs with a radio, and said, "He's dead".  The University closed; we were left to reflect.

On the afternoon of April 4, 1968, I was working at Southern Pacific Railroad at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco.  Sometime in the early afternoon, word came that Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis.  A little later, someone said that a riot had started up Market Street and was moving towards us.  Most of the office left.  At 5:00 pm, however, I found it normal on the street.  I wondered if there would be trouble in Oakland, a largely black neighborhood that the bus passed through on my way home to Berkeley.  Again, nothing.

When I walked into my apartment, my roommate said, "He's dead".  I took the letter that I had written to my draft board two days earlier, expressing my opinion about the war and the draft, but which I had been undecided about posting, and put it in the mailbox.  A small protest.  The next day, of course, much larger protests took place across the country.

Two months later, June 4, 1968, I voted in the California Democratic primary between Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.  I had voted for McCarthy, but also supported Kennedy.  A year earlier, I had shook Kennedy's hand during a rally, but had been a little disappointed with his speech, in which he only promised "to do better" in Vietnam.  Gene McCarthy seemed  less equivocal.  I watched Kennedy give his victory speech in Los Angeles around midnight, got ready for bed, when shouting broke out, "The Senator has been shot".  For a few moments, it wasn't clear which Senator they meant.  Two days later, Robert Kennedy died in hospital.

As with the assassination attempt in Tucson, political feelings were running high in the 1960's.  Issues of civil rights, war, free speech, and role of government divided the U. S. left and right. These events tend to leave their marks on the public psyche.  In most instances, these and those which followed, the perpetrator was a young male, alienated, angry, confused, lashing out against his circumstances. Unfortunately, he may sometimes have been set off by the rhetoric and bombast of others.  You wonder if we ever move forward.  

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Day

We all had a very enjoyable New Year's Day with four generations.  Vera said she liked the time with her great grandchildren as much as or more than Christmas.

Given that the children are young, they are very well-behaved.  The parents do an excellent job with them; much more patient than my own upbringing.  I have a pretty strong sense of right and wrong, so the possibility of my correcting them always looms.

Christmas Dinner at Grandma's 1948
The four-year-old climbed on the sofa and knocked a picture off the wall.  I told him firmly to get down, and he went off and pouted with hurt feelings for a time.  Fortunately, his parents didn't rescue him, and after awhile he returned to the group and we reconciled.

Sometimes I ignore boorish behaviour; sometimes not.  A few years ago, I told the grandson not to suck his food off the plate and to use a knife and fork.  He was surprised, but did what I asked.  He still wears his cap in the house, even to the dinner table.  I just absorb this, since no one else seems to notice.

On some occasions, such as Christmas, I also absorb cigarette smoking in the house.  The offenders know well my attitude, but apparently assume that they are safe in the circumstances.

The grandson's girlfriend didn't appear for either Christmas or New Year's Day.  This is sad, because she misses sharing the occasion with her son, but all we can do is invite her and see what happens.    

The holidays were a big success.  We escaped healthy, a few pounds heavier, and resolved to accomplish a few things in the new year that we put off in the old.