Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why are there no pictures of the Covid front lines? Trump admin suppression or something else? Maybe both.

The article appeared yesterday on a website called The Intercept. Its headline breathlessly proclaimed the conclusion: How the Trump Administration suppressed photography of the pandemic. The facts in the article are slightly more complex.

On May 5, Roger Severino is the director of the Office for Civil rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, issued guidelines advising that it’s not sufficient for media or film crews to film patients even if they mask the patients’ identity. This presumably includes still photography. The prohibition is waived if each patient provides authorization first.

In other words, if you want to photograph an overwhelmed ICU, you must first get a signed HIPAA waiver from every patient in that ICU and you must also get them from anyone else whose Protected Health Information could be revealed. The implication is that the Trump administration is suppressing coverage of the pandemic at its ground zero–hospitals where the patients are suffering and dying.

Its case would be stronger if there were some internal communication that showed HHS specifically stating an intention to suppress coverage. It does not satisfy the headline’s statement that the Trump administration is suppressing media coverage. That doesn’t mean its not. Donald Trump’s disdain for any media coverage that doesn’t incessantly fawn over him is well-known.

The article points to a reality show called NY Med, starring Dr. Mehmet Oz, that showed a blurred-out patient in the emergency room who later died. The family later recognized his voice. The hospital, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, was later fined $2.2 million. By 2016, HHS had put the guidelines in place that Severino confirmed in his May 5 guidelines. But it dismisses this case because the images were shown on a reality, show, not news coverage.

The Intercept re-enforces that distinction, asserting that journalist tend to be more responsible than Dr. Oz and company. It says that the Trump administration, through Severino’s guidance, is suppressing coverage that would make the administration look bad and change the public attitude toward how we handle Covid-19.

The article then quotes a number of medical personnel who want the pictures and the story out there. Given the stories of people dying of Covid while denying its existence, that makes sense.

The articles also points out the risk involved with potential for liability involving leaks of personal data. Anyone advising hospitals around risk would be hard pressed to allow that level of risk. By relaxing the guidelines, Mr. Severino could presumably reduce that risk, by making hospitals less responsible for sanctions should a breach occur.

There’s no question that pictures of the suffering from inside hospitals would add emotional impact to the stories of what happens. Most of the images so far have been of exhausted medical personnel with mask lines imprinted on their faces from wearing them while they worked.

But the concern over patient privacy isn’t trivial, either. No one knows what the long-term impact of Covid cases may be. It’s possible (not necessarily likely) that in a few years, residual effects of the disease could make a Covid patient less attractive as an employee. If that happens, and if information leaked through that could identify someone who was suffering in an ICU, that would harm that patient and create a liability for any facility that allowed that information out, innocuous as it might be.

As much as Dr. Oz slinking around ERs in New York City looking for real tragedy to make money on seems distasteful, given 2012 guidelines, blurring a patient but not masking his voice might seem reasonable. However, it caused pain for his family and cost the hospital more than $2 million.

And when this gets sorted out, there are any number of personal injury attorneys who’ll broadcast their selfless mission in life to fight for your rights at your most (tears forming now) desperate hour.

While it’s possible (maybe even likely) that the administration is trying to limit coverage, the article doesn’t fully make the required connection. And you can’t just wipe away privacy concerns with the assertion that most media would handle things responsibly–especially considering that the media is not covered by HIPAA, but the care facilities are.

It’s a hard job being center of the universe. I quit (I hope).

I apologized to my wife the other day because my preparation for Christmas this year has been lacking. She said that was okay, as she does far too often, and that there are reasons for my lack of Christmassy spirit.

For most of us, it hasn’t been a great year. Individually, we’ve been through a traumatic set of events, some a lot more than others.

Looking back, though, I’m seeing a place where I can improve–and that’s to realize that it’s not about me. So I’m gonna jump the gun on the new-year new-me crap by a few days and make my first new year’s resolution. My resolution to make things better for me in my new year is for 2021 to not be about me.

Oh, it’s time, baby.

Tough things will happen in the next 365 days. For one thing, the Jets will play around 18 more games–and will likely be bad enough to be horrible, but not quite bad enough to get that game-changing first round draft pick. For another, there are several more months coming up where I’m likely to not leave home very much.

But it’ll be bad for everyone, at least for a while. I have a home to not leave. I have a job to get irritated about. I have several functional computers and high-speed internet. I’m better off than the vast majority of the world, so I need to be grateful for that–beyond just picking something to post about for gratitude each day on Facebook.

More than that, I need to accept that there will be bad things, horrible days. That some nights, I’ll just crash on the couch and vegetate. That’s okay.

But as the year dawns, I want to stop thinking and worrying about things affect me first, before considering other things.

It started when I got pissed off about masks again a couple of days ago. I’ve become, at least in my mind, the mask police. I take note. I keep a running total in my head of the number of frigging idiots not wearing a mask and the number of colossal morons not covering their noses. I’ve cited violators with a haughty glare and, a few times, a cutting remark.

IT GOES. OVER. YOUR. NOSE! What kind of mask police are you?

And they don’t care. They go on their way while I fume.

Phil doesn’t care that I’m annoyed because he’s not wearing a mask.

No more. I can wear my mask and take note of dangerous situations. I can stay in more. What I can’t do is make them do what I want. So I stopped trying. And it felt good.

It’s a model I want to try across the board. If bad things happen to me, then I can react, but the reaction will be geared toward acceptance and moving forward, not on the misjustice being applied to me.

If I can accomplish this challenge, 2021 will be better already, because I won’t have the weight of making it about me.

Say, uhh, Chris, for a guy not making it about himself, there’s a lot of first-person pronouns there.

Yes. Yes, there are. I can decide for me. But part of this process is letting go of what you do. Irony of ironies, the decision to be less about myself is something I have to do. It starts with a decision about myself to not make it all about me. These first-person pronouns will preventing me from some of the first-person pronouns I use in the future.

It’ll be hard. The last <mumble mumble> years have been about me. There are deeply ingrained thought processes to change.

I hope I can do it.

One good thing: woman vows to get even with cheating fiance, finds purpose

Her name is Christina Bautista, and she went from 300 pounds, thinking poorly of herself, to someone who did a mess of work and found purpose in her life. At first she wanted to get even with her cheatin’ bastard fiance. But it turned into so much more than that.

Read more here.

(Side note: This isn’t fat shaming. It doesn’t have to be running or weight loss, but you’re worth the hard things.)

Yes, you should get the vaccine. But you’re right to have concerns about arbitrary government directives

Michael Jackson is both dead and a zombie. He’s behind me in line twice.

Full disclosure: According to the New York Times, the only people behind me to get the Covid vaccine are dead people and zombies. But I intend to get it, even if it makes me feel crappy for a few days.

When a bill is introduced in a state legislature, it means that one member of that legislature thought something would be a good idea. It doesn’t even mean they think the bill would, or even should pass. So when I read that New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill that would allow the state health department to mandate Covid vaccination under certain circumstances, I wasn’t that concerned.

The bill, Assembly Bill A11179 says that if not enough people take the vaccine to create herd immunity, then the Health Department can mandate vaccination to anyone who can safely receive the vaccine. The bill doesn’t currently have a Senate companion and was referred to the Health Committee last Friday.

The bill provides broad leeway to the Health Department to determine the threshold needed for herd immunity and to define who can safely receive the vaccine.

It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if the bill got a Senate counterpart and became law. We can cross the bridge if we get to it.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Medicines and Healthy Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued advice against vaccinating anyone with a history of significant allergic reaction to medicines, foods, or vaccines. It also said that vaccinations should only occur in facilities that have resuscitation equipment. These actions were taken after two people who receive the Pfizer vaccine were treated for anaphylactoid reaction.

Anytime you give anything to hundreds of millions of people, someone’s bound to have a reaction to it. The two people in the UK won’t be the last. And that, in itself, isn’t a reason to not take the vaccine. For the overwhelming majority, the side-effects will be minimal. Two cases in the UK should not be used as an excuse to not get the vaccine.

This might be one of those cases where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.

And the bill in the NYS legislature needs to have a Senate companion, then pass and get signed (I’m not betting against that). The bill even makes sense against the rising tide of anti-vaxxers. We can’t beat the Covid if a certain percentage of people refuse to take the vaccine because of the secret Bill Gates nanobots that wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex, rendering the victim extremely susceptible to suggestion.

If you get the vaccine, the nanobot will wrap itself around your brain and force you to stop using Google Docs.

But health departments don’t have a sterling record applying science to the Covid. This week, the LA County Health Department had its ass handed to it by a judge for its decision to eliminate outdoor dining based on the science of using months-old data and the widely accepted scientific method of intuition.

Angela Marsden, owner of the Pineapple Hill Saloon, can’t serve people outside at her restaurant (health department order), but a studio catering tent was legally set up in her parking lot.

In its argument, the county said they can’t prove that outdoor dining contributes to Covid cases. They also said the judge shouldn’t allow the appeal because now anything could get appealed if the rationale appears weak. I believe the judge’s erudite legal response was, “Duh.”

In short, none of this means people should avoid the vaccine. I plan on taking it. It’s a necessary step to stopping the killer of 286,000 people in the US alone. But it’s reasonable to have concern when actions are taken based on broad, unmeasurable thresholds not based on science.

And every time a Governor, legislature, or health department acts without scientific backing or refuses to show their math (or says it’s not possible), the concerns only grow.

One good thing: caregivers

There’s a commercial that plays on local television about the things you learn when someone you love gets sick from smoking. It shows a young man, maybe even a boy, patiently caring for his mother, who’s laid up, presumably with cancer.

The commercial hints at the work and cost involved with giving care. it also paves over the hard parts, the parts where the kid’s mom is bitchy and irritated at the situation and maybe her choices–and takes it out on the kid.

It doesn’t show the end of a hard day where the caregiver is overwhelmed, beaten up, and feels like he or she can’t do a single thing right. It doesn’t show the cumulative exhaustion and hopelessness that builds over time.

It doesn’t show all the costs of giving care to someone. But the hints are there.

I’ve never had to be that person. I’m not sure I could be, but people are amazing. They do what they need to do.

It’s an amazing and very good thing.

God’s bottle of my tears

At church this weekend, the Pastor referenced Psalm 56:9: “This I know, God is on my side.” It’s a powerful verse. It’s so powerful that it obscures the verse in front of it, one of the most powerful in the entire Bible:

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. — Psalms 56:8

In the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts, life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something. If there were a time when that quote resonates, it’s today. It’s this year.

God is powerful, but he didn’t use that power to divinely kick everyone’s ass (and we shouldn’t harness it for that, either). He keeps track of our sorrows. What hurts us, hurts him.

Pretty sure that’s not what he means

A God who views power the way we do would follow up verse 8 with something like “I saw who did that to you and I’m gonna make them a smudge on the pavement out of them.”

That would be comforting until you figure out that we, too, deserve to be that smudge at some point in our lived.

If you project God’s power and you don’t start with the God who collects our tears in his bottle, you’re projecting it wrong. You have to apply verse 9 in the context of verse 8. God’s power is the power of love, not the power of a phalanx of Christian soldiers.

My job on earth isn’t to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. I’m not God’s divine bouncer. I’m just a guy with a bottle. It’s humbling to know that God tracks my tears in that bottle, especially when other bottles have tears I’ve caused.

Sorry, you’re not on the list.

The default stance of people trying to draw people to God should be open, not closed. It should be warm and unconditionally welcoming, not cold and inflexible.

If you’ve ever loved someone who’s hurting, the first impulse is to go to them and surround them with your love. Embrace them. Caress them. Let them know you’re there.

Heaven, at least to me, isn’t a solemn place. It’s not a cold, stone edifice with an army of nuns whacking your hand with heavenly rulers. It’s a place where the bottle of tears can be shattered once and for all.

It’s a warm place where everyone knows your name and they’re definitely glad you came, where your authentic self belong.

Anyone who says less–that’s the ultimate sacrilege.

Winning ugly is the best kind of winning

My run today was a disaster–and a triumph. Let me explain.

I’m building back from a litany of injuries. It’s late October and the weather’s suitable for July. That’s to say, I’m pushing my pace and increasing the number of minutes I run to try to get back to where I was when the injury bug hit in August.

Today’s goal was 53 minutes. And I pushed my pace.

About two miles in, it became clear I wasn’t going to run 53 minutes at the pace I’d chosen, so I backed off and walked a little. Then I ran again, at a slower pace. After a couple of cycles of that, it became clear, this was not a path to success.

Forcing it wasn’t an option. I’ve already lost four months to injury this year and don’t want to lose any more. I also want to run tomorrow.

I’m reading a book called TOPGUN’s Top Ten by Guy Snodgrass, a former fighter pilot and instructor at the actual TOPGUN Naval Aviation school. One of his themes is that the standard is the standard. It is unflinching and unforgiving. I think he may have lifted this from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I like that theme, when it’s applied reasonably. Being a jerk to myself and running myself into the ground or injury isn’t a reasonable application.

So if I wasn’t going to run 53 minutes and the standard is the standard, what does that leave?

Rather than call it, I made the 53 minutes. I walked briskly, about a 15-minute pace. I still made more than 4 miles by the time I got home–about half a mile less than I’d have otherwise covered. I got the work done in a way that allows me to do the work again tomorrow.

And I feel good about it.

You aren’t going to kick ass every single day. Some days, you have to adjust and improvise.

Anyone can succeed on a day when everything falls into place. It’s the days when you scratch out a victory that are most special. Being Americans in the 21st century, we have this expectation of domination. Winning ugly isn’t really a win, not completely.

I didn’t expect my body to be uncooperative today. Sure I was pushing the pace, but I did that twice during the week and it worked.

Winning ugly is when unforeseen complications come up and you reach back and find whatever you need to get to the finish line.

And if you’re thinking that really winning ugly would’ve been finding a way to finish the 53 minutes running, my bigger goal isn’t based on today. It’s reaching an ongoing training program and–if I can stay free of injury–finishing a marathon.

That goal’s better served by winning ugly today and worrying about tomorrow’s run when I get there.

What this Jesus crap is all about

There’s an old movie called The Mission starring Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons. In the movie, DeNiro stars as Rodrigo Mendoza, a slaver and mercenary who has terrorized South American natives. When he finds his fiance in bed with his half-brother, he kills him in a duel.

Overwhelmed by grief over being a murderer and enslaving people, he goes to Jeremy Irons’ Father Gabriel, who challenges him to undertake a pennace.

He choses dragging his armor up the mountain to the place where the natives he enslaved live. The scene is on Youtube, but it’s broken up into multiple clips. The first scene below is from Movieclips and it sets the stage.

The second features the soundtrack over dialog, but gives you an idea of the lengths he went to prove his penance. And how he refused almost all help in carrying the weight of what he was.

If you don’t have 13 minutes to devote to all this, at the end, the broken down Rodrigo (DeNiro’s character) reaches the top of the mountain and is confronted by the natives. As he approaches, the priests and the natives are happy to see each other, and DeNiro is a total outcast, alone in his filth while the others are clean.

Perhaps the goal is punishment, not penance. Being crushed, not making things right. After his humiliation, death will come, satisfying his idea of justice.

One of the natives goes forward with a knife and holds it to DeNiro’s neck. DeNiro is sure–and so are we–that he’s gonna finally get what he deserves for being such a bastard.

Then the native cuts the rope and hauls the armor to the cliff and throws it in the river, releasing him from it. He begins to sob and Irons’ character comes to him and he’s accepted by the natives.

Maybe there’s something other than Justice

I’m really, really good at hauling my armor up the mountain. I excel at hauling it behind me as everyone else celebrates.

I suck at having it cut loose from me and tossed in the river.

You can only sob at two movie scenes and keep your man card: when they have a catch at the end of Field of Dreams and this.

We all have armor we haul around behind us. We long to be rid of it, to fall into Jeremy Irons arms. (At least I think we do.)

That’s what the Jesus thing is about. Portrayed, by the way, in a secular movie more effectively than any Jesus movie.

The rules are what cause the net full of armor. Because you can’t keep all the rules. The religious are the people who would have the native give you the fate you so richly deserve. In that, they aren’t much different than the non-religious. And they’re all hauling their crap up the mountain, too.

Misery loves company.

Jesus is the one who wants to cut the armor way.

In a key scene, a very young Liam Neeson, cuts the armor away for Rodrigo. And then Rodrigo goes and gets it again, angry at Neeson for what he’s done. When Neeson’s character challenges Irons’ character, saying the penance is enough, Irons says it will only be enough when DeNiro thinks it will be enough.

Only after he reaches the top and the natives cut the armor away is it truly cut away. Sometimes we have to put ourselves through hell before we’re ready for heaven.

That’s what all of this is about. It’s not about being good; it’s about being whole.

It’s not about voting right or not schtupping another guy or foregoing meat on Fridays or wearing clothes that button around the neck, lest a guy get evil thoughts. It’s not about strict adherence to social justice norms, either.

It’s all about letting the armor be cut away.

I still need to work on letting the armor be cut away, on falling into Jeremy Irons’ waiting arms.

Maybe we’re alike in that and that’s okay.

Just don’t let them tell you it’s different.

PS — This is among the more masculine movie scenes ever shot.

If ever there were a year for gratitude, this is it

In the Catholic faith, tomorrow’s second reading is a passage that contains the following (don’t worry, I won’t beat you over the head with God).

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

Even if you aren’t Christian and want to take God completely out of the equation, this is a great message for 2020.

Five years ago, I couldn’t walk across a room without stopping to rest. For a few days, I worked from bed because that’s all I could manage. It was (and still is) the most difficult year of my life. Each week was a countdown to Saturday, when I could just spend most of the day in bed.

And yet, there were still blessings. I still had a family and a house. I still had a job. I had a co-worker who carried me part of the way. I thought I had chronic fatigue, but the people who have severe cases of that disease can’t even watch TV without it being too much stimulation. I watched five seasons of Castle.

Castle and Beckett, two of the things I should’ve been thankful for in 2015

I took all of that for granted and concentrated on my problems. Given my circumstance, that was understandable. But absent a word of prayer, my burden would’ve been lighter if I’d been thankful for what I had, if I’d taken stock of what was honorable, pure, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise.

I have a habit of posting one thing a day I’m grateful for. Sometimes, given mindset and circumstance, it’s a bit of work. But it grounds me and makes me understand that not everything sucks.

This year sucks. And depending on how the election plays out, it could get worse. We need an anchor, a constant, to balance things. Even if you’re thankful for the smell of coffee or the design of a flower, it’s something that shows you beauty and goodness is possible.

It’s a useful message for 2020.

As election day nears, here are some voting resources. Please share.

I work pretty hard to keep a wall between my day job and my online presence. For the record, my employer (PwC–My opinion doesn’t reflect theirs. I’m already stupid, so they don’t have to be.) has been impressive in its efforts to make a difference in light of the plethora of attacks against people of color this year.

While the effort hasn’t been overtly partisan, it’s aimed at helping people be able to fully participate in society. If you were to come up with a term to describe that, I’d call it The American Dream. For a traditional guy like me, that’s a good thing. And they’ve asked that we help spread the dream, which starts with voting.

And that starts with voting. Odds are, if you’re one of the tens of people who read this blog, you know where and how to vote. But if you don’t know, here are some resources for you (courtesy of the smart people I work for):

  • Let’s say you want to register for this voting thing. What do you do? Here’s a page where you can go to register. Just click this link, then click Get Registered at the top.
  • Or maybe you’re already registered, but you’re not comfortable going out with the teeming hoards to vote. You can request an absentee ballot here.
  • Or let’s say you want to do your civil duty in person, but given the damn Covid, you aren’t sure where that happens this year. Here’s a resource for you!

Personally, I don’t care how you vote. I’ve made my preference known, but the great thing about liberty and stuff is that doesn’t matter.

If you’re locked and and ready to go, but you know someone who isn’t, share this link with them. It’s pretty important.

There are no excuses. And it is kind of a duty.

Vote, Dammit.