To Those Who Behead Innocent People

U.S. officials have confirmed that U.S. journalist James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State In Syria (“ISIS”).  ISIS posted a video of the beheading on-line, but I’m not going to link to it because it would just serve their evil, depraved purposes.

I often think that there is a complete lack of understanding between the terrorist groups in the Middle East and the citizens of the United States.  The murderous thugs who make up ISIS might well have the misapprehension that beheading people like James Foley is going to make us cower.  They’re wrong, of course, so I want to correct the record with this short message: 

“Dear ISIS:

Just so you understand, your willingness to behead innocent people doesn’t scare us, it just infuriates us.  Because killing helpless people in cold blood is so abhorrent, it also tells us that your organization is so utterly lacking in basic values and human decency that you don’t deserve to be part of the community of civilized people.  We regret your act of callous murder, we cannot understand how anyone could rationalize such brutality, and we grieve for the Foley family in this time of terrible and completely unnecessary loss — but we also understand that your act exposes the true nature of ISIS.  We now know that your group is comprised of soulless butchers, and that knowledge will help to guide our decision-making in the future.

Make no mistake:  you are evil, and you will be punished for what you have done.  We will get you.  You deserve it, and it will happen.  And when it does, and your organization is scourged from the face of the planet, you can realize that it is your own fanatical bloodthirstiness that led to your downfall.”

My Low-Carb Lunch

IMG_2888I’m trying to stick to an eating regimen where I avoid bread, noodles, and starches like potatoes.  I can do it for dinner, because Kish has been good about preparing low-carb options for the evening meal.  The real challenge is lunch — where sandwiches rule the day and french fries are the side dish for an overwhelming number of options. 

Today Dr. Science, the Purple Raider and I went out to lunch, and trying to figure out a venue that would work took some time.  We settled on Skillet, a really good local sourcing eatery on the edge of German Village.  There I ordered their farmstead cheese omelet with two kinds of cheese, covered in Green Edge Garden sunflower sprouts.  I added a little hot sauce — homemade by Skillet, of course — and the result was quite good.  The omelet was light but cheesy, and the sprouts added a nice crunch.  I ate it all, and left satisfied and happy that I stuck to my limitations. 

That doesn’t mean I didn’t look longingly at the Purple Raider’s toasted cheese sandwich and tomato bisque (which included bread, of course) and Dr. Science’s smoked pork and apple hash (with fingerling potatoes mixed in), both of which looked extremely tasty.  Just because I’m restricting my intact doesn’t mean I’ve lost my taste buds.

The Alarm About Ebola

Africa seems very far away to most Americans.  In contrast to, say, Europe, we don’t know most of the names of the countries, we don’t learn much about the geography of the African continent, and we tend to hear about it only when a particularly bloodthirsty dictator or terrorist organization has committed another outrage.  The recent outbreak of Ebola Zaire in west Africa, though, is a story that should command the attention of Americans and everyone else in the world.

Ebola, which is transmitted by contact with bodily fluids, is one of the most deadly diseases in the world.  It’s a virus that wreaks havoc with human blood systems and immune responses, and in this most recent outbreak it has infected more than 2,000 people and has killed more than half of them.  In fact, in past outbreaks Ebola has been so deadly that it has restricted itself:  people who were infected became symptomatic and died before they had a chance to infect other people.  This time, though, the progress of the disease seems to be slower, somehow, and infected people have more of an opportunity to infect others.  For this reason, no one is quite sure how many people have been infected with Ebola in this latest outbreak — or, more importantly, exactly where they are.  That’s one of the things that should concern everyone.

There are other points of concern, too.  The deadliness of the disease has caused a breakdown of the health care systems in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, where this current outbreak is centered.  Due to fear of Ebola, many health care workers have fled their hospitals — which not only leaves Ebola untreated, but also opens the door to the spread of other diseases like malaria that are found in the region.  Even Doctors Without Borders is having trouble finding people to treat Ebola patients.

In addition, this latest Ebola outbreak has occurred in a place where Ebola has never been seen before.  The virus somehow traveled hundreds of miles, from central Africa to west Africa, without any human outbreaks along the way; researchers think it might have been carried by swarms of bats.  Now it is found in much more densely populated areas and — here is a key point — areas that have airports that can carry passengers to huge international airports where they can connect to flights that might carry them just about anywhere in the world.  Combine that fact with the more slow-moving nature of this strain of Ebola, and you can see how this disease could spread, uncontrolled, to a much larger geographic area. 

And here’s the last concerning thing:  this deadly disease outbreak is raging on a continent that has been home to chaos, tribal genocide, rampaging terrorist groups, and other forms of social disorder in recent times.  In Monrovia, Liberia, “looters” recently attacked a temporary holding center for Ebola patients, ransacked it, and ran off with blood-soaked sheets and mattresses.  That troubling incident raises the question of whether they weren’t “looters” at all, but rather members of a terrorist group — such as Boko Haram — who are trying to acquire a means to spread the disease as part of their savage campaign to establish control over territory and kill anyone who doesn’t adopt their religious and political views.  That is truly a frightening scenario.

So this story manages to combine an incredibly deadly disease, a mass outbreak, swarms of virus-carrying bats, health system breakdowns, and potential terrorist concerns in one appalling package.  Yes, I’d say this is a time when we all should be paying attention to news from Africa.

Braxton’s Bad Luck

Ohio State has confirmed that Braxton Miller, its very talented senior quarterback, suffered a season-ending injury yesterday.  The injury to his right shoulder — the same shoulder he injured in the Orange Bowl and that was operated on earlier this year — came when Miller was throwing a pass during a non-contact part of practice.

IMG_3091Miller, who is on track to graduate in December, now expects to redshirt this season.  He announced that he plans to stay at Ohio State, start graduate school, and play again for Ohio State next year, when he hopes to come back from the injury stronger and better than ever.

Two thoughts about Braxton Miller.  First, isn’t it encouraging that a fine athlete like Miller, who has been a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has paid attention to his classwork and is prepared to graduate early?  Good for him!  Second, Miller’s injury is why I will never blame a gifted athlete who decides to leave school before their senior year to go pro.  Exceptional modern athletes are a carefully calibrated combination of speed, size, quickness, and strength, and an injury can wreck that careful calibration forever.  I hope that, with the assistance of all of the miracles of modern medicine, Braxton Miller can fully recover from the injury return to the exciting form he showed the last two seasons.

As to much more mundane matters:  quarterback was the one position Ohio State coaches didn’t have to worry about; now they do.  Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett and redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones are next on the depth chart, and the coaches will have to decide which one starts when the Buckeyes play Navy on August 30 — less than two weeks away.  The upcoming season just got a lot more unpredictable for Buckeye Nation,

Another Browns National TV Debacle

The Cleveland Browns were on national TV last night, taking on the Washington Redskins on ESPN.  Why not check out my team?  After all, they’ve got a new coach (an annual occurrence), lots of new players (ditto), there’s a quarterback controversy (ditto ditto), and there’s hope for the future (the horrible, crippling curse of all deluded Cleveland sports fans).  Russell and I had our cell phones handy, ready to text our thoughts on the game and share some positive vibes.

Alas — as is always the case with Cleveland sports — it was not to be.  The Browns defense, at least, looked like an NFL-quality team.  Other than the fact that they were mysteriously penalized on every play, the D got decent pressure on the quarterback, forced some turnovers, and had a nice little goal-line stand.  There seems to be some depth there, too.  When the regular season arrives and the refs swallow their whistles a bit, the defense might even be good.

ESPN photoThe offense was another story.  It started with a botched snap count, a blocking breakdown, and an uncontested sack on the first play, followed by a penalty on the second.  At that point, how many Browns fans thought:  “Uh oh, same old Browns”?  And they were right.  Words like putrid, awful, and embarrassing don’t begin to describe the futility the Browns starters showed in the first half last night.  Brian Hoyer, the quarterback who is coming back from surgery last year, was 2-6 for 16 yards, blew an easy TD throw, and was off on almost every pass.  Johnny Manziel was 7-16 for 65 yards, but even those lame stats were padded by a second-half series against second-teamers.  The Browns eked out a miserable 3 points after a turnover.

Fortunately for me, I decided not to watch the second half when the scrubs took over.  I therefore didn’t have to watch Manziel distinguish himself by flipping off the Redskins bench on national TV.  So, Johnny Football looked like Johnny Asshole.  Browns teammates say Manziel takes a terrible riding from opposing players and fans.  No surprise there!  Manziel is just a kid — people tend to forget that — but his antics on draft day, and his insistence on acting like a big shot when he hasn’t proven himself at the pro level, are bound to attract that kind of attention.  If he can’t keep his cool in a meaningless preseason game, how is he going to stay level-headed during a crucial play with an important game on the line?  Manziel’s stupid middle-finger salute tells us something about him, and it isn’t good news.

There’s some value in a game like this.  It was such a colossal failure that it’s bound to crush any lingering optimism that the Browns have turned a corner and smash the rose-colored glasses of the glass-half-full fans.  The rest of us Browns Backers will approach the start of the regular season with a wary attitude, like a cornered animal with its foot caught in a trap, and grimly determined to bear the impending pain for as long as we possibly can.

Sad About Pops

Recently SiriuxXM cancelled its over-the-air Pops channel that I listened to in my car.  That channel played a steady, commercial-free selection of terrific popular classical music selections.  That decision sucks in more ways than one.

I listened to the Pops channel regularly.  In fact, it was my favorite SiriusXM channel, and part of the crucial classical music rotation that I could quickly shift through to find something I really liked.  That included SiriusXM 74 (Met Opera Radio), 75 (Pops), and 76 (Symphony Hall), as well as WOSU-FM, the local classical music outlet.  Sure, the Pops channel self-promotions were kind of mindless and irritating (“Bassoons and oboes and cymbals, oh my!”), but it was a reliable refuge that could be counted on to play some baroque or Strauss when Symphony Hall was playing an interminable Brahms piece or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue when I felt like listening to something other than the theme music for a United Air Lines commercial.

It’s pathetic that SiriusXM has only one real classical music channel, as well as the Met channel.  After all, this is a satellite radio service that has dozens of pop and rock stations, each specifically devoted to a particular kind of music — say, music from the ’60s, or acoustic stuff, or heavy metal.  They’ve even had a station devoted to Billy Joel.  Billy Joel!  I think Piano Man is a perfectly good pop song, but how about some actual piano music from Beethoven or Mozart?

Can it really be that there are so few classical music fans out there that classical music is less in demand than Billy Joel?  My God!  What does that tell you about the state of our country?

Uncle Sam, The Scooter Sap

Over the weekend the Washington Post carried a terrific article about how fraudsters ripped off Medicare — and through Medicare, the American taxpayer — in the Great Scooter Scam.  It’s another troubling, cautionary tale that shows how good intentions can run awry, how fraudsters are always ready to pounce, and how our ponderous governmental apparatus is just not well-suited to ferreting out fraud.

The fraud scheme grew out of Medicare’s requirement that claims be paid promptly, and the vast scope of coverage that Medicare supplies.  With millions of claims being received, there was no way to check them out before making the required prompt processing decision.  So Medicare’s default approach was to pay claims first, investigate later.  The fraudsters learned this, and rubbed their hands with glee.  But fraudsters can’t perform surgery or other medical care, so how do they take advantage of that gaping vulnerability in the system?  Medical equipment was the answer . . . but the crooks then had to find just the right kind of equipment, where real money could be made.

Ultimately, they realized that scooters and motorized wheelchairs were perfect.  The need for them was plausible, and there was a huge gap between the actual cost of the devices and the inflated amount Medicare would pay.  The fraudsters created elaborate schemes that included “recruiters” who identified seniors to receive the scooters and bogus medical supply companies — and seniors who willingly participated because they thought there were getting a freebie, even if it was something that they didn’t need.  When Medicare changed the rules to require in-person doctor visits to try to stop the fraud, the crooks recruited doctors who were willing to participate in the fraud in exchange for a cut.

The result?  Perfectly able-bodied seniors with wheelchairs, still in their wrapping, gathering dust in their garages or serving as the perch for oversized teddy bears.  Seniors riffing on the Seinfeld episode and having scooter races in their neighborhoods.  And huge amounts of federal money lining the pockets of criminals.

The scope of the fraud is astonishing.  The Medicare system has paid billions for motorized wheelchairs, and they don’t even know how many of the purchases are legitimate.  One recent audit of paid bills showed that 80 percent were improper.  And even after the federal government became aware of the scooter scam, in 1998, it continued to pay billions in phony claims.  Since 1999, Medicare has paid $8.2 billion for 2.7 million motorized wheelchairs and scooters.  In 2003 alone, $964 million was spend on the devices.  These seem like huge numbers, but they are only a blip in the vast Medicare system — which is part of the reason why it took so long to meaningfully tackle the problem.

The Medicare system now says that it has effectively addressed the scooter scam, and the amounts spent on motorized wheelchairs fell to only $190 million in 2013.  Should we have confidence that all of that money — and all of the billions of dollars shelled out for other forms of medical equipment — is being spent in response to legitimate medical needs?  Not really.  The system is too large, oversight is minimal, and there are too many gaps where the fraudsters can take advantage.  And, perhaps most distressingly, there apparently are lots of “recruiters,” doctors, and seniors who apparently are all too willing to participate in a criminal scam so long as they get something out of it.

The Washington Post article about the Great Scooter Scam should be required reading for every Member of Congress who thinks the best way to solve a problem is to create a governmental program that pays out money to address it.