Sunday, July 27, 2008

Make that two apples a day

America is the only industrialized nation without universal health care. America holds 29th place worldwide in life expectancy. This country follows only Latvia in infant mortality rates. We spend 31% of our healthcare funds on administrative costs, Canada pays 3%. What are we clinging to?

"Socialized medicine" was first coined in 1917 by Otto P. Grier, chairman of the Preventive Medicine Section of the American Medical Association. He said that would be a "fundamental contribution to social welfare." By Truman's presidency the AMA was distributing fliers to doctors in an effort to get them to speak out against it.

When I was growing up, adults used to talk about all the "friends of friends" that knew someone from Canada or France coming to the U.S. because we had superior care. Now we hear about people traveling to India to have procedures because they can't afford to have them in the States.

My father lost his left leg 14 centimeters below the patella in the mid-80's. Our family had health insurance, but plenty of stuff wasn't covered and six weeks in a medical facility  left Mom and Dad with a pile of bills.

One of the first things my parents did when Dad got home was to change their insurance plan to be better covered the next time disaster struck. This April, Mom went in for a checkup at Dad's urging. He had noticed a change in her demeanor and stamina and was concerned.

Turns out that Mom's kidneys were functioning at six percent. That's a great rate for a savings account these days but a terrible rate for organs that filter all the blood in one's body every eight minutes. The doctors kept her in the hospital and health insurance again became a concern.

Mom signed up for Medicaid because one of the non-rejection drugs for transplant patients costs $5000 a month (that seems pretty high, I bet I could buy it from unsavory types on the street at a substantial savings) and Mom won't know which drug will work for her until after the surgery. 

It's bad enough that we don't use the metric system (I feel a rant coming on) but it's disgusting that this country doesn't have universal health care. The state run systems in the rest of the industrialized world prove that it works. The leading cause of bankruptcy in this country is unpaid medical bills.

Wanna stop the bleeding in the housing market? Wanna increase consumer spending? Wanna bolster consumer confidence? Wanna give your newborn a better chance than someone born in 
Slovenia? Universal health care would help.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Git yer 'but in the boat

I went down to Ninilchik with some friends to fish for halibut last Friday. The best fishing on Cook Inlet is tide dependent, so we drew a 3 p.m. departure. The boys picked me up in Cooper Landing. We stopped in Soldotna for some supplies(beer) on the way to Ninilchik.

Captain Dave Gillickan has been chasing 'buts for awhile. I met him my first winter in G-wood. I asked him how he was able to snowboard through the bumps so well. "You bend your knees and grit your teeth."

Dave's 32 foot custom aluminum boat, Big Iron, cruises at 30 knots and comfortably holds six clients and the crew. Dave's crew consists of a 68 year-old Vietnam vet that flew a bomber in the war that he named Big Iron. They met in Ninilchik. The universe is a funny place. Dave gave him the afternoon off because we told him we'd do those duties.

Our drive down through rain gave way to sunshine. The weather on the water couldn't have been better. Dave set up the rods after a hour or so motor to a "hotspot." Every cast yielded a hit. We landed lots of fish and limited out in short order.

Everybody threw five bucks in for biggest fish and that went to Josh for a 24 and a half pounder. The last time I went 'but fishing(a decade ago) the biggest fish was 94 pounds. Dave talked about how the fish have been getting smaller and harder to find over the years.

The discussion turned to where the fault may lie. Is it the commercial long liners and their fathoms of hooks bringing in piles of fish, many of which are tossed back because they are unwanted or non-targeted "by-catch?" Or maybe it's the sport fishermen, cuz they try to get the big ones which are breeding females.

The answer: all of us. The fish and catches have become smaller, harder to find, and further from the ports. Both sides agree on this. Failing fisheries are well-documented the world over since way back when the secret got out about the Moors going to the Grand Banks for cod.

Halibut fisheries will likely follow some of the tuna species by becoming "commercially extinct" within our lifetimes. It's human nature to harvest all the easy things till they're gone and then lament the loss. Shoot the passenger pigeons, there are lots of them.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America

This holiday always makes me think of my Grandma Patrick, the way she used blackcats to wake up my uncles or call my grandfather home for dinner, the big bags of fireworks the came one after another out of the house on the 4th, and that crisp day in February when we said goodbye to her by throwing lit firecrackers into her grave instead of roses. She loved explosions of all kinds and passed that love  on to me.

The Chinese invented fireworks. Their most respected minds mixed and burned the explosives for festivals. Marco Polo brought that technology back to Europe. The Europeans used the technology to make weapons. Reflect on that for a sec.

Done? All right. Here in AK fireworks are mostly just loud in the summer. The ever-present sun fades the burning of the magnesium and calcium so everything looks yellow. We save most of our fireworks displays to brighten up our winter nights.

Instead on Independence Day, Alaskans honor what may be the coolest bar bet ever. A couple of sourdoughs were having a pint in Seward. One of them said he could run from the tavern to the top of Mount Isabelle and back in under an hour. Word spread, bets were placed, and a tradition was born.

Today is the 81st running of the Mount Marathon Race. Our hero finished the first race in 62 minutes, which is damn impressive. He climbed a 3022' mountain over a distance of 3.1 miles in heavy boots and woolies. He lost the bet though, and had to buy drinks for everyone in the tavern. 

Top finishers usually finish in the high forties or low fifties these days. Bill Spencer set the course record in 1981 with a time of 43 minutes, 23 seconds. The record may fall this year because there is lots of snow on the course. 

The race is won on the downhill section by the person with the biggest balls. Scree and rocks slide along with the competitors as they try to haul ass and keep control. I got a scouting report from one of the competitors, Kyle Kelly, last night. He said that there is a virtual luge course cut in the snow from people practicing. Whoever can put fear the furthest back in his mind will win this year barring a fall on the bottom third of the race.

People scatter all along the course to watch, root, cheer, and hand out waters. But the best place to get a feel for the race is the first aid tent. Runners hold dressing on cuts that won't stop bleeding while EMTs pick rocks out of gashes with huge forceps. Good luck, Kyle.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Urban Wildlife

Summertime in Southcentral Alaska can be magical. The sun officially shines for over nineteen hours, which means you can always see well enough to go for a run or even raft a river. Many people take full advantage of it, teeing off at 10 p.m. or participating in 24 hour races.

One such race started in Far North Bicentennial Park and ended in Providence Alaska Medical Center for fifteen year old Petra Davis. Campbell Creek runs through the park and is chock-full of king salmon and that means bears.

Ms. Davis was mauled by one of those brown bears shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday morning. She's damn lucky to be alive. One of her fellow competitors noticed a bike way off the trail and stopped to have a look.

Shotgun-toting officers from APD stood guard while paramedics packaged Ms. Davis for transport to Providence where she underwent emergency surgery to repair her carotid artery. She has punctures and lacerations along the right side of her body but is expected to make a full recovery. 

Municipality of Anchorage Wildlife Biologist Rick Sinnot has said that he would not kill the bear even if he could find it. He believes the bear was either suprised(which can mean scared) by Ms. Davis or defending his piece of the creek, rather than looking for a tasty bite of mountain biker. 

Many in the community want to have the bears exterminated or thinned out. There are less than 40,000 grizzly bears in the entire state of Alaska. Several are killed in defense of life or property each year. Life is often someone fishing late to avoid the crowds(which is when bears tend to do it too, for the same reasons) that gets charged on a creek bank and shoots the bear. All too often, property is garbage on the back porch or a bag of dog food in the garage with the door open.

Others would like to see the parks or certain trails closed when bear activity is observed. What level of activity would close a trail is difficult to pin down. Unobserved activity isn't mentioned. Don't even think about the liability the Municipality would be open to if someone were mauled on an open trail.

I fall into the other camp. I wouldn't wish a bear mauling on anyone and I mean no disrespect to Ms. Davis or her family, but I don't consider it a tragedy that someone got bit while in bear territory. 

The folks that want bears out of the city or trails closed are of the same mind as those that took monkey bars and merry-go-rounds out of the playground. They would have us helmeted, padded, bubble-wrapped, and otherwise hog-tied before we left our homes each day. I encourage all of them to find a place where all the bears are already gone.

Anchorage adopted a new city slogan recently, "Big Wild Life." Bears in the city are part of that life. Mingling with critters bigger than squirrels is just one of the things that make this a great place to live.