Archive for You Should Know


I Am Humbled

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

And for those of you who know me well, you know that ain’t easy!

The emails, the Facebook posts, the private messages – the outpouring of kindness, good wishes, and even excitement over the release of Dear Austin – A Letter To My Son in paperback and digital editions has taken me somewhat by surprise. It could even mean that some of you really aren’t the raving asses that I thought you were. But I don’t want to jump to any conclusions.

I was genuinely touched by the overall reaction to the letter when it was first posted here a few months ago, and since. It has been read by several thousand people on this website, and linked to from several other sites around the world. I get emails from people I don’t know and will never meet, people I’ve been out of touch with since high school or college, and current friends and colleagues who relate moving stories and thank me for the letter. And, of course, there have been the occasional snarky comments.

But the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and in all honesty, it has all been a bit much to take in. And now your reactions to the book. I am almost speechless, another rarity for me, and truly humbled by the fact that so many people give a damn about the success of this little book. Some even willing to put out their hard-earned money.

I need to mention the work of Carl Bluemel, of Bluemel Creative, for the amazing job he did on the cover graphics and the book design and layout. Without his talent and expertise, this project would have been even longer in the making, and would not have turned out nearly so well. He is a patient and accomplished man.

As inadequate as it is, I can only say “thank you” to all of you. You make my life richer for being in it. I wish there were a way I could show my appreciation, but that would probably involve some kind of effort on my part and, as you know, I’m pretty busy.

Thank you. Seriously.
David Perkins

SORRY: I just got yelled at for not including a link to the book site.

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Hot for Teachers w/ Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green from Megan Fox


Teachers! Who Needs ‘Em?

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

All we really need is the right testing algorithm. Right? If we could just find that one magic (standardized) test, teaching could be completely automated. Done by computers. We could set up classrooms with 30 (or 50) computer terminals, put one IT guy at the front of the room, and then my friends you could just stand back and watch the learnin’ begin!

Once again, I owe my good friend and Texas educator, Peggy, for bringing this article by John Young to my attention. It is reprinted here from his blog, which is linked to below. He is a writer who should be read with regularity. And, someday, when I have a payroll, I need to put Peggy on it.

Public flogging of teachers continues

by John Young

I blame my mechanic — the fact that I don’t change my oil often enough, don’t check my tire pressure regularly, and don’t know my carburetor from my glove compartment.

I’m sure you will agree with me that my mechanic is solely to blame for any malfunction of my car. It can’t be that I invest too little in it, or that I take only passing interest in its interests — that is, until it doesn’t motor me to every chosen destination.

We need new accountability standards for mechanics. Assemble the lawmakers.

I’m serious here. Just about as serious as some policy makers are about education.

Those policy makers, and the citizens for whom they posture, blame teachers for all the ills of the schooling machine.

It couldn’t be any outside influences that affect learning — not the inattention of parents, not whatever roiling events outside school walls might make it difficult to learn, not too-crowded classes, not administrators and policy makers who don’t really get what teachers do.

Something very detrimental to learning has been happening under the guise of education reform for nearly two decades. Americans have been convinced that standardization is education. They have been convinced that the way to “excellence” is to treat children’s minds like one treats tomatoes during canning season.

In the process, too many Americans have swallowed the propaganda that those who don’t buy the standard (King James?) version of school accountability employed by state after state don’t support excellence.

In Florida a pitched battle rages over one more quest to reduce education to tomato paste on the butcher block of standardization. Reformers seek to pin teacher pay increases to test scores. The bill would require school districts to set aside 5 percent of their entire budgets starting in 2011 for “performance” pay increases. If they have any leftover money, they could use it to develop new tests, like end-of-course exams. Otherwise, they would have to give it back to the state.

The bill also would essentially rewrite the rules for teacher contracts. And in telling districts how they can pay teachers, it would wipe out considerations like advanced degrees and experience.

The most offensive thing about this is that it’s not really about education. It’s about a political vendetta. The party of Bush and Cheney and Limbaugh and O’Reilly has had it out for “teachers’ unions” from the day some marginally educated focus group said the term was disparaging enough to be gold.

So, we have people stepping up saying they know how to “fix” education. Even if they confuse teaching with conveyor-belt work. Even if they consider Sarah Palin learned.

Ah, standardization. I once heard a person say, seriously, that if only schools would be like the Army, our problems would be solved. You see, all enlistees have to learn how to assemble a rifle. Have to. And will.

But, then, education isn’t training. Education is a higher quest. Or, so we once assumed. Unfortunately, our political system has instituted a concept of schooling that casts students across a sea of bubble-in questions.

You say teachers oppose assessment? That’s the most ridiculous claim of all. I have a book that has 450 pages of really great assessments — classroom exercises that show if students are using critical thinking skills. It has activities which can make school fascinating and truly challenging. No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals.

The same goes for most mechanics. But I’m  holding mine accountable for my inattention. If my oil pan ends up empty, heads will roll down at the shop.

John Young is a nationally syndicated writer who lives and teaches in Fort Collins, Colorado. He writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail:


Be Kinder Than Necessary

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“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

It’s a great quote, but it’s unclear who said it. It actually seems to be an amalgamation of two separate quotations. Author James M. Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, said “Be kinder than necessary.” But his advice stops there. Plato is quoted as saying “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Whoever pushed these two together actually created a more thoughtful and salient point. It’s worth remembering the next time you find yourself about to be ungracious with someone.

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Tax and Spend Democrats! Oh, Wait.

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

Here’s An Interesting Chart

It tracks U.S. Government revenue increases against U.S. Government spending increases going back through eight presidents. As you can see, the light blue bar represents the increase in revenue, and the dark blue bar represents the increase in spending by the U.S. Government during the tenure of each president.

The last one pretty well demonstrates what happens when you hand out multiple tax cuts while trying to prosecute two wars. Wonder if George understands now why he was the only president in history to do that? Even John McCain pointed out what a bad idea that was. Until he became a presidential candidate, of course. Then, he was of big fan.

Interestingly, one of the largest federal tax rate cuts in the history of this country came in the Revenue Act of 1964, under President Lyndon Johnson. And in case you’re wondering, we were not yet mired in the war in Vietnam when this took place. We were still only there in an advisory capacity. It wasn’t until 1965 that everything went to hell in Southeast Asia.

Revenue Increases vs. Spending Increases by President

From Daily Kos

Washington Times: GOP lawmakers privately admit stimulus created jobs
by Jed Lewison
Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 08:42:03 AM PST

If there’s one thing that unites the Republican Party it’s that the stimulus bill was a job-killing piece of legislation that was the worst thing in the whole entire world for the economy, right? Or maybe that’s just what unites them in public, because in private the Washington Times reports they’ve been working overtime to get their hands on job-creating stimulus cash.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond regularly railed against President Obama’s economic stimulus plan as irresponsible spending that would drive up the national debt. But behind the scenes, the Missouri Republican quietly sought more than $50 million from a federal agency for two projects in his state. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mr. Bond noted that one project applying to the USDA for stimulus money would “create jobs and ultimately spur economic opportunities.”

Bond isn’t alone. Remember Joe “You Lie” Wilson?

Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican who became famous after yelling, “You lie,” during Mr. Obama’s addresses to Congress in September, voted against the stimulus. Nonetheless, Mr. Wilson elbowed his way into the rush for federal stimulus cash in a letter he sent to Mr. Vilsack on behalf of a foundation seeking funding. “We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment in one of the poorer sections of the Congressional District,” he wrote to Mr. Vilsack in the Aug. 26, 2009, letter.

You see the pattern? Slam the stimulus in public, but in private, ask for stimulus funds to create jobs. For example, Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah:

On Feb. 13, 2009, Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, issued a statement criticizing the stimulus — but two days earlier, he privately forwarded to Mr. Vilsack a list of projects seeking stimulus money. “I believe the addition of federal funds to these projects would maximize the stimulative effect of these projects on the local economy,” he wrote.

And here’s even more quotes uncovered by the Washington Times in private letters written by Republican lawmakers seeking stimulus funds from the Agriculture Department:

Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican: “The proposed project would create 38 new jobs and bring broadband to eight hospitals, five colleges, 16 libraries and 161 K-12 schools”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican: “It is anticipated that the project will create over 200 jobs in the first year and at least another 40 new jobs in the following years.”
Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican: “the employment opportunities created by this program would be quickly utilized”

Kudos to the Washington Times for having done the leg work of filing the FOIA requests to expose these examples of Republican lawmakers talking out of both sides of their mouths, publicly lambasting the stimulus as a job-killing measure, but privately conceding that it actually created jobs. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way of demonstrating Republican hypocrisy on the question of whether the stimulus bill creates jobs, and Dems should remind them of it every waking day.

Reprinted from Daily Kos


Fat, Dumb, and Not So Happy

Posted by: David | Comments (7)

How I Became An Overweight, Lazy, Hyperglycemic Couch Potato and What I'm Doing About It Now.

After my annual physical, a little over a year ago, I was told that I needed to lose some weight and lower my blood glucose level. I was informed that I had slightly elevated blood sugar and my doctor warned that, if I ignored it and it continued to rise, it could grow up to become diabetes. My doctor’s a real buzzkill.

My two best friends on this planet are diabetic. They both have to inject insulin daily to keep their blood glucose levels in check. They seem to manage pretty well, but it’s a dominant factor in their lives. They have to think about it almost all the time. And I have apparently come very close to joining them. My first thought was, “Well, maybe this is not so bad. We could cut down our costs by sharing syringes.” Then one of them pointed out that, if I wasn’t one already, that idea alone would make me a moron. So, I dropped it.

I came home, got online, and started searching for the diet that would allow me to lose thirty pounds and lower my blood sugar without interfering with my penchant for eating Butterfingers and washing them down with Beck’s. Alas, I didn’t find it. My considerable and careful (seriously) research did however yield a diet plan that seemed to fit most of my requirements (sans the Butterfinger/beer snacks).

SouthBeachSo, I zoomed off to and ordered The South Beach Diet: Super Charged by Arthur Agatston, M.D. This was, apparently, a new and improved version of the already famous South Beach Diet, with extra added super powers. While I was there, I also ordered The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook by the same aforementioned doctor. The South Beach Diet promises to “show you how you can burn more calories and fat in less time, as you lose your cravings for sugary and starchy carbs, lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and improve your overall health.” Just the ticket. How hard could this be?

My books arrived a few days later, and I began flipping through them. The recipes looked good, and there seemed to be very little that you had to give up entirely, and even those for only a couple of weeks. I read a little bit each day, but it began to look like this was actually going to require some action on my part. I hadn’t counted on that. Both books lay on my living room coffee table for several months. After all, I was going to do this, but I had to wait for the right time to start. Then, mysteriously, they got moved to a drawer, still in the living room, but out of sight. And then, inevitably, out of mind.

Before you could blink, another year had rolled by, and I found myself sitting naked on the butcher paper covered table in my doctor’s office, explaining why my blood glucose level was almost the same as the year before. Just as a side note, I find it difficult to explain anything convincingly when I’m naked. Goes back to high school, but that’s a story for another post. On the upside, I had lost ten pounds over the previous year, and he offered lukewarm commendation for that.

I slunk back home, rummaged through the credenza drawers, and resurrected my South Beach Diet library. It was time to get serious. Really. Luckily, this diet does allow you to eat most of the things you like, with some variations in preparation. For instance, steak is fine. Chicken-fried steak with country gravy, not so much. Anyway, because of this, my wife was happy to join me on the new regimen. She had no weight to lose, and as far as we know her blood sugar is fine. She was going for the “improved overall health.” Plus, I knew it wouldn’t last if we were preparing two different menus for every meal.

Before I discuss results, I should point out that this routine has been the easiest to follow and stick with that I’ve ever seen. You’re encouraged to eat three meals a day plus at least two snacks in between. The goal is to never let yourself become very hungry. It concentrates on high-fiber, nutrient-rich carbohydrates (from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), good unsaturated fats, lean sources of protein, and low-fat dairy. And I promise that I have yet to feel deprived.

Beef, pork, fish, chicken, cheese, fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, nuts, peanut butter, wine, light beer, and even desserts. It’s all here. It’s all okay. Like I said earlier, the things that you’re required to give up entirely are only disallowed for the first two weeks. After that, you start to add these things back into your meals. The premise is, that by this time you have lost any cravings for the “bad” things in your diet, and can now enjoy them as part of a balanced nutritional plan. There is even guidance for dining in restaurants. It’s really not that hard.

So, how have I done so far? Not bad. In the first week, I lost eight pounds. Over the next two weeks, I lost an additional eight pounds and my blood glucose level is down by six points. And I began reintroducing “forbidden” foods back into my diet after the first two weeks. Phase One, the first two weeks, is aimed at breaking your cravings. I am officially into Phase Two of the diet now, and will be until I reach my desired weight. I intend to lose another ten pounds. In Phase Three, there are essentially no restrictions on what you can eat, but you’re expected to have come to a truce with food by that time, and have reached a new understanding of quality and quantity. Your new eating habits are presumed to be second nature by then.

I have to say that I’m sincerely impressed with this approach. I’m never hungry. I feel better. And I’m beginning to look better, since the weight I’ve lost seems to be coming off my belly. You know, where I was storing the Butterfingers and Becks. As with most diets, the weight lost in the first week or two is largely water, so it’s important to stay well-hydrated and keep your electrolytes in balance. Take full advantage of the snacking aspect of the plan. It’s important not to let yourself become famished. And if you have underlying medical conditions, always ask your doctor if this kind of plan is right for you.

If you decide to give it a try, I wish you good luck. I will post updates here to let you know if I run into any serious drawbacks, and to let you know how I’m progressing on the weight and blood sugar fronts. Here’s to your health.

David Perkins

Update: January 31, 2010

I know I promised, in the article above, to keep you posted on my progress with the South Beach approach to health and weight loss, but I decided to wait until after my next visit to the doctor, so that I would have some concrete and verified numbers to report. I figured that would be better than a week-to-week “here’s how much weight I’ve lost” kind of post.

Well, I just got those numbers a few days ago; new lab results and a visit to my killjoy of a doctor. I have to say that he was much more pleasant this time, since my results surprised even him.

First, since I began to change my eating lifestyle in October, I’ve lost 25 pounds. Now, that’s not a record-shattering number by any stretch, but since my goal from the outset was to lose 30 pounds in total, it means I’m almost there. I’m down from a peak, about 16 months ago, of 241 pounds to a svelte 205. I lost ten of that before starting on the South Beach program.

Secondly, and probably more important than the weight loss, is the decline in my blood glucose levels. High blood sugar was the real impetus for my starting this whole experiment in the first place. In October, the number was 112. That number is still “normal” but it’s at the high end of the normal range. Enough so that my doctor was concerned about a “pre-diabetic” condition. I’m happy to report that my blood glucose reading earlier this week was a surprisingly low 88. I’m told that anything under 100 is good. You know, unless it’s 16 or something like that. Then, you pass out and lapse into a coma. But, 88 is very good.

An unanticipated, at least by me, side effect of all of this is that my overall cholesterol level has dropped by about 40 points to a healthy 155. And my LDL level (the BAAAAD cholesterol) is 103. My doctor informs me that 100 is the perfect LDL level. My blood pressure is 110 over 70, but it’s always been in that area, so that’s not new.

I feel better and, if I do say so myself, I look better. I rarely have that uncomfortable stuffed feeling no matter how much I eat, and during the course of this entire four months, I have never felt deprived of food. It’s actually kind of amazing, but true. And, I have started to wear some of my abandoned clothing. Things that had either become uncomfortable, or that made me look like I was shoplifting a watermelon.

I should also point out that, at the very beginning, I made the decision that the “diet” would not effect what I had to eat during Thanksgiving and Christmas. On those occasions, I ate pretty much as I always have, in terms of what I ate. I probably ate less, however, just because it didn’t take as much to make me feel full.

I had pumpkin pie and apple pie, ice cream, whipped cream, and eggnog, as well as cornbread stuffing all the usual Thanksgiving and Christmas fare. But, in each case, I indulged myself for only one day and then went back to my new routine.

My wife weighed herself on the day after Thanksgiving and was depressed to see that she had gained two pounds. I waited for a week after Thanksgiving to weigh myself, and had lost two pounds since the previous weight check. The lesson here – you wouldn’t weigh yourself with a tray of food in your hands, so why do it with the same food in your stomach? Weigh yourself when you will be encouraged, not discouraged. And don’t weigh yourself too often. Try to go two, or three, or even four weeks between weight checks. You will almost never be disappointed.

And a last side note; I sent a copy of the South Beach book to a family member who is overweight and diabetic. He was having some difficulty taking off the weight and bringing down his blood glucose levels. After less than one month on the South Beach program, he has lost 20 pounds and reports that his blood sugar level has “plummeted.” I’m sure he meant that in a healthy way.

So, that’s my update. I don’t have any negative things to say about the South Beach program. It’s a couple of books. No fees. No special meals to purchase. No meetings. And no bizarre or exotic foods to eat. There are support websites, official and unofficial, where recipes and advice are available, but whether or not you use them is up to you. I took a look around on the web, but the program book and the cookbook proved to be all that was necessary for me. For you? Maybe not.

If I’ve left questions unanswered, feel free to drop me a note and I’ll tell you what I know and what I think. I will close by saying that, if you’ve had a hard time staying with a weight loss program, or if your issue is also blood sugar, I encourage you to give the South Beach book a try. It’s a small investment – or even free if you visit a library. The payback just might be a healthier and better life for you. Good luck.

David Perkins

The South Beach Diet: Super Charged is well laid out and easy to understand. You don’t have to guess whether something is okay or not. There are specific lists of foods for you to “enjoy” and to “avoid” for each phase of the diet, as well as lists of foods to reintroduce into the next phase. There are sample menus for you to follow if you wish, there are recipes and shopping lists, and thousands of resources online that offer even more ideas for new dishes and menus.

The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook offers 200 additional recipes, that can be prepared in thirty minutes or less, for breakfast, soups and snacks, salads, fish and shellfish, poultry, beef, pork, and lamb, vegetarian entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Each recipe includes prep time, cooking time, and a complete breakdown of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, and sodium per serving.

The South Beach Diet: Dining Guide is a roadmap to dining out. It gives advice on what the best bets are in most restaurants. You can reference by type of cuisine, by restaurant name, by city, or by “chain.” Hundreds of restaurants across the country are listed, including Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Cheesecake Factory, Cracker Barrel, Lone Star Steakhouse, Luby’s Cafeteria, and even McDonald’s, KFC, and Jack in the Box. You can look up Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian and dozens of other cuisines. It’s a great tool to have when dining out, particularly early on in the program.

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History For Those On The Run

Posted by: David | Comments (1)

The following video, from Newsweek, covers the highlights and lowlights of the first decade of the 21st Century in just 7 minutes. It’s not quite Cliff’s Notes, but it’ll do. It may be preceded by a 30 second commercial. But then, what isn’t? Enjoy.

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What’s Christmas All About Anyway?

Posted by: David | Comments (5)

Fotolia_XmasTreeLast year, about this time, my most excellent friend, Jeff, got a call from his brother, Richard, in Cleveland. Richard suggested to Jeff that, since there was nothing they could give to each other for Christmas that either of them really needed, maybe they should take the money that would be spent and give it to someone, or some cause, that could really use it.

Jeff considered this, and thought it was not only a good idea, but one that deserved wider exposure. So, the cheap bastard called me up and asked, “How about if I don’t give you a Christmas gift?” After my initial outcry, and amid a hail of obscenities and protests that I had been really good all year, he finally got around to explaining the idea that his brother had hatched. Grudgingly, I allowed as to how it probably wasn’t a terrible idea. And, I agreed to approach my “gift-giving” circle of friends to see how they felt about it. I suggested that this moratorium on gifts should not affect the children on our lists but, that instead of the adults exchanging gifts, we make a donation of equal or greater value to whatever charitable organization we considered worthy.

Ryan and I estimated what our gift expenditures would probably amount to, and chose to give a few hundred dollars to the Valley Food Bank, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. What better use, we decided, than making sure that a few families who might not have a decent Christmas dinner would get one. Our friends responded in kind. Or, I should say, at the very least they did not give us a Christmas gift. We prefer to believe they donated to charity instead. Except for one or two. They know who they are.

But, I decided to take it one step further. I also contacted all of our friends that did not ordinarily exchange gifts with us, and recommended they float this idea within their own gift-giving circles. If this could be passed along, sort of like a chain letter, the amount of good that could come from just a few hundred dollars in each circle of friends could be increased exponentially. I got positive responses from several of them, indicating that they had also gotten family and friends to agree to this plan.

And so, here it is the holiday season again. With Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and Little Richard’s birthday all coming in December, there is something meaningful being celebrated by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Whether you’re celebrating for religious, or secular, or personal reasons, this is the time of year when most of us try to find the good in the rest of us; when we attempt to put aside our social and political differences to come together, however briefly, to recognize our common humanity.

We do that, in most cases, by exchanging gifts with the ones we love, and by being a little kinder to those we just like, or don’t know at all. I’m suggesting that those you love already know that you love them. I also believe that most of them would be proud to participate in a scheme that would take the ten, or twenty, or fifty dollars you might spend on their gifts to help someone that you, and they, don’t even know, have a better Christmas, or Hanukkah, or (insert your holiday here).

Most of us are fortunate enough to be with family and friends for our holidays, and to share in abundant meals, good times, and the warmth that comes from being together. More families than you can imagine will not have that in this holiday season, and no matter how generous you have been throughout the past eleven months, more is always desperately needed at this time of year.

So, this should put my friends and family on notice. If you’re older than 21, no gift for you. And we don’t expect one from you. Where your particular slice of the gift budget will be going, we haven’t decided yet. We may, once again, choose the Valley Food Bank. But we’re looking at several others as well. We may give to more than one of them. If you think you might want to participate, but don’t have a cause in mind, I’ve included a few links below to a handful of excellent choices. You can also find others in your local area that deserve your help. Pick one. Give. You’ll have a more satisfying, more fulfilled Little Richard’s Birthday. Trust me.

David Perkins

Save The Children: Donate as little as $10 to help train new mothers, and to feed, clothe, immunize, and educate children living in rural poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

Valley Food Bank: A central hub that collects, processes, and distributes food at no-charge to a network of rescue centers, food pantries, and soup kitchens to provide hot nutritious meals and food baskets to the homeless and to needy families throughout the San Fernando Valley.

And for the children on your list:

Avatar Movie Toys is the place to check for prices and information on all things Avatar – The Movie. A hot Christmas toy collection for every Avatar fan on your list. offers a list of the “Hottest” Christmas gifts for kids for the 2010 season.

Transformers Optimus Prime can be found at this site. Apparently a “must have” for many kids, I’m guessing mostly boys.

Bakugan Maxus Dragonoid is apparently second only to Optimus Prime on the most wanted list this year. You can find him here.

FurReal Friends interactive pets, like Lulu My Cuddllin Kitty Cat, are listed here with links to best prices and vendors.

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Health Reform’s Human Stories

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

The following is a first-hand account of the free health care clinic staged at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana this past weekend. The doctors, nurses, technicians, and other personnel were all volunteers. The facilities, equipment, instruments, and medicines were paid for by Americans all over the country who donated generously so that several of these clinics could be held in multiple cities around the U.S. The eyewitness account was written by Rich Stockwell, Senior Producer for Countdown on MSNBC. This article is reprinted from Countdown’s website.

David Perkins

Countdown Producer Bears Witness to
America’s Health Care Shortcomings

Rich Stockwell Senior Producer 'Countdown'

Rich Stockwell Senior Producer 'Countdown'

New Orleans, La. — – It happened as I watched a 50-something woman walk out, after spending several hours being attended to by volunteer doctors. “She’s decided against treatment. A reasonable decision under the circumstances,” the doctor tells us as she heads for the next patient. The president of the board of the National Association of Free Health Clinics tells me why: “It’s stage four breast cancer, her body is filled with tumors.” I don’t know when that woman last saw a doctor. But I do know that if she had health insurance, the odds she would have seen a doctor long ago are much higher, and her chances for an earlier diagnosis and treatment would have been far greater.

After watching for hours as the patients moved through the clinic, it was hard to believe that I was in America.

Eighty-three percent of the patients they see are employed, they are not accepting other government help on a large scale, not “welfare queens” as some would like to have us believe. They are tax-paying, good, upstanding citizens who are trying to make it and give their kids a better life just like you and me.

Ninety percent of the patients who came through Saturday’s clinic had two or more diagnoses. Eighty-two percent had a life-threatening condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension. They are victims of a system built with corporate profits at its center, which long ago forgot the moral imperative that should drive us to show compassion to our fellow men and women.

Health reform is not about Democrats or Republicans or who can score political points for the next election, it’s about people. It’s about fairness and justice in a system that knows none. I’d defy even the most hardened capitalist-loving-conservative to do what I did on Saturday and continue to pretend that the system in place right now is working.

Countdown chose to highlight and raise money for the Association of Free Clinics because we knew the work they do is so vitally important and we wanted to show in real terms how great the need is. We invited several politicians to attend so they could see first hand how critical the situation is. All declined. Some explained that they talk with constituents all the time and know very well of the need for reform.

I have news for them, these people didn’t need to speak. Their actions spoke far louder than any words. Having to get a check up and diagnoses at a free clinic because they have no other option tells you all you need to know. There are no words that can accurately describe the quiet desperation on the faces of the patients. Every single one I spoke to, and every one I heard talking with doctors, expressed their gratitude for the event and wished that they were held more often.

They have been given the resources in their local communities with which they can get follow up care, but they are also the few. Over 700-thousand people in Louisiana alone have no health care, most of them with jobs that don’t offer insurance.

Or, worse, they have to decide whether to pay for that or food and housing. Four patients were taken out on stretchers and admitted immediately to hospitals. One woman who didn’t know why she was feeling bad had a blood pressure of 280 over 180, numbness in her right arm, and “a slight headache.” She now has a shot at survival, but without her attendance at the clinic, it was a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

I spoke with a nurse who was there not as a volunteer, but as a patient. He works two part time jobs at hospitals providing quality care to those who have the one thing he doesn’t. Many of his patients share his condition of high blood pressure, but they are fortunate to have insurance to pay for him to care for them while he goes without.

His situation is not uncommon, he has tried for years to get more hours at one of his jobs so he will be eligible for benefits, but it hasn’t happened yet. Our system of for-profit health care can’t afford to give him and others benefits – might make the stock price drop a penny or two. The last time the media gathered at that convention center, it was for a natural disaster in which our government was rendered useless due to incompetence.

This time we were there to cover a man-made disaster of even larger proportions. This is a disaster that goes largely unseen by most Americans. It is not too late for our current government to show that they are competent, and can do what the vast majority of Americans are asking them to. The incredibly dedicated people at the Association of Free Clinics told me the clinic would change me and I knew it would. None but the most hardened and heartless among us could watch that event and not be moved to action.

I have changed. I am gratified that just over one thousand people were able to get the minimal amount of care and resources for follow up. But, I am heart-sick for the many more like them who didn’t have the time or didn’t know that they could get care on Saturday.

They walk through their lives not knowing when the ticking time bomb might go off.

Politicians continue to tell us we are the most compassionate and caring people, and clearly we have done much good in the world. I left the event overwhelmed by the hard work and dedication of the volunteers, doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, as well as ordinary citizens who came to help. I am left with one overwhelming question: what does it say about us as a nation of people who can live in a country so rich and yet allow this to continue?


Peace Through Music

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

Playing for Change is the organization that produced the wonderful international music video “Stand By Me” which can also be found on our site. This followup is the great Bob Marley song, “One Love” recorded with many of the same international artists who participated in the first project. Their mission is to promote peace and awareness through music.

NOTE: Once you’ve clicked the “Play” button, to view this video in full screen mode, hover over the lower right corner of the picture, and click the full screen button.

Visit Playing For Change at their website to see their other Peace Through Music projects.

Categories : Music, You Should Know
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Lies of Mass Destruction

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

If you’ve ever wondered why people tenaciously hold on to patently absurd beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a new study to be released in the September issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry documents a phenomenon called “motivated reasoning.” Sharon Begley of Newsweek explains in the following article.

Lies of Mass Destruction

by Sharon Begley, reprinted here from Newsweek (

The same skewed thinking that supports a Saddam-9/11 link explains the power of health-care myths.
By Sharon Begley | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Aug 25, 2009

Not being a complete idiot (contrary to the assertion of many readers I’ve been hearing from), I was not exactly surprised at the e-mails I got in response to my story analyzing why the myths about health-care reform—even the totally loony ones, like death panels—have gained such traction. One retired military officer called me “nothing more than an ‘Obama Zombie’ that has lost touch with reality,” while a housewife sweetly suggested that I sign up for “socialistic medicine” and die, the sooner the better. (My kids get upset when people wish me dead, but hey, they’ll survive.) But now I think I understand people who believe the health-care lies—and the Obama-was-born-in-Kenya lie—even better than when I wrote that piece.

Some people form and cling to false beliefs about health-care reform (or Obama’s citizenship) despite overwhelming evidence thanks to a mental phenomenon called motivated reasoning, says sociologist Steven Hoffman, visiting assistant professor at the University at Buffalo. “Rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief,” he says, “people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.” And God knows, in the Internet age there is no dearth of sources to confirm even the most ludicrous claims (my favorite being that the moon landings were faked). “For the most part,” says Hoffman, “people completely ignore contrary information” and are able to “develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information.”

His conclusions arise from a study he and six colleagues conducted. They were looking at the well-known phenomenon of Americans believing that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Some people, mostly liberals, have blamed that on false information and innuendo spread by the Bush administration and its GOP allies (by former members of the Bush White House, too, as recently as this past March). (As Dick Cheney said in June, suspicion of a link “turned out not to be true.”) But the researchers think another force is at work. In a paper to be published in the September issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry(you have to subscribe to the journal to read the full paper, but the authors kindly posted it (on their Web site here), they argue that some Americans believe the Saddam-9/11 link because it “made sense of the administration’s decision to go to war against Iraq . . . [T]he fact of the war led to a search for a justification for it, which led them to infer the existence of ties between Iraq and 9/11,” they write.

For their study, the scientists whittled down surveys filled out by 246 voters, of whom 73 percent believed in a Saddam-9/11 link, to 49 believers who were willing to be interviewed at length in October 2004. Even after the 49 were shown newspaper articles reporting that the 9/11 Commission had not found any evidence linking Saddam and 9/11, and quoting President Bush himself denying it, 48 stuck to their guns: yup, Saddam Hussein, directly or indirectly, brought down the Twin Towers.

When the scientists asked the participants why they believed in the link, they offered many justifications. Five argued that Saddam supported terrorism generally, or that evidence of a link to 9/11 might yet emerge. These counterarguments are not entirely illogical. But almost everyone else offered some version of “I don’t know; I don’t know anything”—that is, outright confusion over the conflict between what they believed and what the facts showed—or switched subjects to the invasion of Iraq. As one put it, when asked about his Saddam-9/11 belief, “There is no doubt in my mind that if we did not deal with Saddam Hussein when we did, it was just a matter of time when we would have to deal with him.” In other words, holding fast to the Saddam-9/11 belief helped people make sense of the decision to go to war against Iraq.

“We refer to this as ‘inferred justification,’” says Hoffman. Inferred justification is a sort of backward chain of reasoning. You start with something you believe strongly (the invasion of Iraq was the right move) and work backward to find support for it (Saddam was behind 9/11). “For these voters,” says Hoffman, “the sheer fact that we were engaged in war led to a post-hoc search for a justification for that war.”

For an explanation of this behavior, look no further than the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory holds that when people are presented with information that contradicts preexisting beliefs, they try to relieve the cognitive tension one way or another. They process and respond to information defensively, for instance: their belief challenged by fact, they ignore the latter. They also accept and seek out confirming information but ignore, discredit the source of, or argue against contrary information, studies have shown.

Which brings us back to health-care reform—in particular, the apoplexy at town-hall meetings and the effectiveness of the lies being spread about health-care reform proposals. First of all, let’s remember that 59,934,814 voters cast their ballot for John McCain, so we can assume that tens of millions of Americans believe the wrong guy is in the White House. To justify that belief, they need to find evidence that he’s leading the country astray. What better evidence of that than to seize on the misinformation about Obama’s health-care reform ideas and believe that he wants to insure illegal aliens, for example, and give the Feds electronic access to doctors’ bank accounts?

Obama’s opponents also need to find evidence that their reading of him back in November was correct. They therefore seize on “confirmation” that he wants to, for instance, redistribute the wealth, as in his “spread the wealth around” remark to Joe the Plumber—finding such confirmation in the claims that health-care reform will do just that, redistributing health care from those who have it now to the 46 million currently uninsured. Similarly, they seize on anything that confirms the “socialist” label that got pinned on Obama during the campaign, or the pro-abortion label—anything to comfort themselves that they made the right choice last November.

There are legitimate, fact-based reasons to oppose health-care reform. But some of the loudest opposition is the result of confirmatory bias, cognitive dissonance, and other examples of mental processes that have gone off the rails.


Healthcare Reform is in Danger

Posted by: David | Comments (0)

Real health care reform is in danger right now because some Democratic senators like Montana’s Max Baucus crave “bipartisanship.” But in DC, “bipartisanship” doesn’t mean policies that Republican and Democratic voters back home support. It means “whatever watered-down reform insurance companies will let Republican senators vote for.”

Chuck Grassley, the main Senate Republican negotiator, has taken over $2.9 million from health and insurance interests that oppose reform. He’s also said he won’t support a public option because it would beat private insurance in the marketplace! So why are some Democrats still negotiating with Grassley and letting him water down reform — instead of going on offense? One word: “bipartisanship.”

According to a national Quinnipiac poll in August, 40% of Republicans and 64% of independents support the public option. In Iowa, the latest Des Moines Register poll showed 36% of Republicans and 56% of independents. For context, 36% of Senate Republicans would be 14 votes — huge “bipartisanship.”

Thanks to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee for the information in this post. You can learn more about their mission at