Sunday, December 30, 2012

“Leadership” the Bullshit of it All

I got an email just now from a very good and very old friend.

He is a friend with whom I find less and less in common.

He is over hard on the fact that an AK 47 is a legitimate hunting weapon – and that  massive bullet feeding mechanisms are good and natural parts of our lives.

He also has bought into the “leadership vacuum” myth that is being circulated, and has been since our President was first elected in 2008.  The fact that that myth is nothing but a surrogate racist way of saying that a (expletive deleted) can’t possibly be a legitimate President of the United States of America either has eluded him, or he just doesn’t care.

So here is the nub of what he said:

“This is my point about not being a leader.  But America said it was OK he can do it again.  How can the alleged leader of the nation sit on his ass and say it's Congress's fault.  With him it's always "SOMEONE" else's fault.”

Here is what I responded.

“I watched Meet The Press this afternoon.

I have no idea what is really going on – nor do you – but I saw a guy, our president,  who is executing a well planned strategy.

And the base premise of that strategy is that McConnell and Boehner and the rest of them are such assholes that there is no dealing with them.

But they CAN be pushed into a corner of their own making. 

And they have made for themselves that corner.

Barack riding out on his horse to do battle would be stupid if the republicans are about to bring themselves to defeat with no action required from him.

Napoleon won many of his battles by coming around from behind the inflexible battle lines of the Austro-Hungarian empire. 

The rules of “leadership” of the day required him to hit ‘em head on.

But he chose otherwise and he always won.  Yeah – ultimately there was Waterloo, but Bonaparte was getting old and tired by 1814.  And he had had to start from zero after returning from exile.

I think leadership from behind has a heritage, and a GRAND one. 

But then I am a great fan of Monsieur, l'Empéreur, Bonaparte.

My friend, you really are becoming a sedentary, angry, sad old man.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How She Became Adrianna

A long-time friend of mine asked me a question recently via email.

Due to the manner in which he asked it I had no idea what the question was and emailed him back telling him my problem.

He replied.

“I do tend to ramble.  So here’s the deal.  Watched Woody Allen flick last night with Owen Wilson where he goes back to the Paris of the 20s where Adrianna is mentioned as a kind of mental fixation for the painter, Damn, I cannot remember his name…the guy who went to Tahiti and had all the lovers and was a Hemingway type guy.  Anyway, very famous artist.  So his fixation and the fact she was brought up and played a fairly prominent part on the film made me think you had borrowed or took with you something from this damn artist.    He was an ass and an eccentric. Sorry I cannot come up with the name; one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.”

That just set me off.

It had finally happened.

And it had happened with someone who is a dear friend.

After I got control of myself, here is what I replied.  And this is the the absolute, briefly recounted truth of the matter.

“Thanks.  Now I get it.  It was Gauguin. 

I love Midnight in Paris;  I frequently go up rue Mont St-Genevieve and sit on the steps of the Eglise St-Genevieve to see if an ancient Peugeot will come and take me away.  It has never once shown up, but I can keep hoping.

HOWEVER – loving the movie once having seen it (a number of times now) notwithstanding - I was really pissed when I first heard of the movie and that Woody had a character in it named Adrianna.  I knew that everyone would forever after draw the conclusions you have just enumerated. 

In fact the book was finished a year before the movie had ever been heard of let alone released. 

The name Adrianna is happenstance.  That name just stayed with the book because the start of it was – I had decided to write a novel and I needed to start somewhere – a fictionalized account of a young woman whom I never met, but whom I watched daily for the better part of a year from the vantage point of my dwelling which was across from her dwelling in Saigon.  She was a civilian employee of the military and she was beautiful and I wanted her. 

Somehow I found out what her name was: it was Adrian. 

I decided I liked Adrianna better for the book.

That’s it.  The story ended up being assembled into the novel over a winter six weeks on Lopez Island.

Bert and I were there alone together keeping the fire going.

The novel emerged over those six weeks from from a rag tag basket of fragments like the Adrianna in Saigon one and some of my blog posts from Four Months in Paris.

That fragment ended up appearing way late in the story as finally assembled and it took an act of extreme imagination and a lot of wine to figure out where I was going to put it, if I was going to use it at all.

As it happened, I love the way it made the story – for me at least. 

Bert is our cat.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

Je Paye La Facture


When I had my recent emergency room experience, as I was preparing to leave, I asked where I needed to go to pay. 

The docteur told me that they are a public hospital and there was no charge. 

Today I got a bill for 179 euros.

I was relieved.

It seemed to me that I should pay something for being clumsy and stupid in a foreign country.

But I had also been internally giving accolades to a health system that would let a foreigner chalk up several thousands of dollars of medical expense and not charge him.

The bill shattered that ambivalence. 

Having a Paris mailing address may have cache, but it also seems to have disadvantages.

But how could I argue with a few hundred euros for spectacular emergency care?

I couldn’t.

That was why I was at Parc Montsouris and got this amazing picture of a parrot.

paris 2012 parc montsourris parrot 122412 00000


Hôpital Cochin is on the way to Parc Montsouris. 

So I decided to spend the afternoon in Parc Montsouris.

When got there – to le hôpital - I went in the accueil entrance and went to the first obvious window and said “I don’t speak French but I want to pay this bill” – in French, of course – and got the usual barrage of French in response.

The woman who issued the barrage obviously didn't like me on sight, but I felt confident that she didn’t like anyone on sight. 

The up-shot of the barrage was that I needed to go down the hall that extended at a right angle to that window; the word “telephone” played some part in what she told me that I would be looking for. 

I went a-ways and came up to two desks in an alcove on the left side of the hall, one desk of which was occupied. 

It said “telephone”. 

“Great” I thought; “I must be where that bitch told me to go”.

So I went up and used the same snappy approach that had gotten me all the way into the inner-sanctum to this new factotum of lack of desire to be helpful, but who will go through various motions to preserve her state of being employed. 

She assumed a look of extreme boredom and gestured aimlessly in no apparently specific direction.  I made some kind of interrogative reply and she snarled “a gauche”.  I replied “a gauche?”  She said again with emphasis verging on malice “a gauche”.

So I wandered off a gauche for a rapidly becoming interminable time. 

I was beginning to question the wisdom of continuing since I was getting pretty deep into non-accounting medical territory - and I have no sense of direction so I could conjure a situation in which I was hopelessly lost in a vast hospital.  Visions of George C, Scott flashed before my eyes when an orderly asked me what I was looking for. 

After the same basic exchange I had already had two previous times he said to come with him and he took me back from whence I had come and pointed out a glass enclosed alcove that I had missed. 

Part of the reason I had missed it was that it was dark inside. 

But once it was pointed out to me I could see a guy sitting in there in the gloom.

So I went up to him and went through my routine – at which I was getting quite facile – and he took my bill and looked at it and then told me that they had had a power outage and he couldn’t process payments. 

He told me to come back at 1600.



After the park and the parrot and a nice hour an a half walk I got back to the hospital at 15h35.

That was not 16h00 but I decided to try anyway.

When I got to the window it was still dark inside the enclosure but there were now two people: my friend and a woman. 

The woman was a net addition since I had been there at 13h30 or so.

“So I guess two of them are going to decry the lack of electricity” I thought to myself.

I tried to transmit a look of uncertainty - transmitted as if a laser - at the window from several feet away from it; apparently that tactic worked. 

The guy gestured for me to come ahead. 

After he had gone through the normal rummaging around that precedes making a credit card payment he kept telling me to wait before putting my card in the card reader. 

“Attendez; attendez!”

Ultimately his card reader wouldn’t work so he had to pass me over to the woman.

After a similar amount of foreplay and rummaging she – the woman -  told me to put my card in the reader.

After a little waiting, the payment was accepted and I was on my way back to le Jardin de Luxembourg and home.

The thing that I don’t know how to evaluate is that none of the exchanges that I needed to go through to complete this transaction involved English – from me, or from them.

I still love France.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Another Day in Paris: I Meet President Washington

Today was very good.

I had a great breakfast. I sliced some mushrooms, shallots and zucchini really thin and then sliced the very thin cross sections of each into little ribbons. I had quite a lot of them. What those ingredients lacked in individual bulk, they made up for in aggregate volume.

And that was the plan.

I had an idea that a large quantity of very thinly sliced vegetable things, if seared in that brief, hot covered process that I find myself using in more and more ways, would constitute a wonderful flavor base for an omelet.

Once those things had been seared, and while they were still extremely hot, I poured in the beaten eggs (three eggs with some fromage Blanc added and beaten to a froth) and started pushing and lifting the combined components, letting the egg mixture form a pan shaped disk of nearly cooked egg. Then I covered it at low heat to let the top of the eggs steam to being more or less done. I don’t like runny omelets, and the steam cooks the top without browning it. Flipping the disk cooks the other side, but browns it.

I think that is too cooked and not very artistic.

Then I folded the egg disk in half onto a warmed plate and, with some fresh baguette, a banana, a dish of fromage Blanc, a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee, had a great breakfast.

The rest of the day turned out equally well.  I got to the street uncharacteristically early at about 10h30.

It was clear and sunny and picture taking was at its best. The crowds were down in size so walking was more pleasant than at times of maximum tourist congestion. I walked and walked and walked. I really didn’t pay much attention to where I was, had been or was going, so I had the adventure of seeing some new things. And I spent much longer at the walking than I would usually have done – somewhere near six hours. And toward the end of those six hours I was really hungry.

So I stopped when I got back to Rue de Rennes at Café du Métro for wine and onion soup. That supplied the energy for another hour of walking, looping back from Café du Métro, past Invalides and on to Avenue Rapp where I cut back to the river, past Pont d’Alma and back to Pont St-Michel.

By then Le Départ looked pretty good. And un pichet de rosé looked even better.

So I got back to the apartment much later than usual, much past dark, and more tired and more relaxed than usual.

A little glass of calvados seemed to be just the thing to celebrate the end of a great day.

I settled onto the couch and sipped the calvados and stared blankly at the dark screen of the television.

I may have drifted into entry level sleep or I may have accidentally dropped into a state of self hypnosis – there was a soft dripping from the slightly faulty toilet coupled with an unusual intermittent pulse of light coming in the casement. That light cast patterns across the space of the apartment in the gloom of the advancing evening. Either or both of those phenomena – the drip and the light - could have doused my hypnosis-prone consciousness into a state of almost, but not quite, being somewhere other than where I thought that I was.

Or I may have had some other sort of not-normal experience. I have a few times experienced a state that appeared, as I analyzed it later, to have been death, but which had not caused me to fade from existence. Or it could have been any of the - I expect there must be - infinite number of other states of existence or near existence that living creatures must slip in and out of upon occasion.

From this state - whatever it may have been - after some lapse of – dare I say, time - I found myself to be roused, or at least so I thought at the time.

I gradually became aware of, on the floor, an oddly oscillating pool of light that seemed as if it must somehow be related to the pulsing light, which, in unison with the dripping toilet, may have put me into my then-newly-emerged-from state.

But in opposition to that apparent accounting of its genesis, that light on the floor seemed markedly different from that outside source of hypnotic pulsing.

It was more of a static multi-colored mixture than an on and off blinking illumination. It had great similarity to that light that seems to exist behind the door outside my apartment.

In the center of it was the mouse.

Croissants and baguettes are enormous sources of crumbs. Unless one runs the vacuum every day after breakfast – which I do not - one quickly produces quite a scattering of, what - I now could see to be the case - mouse food. The creature was oblivious to my presence. It sat on its haunches – I had never seen a mouse do that except in Disney movies – and happily shoved crumb after crumb into its mouth. I also had never seen a mouse use its paws as hands, but this one was using its paws as hands. I also swear I thought I heard it softly humming a rather catchy, almost familiar tune.

Could it be “Green Sleeves”?

I kept deadly silent. This was such an interesting scene that I just wanted to sit and absorb it for awhile.

The mouse finished a crumb, wiped its mouth – again its paw/hand being deployed in a human-like manner - and, looking at me, said, “I have brought a guest this time.”

I responded, “Who?”  (All the other times Jacques has come to see me he has been alone and with messages about Adrianna; so I was very interested who might be the guest.) 

The mouse straightened up from its rather hunched over posture on its haunches, stretched its front legs – I almost said arms – toward the ceiling, emitted that happy kind of sound that humans make when they have just had a good stretch, and brought its arms – I mean front legs - back to what I would call its lap if it were human; it looked at me for a moment. The look, I swear, projected a sense of friendliness and familiarity, combined with something else. Could that something else have been mild disgust? Do mice have that emotion to be registered in their facial expressions? Do mice have facial expressions?

“We call him Le President” he replied.

And he looked at me as he always does; he looked at me as if he expected me to respond in some meaningful way just as he did the first time he appeared to me and said:  “you know that she is waiting for you, don’t you?” and “You have always called her Adrianna”.

“Great”, I thought to myself. “This time he is bringing exhibit A so I don’t have to play our usual game of twenty questions.”

But I kept that thought to myself and waited to see what was going to happen next.

I have had by now so many encounters with Jacques in his various forms – mouse, dog and house sparrow – that I no longer doubt his existence nor do I any longer question his oblique methods of getting to his various points.

So, when he continued mute I reciprocated in kind.

Jacques finally broke the silence.

“There has been a change of plan.  I need to take you to him.”

“How are you going to do that.”

“The way I got here.”

And before I could even think of a reply, let alone vocalize one, I was elsewhere.  Jacques stood next to me in a huge room with a table in its center and people seated at the table.

A doorman said to Jacques “Pardon me sir, who is your guest?”

“Noel from the Twenty First Century.”

“Ah, yes – a troubled time.”

“Just so.”

“So take your seats in the chairs set out for the observers.  The meeting is just starting.”

And we seated ourselves and a voice rang out un-assisted by electronic amplification.

“Who called this meeting?”

The speaker was hunched over his writing desk set off to the side, as were our observer chairs – unlike almost all of the other Leaders he eschewed a place at the huge narrow, but, it seemed, infinitely long, rectangular table that filled the meeting room (although there were a few others who chose his type of workspace) – and he had just dipped his quill into his pot of ink when word had arrived that a meeting had been called.

He was fairly short and dumpy, and was bald at the major central part of his head, the baldness being compensated by flowing locks down below the crown of his pate; it was a genuinely eighteenth century look.


“I think it was The President” a short, trim fellow in the uniform of eighteenth century artillery general’s uniform replied.

(Actually, he said something such as “je pense il etait le president”, and that statement was uttered with a heavy Corsican accent.  But this apparently was a post-life group, and language had become subliminally understandable to all of its members.)

As if in support of that assertion, a very tall, very dignified man in a blue revolutionary war American uniform entered the room.

He had apparently heard the question - and the answer - because he said “ It has been coming to us that that which we had expected to happen in only a few years and that which Thomas had always said was necessary for the refreshment of our society - that we tear up the document and start over – has finally after much longer than we had thought has begun to happen”.

“Therefore, as a member of this Council – we being an aggregate of equals – The council of The Leaders, I have asked for a plenary session to summon a representative from the Twenty First Century (a mild rumble of sound accompanied the mention of that century) to explain the problem so that we may rectify it.”

“Here, Here” was the rising cry as the members took their seats, or in a few cases, their writing desks and prepared to discuss what should be done.

“Since you all know my discomfort with extensive public speaking, I ask that you allow me to delegate leadership of the discussion” said The President.

Since the Council of Leaders was, as The President had previously said, a council of equals, anyone could call a session, and the protocol followed that he, or she who called the meeting, chaired the meeting, and led any discussion that the meeting generated. 

But that protocol also allowed for unusual cases to accommodate members’ unique requirements.  It allowed the delegation of a meeting’s leadership in special cases. 

This was one of those cases.  The President was not a speaker; he was a leader.  And he accomplished the things he accomplished through his influence on others, not on his rhetoric.

So the protocol was invoked.

The protocol said that once such a delegation request had been made, it followed that there would be an automatic and proforma unanimous agreement by vocal acclamation.

“Hear, hear” said the chorus of voices that rose from the assembled Council.

“I would like to ask Winston to chair for me, in that case.”

“Hear, hear.”

An older gentleman with something of a stooped posture, wearing what appeared to be a British naval uniform from the Twentieth Century left a writing desk and took has position at the rostrum in the dead middle of the vast meeting room – it was enclosed by that gigantic rectangular table that squared the room.  A small opening in that table at its apparent head was the access point that had allowed Sir Winston to take his place.

“I am honored, Mr. President; let’s be on with it then, shall we?” he said.

“I once had a similar duty assigned to me in The House of Commons and I was confronted then, as I am now, with the need to ask this question: Mr. President, with all due deference to your aversion for public speaking, we nonetheless need to have some indication of the case you perceive to be at hand. Could you, therefore enlighten us?  You, of course, may be succinct.”

“Succinct is good” seemed to be a murmur from the assembly.

The President stood, rising from his place at the huge table.  Then he put his right hand flat on the table; his left hand he put to his chin in what looked – initially - to be that gesture that always seems seems to imply a pondering mood – Rodin used it with The Thinker - on the part of the person employing the gesture.  But the hand didn’t remain at rest in place on The President’s chin.  It moved up briefly covering a major part of his mouth.  And he seemed to push something in backwards into place; then he removed the hand.

“In Connecticut, one of the thirteen original states in the United States of America there was recently a mass murder.  Twenty small children were massacred and six adults by a madman.”

This came out in very low, almost mumbled tones; but it was clear enough for all present to hear and understand.

“This mass murder was was done with a firearm.”

The President repeated his hand to mouth with a push gesture, dropped the hand, and continued.

“I have requested the Twenty First Century person – an American and an American who owns firearms and who served honorably in our military, including in one of our wars of his time to be brought here by the Special Courier.”

The President paused for a moment, poured a short glass of water from the pitcher at his place at the table, and slowly drank the water.

Winston chose this moment to speak.

“Pray thee, sir, what has this to do with us?  You have just described the condition of much of the human race at any given point in its long and – many times - dismal histoire.  Mass murder is not a new thing”

The President bowed his head, either in sorrow or possibly in thought.

When his head came back level again with his shoulders he raised it upwards, stared at the chandelier in the ceiling, and repeated the hands to mouth gesture again.

“I need to know how it is possible that twenty six people can be killed with a musket or its Twenty First Century equivalent.”

All heads turned to me.

I just sat there trying to shrink into the cane seat of the chair.

But I was unsuccessful.

Sir Winston spoke.

“Thank you for joining us. Can you shed light on The President’s question?”

“Possibly.  But to be sure I would need to ask The President a question.”

I almost fainted having said those words – asking The President – The President – a question?!

“Of course; what is the question?”

“What do you know about Twenty First Century muskets, Mr. President?”

He looked at me square in the eyes – his were icy blue – and said nothing for what seemed to be infinity.

Then he spoke.

“I know nothing of your firearms but the reason for my question is I do not understand how a weapon that fires a bullet and then needs to be re-loaded and then fired again, and so forth, can kill twenty six people.  Were they tied down or in some other manner restrained?”

“No sir. They were running helter-skelter.”

“How was such a thing possible?”

“He had a magazine.”

“Magazine? What is a magazine?”

“Our guns have triggers that - once pulled - shoot as many bullets as they have available.  A magazine is an external storage device that stores massive numbers of bullets and feeds them to that once pulled trigger.  It is possible to fire thirty or more bullets with one trigger pull and then to remove the magazine and install another and do it over again.”

“But surely that is illegal?!”

“No.  It is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The President whirled from the position he had just occupied – looking out one of the high narrow windows as I spoke – and again fixed me with those icy blue eyes.

“You’re shitting me, right?”

The meeting broke up in pandemonium and Jacques and I went back to Paris.

Nothing much else happened today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Parrots Where I Would Not Have Expected Them

Seattle and Paris have pretty similar climates as far as I have ever been able to tell from the time that I have lived in both places.

So I should not have been surprised about what I saw today.

Seward Park which is a couple of miles from where I live in Seattle has a flock of parrots that live there year round.

Apparently being tropical in origin hasn’t stopped them from adapting to the Pacific Northwest.

But, today when I was entering Parc Montsouris, I was surprised.

I heard a bird call that was unmistakably a parrot. 

It wasn't the same call as my Seattle parrots, but it had  the same timbre.

I had to be hearing parrots I said to myself.

And then two birds, making the parrot noise, flew into the top of a very tall tree across the street from where I was waiting for a traffic light to change so I could cross and enter Parc Montsouris.

Those birds flew exactly like parrots: they flashed through the sky with the same aerobatic joy that my Seattle parrots always exhibit.

By the time I was able to cross after the light had changed they had departed; but the tree was so tall and the lighting conditions were so adverse that I didn’t think that I could have gotten a picture anyway.

So I shrugged and moved on.

Later, after an hour or so in the park, and after hearing and seeing the the birds flash across the skyline numerous times, I finally got an opportunity to take some pictures.

They have much longer tails than my Seattle parrots.

paris 2012 parrots in parc mont sourris 121912 00000paris 2012 parrots in parc mont sourris 121912 00001paris 2012 parrots in parc mont sourris 121912 00002paris 2012 parrots in parc mont sourris 121912 00004

paris 2012 parrots in parc mont sourris 121912 00003

Friday, December 14, 2012

Just in Case Anyone is Interested Enough

Here is the link to where you can by a memoir about my year in Saigon.

It’s All in How One Looks at it – I Guess

A friend of mine sent me this email:

“Why would the NRA say anything about this?  They have nothing to do with this type incident.  Your right, it will happen again and again until right from wrong is taught at an early age and continued to be taught.  More gun control laws will continue to be laws that cannot be enforced like so many other laws already on the books.  Prohibition sure worked for alcohol control!  It did make a lot of people very rich however.  All of our drug laws are working really well too.  You cannot legislate morality.”

I fired back:

You can effect morality with laws – fumer par example. 

But this has nothing to do with morality.

It has to do with an inventory of 250 million (or more) and growing, of firearms in America over which most nobody has any real control. 

The government has some control over you and me – people who are apparently sane, and apparently law abiding, and who abide by the gun control laws that exist -  but the government has no control over the people who keep committing these horrendous acts. 

If the government did, these horrendous acts would cease. 

But they don’t; they just keep happening.  (I finally turned off all outside input – iPhone KUOW app, CNN TV/Orange connection, when I kept hearing that the good news was that these kinds of things don’t happen very often.)

With almost as many guns as we have people there is no way to control the problem. 

Even if I were in favor of a law to call the guns all in and melt them down – which I am not - it wouldn’t accomplish anything. 

The genie has been out of the bottle for a number of years and we are all going to have to get used to living in a war zone. 

I did that once; I survived a year in Saigon. 

I can do that again. 

In fact, I have done that again; that is the point to my exhumation of an old 2010 blog post.



I just don’t give a fuck – shoot me down or try to; let’s see who wins. 

The problem is at least partly exacerbated by the hate that is vended by the republican party and their asshole buddies, the tea party.

“You Are Safe?” How Nice!

I guess the most appalling thing about this latest NRA debacle is that the news coverage seems to be concentrating on letting the generic populace know that "they are safe".

How nice.

There are eighteen kids dead and we should worry about whether the residents of wherever it is Connecticut are safe???

They are safe?????

If the vaunted value of the NRA and the republican cult’s mantra of "everybody has a gun" were anything but a pipedream the citizens of Connecticut would be out searching in the woods for any suspected vestigial remnants of the assassin group and eliminate them.

But those residents are apparently more interested in being “safe”. 

Or so the news would cause one to conclude.

Apparently they are waiting for “Old John Wayne" (quote from a Garth Brooks song).

Here are some thoughts that I offered in 2010, also from Paris, about the value of “safety”.

Oh What’s The Use?

Eighteen children?

Age ten or younger?
What has the NRA got to say about this?

I would expect a vapid statement of generic horror coupled with a re-iteration of "by my cold hand".

There are so many guns in America that I am reasonably sure that some sort of "law" can't do anything.  I am am also reasonably sure that - in anyone who might read this's lifetime - there will be no way to reduce or control that number.

So I guess we should create a generic news release - a la Catch 22 - that leaves blank spaces for the numbers of dead, dying and seriously wounded.

That way we can have a very efficient way of describing the incident – they are generically identical, only the body count differs – and we can get on with business as usual.

Thoughts Evoked by Susan Rice’s Withdrawal of Candidacy

A friend alluded to this event in an email that I got this morning.

I had some immediate thoughts about the article that he supplied a link to:

Here are those thoughts.  They are mercifully brief.


I hadn’t heard that she withdrew.

I read The Economist but seldom turn on CNN so I usually don’t have any currency in the adventures in Wonderland. 

I am glad that this is the way it turned out – it is the only reasonable thing to do in the face of all the important stuff that needs to be attended to: six weeks or more of theatrics in confirmation hearings probably would have been entertaining, but the country would have stood still.

My gut feeling is that Ms. Rice is eminently qualified but a really bad personality fit for the job. 

I think the issues that the republicans have drummed up against her are probably shams, but that is really irrelevant to the higher truth: somebody better suited to the job will now be Secretary of State. 

Of course the republicans will welcome the Kerry appointment with open arms. 

It puts up a Senate seat for grabs.

And Chuck Hagel is a brilliant choice.  He has been off the scene way to long.  He is the kind of republican that I would vote for in a heartbeat, but who can’t even get through a republican primary.

If you want an utter indictment of the republican party that is it.

I thought Hagel should have run for President in 2012, but he didn’t even try. 

He is too straight, honest and intelligent.

It is going to be interesting to watch Governor Christie struggle with that same grim reality.

I think he may call their bluff.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What I Thought About The French Health Care System a While Back


I have spent more than a year in France over the last 10 years. Inevitably, even though I am really healthy, I have had a few encounters with their health care system.

The first was in 2002. 

I got a bad cold which turned into a sinus infection as they always do, and rather than put up with weeks of misery I always make an appointment with the doctor and get a prescription for amoxicillin which gets rid of the infection. 

I called a friend and got a reference to a doctor and called and made an appointment - he could see me that afternoon. 

He was an expatriate Brit who had been there long enough that he spoke English with a French accent. As we went through the examination his English began to lose its French accent, I assumed due to the influence of hearing his mother tongue spoken with a non French, albeit American West Coast accent. He seemed to be enjoying talking to another native English speaker, so I engaged him in conversation. 

Note that he had the time to choose to let me engage him in conversation. 

I asked him why he had decided to practice in France rather than England. 

He had a lot to say on that subject, but the net of it was that he didn't like practicing medicine in a socialized system so he moved to France which had a system that was both vastly superior and not socialized. He said that the government involvement that did exist in France created an excellent system that guaranteed superior healthcare for everybody at an acceptable cost and that made the environment for the practice of medicine much more enjoyable than that of England.

I asked him why, as long as he was pulling up roots, and since he spoke English he didn't move to the US. He said that as far as he was concerned the only worse place to practice medicine than the UK was the US. He said that we had the highest cost, worst outcome, private insurance company dominated system in the world. 

He marveled that Americans would put up with it. He only knew that he didn't want to play in that sort of game.

That office call, that I was able to make and execute the same day cost me 35 Euros. 

That was max cost possible because I didn't have coverage in France. 

Later I learned something else. 

I didn't need to see a doctor at all. 

I had made the appointment because in the US if you need a prescription you have to see a doctor. 

So you make an appointment wait, a few days, see the doctor, beg for the prescription (after all, what do you know about the state of your heath?) and be charged a couple of hundred dollars for your office visit which will be adjudicated by an insurance company, if you have insurance, for several months, after which your doctor's practice will get some portion of what was billed. 

All of that just to get a prescription. 

In France the pharmacist is the first line of medical services delivery. 

When I need a trivial prescription such as amoxicillin I go to my local pharmacy talk to the pharmacist and get a prescription. 

There is no service charge and the pills cost about 4 Euros.

The second encounter I had was an aberration, but worth noting. 

I had a severe case of stomach flu and after several day of staying in bed I put my raincoat over my pajamas and went down my four flight of stairs and out to the street to the pharmacy next door. 

I bought some Tylenol and went back into the apartment and was climbing back up the stairs when I woke up with my head down the stairs about two flights up hearing someone saying in French accented English "'Allow, is anyone there?" 

I answered, got up and then woke up again, head down in roughly the same place as I had awakened the first time. 

This time there was a man, even older than me, standing over me and helping me up. 

He and his wife lived one flight down from me and he had heard me fall the first time. I had no memory of anything except starting up the stairs. He was a retired doctor, but he worked every day as a volunteer physician. He took me into his apartment, examined me, told me I was dehydrated and suffering from a bad flu and gave me some medicine and escorted me to my apartment. That was about 1100 in the morning. He said he'd be back at about 4 to check in on me and did I need anything from the store. I could see that I was going to run out of toilet paper. When he came back at 4 he had a huge package of toilet paper. None of this cost me anything unless you count the bottle of cognac I took to him and his wife a few days later when we got together for a glass of wine and some conversation.

The third encounter was two years ago when I got another, milder case of the stomach malady that had felled me on the staircase a couple of years before. This time I just decided to get a doctor to make a house call - they do that in France. So I called and a couple hours later a doctor showed up, examined me and gave me a prescription for whatever it was that I had. I had to go out to the pharmacy, but I was only up one flight this time so I didn't pass out when I returned. That doctor house call cost me 70 Euros, again, the maximum possible due to the fact that I have no health care coverage in France. 

Once a person becomes some sort of officially resident non French citizen he or she is covered, but I was still a visitor.

So now to what I heard this morning. Actually, I keep hearing it in various forms; it just finally put me over the edge this morning. Some Republican was decrying the possibility of a "public option" because it would be socialized medicine, just like France (remember what my Brit Doctor friend said?). He also said we couldn't afford it (I guess since the current wonderful Insurance Industry controlled option is the most expensive in the world he assumed that any change would cost even more. It might have been useful for him to have been aware that France's system is not only not socialized medicine, it costs way less than ours and provides generally the best or nearly best "outcomes" in the world - the US is somewhere in the thirties in world rankings for outcomes). And even someone who doesn't pay into the French system - me in the examples above - can benefit from superior service (same day appointments, house calls within a few hours of request) and low cost - 105 Euros for my entire medical needs from the system, not counting prescriptions.

But then he really delivered the coup de grace. 

If we have a public option, he said, it will kill off our great American Market Driven and Provided approach to the requirement. He said that 120 million of us would sign up for the public option if it were offered, and therefore could under no circumstances be considered. 

So how stupid are we? 

If the public option is so bad, why would 120 million of us all sign up for it? 

What kind of forked tongued rhetoric are the Republicans dishing out?

But the lobbies can apparently keep dinosaurs going for years, to the detriment of all of us, including the dinosaurs. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Interesting Evening: France Distilled

At 17H08 on 8 December from Quai d’Orsay while I lay on a pile of construction material I made a cell phone call to the only person who I know in Paris, my landlord.  I got his voicemail and left him a message.  I had called him because I felt as if someone other than me and the people – none of whom did I know - who were milling around me trying to help me, and who had induced me to lie down on the construction material, ought to know that I had just experienced perhaps the most stupid accident that one could experience and that, contrary to what I looked like I was OK. 

Or at least I thought I was OK. 

To look at me, which of course – lacking a mirror – I couldn’t do, was to draw a completely different conclusion, I divined from the actions and facial expressions of the people who were trying to help me.. 

A lot of blood always makes things look worse than they really are. 

Or makes them look worse than the bleeder wants them to turn out to be.

The message I left for Thierry was “I need you to know that I have a problem.  I have tripped and fallen on Quais d’Orsay and cut my head.  I’m bleeding like a stuck pig and the people walking with me when it happened have called les Pompiers and the Pompiers are about to put me in an ambulance.”

That was it. 

Once I had left that message I felt kind of stupid. 

What was I going to accomplish by – perhaps – ruining Thierry’s Saturday evening?

But it was done.

The only particulars left out by that account are that I had been walking very rapidly for about thirty minutes continually trying to pass a lot of people who had no idea where they were going and who had solved their problem by forming vast clusters of bodies making travers by people who did know where they were going, or thought that they did, down the way, nearly impossible.

I had just gotten to Quai d’Orsay and things had thinned out. 

I found myself midst people who did know where they were going and were moving at Paris speed.

I melded in.

I was as close to running as is possible and to still be walking.  Apparently that state, like  running, leaves both feet briefly off the ground with every stride.  In one of those strides my left toe caught on one of the myriad irregularities on the Quai and I went down.  My hands were quick but not quick enough.  They didn’t completely break the fall enough to stop my head – the right front of it– from trying to gouge a trough in the walkway.

The walkway won: there is no trough.

I had been hurrying to take some pictures of la Tour Eiffel after its lights had been turned on.  It was a half hour after sunset and I was about fifteen minutes away from Pont d’Alma from which I was going to take my shots, and that – I was thinking – was going to be the perfect time of day with perfect light conditions. 

I was thinking that as I went down.

The Pompiers took really good care of me.  They took preliminary information, asked my how old I was, took my blood pressure every few minutes, told me they were taking me to Hospital Cochin and put on a triage dressing. 

The high point of the ambulance ride was one of the medics. 

He said “are you sure you’re seventy?  You don’t look seventy.”

I, of course assumed that he wasn’t thinking that I looked eighty.

I am going to try to tell the rest of this story with a text message exchange – which started when I turned my phone back on while waiting for stitches - and an email stack between me and Thierry (with address information deleted and the sequence of the stack put in reverse so that it makes sense).

Typos and mis-spellings are left to stand. 

Except “uses”.  The goddamn iPhone word cop turned “idée” into “uses”.


The iPhone Texts

iPhone 120812 00000iPhone 120812 00001

First Email

“I doubt if you have ever had a tenant so glad to see his Paris home. 

I got a ride with the Pompiers to Cochin, complete with blood pressures, and triage wound dressing. They stayed with me until the hospital staff took me officially into their jurisdiction. 

That started with  a preliminary interview and a wound dressing change.  Then I had to wait for awhile and watch some other interesting cases arrive and be processed in. 

After awhile they wheeled me into a room to wait for the Doctor.  She showed up and performed a bunch of tests to see if I was alive and likely to stay that way, looked at the wound and put a third – really temporary dressing on it.  She said she wasn’t sure if I needed stitches (sutures) and called in the Chief Physician who said I did need “stitches” (that’s what she said, all the while apologizing for her un-expert English). 

Then she put the stitches in.  She said I needed a cat scan because of all the blood that was collecting and because I take a mini aspirin every day. 

So I got the cat scan, got the results of the scan – “no problem” – got debriefed by a third doctor and a nice guy in the waiting room called a taxi and stood out with me in the cold until he saw it and ran out in the street to keep it from passing us by.

I hit the pavement about with my head – I was moving fast down Quai D’Orsay and caught the toe of my left foot on a raised piece of sidewalk that I hadn’t seen – at about 1700 and was home at about 2240.  I’d call that a lot to be delivered by a medical system in that amount of time.  I now have experienced first hand what I have known for a long time: France is a country designed for human beings.

I am unsure of the wisdom of including this picture (the glasses are broken) I took of myself just before the stitches, but what the hell?” 

death warmed over

Response Email

Bad things happen so quickly and suddenly!!!!!
I am sure you are happy to be safe at home now!
I try to phone many times on your cell phone and at the apartment!
The photo is extremely impressive!
Wow, now, you have experienced also.. the paris hospital!
Your french experience is complete! please avoid the french jail! no no no welcome!
Try to smile anyway!
Noel, I keep in touch if you need anything now!
Sleep well my friend!”

My Reply Email

I have some prescriptions from the hospital.  They are for pain pills – I don’t need these – for bandages and two related or other things that I don’t know what they are and a prescription to remove the stitches in ten days.  To change the bandage every day I need to employ a nurse (or do it myself, but the doctor strongly recommended getting a nurse).  She said I could get referred to a list of nurses at a pharmacy.  I also will need that nurse to take out the stitches.

I am not going to even try to go to the pharmacy today. It’s Sunday and most are closed. nd I just want to stay in and stay quiet. So I am going to stay in read and convalesce.

But I am going to have to go tomorrow.

Could you,please, come by and go with me to a pharmacy and help me get all of this accomplished?

I am doing my best to avoid the jail.”

Response Email

“Yes! I can come at 10h00 tomorrowmornnig, good for you?”

My Reply Email

“Absolutely Great!!! And thank you so much.  So you are not overly shocked when you see me tomorrow here is my picture today.  My friend, the lady in the boulangerie just looked at me and shook her head when I bought my Tradi et croissant this morning.”

the day after the night before

Friday, December 7, 2012

A French Manner of Looking at Things

Tonight I had just gotten back to my apartment from a lusciously lengthy lunch at Le Départ Saint-Michel where I had spent more than two hours eating my steak au poivre, drinking my carafe of côte de Rhone and watching the deepening pall of dark gray as it engulfed the sea of umbrellas on the Quai and in the Place St-Michel.

I pushed the little glowing thing that activates the lights in the ante-chamber and inner-sanctum and the stairs. 

I did that so I wouldn’t stumble in the dark between the entry door and the stairway up to the first floor where my apartment is. 

At this time of year that dark is profound.

Then I hit the first key in the four key sequence that opens the electronic security lock. 

Like numerous times since I arrived here in September that first key said nothing. 

Each of the keys, you see, speaks as it is touched to let one know that one has actually made each key do its electronic magic.  If the sequence keyed has been correct that electronic magic results in a “click” of the lock and allows for a brief period of time in which one can push open the door and enter the inner-sanctum.

If one of those keys doesn’t speak one is out of luck as far as getting into the inner-sanctum.

The first key in the sequence that causes the door to click has had a mind of its own from the day that I arrived.

On that arrival day the four key sequence had recently been changed from the last time I was here in March and I was all excited to prove to myself that I had memorized the new sequence correctly (there was, I will admit – and if one would have been among the handful who had read Screen Saver one would know this to be true – the element of hope that the curse of first time entry syndrome would not attack me on this first day of September 2012).  At my age it takes little to excite me and anything that seems to prove that I still have eluded senility usually is in the category of those things that do – excite me.

So I keyed the sequence from memory. 

There seemed to be an arrhythmic pause when I keyed the first number in the sequence, but the key nonetheless spoke and the lock clicked and I got in.

It wasn’t long before that arrhythmia had become a quite frequent statement: “I just am not talking now”. 

So spoke that first key in the sequence.


It finally got so bad that one day I just couldn’t get into the inner sanctum.  I had been trying for – it seemed – an interminable span of time and I finally called my landlord on my iPhone and said “I don’t know if I can get in.  The first key doesn’t work.  I assume that if I try long enough I can get in, so I am not asking you to come and help me, but I am calling you to let you know that this thing needs to be fixed.”

Thierry is unaccustomed to me making statements that express both dis-satisfaction and emphasis.

So he took me seriously.

“I will come tomorrow and …” I can’t remember what he was going to do but I was comforted.

And after a few more tries the first key spoke, the lock clicked and I got into the inner sanctum.

The upshot of Thierry’s visit the next day was that I was the only one in the eight stories that comprise our building who had any problem with the lock.

Somehow that didn’t surprise me.  The French – who have unbelievably short fuses on some things (things I would often consider trivial) accept as the normal order things which an American would consider intolerable and would have passed a bond measure to rectify.

So I knew I was on my own.

Knowing that no one else has the problem hasn’t made the problem go away.

Nor has knowing that no one else has the problem kept others of this community from being unable to access the inner sanctum.

More than once I have become a member of a gathering throng of fellow residents who cannot get the first key to work. 

It is a nice way to meet people.

The difference between me and most of them is that sooner or later one of them admits to himself or herself that the god damn door isn’t going to open and they ring their apartment from the bank of keys that buzz each of the apartments.

There is one of those keys marked “McKeehan” but no one is ever there (since were I to buzz it I by definition am not “there”) so buzzing it doesn’t do me any good.

But for the one of our little doorway conversation group who finally decides to resort to exceptional measures there is always some one at home and the door clicks and we all get in.

I guess that says that they really don’t have the problem – I am the only one with the problem.

Unless I happen to be in the throng sans problem when the problem is manifesting itself.

How French.

On those many occasions when no one else shows up and when I have tried the first key so many times I have wanted to scream “open you son of a bitch” I have resorted to the dactyl equivalent of that shouted epithet: I start randomly touching keys – all of the ones other than the first make reassuring chirps (usually) and then finally I go back to the first.

Then, frequently that crucial first key chirps after all its brothers or sisters have been stroked randomly and to excess.

Often, however, it doesn’t.

In those non chirping circumstances I start all over.

It was after several weeks of doing this that one of those random and rather voluminous sequences resulted in a “click”.

The door opened.

“Who knows” I said to myself.

Tonight, after the random number generator had been invoked for the countlessly additional time there was a click.

“Who knows” I said.

“God I love France” I thought I heard someone thinking.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Death Fairy

This has not been like me.

I always, when I see something that touches me, rush to the keyboard and see what the Ouija inspires me to say.

But this time has been different.

This time there has been an uncharacteristic delay.

But finally I am reverting to type.

Here and now I am asking the Ouija to help me through this.

It has been more than a week.  Maybe it has been two weeks.  It feels to have been a lifetime.

The backdrop for the difference in my speed of delivering the news is the croissant fairy guy.

He has become a person of special interest for me.

Mysti and I were walking back in a late November early evening from what had become during her altogether too brief sojourn with me here, our daily late afternoon meeting at Le Départ for wine and frittes.  As we broached Quai Conti and rue Nevers we saw the croissant ferry guy asleep in a brand new place.  He was halfway into the arch that is the portal to rue Nevers.  He was neither fully covered by the arch from the rain nor fully exposed. 

He was just a lump of humanity that had apparently given up, asleep – or dead I wondered – on the sidewalks of Paris.

“ I don’t think that guy can last too much longer” I said.

“What do you mean?” Mysti said. 

Of course she knew what I meant but, somehow her response was of the mandatory sort that I would have been disappointed if it had not been forthcoming.

“I think he almost surely will die before the real cold of Paris December sets in” I said.

Mysti didn’t reply.

A few days later I was on the last leg of a really long walk – I was going down Rue d’Opera toward rue des Pyramides where I could cut over to les Tuilerries and to les Quais and to Pont Neuf and to home. 

I was ready to be home. I was wearing the new shoes that Mysti had bought me for my birthday.  They were really comfortable, but they were really new.  A five hour walk had stress tested that relationship.

I was moving at a Paris-resident sort of speed, not a Paris-tourist sort of speed.  The difference in those speeds is that the former is employed by someone who actually wants to get somewhere, the latter is employed by someone who hasn’t a clue  where he or she is going and needs to stop and block the narrow Paris walkways as he or she looks hopelessly around, hoping to find some sort of direction to be found, and never finding it.

So, at the speed of a Paris pedestrian I could well have missed what I saw.

But I didn’t miss it.

I saw it.

I saw it much too starkly.

As I came abreast of a group of people blocking most of the rather small sidewalk – a not uncommon occurrence here (tourists tend to flock) – I swerved, at Paris speed, and was just about beyond the little cluster when I saw something.

What I saw was several people kneeling on the sidewalk around another person.  That person was flat on the ground.  That person was massively convulsing – he was twitching - twitching in a significantly massive manner.

There were a number of other people standing and watching.

I briefly became one of them.

But I was almost immediately overcome with a sort of self-disgust.  It flowed over me and caused me to move on.

As I did so I saw some of what had been the outer-outer ring of watchers.  They were three young women – Parisians, it was obvious, by their short skirts, long legs and black stockings. 

But for me they served a tremendously important purpose.

Because they were looking at something.

It was something back against the wall that housed the windows of a shop close to where the twitching body lay.

They gestured at it.

If I were able to understand more than the minimal amount of French that I can understand and that keeps me alive here –“un verre de vin rouge s’il vous plait; je suis desole” for example – I probably would have known what they were saying.

But I didn’t know what they were saying.

I didn’t know.

But, really, I did know.

In the direction of their gestures was a classical street person residence. 

There was a cardboard box upon which to sit, and it had the convex evidence of someone having recently sat there; there was a cup with coins in it on the pavement in front of the box and there was a roller bag – the new trademark of the people of Paris with no place to go and no place to be, but who have a few things that they want to keep, a few things that, peut être, make them continue to feel like human beings.

There was a tall can of some sort of ale or beer sitting next to the cup. That is also a new trademark of the hopeless on the streets of Paris: large cans of fortified malt liquor.

I looked back at the person for whom this – if I had interpreted the young women correctly – was home; this was the residence of the person on the sidewalk with a few samairitanes surrounding him.

He was very still.

As I turned onto rue des Pyramides I heard the siren.

A meat wagon was going toward the place from which I had come on Rue d’Opera.