Elise Sereni
Thursday, April 24, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, a columnist in this paper said we should not confuse health insurance with health care. Excluding references to Paris Hilton having no discernible talent, that may be the biggest understatement to ever appear in print.

Having health insurance, even something like I have which is considered a fairly comprehensive plan, is actually not much more than a placebo meant to lull you into a false sense of security.  Once you actually need to use your insurance, you find it has more holes in it than George Bush’s WMD argument for invading Iraq.  And if you go so far as to speak with a representative of that plan about something that seems to be so illogical as to be ludicrous, you’ll be dazzled by the circular reasoning used. You will also find yourself feeling intense anger towards a person who insists on being nice while making some of the most outlandish statements ever heard since…well, since Bush swore there were WMDs in Iraq.
For those of you who think this does not apply to you or your health insurance coverage, let’s go over some examples that you might find hidden in your plan.  If you are covered by the State of Alaska retiree insurance, which is what legislators will receive when they retire, you’ll find that no matter how many times you are told that a colonoscopy can save your life through early detection and treatment of colon cancer, your plan will not cover it unless you are actually having symptoms of colon cancer. Then, your plan will happily cover the colonoscopy needed to confirm your diagnosis.  This lends a whole new meaning to the phrase bend over and kiss your butt goodbye.
Women are routinely bombarded with public service announcements telling them how important it is to get an annual mammography and breast exam in order to detect any cancer as early as possible.  But if you have state retiree health insurance, your annual woman’s exam is not covered unless you get a PAP smear at the same time. This is because a PAP smear is covered but an annual breast exam isn’t. For those of us forced to part with our uterus for a variety of reasons, a PAP smear is not needed.  And since we aren’t getting a PAP smear, insurance won’t cover the breast exam.
So the logic, if that word can be applied to this thinking, must follow one of two tracks. Either women are no longer considered valuable without their uterus so why bother saving them from breast cancer, or the people who negotiated our health insurance benefits had their heads up the place they won’t pay for an colonoscopy to go. Perhaps while their heads are up there, they could take a quick look around for suspicious polyps.
But my most favorite moment of all came when a friend needed to screen four or five potential matches for a bone marrow transplant. Each screening cost about $5000. Her insurance company informed her that she would have to pay for the screenings herself and then they would reimburse her for the one that was a match.  Gives a whole new meaning to the value of your life, doesn’t it?
It’s hard for me to comprehend how this country can be the only one left in the industrialized world without universal health care. For god’s sake, even Cuba has better health services than we do. For those who say that a government run program would be a debacle and lead to people waiting for up to a year to get an exam or appointment, I say that at least you know you’ll eventually be seen. The way it works now, at the end of that same year, most people still won’t have the money to buy health care and they’ll still have the disease that’s killing them.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this state, rolling in oil money and wild with spending plans, gave some serious consideration to seeing that its citizens had this most basic of needs met so that they could continue to be contributing members of our society. Because, and maybe I’m showing my bias here, I find it hard to accept a world in which, without my uterus, my breasts are left orphaned.

Elise Patkotak • 03:32 AM •
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Please don’t waste your time and energy calling me when that same effort could be put towards someone who needs convincing. As for me, I can’t imagine voting Republican ever again unless my children were literally being held hostage and threatened with death if I didn’t. And even then, I’d have to figure out if the kids were worth it.  Lisa Murkowski is the only exception to this rule and that’s because she’s the only Republican left in Alaska, aside from Sarah Palin, who doesn’t cause me to have a visceral gag response.

Elise Patkotak • 03:26 AM •
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This past Sunday, the Daily News ran a story about Don Young’s problems with that little road in Florida. It referred to a former staffer of Young who is now in jail in connection with the Abramoff scandal.  Apparently, Abramoff tried to find a job for this guy, named Mark Zachares, in the Interior Department office that oversees US Territories at a time when Abramoff was trying to influence legislation affecting the territory.  The Bush administration would not hire Zachares.
And that’s how you know that you are beyond pathetic. When an extremely influential lobbyist can’t get you a low level job in an administration that has contained some of the most corrupt, incompetent (think Brown’s great job after Hurricane Katrina...think Rumsfeld’s great military strategy in Iraq...think...oh hell, just think George Bush) idiots ever to draw federal salaries.

Elise Patkotak • 03:56 AM •
Monday, April 21, 2008

Don’t you find yourself wondering who the 28 % are that still support the BushCheney debacle that is humorously referred to as our current administration. I say humorously because they long ago stop administering anything and started focusing solely on chaos, nastiness, secrecy and torture. I think the idea was if they kept things insane enough, we wouldn’t notice what an incompetent failure they are. And then, just when I think that 28 % is a figment of the imagination of some pollster who was too embarrassed to admit that no one voiced any support whatsoever for these idiots, someone writes a letter to the editor in the paper supporting these incompetent fools and does a rant based on a reality that is most closely aligned with the matrix. I am stunned that these people actually know how to write. And then I’m buoyed by the hope that if they are intelligent enough to write, maybe someday that intelligence will lead them to see the truth about the devastation wrought on this country over the past eight years by an administration that truly deserves the moniker Evil Empire.

Elise Patkotak • 03:19 AM •
Sunday, April 20, 2008

If there is a god, Joshua Wade will be convicted of Mindy Schloss’ death and will be sentenced to die by lethal injection. And it will turn out that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. We can only hope.

Elise Patkotak • 03:17 AM •
Saturday, April 19, 2008

Puppies like this endanger all curmudgeons by causing us to inadvertently think...and possibly accidentally say out loud....AAAAWWWW!!!!!
Meet Gracie, one of the cutest Portuguese water dog puppies you will ever see. No, she’s not mine.  My two old girls are still with me, battling old age and its attendant diseases like I am. Gracie belongs to a friend. I thought by posting the picture, I’d give you all a chance to start your weekend with an AAAAWWWW!!!!!

Elise Patkotak • 03:31 AM •
Friday, April 18, 2008

Back in Atlantic City growing up, our apartment was on the second floor above the grocery store. The kitchen window looked out on a little cement alley between the store and the warehouse (shed?) where dad kept his extra cases of canned goods.  Mom had dad move the trash can so that it was right under the kitchen window next to the sink. Every night after dinner, she bagged up the garbage...remembering that back then there wasn’t half as much as we have today...and tossed it out the window. It was a big privilege when we were kids to be considered old enough to drop the bag into the trash can. Of course, whoever missed had to go down and pick everything up...unless it was mom and then the kids did it anyway. But she was a pretty good shot and rarely missed. I grew up thinking that’s how everyone disposed of their garbage. When I got my first apartment in NYC and realized I was going to have to carry the garbage down to the can each night I thought I had taken a step backwards in my family’s climb into the middle class.

Elise Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Thursday, April 17, 2008

I used to wonder where my intensely adverse reaction to cell phones originated. I always feel queasy when asked to handle one. Then the light went on one day as I sat in a restaurant with a friend. His cell phone rang. He interrupted our conversation to check who was calling. His face lit up and he announced it was a mutual friend. He answered the call.

I sat there wondering if I was the only person in situations like this that feel as though they are there to fill the time until something better comes along.  I remember one lunch with a friend whose daughter was away on a class trip. She put her cell phone on the table and spent the entire lunch text messaging her daughter such important information as, “Yes, the redwoods are magnificent.” I wondered how her daughter had time to see trees if she was so busy text messaging.
So I sat there as my friend laughed and talked on his phone until he handed it to me.  I said hi and then listened to an update of my friend’s life.  I was paralyzed when it was my turn to talk. Suddenly I was hyper aware of everyone around me.  It was as though I was in one of those dreams where you look down and realize you forgot to get dressed before going to your meeting.
I am perfectly comfortable carrying on a conversation with the person sitting across from me in a public place. So why am I freaked at the idea of a cell phone conversation in the same surroundings?
It took a few minutes for me to realize that when you talk into your cell phone, you can’t lower your voice or lean forward so that you have some privacy. You can’t talk quietly if you are going to be heard through the general noise of the public area surrounding you. You are, in fact, totally naked in that everyone can hear what you say because you have to say it so loudly.
I grew up when there was a clear delineation between public and private areas of life. Now I find myself in a world where that line seems to have been completely erased. The government can make communications companies turn over my records to them without a court order; people post videos on the Internet for the world to see that I would not share with my spouse in the privacy of our bedroom; and conversations about life, kids, love and sex happen all around you despite the fact that you don’t know any of the people involved.
I honestly don’t think those teens in Florida who beat up a classmate in order to post the video on the Internet and become famous did so only because they were inured to violence but also because they have no concept of privacy. If beating someone up is what it takes to become famous, then beat away and post it.  Apparently even crimes are not carried out privately anymore.
Celebrities post videos of themselves having sex.  Politicians enumerate their dalliances at press conferences.  People sit in airports having phone conversations in public that I would blush to have in private.  And suddenly my mother’s words ring loudly in my ears, words she spoke as the sixties tore down all levels of formality and made it ok to go to church in pants with no hat.  “Is nothing sacred anymore?”
Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no.  You can no longer expect basic courtesy when visiting friends. You can only hope that when their cell phone rings it doesn’t turn out to be someone with whom they’d prefer to be speaking. You can no longer expect privacy. Between the government and the cookies that track your every move on the Internet, there is absolutely nothing that is not known about you. From you sex habits to your buying preferences, we no longer have any zone of privacy.
Personally, I could have lived and died very happy without ever knowing that the new medicine was working better for the stranger sitting behind me at lunch the other day. I am apparently in an ever shrinking minority with that thinking.

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well, out decider in chief is down to a 28% approval rating. I’d like to find that 28% and ask them, WHAT THE HELL COULD YOU POSSIBLY BE THINKING!!!!!!??????????  But then I switch to decaf and I feel better.

Elise Patkotak • 03:46 AM •
Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It’s my own fault. I told myself not to play the Jimmy Buffet cd. But who could resist now that I have a cd player in my car. And so I go to bed at night, wake up at 3 AM to go pee and get up in the morning with the same incessant phrase playing again and again in my head...."I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes. A big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer.  Which way do I steer for my cheeseburger in paradise.” And over and over and over. Until it’s replaced by the lyrics, “I just bought a water bed that’s filled up for me and you. So why don’t we get drunk and screw?”...which, of course, could be considered a synopsis of the romances from my past except I never drank, they did. 
Get out of my brain, Jimmy Buffet!  Out! Out! Out!

Elise Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Monday, April 14, 2008

You know you’re really irrelevant when you throw a birthday dinner for the pope at the White House and he can’t find the time to attend, even though he’s in town.
Are you listening, George? You have now become totally irrelevant. You have become so irrelevant that some polls list you below Brittany Spears in world influence.  Man, that’s gotta sting! You can’t beat out a psychotic, aging pop diva whose main claim to fame in recent years has been that she married the most useless man on the fact of this earth. Ouch!

Elise Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Sunday, April 13, 2008

My sister and brother are at the Outer Banks in North Carolina trying to stay warm in sixty degree weather. I am in Anchorage waiting for the snow predicted for Monday and wondering how I could have been so stupid as to take off my studded snow tires before May.  Yet I wouldn’t change places with them for anything. Because the other day I took a walk in the gently falling spring snow while listening to the birds complaining like hell about the havoc the snow was wreaking on their nest building plans and the buds on the trees visibly shivered and wondered if they got the date wrong.  It was a magical walk. Hmmmm....I once again must wonder how we all came out of the same womb. Did my mother fool around with the iceman nine months before my birth?  I guess I’ll never know.

Elise Patkotak • 03:37 AM •
Saturday, April 12, 2008

Today Leslie turns sixty. I’d feel a whole lot more like gloating over that were it not for the fact that she still looks better than most women half her age...and certainly better than me. I’ll save my gloating until she actually looks her age. No matter how long I have to wait!

Elise Patkotak • 03:18 AM •
Friday, April 11, 2008

I took my snow tires off a week ago. Clearly I was tempting the fates with that move. The fates have responded with snow. I apologize. Next year I won’t take the snow tires off until July.

Elise Patkotak • 03:30 AM •
Thursday, April 10, 2008

Every once in a while, I am forced to face the fact that the war on drugs is an abject failure, yet lack of a spine in way too many politicians has made a rational, national discussion of this issue practically impossible.  Which is just pathetically sad because the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost to this hopeless war could have been much better spent in treating people with a problem, to say nothing of how much we’d save if we emptied our jails of people whose only crime was pot.

This issue comes to the forefront again in my life because of its impact on the work I do with children.  It is apparently OK under state law to adopt children out to parents who drink so long as their drinking is not a problem. So if they have a glass or wine with dinner or a cocktail before a play, the state deems them acceptable adoptive parents. But if a person smokes at all, even once, even away from the child, the law considers them unsuitable and they are asked to get substance abuse evaluations.
Considering that alcohol is a gazillion times more likely to be the problem causing children to be removed from their homes, this simply doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense when the assumption is that anyone who smokes pot has a debilitating addiction but anyone who drinks is considered healthy unless proven otherwise.
There are a lot of people in this state with a severe drinking problem. Whether we like it or not, many of them overcome that addiction by replacing it with pot.  That might not be the ideal solution, but as someone who has worked with abused kids for over thirty years, if that’s what it takes to make a home where kids are safe, fed and allowed to sleep through the night without blood spattering their bedding from dad beating mom, then I say give them all the pot they want. Most people on pot do not get violent, rape their children or forget to feed them.  Maybe not the ideal situation, but I’ve been around long enough to know that people rarely achieve perfection.
I have been to more than one meeting on abused children where participants go off to dinner after a full day of workshops and order a cocktail or glass of wine to help them unwind from the day.  They see no irony in sipping that beverage while discussing the problems that drug abuse causes in our state and nation. They simply see no connection between their use of alcohol and substance abuse.  Because although they are all intellectually aware that alcohol is a drug, the knee jerk reaction of almost everyone in this country is to mentally exclude our use of alcohol from thoughts of drug use.  Yet it is a drug, albeit a legal one.
So if we can so easily accept alcohol as a regulated drug acceptable for adult use and only a problem when abused, why is it so hard to start a real discussion about pot use?  Seriously, when was the last time you picked up the paper or watched the evening news and heard about someone going nuts on just pot and committing a heinous crime?  If an honest discussion were ever allowed about pot in this country, we’d all have to admit that one of the most violent drugs in our society is the one that is legal – alcohol.
I find it amusing that at this late stage in my life I am writing a column in defense of pot.  It feels like something I should have written in the sixties. The truth is that in an ideal world, all parents would raise their children in safe, sober homes where the strongest substance used was caffeine. But Ozzie and Harriet don’t exist anymore and no home is ever really as perfect as the one they portrayed. So we go with the best possible homes we can create to raise our children. In some cases, that’s a home where parents might smoke pot.  In my experience with troubled families in this state, if forced to choose, I find it highly preferable to alcohol.
It’s like I said, it’s a sin we can’t have an honest discussion about drug use in our society. Because if we did, alcohol would probably end up banned and pot use would be legal.

Elise Patkotak • 03:15 AM •

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