July 2008

Les Misérables

Les Misérables ★★★★★
Directed by Claude LeLouch and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, this film, in French, is a passionate, moving, exceptionally well-acted film about a Jewish family escaping the Nazis in WWII France, eventually returning back together after the war, and an older illiterate man, once prized as a boxer, and now running a moving business, helping the Jewish family, including father who was a lawyer, mother who was a ballerina, and 11 yo daughter survive in the chaotic years of 1940-1946 France. This film is a must-see, very loosely based on the Victor Hugo novel by the same name. I will not tell the story as it would destroy the first time impact of the film, which all, whether or not you understand French, would be deeply moved by. It is the depiction of total depravity, not only with many of the Nazis, but many of the French people, in their treatment of the Jews at the time, and yet also a depiction of people selflessly and at all possible cost of their life-giving of themselves for what is noble and right. Why it has not hit the American cinema like “Life is Beautiful” or “Jacob der Lügner” is beyond me.

12,13JULY2008 STP 203 miles (Seattle to Portland) bicycle ride

I was quite ready for the STP. The only problem I had was temperatures above 32°C (90°F). This led to the need for more frequent rest stops and 9 liters of fluid consumed on Saturday. Not good. But, I was minimally sore by the end of the ride and felt good the entire distance. The ride was done with Jonathan Kamke and Lucas Anderson. Lucas was definitely the strongest rider of the group and helped set a fairly fast clip that had us mostly passing others, rather than being passed. Hills are getting easier, and bike control is better. It was nice being able to draft in a team, which added several miles/hour speed to our ride, and we were averaging about 18 mph (29 kph) on hills, 20 mph (32 kph) on flat, and 25 mph (39 kph) on downhill stretches. We started on the UW campus at 6 am Saturday AM looking rather fresh…

and arrived in Longview at 16:30, where we stayed overnight. The next day, we had only 50 more miles, which took us without stopping from 7:00 to 9:45. We didn’t look quite so fresh at that time…

The weather already was in the mid-eighties by the time we arrived at the finish line at Lloyd Center in Portland. We were able to meet my brother and his wife in Portland at the finish line to celebrate the occasion. Thanks Lew & Carol. Betsy also acted as the SAG vehicle, which was a super help.
Would I do it again? Absolutely!!! Next time, I will pray for a light Northwest drizzle, try to do it in one day… and, make sure Lucas (and his dad????) accompany me! I would really like son Jonathan with us next year. Perhaps I could also get Ara out next time. One day. You can do it. It’s sort of fairly flat.

Not Bad for a Heart Cripple

A little over a year ago, I was having stents placed in my coronary arteries. Thirty pounds of weight loss and lots of exercises followed, as well as a focus on stress reduction. I purchased my bicycle (a Novara Trionfo) in early September and found that I could only do about 10 miles before becoming exhausted. But, I decided in October to do the STP this year (an annual Seattle to Portland bicycle ride). It was a wonderful feeling to do 203 miles at a reasonable pace and yet never feel really drained. I’m already thinking about doing it again, hopefully in just one day. We’ll start a little bit earlier in the day, before daybreak. My main problem is the mistuning of the bicycle had the chain coming off. My bicycle worked perfectly well until I took it in to be tuned at REI several weeks ago. I have never had such a bad time with chains coming off. Fortunately, we had no flats on the trip, though my tires look rather chewed up, and in need of replacement at the end of the trip. I hope that son Jonathan would be able to do the STP with us next year. He’ll have to get riding a bit. I also hope that Ara could make it out next year. Start riding, dude! I’ve learned to tune my own bike, and feeling comfortable about riding long distances, I don’t anticipate any problems next year.
Today is Bastille Day! Vive la France! J’adore le Français. Our family is relishing the wonderful freedom we have from our revolutionary forefathers. That is why we try to suppress the spirit of revolution because it’s already been done for us. Now, our benevolent and all-caring politicians will supply our every need, big or small. If your name is Freddie or Fannie, and you just somehow squandered 3-4 trillion dollars, hey, no problem, Uncle Sam will bail you out. Freddie and Fannie might get a slap on the wrist, or be given a few additional regulatory orders, but that’s it. The kind and ever gracious benevolence of our dear politicians also wishes to provide for your’s and my healthcare. They will make the rich pay. The rich are anybody that is not buried six feet under.
When I put on my libertarian Ron Paul hat, I demand that the health care system be as far removed from government as humanly possible. There are several problems with that. 1) The feds require that health care be provided for all. Though the emergency room is only for emergencies, eventually every disease will become an emergency, in which you can go to an emergency room and demand care for free. 2) The feds have imposed massive rules on health care that make it nearly economically unstable. These rules are most prevalent in hospitals, governing the most inane items, such as initials that have been used for orders since the development of medicine, and are uninterpretable only to the clueless, like lawyers. 3) The legal profession has defined an ethereal standard of care that forces maximal possible care in all situations and makes you guilty even when right. 4) The feds have defined pricing for all but the most elective procedures, such as plastic surgery and dermatology procedures. This means that we have absolutely no control over overpricing. We take what we can get, and rarely is it comparable to other highly professional services rendered and always without the extreme risks that are assumed by the physician. 5) The feds have removed value from the cost of medicine, forcing costs to sky-rocket. 6) The third-party payor system has removed cost impact on the health care consumer, thus removing any sense of value to any drug or procedure performed. How much is an appendectomy worth? What about a perforated appendectomy in a 500 lb diabetic smoker with heart disease that stays in the hospital for 2 weeks. Under medicare, the surgeon gets about $400 for any case of appendicitis, slightly more if the appendix is ruptured. That is barely enough to cover overhead costs. Medical care no longer has value, and the public expects it for free. 7) Our current system was based on a historically previous better economic arrangement for physicians, which allowed them to often render services for free, such as caring for indigent patients or offering their time as “community service” to the hospital as call. With the loss of any margin to health care, most physicians (especially surgeons) can no longer freely give of their time, creating extreme tension between physicians and hospitals, with physicians now demanding to be paid for their hospital service call and hospitals insisting that such care continue to be rendered for free.
The only difference between the current US health care system and most European health care systems, such as that in Great Britain, is that the socialized system in the US is funded mostly by entrepreneurial private dollars, while the socialized system in Great Britain or Canada funded by public funds. In reality, we are giving the feds a very foolish deal. They can carry on the most asinine regulatory actions, pretend to offer tort reform, offer grandiose promises to the public, and act truly sincere about caring for the health care provider. They reluctantly save the health care system at the last moment after doctors throughout the nation have kissed the derriere of their local politician with begging and pleading not to enact Medicare cuts (which still is a cut, since current inflation is estimated at between 3-16%) thinking that we should be ever grateful for them. As a response to decreased Medicare reimbursement, private enterprise is trying to become increasingly creative about making a profit. Historically, our response to decreasing reimbursement was simply to work harder. Now, we are working as hard as possible in order to maintain financial equity. Several years ago, a colleague announced that he was going to take a week a month off since that would then give him the equivalent of an eighty-hour work week and provide some sanity to his life. Several months later, his revenues plunged to not even supporting his overhead. He is now back to much less time off, and making a modest profit, though his investments are probably more financially rewarding than his profession itself, and he rarely ever seems to be happy or enjoying himself at work.
With all of this under consideration, I have several proposals. 1) Private enterprises quit funding federal health care programs. We should back out of investing in health care, whether it be for our own private offices, or for community-driven ventures. 2) We should encourage medical care to go to a purely socialized venue like Canada. This will force the feds to live by the insane rules that they create since they will be creating them for themselves. This will also not allow for “boutique” practices, which is healthcare that tries to escape from the “system”.  3) We should quit funding the entire bureaucracy through taxes. The state is currently sucking us dry. If you count all the taxes that we are forced to pay, including Medicare, income, property, sales, telephone use, vehicle, and many other taxes, all but the poorest are paying over 50% of our income into taxes. Stop working. Retire. Go on Medicare. Leave the country. Find another profession. Live off the inheritance you were planning on giving to your children. 4) The final solution (Enderlösung!) is to find a system whereby the hospital or state assumes all of your overhead, and truly pays you on a per-hour basis that is commensurate with your skills and level of training. This would also allow you to work as much or as minimally as possible without incurring major debts through massive overhead. Sadly, such a system doesn’t exist. If physicians would uniformly refuse to continue funding the system and allowing to hold us in forced servitude and quit, go on strike, shut down, or terminate virtually every state and third party payment, the system might be forced to correct itself. Until then, the fed is going to be content with letting private enterprises fund their health care follies.
With all of this under consideration, it would be best for me to get out of medicine altogether. Yet, I continue to look for alternatives, with less stress and fewer work hours. I will not be a sacrificial lamb to the state.
Vive la France!

Dennis, if you comment, please keep it short, and mention something about your celebration of Bastille Day.

Free Spirit

Free Spirit-A Climbers Life, by Reinhold Messner ★★★★★
A wonderful and spell-bounding read on most certainly the greatest climber of the 20th century, Messner accounts in short chapters, a brief reflection on his most significant climbs, and the philosophy of climbing that he created, that of minimalist techniques, eliminating the use of siege techniques and bottled oxygen to achieve the highest peaks in the world, which would later become the accepted norm by even climbers like Ed Viesturs. Messner is the veritable opposite of Viesturs, constantly taking risks, and constantly redefining the art of climbing. Viesturs would attack a mountain by its simplest route, while Messner by its most creative permissible route, often solo. The only thing in common was the mental fortitude of the push for limits that few other people in the world could do and incredible luck. Messner did not need a reason or justification for climbing and admits that it was a combination of sheer joy mixed with merciless addiction that kept him pushing for more difficult, in not impossible, routes up a cliff or mountain. He truly will remain one of the greatest climbers of all time.

Mozart: Complete Operas

Mozart The Complete Operas, Salzburger Festspiele ★★★
This is the first DVD-recorded cycle of the complete Mozart operas, performed during the 2006 Mozart Festspiele in Salzburg, Austria. Heretofore, most of the Mozart operas were not available at all in VHS or DVD format, but simply as sound recordings. That makes this a valuable part of any Mozart-lovers collection. The production often used young singers, though the general quality of singing itself was absolutely superb. I am quite sure that many of these performers will be seen again in rising roles on the world opera stage. So, why only three stars? First, a number of the operas were reinterpreted, the best example being Die Entführung aus dem Serail, where rather than a story of love and escape from a Moorish harem, the entire opera was modeled, with dialogue changes, to represent a  battle of the sexes. Unfortunately, if one would play with the music, you would say that it is no longer Mozart. I say that it is no longer Mozart if you play too much with the visual aspect of the opera since that was also written by him. The second problem is that the operas were all performed on a totally minimalist stage, the only exception being Die Zauberflöte, with a modernistic design, though properly keeping to the Mozartian storyline. The problem with minimalist operas is that the stage is designed to complement the music to clue the audience to what is happening. Without the stage, one might as well simply listen to a recording of sound only. The minimalism itself was severely lacking in creativity. There was a great predilection for handguns and butcher knives on the stage, or pieces of paper, or running paint over otherwise completely white surfaces. Sometimes very odd complements were added to the staging. An example is in Le Nozze de Figaro, where there was this 18-20-year-old male with wings, constantly coming into and out of the scenery. The stage designer almost certainly was trying to make a meaningful statement by that, but in the end, only created an annoying distraction. It would be like occasionally inserting trumpet calls into the music–distracting and certainly not written in by Mozart. For all their effort to produce these operas, surely they could have done better.

No Shortcuts to the Top

No Shortcuts to the Top, by Ed Viesturs ★★★
This book is an autobiography of the life of Ed Viesturs, mostly detailing the events that led to him becoming a Himalayan climber, as well as achieving the peaks of the World’s 14 8000 meter peaks. Such is an astonishing accomplishment, especially since he did each of those peaks without the use of additional bottled oxygen. Apparently, he is now off to other adventures. Ed started out as a veterinarian but worked summers during veterinarian school as a guide on Mt. Rainier. Eventually, he was invited to accompany a group to the Himalayas on the climb of Kangchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. This eventually led to his quest for all 14 – 8000ers. Throughout, Ed details his family life, and philosophy of climbing, life, and the world in general. This is where an otherwise fascinating story turns the book into an autobiography that will soon be forgotten. Ed’s final justification for his endeavor is that he can now motivate people, and has been hired by sports teams and major corporations to get their employees to work harder at less pay in order to achieve their “Everest”. For me, it’s a rather shallow raison d’être. For Viesturs, god becomes some amorphous other, best described by the Buddhist leaning toward Animism. Here is a man who knows little about the daily grind, waking up the morning after morning, years on end to provide for family and community. He did motivate me in one way through this book. I will take off the next 18 years of my life, hiking, playing, and being my personal best, and then write a book about it. Please take this tongue-in-cheek. The bottom line take-home message of the book for me, is that 1) Ed is a really nice guy, 2) Ed really likes his family, and 3) Ed likes to be alone, away from family, as much as possible, proving to the world that nice guys can climb mountains and do hard things. Don’t get me wrong, few people in the world could have ever done what Ed has done, and I admire his penchant for caution, safety, and willingness to help others out of trouble. Perhaps Ed would best serve humankind by opening a Himalayan climbing school, to motivate and provide the skills for others to repeat what he has done.

Training Rides 2008

04,05JULY2008 Training Rides for STP 120 mile Auburn-Tenino Loop, 50 mile Ride to Carbonado
I should be ready for the STP. Friday, I went with Jonathan Kamke on a long loop that included the most difficult stretch of the STP up the hill in Puyallup. During that trip, my bicycle hit the 1000 mile mark…

and Jonathan hit his first Century ride.

The next day, I did a solo very hilly ride up to Carbonado. I started out slightly aching, but those pains soon went away, and I felt about as strong as the day before. I’ll do one more short ride before doing the 203 mile STP next weekend. The lead photo is a photo of the entry into Wilkeson…
More lessons learned. 1) Oblique railroad tracks are quite dangerous in wet weather. Both days were wet, overcast, and drizzly, which is ideal riding weather, though the bike becomes messy, and railroad tracks threaten. Just outside of Roy, I flew off the bike after hitting an oblique track. I quickly learned my lesson. 2) Know how to repair your bike yourself. I’ve been reading the Park Manual of Bicycle Repair more frequently. Nobody can tune a bike up like yourself for the best settings of derailleurs and brakes. 3) Ride steady, fuel yourself often. Constant eating on the bike keeps you from bonking early.