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Sunday, October 31, 2004


Happy Halloween

Jack o lantern face

The other day I picked up a hitch hiker and she must have been a witch.

How did I know she was a witch?

Because when she put her hand on my leg I turned into a hotel.

A little boy was out trick or treating one Halloween dressed as a pirate.

A lady opened the door and looked at him and said, "You're a cute little pirate. Where are your buccaneers?"

He looked at her and said, "Under my buckin' hat, lady."

Happy Halloween Boys and Ghouls,
John Strain


Saturday, October 30, 2004


The Saturday Devotion: A Salute to the Average Joe

We celebrate the best and brightest. They are the ones who dominate television and print media. The average joe dreams of brushing up against one of these icons. "What a thrill it would be," he thinks, "to meet one of these extraordinary people." We covet their celebrity, their beauty, their fitness, their adulation by the masses. The average joe often thinks himself to be second-class and less than the supposed heroes.

I do not want to take away from achievement, beauty, victory, or extraordinary talent. I do want to shine a light on the importance of doing a job well outside of the spotlight.

We all know them; we are them. We get up every day and go to work. We come home and take care of responsibilities there. We are polite and helpful. We love our country. Our energy comes from our daily touches with people. We have gratitude for our health, our homes, our families, and our freedom.

We do our part and then some. We are the army that mobilizes in disaster and hardship. While we may bicker at times and have a bad moment or two, our neighbors can count on us and it matters not what color they are or what church they go to if at all. We have a desire and a compassion that drives us to lend a hand.

A society cannot work without us average joes. We will move through life unrecognized by the media giants, but well known in our little corners of the world. We love and are loved by many.

So here's to the average joes (male and female) Heroes of the routine, the blood cells of a great community.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 29, 2004


The House Where The Weenie Dogs Live

The Scream
This is a recycled post from October 29, 2003

this is an audio post - click to play

This is a Halloween story. There was an eerie house in our neighborhood. I walked by it almost daily when I walked my dog Hobo. Something about it was strange - we never saw people we only heard that awful sound. From a distance the house appeared like any other house, but the comparison ends there. This house was evil. It was a vessel of untold torturous tales. No matter the time of day or night the beasts were vigilant. They would lie in wait for an unsuspecting sojourner. I could feel an evil force draw me near, but I somehow resisted the curiosity of the place. Others were not so lucky. As I walked my dog the silence seemed to spread as we neared the premises. The birds went quiet and the air stopped moving. Then at a time designated to strike the most fear in my heart all hell would break loose. The beasts would throw themselves against the door attempting to attack me and my trusty Labrador. Their gnarling teeth could be heard snapping wildly in the air. Their growls, barks, and howls sent chills up and down my spine. Hobo's hackles were up as he looked around trying to glimpse the threat. These beasts were too crafty and they would not attack with people around. Instead they would bide their time and feed on the unsuspecting and the curious. Many went in - no one ever came out. I am of course talking about weenie dogs. Are you laughing? Don't say you were not warned. I wrote a poem about this house and its dangers - I called it:

The House Where the Weenie Dogs Live
The sounds that came from there at night,
Set upon one an awful fright.
Now I know everyone was right-
about the house where the weenie dogs live.

I wish poor Billy had taken heed,
but his curiosity caused a larger need.
So on his corpse those beasts did feed-
at the house where the weenie dogs live.

Some say they're small and cannot harm,
now they wield a prosthetic arm.
Others say they're a common pet,
We haven't heard back from them yet.
One thing is sure they won't forget-
the house where the weenie dogs live.

The Devil Dog and Kujo know,
where they can and cannot go.
The Wolf Man with his teeth and hair,
is certain he's not welcome there.
Everyone else should best beware-
of the house where the weenie dogs live.

I've done my part, I've tried to warn,
It's up to you to heed or scorn.
But if you scoff this much is true,
Those vicious beasts do wait for you-
At the house where the weenie dogs live.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, October 28, 2004


Political Correctness Reaches New Level of Absurdity

WitchThis just in from Washington State's Puyallup School District: No Halloween part so as not to offend the real witches.

News Story

When I first heard the term "politically correct" somewhere around 1991 I had a negative reaction in my gut. Since then I have nearly developed an ulcer. Lunacy, stupidity, illogic, unfairness, and projection of false beliefs on the innocent are but a few things that pop into my head as reasons why I feel this way. The result of being politically correct is usually; the majority should suffer for the "supposed rights" of a small minority. It seems, only one cry baby can spoil things for the entire group.

This latest case in Washington State is an example of the political correct police going completely crazy. A letter sent home to parents gave three reasons for canceling the traditional Halloween party and parade throughout the school district.

1. It is not educational. (I am sure everything else done at the school is.)
2. Some children cannot afford a costume. (Creativity makes up for any lack of money where Halloween costumes are concerned.)
3. Real witches might be offended. (Huh?????? Lord knows we would not want to offend a real witch.)

I cannot make this stuff up. How does this kind of thinker get to the positions of authority to enact such insane policies? Are the rights of people in that school district all met to the extent the real witches are the only ones left to guard? Let's tear down the Ten Commandments, the flag, and make sure crosses are nowhere to be found. Take the word God out of the pledge and for God's sake let's not have a Halloween party.

John Wayne please come back, I miss you. Ronald Reagan where have you gone? You two have been replaced by an army of pussies, who, on one hand, defend terrorists responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans and, on the other hand, see to it that the rights of witches being offended (without evidence) outweigh the rights of little children to experience some traditional fun.

I am waiting for the backlash. Many have bowed to be "politically correct" out of politeness, but when their rights are routinely viewed as less important than the rights of every obscure minority, they will begin to wonder - what about us? What about our needs? I am legally blind. So what, that's my problem. I do not expect traffic to stop so I can cross the street or for restaurants in the northern hemisphere to provide large print menus. It is my problem and I must adapt.

Somewhere along the line a person with a problem convinced folks that their individual problem was really everyone else’s problem. It is nice to hold the door for a guy in a wheel chair, but there should not be a law to do so. Stop the madness. Who says being offended is a crime? I get offended all the time. If I am really offended, I do something about it, but most of the time I just move on. That is what these morons should do, instead of canceling Halloween parties for little kids, they should just move on.

Gee, I hope I did not offend anyone.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Leaves and Turds

Leaves in officeLast year at this time we were in Tennessee on holiday to see the beautiful fall foliage. We had plans and reservations to go this year too, but at the last minute, a medical emergency in our traveling companion's family brought the trip to a screeching halt. We were disappointed of course, but our concerns were with the family and the importance of looking at leaves was put into perspective. My friends at work were more upset about me not going on vacation than I was. When I came to work on Friday last week instead of being on the highway, I opened my office and it was covered with beautiful leaves, fake; but beautiful. Susan is one of those people who always does the nice, thoughtful thing. It was my turn to benefit from her kind nature this time and it felt good. When I opened my office door, it was quite a surprise to see leaves all over the place. It sure made me smile. Comments were made throughout the day about me needing to rake my office. I tried to borrow the leaf blower from the maintenance guy, but I ended up just leaving them on the floor for a few days. I finally picked them up on Tuesday.

In a completely unrelated subject, I would like to write a few words about dog turds. I am the proud owner of a 13.5-year-old incontinent Labrador. He pees outside, but he has no clue when he has to poop. He often drops a load when he tries to stand up, because he has to strain so hard. Barbara and I have gotten used to it. When the bombs fall, I get a couple of paper towels, police up the turds, and throw them outside in the trash. Barbara and I have begun making bets on the way home about the number of turds that will be on the floor and the location of said poops. Tomorrow my guess is 3 poops next to the red chair. You can get in on this if you like, just post your guess and I will let you know who came closest to the actual outcome. I take to heart the saying, "If life gives you dog turds, make a game out of it." Or was it, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade?"

This is the kind of post that makes my mother proud. It also describes me. I can speak of the poignant and the poo poo, in the same post, kind of like my normal conversation.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, October 26, 2004



Tax GraphicI realize society must levy taxes on its citizens to pave roads, provide police protection, and study the mating habits of woodpeckers. Speaking of woodpeckers, I bet they give women splinters. Be that as it may, back to the subject at hand: taxes.

Have you ever stopped to think about all of the taxes you pay? The biggest chunk comes out of your earnings. State, federal, FICA, Medicare, and other taxes are all listed with little minus signs next to them to show you what you don’t get. It is always funny to see a 15 or 16 year old when the concept of taxes dawns on them. All week they thought $5.00 per hour for 20 hours would get them $100. Then the surprise hits when they open the envelope and see a check for $72.38. What the?

Then there is sales tax which is 8.75% where I live. It will be 10% soon I am sure of it. If you decide to purchase cigarettes, alcohol, or gasoline, there is extra tax added to those little luxuries.

Now look at your phone bill and cable bill. Be forewarned, they'll piss you off. $2.77 here and $1.03 there add up after awhile.

Let us not forget the property tax, personal property tax, and other taxes associated with your car and home. Every time I turn around, Uncle Sam is patting me down for loose change. Hotels charge extra for entertainment tax, airlines charge several kinds of taxes. Enough already.

All of a sudden the Beatles song "Taxman" is playing in my head.
Let me tell you how it will be,
There’s one for you, nineteen for me,
‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
Should five per cent appear too small,
Be thankful I don’t take it all,
‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat,
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.
‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
Don’t ask me what I want it for
(Taxman Mister Wilson)
If you don’t want to pay some more
(Taxman Mister Heath),
‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
Now my advice for those who die,
Declare the pennies on your eyes,
‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
And you’re working for no-one but me,
I am declaring Tuesday to be "Bitch About Taxes Day" here at John's Online Journal, so sound off. Anyone for some Boston Harbor tea?

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 25, 2004


Fallacies in Logic and Devices of Propaganda

Several times in junior high and high school I learned about propaganda. It was a hot topic because of the Cold War. Propaganda was something the Soviets did. The lessons did examine propaganda throughout history and even US propaganda; of course, we always used it for good. Advertisers were also marked as major propagandists.

Those lessons have stuck with me. It is practical information and I draw from it quite often. Much of my frustration with politics, sports, business, and the media today is because they all shamelessly produce propaganda. Truth is relative and depends on who is the best lawyer or fastest and most persuasive talker.

One man's propaganda is another man's truth in some instances, however, if one keeps in mind the elements of propaganda and fallacies in logic, he/she will come closer to objectivity than if they judge arguments with their emotions and feelings.

I will list the fallacies and elements below and provide the link to the source. It is a brief page or two and well worth your time. Propaganda exists in our government and society, because we allow it. Our defense and offense is to know the difference; call them on it; and demand better. There is great power in a knowlegable electorate.

Read more about Propaganda and Fallacies of Logic

Fallacies in Logic
• The Circular Argument Fallacy
• The Ad Hominem Fallacy
• The Bifurcation Fallacy
• The Argumentum Ad Populum Fallacy

Propaganda Devices
• The Name Calling Device
• The Glittering Generalities Device
• The Transfer Device
• The Testimonial Device
• The Plain Folks Device
• The Card Stacking Device
• The Band Wagon Device
• The Missing Information Device

Our head and our heart function best when used together.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, October 24, 2004


Technology or Magic?

Magic hat and wandAccording to the science fiction movies I saw growing up in the 60's, technology often had an influence on society to make it more impersonal. In my experience, however, technology has both opened up the world and brought me closer to my friends and family. So amazing the impact technology has had on me, I look at it more as magic than I do inventions of man. I am often mesmerized like the jungle natives seeing a Bic lighter for the first time.

As an example of the world being smaller and loved ones being closer, I will tell you about one moment in my evening. I was watching the World Series in Boston on my television, which gets its signal from a satellite. I had the sound down on the baseball game, because I was listening to the LSU football game over the Internet on my computer.

Somewhere in the first quarter of the football game, LSU fumbled and the opposing team eventually cashed the turnover in for a tying touchdown. Normally, I watch the games with my son, but now he is living in Baton Rouge and is an LSU student. No problem, I pushed a couple of buttons on my cell phone and John answered from his seat in Tiger Stadium, where he was watching the game in person. We had our conversation as if he were sitting next to me. After the comments were exchanged, I closed my phone and continued watching the game. It felt like we were together and in some ways we were.

Technology lets me see the action anywhere on earth and into space. Technology lets me talk to my son any time I want. If you think about it, it really is more magic than science.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, October 23, 2004


Saturday Devotion: IF by Rudyard Kipling

This poem speaks of values and virtue. I showed some poor examples of values in this weeks posts; Kipling says it positively.

this is an audio post - click to play

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 22, 2004


The Cat

KittenThis is a nice story for all of you cat lovers and cat haters out there. I found it at The WOW Zone. I hope you have a nice Friday and a wonderful weekend. Enjoy the story.
A pastor had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard and then was afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc. The kitty would not come down. 

The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and drove away so that the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten.

He did all this, checking his progress in the car frequently, then figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten. But as he moved a little further forward, the rope broke.

The tree went "boing!" and the kitten instantly sailed through the air - out of sight.

The pastor felt terrible.

He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they'd seen a little kitten. No. Nobody had seen a stray kitten. So he prayed, "Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping," and went on about his business.

A few days later he was at the grocery store and met one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food. Now this woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it, so he asked her, "Why are you buying cat food when you hate cats so much?"

She replied, "You won't believe this," and told him how her little girl had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then a few days before, the child had begged again, so the Mom finally told her little girl, "Well if God gives you a cat, I'll let you keep it!"

She told the pastor, "I watched my child go out in the yard, get on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won't believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes.

A kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right in front of her.

By Dwight Nelson (A true story about the pastor of his church)

November 2002

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, October 21, 2004


Getting Away With It

Tuesday night I watched the baseball game between the Yankees and the Red Sox. At one point in the game a play at first base caused some controversy. Alex Rodriguez hit the ball to the Red Sox pitcher who ran toward A-Rod to tag him out. Clearly, Rodriguez deliberately knocked the ball out of the pitcher's glove and was initially called safe at first by the umpire. After a conclave of the six umpires, they rightly reversed the call because Alex Rodriguez interfered with the fielder. The umpires got it right.

Alex Rodriguez October 19

After things died down, the announcers continued talking about the incident. One comment made went something like this:
It was clearly interference and the umpires made the correct call. A-Rod gave it a shot, if you can get away with it, then why not?
I can think of a few reasons why not:
(1) It is against the rules and it is cheating.
(2) It sets a bad example for others.
(3) It is disrespectful to the game of baseball.

I know some people believe it is OK to break rules and laws. Getting caught is more important to them than observing the principle of being a law-abiding citizen. The attitude is, "Laws and rules are for other people - I'm special." Speed limits are a law, yet an industry exists to help people avoid consequences of breaking that law. Radar detectors announce their owners are law breakers.

I do not know Alex Rodriguez and I am not judging him here, however, he serves as a symbol for my topic. To him, winning was more important than playing fair. No amount of money or championship justifies cheating. Our athletes should demonstrate fairness and sportsmanship. To win by cheating is to gain a hollow victory.

Sports figures are often referred to as heroes. Alex Rodriguez would not fit my definition just for the little stunt he pulled in that game. To top it off, when the umpire correctly reversed the call, A-Rod acted indignant and held his arms out as if he were the victim of unfair circumstances.

Baseball fans understand that "Baseball" is a sacred institution. No individual is more important than the game. Everyone involved with baseball should feel that responsibility as stewards of the game. Pete Rose is banned because he broke this trust. If players cheat because they can, they disrespect the game.

Cheating in a baseball game may seem like a little thing, but so is a kidney stone. Little things cause big problems. Obeying laws and rules is something only possible through cooperation. Our society and freedom is enhanced when more people embrace these principles.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Real Clear Politics.Com

Real Clear Politics.Com Banner

Today I want to share a website with you I recently found. Real Clear Politics.Com is a great political resource. On this site are links to the daily editorials and opinions in the nation's newspapers, up to the minute poll results, and links to everything but the kitchen sink.

This site is not partisan, just information. Check it out and see what you think.

I am an optimist where the United States is concerned. While it may be tempting to back away from the political process because of campaign rhetoric, voting hanky panky, and lots of dirty pool, this is precisely the time to get involved.

I am not optimistic because of our politicians, but because of our people. The good people are not often seen or heard in the media, but let a need arise and watch them come out of the woodwork to offer assistance.

Our people are strong and driven by good values. Do you remember how our citizens responded to 9/11? The country united as never before. Look at the response to the Florida hurricanes, people worked together, help came in from around the country. Unless there is an urgent need, however, our people find it good sport to argue with each other. Though the exchanges may appear venemous, each person would come to the other's aid if need be.

The US will be just fine no matter who our next president is. It will take a lot more than one man to destroy this nation.

So have fun, relax, everything is going to be OK - just wait and see.

How do I know this? I just watched the singing of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee stadium. It's a feeling I have and it is connected to an energy we all share. We will face any challenge as a people and come out on top. We may be bloodied from time to time, but we will sruvive, and we will rise up smarter than before and better for the experience.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Begging Citizens to Vote

In Miami Beach, Florida, voters are being offered incentives to register to vote and to vote early. Early voting began Monday in Florida and several other states. Proponents of the idea say people may not have the time on November 2nd to vote, so this provides a larger window of time for the task. Restaurants are offering a 10% discount for patrons who can produce a voter registration card. A free ride on the Miami Beach transit system and free one hour parking vouchers are also offered. Finally, early voters receive admission for one adult and one child to the Flamingo Park swimming pool or to an area ice skating rink.

Miami Beach Website

Rant Against Voting Incentives Begins Here
Number One: Voting is a privilege - It is troubling to think a citizen of a free country requires enticements to partake of a privilege. Our ability to vote is one way we participate in choosing our leaders and determining the general direction of the country. Even more troubling is to contemplate what these individuals would vote for. We already know they do not understand basic civics or they would not require a prize to be responsible. We have a pretty good idea they are lazy, and we know they can be bought for as little as a free swim or a 10% hamburger discount. I say we are better off if these folks do not vote until they understand the sacred privilege it is to cast a vote.

Number Two: Voting is a responsibility - Not only is voting a privilege, but it is a responsibility of citizenship. If you are concerned about the quality of candidate or the behavior of the candidates, then vote. Politicians get away with what they can. If the electorate chooses to be lazy and ignorant, their leaders will reflect their values – or lack of them. We only have ourselves to blame. You have a vote to cast and it is your duty and responsibility to cast it. Miami Beach is opening up the early voting to make it more convenient. I am sick of entitled, lazy, whiners, who with fellow Americans dying in Iraq, somehow cannot find the time to vote on one particular day every four years. They need a two-week window of time so it is more convenient for them. Buck up people. Vote on November 2. Brave the elements, the traffic, and your own malaise. Do you really need these accommodations?

Number Three: Voting is a celebration of freedomMaybe I am too sappy, but I feel a rush and often a lump in my throat when I vote. I am exercising my privilege, I am fulfilling a responsibility, and I am celebrating freedom. To hand me a coupon for a free slice of pizza would cheapen the experience for me. Maybe efforts should be put into educating people about the privilege and responsibility of voting. Motivation to vote should not be door prizes or cholesterol; it should be a sense of duty, privilege, and responsibility. Citizens who only vote because they get a prize are not celebrating freedom – they are cashing in.

How do things get flipped around so? In the past, citizens would have crawled naked over broken glass to vote. Today, we are bribing ignorant, lazy, citizens to cast a vote they hardly value.

John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”

We need to toughen up as a people. Stop looking for your payoff and look for something you can do to contribute. Think about words like work, honor, duty, responsibility, loyalty, and pride. They are a good start.

Rant ends here.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 18, 2004


Nigerian Scam Fools Financial Adviser

In the category of "This is too much," a 58 year old financial advisor fell for the notorious "spam scam" involving some Nigerian wanting to transfer a zillion dollars into your bank account. The story is out of Australia.
"Dear Inmate, I am the brother of the prisoner in the cell opposite you - a holy man wrongly jailed and now forced to sell his only hope of freedom, a magic carpet, to pay for surgery to save our mother's life. For just six cartons of cigarettes ..."

Dangle a spare invisible key in the deal and Robert Andrew Street may be interested.

Such is the staggering stupidity that led this Melbourne financial manager to fleece his clients of more than $1 million so he could toss it into the black hole of a Nigerian letter scam.

Street, who last year acknowledged his gross gullibility by accepting a life ban from working anywhere within the financial services industry, now admits his greed was criminal and faces jail.

Street saw only dollar signs when he opened a mysterious missive from the Reverend Sam Kukah three years ago.

Like so many of his countrymen, the chairman of Nigeria's Presidential Payment Debt Reconciliation Committee urgently needed to transfer a huge sum of money abroad.

Mr Kukah would drop $US65 million into Street's Tira Pty Ltd business account if Street could just smooth things over with a little up-front cash.

Street, the operator of a suburban financial planning business, Making Dollars & Sense, swiftly harnessed his clients through offers to invest in get-rich-quick projects, including an electronic system of tracking stolen cars.

Having collected $1,039,910, Street spent $10,000 on mobile telephones urgently needed in Nigeria and sent these, along with most of the balance of the money, overseas.

Mr Kukah did not keep his end of the deal. Street's clients complained that their money had disappeared and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission moved in.

So ridiculous seemed the proposition that Street, then an authorised representative of the licensed dealer Grosvenor Securities, had fallen for the infamous Nigerian scam that ASIC initially considered whether he might have been in on it.

Gradually, ASIC wound up Tira Pty Ltd, secured a Federal Court undertaking that Street be barred for life from the financial services industry and charged him with five counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception between September 2001 and August 2002.

Yesterday, the 58-year-old pleaded guilty in Melbourne's County Court to those offences, each carrying a maximum prison term of 10 years.

He will be back in court for sentencing on November 4.
The Sydney Morning Herald

Until the next time
John Strain


Nursing Homes in the News

Last week there were two news stories regarding local nursing homes. In the first story, an 82 year old woman with Alzheimer's disease was raped by her nurse, Derrick Garrett. Garrett, 46 was seen coming out of a restroom zipping his pants. The woman was found on the floor of the restroom. She was bleeding and disoriented. They have this guy dead to rights by way of DNA. Full story.

Such a story gives rise to many emotions. It is one more account of one person taking advantage of another person who cannot protect him or herself. In this case, a caregiver becomes the abuser. I am sure he will meet with a similar fate at some point in his certain future in prison.

Pet TherapySaturday, another nursing home story hit the papers. This time it was an account of hospice volunteers taking pets into the nursing homes to spread a little cheer.

Pets in Nursing HomesThese two stories illustrate the range of human potential. In them is a metaphor for the "Golden Rule" and its opposite. Some take advantage of the helpless, while others try to make their lives better. The latter group has learned the secret of helping; that extending a hand benefits the one who reaches out as well as the one receiving the gift.

There are many reasons to be kind to the helpless. In some ways we are in a battle; with the element like Derrick Garrett who preys on people for selfish pleasure and benefit, and those who help others and do not only think of personal gain. The battle is waged daily all over the world. The newspaper is the scoreboard of sorts, but many acts of kindness and acts of hate and abuse go unnoticed. What matters is what you do. How will you live? If enough of us act with kindness then the world is more kind. It is very simple really.

Today, I am determined to control what I can - my own behavior- and not distress about that which I cannot control - the behavior of others. I will spread kindness and not act selfishly. Are you with me? I predict a better than usual Monday if we do.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, October 17, 2004


Lovin' The Weekend

Saturday was a textbook fall day for southern Louisiana. Sunny, vivid blue cloudless skies, and a coolness in the air. I ran to the gym, did my weights and elliptical trainer obligations, and then ran back home. My yard was a mess from two weeks of neglect so I spent much of the rest of the day bringing it back into compliance with my idea of how a yard should look. I enjoyed the work and did it at a leisurely pace.

Saturday night was boy’s night. A few of my pals came over to watch the baseball playoffs and have a go at solving some global issues. Both objectives were accomplished. All we needed was some hamburger and Jack Daniels.

Today, I have 1 hour and 45 minutes to put in on the elliptical trainer instead of running 14 miles like my schedule calls for. I still cannot run more than a mile or two before my hamstring tightens up on me, but I sense improvement.

After the gym, I hope to see my Chiefs beat Jacksonville on television, then my son and I are going to the Saints vs. Vikings game in the Superdome tonight.

What else is there? To me, it don't get much better than this.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, October 16, 2004


Saturday Devotion: Psalm 139

This morning's devotion comes from a book by the title of Psalms Now, by Leslie Brandt. The author beautifully interprets the Psalms and here is one example:

this is an audio post - click to play

Psalm 139
O God, You know me inside and out,
   through and through.
Everything I do,
   every thought that flits through my mind,
   every step I take,
   every plan I make,
   every word I speak,
  You know, even before these things happen.
You know my past;
   You know my future.
Your circumventing presence covers my every move.
Your knowledge of me sometimes comforts me;
   sometimes frightens me;
  but always it is far beyond my comprehension.

There is no way to escape You, no place to hide.
If I ascend to the heights of joy,
  You are there before me.
If I am plunged into the depths of despair,
  You are there to meet me.
I could fly to the other side of our world
  and find You there to lead the way.
I could walk into the darkest of nights,
  only to find You there
You were present at my very conception.
You guided the molding of my unformed members
  within the body of my mother.
Nothing about me, from beginning to end,
  was hid from Your eyes
How frightfully, fantastically wonderful it all is!

May Your all-knowing, everywhere-present Spirit
  continue to search out my feelings and thougthts.
Deliver me
  from that which may hurt or destroy me,
  and guide me along the paths of love and truth.

Psalms Now, Leslie Brandt. St. Louis: Concordia Press. 1973.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 15, 2004


The Death Penalty

Derrick Todd LeeDerrick Todd Lee was sentenced to death Thursday in Baton Rouge for the murder of Charlotte Murray Pace. Lee is a serial killer and has been linked by DNA to seven murders in Louisiana.

He stalked his victims, raped them, and brutally killed them by stabbing them multiple times. The murders took place between 1998 and 2003. He was previously convicted of second-degree murder for killing one of the women and sentenced to life in prison. This time, he got the death penalty.

The accused are often subdued and act pitiful when in public, but Lee was arrogant and sarcastic. A camera was a cue for him to smart off.

Lee's attorney's argued that he was mentally retarded and should therefore not be put to death. The jury saw through this last minute scam to spare the brutal killer. They only needed 93 minutes to deliberate and decide his fate.

The world will be a better place without Derrick Todd Lee in it. He will not kill again. The death penalty is perfect for cases such as this one. I am glad it exists. I only wish the sentences would be carried out more quickly than the usual several years.

I am not a bloodthirsty kook who wants to see everybody put to death, but I will shed no tears for Derrick Lee. If I shed a tear it will be for his victims, their families, and his family. His death will represent the greatest degree of justice possible this side of eternity.

What do you think about the death penalty?

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, October 14, 2004


October Trance

Full moon through treesOne October evening I went walking. I was lulled into a trance by the smell of loam and drying leaves. Like a fine wine I savored the experience; unique, yet connected and very similar to vintages of the past.

Dark and shifting shadows that once concealed childhood fears now hold sweet remembrances of Octobers past.

The cool autumn air blusters around me, and the sound of skipping leaves rises and falls like a crescendo and decrescendo of an ancient symphony. The full moon hides behind foreboding clouds swirling like a witch’s brew in a boiling cauldron.

Death comes alive and ghosts and goblins seem present. They lurk in the shadows so I keep watch hoping to avoid their contact. There! Is that one by that abandoned house? No, it was only some newspaper driven by the evening gale.

For a few brief moments I was 9 years old again, but my trance wore off and I completed my walk. As I passed through my doorway I gave a backward glance. Just, per chance, to glimpse a ghost or some kind of spook. They are always too quick and smart to be seen, but I feel their eyes staring from their hiding places. Through the bare limbed trees the clouds continued to swirl illuminated by the harvest moon. The howl of the wind could be mistaken for a witch's laugh and it animated the night. When I closed the door my October trance ended. Perhaps another time I will once again give my senses and imagination to an October night and I will once again bask in an October trance.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Just When You Get a Routine You Like . . .

I have been a little discombobulated the last two weeks. I had a good routine going in which I got up at 5:00 am; had a cup of coffee; and was out the door to run by 6:00 am. My evenings were free, sort of. I went to the gym 2 - 3 times a week to lift weights. Since I pulled my hamstring, I have not been able to run in the AM. Instead, I have been stretching or trying to run, then going to the gym in the evening to put in a running equivalent workout on the orbital / elliptical trainer. That takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes during the week and gets me home around 8:00 - 8:30 pm. By the time we eat and watch a little TV, it is bedtime. My blogging time has been squeezed.

The last two nights, I watched movies. Monday was "Man On Fire" and Tuesday I watched "Runaway Jury." These were two good movies. Runaway jury was filmed in New Orleans so it was fun seeing all of the places in the movie I have frequented. Both nights got me in bed near midnight without writing my post and it is my left hamstring's fault.

Life occasionally throws things at us that alter our comfortable routine. Our response is usually to bitch and complain back. While this approach is natural and feels good at first, it does not solve the problem. The situation calls for action and adjustment. I am beginning to realize I may be in this new routine for a few more weeks so I better make the best of it.

I have tried to run the last two mornings, but after a mile or so, the muscle tightens up and I have to stop or risk further damage. It is so nice to be running again but disappointing I cannot run like I was only a week or two ago. I am losing what I worked so hard to build up and there is nothing I can do about it that I am not already doing. This sounds like a job for "acceptance," as in the serenity prayer - God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . .

A routine can be a prison or an oasis. In either case, when the routine is disrupted there is unsettlement and a scramble for a new one. All of this leads me back to awareness, appreciation, and gratitude.

Awareness: Aware of how nice things are and how bad they could be.
Appreciation: Appreciating the opportunity and the ability to enjoy whatever it is.
Gratitude: Grateful for what has been in the face of knowing what could be.

So, it will work out in time. My goal may not be completed when I had hoped, but it would not be a challenge or a great accomplishment if it were easy. Some day I will qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. The hurdles in my way will be overcome if it is up to me. So if effort and perseverance are all that are required, it will happen. There are things I cannot control so I won't try to control them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to play the Rocky theme song, for some reason I feel like hearing it at this time.

Hobbling toward a new routine and determined as ever.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 11, 2004


Columbus Day 1982

Columbus Day gif22 years ago today, I asked Barbara to marry me. She of course said yes, and here is the story.

I was 25 years old and a seminary graduate. I was still living on campus in New Orleans and taking a few classes until I could find a job. Barbara and I had been dating for a year and a half or so and we had pretty much decided we would be together.

Her birthday was in September and she just knew her gift would be an engagement ring. When it was not, she could not hide her disappointment. I told her I did not want to rob us of another special day by popping the question on her birthday. That bought me some more time. I needed the time, because I had a jeweler friend looking for a diamond. He finally found a nice 1/2 karat stone and was putting it in a traditional setting. The whole thing cost $600.00, which may not sound like much, but it was a lot on a student income.

My friend lived in Mobile, Alabama and once the ring was finished, he was going to mail it to another friend of mine who lived in Kenner, LA, a suburb of New Orleans. There was a delay for some reason and Barbara was having difficulty waiting, while I was running out of BS excuses for not having the ring.

Finally, the ring arrived at Richard and Lisa's house. It was a Tuesday. I do not drive because of my poor vision, so I had to come up with a reason to go clear across town to see Richard and Lisa. I do not remember what that reason was, but Barbara went along. Once there, Richard slipped me the ring and we left after a brief visit.

Here is a portion of my journal entry for that evening:
I left the dorm room at 9:30 PM with a ring and a speech. It would be 4 1/2 hours before I returned, but I returned officially engaged. We walked toward the chapel and I said, "That is a big building," to which Barbara responded, "That's God's house." I talked of how it symbolized worship, God, community, and fellowship. These were the important things in our lives. We sat between the pillars just to the left of center. The moon shone through the clouds above as the wind gently moved the trees around creating dancing images against the October 12th sky. We sat on the steps my arm around her and we talked further. "Tim and I were talking about unique ways to propose the other day," I said. "He told me about a guy who put the ring in his fiancée’s salad. If I did that with you, you would probably eat it and I would have to ram my arm down your throat to get it back." I told her about fancy restaurants and how that would be romantic. I told her that would be fine if it were just the two of us getting married. "But there are three of us," I said, "You, me, and God. So I have chosen this place. I love you both very much and I am asking you both to marry me." With my right hand i held up the ring, which was on my little finger. I took it from my pocket just before we sat down. Holding it up to her, I said, "Here is the tangible expression of my love." Her reaction was perfect for my part. She gasped and her mouth fell open. She was trembling so much she could hardly put it on her finger. For a moment, the light in her eyes out shined the shine that the diamond made under the chapel lights. She still had not given me an answer, even though it was at this point, academic. She tried to be funny by first saying no, but when I tried to grab back the ring, she reconsidered and said yes. After a few brief but intense hugs we went back to the dorm so she could show it to her girl friends and then later head to Shoney's for coffee.
Leavell Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Leavell Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theoloigcal Seminary
John and Barbara's Wedding Photo
John and Barbara, February 19, 1982

The years have smiled on us. We will have been married 22 years this coming February 19. Our son is 19 and has brought us immeasurable joy. We have been blessed with friends and jobs. Instead of remaining a minister, I became a counselor - Barbara is a counselor too.

If I had it to do again, I would. I loved her then and I love her now. I am not the best at expressing my emotions short of touchdowns and home runs. It is easier for me to write what I feel. I need to work on that in the next 22 years.

Every Columbus Day I think of that night and how it changed our lives. There are a few times in a life that are pivotal - this is certainly one of them and when I recall the moments I still feel butterflies.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, October 10, 2004



It has been raining here since Thursday. Granted, it had been pretty dry previously, but I would like it to stop now. It's not all bad; there is no yard work I can do when it is raining. I can watch football guilt free not forsaking any outdoor projects.

I pulled my hamstring a week ago and have been relegated to the orbital / elliptical trainer at the gym. Those suckers are boring. At least I can keep up my aerobic conditioning. I tried running on the treadmill about Wednesday and further injured the muscle. I am going to stay on these instruments of torture machines one more week before attempting running again. I just have to roll with the punches.

Now I must get to the gym and put in my 2.5 hours on that machine before football comes on.

I hope you all have a nice Sunday.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Saturday, October 09, 2004


Saturday Devotion

Continuing in the series of readings from $3.00 Worth of God, by Wilbur Rees, today's topic is "Be Still."

this is an audio post - click to play
Be still and know that I am God - Psalm 46:10
Be still? That is the most impossible command modern man has ever had to face. How can I be still on the freeway going 70 miles per hour, switching lanes, watching five cars ahead with one eye on the rearview mirror, and everything in motion? How can I be still when the express elevator left my stomach ten floors below, when the sanitation truck clatters up the alley, when the subway wheels scream against the rails, and everything is in motion? How can I be still amidst the tense sounds of rolling fire engines, army convoys, and surgical carts? How can I be still on a conveyor belt? O God, help me to be still inside when all the wheels are turning outside, and everything is in motion.
Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 08, 2004


Letting Go

Autumn LeavesIn life there are many hellos. We meet people, children are born, and jobs are landed. With every hello there will be a goodbye. The hellos are fun and often exciting, while the goodbyes can break your heart and leave a kind of pain that never heals.

Thursday I attended a funeral for the mother of a close friend. Our lives all end with a funeral. Family and friends gather to celebrate the life lived and morn its passing. Emotions are thick and people are pushed to the limits of their ability to maintain composure. Handshakes, hugs, and knowing looks are exchanged since words seem inadequate and wanting.

Letting go. A husband must let go of a wife after more than 50 years of marriage. Four children must let go of their mother. Grandchildren will let go of a grandmother. Other friends and relatives are fellow travelers along the path of letting go. We only let go of what we must, of what we can no longer have. We learn to let go of the pain and our grief. In its place we remember the good times. We accept the person is gone in some ways, but in other ways we realize they will always be with us.

For the Christian, we take comfort in the belief we will see them again. Our separation is but a temporary condition. Until such time as we are reunited, we enjoy the family and friends who remain. The family structure is changing. The children are now the elders. Everyone moves up one notch. Those on the bottom rungs don't even realize the change, but those of us nearer the top of the ladder are quite aware "our time" will be here sooner than we think.

I have said it before in different ways, and my conclusion to this matter is we should live the heck out of the life we have now. Let your love be known to your friends and family. Don't worry, you will never run out of love, you even have enough to spread a little around to strangers.

If you live your life fully, you won't be so disappointed when your number comes up, and you will not feel cheated. You will know that you squeezed all you could from your years. Everyone will know it and your funeral will be a celebration. Your life will be an example for those left behind to carry on.

The days come and go. We cannot save them, but we can live them. It is my sincere hope that when your days are complete you will have milked about as much living out of them as was humanly possible.

Until the next time and seizing the day,
John Strain


Thursday, October 07, 2004


Mental Illness and the Self

One day, as a group therapy exercise, I was using the Alcoholic's Anonymous piece Just For Today. It is a 9 verse poem of sorts that encourages the reader to live a certain way, just for today. Follow the link above to read the entire piece. The verse I want to comment on is as follows:
Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn & not get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count; I will do at least two things I don’t want to do–just for exercise. I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.
I asked some of the group members for examples of what they could do today to help someone else. After a few appropriate answers, I asked one gentleman what he could do to help someone. Arnold said this in response to my question, "If someone sees me sitting by myself, they could bring me a cup of coffee." Arnold was not trying to be funny, nor could he hide his total self-absorption. This example is a glimpse into the lives of many who are depressed, stressed, anxious, or however they choose to define their malady. These afflictions tend to close people off. They retreat from their life to their home and eventually into themselves. The cure is to expand their life, to reach out beyond their four walls and themselves.

Helping others is a concept often lost on psychiatric patients. After all, they are in a hospital and need help, how can they help someone else? It is a paradox of sorts and Dr. Karl Menninger is credited with propagating such a concept. He believed strongly in the healing power of helping others.
Dr. Karl was asked what a person should do if he felt a "nervous breakdown" coming on. He said: "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something for them."
Another notable quote on this topic by Karl Menninger:
"Love cures people-both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it."
I have noticed how patients cease to hear the therapist and I think it is because they know what the therapist is going to say. When I start talking about him or her doing something for someone else, it throws him or her off. They are challenged and encouraged to do something instead of being told they are sick and should lay back. Some are so self-absorbed, they respond, as did Arnold, finding it difficult to put themselves in the roll of helpers.

Some things are universal and helping others is one of those things. If you spend time helping another, you are not thinking about yourself. The time you spend focusing on another is time you are not dwelling on your own problems. The AA folks have it right. The soul is exercised when we give to another without credit or fanfare.

Along this same vein, I came across some writing by a therapist named Marty Nemko. In his article The Case Against Long Term Therapy, Nemko referred to some of his clients who had spent years in therapy, but were habitually, unhappy, unemployed, alone, and miserable. A tough love lecture was sometimes given. The lecture went like this:
I’m going to pretend I’m not a counselor but a jerk: “You are a loser, an excuse-making, lazy loser. You have so much potential but you’ve pissed away your life by blaming everyone but yourself for your failures: your mother, your education, your boss. ”Or you say, ‘I’m just hard-wired that way.” You may be, but many people with your wiring have made a helluva lot more of their lives. Keep going and you’ll always be a loser.”
Such tough love lectures often shake a person up enough to make some changes according to Marty Nemko. Sometimes a therapist has to get a person’s attention before he/she can help them.

Being self absorbed and chronically selfish is debilitating. It can be disguised as anxiety or depression. The sufferer alone holds the key to their self made prison, but a good therapist can help them find the key and turn the lock.

Do you need a little boost? Do as Dr. Menninger suggests, lock your house, go across the railroad tracks and find someone in need and help them -just for today.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 06, 2004



The Jazz SingerOctober 6, 1927 is the day "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson premiered. Ironically, Sam Warner a cofounder of the studio died the day before at the age of 40.

The Jazz Singer is recognized as the first "talkie" and it met with huge success.

In 77 years since the first talkie, there have been many memorable moments. I remember my mother talking about the Wizard of Oz which was the first movie to use color. When Dorothy opened the door of that tornado flung farm house, the colors gave even a more magical quality to the land of OZ.

Gone With the Wind was an epic and really long (about three hours). To this day it is still regarded as one of the best films and a favorite of many.

I remember when Star Wars came out in the 70's. It was a phenomenon. People saw the movie again and again. The special effects were like nothing before seen. I still remember the rush I felt when a spaceship went into jump-to-light-speed.

Do you remember Jaws? The music alone still scares the devil out of people. So scared were people, the good folks at Saturday Night Live created the "Land Shark" skit to poke fun at the real shark.

I love movies. As a child our family gathered around the black and white set to watch Saturday Night at the Movies. I saw Psycho and The Birds at the venue. Coke and popcorn were the treats. Sometimes our indulgence was a chocolate sundae.

The Aztec Theater showed 2 movies a cartoon and coming attractions for fifty cents. I spent many a Saturday afternoon in that place with my friends. Mom would pop a Wonder bread bag full of popcorn and we carried it inside to save money on concessions.

Theaters are much more posh and high tech these days. The movies are better in quality, but my memories of a dark theater and the sound of a flickering projector still make me smile.

Now where's that remote? I feel like watching some par per view.

Until the next time
Lights, camera, action!
John Strain


Tuesday, October 05, 2004


80 Days To Christmas

Tradition is what you resort to when you don't have the time or the money to do it right. -Kurt Herbert Alder

Santa and Rudolph
It is hard to believe, but Christmas is in 80 days. I am sure the anxiety is beginning to well up inside you just thinking about all that has to happen between now and then. Before you click away and purge the unwelcome thoughts from your mind, take a moment to think about what you really want this holiday season.

One of the biggest traps is to hold too high of expectations. We want it all - the entire Norman Rockwell scene. While it is possible, a Norman Rockwell world is not built in a day. Our normal life rolls on and holiday activities are extra. A little planning, however, reduces stress and gives you most of what you want.

My advice is to take a few moments in the next few days. Sit down with a calendar and plan a few things. Circle days to do certain things, shopping, getting the decorations down from the attic, putting up the outside lights, putting up the tree, the get together(s) with friends and or family, purchasing and sending Christmas cards. Whatever it is you want to do, just pencil in a plan. If you start now, you will save lots of stress later. Saving stress leaves more room for enjoyment.

By spreading out the work and expense you can plan the kind of holiday season you want and not let it happen to you. You will feel a better sense of control and satisfaction. The holiday season does not have to be a stressful, hurried, anger-provoking time. It is supposed to be a season to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is supposed to be a time we reflect on the past year and look forward to a new one. It is supposed to be a time of enjoying family and friends. It is supposed to be everything good. Think about what you do not like about the holidays and take a few steps now to see those things do not happen. If you do, you will be glad you did that often-hectic week leading up to Christmas. This year Christmas is Saturday, December 25. Thanksgiving is Thursday, November 25 this year so there will be a longer gap (30 days) between the two holidays.

Are those sleigh bells I hear? No, it's still the ice cream truck, but they're coming, will you be ready?

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 04, 2004


Ref Desk

Link to RefdeskSince today is Monday and everyone is headed back to the old grind, I want to give you a link to make your life easier. Do yourself a favor and browse around on Refdesk. It amounts to a page of links you can use. See what you think.

On a physical note, I ended up running 13 miles on an elliptical trainer yesterday. My coach said I could try it and if it did not aggravate the hamstring it would be OK. I was happy to get in a good workout. The hamstring is feeling better and I will probably do most of this weeks runs on that contraption instead of the usual running.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, October 03, 2004



Hamstring FigureWell rats, yesterday on my 5 mile time trial, I pulled up lame after 4.5 miles. My hamstring started tightening and I knew to continue running would only further injure my hamstring. Injuries inject psychological challenges to training programs. On one hand, I want to be tough and endure pain, on another hand, I do not want to do anything stupid to jeopardize my ultimate goal December 4, on even another hand, (I have three) I do not want to get behind on my training.

My coach cancelled my 13-mile run today and told me no running until Wednesday at least. In the meantime, I apply the R.I.C.E. method to treat the hamstring. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. On a positive note, it feels better this morning, but I miss my long run bad. I sure hope this is not serious.

One reason a marathon is such an accomplishment is because it is not easy getting through all of the training and getting to the starting line healthy. I have been training hard - taking the runs right up to the edge and making good progress in reducing my times. My body finally balked a bit. I hope I can talk it into cooperating with my mind.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot control . . .

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, October 02, 2004


Saturday Devotion

this is an audio post - click to play

Today I am launching a new Saturday series. The Saturday Devotion will be an audioblog of something inspirational. For the next few weeks I will read from a book I became familiar with in seminary. It is $3.00 Worth of God, Wilbur E. Rees. Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA. 1971. The short devotions of Wilbur Rees were revolutionary in 1980 when I was in school, and timely as you will see. I hope you enjoy them. I will also provide a print version for those poor souls out there with dial up.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:4

And God said, "With what shall I shatter Man's self-importance? How shall I tickle his ribs and get him to laugh at himself? How shall I interrupt his ponderous deliberations and muss his carefully combed hair? How shall I dump blue sky in his lap and show him the importance of mud, moths, and the month of May? How shall I mimic him and embarrass him, disturb his dignity and cause him to smile?"

God thought for a while and then answered Himself, "I shall make a child!"

Until the next time and have a great weekend
John Strain


Friday, October 01, 2004


Abusing The System

I might as well make it three in a row. That is posts about mental health. Today I want to simply outline a problem. I do not know the solution. Before I state the problem, I want you to understand the nature of the problem. In school I had systems theory drilled into my head. Basically what systems theory says is one thing influences another thing. Like dominoes, if you change one thing, other things are affected. If dad loses his job and becomes withdrawn, then mom worries, the kids don't get their allowance, they can't do things with their friends, the friends hang with other people and it keeps going out like ripples of water on a pond. If an alternator on an automobile breaks and stops charging the battery, the battery will eventually die. The car owner often diagnoses the problem as a bad battery only to find the new replacement battery dead in a day or two. A trip to the mechanic reveals the real problem. Therefore, in systems theory, it is important to find "the problem" and not focus on a symptom of the problem.

The problem I will attempt to explain today is many faceted. It is actually several problems interwoven. It is getting worse here in Louisiana and I suspect in other areas of the United States.

An individual presents at an emergency room saying they are suicidal and ask for help or someone is brought to an emergency room accused of being suicidal and the family / friends are asking that the individual get help. Often the individual is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

The ER doctor wanting to move people out of his department quickly writes a PEC (physicians emergency certificate), which is a 72 hour commitment. The social worker in the ER begins looking for a psych bed by calling psychiatric units.

EMTALA (emergency medical treatment and active labor act), is a set of federal laws regulating what obligations hospitals have toward patients who are in an emergency situation. These are the anti dumping laws. They make a lot more sense if you are talking about a pregnant woman or someone having a heart attack, but they make less sense as applied to psychiatric and substance abuse situations.

I work at a private psychiatric hospital. We participate in the Medicare program; therefore, we are bound by the EMTALA laws. So, if an emergency room calls us and says they have a patient in their facility and the doctor has written a PEC, we MUST accept that person regardless of their ability to pay.

In theory, this may sound fine, but in practice, it is a disaster. What is happening is individuals and families know they can solve their little crisis by going to an emergency room. The MD will PEC the individual to get rid of him and some psych hospital will have to sort things out without reimbursement. Then, because the person is in the hospital free, administrators (rightfully so) want them discharged ASAP. I often spend a lot of my time doing this, while paying customers are on the back burner.

If the hospital treats people without reimbursement enough, it will not have the money to pay me. Some units have closed already placing more of a burden on existing units. If things continue this way, I can see all of the psychiatric hospitals closing.

I can think of solutions, but it would involve regional cooperation between emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals, including state mental health services. I do not even know where to start. Medical professionals talk about this problem all the time, but solutions usually involve one facility.

Everyone is afraid of being sued and this is a real concern. There is a large group of individuals who abuse the system. They go to an ER when they do not need to and wind up in a psych hospital when they do not need it. More often than not, some little 22 year old girl gets in a fight with her boyfriend, they breakup and she becomes suicidal. Her friends take her to the ER and she is transferred to a psych unit - maybe ours. Once in the system, it takes a few days and a lot of paperwork and expense to get out. It is all such a waste. A lot of work is generated for fear of regulator intervention or law suits.

I especially love cases of compulsive gamblers or crack heads that are "suicidal." Folks know all they have to do is walk into an ER and say they are suicidal. They will get a 3 to 5 day rest. They spend all of their money on drugs or gambling, but have no resources when it comes to paying medical bills.

Hospitals are often seen as unfeeling and callous, but they lose a lot of money treating people for free. If the trend continues, the hospitals will go bankrupt.

This problem concerns me and I do not quite know what to do. The problem is big and far-reaching.

Sometimes just writing helps me think to the next step. Maybe that will happen here. Being the optimist I am, I believe there is a way to improve this situation and I have not ruled out giving it a shot. Someone has got to do it, even if it is only in our region.

Until the next time
John Strain