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Monday, March 19, 2018

Today's Harris Challenge

The trivia category is Movies Based On Movies. See if you score enough points to earn a bonus category at my new site, HarrisChallenge.com!

Theater Review: "Born Yesterday"

Stepping into an iconic role is always risky. When the audience knows the original, there are bound to be comparisons. Judy Holliday became a star in 1946 with her powerhouse performance as Billie Dawn in Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday." She reprised the role in the 1950 movie version, for which she won an Oscar, and woe unto any actress who has had to follow in her footsteps.

The good news is that the actress who plays Billie in the St. Louis Rep's production of the play pulls it off. Her name is Ruth Pferdehirt (I joked to my wife that it's a stage name -- her real name is Debbie Pferdehirt), and she ably fills Holliday's shoes as the character evolves over the course of two hours.

Billie is the girlfriend of Harry Brock, played by Andy Prosky, son of one of our favorite character actors of the last generation, Robert Prosky. Harry is a junk dealer who has built his business and become a self-made multi-millionaire, mostly by muscling aside the competition and steamrolling anyone and anything that gets in his way. Now he's in DC to bribe a senator and get legislation passed that will make it easier for him to continue amassing more wealth.

Harry has brought Billie along, but he's worried she'll say or do something wrong, so he hires a local journalist, Paul Verral (Aaron Bartz), to give her a little bit of culture. That turns out to be a big mistake. As Billie wisens up about the ways of Washington, she also falls for Paul, and that can't be good for Harry.

As played by Pferdehirt, Billie isn't stupid, she's ignorant -- she doesn't know what she doesn't know -- but she has a thirst for knowledge. Much of Pferdehirt's performance is lifted directly from Holliday's, including all the business during the classic gin rummy scene, when you can't take your eyes off her. Prosky is just as full of bluster as Broderick Crawford was in the movie, but Bartz isn't quite the stud that William Holden was as Verrall.

Still, the cast is solid, the laughs come regularly, and "Born Yesterday" still resonates with its talk of corruption and the power of the rich to run our government at the expense of the people.

By the way, if you haven't seen the 1950 movie, rent it and watch it with your daughter. I'm proud that mine enjoyed it so much she can quote from the script. For instance, when Harry yells, "Shut up! You ain't gonna be tellin' nobody nothin' pretty soon!" and Billie replies, just as loudly, "DOUBLE NEGATIVE!"

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Best Thing I've Read Today

Talk about a mic drop.

In the final four paragraphs of Julie Bosman's piece in the NY Times about the candidates for governor in Illinois, she writes about this interaction between Republican Jeanne Ives and Democrat Chris Kenney...

At a bipartisan candidate forum in Chicago in January, Ms. Ives addressed the issue of gun violence.

“And you know how you’re going to solve it? Fathers in the home,” she said, as the audience booed.

Perhaps most offended was Mr. Kennedy, who was 4 years old in 1968 when his father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated.

“Well, I wish I could agree with you. I didn’t have a father in my life. Somebody shot him,” he said, as audience members clapped and rose to their feet. Mr. Kennedy then walked off the stage and left the building.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Today's Harris Challenge

It's the end of the week, so the topical trivia category is Have You Been Paying Attention? Test yourself, then share your score and challenge your friends at my new site, HarrisChallenge.com!

I See Red Tape

I have spent far too much of this week dealing with paperwork on behalf of my mother. She's 93 years old and suffers from dementia, so doing her taxes and paying her bills and managing most of life outside her assisted living facility is simply impossible.

While my brother deals with the medical side of her situation -- a not insubstantial matter in and of itself -- I'm handling the financial stuff, including gathering information for our accountant to work up her tax returns, as well as handling the influx of invoices from medical providers and explanation-of-benefits forms from insurance companies.

I'm not surprised when there have been mistakes made, mostly with inputting her various account numbers. Those I can correct relatively easily with just a phone call. But then there's the monster that is Medicare. It is a wonderful program that alleviates the financial distress most seniors would find themselves in without it. I'm impressed by how they seem to smoothy handle all the claims, pay the providers, and pass on the rest to third-party insurers who cover much of the rest of her costs.

But it only works if you have the required information. If you don't, you're going to bang your head against the wall trying to get it.

Yesterday, I needed to know something about my mother's Medicare account so I could fix a problem with one of her providers. The woman I spoke to at Medicare informed me that, because I haven't been authorized to access Mom's account, the HIPAA law bars her from sharing any of its details with me. I asked, "How do I get authorized?" She replied that if I could put my mother on the phone for 5-6 minutes and ask her some questions, that would do it. I explained that my mother can't concentrate on the same thought for more than 5-6 seconds, let alone minutes, because of the effects of this dreadful disease. I asked if there was an alternate route I could take.

The woman told me to look at a specific page on the Medicare.gov website via Mom's online account, where I could request the authorization form. I told her my mother had never set up an online account, and when I had tried to do it for her, it needed a piece of information I did not have -- the month and year her Plan A coverage began. So, could this woman please provide me with that date? No, I was told, because I'm not authorized.

I knew that would be the answer, but I continued, asking if there is a third option. She said yes, we can send it to the address we have on file for Mom. Since I wasn't sure they had her current address (she's only lived there for a few months), I asked, and of course I was told I'm not authorized to be given that information.

Trying to remain calm, I appealed to this woman's better nature. I told her I understand that the system is set up to protect the privacy of people like Mom (and me and you), but she can't be the only American suffering from dementia who needs help from a family member like me. How does Medicare handle this situation for everyone else? The woman replied that she was sympathetic, but this was the only available procedure.

Finally, I agreed to option three -- send the form to whatever address Medicare has on file for Mom, and I'll somehow get my hands on it, fill it out, and then figure out a way to have her sign it so I can send it back. Presumably, at that point (it may take as long as four weeks), I'll have the authority to talk to other human beings on her behalf.

Meanwhile, don't even get me started on the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the banks, and other institutions whose mud I've been stuck in for days. I spent dozens of hours just going through Mom's filing cabinets to uncover the secrets of her paperwork -- and that was when she was lucid, last summer. I can't imagine how much worse all of this would be if we had procrastinated.

I'm sharing all of this with you not merely as a way to vent my frustration. I hope you'll take it as a warning not to leave such matters until it's too late.

If you have a parent or any family member who is getting up there in years, sit down with them and go over their financial life. Fill out Power Of Attorney forms, write down all the information for their credit cards and bank accounts, plus their utilities, cable company, cell phone provider, pharmacy, doctors, medical equipment suppliers, insurance companies, accountant, lawyer, and anything else you can think of.

From my experience, there will inevitably be one or two that slip under your radar, leaving you to ask months later about some bill from someone you've never heard of. I found things like a medical service that charged her a hundred bucks every quarter (for over two years) because she had not opted out of their subscription plan. She knew nothing about it and drew no benefit for it, but they kept debiting it from her bank account.

Don't wait until your loved one is in such a bad mental state that they can't remember any of this. Do it now.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Random Thoughts

Using our voices instead of our fingers to get information from search providers and elsewhere is becoming more and more common. I recently bought an Amazon Alexa and am amazed at how good it is at voice recognition. I rarely have to repeat myself, and the response is nearly instantaneous. Google's voice search is also excellent. But Apple is way behind. Too often, when I ask Siri a question (on any platform), she either doesn't understand me or can't return relevant data. Even if I asked her to explain Apple's lag in voice recognition with the question, "Why, Siri?" she'd probably respond with a link to the local Y.

Speaking of tech companies, I see that Melania Trump will meet with Facebook and Google to talk about cyberbullying. I notice she isn't going to meet with Twitter, the social media outlet used exclusively by her husband, the man who put the bully in bully pulpit.

My wife and I laughed out loud several times while watching the new Ricky Gervais standup special, "Humanity," on Netflix. It is not for the easily offended, but contains a lengthy chunk on how he has dealt with people offended by his comments in the past. Yes, he's arrogant and condescending, but I'm glad he's gone back to standup, because most of his recent projects ("Derek," "David Brent: Life On The Road," "Life's Too Short") have been remarkably unfunny. I prefer his HBO series "Extras," his 2009 movie "The Invention of Lying," and his two "Out Of England" standup specials.

I've watched every episode of every season of "Survivor," which means I've seen Jeff Probst impose his will on the show more and more each year. I can't think of another reality show host who yells at contestants during challenges as much as he does. Also, each season, I'm surprised when, after four or five episodes, the camera somehow lands on someone I didn't even know was playing the game. She or he has been left out of the edit completely up until that point, while the dominant players got all the attention. I wonder what it's like for those leftovers to watch the show at home with their families and have to remind them, "No, really, I was there, too!"

Today's Harris Challenge

The topical trivia category is The Ides Of March -- and the bonus category is Space In Your Face. Play any time, on demand, at my new site, HarrisChallenge.com!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

As I Tweeted

  • Headline we’ll never see in America, unfortunately: “Body of genius Stephen Hawking to lie in state in Capitol rotunda as honor for his brilliant work.” That’s reserved for evangelists, not scientists, in this sad society.

Today's Harris Challenge

The topical trivia category is March Madness -- and the bonus category is History Class. Play any time, on demand, at my new site, HarrisChallenge.com!