Sunday, September 25, 2022

A calming noise.

ifee | Deposit Photos

You've heard of white noise, I take it? Well, there are other colors of noise, too.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a story about brown noise. I had never heard of it, but apparently it's been a thing for for several years. Like white noise, brown noise is a combination of every frequency that the human ear can hear. The difference between white and brown is that white emphasizes higher frequencies and has a hissing quality to it. Brown noise, by contrast, emphasizes the lower frequencies and is more of a rumble. Think of the sound of heavy rain, strong wind, or a waterfall. 

What's the deal with the colors? That's thanks to engineering. Somebody decided to base the hierarchy of these types of noises on the rainbow. Brown, which emphasizes the lowest frequencies, is akin to the red end of the rainbow; red light has the lowest frequency of light waves. On the sound scale, after brown comes pink, then white, then blue (which sounds like the static you get on an FM radio between stations). You can hear short samples of these different noises here. (The New York Times article also lists violet noise; there's a sample of that at the link in the second paragraph.)

White noise machines have been around for many years, of course. People use them as sleep aids. I've also seen them placed outside of therapist's offices, the theory being the white noise will drown out whatever confidential conversation is going on inside the office and keep people in the waiting room from eavesdropping. But the Times says brown noise is now becoming popular with those diagnosed with ADHD. Reportedly the rumble helps them focus.

The jury is still out on whether brown noise -- or any color noise -- can help alleviate anxiety. Some people may find that having such noise gives their brain something to do other than dwell on anxious thoughts. But others might find the constant background noise distracting or even irritating.

By the way, a survey done two years ago of scientific studies about the efficacy of white noise's use as a sleep aid found it's...not all that helpful. There's no harm in using it, but the reason it's helpful may be more about masking other annoying sounds that are keeping you up at night -- such as a significant other's snoring.

In fact, there doesn't seem to be any harm in using any of these types of noise on a regular basis. So if you believe it helps you sleep or concentrate better, have at it. I'm not really a fan of any sort of noise -- I prefer silence, especially when I'm writing. But if I had the choice to listen to either a rushing waterfall or FM radio static, I know which one I'd pick.

In fact, sitting by a waterfall sounds like a good idea any time. 


These moments of noisy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! The pandemic may or may not be over, but Covid isn't leaving any time soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Speak up!

This past week, my friend Kim and I attended a presentation at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture here in Santa Fe. The speaker was Diane Bird, an archivist for the museum and one of the curators of the revamped "Here, Now and Always" exhibition. Since its inception in 1997, the idea behind the exhibition has been to explain to museum visitors that Native Americans didn't disappear when the Wild West ended -- they're still here, and their history and culture are way more interesting than those old Westerns ever let on.

Bird is a member of Cochiti Pueblo, and among her responsibilities during the revamp of the exhibition last year was to plan the portion dealing with Native survival, both in the past and today. Tribes and nations from across the Southwest were consulted in the creation of the entire exhibit, and they had input into what would be displayed. Several times during her talk, she mentioned that some of the Pueblos didn't want the Pueblo Revolt mentioned anywhere. 

kieferpix | Deposit Photos
Quick history lesson: Spanish conquistadores first came to New Mexico in 1540, searching for gold (which they never found) and causing a lot of trouble with the Natives who were already here. Coronado and his men eventually departed, but about 60 years later, Don Juan de Oñate brought settlers up from Mexico. Oñate put down a particularly bloody rebellion at Acoma Pueblo, killing or enslaving hundreds and ordering that all men of the pueblo who were 25 or older have one foot cut off. Missionaries came, too, and forced the Natives to convert to Catholicism. By 1680, the Puebloans had had enough. In that year, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo leader, Po'pay, led a revolt against the Spanish. It was coordinated by sending runners to each pueblo to give the leaders knotted cords. One knot in each cord was to be undone each day; when all the knots had been untied, it was time to attack. The result was bloody but successful -- the Spaniards were forced to abandon Santa Fe and retreat south to present-day El Paso. The Natives' victory lasted twelve years, at which point the Spaniards returned (how peaceful that return actually was is a story for another time).

Okay, back to the presentation last week. After the curator had said a couple of times that some pueblos didn't want any mention of the Pueblo Revolt, I asked her why. Why wouldn't they want people to know that their ancestors fought back against the invaders and won? 

Bird said it was because people didn't like to talk about it. That first Spanish occupation was a horrible experience; for hundreds of years, it was never spoken of. It wasn't until the pueblos began organizing an annual commemorative run in the late 1990s that Native kids began learning about the Pueblo Revolt.

Then another attendee spoke up. She was Jewish, and she said she was raised to never speak of the Holocaust for the same reason: because it was so painful and horrible and because so many people were killed. 

So many of today's ills are exacerbated by people not speaking up. From the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa in 1921 to incidents of domestic violence, heinous acts committed by humans against their fellow humans are hushed up. Sometimes it's deliberate -- those in power don't want the stories of their cruelty to spread. But too often, it's the victims who refuse to speak up, because of fear or embarrassment or pain. They don't want to relive the experience, so they don't. They try to forget. And so, succeeding generations never learn.

But as writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 

Humans have ugly impulses. We commit atrocities on a regular basis. 

It's so easy to forget that. We are routinely lulled into a false sense of security about how good and just and peaceful we are. 

But we can't fall for the lullaby. We should strive to keep all of humanity's behavior in perspective -- even the heinous parts -- and that involves a regular acknowledgement of how awful we can be to one another. 

Because otherwise it will happen again.


These moments of bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Not everything is a sign.

 First, a couple of housekeeping things:

  • After I shared last week's post about Medicare, folks who've been through the gantlet reminded me about a couple of things:
    • Not everybody pays the same monthly premium for Part B. It's tied to income, so some folks pay more. But I think a majority of folks on Medicare pay the base rate, which is $170.10 for 2022.
    • It's a really good idea to shop for a Part D (prescription) plan every year. Insurance companies change their drug formularies at the drop of a hat, so the plan you have this year may not cover your meds next year at the same rate -- or at all, even. You can only change your Part D plan during open enrollment, which runs from October 15 through December 7 every year.
  • Today is the 21st anniversary of 9/11. If you're interested in reading (or re-reading) what I experienced that day, here's a link to the blog post I wrote a couple of years ago. (Linking to it saves me from having to type it all out again.)
Okay, onward. | CC0

If you thought, by looking at the photo, that I was going to write about politics again, you're forgiven. I'm not, though.

A couple of nights ago, I attended a small gathering of fellow Pagans at someone's house. She's kind of out in the country, with a good-sized chunk of land around her house, and so she gets a lot of local fauna roaming through. She also has a permanent labyrinth set up just the other side of her driveway, which is a cool feature that I wish I had enough room to do myself.

We were sitting outside in lawn chairs, socially distanced, next to the labyrinth. And as we talked, various critters made their way around us. This has happened before; during our get-togethers, we've seen a lizard and a few types of birds. It's their land, too, right? They were here before humans got here.

This time, as we chatted, a tarantula trucked across the labyrinth behind us, making for a copse of trees on the far side. It was a good-sized critter, about the size of your hand with your fingers extended. Some of the women got up to get a closer look, but I stayed in my seat. (Now I wish I'd gotten a photo; if I had, I wouldn't have have to resort to a stock photo for this post. Hindsight is 20/20, etc.)

Here's the thing: Our host was convinced that the tarantula was a sign -- for her. She'd never seen one on her property before, and here it was, crossing her labyrinth. And during our meeting, too! She was both fascinated and kinda scared, I think. 

This group tends to talk about animal sightings and What They Could Mean anyway, so I'd brought along my copies of Ted Andrews's books, which I mentioned in a post not too long ago. I looked up tarantulas and found them mentioned in the section about spiders. Andrews says the bite of a tarantula is poisonous, but the effect on an average human is no worse than a bee sting. He also says tarantulas don't weave webs, per se. Rather, they live in holes in the ground and catch food that comes near the rim of their hole. Of spiders in general, he says, their keywords are creativity and the weaving of fate.

A few of the other women at the meeting told our host that autumn is mating season for tarantulas. The females stay in their holes, and the males go walkabout in search of them. They said there was probably a female in a hole in the copse, and our boy was just heading over for a little boom chicka wow.

But our host would not be dissuaded. That tarantula was meant for her. Never mind that there were nearly a dozen of us at the meeting, so it could have been for any of us -- except that it stayed well away from our circle.

As I said last time this came up on the blog, "The biggest to not read too much into what you're seeing." It was cool to see a tarantula in person. But given the season, I'd say this was a spider doing spider things -- not any sort of message from the Universe.

These moments of spidery blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. The omicron vaccine is available -- get boosted!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Medicare For All? Forget I said that.

I used to be a big proponent of Medicare for All. But I will be turning 65 in a few months, and now that I'm running the Medicare gantlet*, I have changed my mind. 

Nobody should have to do this -- certainly not anybody who has spent 40 or 50 years of their working life having their health insurance choices dictated to them by their employer. Medicare, as the system stands today, is overly complicated -- very possibly by design. It's also weighted toward private insurance companies. And if things keep going the way they've been going, Medicare as we've known it for generations will very likely cease to exist, only partly because it will "run out of money".

First, a quick primer. Everybody's eligible for Medicare once they turn 65. It has four parts:

  • Part A covers hospitalization. It's free, and everybody gets it.
  • Part B covers outpatient stuff like doctor visits. It is not free -- this year's premium is $170.10 per month -- and you don't have to get it. But most people do. Together, Parts A and B constitute "Original Medicare".
    • Parts A and B don't cover every expense, though, so a lot of people also pick up a Medicare Supplement (a.k.a. Medigap) plan. These are designated by letter (I'd like to get hold of the genius who decided that both Medicare's Parts and Medigap Plans should have letter designations), and while these plans are sold by private insurance companies, the government decrees what's covered under each lettered plan. In other words, if you buy a Plan G, no matter who you buy it from, it has to cover the same stuff as every other Plan G. Below is a chart that I cadged from Medicare and You, the handbook that the government will send you when you enroll. (Ignore Plans C and F; if you turned 65 after January 1, 2020, you can't get them.) Most folks go with either Plan G or Plan N. Now despite that the coverage in each plan is mandated by the feds, premiums vary -- sometimes by a lot. The highest premiums are usually charged by the companies that do a lot of advertising (AARP, I'm looking at you).

  • Part D (I'm going out of order intentionally) is drug coverage. It's provided by private insurance companies, and the premiums vary widely. Plus each company has its own formulary, or tiers of drugs they will pay for; just like with the drug coverage you have now, generics are cheapest and brand-name drugs can be hella expensive. has a search function where you can plug in your prescriptions and your favorite pharmacies, and it will generate a list of Part D plans available to you, which you can then sort by cheapest combined premium and drug costs. Most people who do Parts A and B also pick up a Part D plan.
You can see why people might get bewildered by the choices: You don't just get Medicare, poof! done! You get Parts A and (maybe) B, and (maybe) a Medigap plan, and don't forget your drug coverage. There are a lot of moving parts. Even folks whose employers served up a cafeteria plan might find this overwhelming.

There's another choice, though: You can leave all this confusion behind and go with Part C, a.k.a. Medicare Advantage. You've probably seen lots of ads for MA. It sounds like a terrific deal. Many policies include drug coverage, just like the insurance you have right now. Some policies include dental, hearing, and vision benefits, which Original Medicare doesn't cover even if you buy a Medigap plan. (I'd like to get hold of the genius who decided that Medicare shouldn't cover dentures and hearing aids.) You can even get a policy with a zero premium! How can that not be a great deal?

Well, here's how:

Medicare Advantage is regular old insurance. The vast majority of plans are either HMOs or PPOs, which means each plan has a network of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers that they want you to see. Maybe your primary care doc is in-network, but what if she wants you to see a specialist? You're back to the game of "Do I need a referral?" and "Do they take my insurance?" -- games you don't have to play with Original Medicare.

There's also the matter of out-of-pocket costs. Your MA plan may not charge you a monthly premium, but your maximum annual out-of-pocket cost could be thousands of dollars higher than Original Medicare's -- to the tune of as much as $7,550 in-network or $11,000 out-of-network per year, compared to $233 per year for Original Medicare. (I saw this bullshit with Obamacare over the past couple of years. A whole lot of plans on the exchange have cheap premiums and insane annual deductibles.)

But here's the biggest problem with MA. You see, Original Medicare pays per service: Your doctor provides your care, and Medicare pays the doctor a set price for that care. But MA insurers are paid by the government per customer. Most are for-profit insurance companies, so they have an incentive to pocket as much of that fee as they can -- which means they have an incentive to deny care, sometimes even care that would have been covered without question under Original Medicare. Also, the government pays more for customers with certain diagnoses -- the more diagnoses, the better. So these insurers have been discovered combing customers' health histories and having their customers complete "health risk assessments" to find diagnoses to add to their charts, thereby bilking the government out of $12 billion in 2020 (and, by the way, making their customers look sicker than they are). All of this came out in a hearing held in July by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The subcommittee also heard evidence that many MA customers in their last year of life switch to Original Medicare -- an indication that MA plans aren't providing the best care for their sickest customers.

In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is looking into possible deceptive advertising practices by insurers that provide MA plans. Wyden says the federal government received twice as many complaints about MA plans in 2021 as it had in 2020. He's seeking information from 15 state governments about complaints they've received about MA plans.

The percentage of older Americans enrolled in MA plans is expected to top 50 percent within the next couple of years. MA was supposed to save the government money on senior healthcare. But some MA plans cost the government more than they should, and some aren't providing the level of care that Medicare requires them to provide. 

I'm mindful of the fact that conservatives have wanted for years to get rid of Medicare (and Social Security). And my inner conspiracy theorist is urging me to say that it's no accident that Original Medicare is so confusing while MA plans seem so simple. My rational mind is holding my inner conspiracy theorist back. But I will say this: I've set up a spreadsheet for my Medicare choices, and none of them are MA plans.

And when I said before that Americans should have Medicare for All? What I meant was single-payer insurance -- like Medicare's Parts A and B, but better.


There are a ton of websites and YouTube videos purporting to help you through this process. This video has a good summation of the pros and cons with MA plans, but in linking to it, I'm not endorsing her company in any way.


*Before somebody says I misspelled gauntlet: A gauntlet is a type of glove. A gantlet is the thing where people form two lines and have you run between the lines while they try to beat the crap out of you -- which is a pretty accurate description of the process of picking Medicare coverage.


These moments of bloggy clarification have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe out there!