Musings on contemporary American life

Love the cover of this week’s New Yorker.  It is titled “Black Friday” and shows a perplexed gray-haired gentleman looking at a saleswoman in what, we can see from the reverse-lettering on the window, is a “Bookstore.”  Only there aren’t any books for sale, just other stuff.

The sales clerk points to the store’s book “collection,” a bottom shelf of a few leftovers.

That drawing really resonated last night when I came back from an expedition to Barnes & Noble.  I went in search of books and CD’s.  I found instead, a huge collection of Nooks & Blue Moose (or is it Blu-ray?).

OK, Barnes & Noble does still carry books; I even bought a half-dozen. But I left without a single CD because the shrunken collection’s sampling sound system was broken, which I don’t think anyone much cared about.  Kathy and I figure in about a decade bookstores will look like that New Yorker cover.

Since I haven’t yet finished all the books I got last Christmas, I still might be in good shape for the rest of my life.


Massachusetts messed up last spring and cancelled my grand-daughter’s health insurance just when she fell ill.  It gave us an unsettling glimpse of America’s warped medical system (or should I call it medical scam?).  We promised her pediatrician’s office we’d cover the bill so that Devon could be seen and then, after we thought we’d fixed the glitch with the state, forgot about it.  Six months later we received a $485 bill for one pediatrician’s office visit.

The first charge was a fairly standard $160 for the doctor’s visit. But tacked on was $305 for “splinter removal.”  This had occurred as my wife Kathy was leaving.

“Oh,” she said. “Devon has a splinter on her finger. Can you pull it out?”

The doctor did — in less than 60 seconds — without saying a word about an additional charge.

It took three tries to reach the pediatrician’s billing person.  Devon’s health provider, Neighborhood Health, she told me, had rejected the claim.  And why I asked, was there a $305 charge for a splinter? (I pointed out that $305 a minute equals $18,300 an hour, an exorbitant charge even for Wall Street lawyers.)

“You’ll have to ask the doctor,” she said.

I never could reach the doctor so I called the practice manager.  After about a month, I was told the charge had been deducted from the bill in this warm and fuzzy note from the practice:

Upon review of Devon’s chart and discussion with [the doctor], we have decided to waive this fee this one time. However, we would like to point out that the billing system uses a nationally standardized list of procedures and charges. These charges are not based on time spent; rather, they consider the need for medical and technical expertise, risks and complications of any procedure.

I guess that means the tweezers her doctor yanked with are much more expensive and better sanitized than the ones in our medical cabinet at home.

I’m sure insurance companies routinely pay such trumped up charges from doctors, who in turn bill them because they are so severely undercut on routine visits.  And you wonder why the health care of the average American is $8,000, about twice what Canadians or French pay for what is arguably better care?


Fascinating speaker at school yesterday.  NPR’s social media guru Andy Carvin told students of how he covered Arab spring over Twitter without actually being there.  I have nothing but respect for Carvin’s journalistic skills, which include curating discussions from around the world over Twitter, and identifying valid and invalid sources of news for reporters and public alike.

But his visit also served as one more marker of advancing age and generation change. Quite honestly, I’m not so sure I’d have gone into journalism if I’d been told it involved sitting at home or in the office and sending 500 tweets a day.  I was excited by the idea of learning new ideas from interesting people, face-to-face — of walking through unfamiliar door and seeing the world.

Today that world is changing. Just visit your local bookstore to find out.



About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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