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GP 9 April 2008: Tipping Points IV: Plain Speaking

Bad Medicine.  Senators Obama, Clinton, and McCain have made all sorts of noises about healthcare reform.  McCain will rescue up with the free market; the Dems are going to put us on the road to Nirvana with universal healthcare.  None of it will work.  Fact is, they are really talking about everything but real healthcare.

The Democratic candidates in particular are not in love with reform: they’re plumping for universal health insurance, which is not at all the same as healthcare.  Our healthcare system is sick, and needs a top-to-bottom shake-up.  Even if you are insured, you are probably not getting good care in these United States.  Universal insurance, in fact, probably will only exacerbate the problems, raising costs, prices, and defect rates.

A version of universal healthcare, installed by “I Know How to Run Things” Governor Romney, in Massachusetts is a mess.  “In Massachusetts, Universal Coverage Strains Care,” we learn that prices have surged, and other things have blown out of control, further infecting the state’s inextricably flawed healthcare system.  We have found that if you see a doctor there for a run-of-the-mill physical who happens to office at a hospital, your tab for the visit may run $900 or more, about 3 times what it should cost.  A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggests Medicare could have saved $50 billion if hospitals ran right.   Each year, in fact, the healthcare system consumes more and more of our national treasure (now north of 15% of GNP) and delivers unhealthier people.

In spite of the Straight Talk Express and other promises from our politicians that they will talk turkey, they don’t talk straight about the healthcare problem.  Because we don’t talk to the issues in a simple way, we even lose the ability to think straight about things. 

The Uses of Swearing and Cursing.  Our mothers taught us in childhood that we should not swear, threatening to wash our mouths out with soap if we used verboten expressions.  But a good curse has its uses.  At the UN a couple of weeks ago we spoke with a lady of considerable talents who told us of taking her first public speaking course back in college days.  For a while she got nowhere, but then she blossomed.  What happened is that she took up swearing in a big way, doing her cursing routines in front of a mirror.  The oaths and imprecations released her soul and put timbre in her voice, allowing her to become resonant and outspoken.  She had come from a 2 X 2 upbringing, but suddenly she came out of the box.  In this regard, we refer you to Natalie Angier’s fine article, “Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore.”   Although gratuitous cursing, principally by entertainers and comedians, is boring and crude in the extreme, a good curse can help make the point and cut to the quick.  As Ms. Angier goes on to say:

Some researchers are so impressed by the depth and power of strong language that they are using it as a peephole into the architecture of the brain, as a means of probing the tangled, cryptic bonds between the newer, "higher" regions of the brain in charge of intellect, reason and planning, and the older, more “bestial” neural neighborhoods that give birth to our emotions.

Cursing can relieve stress, connect up the dots in our brain, help us communicate with people who do not even speak our language, and hint that we are trying to tell it like it is.  Since swearing occasionally has something to do with plain speaking, it is well to understand “How Swearing Works.”  Here is a beginner’s list of curse words to get you started on your blasphemous career.

Death of Hal Riney.  One of the greats of advertising just passed away.  At the end he had sort of given up on advertising, claiming it was not ‘fun’ anymore.  He, as some of the other advertising titans we have known, even would claim that the ads now don’t make sense and that one cannot tell what they are trying to say.  That, of course, is the essence of modern advertising—to say nothing about the banal product, but to con the consumer into buying with a string of sweet nothings. 

Hal Riney was the author—indeed, he was the voice—of Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America Again” campaign.   We recommend it to your attention.  In the present Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ has some of the same flavor.  David Axelrod, Senator Obama’s key strategist, is a consultant and advertising man who has plumped for a message of hope, understanding that advertising had best lift us off the bottom if we are going to buy into its message.  Advertising can repel, detract, or amuse you, but at its best it can simply help make you feel good about yourself and those around you.  In other words, at its best, it has a healthy message. 

One-Liners.  The obituaries for William Buckley made him more Olympic than he really was.  A good but not great intellect, amusing and on a par with the liberal John Kenneth Galbraith, with whom he liked to spar, he put a nice face on a conservative mishmash.  He often regretted the road taken by some of his acolytes and was capable of stands that none of them embraced, including his call for the legalization of marijuana and the end of the Iraq fiasco.  We like him best for his memorable one-liners, which symbolize him better than any of his writings, talk shows, etc.  For instance:

Does baloney fear the grinder?

It had all the earmarks of a CIA operation; the bomb killed everybody in the room except the intended target!

I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

In plain speaking, the mot juste often has a great deal more to say that a torrent of words that clearly miss the point, any point.

Say It With Pepper.  Our companion site SpiceLines this week tackles Gerard Vivres, a pepper expert in France without pareil.  Indeed, he captures yet another essential of plain speaking—passion combined with knowledge that others cannot hope to match.  You can listen to him on YouTube.

Plain Speaking.  Speaking of ‘plain speaking,” we urge you to read Merle Miller’s classic on Harry Truman.  Truman spoke his mind more than once.  You sure knew where he stood, even if you did not like what he had to say.  You could not help but like the man.

P.S.  Caveat emptor.  Massachusetts is the only state where we personally have encountered gross medical negligence and misconduct.

P.P.S.  Our favorite San Francisco advertising man was not Riney, but Howard Gossage.  Now he was the real thing, and a great correspondent. Here are some of his ads.  They don’t make them like that anymore—at least in San Francisco.

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