Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Memorium: Steven Bendinelli

I had a client in April of 2008 who had to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy due to various bills that included medical bills. At the time of filing, he did have medical insurance. However, he subsequently was laid off and subjected to the horrors of COBRA and no insurance. At the age of 37, less than two years after filing bankruptcy, Steven Bendinelli passed away.

We publish the names of our terrorist victims and mourn the loss as a society. We do not mourn or publish the names in the media of those people who die because they lacked health insurance. We leave the mourning and anger to the deceased's immediate family.

I'd known Steven and his family for many years since coming to Ogden and they are great people. I have the highest regard for them. I met a friend of the family today and learned what had happened to Steven.

He had been unemployed. He had no insurance. He got a cold. He didn't want to go to the doctor because he didn't have any money and he didn't have any income. His father went to visit him and no one answered the door. The cold had progressed, possibly to pneumonia and Steven had passed away.

There remain some uncertainties about exactly how he passed away, but one thing appears to be certain-- Steven Bendinelli died because he didn't have access to health care.

Health care should not be left to markets. If it is, experience shows that the free market kills. Health care should be the concern of society as a whole. I challenge anyone to show me how any other belief is in the slightest way moral.

To Steven's family, I give my deepest regrets in their time of sorrow and my own apology, that I couldn't do more to relieve that financial pressure.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On Focus

I mentioned in my earlier post that I needed to focus.

Life tears us in numerous directions and I find myself trying to look at ten different things at once. My focus is distracted.

Monday morning is a new day at work and struggling through the day trying to solve problem after problem distracts, but doesn't focus.

Focus comes from concentration. While I have the capability to concentrate, I'm plagued by a nagging feeling that I'm focused on the wrong thing. A feeling usually described as "forgetting something."

Focus by its nature is exclusionary. You can't be focused and scattered. You can't pay attention to something else. In a writing practice, the words demand the attention. In family life, the children demand the attention. At work, the client.

Focus requires creating priorities. A requirement for obtaining and maintaining focus is creating priorities. If something comes along to distract (Internet anyone?), then you have to ignore it to maintain focus and that means you prioritize your attention.

Focus brings clarity. I focus for clarity. If you don't have focus, things are blurry. I never tire of seeing things more clearly, more precisely and more deeply.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the Brain

I've always had an abiding curiosity for how the grey matter in my skull operates. Two recent books, Talent is Overrated and The Talent Code, deal with how humans, and brains in particular, develop talents. The current scientific consensus is that myelin is an insulating coating that covers the neurons and facilitates any human skill or activity. The more myelin in an area, the more skilled.

My curiosity into the workings of the brain has turned into something of an obsession after my oldest daughter suffered a head injury in the fall of 2005. It is hard to believe that it occurred just over four years ago. I've learned about neuroplasticity, seizure disorders and the long and short term implications of a traumatic brain injury.

The recent books on talent are just the most recent step in this exploration. How do you create myelin? How do you develop skills that you want to have or that may have been lost due to an accident in the extreme or simply through complacency?

The answer appears to have a current consensus in the scientific community that resonates with my personal experience: deliberate or focused practice creates skill. Basically, hard work. The hard work does require focus on the particular task at hand, however. Just working hard won't do it, you have to focus and learn from repeated mistakes. Without the mistakes, no myelin gets produced, you are just using an already well-paved neuronal highway.

I know my wife and children have had to put up with me deliberately practicing to be a good husband and father. I make lots of mistakes while I parent. One of the hardest skills that I struggle with is letting my children deliberately practice in their own lives. This means letting them struggle and learn through their own mistakes and that is the only way to build the myelin and build the skills that will help them when I'm not available.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Deliberation

I'm completely sick of the commentary that is running rampant in the news media about President Obama's deliberation on what to do in Afghanistan. When did the act of acting deliberately and with thought lose credence?

Bad things can happen if you act too quickly without considering the long term implications of your actions. The more important the decision, the more important the deliberation. If you are talking matters of life and death, deliberation becomes even more important.

Every day I talk to people who are in serious financial straits. They have agonized and suffered over what they should do until they finally feel they have no choice and they come and talk to me to see if I can help. No one looks at their own personal financial situation without a significant amount of thought and deliberation as to what they should do.

Why do so many begrudge the Commander in Chief for taking a deliberate approach to making the right decisions about whether to put soldier's lives in jeopardy.

I think there should be an addendum to all the yellow magnetic ribbons:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Writing, Deliberate Practice and Renaissance Excellence

I've been reading Geoff Colvin's book Talent is Overrated and I was struck by a couple of points, particularly in regards to blogging and writing. As someone who has had a lifelong ambition to write, I found Colvin's book to be both inspiring and despairing.

The one sentence summary of the book is as follows: Talent means little compared to ten years of deliberate hard practice if you want to achieve greatness.

Inspiring because it means I have to work hard -- despairing because it looks like I've got about nine years and eleven months to go on my writing goal. I went back and discovered that in the past I've done a little over 350 blog posts on various sites, not to mention comments and discussions on-line and the reams of digital paper that I've filled up on my computer.

The other inspiring aspect of Colvin's book was I realized the huge amount of room I have for progression and improvement. Much of what was suggested I already knew, but it is always nice to get a booster shot for reinforcement.

One of the least discussed aspects of blogging is the ability for blogging to act as a method for writing practice. As you can see there have only been about 17 posts on this blog, so my other posting forays have been spread out over numerous sites and different times. I'm particularly interested in developing a writing style that invokes engagement with the audience whether through duration of reading or through direct response and comments. Stat counters feed the feedback loop with their mountains of data on where the audience comes from, how long they stay and how they leave.

Given the huge amount of information and entertainment competing for our precious time, developing a writing persona and style that attracts an audience seems to be the most critical.

After reading Colvin's book I wonder if I shouldn't take my writing practice and devote it to concepts of bankruptcy and personal finance, since I've got more than ten plus years in legal practice and countless hours of talking to people about how money and debt is ravaging their lives. If nothing else, it would help my legal career -- if not my writing.

I've always wished I could be a Renaissance man with excellence brimming from everything that I touch, but the realm of knowledge has expanded so rapidly that there is no chance I'm going to be excellent in relativistic physics, quantum mechanics, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, 17th Century French Literature, 20th Century Japanese literature of Abe, Murakami and Mishima, criminal law, constitutional law, history, computer science, philosophy, politics, business management or even current events. I don't even have time to work out properly, let alone become a master of the intellectual universe. No one has that kind of time. All we are left with is varying degrees of ignorance and a fairly poor concept of epistemology. It seems at 46, going on 47, that I need to focus.

Which brings me to my lovely and beautiful wife. She has resisted Colvin's ideas as I've tried to discuss them with her. She has a strong sense of innate talent dictating how well people perform at certain tasks -- for her, painting and writing specifically, since those are her passions. I would definitely describe my wife as a talented painter and writer, but that is not what separates her from the thousands of painters and writers that are also "talented."

If Colvin's book inspired me, I've been living with an inspiration. I've never seen anyone work as hard and deliberately on writing as my wife. I'm not sure where she is on the whole ten years of hard practice before achieving world class excellence and 'overnight' success, but I can tell she is close. She has seven or eight books completed and the last one she has just finished is her best yet. I hope you all get to read Away from Eden soon and if I don't get lost in my quest for being a 21st Century Renaissance man, look for my novel in about ten years.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The World's Best Health Care -- If You Can Make It

I was reading Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times this morning on my Kindle (I love my Kindle by the way) and I was struck by something that really rang true for me because it mirrored what I see everyday in my office.

Kristoff wrote, "Moreover, there is one American health statistic that is strikingly above average: life expectancy for Americans who have already reached the age of 65. At that point, they can expect to live longer than the average in industrialized countries. "

Yes, America has the best health care if you can make it to age 65, you just have to hang on until retirement and then you have universal health care. As I said in my earlier post, as a bankruptcy attorney I am the current national health care plan. I realized that there was an important caveat. I don't file bankruptcy for people over 65 for medical bills -- lost income, yes, medical bills, no. This is because American citizens over the age of 65 have the best health care system in the world.

Maybe we should figure out how to extend that system to everyone else.