Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 29th, 2019

Inside the secret food bank that keeps farmworkers from going hungry

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This is a good article about one aspect of the US: how it grinds the poor into the dust. The dateline on this piece is Watsonville CA, which is just up the road from where I lived — between Monterey and Santa Cruz. Patricia Lee Brown writes in the Christian Science Monitor:

The early winter storms gathering in the Pacific bring welcome rains to California’s tinder-dry landscape. But for farmworkers picking strawberries for less than minimum wage, the rains signal the end of the harvest season and regular work, and deliver a downpour of hunger and worry.

That’s why about 170 indigenous Mexican women from Oaxaca line up for hours in an alley to obtain sacks of produce, diapers, and other essentials from a secret food bank once a month. For those who spend grueling days harvesting America’s bounty, this surreptitious pop-up – organized solely by word of mouth – provides a safe place for accessing free, nutritious food and supplies without fear of deportation by la migra, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE).

Once the self-proclaimed “Frozen Food Capital of the World,” this predominantly Latino agricultural city of 53,900 is located in Santa Cruz County, the least affordable county in the state for renters.

Though synonymous with beaches and surfer dudes, the county is home to some of the country’s most vulnerable – the thousands of indigenous farmworkers in California, an unknown number of unauthorized residents, who live in severely substandard conditions and speak a variety of pre-Columbian languages rather than English or Spanish.

The stealth food operation – not far from the canneries where striking workers rallied in the 1980s – is meant to take a bit of the edge off. It is organized by Ann López, in conjunction with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County. An emerita professor, “Dr. Ann” as she is known, started a nonprofit called the Center for Farmworker Families after interviewing numerous agricultural laborers for her Ph.D. dissertation. “There was a family with four little girls crying for food,” she recalls. “I opened the refrigerator and they had a head of lettuce, one third of a gallon of milk, and two Jell-O cups. That was it. What I found was a population inordinately poor and suffering.”

The “devil’s fruit”

Ernestina Solorio, who has legal status to work in the U.S., spends 10 hours a day, six days a week in the fields during the season. Strawberries are among the most labor-intensive crops, known as la fruta del diablo, or the devil’s fruit, for the hours it takes hunched over low-to-the-ground berries to pluck them without bruising.

Ms. Solorio earns $20,000 in a good year, well above average for a farmworker but also well under the federal poverty rate for Ms. Solorio’s family of four children. Sky-high rents eat up roughly 75% to 80% of a farmworker’s income, and a typical scenario is paying $600 a month for a family to sleep in a living room, says Gretchen Regenhardt, regional directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance, which provides legal services for low-income communities.

The math is grim: about $200 a month after rent to pay for everything else. “The work won’t pick up again until mid-April, depending on the weather,” Ms. Solorio explains. “That’s why so many of us are stressed.”

From a makeshift staging area in a garage, her compatriots file past tables piled high with diapers, laundry detergent, and toilet tissue, all while juggling toddlers in pajamas and babies nestled in blankets or shawl rebozos (traditional baby carriers).

Some dig through piles of donated clothes before moving on to the main event – repurposed onion bags heavy with sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, and other fresh vegetables and smaller white plastic bags filled with rice, lentils, and canned goods from the USDA. Strollers double as grocery carts. Those on foot weighed down by 30 pounds of goods teeter gingerly down the alleyway.

“You would never see this concentration of Oaxacans,” says Ms. López, dressed for the season in a bright red sweater and snowman earrings. “They are always hiding in the fields or their apartments.”

On edge, then a respite

Fears about ICE raids – such as the arrest of 680 people in agricultural processing plants in Mississippi this past August – ricochet through the community, as did the massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that was fueled by anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant zealotry.

The Trump administration’s proposed changes to federal immigration rules mean that people could be denied status as lawful permanent residents if they receive food stamps, Medicaid, or housing vouchers. In August, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services said: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and will not become a public charge.” If the rules survive legal challenges, the linking of food stamps to immigration status would have a chilling effect, increasing poverty, hunger, and poor health in vulnerable communities, advocates say.

In contrast, the underground food bank is “creating circles and spaces of trust or confianza” for indigenous farmworkers, writes Dvera Saxton, an assistant professor of anthropology at California State University, Fresno, in an email.

A monthly phone tree alerts people to the food bank’s hidden locale. “I never dreamed it would expand to the whole community,” says Dominga, who is an unauthorized resident and fears for her family’s safety. She pulls a pink notebook out of her spangly backpack to show off a roster of names and numbers written in impeccably neat handwriting. Her family of six resides in a living room cordoned off from the kitchen by a blanket. There have been as many as 16 people living in the 1,000 square foot house: there are currently 10. Mornings begin with lines for the bathroom. The smell of spices from an unrelated family’s chili permeate the blanket. “It’s hard and sad to share with another family,” Dominga says. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 2:52 pm

Good advice for the young

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An answer posted on Quora:

  1. Save money, don’t spend it. If you don’t need it don’t buy it. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ONE ENOUGH.
  2. Travel cheap and often. Traveling is harder as you go from only you to bringing a family.
  3. Don’t get caught up in useless drama. The girl or guy you are with may or may not be the one for you, so don’t get all twisted emotionally over something that was never going to work. (Especially if you are following #2)
  4. Find out WHO you are. Not what you do, not what you are, or where you want to be. It took me way too long to realize who I am and what I want out of life. Explore and push your boundaries. Try new things and learn what you like. Meet new people, challenge your own beliefs and understanding, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and then share your knowledge with others. Become YOU.
  5. Worry less about failing. Try shit, fail, and get back up and try again. You are still young and “failing” now is the best education you can get.
  6. Fuck what people think. Some people won’t like you, some people will hate you, and some will actually hope to see you dead. Don’t get caught up in trying to make everyone happy, because it is an impossible task. Built a close network of people.

No.  6 took me too long to learn. I was in my mid-30’s before I realized that I just rubbed some people the wrong way, and trying to present myself to please them did not work because I was constantly aware that if they knew the “real” me, they wouldn’t like me. I finally realized I should just be who I am, and even though some people would not like me, those who did would like me, the person I really am.

I would modify 1. somewhat: sock away 10% of every dollar you get and don’t touch that. Use a Vanguard fund (low fees) for that. And when you do buy something, save up enough to buy good quality that will last. Cheap stuff dies quickly. That means you won’t buy stuff so often, and that’s good: stuff weighs you down. Be particularly wary of stuff that’s suddenly popular.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

I love winter squash

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Ambercup is really excellent, and we now regularly have buttercup. I like all of these, but ambercup, buttercup, and delicata are the ones I have most often — roasted, and I now mix the seeds with a little olive oil and spread them out beside the squash and bake those as well, which I eat as a snack.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Food, Plant-only diet

Oral care videos

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 9:00 am

Posted in Health, Video

A former Navy SEAL writes of his first semester at Yale

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James Hatch, a retired wounded serviceman, writes in Medium:

In May of 2019, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University. At 52, I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories regarding the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.

I should give a bit of background information. I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage.

Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit. This wasn’t a one-time deal. Every time you showed up for work, you needed to prove your worth.

The vetting process is difficult and the percentage of those who try out for special operations units and make it through the screening is very low.

In an odd parallel, I feel, in spite of my short time here, the same about Yale.

After receiving my acceptance email and returning to consciousness, I decided to move to Connecticut and do my best in this new environment. Many people have asked me why I want to attend college at 52, and why at an Ivy League institution like Yale? I could have easily stayed in Virginia and attended a community college close to my home. Well, based on my upbringing in the military, I associated a difficult vetting process with quality and opportunity. I was correct in that guess. More importantly, I simply want to be a better human being. I feel like getting a world-class education at an amazing institution like Yale will help me reach that goal. Are there other places to get a great education? Of course, but I chose Yale.

My first class of the semester was absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if it was for the kids in my class, but it damn sure was for me. It was a literature seminar with the amazing Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor David Quint. He is an amazing human in that he has dedicated his life to literature, and he knows what he is talking about. The discussion was centered around the Iliad. I had read a bit of the Iliad in the middle part of my military career and decidedly didn’t get it. Listening to Professor Quint demonstrated exactly how much I didn’t “get it.” The other students looked like children to me. Hell, they are children, but when they speak, and some of them speak English as their second language, they sound like very well-spoken adults. My Navy issued graduate degree in cussing wasn’t going to help me out here. These young students had a good grasp of the literature and although they lacked much experience to bounce it off of, they were certainly “all in” on trying to figure out its underlying meaning.

At one point I said, “Hey, I’m just an old guy sitting here with a bunch of smart people, but I think….” And they all smiled, some of them nervously because I was essentially an alien. I was an old dude with tattoos all over his arms and a Dutch Shepherd service dog, brandishing a subdued American flag patch on her harness, sitting next to me. Professor Quint later approached me and said, “Hey, don’t downplay your intelligence. You are smart as well.”

I thought, I’ve got him fooled! Turns out I didn’t fool him at all when I turned in my first paper, but that is another story for another time.

After a few classes, I started to get to know some of my classmates. Each of them is a compelling human who, in spite of their youth, are quite serious about getting things done.

One young woman made a very big impact on me. She approached me after class one day and said, “I am really glad I can be here at Yale and be in class with you. My grandfather came to Yale and when WWII started, he left for the Navy and flew planes in the Pacific theater. After he came home, he came back to Yale, but he couldn’t finish. He locked himself in his room and drank and eventually had to leave, so I feel like I am helping him finish here at Yale and I’m doing it with a veteran, you.”

I was surprised and quite emotional. Exceptionally emotional. She went on: “I can send you a photo of him!” and I told her I would love one. That evening she sent me this photo of her grandfather.

I used to read stories about men like him and they are heroes to me. Clearly her grandfather is a hero to her as well, and she is going to make him quite proud. This connection with a WWII vet through his amazing granddaughter is a gift. One of many I receive on an almost daily basis in this amazing institution. I think it’s worth taking a moment here and acknowledging that this thing we now call “PTSD” has always been around. Some of us veterans escape it while others, like me and likely this gent in the airplane, felt the sting of it.

One day in another lit class, I brought up a book I’d read a long time ago called “Taxi Driver Wisdom” by Risa Mickenberg, Joanne Dugan and Brian Lee Hughes.

After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their dads were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.

Think about that for a second. These students are first generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.

Let me address this “snowflake” thing. According to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including a perceptive discussion of what is meant by a “safe space.”


Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 7:59 am

Best Healthcare System in the World™: Total bill of $28,395.50 for an out-of-network throat swab.

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Richard Harris writes at NPR:

Alexa Kasdan had a cold and a sore throat.

The 40-year-old public policy consultant from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn’t want her upcoming vacation trip ruined by strep throat. So after it had lingered for more than a week, she decided to get it checked out.

Kasdan visited her primary care physician, Roya Fathollahi, at Manhattan Specialty Care, just off Park Avenue South and not far from tony Gramercy Park.

The visit was quick. Kasdan got her throat swabbed, gave a tube of blood and was sent out the door with a prescription for antibiotics.

She soon felt better, and the trip went off without a hitch.

Then the bill came.

Patient: Alexa Kasdan, 40, a public policy consultant in New York City, insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota through her partner’s employer.

Total bill: $28,395.50 for an out-of-network throat swab. Her insurer cut a check for $25,865.24.

Service provider: Dr. Roya Fathollahi, Manhattan Specialty Care.

Medical service: lab tests to look at potential bacteria and viruses that could be related to Kasdan’s cough and sore throat.

What gives: When Kasdan got back from the overseas trip, she says there were “several messages on my phone, and I have an email from the billing department at Dr. Fathollahi’s office.”

The news was that her insurance company was mailing her family a check — for more than $25,000 — to cover some out-of-network lab tests. The actual bill was $28,395.50, but the doctor’s office said it would waive her portion of the bill: $2,530.26.

“I thought it was a mistake,” she says. “I thought maybe they meant $250. I couldn’t fathom in what universe I would go to a doctor for a strep throat culture and some antibiotics and I would end up with a $25,000 bill.”

The doctor’s office kept assuring Kasdan by phone and by email that the tests and charges were perfectly normal. The office sent a courier to her house to pick up the check.

How could a throat swab possibly cost that much? Let us count three reasons.

First, the doctor sent Kasdan’s throat swab for a sophisticated smorgasbord of DNA tests looking for viruses and bacteria that might explain Kasdan’s cold symptoms.

Dr. Ranit Mishori, professor of family medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says such scrutiny was unnecessary.

“In my 20 years of being a doctor, I’ve never ordered any of these tests, let alone seen any of my colleagues, students and other physicians order anything like that in the outpatient setting,” she says. “I have no idea why they were ordered.”

The tests might conceivably make sense for a patient in the intensive care unit or with a difficult case of pneumonia, Mishori says. The ones for influenza are potentially useful, since there are medicines that can help, but there’s a cheap rapid test that could have been used instead.

“There are about 250 viruses that cause the symptoms for the common cold, and even if you did know that there was virus A versus virus B, it would make no difference because there’s no treatment anyway,” she says.

(Kasdan’s lab results didn’t reveal the particular virus that was to blame for the cold. The results were all negative.)

The second reason behind the high price is that the doctor sent the throat swab to an out-of-network lab for analysis. In-network labs settle on contract rates with insurers. But out-of-network labs can set their own prices for tests, and in this case the lab settled on list prices that are 20 times higher than average for other labs in the same ZIP code.

In this case, if the doctor had sent the throat swab off to LabCorp ― Kasdan’s in-network provider ― it would have billed her insurance company about $653 for “all the ordered tests, or an equivalent,” LabCorp told NPR.

The third reason for the high bill may be the connection between the lab and Kasdan’s doctor. Kasdan’s bill shows that the lab service was provided by Manhattan Gastroenterology, which has the same phone number and locations as her doctor’s office.

Manhattan Gastroenterology is registered as a professional corporation with the state of New York, which means it is owned by doctors. It may be the parent company of Manhattan Specialty Care, but that is not clear in its filings with the state.

Fathollahi, the Manhattan Specialty Care physician, didn’t answer our questions about the bill. Neither did Dr. Shawn Khodadadian, listed in state records as the CEO of Manhattan Gastroenterology.

The pathologist listed on the insurance company’s explanation of benefits is Dr. Calvin L. Strand. He is listed in state records as the laboratory director at Manhattan Gastroenterology and Brookhaven Gastroenterology in East Patchogue, N.Y. We tried to reach him for comment at both places. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2019 at 7:08 am

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