Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Having written more than ninety Blogs since I started on this adventure, I was sure I must have learned something about them.  However, when I went back to read some of my early efforts, what I began to realize is that I took a fork in the road sometime after the first month or two and have travelled on a completely different journey from what I expected.

Originally I thought I would pass on to other aspiring writers some lessons I learned from self-publishing “Harnessing a Heritage”.  Mostly I found out that what I learned wouldn’t be all that valuable.  It was too me-specific.  I have, however compiled five lessons I have learned that might have more general appeal to readers of my blog who may want to write their own blog.  So here, just in time for World Blog Day, is my list:



·         Have an “end” in mind before you start your Blog.  Then write a story with a beginning, middle, and end to accomplish what you intend.

·         Stay focused.  Resist the temptation to bring in irrelevant points, no matter how humorous or interesting.

·         Listen and read, to catch items that are relevant to the general theme of your Blog.

·         Provide a hook in your Blog to tease your reader into watching for the next Blog.

·         Follow other Bloggers.


My first blogs all began with the desired “end” of the blog being passing on a lesson I learned in preparing my book for publication.  Almost immediately I found I had not enough information of value to sustain a twice-a-week presence.  Mistakenly, I then began to use the blog as a conduit to pass on things I thought were interesting.  But there was no continuity, not only between blogs, but between the start and end of any individual blog.  As I began to correct for that and treat each blog as a complete story they became more interesting.

I have chosen to make each blog between 450 and 750 words.  There is no way to stay within those guidelines unless you focus on the one or two things you want to impart.  Keep It Simple, Stupid is a good guideline.

I now keep a list of facts or ideas that I could use as material for a blog.  The yellow post-it notepad on Windows 7 usually has two or three ideas in the wings.  If I haven’t used something that is current within a month, I drop it.  Similarly, if I forget what the tag line on my post-it referred to, the topic is toast.  The interesting thing is, I now read and listen more attentively, knowing that I may find something that would be of interest to others.

I’m unsure which of the blogs I now follow because of my friend Sonia Marsh (www.gutsyliving.com ) had this piece of information, but someone passed on to me how you can miss a chance of repeat readers by failing to tease them with the future.  Most times now I have something specific in mind and post a teaser about the next blog.

In addition to Sonia, I routinely follow a dozen bloggers.  Interestingly, some of them are famous and have responded to comments I posted.  It’s exhilarating to get a personal note from a NY Times best-selling author.  I like to think that some of them will follow my blogs, at least on occasion.

I just found out some interesting stuff on Alzheimer’s.  I’ll share it and an update on Glen Campbell when I get back from Chicago.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Gift That Keeps on Costing

I recently finished reading a fascinating article by Nicholas Schmidle titled “Getting bin Laden. The article, which details the operation by Seal Team Six that we are all familiar with, is not only interesting in its eleven-page length, but also by placement in the magazine Mr. Schmidle decided to use to publish it: The New Yorker.

From its beginnings in 1925 the magazine has on a weekly basis provided a forum for journalism. Initially the core source was the Algonquin Round Table, which included Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woolcutt, and Robert Benchley. Through the years it has introduced journalists who would go on the be famous authors to include John Updike, Thornton Wilder, John Cheever, Roald Dahl, Vladimir Nabokov, John O'Hara, Philip Roth, J.D. Salinger, John Updike, and Eudora Welty.

Sixty years ago I read John Hersey’s article “Hiroshima”, which filled an entire issue and I also read Shirley Jackson’s powerful piece “The Lottery”. Aside from these famous authors, I have two favorites of lesser stature. One is Calvin Trillin, who wrote several pieces that drew me into buying and reading his great read, “Alice, Let’s Eat” and Berton Roueche who wrote several pieces about how epidemics start. These eventually became another book in my collection, The Medical Detectives.

The New Yorker’s” legacy for literature began with its founder and initial editor, Harold Ross, whose wife was a journalist for the New York Times. In addition to standard journalism the magazine has, from the beginning, supported poetry and, in fact, has its own Poetry Editor who reviews several hundred submissions a week.

The magazine is also famous for its cartoons, which have been a standard since 1925, launching the career of many cartoonists. It may have been the cartoon element that prompted one of my mother’s suitors to give the inaugural issue and a subscription to my mother for a wedding present. My father was convinced that it was rather a conscious effort to burden him with a renewal which continued until his death forty years later.

My mother continued the subscription and when she died, I dropped our subscription and continued hers since Mary is also Mrs. Don FitzGerald. That has produced some interesting opportunities.

Somewhere around 2005, The New Yorker decided to honor prominent and longtime subscribers with a champagne reception at South Coast Village, a tony Orange County Mall. Mrs. FitzGerald and guest received an invitation. There was a little surprise when Mrs. FitzGerald appeared to be younger than her expected eighty-one years. If they do a repeat it will be interesting to see the reaction to someone who, had she lived, would now be 107.

The timelessness of the magazine is perhaps best typified by how other features, changed through the years as different editors, such as Tina Brown led the staff. Features such as Goings on About Town and Talk of the Town. These are used by many, present company included to plan their visits. They prompt interest in choosing plays, which I will do today for our annual visit after Thanksgiving. Our interest is seemingly not unique, as I saw on my most recent visit to the Apps Store that one of the hot new Apps is Going On: The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/apps/

So, we are hopeful that we can see Follies in November, since it has a good review in The New Yorker and stars one of my favorites, Bernadette Peters. But, if not, there will be other reviews to read and never a lack of things to see and do in a New York, hopefully spared from the rigors of Hurricane Irene.

Parenthetically I am reminded that more than twenty years ago, my children purchased for me the personalized licensed plate that says DRDEKAY, rather fitting for a dentist named Dee. Of course that generous gift has continued to cost ME every time I renew it. Still, like my father and his subscription renewal, it is something I enjoy, and I am glad I received it.

Next Blog will mark a year of writing these and I’ll share with you what I have experienced and learned in writing almost 100 of these.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All I Want is a Timer

My wife has made birthday celebrations a ritual event. She now speaks of what she is planning for the Octave of her Birthday. This year almost set a new high.

Some seventeen years ago a friend suggested that their group, who met on occasion for lunch or other events, gather to celebrate any birthdays that members were having that month. The celebrant would get their lunch paid for and if someone wanted to give a small present; that was okay. She started another tradition at the first meeting: passing the ball.

The ball was a cute, hollow silver sphere about the size of a baseball. It would be passed on a rotating basis and the recipient had to plan the location for the next event and inform every one of the date. Another tradition quickly occurred: the assigned member would sign her name on the box to accept this responsibility.

Best I know the chain has remained unbroken, although some have left the area. Others have joined, several friends of the person who started the group. Some have moved fairly long distances from the South Orange County start, but in California distance is no big deal and most gather on a regular basis.

In addition to this group, Mary has many friends who she used to see on almost a daily basis, but who have also moved away (are you beginning to believe we are the only ones who have stayed in one place? That would be a good guess as we have now been in the same house for thirty-five years.) Today she met with two groups of those, original neighbors on the block our house is on.

Yesterday and a week before that other friends asked to take her out. At my last count she was displaying 23 cards on our mantle, and that doesn’t count the ones from Southwest Airlines or places of retail. Telephone calls from her side of the family are too numerous to mention, especially since many of them call more than once in order to catch her when she is not out celebrating.

Family is not forgotten, and there we have the problem of choosing a gift for someone who still thinks she can get by with “Oh, don’t worry about a gift. Just having you close is enough for me.” She gave only three suggestions: replace her L.L. Bean lined winter slippers, a gift certificate for a manicure in the shop our granddaughter favors, and a timer she could use at the range, because the one on the microwave and the one on the oven are inconvenient when she is cooking. We have two sons and three grandchildren of an age where they know when something is gifted from them or the parent, so choices would be welcome

I was all over the timer, thinking that younger son would like to do the slippers, and older son would know where his daughter gets her nails done, but that isn’t the way things worked out. Slippers were out of son’s budget and he staged his presents over time: installed a new water system for his mother, provided her with a theater ticket for after the group lunch, and had a $25 gift certificate for one of her favorite lunch stops. The last may have been re-gifted as he gets things like that from his students. Older son took the timer, without asking, since it fit his children’s budget. I was left with the slippers. Of course, we were all hampered by the fact that Border’s gift cards, a perennial fall-back were off the table.

While wandering Costco I saw an item of inspiration: an industrial double-sided waffle maker. We recently visited Mary's sister in Wisconsin and said sister not only entertained us with her wonderful purchase of a similar waffle maker, she also served waffles to a large group for breakfast. I remembered how efficient the appliance was, and called my sister-in-law to verify my memory. She gushed and I purchased and wrapped the unexpected gift.

I’ll spare you the look of incredulity when Mary opened the present. “That’s just the box”, said one of my ungrateful children. “Maybe something else is inside.”

“I have a perfectly good waffle iron”, said Mary, when she finally opened the box. Other son said, “I could use your old one if you want to keep the gift.” Eventually, that is what happened. I felt especially fortunate to escape with nothing more than mild approbation, especially since if I had purchased the Timer she might not have been as pleased as she was with the one Sean bought: three settings, compact, and nothing else except a clock.

“Just what I wanted,” said Mary. Adding that she had told me as much when she first mentioned the suggestion. Knowing me, she added, with emphasis, “All I want is a timer. No other features.” I was hoping that I could find one that would also tell when a dish was “seasoned to taste”, since Mary takes that recipe direction as an excuse to add nothing.

Oh well, I probably couldn’t have found one with that feature anyway. Did I mention that when she asked for a copier, I found one that prints, faxes, scans, and stays current with its wireless web connection? She IS learning how to make copies. A couple of more tries and I’m sure she will have it down.

I’m not sure exactly when celebrating birthdays in our family switched from a celebration of birth to a celebration of life, but that is indeed what has happened. Not that there is anything rong with that. Go Mary!

Nest Blog I will recollect what I think is the ultimate pay-back wedding present.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

When Your Doctor Sells Credit Cards

This was the title of a WSJ mid-July article and it caught my attention, more because I didn’t think the general public cared about the topic than that I would learn anything new.

There seems to be a resurgence of dental subjects in the media lately. This is partly due to greater dissemination of information regarding links between oral health and general health, but also, as the WSJ article states, there has been an increased desire for people to want medical and dental services that are not covered by insurance, and that are expensive: teeth implants and cosmetic procedures in dentistry, but also plastic surgery, corrective eye surgery and even expensive veterinary services.

I recently returned from Chicago where I was an observer on coding of dental procedures and was interested in cross-over codes between medical and dental. For example, there is a procedure where blood is centrifuged, decanted, and the enriched plasma is placed in a surgical site to enhance healing. Dentistry is beginning to find interest in codes that tell WHY a procedure is being done. For instance, high risk medical patients, like diabetics and patients with coronary heart disease may benefit (as will insurance carriers and employers who pay for health care) from frequent teeth cleanings. So we could use a code to identify high-risk patients.

Because there is increased need for financing to pay for services not covered by insurance, there are at least three financial institutions who have credit cards designed to pay doctors for the care they render: J.P. Morgan Chase & Company has ChaseHealthAdvance, Citigroup, Inc. has the Citi Health Card, and the first and still biggest is called CareCredit offered by General Electric’s GE Money unit. I am most familiar with CareCredit, but am sure the others present similar problems.

I first ran into problems with CareCredit almost from the time it was offered, more than ten years ago. As a member of the ADA I was approached to accept CareCredit, as payment for large cases. Like all credit cards, the appeal was on several fronts: I would have greater acceptance of my treatment, I could separate case acceptance from finances, I had no accounts receivable problems (Because CareCredit would buy the debt, albeit at a reduced cost), no default worries, and the credit check was out of my hands. Many dentists signed up. But almost immediately issues that began to crop up.

If the dentist got the patient’s permission, the total treatment plan would be paid at an early, sometimes even first, appointment. The patient didn’t necessarily realize that as there was a grace period before any payments began, sometimes as long as a year. But if the patient failed to proceed with the entire treatment, they would have overpaid and since I had sold the entire debt to CareCredit for something like eighty cents on the dollar, I could not easily refund for the overpayment. This is awkward and if the patient did not complete treatment because they were dissatisfied, extremely awkward.

In California, if the patient was a member through a managed care plan, prepayment was essentially illegal, since only copayments for services rendered could be collected and then, only at time of service. These refunds became such a problem that the California Association of Dental Plans invited top management of GE Money unit to a meeting to discuss our problem and hear suggested solutions. Although sincere promises were made by GE to better train the dentists using CareCredit and to establish a dedicated liaison CareCredit staff person to assist patients, five years have passed and the problem still exists, even on the Medicare, Medi-Cal side.

So, for those of you who are considering a healthcare credit plan, I will echo the advice of the WSJ:
• Be sure you want to complete the entire treatment plan and have confidence that the end result will be satisfactory
• Alternatively parse out the care and ask for credit unit by unit (this will NOT be the doctor’s choice as the doctor receives more of a higher dollar contract)
• Be sure you know the terms of the promotional grace period to avoid an unexpected balloon payment
• If your primary healthcare is through a managed care plan, separate covered services from non-covered services and pay for covered services without including them in the credit contract
Next Blog I’ll tell you about my wife’s birthday and see if I can hit some responsive chords.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You Never Know

For many years I have been aware that sometimes, unbeknownst to us, people are affected by what we do. The story I have told for most of those many years is that I was at a social event at a Dental Meeting and a young man, who had been my chairside technician when I was a Navy Dentist approached me and chatted away amiably. When we had revisited all the “What have you been doing since…” he said, “You know, I have always wanted to thank you, because you changed my life.”

“How did you do that?” my wife asked after he had left, to which I replied, “I haven’t the vaguest idea.”

I started writing this Blog because I attended a writer’s club and the speaker was mentioning how a prospective writer could benefit from writing a blog. Her name is Sonia Marsh and she blogs as Gutsy Living http://soniamarsh.com/ . She probably had no idea that her presentation would “change my life”, but it has. And recently, when she responded very graciously to teach me how to add links and pictures to my Blog, I like to think she may have smiled and thought, “I had no idea…”

What actually inspired me to write this though was an entirely different story. Mary and I travel quite a bit, usually for short periods and usually alone. But once a year we gather as many of the primary family as are willing and able and take off for somewhere. The nice part is that we have a pleasant week. The troubling part is that neither of my children, who live close to me, is available to check on mail and water the plants on my deck.

This year, when we were about to leave for Wisconsin, I contacted a 13 year-old boy who lives on our street and is a friend of my grandson. Jordan came by for an orientation session and to settle on a contract for doing those chores for a week. He was a very bright and pleasant boy and responded to my question of what he was doing this summer, by mentioning that he was going to a crafts camp.

I needed little more encouragement to ask if he knew what a lanyard was and to tell him of my favorite poem by a past Poet-Laureate, Billy Collins http://tinyurl.com/The-Lanyard-BillyCollins . He said they might be making one and thanked me for my interest.

The day after we returned, and after I had paid him for his efforts, he appeared at my door and gave Mary an envelope. Inside were a really neat, lanyard bracelet and more interestingly, a copy of the poem I had recommended. No explanation, no note, just the two gifts.

I find that not only impressive, but a little daunting, since it reminds me that there is no such thing as a casual comment to a receptive companion. We have the ability to affect people and indeed have the responsibility to remind ourselves of the consequences of what we say and do.

I just returned from a dental meeting in Chicago. Reading material on the way included some back issues of the Wall Street Journal. One of the articles was titled ‘When Your Doctor Wants Your Credit Card”. I have a ten-year history with Care Credit and will share some of my experiences with you next weekend. I think you’ll find it very interesting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kids and Computers, Time for a Break?

I have two grandsons, aged thirteen and six. And through a weird set of circumstances, they now live across the street from me. Today as I returned from shopping, Ethan, the younger ran out of his garage and yelled, “Grandpa!”

It warms the heart.

Most days, unless I am taking him to school or picking him up, I don’t see him in front of his house. It is not so much that we miss each other as it is that he plays inside a lot. An awful lot. On a recent family vacation he packed his computer, as did his brother and of course, their father, my son. Ryan uses his mostly to play group games with his friends. He is never very far from contact with his friends, but rarely sees them. Ethan plays more personal games on his computer. Of course they also have Game Boy and I’m sure other computer games of which I am unaware. My son uses his computer and one of his Smart Phones for work. His personal Droid is rarely away from a Text message for more than five minutes.

A favorite author and columnist, Mitch Albom recently printed an article in Parade Magazine discussing summer vacation for kids. He lamented that computer camps and Sat Score Refresher summer courses have intruded on a long-held children summer pastime, vacationing. His suggestion was an unstructured summer with some travel, but also lots of time for lying on one’s back and making pictures of cloud formations., of “going out to play”, of entering the business world with a lemonade stand and, in the vernacular of the very late Amos of “Amos and Andy” sitting on the porch and “doing nothing, and doing it REAL slow.”

I couldn’t agree more. My two sons were entirely different when it came to jobs as they were growing up. The older was very materialistic and worked from the time he was seven to earn money to buy things he wanted that Mary and I considered frivolous. Tim, on the other hand, has very simple tastes and I think never had a “job” until he was in college. But both of them shared one thing in the summertime: they were encouraged to play, with their friends, and to travel, with the family. I like to think that explains why they both maintain a close relationship with us.

Lest you think that Mr. Albom is suggesting that your children or grandchildren may suffer in the competition because they lose contact with academia for 10 weeks, he has a suggestion to keep them sharp. Four simple rules, activities for each day:
• Have at least one face-to-face contact with a friend
• Read something
• Build something
• Get wet; with a hose, a pool, a Jacuzzi, a fire-hydrant or something

I don’t think Ethan or Ryan does any of those, although I have seen Ethan throwing water balloons in the street (I think that water balloons would count if you received some of them, and picked up the broken balloons). Both of them will swim on occasion, if the activity is organized by Sean or their mother, but the one I worry most about is the contact with their friends. I worry because that is what their memories will be built from.

At my fiftieth high school reunion we were quizzed by an interviewer under camera about memorable events while in high school. The one I spoke to was an evening when six of us “stole” or more accurately pretend to steal the car we were riding in. Eventually the police intercepted us and parents were brought down to hear the story.

The interesting thing was that all six of us chose the same story to tell on camera.

That story had become our most vivid memory. I can’t imagine Ethan or Ryan having that kind of memory from a computer game.

Well, next blog I think I will explain how one of my favorite poems gets mentioned in three blogs in one year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Angry Birds

<div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;">Since I left the corporate world and working on a computer with little to do, I have not played many electronic games. Imagine then my feeling of entrapment when the girlfriend of a nephew made me one of more than 300 million people to download Angry Birds.

Angry Birds">




In fact I have had my Smart IPhone almost two years now and had yet to play a game on it. But one taste of this fascinating design and I became, as many have before me, addicted. Almost immediately I paid an additional 99 cents to the Apple Apps store and got the Screaming Eagle, which literally guarantees success in moving to another level.

My grandson, who is seriously addicted to other computer games, has tried the game, and in fact pointed out to me the special features of the blue bird and yellow bird (divide and accelerate, respectively), but he prefers competitive games with his friends and that option is still in development by Rovio. His father however has downloaded it to his Droid and, muttering his frustration was locked in battle with the pigs for half an hour last Saturday. Together they bought me an Angry Birds Tee-shirt in appreciation for my paying for our annual family vacation.

In researching for this Blog, I was surprised to learn that Sean’s Droid cannot give him the Screaming Eagle option, and that all platforms for the game are tweaked a little to allow as much access to features as their compatibility will allow. The game is truly international, not surprising, given its Scandinavian birth. One fact, learned more from anecdotal than research data, is that one either loves or hates the game. That division of passion has very little to do with kicking the addiction of playing. Like golf, another game that essentially pits one against oneself, some people seem to get enjoyment out of failure.

I was reminded of a book that came out in 1957 (and in paperback in 2010) called “Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing”. http://www.amazon.com/Where-Did-Out-What-Nothing/dp/0393339416/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312910291&sr=8-1#_ In the book the author, Robert Paul Smith, reminds the reader of a simpler time, when we were told to “go out and play”, with no mention of what we were to play or what the rules of the games were. Those we learned from the other kids who were sent “out to play”. Games with national, if not international rule-sets sometimes had different names in different regions, but there was little argument as to how the game was played.

It may have been unintentional, and I may be the exception rather than the rules, but one of the pleasant surprises about playing Angry Birds is the discovery phase, of what worked in destroying the protective structures and what didn’t. I think as one gets older, discovery is, of itself, a destination as well as an accomplishment.

So, I don’t apologize for my addiction, and I am proud to say I have completed game 1 in all its 21 levels and am ready to start Poached Eggs…with the help of the Screaming Eagle.

Next week I’ll explain a little more about my grandson and his computer activities and why they bother me a little.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Borders, the Brick and Mortar

A strange set of circumstances brought me to two Borders stores 2000 miles apart in the space of a week.

It started when we realized that the local Borders store was closing while we were on vacation. Mary has had a strong affinity for that store for years and a gift card was often on her Christmas and Birthday list. She had two of the said gift cards and wasn’t able to use them before we left for Wisconsin.

“Why don’t you use them to get some DVDs for the trip?” she offered. “One has $5.00 on it and I’m unsure about the other.” Sounded good to me, so off I went to see what I could find. The line at the store snaked from the five cashiers through the entire store with probably more than 100 customers and more joining every minute.

Undaunted, I made my way to the DVD section and pawed through the stacks looking for bargains that I hadn’t seen. The choice was difficult, partially because I have more than 400 stacked around my walls, making the finding of a new one a challenge to say the least. But I settled on three, which I thought would exhaust the cards and not dramatically empty my pockets.

As I made my way slowly though the line I found that there was a separate section of on-sale DVDs, which might have included some better choices. Unfortunately the line began to pick up speed and I was afraid that if I left to look at my new choices I would be put at the back of the line again. Not worth the trouble.

Forty-five minutes from my start I was at the cashier who informed me that, after my purchase I still had about $5 left on one card. A glance at the line, now longer than before convinced me that Borders could keep their $5.

When we wound down our Wisconsin trip by visiting friends in Oak Brook, a Chicago suburb, Mary suggested we might check out Borders in a nearby mall. We did and she went looking for “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”, one of our favorites, to give as a gift. http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Loved-Tom-Gordon/dp/0671042858/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312760101&sr=8-1 I went in search of “Unlikely Friendships” by Jennifer S. Holland, the daughter of a friend from my Writer’s Club. http://www.amazon.com/Unlikely-Friendships-Remarkable-Stories-Kingdom/dp/0761159134/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312760333&sr=8-1 . It is a first novel by a writer for National Geographic and made the NY Times Best Seller list.

We both were disappointed as, because of the Closing sale, there was little clerk and no computer support to assist us. Mary ended up buying my Christmas stocking calendar for next year and used up the remnant dollars on the card. Our experience gave me pause.

What Mary liked about Borders has gone away, a casualty of the electronic book revolution. No more wandering through stacks, exploring books by interest section. No more friendly, knowledgeable, clerks, assisting you by hitting a few key strokes. No more book signings with coffee and pastries. No more assistance with prize books at bargain rates for Mary’s ESL essay winners.

Instead, and I am guilty myself, we will purchase more things online, knowing what we want before we shop, we will download books and newspapers to our tablet readers in ever-increasing numbers. We will read online at our Home site, articles either we or some website tracker decide will interest us. And eventually the remaining brick and mortar large bookstore will make the transition to electronic distribution.

Will small bookstores survive? Undoubtedly, and maybe that is the good news. People who love books will again find they can offer something at a reasonable cost and make a livable income. Book signings may again become intimate, and readers may again recover the experience of my youth, where the clerk in the store knew what I liked and made suggestions that stretched my reading limits, and who, in my case, kept my purchases on record so my parents could pay for them.

Next Blog, my discovery of Angry Birds.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Things I Learned, Which May or May not be True

Even at my advanced age, I try to learn something new every day, and, as I am wont to say, if I can do it before noon, it frees up my day. But sometimes I am befuddled as to whether what I learned is true or not. Such is the case of my new-found knowledge of pork bellies.

Last week I was fascinated by a report on NPR, a trusted source for me on things to learn, that for the first time in more than one hundred years, you could not trade in the future of pork bellies.

Now I grew up in Iowa at a time when every noon we had a report on the radio that, among other topics, mentioned what pork bellies were trading for. Pork Bellies?

Until about a year ago I had no idea what a pork belly was. Then, through a connection with the American Institute of Wine and Food, www.aiwf.org , I learned that, when a chef gets caught up in using all parts of an animal, two of the ingredients he or she has to deal with are pork cheeks and pork bellies. The former was served to me as part of a fresh vegetable ratatouille, lightly braised and delicious. The latter I learned was uncured bacon.

For those of you unsure what commodity trading is, I’ll share my understanding of one of the busiest marketplaces in the financial world, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, right next to the Tribune building and close enough to the Chicago River that you could see the green dye on St. Patrick’s Day.

The operative word is Futures. People will speculate on the cost of a grain or other commodity by setting a guaranteed price to buy it in the future. One doesn’t know what the volume (yield) will be, what the weather will be, and how many people will plant the commodity based on the guaranteed price. The guarantee is a conservative bid. The hope is that there will be demand at the time the crop goes to actual market that forces the price above the guarantee, making the investor a profit.

Pork bellies (primarily used in the past for bacon) were especially sensitive to the cost of their feed. Maybe because the price of corn has been so high, and the yield of corn has been so high (go figure), there was just too much unknown. Or, as the NPR article inferred, bacon ceased being seasonal. Pork was traditionally a spring slaughter commodity. When refrigeration came in the seasonality became less and today, with transportation, including refrigerated transportation so common and relatively inexpensive, the variation from bid to market made potential profit not worth the risk.

So, you can still buy futures in wheat and corn, beans and soy beans, but, if NPR was correct, no longer in pork bellies.

My friend, Joe, who for a time was a butcher before he became an Endodontist, tells me he doesn’t believe it. He may be correct, but I already had this in my mind as a topic for my Blog.

Next Blog I think I’ll discuss my recent and past experience with Borders.