Monthly Archives: November 2014

THREE BEST OF EVERYTHING I GIVE THANKS FOR

It’s time to give thanks for all we have on this special holiday, so here’s a capsule list of my three favorites in assorted multiple categories, mostly in my two favorite pastimes; travel and eating:

3 Best Cities to Visit:

Capetown
Vancouver
Sydney

Tough to leave out:  London and Vienna

3 Best Breakfasts/Brunches in L.A.:

Nichols (MdR)
John O. Groats (Rancho Park)
Huckleberry (S.M.) (Saturday and Sunday)

3 Best Countries to Visit:

United States
Italy
Canada

3 Best Islands to be Stranded on:

Hawaii
Manhattan
Sardinia

3 Best Dining Rooms Visually:

Del Coronado Hotel, San Diego
Ahwanhee Lodge, Yosemite
Palace Hotel, S.F.

3 Best Hamburgers in L.A.:

Father’s Office (M)
The Counter (M)
Unami (M)

3 Best Classical Music Pieces:

Beethoven’s 9th
1812 Overture
Carmen

3 Best Movies of all Time:

Rocky (1976)
The Grey Fox (1982)
The Right Stuff (1983)

3 Best Comic Innovators:

Jonathan Winters
Robin Williams
Ernie Kovacs

3 Best Bike Trips:

San Juan Islands
Loire Valley
Vermont

3 Best Small Museums:

Shanghai
Victoria
Bowers (Santa Ana)

Special:  F. Weisman House (Beverly Hills)

3 Best Waterfalls:

Iguau (Argentina and Brazil)
Victoria (Zimbabwe)
Niagara (USA and Canada)

3 Best Steaks in L.A.:

Mastro’s Steakhouse
Mastro’s Steakhouse
Mastro’ s Steakhouse (Beverly Hills)

3 Best Sights to View:

Grand Canyon
Fall turning of the leaves in New England
Hong Kong Harbor

3 Best Rivers:

Amazon
Rhine
Nile

3 Best Jazz Bands:

Stan Kenton
Woody Herman
Duke Ellington

3 Best Cruises:

Barge trip (Dijon, France)
Quark to Antartica
Travel Dynamics West coast of Africa

3 Best National Parks:

Yosemite, California
Arches, Utah
Bryce, Utah

3 Best Modern Painters:

Pablo Picasso
Henri Matisse
Joan Miro

3 Best Tour Operators:

Tauck
A&K
National Geographic

3 Best Cities in the U.S.:

Washington, D.C.
New York
San Francisco

3 Best Land Trips:

Canadian Rockies
Burma
Spain

3 Best Salads:

Cobb at Cheesecake Factory (M)
Balsamic Chicken at Sammy’s in El Segundo
Salmon Salad at Seasons 52 (M)

3 Best Fish/Seafood Restaurants:

Gulfstream
Santa Monica Seafood Co.
Water Grill (M)

3 Best Musicals on Broadway:

Phantom of the Opera
Oklahoma
Cats

And who could leave out Toplitsky of Notre Dame

3 Best Big Museums:

Modern (MOMA), NYC
Victoria & Albert, London
Metropolitan, NYC

3 Best Restaurants:

Joe’s (Venice)
Café del Rey (MdR)
White House (Anaheim)

3 More Best Restaurants:

Parkway Grill (Pasadena)
L’Opera (Long Beach)
Drago (M)

3 Best Television Shows:

Law & Order
Steve Allen
60 Minutes

3 Best Jazz Combos:

Dave Brubeck
Miles Davis
Art Blakey

3 Best Overseas Dining:

Lyon, France
Italy, anywhere
Oceania cruises

3 Best Thanksgivings:

Every year, wherever we’ve been

– HAVE A GREAT HOLIDAY –

M = Multiple locations

ArtSchwartzSig

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IT’S TIME FOR THE STELLA AWARDS

It’s time for the annual “Stella Awards”!  For those unfamiliar with these awards, they are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued the McDonald’s in New Mexico, where she purchased the coffee.  You remember, she took the lid off the coffee and put it between her knees while she was driving.  Who would ever think one could get burned doing that, right?  That’s right; these are awards for the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S.  You know, the kinds of cases that make you scratch your heads.  So keep your head scratcher handy.

Seventh Place

Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store.  The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.

Start scratching!

Sixth Place

Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, California, won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord.  Truman apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.

Scratch some more…

Fifth Place

Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, who was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage.  Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open.  Worse, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut.  Forced to sit for eight, count ‘em, EIGHT days and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner’s insurance company, claiming undue mental anguish.  Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish.  We should all have this kind of anguish.

Hard to believe!

Fourth Place

Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, garnered fourth place in the Stella’s when he was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the butt by his next door neighbor’s beagle—even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced yard.  Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bit because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.

And wait…it gets more crazy!

Third Place

Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, because a jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay her $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone.  The reason the soft drink was on the floor:  Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

And now the head scratching gets even better!

Second Place

Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000…oh, yeah, plus dental expenses.  Go figure!

Wait ‘til you hear the winner!

First Place

This year’s runaway First Place Stella Award winner was:  Mrs. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home.  On her first trip home from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich.  Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned.  Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set.  The Oklahoma jury awarded her—Are you sitting down?—$1,750,000 PLUS a new motor home.  Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motor home.

And remember, we have the best court system in the world!

ArtSchwartzSig

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MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS – PART VI – SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS

The growing community of people suffering from mental illness needs more money to help expand the network of caring professionals, but it probably needs more innovative thinking to create more effective programs to recognize and diagnose the people who need help as early as possible, as well as treatment protocols for the needy patients.

You just can’t throw more money at a problem.  The more money they threw at the VA, the worse it appeared to get.

The pharmaceutical industry has expanded its offerings significantly in the last 10 or 15 years, and this has been very helpful.  Pharma will undoubtedly continue to develop and offer new drugs for controlling each different component of the mental illness spectrum.

At the same time, drug costs have to be more controlled in order to be more widely available in or out of insurance and prescription plans.

Cured or Managed – In general, neurological diseases like autism, dementia, bi-polar or Alzheimer’s can be managed with drugs or therapy but not cured.  Mental illness, on the other hand, can be treated with drugs and therapy to restore a normal life balance.

The key in either case is early detection, evaluation and finding the right path for optimal results.  Often that takes some degree of experimentation through trial and error to find the right formula of either drugs and/or therapists.

Perhaps most of all, it takes a commitment, because the biggest problem in treatment is patients, through frustration and/or over confidence, go off their meds.

Once in treatment, a physician or psychologist rarely mentions the word “cure.”  Cure is what doctors do for a broken wrist or the flu.  Set the wrist or give the patient a Vitamin-C shot, and voila!  Done!  Treating mental illness rarely results in a “cure,” per se.  What it does result in is a person feeling better and eventually no longer needing treatment.  But, even then, rarely will a professional say, “Yes, you’re cured of your depression.”

Professionals have a term for this “non-curing” of mental illness, too.  Instead of removing the diagnosis from the chart at the end of treatment, they often place the phrase, “In remission,” onto the end of the diagnosis.

The Macro Approach to Addressing This Crisis – The following is an excerpt from a very comprehensive report from Dr. E. Fuller Terry on reorganizing the way we administer this problem.

“Fifty years ago, we began a grand experiment by transferring to the federal government the fiscal responsibility for individuals with mental illnesses.  It has become increasingly clear that, although well intentioned, this experiment has been a costly failure, in terms of human lives as well as well intentioned dollars.  The outcome was, clear as early as 1984, when Dr. Robert Felix, who had been the chief architect of the federal program, said, `The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept but…we tried.’”

Federal and State Actions – In order to reverse the continuing deterioration of mental illness services in the United States, the single most important change is to give the responsibility for these services back to the states.  Coherent regulations, for example, to cover both Los Angeles County and Montana’s Garfield County, both of equal size geographically but one with a population of 9.8 million and the other with a population of 1,184, should make it clear that an office in Washington would have difficulty in promulgating one set of regulations to cover the whole country.

Currently, the ultimate responsibility for mental health services is vaguely diffused through multiple federal levels of government and multiple agencies.  When everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible, and no one can be held accountable.

Responsibility for mental illness services can be returned to the states by block granting to the states all existing federal Medicaid and Medicare funds currently going for mental illness services, with only one condition attached.  That condition would require that the funds be assessed and outcomes measured in cooperation with the federal Institute of Medicine and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Are There Any New Approaches to Help The Problem?

1.  Facing the Problem – An eight-week residential program in Arkansas has shown significant success for vets with PTSD that involves “prolonged exposure,” where patients are encouraged to relive bad experiences on a continuing basis and put it in writing.

2.  Short Doses – Research appears to indicate that talk therapy, much like chiropractic as well as physical therapy, is most effective in short doses. Evidence suggests the longer it goes on, the less effective it becomes.

3.  Case Worker at Discharge – One example of a cost-effective approach employs a case worker to help mentally ill people leaving a hospital or shelter as they adjust to life in the outside world. Randomized trials have found that this support dramatically reduces subsequent homelessness and hospitalization.

Researchers found that the $6,300 cost per person in the program was offset by $24,000 in savings because of reduced hospitalization.  In short, the program more than paid for itself.  But we as a society hugely under-invest in mental health services.

4.  Co-Response Units Offer Promise – L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez reports:

“Earlier this year, when a friend of mine made what was perceived as a physical threat to a neighbor, it wasn’t just the police who responded.

“His case managers at Housing Works in Hollywood contacted a special unit that consisted of both LAPD officers and county mental health workers.  One of those teams paid a visit to my friend, who suffers from schizophrenia, and evaluated him.  The result was that instead of ending up in jail, or left alone at risk to himself or others, he was hospitalized.  He’s still undergoing treatment and is much improved, and is still being monitored by the team that responded initially.

5.  Different View of Therapists – Just as with physical diseases, the medical community often offers different recommendations. The same is even more true with the therapy community.  Their diagnoses and suggested treatment options are wide and diverse.  It creates confusion and uncertainty.  This is a problem that needs better resolution.

6.  Will Obamacare (ACA) Help? – There is some division on the answer to that question; but, in general, the answer is the ACA and a 2010 law called the Mental Health Family and Addiction Equity Act requires mental health and substance abuse services to do so in an equal fashion to medical health services.

Experts say patients will have greater access to treatment, but it will take time for this expansion of coverage to gain true equality.  “You can’t just turn it around overnight.”  The naysayers say it will put too many treatment decisions in the hands of bureaucrats and insurers.

7.  Art Tests – UCLA Medical School is doing some interesting work to educate prospective physicians about what pain is really like by having people who are experiencing pain produce drawings. These drawings are from patients experiencing pain from loneliness, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and a host of other physical and emotional disturbances.

Can this be the gateway to testing all children in the 6th or 9th grades to uncover the beginnings of mental illness?  Asking students to each draw an image of a common subject could be a window to early diagnosis of mental illness.

8.  Laura’s Law – Being adopted by L.A. and many counties that allow family members, treatment providers and law enforcement officers to seek a court order to make people take part in the program, under which people can be ordered to undergo treatment but can’t be forced to take medication.

The law has also been hailed by some advocates, who say it will save lives and give another option to over-burdened families.  Others argue that forced treatment violates patient’s rights.

9.  An Effective Teen Link – The Teen Line is operated by trained teens for any distressed teens. Teens can call anonymously if they feel suicidal, etc.  The website is teenlineonline.org, (310) 855-4673.  It has been around for many years and has been very successful.

10. Training for Early Detection – Teachers, school staff, religious leaders and counselors in sports and youth activities need to be trained for early identification.

11.  Support for Mental Illness Care – Join the National Alliance on Mental Illness at nami.org or call (800) 950-6264.

*    *    *

Many thanks to Phil Alcabes, Ph.D., and Susane Bacon, M.A., for their invaluable help, review and comments on this series.  Could not have done it without them.

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SECOND THURSDAY…A D.I.Y. SUPPORT GROUP

As the owner of a small business, do you sometimes feel alone and isolated?  I certainly did.  With another small business owner and friend, we did something about it.  Second Thursday became the name of a group we formed to act as each other’s consultants and our board of directors.

We each agreed to recruit two or three other Small Business Entrepreneurs (SBE’s) and meet once a month for two hours over bagels and coffee.  The initial purpose we proposed would be to discuss the common and unique problems each member encountered.

The success of this enterprise with a somewhat and naturally changing membership for over 30 years speaks well to its goals and operations and could well be a model for other SBE’s.  It’s interesting to note that most members have stayed active in the group for 10 or 20 years.

In the beginning, there were six to eight members.  When it grew to 12-14 members, we moved to a full breakfast restaurant.

Each member initially gave an introductory explanation of their business; what they did, how it got started, how it grew, outline some of the financials and where it was headed.

At the beginning of each year, each member presented a recap of the previous year and their goals for the new year.  In the middle of the year, each member’s action plan was reviewed.

There were few outside speakers.  The concentration was on the business of each member.  At any meeting a member could outline a problem and seek advice.  The problems generated lively discussions and good counsel.  They included how to handle two (out of three) middle managers who were pregnant, sexual relations in the office, and best procedures for firing unproductive employees.  Other topics included use of performance revenues, outside consultants and how to delegate effectively.

Questions were raised and advice offered about interviewing and hiring new employees, the possibility of being sued when terminating a minority employee, as well as what to do to avoid embezzlement, before or after it happened.

Because the personal lives of SBE’s were so entwined with their businesses, personal issues were discussed as well – balancing of work and family, divorce, dating—nothing was out of bounds.

The group was made up of several Harvard MBA’s and as many from the school of hard knocks we called “street fighters” who created their business out of opportunity, rather than education.

A continuing theme of the discussions was the position of the MBA’s who contended that a business was a commodity to be started, grown and sold.  The street fighters had a hard time with that concept, and argued this was their baby to be nurtured and couldn’t think of it as a commodity.

The rules were very informal:

  1. You had to own at least some portion of an operating business
  2. Everything said at meetings was confidential
  3. The elected person (chairman) was called “The Guy”; the treasurer was “The Other Guy”
  4. The dues for breakfasts and a December dinner were $200 a year

The members were almost always in different businesses.  The problems were pretty much the same.  Occasionally an exception was made when a member didn’t object to a prospective member in the same or competing business.

Second Thursday has not been alone in attempting to serve this community.  There were other groups around like TEC (The Executive Club).  They had a professional facilitator and had as many as 20 to 30 members in each group.  Their dues were $100 or $200 a month or more.

Second Thursday, I believe, outlasted all of them.

It was not so much that the concept was unique, but it struck a common chord for a number of SBE’s with a small investment of time and money.

The vitality of the group and the discussions and advice were invaluable to each member.  It allowed each of us to make better decisions and know we weren’t alone in the joy and struggles of running our small businesses.

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