Monday, October 31, 2011

Dealing with Nosy Gossips

Dear Madame L,

Some people in my family aren't exactly fitting into the exact mold that some other people in my family think everyone should be like. The "other people" sometimes ask me questions about the "some people," as if they're just lovingly concerned for all of us, but I suspect the "other people" are not really as sympathetic as they want to appear to be; in fact, I know that they gossip among themselves about me, the "some people," and all kinds of family issues. I love these "other people" dearly, but I want to protect my "some people," who depend on my love and loyalty.

How can I answer the snoopy, gossipy questions without betraying my "some people" while still maintaining harmony with the "other people"?

(Yes, I know this sounds very vague. I'm making it vague so that instead of answering my very specific question about my very specific family problem, you'll see this as a chance to answer a question which, I happen to know, a lot of families are asking themselves.)


Tired of Nosy Gossips

Dear Tired of Gossips,

Madame L thanks you for asking your question in such a general way. Madame L knows a lot of "some people" and their family members who are faced with this dilemma. 

Madame L has a very simple solution to offer, which she will phrase in the form of some questions:

Why do you care about what the "other people" think? Why do you feel it necessary to maintain harmony with the "other people" kind of people, the people who ask about things that are none of their business and then gossip about those things?  Who matters to you more: your "some people," or the "other people"?

Madame L suggests that harmony with those "other people" --- and with any people who snoop and gossip --- is not at all important. Madame L suspects that people who are dense or snoopy enough to probe into your family's private affairs are doing a little social engineering, knowing that you're a kind hearted soul who doesn't want to hurt their feelings, while they themselves don't give a flaming flarg about your feelings.

So, here are some sample responses to their questions:

'I'm so glad to hear you're interested in my "some people." I bet they would love to hear from you. Would you like to ask them those questions yourself?'

'I know you'll understand when I say that I just hate to talk about people behind their backs. Please give my "some people" a call.'

'Oh, my "some people" are doing fine. They're going through the usual growing-up, just like we've all done. Now, how are YOUR "some people" doing?'

'You know, I feel so uncomfortable answering that question.' (Then pause for as long as it takes for the "other people" to get it.

Dear Readers, if you have any other suggestions for "Tired," please feel free to share them with all of us.


Madame L

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, October 30, 2011: Myths to Live By

Madame L hasn't finished reading Joseph Campbell's "Myths to Live By" yet, and will probably not finish it for some time, because it is so packed with information and ideas to think about; she hopes that you, Dear Readers, will not take offense at her attempt to review the book before completing it. 

It's a compilation of 13 of the 25 lectures given by Joseph Campbell at The Cooper Union Forum between 1958 and 1971; and a fine introduction to Campbell's conclusions about rites and myths from cultures all over the world. 

It weighs in at less than 300 pages and less than a pound, but covers the impact of science on myth; the importance of rites; mythologies of love, war, and peace; yoga and Buddhism; Eastern vs. Western religious beliefs and practices; schizophrenia (an inward journey); and humankind's first walk on the moon (the outward journey).

Madame L has started reading the book from the beginning, but also finds it enlightening to open randomly to read about Native American myths, Sufi poets, German psychologists, the Buddha, Dante and his Beatrice, prophets and heroes of the Old and New Testaments, LSD experiments, ancient Roman architecture, and so on. You get the picture.

"Myths to Live By" is available in paperback from for $10.88.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, October 23, 2011: A Christmas Carol

Dear Readers and Friends,

Madame L wants to remind her readers and in particular a dear friend who keeps complaining about Christmas in October that the great writer Charles Dickens was writing about scarier-than-Halloween hauntings on Christmas Eve.

That same friend also loves to rattle on at length about how she doesn't like Mr. Dickens "...because he was paid by the word."

(Ah, if only Madame L were paid by the word. Or paid by the anything.)

Madame L understands that her friend was raised in the era of Hemingway, a writer who elevated terseness to the level of holy writ of high-school English classes; and, Madame L must add, the fact that her friend has not read a lick of Mr. Dickens since high school does not recommend her to Madame L or to anyone.

Where was Madame L? Ah, extolling a very short book (especially for Charles Dickens), "A Christmas Carol," a copy of which Madame L will put in her friend's hands this week.

This is one of the most touching Christmas stories Madame L has ever read, and she loves the details. Wordy as they may be, they are absolutely necessary for showing---and making believable---the huge change Scrooge goes through, from a selfish and self-involved miser to a humanitarian. In fact, one may think that Mr. Dickens had read one of those ubiquitous books on how to write a novel, or a screenplay, because he has created one of the few characters in all of English literature who goes through the whole five steps of humanity from caring only for himself to caring for everyone. (Or one may think that those ubiquitous books on how to write took some tips from Mr. Dickens.)

Dear Readers, if you want to get in the Christmas spirit, you may want to read (or re-read, and Madame L promises you the book will be better this time because you're reading it on your own instead of reading it for some old English class assignment) "A Christmas Carol." 

One quick excerpt: When Scrooge complains to the first ghost about self-proclaimed but hypocritical Christians, the ghost responds: 

"There are some upon this earth of yours...who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Don't Talk to Cops!

First, a law professor tells you why:

Then, a police officer confirms that everything the law professor said was true:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, October 16, 2011: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog AND Book

Wait, Madame L,

Is it a book or a blog or a DVD?

Dear Readers,

It's all three, and Madame L thinks you'll love the DVD movie of Dr. Horrible's blog as well as the book. The DVD is absolutely hilarious, and the book has stills from the movie, comments from the writers and actors, a "Horrible Haiku" by Nathan Fillion, and the words and music to all the songs. The DVD is available from for $8.99 and the book for $13.57. Madame L enjoyed the DVD so much she got the book, too.

Neil Patrick Harris is Dr. Horrible, and the great Nathan Fillion is Captain Hammer. Penny is a sweet girl collecting signatures on a petition for the city to make a homeless shelter out of an old building instead of demolishing it. 

The DVD includes more than 40 minutes of additional material, so even if you've watched Dr. Horrible's Blog online, you'll still have lots of fun watching the DVD. The book is essentially the print version of "additional material." 

Joss Whedon is the perpetrator of all this fun. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

9-9-9: It's Simple!

Dear Madame L,

I watched the Republican presidential candidates' debate the other night, and I was impressed that out of all of those candidates, only Herman Cain had an actual proposal for adding funds to the U.S. budget. 

His 9-9-9 proposal seems fair and simple, with everyone paying the exact same taxes.

What do you think?


Can't Say No to 9-9-9

Dear No, No, No,

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax reform proposal is indeed simple, as he keeps saying. He proposes that every American would pay "only" 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and
a 9% corporate income tax.

This is how simple it really is: The poor, the working poor, the middle class, in fact, the 99% of us who are not wealthy will end up paying more taxes than ever before, while the 1%, the wealthy, will pay less. 

Another thing Cain neglects to mention in debates and in his stump speeches is that his plan would eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

Would you vote for this man? Madame L is trying to imagine a situation in which she would vote for Cain, and she simply can't.

Here's an analysis of the proposal by NBC News reporter Domenico Montanaro, based on a report from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. 

The plan would create a "much more regressive tax system," according to the center. People at the top would go from about a 35% income tax rate to 9%, a 26% tax cut, while those who currently don't pay federal income tax would have a huge increase, from 0% to 9%. 

A further analysis of Cain's assertion that a family earning $50,000 per year would pay less income tax under his plan reveals that he's way off.  In fact, this hypothetical family with two children, using standard deductions, would have paid about $775 under the 2010 IRS tax rules. This same family under Cain's plan would pay, according to him, "only" $4,500.

The 9% federal sales tax would be in addition to state and local sales taxes, so people in Washington State, for instance, would pay their usual 8% sales tax plus the federal 9%, adding up to a 17% tax increase. This is a bigger cut from the spending money of poor people, too.

And, as for the 9% corporate tax: This would seem like a cruel joke, except Madame L is not laughing. This would amount to another huge cut for the richest Americans, essentially lowering their theoretical and actual tax burden significantly.

No, no, no, please, if you want to vote for Herman Cain, please insist that he first get some "better advisers," which he said he will be doing, and some better ideas!


Madame L, Already Taxed to the Limit

Friday, October 14, 2011

Corporations Are NOT People

Dear Madame L,

I have another question, or really a comment: I think I get it about the Occupy Wall Street protesters. 

I think they are all, in different ways, objecting to the way power and economic opportunities are being taken away from real working and middle-class people, while the rich keep getting richer.

For example, as you wrote earlier, people can't pay their mortgages, which bankers encouraged them to take out, knowing they weren't really qualified; they lose their homes, which the banks take back; meanwhile these same people's tax dollars were used to rescue the banks which someone high-up decided were "too big to fail"; but bankers continue to give themselves huge salaries and bonuses, pay less taxes than the rest of us, and pour millions of dollars into campaign funds for elections, effectively buying votes to keep them in their easy chairs. 

What can be done about this?


Things Need to Change

Dear Change,

Madame L thinks you have hit the nail on the head with your example. Madame L personally is struggling and knows many people who are struggling even harder to make it in our current economy.

Madame L hopes you will write to your Senators and Member of Congress so they will know where you stand.

Maybe you'd also like to join the protesters in your city. If so, some signs you could make:

Corporations are NOT People.

Corporations do NOT Bleed.

Corporations do NOT Suffer Pain, Pay Medical Bills, or Need Nursing Care.

And so on...You get the idea.

Go for it,

Madame L

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Are Mormons Christians?

Dear Madame L,

I saw where some Baptist preacher says that people shouldn't vote for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon, and Mormonism is a cult, and Mormons aren't Christians. He says most evangelical Christians agree with him, and that having a Mormon in the White House would be dangerous.

What do you think about this?


Another Christian

Dear Christian,

Madame L is, as you know, a Mormon, or, as she prefers to say, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As a member of this church, which has the name of Jesus Christ in its very title, Madame L tries very hard to be a good follower of Christ. This includes, among many things trying not to call other people names or mock them for their religious beliefs.

Also, Madame L doesn't like to engage in Bible-bashing or any other form of argument: it doesn't convince anyone, and generally leads to bad feelings on all sides.

Therefore, Madame L declines to criticize people who don't understand her religious beliefs. She believes that everyone should have the right to believe and practice his/her religion according to the dictates of his/her own conscience. And she believes that the only One who can judge how well we're living up to our Christian ideals is Christ himself, the ultimate judge.

Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he came to earth to live a perfect life and atone for our sins, and to be crucified so he could be resurrected, thereby giving all of us the opportunity to return to our Heavenly Father's presence one day. 

What apparently offends some other Christians is that Mormons also believe that the Bible is not the only work of scripture written and passed down (confirmed in the Bible itself). Also, other Christians don't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is another ancient scripture, or that Christ appeared to the people on the American continent and taught them the same principles he taught in the Holy Land. We do believe all these things, and we believe God still speaks to us through living prophets.

Madame L could say lots more, but L.D.S. leaders have already said it much better than she can. Madame L hopes that all who are interested in Mormonism will go to the Church's website,, where they can read all about it. Here they can find scriptures and discourses; and read, watch, and/or listen to the Church's general conference which was held earlier this month.

And maybe people who are interested in knowing more about Mormons could get to know some of them. For example, a Muslim-American comedian wrote recently about his experiences with L.D.S. Church members in Salt Lake City. 

In "Who says Mormons aren't Christians?" Dean Obeidallah writes, "... Perhaps it's overly simplistic to define an entire religion by the few hundred we met, but let's be honest: many define religions, races and ethnicities by a few of their worst examples. I prefer instead to define minority groups by their best examples..." 

He concludes, "This passage from the New Testament is often cited as one that articulates Jesus' philosophy: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

"In comparing the hate-filled language of Jeffress with the words and good deeds of the Mormons we met, it is clear to me who is best following the teachings of Jesus Christ and truly deserves to be called a Christian."


Madame L, Christian

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OWS: What's It All About?

Dear Madame L,

I just don't get it with the Occupy Wall Street people, especially now that they've appeared in so many other cities across the country.

What do they really want? How are they different from a mob? What do they hope to accomplish?



Dear Wondering,

Madame L is glad you asked this question but sorry to say she can't answer it completely.

It appears to Madame L that the occupiers of Wall Street and other city downtowns are not really unified in their protests or demands. What's interesting is that they're the first to admit that, and to embrace the fact that they represent many different views, with the only common one being a distaste for the way Wall Street and the wealthy 1% of Americans have profited during our recent recession while the other 99% have been losing jobs, having their homes foreclosed, losing their savings and retirement incomes, and so on.

In fact, in order to try to answer your question, Madame L did a quick "Google Images" search to see the signs some of the protesters are carrying. You may want to try this search, too. Input "Occupy Wall Street Photos" and see what you find.

It appears to Madame L just from watching the TV news reports that these protesters are well behaved and courteous to each other and to the non-protesters with whom they come in contact, even to the police, who have used unnecessary force and violence against them in some cases. This, in Madame L's opinion, differentiates them clearly from a mob.

Madame L is guessing that these protesters, like the Tea Party protesters of late, are trying to draw the media's attention to their perceptions of inequities and injustices in our current political and economic state. 

And for that, Madame L says, "Thank you very much!"


Madame L

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, October 9, 2011: Open and Shut

Madame L has read so many crime-detective-police-procedural-legal-eagle-whodunit novels in her time that sometimes they tend to run together. Sometimes, too, they seem to have the same stock characters, same plot, same resolution, and same lead-in to the next in the series.

So why does Madame L keep reading these books? She supposes it's because, like most people, she likes to solve problems or read about people who solve problems. 

Madame L shares some of the best of these novels with you, Dear Reader, because there *are* so many of these novels out there, and if you pick up a book randomly you may get one of the worst ones, which outnumber the good ones by a huge margin. 

Here's one Madame L really enjoyed because the stock characters were more interesting than usual, the plot had more twists than usual, and therefore the resolution was more satisfying than usual: "Open and Shut," by David Rosenfelt.

First stock character: the principled defense lawyer, Andy Carpenter, in the stock situation of defending the second stock character, the convicted murderer, Willie Miller. Andy is dealing with further stock characters: his rich but alienated wife and his beautiful and recently bedded investigator, as well as the stock golden retriever whom Andy rescued from the pound the day before she was going to be put down after she was abandoned by someone else. Andy also has to deal with the stock mean judge (nicknamed ... wait for it ... "Hatchet) and the upright and uptight prosecutor.

Okay, but here's the thing: The characters may fit into some "Writing Crime Novels for Idiots" formula, but Rosenfelt fills them out and makes them likable and sympathetic. Same for the plot, nicely filled out and believable, up to every detail. Oh, and there's humor. And no sex scenes, though the characters are real adults who live complete adult lives, if you know what Madame L means.

So, it's a quick read, a fun read, and not quite an open-and-shut case. Enjoy! As always, if you don't want to buy a copy or get it from the library, Madame L will mail it to you for free. Really. Just send her a message or leave a comment.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bank Transfer Day: Nov. 5

Dear Madame L,

I'm impressed by the people who are participating in the "Occupy" movement across the country, but I'd like to do more than just march or spend a few nights in a park or something.

I've heard that someone has organized a "Bank Transfer Day," suggesting that people move their money to credit unions or small community banks. But I rely on my national bank's ATMs which are all over my city and state, and all round the country. 

Any suggestions?


Sick of My Big Bank

Dear Sick,

(Nov. 5 falls on a Saturday this year, so you'll have to do some planning if you want to get your funds out of your bank and into another location by that date. Details are suggested in the article.)

(Madame L thinks it's interesting and ironically appropriate that the day chosen for this is Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated in England with bonfires, the burning of effigies, and other such merriment.)

Apparently some people in the U.S. are feeling particularly burned by the Bank of America, which accepted a huge federal bailout a few years ago, then paid back the money early so it could go back to giving huge salaries and bonuses to its executives, and has now decided to fire 20,000 employees AND charge $60.00 per year to its customers who want access to their own money.

Madame L is a big supporter of credit unions, which have their own national network of ATMs. What's more, using one of these ATMs is free!

If you do switch to a credit union or small community bank, you'll not only give the message to the big bankers in the way they're most likely to feel it, but you'll be doing yourself a favor.

Good luck,

Madame L

P.S. Madame L has just found a fascinating scrap album of photos and information about Guy Fawkes Day. 

Here are the lyrics to the song:

  • “Remember, remember
  • the Fifth of November
  • is gunpowder treason and plot.
  • I see no reason
  • why gunpowder treason
  • should ever be forgot.
  • Knock at the door,
  • ring the bell.
  • Have you got a penny for
  • singing so well ?
  • If you haven’t got a penny
  • a ha’penny will do
  • If you haven't got a ha’penny
  • then God bless you !!” 

Madame L also highly recommends the movie "KJB: The Book That Changed The World," available on DVD from for $15.61, in which Guy Fawkes and his fellow revolutionaries play important roles. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bosses Day

Dear Madame L,

I just got an email message from some company where you can order flowers and chocolates and whatever, reminding me that Oct. 17 is Bosses Day.

What do you think I should do for the boss on Oct. 17?


When are they going to have an Employees Day?

Dear When,

Madame L thanks you for asking both questions. Madame L thinks what you should do for your boss on Oct. 17 is go to work and do a great job to earn your pay, just like you always do. 

Madame L firmly believes that EVERY WORKING DAY is Bosses Day. 

If Madame L were a boss and any employee tried to give her some gift on Oct. 17, she would assume that employee was sucking up, which would make her wonder why the employee felt like s/he had to do that, and Madame L would feel mortified for that employee. 

Secondly, Madame L hopes you don't really, sincerely wish for an Employees Day. What would you want your boss to do for you? Bring candies or flowers? Madame L has sympathized with every secretary (whether called an "administrative assistant" or any other title) who has had to receive those guilt-flowers and schadenfreude-candies on Secretaries Day. 

Madame L thinks the appropriate gifts for all employees of every occupation and title are the opportunity to work, equitable pay, a safe workplace, and fair treatment. 

Madame L

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kaiser Permanente to Patients: Suck it up!

Dear Readers,

Madame L has always been amused by the Kaiser Permanente (KP) ads on TV and in full-color glossy magazines admonishing people to "Thrive!" 

Madame L loves the generic models representing every supposed age, gender, and racial group, while noting that not every economic group is represented. (That's because if you're poor, you can't afford to go to a Kaiser clinic. You have to be employed, and your employer has to be doing pretty darn well to afford to keep its employees covered by Kaiser.) 

But Madame L was astounded when she recently read a Kaiser Permanente full-color ad in a national news magazine,  bragging about how Kaiser provides for "the care you need close to home." The ad explains that Kaiser is providing this "close-to-home" care by building a new facility on Portland's west side.

Just last week, Madame L had to drive her husband to a Kaiser facility in Portland, a 40-minute drive at night (it would have taken more than an hour in commute traffic), for after-hours urgent care. That's because Kaiser closed down its after-hours urgent care in Vancouver, a 15-minute drive from Madame L's home, more than a year ago. 

When Madame L has asked Kaiser people about this, they have "explained" that there isn't a sufficient need for urgent care in Vancouver. One "customer-care" person at Kaiser shrugged her shoulders and said, "You just have to drive a little farther." 

It meant nothing to her. She was a health-care provider, Madame L was a unit of health care utilization, and, last week, at 7:45 pm, her husband was a person with a health record number, and Madame L had to provide all the details of his accident to three people before being told she could drive across a state line on a busy highway to get him seen by a doctor, but she had to get there before 8:30, when they would lock the doors.

Madame L is astounded. Do the people at Kaiser in the Portland-Vancouver realize that the only reason they have customers* at all is that they're the only game in town? (The answer, of course, is yes.)

*Customers: Madame L uses this word deliberately. You are a customer, or a client, at Kaiser Permanente. You are also very patient, of necessity, but you are not really a Patient. You are a person with a "Health Record Number" who must pay for every single "service" offered by Kaiser.

Since Kaiser Permanente is supposedly a non-profit, so Madame L wonders why they don't spend less money on advertising and self-promotion and more on actually taking care of people.

Bloomberg Business Week says no salary, stock-option, or total compensation information is available for Kaiser Permanente's CEO, George C. Halvorson. However, USA Today reports that he made more than $2.2 million in 2002, the year he started that job, and the man he replaced was paid a total of $7.4 million that year. Madame L guesses that by now, counting inflation, Mr. Halvorson may be making well over $10 million per year.

At any rate, we know he makes a LOT of money. Why? Because Kaiser itself would rank third in the nation in money-making if it went public. (It's behind only Columbia/HCA and Cigna.) This graphic (and other information provided here) are from a report by the California Nurses Association.

The U.S. "Billion Dollar" Club of Health Care Conglomerates (Amounts are in Thousands)
Rank Company Net Sales
1 Columbia/HCA $19,909,000
2 Cigna, Inc. PA $18,900,000
3 Kaiser Permanente CA $13,200,000
4 United Healthcare Corp MN $10,074,000
5 Aetna, Inc. (Health Plans) CT $9,734,000
6 Humana, Inc. KY $6,788,000
7 Tenet Healthcare Corp. CA $5,559,000
8 Medpartners Inc. AL $4,813,499
9 Pacificare Health Systems Inc. CA $4,637,305
10 FHP International Corp CA $4,179,284

Kaiser customers pay for the company's wealth, sometimes to the point of losing their lives. Kaiser corporate consultants receive wealth for their services, money which could be used to improve patient services.

The CNA explains Kaiser's business plan: Recruit healthy patients, especially healthy Medicare patients, and neglect the poor, the sick, and the needy.

Madame L could go on. But life is short, and she must get on with her "real" work of the day. 

She would add only one more thing: The actual people who cared for Madame L's husband's injury that night were wonderful, caring, and competent. Too bad such people aren't available to care for everyone, from every economic level, and in every place.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, October 2, 2011: Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Madame L carefully selected a few books to take on her latest vacation, and then, as always, stopped at the Powell's Books stall at PDX and bought two more. 

(Madame L has never regretted these spur-of-the-moment, impulse PDX book buys. She justifies her purchases by reminding herself that she only buys books from the "Sale" counters, so they cost only six to eight dollars, and there's no sales tax --- ha!)

Madame L read one of those books on the plane: "Behind the Scenes at the Museum," by Kate Atkinson (available at for $10.88 --- plus tax! --- ha ha!). 

Also available from is a Kindle "summary and study guide" and a "Continuum Contemporaries" paperback "study guide," which Madame L guesses means this book is popular with reading groups and/or is regularly assigned in high school and/or college literature classes.

One of the books Madame L was already carrying on this trip was another Atkinson book, "One Good Turn" (available in paperback from for $11.25 --- plus tax! --- but Madame L bought it at her local Borders store closeout sale for half that --- ha ha ha!). Madame L read that book on the flight home. 

Oh, did you, Dear Reader, want to know more about the books than their prices and when and where Madame L got around to reading them? 

They're both so good they'll blow your socks off. You'll read them even though you already had other books you were planning to read. You'll puzzle over the realistic yet poetic connections between the characters, the near-hits and complete missteps of their lives, their all-too-human and personalities, the complex interweaving of luck and history, and the surprise endings: surprises more to the characters than to you, the reader, drawn in as you are by the author's brilliant story-telling. 

If you promise to read it, Madame L will send you her own copy. Let her know by sending an email to "ellemadame {at}"