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Archive for December, 2009

Visiting New Zealand (6)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Our guide Julie

I had been to glacier before, in Canada, and climbed the hard, round-shaped ice. It was cold and slippery. But here at Franz Josef Glacier, everything is different. This Glacier is about 12 kilometer long and on both sides of the mountain ranges are lush vegetation and waterfalls. Mary and I joined a guided group. Despite seeing pictures of people standing on ice in their shorts and t-shirts, we arrived in layers of fleece and windbreaker.

Our group was large, about 50 people. We were divided into two and later, as we reached the foot of the glacier, further divided into four, each with a guide. I urged Mary to join the first group, so we could go faster and reached the highest designated point first. Mary smiled and complied—she’d rather go with a slower group and take more pictures.

Our guide Julie was young, energetic and beautiful. She was born in Switzerland, she told us, and had been in New Zealand for 6 years. She walked in the front, telling us facts about the Franz Josef and constantly using a pick ax with a long handle to open the trail for us. She said their team would be up in the morning every day to fix the trails.

“How fast do you think the Glacier move in a day?” she asked us.

“Two inches,” one said. “Five meters a year,” another raised his voice.

Julie smiled and shook her head. “It moves four meters a day!” she announced and showed us how they had changed the trail up the Glacier from left to right as the season changes. “Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are two of the three glaciers in the world that have vegetation by their sides,” she said with pride. Fox Glacier is just around the corner and is 20 kilometers long.

Me, excited at the Glacier

We climbed the steep ice stairs, hanging on to a rope and went down a narrow “corridor” that had been only opened for tourists for two days. Mary and I edged through the narrow path, taking pictures of each other touching the ice.

Julie took off her long-sleeve sweatshirt and walked on the ice as if it were plain, flat ground. We moved our heavy gears carefully and hang on the rope that Julie constantly re-enforced. We took a break on the top level of our climbing and took in the spectacular views above, below and on both sides of us.

The walk down was as challenging, if not more, as the climb up, but just as enjoyable. The image of the shining glacier and lush plants side by side seemed surreal, even as we witnessed them with our own eyes. What an eye-opening experience and fun.

More to follow.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

Visiting New Zealand (5)

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Abel Tasman

It’s hard to believe Abel Tasman National Park, with a Coast Track that extends 52 kilometers and an area covering 23,000 hectares, is the smallest national park in New Zealand.

We drove for about an hour from Nelson to Kaiteriteri and took the cruise along the coast up north. Richard recommended us to get off at Tonga Quarry and hike back to Anchorage, a distance of about 15 kilometers. Richard is thin and fit. He said he could cover the distance in an hour and a half. “You can easily do it in 4 hours,” he said.

At the ticket office, however, we received different advice: “It will take you 6 hours without a break,” a young man behind the counter told us. “Get off at Medlands Beach, so you can enjoy a lunch break and do some side trips.” We looked at the map. It’s 10.6 kilometers, about 7 miles. The last cruise returning to Kaiteriteri was at 5 P.M. We decided to be conservative.

It became chilly as the boat picked up speed. We tightened our three layers of clothing, but still felt cold. But attracted by the gorgeous view, we remained on the upper deck. We saw lush vegetation on the mountain range and groups of people in bright orange or yellow Kayaks along the coastal line. The water was crisp green and appeared calm in mid morning. We eagerly snapped pictures in all directions. The captain introduced the attractions along the way, but I couldn’t catch a word of his statement in his unique Kiwi tone, in the midst of the roaring engine.  

We got off at Medlands Beach and followed the well-marked and treaded trail, climbing high up steep hills in the dense forest or going down to the open oceanfront. We passed numerous waterfalls, long or short suspension bridges, and water pools. We ran into people from time to time, hearing different languages, but for the most part, we were by ourselves, surrounded by nature. We could hear birds singing, but in the thick, lush trees and bushes, we couldn’t see them. It took us more than three hours reaching Torrent Bay, about two-thirds of our way. We took a break and had our packed lunch on the beach.

The wind became strong in the afternoon and waves crushed the rocks at the foot of the mountain, creating spectacular views. We took more pictures. We watched the 3 P.M. cruise depart Anchorage on top of a hill and reached the beach in another 30 minutes. We made our way in 5 hours and had some time to spare. Mary threw down her backpack on the sandy beach and enjoyed her sunbath. Francis and I took off, exploring the camping area and the short trail nearby.

Our boat came 10 minutes before 5 P.M., picked up the hikers waiting on the beach and took off in 3 minutes. “Wow, they don’t hang around and wait!” I exclaimed, feeling relieved we were not late.

You must visit Abel Tasman and experience the hiking and scenery if you ever get to this part of the world. Every single minute was filled with wonder and beauty.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

Travel Perils

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009
Eurostar trains awaiting departure

Image by polarisdigital via Flickr

Travel isn’t much fun these days what with security checks, taking off your clothes, taking off your shoes, and sometimes being “patted down” by security officers.  The planes are old and jammed full, and if you’re on a flight that serves food, it is usually less than appetizing.   

During the holiday season, travel becomes even less appealing.  My daughter, who lives in Paris with her husband and my granddaughter who is seven, was planning to take the Eurostar railroad to London on Saturday.  My daughter makes many such visits to see other members of our family – my other daughter, her husband and three kids, and my father-in-law.  She is a regular traveler on Eurostar, which takes two hours and ten minutes for the journey from Paris to London.  Her plans on Saturday however were thwarted, much to the disappointment of all. 

On Friday, two Eurostar trains broke down in the tunnel under the English Channel and two thousand plus passengers were stranded for more than seven hours – sometimes without heat or light.  Eventually, they were evacuated from their trains and escorted into another tunnel which carries freight.  The freight train was stopped so as they could board, and they then endured a short but dirty and unpleasant journey through the rest of the tunnel to the English side.

The Eurostar service has yet to reopen.  Management says that the cause of the problem was extreme cold and snowy conditions in France, causing the trains to freeze – which was not a problem – but when they entered the Chunnel where the temperatures can rise to 75 degrees or more, the trains encountered extreme condensation which led to a breakdown of the electrical circuits.

The London visit was only going to be a short less than 24-hour trip, because today my Paris contingent is flying from Paris (the flight delayed by snow) to the Dominican Republic where the rest of  us are meeting up tomorrow.

On Friday, my English daughter and her family flew in from London via Philadelphia.  They were extremely lucky to be ahead of the storm; and, although they were delayed in London (more snow) they were ahead of the major storm that hit the east coast.  Had they been traveling on Saturday, they would have encountered two feet of snow in Philadelphia and been diverted, possibly to Chicago!  They however arrived safely although somewhat exhausted, but in essence only suffered minor delays.

Tomorrow all eleven of us will be (we hope) in the Dominican Republic, subject to any further flight delays (more snow expected in Chicago tonight).  Hopefully, we will be lucky and arrive safe and sound.  It will be worth it to have some nice warm temperatures (we hope) after chilly Chicago.

The disruption caused by the massive storms over the weekend on the east coast and more additional storms expected during this week has and will likely continue to cause chaos to holiday season travelers.  They all have my extreme sympathy. 

Trying to meet up with family or make travel connections for the holiday period is going to be a nightmare.  All of which makes the case in my mind, to investing in high speed rail as they do in Europe.  Despite the problems encountered in the under channel service between London and Paris this past few days, the high-speed rail network around Europe works extremely well, is very efficient and cost effective.  It is far less stressful these days to take a train than having to get to an airport an hour and a half before the flight and go through all the security problems and then mechanical or weather delays, which has become the norm.

Hopefully, the weather forecasters will be wrong and that the snow forecasts for tomorrow (which we hope won’t hold us up) and later in the week, will not be too frustrating and stressful for the millions of people eager to get together with families and friends over what should be a joyous holiday season.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Visiting New Zealand (4)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Nelson--a view from the patio of our B&B

 Nelson looks like a town carved out of mountain ranges—each house on the hills appears to have a steep, narrow drive way and a fantastic view. I did my early morning jog first uphill around the Te Puna Wai Lodge area and felt like I was running slower than walking. In one section, the narrow road came to a dead end and I climbed the zigzag stairs to another street. I took many pictures as the sun rising above the horizon.

Being on vacation, I forgot which day of the week it was. I was amazed by the “quietness” of the town—no cars moving on the street and no pedestrians either. Only later I realized it was the weekend.

I soon ran down the hill and charged directly to the sandy beach nearby. As I crossed a major road to the ocean side, I was looking at the right side of the street and ran across without stop. I heard the squeaking of tires behind me and felt a car passing by inches behind. I shuttered and looked back. Yes, the oncoming traffic was on my side, coming behind my back and I nearly got hit by a car, one of the few I saw early in the morning—by “early”, I mean between 6 to 7:30. I raised my hand and muttered “Sorry!”. A middle-aged Kiwi was staring at me. He must think I was an idiot.

The beach was beautiful, though, and miles long. With the tide retreating, the fine sand felt firm. I ran along the curving line, breathing in the fresh air and feeling like a bird. During the entire hour-long jog, I saw a total of six people and two dogs.

Richard and James, the two hosts of our lodge, cooked us a most healthy breakfast: a mix of fresh fruit, muesli with blueberry yogurt, fresh orange juice with pulp, and toasts of multigrain bread with lots of pumpkin seeds and nuts. When I thought breakfast was over, they brought out the hot meal: a nicely arranged plate with slices of bacon, scramble egg, and roasted tomato. I love food, and despite feeling full, finished the cooked meal as well. Hey, we were about to hike for half a day in Abel Tasman National Park, I excused myself for the indulgence, I would need some extra energy.

Mary smiled at me. “That’s impressive,” she said.

Later that day, when we ate dinner at Smugglers, a local restaurant, she looked at the Billy Bones Ribs I ordered—a huge pile of pork ribs that even surprised me, she didn’t comment, but took a picture, with me biting into one large piece. She laughed, sipping her glass of Pinot Noir, and said I should treat her better from now on. That picture could serve well as blackmail.

More to follow.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

Visiting New Zealand (3)

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Serisen Estate

Serisen Estate

 We checked into Vintner’s Retreat at Renwick late in the afternoon. In the last hour of our drive, most of the sights coming to view were vineyards and signage of small wineries on both sides of the roads. We set out shortly to explore Hunter’s, a winery with a reputable restaurant. We took a walk first in its beautiful garden and the vineyard before sitting down to a wonderful dinner of seafood, lamb rack, and steak. We were so impressed by Hunter’s Pinot Noir that we decided to return the following morning for a wine tasting.

Most of the wineries open for tasting at 9:30 A.M. We started ours from Hunter’s. The hostess, a woman in her fifties, was very knowledgeable and full of hospitality. The tasting was free and she poured 7 different kinds of wine for us. Even I, who have very limited capacity for alcohol and rarely touch wine, had a sip of each category. My favorite was Riesling. 45 minutes later, we walked away with two bottles of superb Riesling and a bottle of MiruMiru, a wonderful sparkling wine that our hostess called “bubbles.” We bought it for our Christmas celebration.

We proceeded to Serisen Estate, an organic winery where we bought another bottle of Riesling. On our way out, we tasted the Olive Oil produced at Serisen (they grow more than 5,000 olive trees) and couldn’t leave without purchasing a bottle—it was the most rich, delicious Olive oil I had ever tasted.

We then went to Cloudy Bay, a high-end winery where we purchased a bottle of Pinot Noir, and to Bladen, a small family-owned winery where we bought another bottle of Pinot Noir. By the time we got on the road to Nelson, I felt like I was floating. The conversation between Mary and Francis soon faded away. When I came to in about an hour, we were well in the beautiful Richmond Range. I shook off the wine effect and eagerly took everything in, with the help of my camera.

We checked into Te Puna Wai Lodge, a B & B right by the oceanfront in Nelson. We looked forward to explore this coastal town and do the cruise and walk at Abel Tasman National Park.

More to follow.  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

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Visiting New Zealand (2)

Saturday, December 19th, 2009
Gondola Ride, Christchurch

Gondola Ride, Christchurch

We spent 3 days in Christchurch, exploring the city on foot and taking a day trip to Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, about an hour’s drive southeast. The scenic drive along the ocean on the mountain ranges was breathtaking and seafood at the oceanfront in Akaroa was delicious.  

Right in the center of Christchurch is the beautiful Botanic Garden, about 33 hectares. It is very well maintained and has a wide range of flowers and trees. There must be more than a hundred varieties of roses alone. I was amazed that there was no entry fee for such a well managed place that must required a lot of work. I fell in love with the garden and jogged along the winding trails each of the early mornings we stayed in town. Quite a joy and luxury.

While in Christchurch, we also took a bus to the Gondola at the out skirt of the city. We enjoyed a fantastic view of the area. We sat in the front row on the bus, trying to get oriented to driving on the left side of the street, as we would pick up our rental car the following day. Both Mary and Francis volunteered to drive, which suited me just fine—I had no desire to handle the traffic on the “wrong” side of the road.

We originally planned to take one-day trip on the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth to enjoy the scenery. But the price sticker of $335/person for the 4-hour ride gave us a shock. We optioned to drive to Hanmer Springs to enjoy the hot spring and outdoor swimming instead. It turned out to be a good choice. Sitting in hot, natural springs ranging from 33 to 41 degrees Centigrade was fun and swimming in the mineral-rich water was out of the world—the water seemed to hold me still and moving forward required a lot more pull and kick.  

We moved on toward Blenheim further north after spending two hours at Hanmer Springs and enjoying a lovely lunch. We planned to spend a night in a resort in the wine country and do as many winery visits and tastings as possible in a day.  

The drive, as we experienced the day before, was eye opening—it was post-card beauty along both sides of the highway. And the herds of sheep and cows in the valleys and hills were quite a sight as well—I had never seen so many of them in my life.  

More to follow.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.

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Visiting New Zealand (1)

Thursday, December 17th, 2009
Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

We (my husband Francis, my girlfriend Mary, and I) planned our vacation to New Zealand during the December holiday season several months before—a nice break from the winter in Chicago to the warm summer in New Zealand.

We left Chicago on Sunday, December 13th and had a bumpy start—our flight was delayed for nearly three hours due to some unspecified computer problems. We boarded the plane and left the gate on time, only to return and got off the plane as the technicians came on board to fix the problem and test  the engine by restarting it. We waited anxiously and worried that we’d miss our connection flight to Auckland, New Zealand. By the time we landed in Los Angeles, we had such a tight schedule that we rushed to walk across the two parking lots to reach Terminal 2 where the Air New Zealand flight would take off–we didn’t take the risk of waiting for the terminal bus to take us there. Fortunately, we made our connection.

We lost a day during our 13-hour flight. I heard many people rave about the good services of Air New Zealand, but was not impressed. The dinner and breakfast served on the plane were better, but between the two meals, no flight attendent served water for hours. At one point, I was so thirsty that I went to their workstation and requested for a cup of water. To pass time, I watched 3 movies on the way. By the time we landed in Auckland, it was early Tuesday morning. We made another transfer to Christchurch in southern island soon after and landed in our final destination as scheduled.

The crisp spring air greeted us, refreshing and comforting. And the first thing we noticed on our way to the city was the lustrous green leaves and colorful flowers on both sides of the streets and in the meticulously maintained gardens in the front yard of nearly every house. We were delighted. Less than an hour after checking into our centrally located hotel, we were out exploring the city. We stopped by a vegetarian café at Cathedral Square and enjoyed a healthy lunch and a variety of fruit and herbal tea—a lovely way to start our visit.

More to follow.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com

The Evolution of Publishing

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
$100 Laptop prototype

Image via Wikipedia

 

Publishing has not been fun of late.  The past few years, the industry has been facing consolidation, declining sales, tightening margins, and competition from television and the Internet. 

An increasing number of Americans are reading less, if anything at all.  Their hectic lifestyles leave less time for leisurely pursuits.  At the same time, there is increasing competition for such leisure time by network television, the explosion of cable channels, and the internet.  The declining readership of newspaper and informational magazines reinforces this point.  So, it’s not surprising that publishers, book distributors, book retailers, and authors are all feeling the pinch.

Out of this gloomy prospect, there is one possible shining star.  The digital age has brought us the electronic book – Kindle and others.  Many in the industry are hailing this new inventive popular answer to reading in the digital age, as a savior for all.  Unfortunately as is sometimes the case, even silver linings can have black clouds. 

Amazon’s pricing of the majority of its E-Books at $9.99 leaves very little profit for all concerned.  The dissatisfaction of this pricing policy, as voiced by both publishers and authors alike, prompted Amazon to make attempts to increase their sales prices across a wide range of offerings.  However having established a base at $9.99, increased prices immediately lead to a decline in sales.  The result is considerable dissatisfaction from all contributors. 

Other disputes are now arising as to the ownership of the electronic rights to older titles, or those so called “black-list” books.  Some authors, who have chosen to work with newly established E-Book specialty publishers, are running into resistance from the print publishers.  Of course E-Books and the electronic age were not envisaged when many publishing agreements were established with their authors.  But now the digital age brings the promise of lucrative revenue, maybe for years to come, on titles considered dead or moribund. 

Very few publishing agreements gave exclusive rights to publish in electronic formats, and authors and agents are concerned that existing print publishers are not offering sufficient royalties on E-Book editions, which of course are much cheaper to produce. 

This week’s Sunday New York Times chronicled details of legal battles already raging over E-Book rights.  Authors and publishers are fighting to establish law for a new E-world.  It is early days in the E-Book publishing world, and there are a number of challenges, including ownership of rights, royalty levels, Amazon pricing, and language in older contracts. 

These may take some years to resolve but in the meantime, despite the conflicts and dissatisfaction, the digital age and the electronic book is providing the publishing industry perhaps with its last chance of growth potential.

From a personal point of view, I’ve yet to make up my mind whether the Kindle fills my reading requirements.  Although I recognize the convenience – particularly when traveling – of reading E-Book versions by my favorite authors, I still like the feel of a book, the turn of the page, and the knowledge that some incredible literary talents are sitting on my bookshelves.  This certainly adds to the comfort zone of one of my major pleasures of life.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com 

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The Blaming of a Shrew

Friday, December 11th, 2009
Xanthippe
Image by sokaris73 via Flickr

by Nancy Werking Poling

www.nancypoling.com

author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell

Xanthippe, we are told, was a “shrewish wife.” I’m sure it’s true; The Harvard Classics say so. Besides, the difficulties of being married to a man like Socrates are there for any woman to see. The qualities that made him a time-honored thinker and teacher would surely have made him a terrible husband.

So I feel compelled to defend Xanthippe.

We can imagine life with the revered philosopher. She’d offer her common-sense opinion on a matter; he’d turn the conversation into a debate, pointing out flaws in her logic. How does a woman defend herself against a demeaning, polemic husband? By arguing back. And an arguing woman is, of course, a shrew.

“I am a sort of gadfly,” Socrates proudly proclaimed. While Xanthippe managed the household, struggling to feed the family because they were living “in utter poverty,” as Socrates himself admitted, her husband spent his time hanging out. “Hey, spend some time being a responsible husband and father,” she no doubt told him. More than once. And for that she’s remembered as a shrew.

What higher calling can one have, such men ask, than to search for virtue and wisdom? Why we certainly could not expect such a man to pick up his own toga from the floor or fix the loose tile in the courtyard. What kind of woman would demand such mundane labor? What kind of woman could denounce a lofty calling? Only a shrew.

Xanthippe was perhaps among the first women to cope with the notion that the rationality of men is superior to the emotionality of women. Consider the event of Socrates’ death: He sent the women away because he didn’t want to have a bunch of crying females around. Instead, he surrounded himself with his male philosopher friends, who would approach death rationally.

Men are rational and logical? Consider his proof that there is a soul. He begins with the premise that “all things which have opposites are generated out of their opposites.” Good and evil, strength and weakness. Likewise, life must be generated from its opposite: death. Just as the dead come from the living, the living come from the dead.

What happens if a woman in her inferior emotionality cries out, “Now wait a minute. When we’re finished with our rational thinking, we still don’t know that we have souls and that those souls will be born again into life. We can only hope.” A woman who challenges a man’s rational conclusion would be labeled a shrew.

Yes, there are men who could turn any of us into a shrew, Socrates not the least of them. Maybe Xanthippe wanted her husband to quit talking about virtue and wisdom and put some bread on the table. Perhaps she wanted him to quit antagonizing everyone so the two of them might live a long peaceful life together. She probably nagged him more than once to apologize, tell the authorities he was wrong, so he’d live a while longer.

Xanthippe, we are told, was a “shrewish wife.” She must have been; The Harvard Classics say so.

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Health Care – UK Style

Monday, December 7th, 2009
Health care profiteering makes us sick - prote...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

As we watch the excruciating debate on the efforts to pass Health Care Reform in this country, many Europeans look aghast upon our torturous process.  They see the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on lobbying, negative TV adverts, and the political politics of fear being used in the debate for what is considered a human right in virtually every other developed country.  The U.S. is the richest country in the world with the largest economy, and yet we do not provide health insurance for more than 40-million Americans. Under our present system, one major medical catastrophe can make a family destitute, individuals can be refused insurance because of previous medical conditions, employees are unable to transfer their insurance cover from one job to the other, and people without insurance can only resort to emergency medical care. Despite this, our medical insurance costs are more than double of any other developed country.

You would think it would be a simple decision to decide to rectify this major shortfall in the American way of life, but of course politics – as always – gets in the way, especially when there are elections looming within the next twelve months.

I’ve recently been able to view the medical care provided by the UK National Health Service.  I have an elderly 84-year-old partially disabled cousin, who lives alone in London.  She has had a history of medical problems, necessitating two hip replacements and a knee replacement.  She suffers from other ailments, including poor circulation and is only able to get around with the aid of a walker. 

The National Health Service has, for many years, provided for carers, nursing visits, and other free medical services when needed.  Unfortunately, my cousin’s mental health has also been deteriorating, and she is suffering from increasingly severe dementia.  She lives alone and has, to her credit, struggled to maintain her independence.

However, at the beginning of September, she fell and was rushed to hospital. Luckily, there was no physical damage as a result of the fall, but after a few days in hospital, she was transferred to a community health and care facility where she has remained for the past two and a half months, while they have attended to her physical ailments, and have been assessing her mental capacites.

I’m her closest relative and I have Power of Attorney over her affairs and well-being.  I have been trying to make arrangements for her to be transferred to a private residential nursing facility, in consultation with the hospital. The National Health Service operates under the UK law, that requires a full mental assessment of a patient that might lead to deprivation of liberty.  There are various legal safeguards, including the appointment of an independent Mental Capacity Advocate, before a decision is made.

Hopefully, we’re moving to a satisfactory conclusion on these delicate matters, but I’ve been struck by the contrast of the free care that she has received for many years, and what would have happened in the U.S. under similar circumstances.

My cousin only has a modest State and company Pension to live on, which I supplement.  I cannot imagine what three months of similar care in the U.S. would cost, and how it would be paid for.  My health care providers recently advised me of a 26% increase in health care premiums for 2010.

We cannot underestimate the complications of health care and the necessary reforms that are needed, but I would hazard a guess that nearly every family in the United States has faced nerve-wracking decisions relating to health care costs and issues.

Let us hope that the end of the political “game” results in true reform, lower costs, and health care for all.

 

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com 

 

 

 

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