The Annual Wellness Visit, a provision of Obamacare, is one of the most significant invasions of personal privacy you’ve probably never heard of.

I didn’t know about AWV until strolled into my doctor’s office for my annual physical and received a four-page questionnaire about my health. Some physicians decided not to offer the assessment because of the complexity of the requirements, which includes 54 different parts, but many doctors adapted to Medicare’s version of preventive care and provided these visits

Little did I know that the form would be sent to the federal government for its perusal. Also, the form is for those on Medicare, which I do not use. But I had turned 65 since my last checkup, so the front desk gave me the form.

The form asks for an extensive personal and family medical history. Here are some of the other questions:

–Are you sexually active?
–Do you have more than one sexual partner?
–Do you use illegal drugs?
–Do you always fasten your seat belt?
— Is there any clutter in your walking space at home?
–Do family members report that you have difficulty remembering things?

Here’s a beaut:

–Draw a clock in the space below.
–Set the hands to show 11:10.

I wonder what will happen when those who use digital readouts are asked to draw a clock!

The idea behind this form is to standardize treatment for those on Medicare. To me, the motive is far more sinister. Under the guise of helping seniors, the government can collect key information for Medicare benefits and approval for healthcare costs.

If, for example, you admit that you are more than a social drinker, you may be unlikely to get much help for problems associated with alcohol abuse. If you don’t eat a government-recommended diet, you may be unable to get help for myriad issues. The potential exclusions seem endless.

I am more than willing to discuss various issues with my doctor, but I don’t want the government prying into the information on the form.

It turns out that you don’t need to have an Annual Wellness Visit, and you don’t need to fill out the form.

After I learned that I didn’t have to answer the questions for the federal government, I asked that the form be shredded. I suggest anyone over 65 do the same. It seems rather ridiculous that I can vote without providing ID, but I’m supposed to give up all this private information to the feds. I suggest Congress eliminate this serious intrusion to our privacy under Obamacare. Maybe the Republicans can at least agree on this!

Not surprisingly, the media failed to report a recent analysis of the lies told ABOUT Trump as chronicled by snopes.com, which is considered one of the most reliable sources of fact checking news and information.

The article’s title says it all, “The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas.”

Snopes.com reports: “Broadly speaking, most of the falsehoods leveled against Trump fall into one or more of four categories, each of them drawing from and feeding into four public personas inhabited by the President.

They are: Donald Trump: International Embarrassment, Trump the Tyrant, Donald Trump: Bully baby, Trump the Buffoon….

“Generally speaking, we discovered that they are characterized and driven by four types of errors of thought:

Alarmism
A lack of historical context or awareness
Cherry-picking of evidence (especially visual evidence)
A failure to adhere to Occam’s Razor — the common-sense understanding that the simplest explanation for an event or behavior is the most likely.”

Snopes lists a variety of errors, including interpretations of Trump’s handshake, his lack of interest in meetings because he was not taking notes at the G-7, and the continuing focus on his incompetence to serve as president. See http://www.snopes.com/2017/07/12/trump-lies/

For example, snopes.com notes the example “…of how rushed and alarmist conclusions, a lack of context, and a pre-existing caricature of Trump as an incipient dictator have played a role in false claims made against him came early on in his presidency. In the days following Trump’s inauguration, claims emerged that his administration had literally rewritten the Bill of Rights, changing all mention of ‘people’ to ‘citizens.’

“The story horrified readers. ‘Not a joke,’ read one widely shared tweet, ‘not a drill.’ But also, not true. The administration had changed WhiteHouse.gov’s summary of the Constitution but not the Constitution itself. What’s more, the change from ‘people’ to ‘citizens’ in this summary had already been made during the tenure of President Barack Obama.”

In conclusion, snopes.com advises that “in some ways, these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news.”

Perhaps news organizations need to turn the mirror back on themselves to determine whether they are ones telling lies.

h/t to my wife Elizabeth

New Yorker writer A. J. Liebling put it rather succinctly: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

For many years, I dismissed the notion that corporate power in the media had corrupted the news process. But I have had to rethink my position, grudgingly agreeing with the lefties who see problems with corporate ownership of news.

The leftist freepress.org has a useful website to document the concentration of media ownership at https://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart

As AT&T and Time Warner, the owner of CNN, wait for approval of a merger, I couldn’t help but ask whether this concentration of business interests is really good for news consumers. I doubt that the founders anticipated this power.

Journalists like to wrap themselves in the First Amendment, which by the way was actually the Third Amendment when the Bill of Rights was first written. The other two amendments failed in the ratification process, so journalists really weren’t “first” in the grand thought process of the founders. Moreover, the freedoms of religion and speech precede freedom of the press in the First Amendment itself. But I digress.

Here is what Time Warner owns:

Company Overview: Time Warner is the world’s second-largest entertainment conglomerate with ownership interests in film, television and print.

TV: One television station and the Warner Brothers Television Group; Warner Brothers Television; Warner Horizon Television; CW Network (50 percent stake); TBS; TNT; Cartoon Network; truTV; Turner Classic Movies; Boomerang; CNN; HLN; CNN International; HBO; Cinemax; Space; Infinito; I-Sat; Fashion TV; HTV; Much Music; Pogo; Mondo TV; Tabi; CNN Español

Online Holdings: Warner Brothers Digital Distribution; TMZ.com; KidsWB.com

Print: Time, Inc.; 22 magazines including PeopleSports IllustratedTimeLifeInStyleReal SimpleSouthern LivingEntertainment Weekly, and Fortune

Entertainment: Warner Brothers; Warner Brothers Pictures; New Line Cinema; Castle Rock; WB Studio Enterprises, Inc.; Telepictures Productions, Inc.; Warner Brothers Animation, Inc.; Warner Home Video; Warner Premiere; Warner Specialty Films, Inc.; Warner Brothers International Cinemas

Other: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment; DC Entertainment; DC Comics

Here is the rundown for AT&T:

Company Overview: AT&T is the second-largest U.S. wireless provider and the largest company providing local phone service in the U.S. AT&T offers its wireless services to over 97 percent of the U.S. population and serves wired customers in 22 states. AT&T offers cable television services in portions of its service territory under the brand name “U-Verse.”

Does anyone truly believe that this merger would be better for people who want news and information?

Walter Mossberg, the dean of U.S. tech writers, offered his assessment. “If this $85 billion merger goes through, it would, in my view, represent an unhealthy concentration of power between a distributor and a maker of content,” he wrote last year. “For media companies, for consumers, for advertisers, the best solution is to keep distribution and content separate, so consumers and creators meet on a level playing field. AT&T, which seems more excited right now about owning media than running a network, should be forced to choose whether it wants to be in one business or the other.”

Mossberg suggested spinning off CNN into a separate company. I would prefer to see it die on its own.

President Trump has hinted he opposes the merger, mainly because he doesn’t like CNN. I think he should oppose the merger because it would be bad for America.

But, as Liebling reminded us many years ago, “People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” That holds true today for TV, the internet, and many other “news” outlets.

If you are tired of and disgusted by the persistent attacks against the American way of life, an advertisement and an event in Chicago should make you feel better on this Fourth of July.

Budweiser has released a new ad in which actor Adam Driver, a veteran himself, surprises a fellow veteran and his family by delivering in person a scholarship to his daughter.

U.S. Army veteran John Williams sustained a serious injury while training for Operation Desert Storm. Driver was also injured shortly before he was deployed to Iraq, putting an end to his military career.

That’s apparently why Driver was chosen to give Hayley Grace Williams a scholarship to nursing school.

The scholarship is part of a joint effort between Budweiser and Folds of Honor, which has awarded numerous scholarships to veterans and their family members since 2011.

In a letter, Hayley explained that her father’s military injury was so severe that he needed steel rods and six screws to stabilize his spine.

“They sent me your letter; I was in the military too,” Driver said as he met the family. “[Folds of Honor] reached out to me, and they told me to let you know that you got the scholarship. But also, Budweiser and I thought that you shouldn’t have to worry about school, so Budweiser is gonna be covering all your remaining school expenses for the rest of next year.”

Here is the video:

In Chicago, more than 250 wounded, ill, or injured athletes representing the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Special Operations Command, the Australian Defence Force, and the U.K. Armed Forces are taking part in the Warrior Games.

“Sport has played a part in all of our guys’ lives at some part of their career,” said U.K. Armed Forces Sports and Recovery Coordinator Emily Griffith. “But we are finding out that quite a lot of our guys are getting involved for camaraderie because they feel they can open up more while in the sport rather than in a group environment, so it is a part of their recovery whether it’s physically or psychologically.”

Scheduled to take place June 30 through July 8, the Warrior Games feature Paralympic-style competition in eight sports, including archery, cycling, field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track, and wheelchair basketball.

The games are open to the public and will be held at a variety of prominent locations throughout the downtown area of Chicago, including the McCormick Place, the United Center, and Soldier Field.

For more information, see http://www.dodwarriorgames.com/

Have a Happy and Memorable Fourth of July!

Sing Sing poised to attack any interloper with her famed, right-front paw.

Sing Sing was one tough cat.

Born just outside the gate of the famous prison near New York City and named for it, she was the only kitten from her litter to survive.

Sing Sing was a gift to our daughter when Cecylia was almost six. The kitten promptly bit and scratched her and ran off to hide under something.

She weighed about five pounds and stood about a foot tall. For the first part of her life, she spent much of the time outside, hunting snakes and toads near our home in upstate New York. She often would be gone for several days at a time during her hunts.

It took about 10 years before anyone could hold her without getting bitten.

I was never a cat person, but somehow she became my cat. She enjoyed jaunts around the outside ledge of my apartment building in Philadelphia when I commuted between the city and upstate New York. She only fell off the ledge once.

About five years ago, she decided that being petted and sitting in my lap or on my chest were somewhat enjoyable until she would bite me and head off to sulk.

Three years ago, she couldn’t hear anymore and had trouble eating. But she was still the queen of the house, beating back our dogs and other cats. No one messed with Sing. If a cat could yell, she did, along with a fair amount of hissing. But she did purr sometimes from her perch on the kitchen island, where she often planned her attacks on people and animals.

When we got a new dog in 2015, she promptly smacked the 100-pound Great Pyrenees in the snout to demonstrate who was the boss.

Sing Sing lived for the sun and spent hours baking outside. If she’d been a person, she clearly would have been a beach bum.

At the end, she didn’t suffer. But it was clear she couldn’t rally yet another time from the brink of death.

Sing Sing died last week at the age of 19, arguably the most interesting and independent animal I’ve ever met. She will be missed.

The Terra Cotta warriors in Xi’an

My students in China made me smile today.

One of them sent me a heartfelt message that I had made a difference in her life. It wasn’t the usual end-of-the-semester note from my American students, who often are looking for a slightly higher grade.

The note read: “Thank you for your patience and kindness all of the time. I always learned a lot from your courses. Those good websites and videos opened new worlds to me. And sincerely, it was the practice of finishing your assignments that made me decide to be a journalist in the future. I’ll keep on going. I wish that someday I can be a good journalist as well as a cool person like you! “

Several others agreed with the student, sending me notes that echoed the sentiment. My Chinese colleagues told me that such praise is rare.

For the past two months, I have tried to teach more than 20 students how to become better journalists. As they often do, the Chinese students came up with some interesting stories, which you can see at www.writingforjournalism.com.

It’s not an easy path becoming a journalist in China. The rules are complicated; the work difficult. But I think some of my students may well make it.

Several young journalists wrote about health issues, including Bipolar disorder, cerebral palsy, child abuse and nursing homes. Others focused on providing interesting slices of life in Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China with more than 13 million residents.

One story even centered on news kiosks, a Chinese cultural icon that has been facing tough times because people don’t buy newspapers and magazines anymore because of the internet. Another story told of student entrepreneurs, who are creating businesses like barber shops while they are still in school.

Also, I have a greater understanding of China from my third trip there. I traveled to some fascinating places, which I had not seen in my previous trips.

A buddy I met along the way in Chengdu.

Chengdu, for example, is the heart of China’s efforts to save pandas from extinction.

Dunhuang is an ancient link on the Silk Road, the transit route from China to Europe from roughly 400 to 1400 A.D. On the opposite side of the Silk Road stands Xi’an, the home of the Terra Cotta warriors.

Hangzhou is the home of Alibaba, the Google of China, and a lovely city on a lake.

I also traveled to Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, where Bagan, a site like Siem Reap in Cambodia, is home to some awe-inspiring temples.

All told, it was an exhilarating trip—one that I will never forget.

The sand dunes along the Silk Road

Dunhuang, China, is probably the most important city you’ve never heard of.

Tucked into a corner of Northwest China, Dunhuang [pronounced DONE-hwong] was a major outpost on the famous Silk Road trading route and has become a symbol of the current government’s attempt to rebuild the image and the use of the international connection.

Marco Polo traveled through Dunhuang in the 13th century and spent 17 years as an aide to Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader of the Yuan Dynasty in China and conquered an area from Asia to Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries.

But Dunhuang played a major role in building China’s role in the world long before that.

Buddhist monks arrived in China from India by the first century AD, and a sizable Buddhist community eventually developed in Dunhuang.

The caves carved out by the monks, originally used for meditation, developed into a place of worship and pilgrimage called the Mogao Caves.

One of the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, China

During a recent trip to Dunhuang, I had the opportunity to see the caves. I actually went back for a second look because they are simply incredible! You only get to see eight to 10 of the more than 700 caves, but they are a breath-taking example of Buddhist art from 400 to 1200 A.D. The caves also kept a secret of thousands of hidden documents about culture and religion through the world—only discovered in the early 1900s when a monk found them hidden behind a wall. A number of Christian and Jewish artifacts have been discovered in the caves, including a Bible from Syria.For more information, see http://en.people.cn/english/200006/20/eng20000620_43468.html

From Dunhuang, you also get a sense of the extraordinary effort and will of the people, like Marco Polo, who traveled through the deserts of the world. The nearby Gobi Desert is the third largest in the world behind the Sahara and Arabian deserts. The Taklamakan Desert, which also sits nearby Dunhuang, is the 16th-largest in the world and is almost the size of Germany and exists almost entirely of sand dunes.

Today, the central government of China is trying to make Dunhuang a major tourist attraction, particularly the Mogao Caves. I hope the leadership succeeds in the effort because the caves are one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.

Me and my new buddy hangin’ with some bamboo appetizers.

Sometimes you just have to chill out from the problems of the world.

That’s why I decided to travel on a whim to Chengdu, China. It’s the capital of Sichuan Province, known for panda protection and procreation, the world’s tallest Buddha sculpture and seriously hot food.

There’s good news on the panda front, although the Chinese still consider the furry guys endangered. The artificial insemination project in Chengdu resulted in 20 live births last year, raising the number of living pandas to more than 2,000.

I went to one of three panda sites near Chengdu, where two-year-old pandas are getting ready to be set free back into the wild. I got to sit with one, who thought I was either interesting or pretty weird.

The following day I traveled to Leshan, the site of the tallest Buddha in the world. It took nearly 80 years to carve out of the stone until it was done in 803. It stands more than 200 feet tall–an impressive accomplishment for an era long ago. Think of it as the Mount Rushmore of China.

The Leshan Buddha is the largest statue in the world in the Buddhist culture.

Finally, I tried true Sichuan hotpot, the favorite of  the Chinese, who, when they eat at a restaurant, order this dish almost one-quarter of the time.

The hotpot, which is a boiling mixture of water, peppers and other ingredients, provides the stew for whatever you want to eat: beef, chicken, duck, mushrooms, potatoes and much much more.

Duck blood soup with tripe

No one believed me that I wanted tripe–aka pig intestines–because I was the first Westerner known to want to eat the stuff. I know many of you find that disgusting, but I found it delicious.

It was a wonderful trip–one that made me forget for a few days about the turmoil swirling around us.

And who couldn’t love the photo below from the center of Chengdu?

China also celebrated a three-day holiday over the past weekend—a festival commemorating the story of a famous poet.

People in Guangzhou, where I am teaching, packed the route along the tributaries of the Pearl River as more than 100 dragon boats cruised through the city.

The festival is a memorial of the death of the poet and politician Qu Yuan  (340–278 B.C.) of the ancient state of Chu during the Zhou dynasty.

When the Zhou king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, the creators of the Terra Cotta warriors in Xi’an, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason.

In exile, Qu became China’s first great poet.

Years later, the Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.

The story goes that local people raced out in their boats to save him or at least retrieve his body. Thus, the story of the dragon boats began. When his body could not be found, the locals dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu’s body. Thus began the legacy of zongzi, or sticky rice. Hint: if you have never eaten sticky rice, you take off the leaf and the ribbon.

Smithsonian Magazine provides some great background:

“One of the most important mythical creatures in Chinese mythology, the dragon is the controller of the rain, the river, the sea, and all other kinds of water; symbol of divine power and energy…. In the imperial era it was identified as the symbol of imperial power,” writes Deming An, a professor of folklore at the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “In people’s imaginations, dragons usually live in water and are the controllers of rain.

“Dragon boat racing is ascribed to organized celebrations of beginning in the 5th or 6th century A.D. But scholars say the boats were first used hundreds of years earlier, perhaps for varied reasons. On the lunar calendar, May is the summer solstice period, the crucial time when rice seedlings were transplanted…. To ensure a good harvest, southern Chinese would have asked the dragons to watch over their crops, says Jessica Anderson Turner, a Handbook of Chinese Mythology contributor. They would have decorated their boats with ornate dragon carvings, “and the rowing was symbolic of the planting of the rice back in the water,” Anderson Turner explains.

Read more at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legends-behind-the-dragon-boat-festival-135634582/

The  People’s Republic of China did not officially recognize the celebration as a public holiday. But the dragon boat races spread throughout the world. Since 2008, “Duanwu Jie” as it’s known in China, has been celebrated not only as a festival but also as a public holiday. It’s a whole lotta fun!

Vietnam acknowledged Ho Chi Minh’s birthday in an oddly low-key way during my visit even in his boyhood home in Hue.

The media myths surrounding the Vietnam War continue to shape U.S. policy in Asia and throughout the world.

As I recently wandered through Vietnam, particularly the area near the DMZ, or the demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam, I couldn’t help but think how media narratives had changed the course of the war and Vietnam’s history. Here are some important facts that must be understood.

First, the 1968 Tet Offensive was a huge military defeat for the Communists.

Second, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite had little to do with the decisions to wind down U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Third, the “napalm girl”—a memorable photograph during the war–had nothing to do with U.S. forces.

Finally, after more than 40 years of Communist rule, the people of Vietnam are not better off.

Vietnam veteran James Willbanks, a noted military historian, provides an interesting analysis of the Tet Offensive, particularly in Hue, the former royal capital of Vietnam.

Tet, the lunar New Year began on Jan. 31, 1968, when Communist forces attacked multiple locales, including Hue, which was geographically situated in South Vietnam but close to the border with North Vietnam. By the time the battle of Hue ended a month later, more than 40 percent of the buildings were damaged and more than 100,000 people were homeless. More important, the North Vietnamese had lost the battle but had executed nearly 3,000 people with ties to the South Vietnamese government. For more background, see http://www.historynet.com/tet-what-really-happened-at-hue.htm

All told, the Tet Offensive was a massive failure for the Communists. The change from guerrilla tactics to frontal assaults against the U.S. and South Vietnamese military, resulted in only minimal gains. Moreover, the Communists lost nearly a quarter of its battle-ready troops.

What happened, however, was an onslaught of news reports and photos that showed, among other things, the U.S. embassy in Saigon under assault. It made little difference that the Marines had successfully fought back, and the U.S. military recaptured all the territory and more.

The Communists were described as despondent because of the failure of Tet. But the PR started to roll in that the Communists had effectively taken the battle to the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army. Then the so-called “Cronkite moment” happened. CBS anchor Cronkite said during a news broadcast on February 27, 1968, that “we have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds.” He added, “We are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory.”

As my friend and colleague, W. Joseph Campbell, notes in his excellent book, “Getting It Wrong,” Cronkite had little influence on Johnson’s thinking. “In the days and weeks after the Cronkite program, Johnson was adamant in defending his Vietnam policy. On multiple occasions during that time, the president in effect brushed aside Cronkite’s downbeat assessment and sought to rally support for the war effort. At a time when Cronkite’s views should have been most potent, the president remained openly and tenaciously hawkish on the war.” For more, see https://mediamythalert.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/after-cronkite-moment-lbj-doubled-down-on-viet-policy/

But the Communists had won the PR battle–often based on media myths–as Americans turned against the war, and LBJ’s confidantes followed the public’s view.

Campbell also makes short shrift of the claim that the U.S. military was responsible for the “napalm girl” attack. Associated Press photographer Nick Ut took one of the most memorable photographs of the Vietnam War — the image of a 9-year-old girl screaming in terror as she fled from a misdirected napalm attack. The AP said the famous photo, taken June 8, 1972, “communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words could never describe, helping to end one of the most divisive wars in American history.”

The famous “napalm girl” photo did not involve the U.S. military.

But the plane was from the South Vietnam military and flown by a South Vietnamese pilot.

By referring to “American planes” in an article, The New York Times insinuated that U.S. forces were responsible for the napalm attack that preceded Ut’s photograph, Campbell writes. He tried to get DaTimes to correct the information but got nowhere. For more, see https://mediamythalert.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/40-years-on-the-napalm-girl-photo-and-its-associated-errors/

Some excellent reporting occurred during the Vietnam War, but what seems to stick in the American psyche about Tet, Cronkite and the napalm photo are mostly wrong—media myths like many we see today.

Finally, Vietnam is a mess. When your currency is valued at 22,000 dong to the dollar, you’ve got problems. People openly complain about the lack of full-time jobs except in the government. In 2011, Nguyen Phu Trong was appointed secretary general of the Communist Party. He served as the party’s chief ideologue before. That doesn’t bode well for solving the problems of the country.

A personal note: As the only American on board a trip to the DMZ, I tried to counter the propaganda of the guide, a committed Communist, about the information she was providing. But the other members of the tour–Brits, Canadians, French and Vietnamese–had already embraced the myths even though most of them were in their 20s and 30s.

Moreover, I had a wonderful time seeing the historic sites of Hue and Hoi An, a lovely town south of Danang, in central Vietnam. I met many courteous and friendly people during my visit. The attitude toward me as an American was mostly curiosity and certainly not condemnation. I stopped by a Catholic church—the religion that remains that of an estimated 20 percent of the population–and the members greeted me with enthusiasm. I wish the people, not the government, well.