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Right-handed but left-hammered

The conversation with a friend began with our mutual concerns about the rising cost of our health care in this country.

"I don't see how, with the medical providers entrenched so deeply in our American life, we'll ever get this under control."

I said that. It's pretty true. Our current politicians can utter what ever blarney they want to about fixing the out-of-control cost of health care, but it's not going to happen.

It's not going to happen because this is the system we have, and it's very, very difficult for people to change something to which they've become accustomed.

Not too long ago, I had the chance to speak with someone from Sweden, which has a national health care plan, paid for by taxes.

"How much do you lose out of your paycheck, percentage-wise?"

That was my question to her. I expected an answer in the 50 percent range, easy. Sweden has that reputation of high taxes, a fact often told to us here in the USA when the alternative of nationalizing health care comes up. Oh, we can't do that, we're told -- it's way too expensive, look at Sweden, how high their taxes are.

Incidentally, last time I looked, we ranked first in the cost of health care in the world, and 20-something in every other measure of how good that health care was. Sweden is in the top 10, maybe top five. They have to have big taxes to pay for that, right?

She answered, "I lose about a third of my check."

"A third?" Really! Then, there's more for health care, right?

"No. A third. What do you lose?"

I didn't even want to answer, because we too lose about a third. Plus then we pay for various medical costs. All this stuff we've been told by the entrenched medical providers about why we cannot change this system is apparently hooey. They're making money. That money elects politicians who have enough screws loose to want to be politicians, or whatever, and will say anything to get there.

What does that tell you about changing something, once it has become "normal" to humans? It tells you that it's almost impossible.

So this friend said, "I'll give you an example of something that's been done the same way forever, and is stupid." He fingered the belt loop on the left-hand side of the carpenter pants he was wearing, and said: "Most of us are right handed? Why is the hammer over here on the left side?"

He went on to sputter about how stupid the manufacturers were, making pants for left-handed carpenters. Then he pantomimed holding up a two by four with his right hand, trying to grab the hammer with his left, transferring the hammer to his right hand while ... you get the picture.

I said to him, "Well, you bought them the way they were, right?"

In other words, why should they change? It's America. Change comes hard.

Since you're a carpenter, I told him, perhaps he could explain why all 120-volt circular power saws are made for left-handed people. I've always wondered about that. (When you hold a power saw in your right hand, first comes the motor, which extends to your right of the grip. Then the guard that surrounds the blade is even further away from you to the right.) To see where the line is that you're following, you have to lean way over the saw and peer down past your shirt sleeve, the guard, and the foot of the saw to see whatever line it is you're trying to follow.

Why isn't the blade on the left, where it could be easily seen? Because I'll bet you that the first saw was made like that, and they keep selling, so why not? Change comes hard.

When I first started teaching, I watched students -- who mostly aren't all that handy with tools -- try to fir an opening down in size by nailing on a scab of board so a 14-inch return air grill would fit in a 16-inch-center stud wall. These grills are made by a company called Lima. After watching these students bend over nails and grumble, I got on the phone one Friday afternoon and called the Lima people.

After several minutes, I got an engineer, and asked him, "Do you know if studs used to be spaced on 14-inch centers back in history?"

No, he didn't think so.

"Aren't you guys the largest manufacturer of grills in the USA?"

He did think so.

"Aren't wall studs on 16-inch centers, the way they've been for 100 years?"

Yeeessss, he reluctantly said. He had to see now where I was headed.

"Then why in hell aren't you guys making grills that fit 16-inch centered studs?"

Well first, he replied, no one has asked us to.

"I just did," I replied.

But we only take input from salespeople, he said.

"What in heck do salespeople know about actually installing these pain-in-the-butt grills you guys have been foisting on us for who knows how long?" There. I felt better, until he replied.

He said, not much, but that's the way it's always been. Goodbye.

Three years later, Lima no longer exists. Hmmmmm.

They couldn't or wouldn't change a $4 return air grill.

We're a right-handed nation with a left-handed health care industry.