Sunday, October 04, 2009

WFIK Makes CNN Top 10 Heroes!

Help Brad win $100K and bring Wheechairs for Iraqi Kids some much-deserved attention. This prize would fund 285 new wheelchairs!

Please vote!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Universal, Single-Payer Health Care: Not Just For the Un- and Under-Insured

I sent the following account to my representatives (and selected others) today.

This letter is to describe my experience today trying to access health care while on vacation in San Antonio, TX. The reason I believe this anecdote will be of interest is that I think my experience is a microcosm of the ills plaguing health care reform and access in our country.

I am employed at Texas A&M University, and have Scott & White health coverage through my employer. While vacationing with my family in San Antonio, I began to have pain in my eye, and after it grew worse after two days, I decided to see a doctor. I studied Scott & White’s website and then contacted the TAMU Employee Services office as well as Scott & White’s help line and determined that since there were not any network providers in San Antonio, I could be seen at an Emergency Room for $150 or an Urgent Care facility for $40. Armed with this information, I researched Urgent Care facilities in downtown San Antonio. Finally I discovered that Alamo City Medical Group’s 24-Hour Urgent Care facility was just blocks from my hotel. This was especially fortuitous since this was the only Urgent Care facility listed in the downtown area.

I walked to the Riverwalk Urgent Care center, checked in, completed paperwork and had my medical history taken by the nurse before the receptionist informed me that Scott & White wouldn’t pay any benefits for my visit (this despite my working for one of the largest employers in the state of Texas, and Alamo City Medical Group’s brochure claim that “we accept all Major Network Insurances”) and suggested I call Scott & White to locate a clinic that would be covered.

I called Scott & White for the second time, and spoke with another friendly but unhelpful associate, who suggested that I call information to find an Urgent Care facility since Scott & White will accept Urgent Care billing from any clinic. I relayed this information to the Alamo City Medical Group Urgent Care receptionist, who then let me know that they have two different tax IDs, one of which is Urgent Care, the other is Family Practice, and that they are only contracted with certain providers to bill as Urgent Care. Ultimately, I discovered that my options were to pay Alamo City Medical Group’s $140 (minimum) office visit charge or find an ER and pay my $150 copay. I decided to just wait until I get home next week to see a doctor instead.

While this might not be the best decision medically, it is the only one that I felt comfortable making considering my family finances and how I had been treated as a health care consumer. What I discovered was that, even though I have insurance, and even though I did the due diligence necessary to find an appropriate doctor while out of my regular coverage area, the most attractive option offered to me is to visit an Emergency Room.

The national health care debate has highlighted the overuse of Emergency Room medicine for reasons other than medical emergencies. My experience today has underscored that one reason for this is the general availability of the Emergency Room and the relative stability of this definition across insurance providers. My experience today would have been far different if there was some sort of regulation of the term “Urgent Care,” which seems to be loosely used by Alamo City Medical Group when it is in fact a technical term in the medical industry. I would have experienced no issue at all if we instead had a national, single-payer health provider.

I have to admit that in the grand scheme of things, my little malady pales in comparison to the chronic pain and illness that millions in our country suffer every day. These uninsured and underinsured are often the poster children for universal health care, but I hope that my experience helps illuminate the fact that fully-insured Americans stand to benefit from a health care system that is seamless and transparent, too. To that end, I strongly encourage you to fight for a universal, single-payer plan such as the Conyers-Kucinich plan, HR 676. Why an expensive, expansive, and ultimately handicapped plan like HR 3200 is even being considered is beyond me, and suggests that insurance lobbies have more clout than voters. Please consult this beautiful comparison of HR 676 and HR 3200 and fight for health coverage that will benefit all of us.


Jonathan Kotinek

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Meaning of Names

I love that my name combines the two best friends in the Bible. I've grown up knowing this, and that my name meant something to the effect of "a Friend from God."

With the new addition to our family (and mulling new boy names since we've used both of our pre-selected boy names!), I wanted to see how well our names fit us.

I surfed over to and found out what each of our names mean. The results are startlingly accurate, I thought:

Jonathan (the LORD has given) David (Beloved) - Beloved given by God

Sarah (lady or princess) Ashley (ash tree clearing) - Princess of the Meadow

Anthony (similar to Greek “anthos” - flower) Noah (rest, comfort) - The Flower of our Comfort

Samuel (God has heard) Isaac (he laughs) - The Lord has heard my Joy

As alluded earlier, we had pre-selected two boy names and two girl names (and decided the order in which these were to be conferred). The two girl names are:

Ashley (ash tree clearing) Marie (love) - Love in the Open

Emma (whole or universal) Elizabeth (my God is abundance) - My abundance is from God

The closest we've come to picking another boy name is below. Ashley liked the name Ashton, and I have promised to consider Robert if we ever have another boy:

Robert (bright fame) Ashton (ash tree town)- Well-known in the Woods

 Update 10/6/11: Instead of Robert Ashton, Ashley has decided she likes Jacob Fionn instead (and no, we don't have immediate need for another name):

Jacob (supplanter) Fionn (fair) - Overtaken by Beauty

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Perfect Prayer

My own "rule" of prayer has grown from the prayers provided in the Red Prayer Book published by the Antiochian Archdiocese. Since these prayers can get a bit lengthy as a group event (especially if one of your group is a two-year-old), we typically just say the Trisagion and Lord's Prayer with Noah on the way to school and before bed.

After Pascha, we added the Paschal Troparia to our prayers (with Noah enthusiastically singing along). More recently we've added "Jesus Loves Me." Noah asks to sing these songs as "Trampling" and "Jesus."

The most recent addition to our family "rule" has been the addition of personal commemorations. This started, I feel certain, as a made up song while driving (probably home from church). Noah probably asked me to sing a song about mommy. I responded by singing "I love mommy" three times in the same way that we sing "Lord have mercy" in triplicate as a response in the litanies. At prayer time, this has evolved to be a series of short songs about everyone in our family, as well as their dogs, and sometimes Noah's shoes. It goes something like this:

Noah: Sing mommy

All: I love mommy, I love mommy, I love mommy

Noah: Sing daddy

All: I love daddy, I love daddy, I love daddy

Noah: Sing baby

All: I love Samuel, I love Samuel, I love Samuel

Noah continues racking his brain to remember all of his aunts and grandparents and our dogs. At times he pauses, obviously deep in thought, to try to remember who he has left out.

Noah: Sing Granddad

All: I love granddad...

After he can think of no one else, Noah smiles, very pleased. "Everybody," he exclaims.

All: I love everybody, I love everybody, I love everybody.

I can't think of a more perfect prayer. From the mouth of babes, indeed.

Pork Loin with Mint Cherry Reduction

Monday night we had Samuel's godparents over for dinner. I had planned to cook steak pinwheels (stuffed with Parmesan and spinach), but when I pulled the meat out of the refrigerator, it had turned a greenish-grey and smelled dead. This was at about 6:00 PM, and we were expecting our dinner guests any minute. I rushed off to HEB (where I had purchased our just-discarded dinner the previous Friday) to try to salvage dinner.

HEB didn't have any more steak pinwheels, so I opted for some fresh pork loin and hurried home. As I was throwing together some ensalata caprese as an appetizer and talking with our guests it occurred to me that my friend Lisa Moorman of A Cupcake in Paris would appreciate the story, so I broke out the camera and resolved to make a blog post out of dinner.

Roasted Pork Loin

6 fresh pork loin chops

Worcestershire sauce

sea salt


Mint Cherry Sauce

1 Can Bing Cherry pie filling

6-8 mint leaves, chopped

Preheat oven on the Low Broil setting. Lay your pork loin chops out in a roasting pan. Using a fork, pierce the chop all over to allow your salt, pepper, and Worcestershire to soak in. Grind generous amounts of sea salt and black pepper over your chops. Soak each chop in 1-2 Tbs of Worcestershire sauce. Place roasting pan on middle rack and broil approximately 20-25 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit for medium well chops.

Put cherries and mint into a small skillet. Cook on medium-high heat until juices boil. Using the back side of a spoon, smash cherries and stir. Continue to reduce cherries until the sauce doesn't run in when you stir through with your spoon.

I served my chops with a fresh herb salad tossed with halved cherry tomatoes and grated Parmesan cheese and a rice pilaf of white, brown and red Texmati rice with lentils. The meal paired nicely with the Savioun Rose de Anjou graciously provided by our guests.

How's that for "off-the-cuff"? Besides the pork loin, the rest of these ingredients were literally in the pantry. Necessity, again, proves to be a wonderful inspiration.

Samuel Isaac

Turns out that Baby K #2 is a boy as well! Samuel Isaac was born Wednesday, July 1. He was 20 inches long and 8 lbs 13 ozs at birth.

If you're paying attention to details, you'll notice that as I'm writing this, Samuel has turned one week old. His was an uncomplicated, if super quick, delivery. We were able to leave the hospital late last Thursday evening, so I didn't have much in the way of downtime at the hospital to blog. This is a good thing.

Adjusting to life with child number two is vastly different because there are already daily rhythms that need to remain as constant as possible (e.g. dropping off and picking up from school, dinner, bath & bedtime). Instead of us reshaping our world to the new child as we did with Noah, this is more of a collaborative effort. I expect that Samuel will learn to sleep in his own bed much earlier than did Noah.

I'm doing my level best to keep pictures updated on the Picasa site.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Western" Approaches to Eastern Christianity

Gordon Atkinson, aka Real Life Preacher, has become something of a celebrity in Texas Orthodox circles after having blogged about his first contact with the ancient Christian worship at St. Anthony the Great church in San Antonio, TX as part of his sabbatical leave from Covenant Baptist Church, also in San Antonio.

Reading Rev. Atkinson's description of his first visit, I was reminded of the statement of Prince Vladimir of Kiev's envoy, after visiting the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the late tenth century
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you; only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.

Seeing Orthodox worship new again through Rev. Atkinson's eyes, I was moved to tears at the overwhelming beauty of the Liturgy, as well as its strangeness to the western ear and eye. He did an outstanding job of relaying that sense of being part of something bigger than human scale, something that isn't necessarily easily comprehended by human intellect or senses, because its not intended or directed toward us.

Rev. Atkinson seems somewhat amazed at his reception and celebrity in Orthodox circles. Permitted to speculate, I think that he is seen as a convert on the brink. What we know that Rev. Atkinson might not yet understand is that once you start engaging the historic church, you either end up in an Apostolic communion, or leave Christianity altogether. We American Orthodox are particularly interested in high-profile stories of conversion because, like the consumer-driven lifestyles we lead outside of church, we are looking for celebrity endorsements of our own desires. (It's OK, go Google "Celebrity Orthodox Christians". I'll wait).

I was discussing this phenomenon with a friend several weeks ago, and we both felt that this trend was regrettable. To be clear, I'm always very happy when someone finds their way to the Orthodox church, but the emphasis on the high-profile convert seems antithetical to the conciliar heart of Orthodoxy. More to the point, the celebrity endorsement par excellence is the Pope. This economy of endorsement and reinforcement is Western in approach.

Finally, to get the point of this article (which ultimately has nothing to do with Rev. Atkinson, though he was a convenient vehicle to get to the point) is that I propose a different phraseology to delineate orthodox from non-orthodox thought. I fervently pray every day for the unification of Orthodox churches in America. I expect that this will ultimately result in an uniquely American expression of the Orthodox faith (as has been the case in Greece, Russia, Albania, Serbia, etc.). While an American church would encompass Canada and Latin America as well, certainly the United States will have a huge impact on that expression. I've long held that the U.S. is a system of government founded on economic freedom and entrepreneurship. Part of that entrepreneurship is adaptation and pastiche. U.S. culture is at its best when it has adapted and adopted beautiful cultural expression from elsewhere. I hope that an American Orthodoxy would do the same (as a very small example of this, my family has adopted the Serbian tradition of Slava to pay homage to a Christian heritage that was not Orthodox).

So, if there is to be an American Orthodoxy, it will be western, so "Western" is no longer as useful a term to denote something that is non-Orthodox. I would propose that most of what is antithetical to the Orthodox faith in western culture arises out of post-enlightenment thought, and so I'd suggest "Post-Enlightenment" as a useful substitute for "Western." Getting back to my example, a consumerist approach to celebrity "endorsement" of Orthodoxy is a post-enlightenment approach to faith. It begins in my presuppositional authority and looks for a faith that fits me, instead of my submission to objective Truth.

I'm guilty of this. My entree to Orthodoxy was Frank Schaeffer's Dancing Alone. I found it (and more importantly, read it) because Frank is Francis' son. I became intrigued by Orthodoxy because it satisfied my own longing for room in my faith tradition for the mystical. We American Orthodox, by and large, are protestant in the way that we approach the faith. We have an embarrassment of riches with respect to the number of parishes, and so we pick and choose (I like that priest, or I like the politics of this parish) where we will worship or even if we will worship (there isn't a church of my jurisdiction locally).

My hope and desire for Rev. Atkinson is that his struggles will pay dividends for his family and his church, and I hope that along the way, the blemishes of American Orthodoxy don't get in the way of simple Orthodoxy.

True to each other as Aggies can be...

I'm incredibly disappointed that the beef between Texas A&M President Elsa Murano and Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney has resulted in Pres. Murano's resignation. Murano's announcement comes just one day before a special meeting of the TAMU Board of Regents called specifically to discuss the continued employment of executive-level leaders.

The scheduled meeting marked the first official action on the part of the board since McKinney started the public beef by making a statement to the press regarding his contemplation of combining his position with that of Pres. Murano's. A public records request by KBTX the following week revealed that McKinney had rated Murano poorly in an off-schedule review and that Murano took exception to the ratings and had rebutted them point-by-point, copying the entire board.

I must admit that when Murano was named to the presidency, I was incredibly skeptical of her qualifications. The presidential search committee--composed of current students, faculty, former students, community members, and members of the board--forwarded a list of three finalists in August 2007, none of whom were selected. The search committee was unceremoniously disbanded with no clear way forward.. In the background of this process, rumors surfaced that Governor Perry had hand-selected a candidate with ties to the military and his undergrad years. Of a sudden, in a hastily-called meeting in late November 2007, the Regents apparently decided to offer the job to Murano, a decision announced about a week later. Murano took office on January 3, 2008.

The university community was understandably guarded about Murano with her hire in this context. A number of personnel changes in upper-administration did nothing to ease concerns, and the unceremonious firing of Dr. Bresciani from the position of Vice-President for Student Affairs (where he was a much-loved fixture) and the selection of the arguably under-qualified Gen. Joe Weber painted Murano's decision-making in a poor light to many at the university.

Fast-forward to the controversy this month, and I have to say that despite my previous evaluation of Murano, she acquits herself well in her rebuttal of McKinney's review. I find that, though I've not agreed with all of her decisions, I think that A&M is better for her having been president (as opposed to, say, McKinney). Paul Burka at BurkaBlog speculates that Murano got in trouble by stepping out from beneath the Perry/McKinney thumb and poking into shady political dealings. I think that that makes the whole situation stink worst of all.

Updates Coming Soon!

Howdy! And Happy New Year (seeing as how this is my first post of 2009)!'s a few quick updates:

Our Summer Honors Invitational Program (SHIP) is keeping me busy this summer, along with thirteen New Student Conferences for the largest freshman class in TAMU history.

Baby K #2's arrival is imminent. The due date is July 9, but Noah came at 37 weeks, which would be this coming Friday.

Also, this Friday is Ashley's and my tenth wedding anniversary. Happy Juneteenth! We've invited friends and family to join us in celebration as we (finally!) have our marriage blessed in the Orthodox church. If you missed it, here's the invite:

Those following Texas A&M in the news know that there is a lot of foolishness at the executive leadership level. Pres. Elsa Murano, the first woman and first Hispanic (Latina? What appellation do Cuban expats prefer? Weigh in on comments) submitted her resignation today in what will hopefully only be the start of changes at the top...I'm hoping that the BOR shows McKinney the door tomorrow. So long as "governor good-hair" doesn't get the spot I'll be happy.

Look for new blog posts on all of the above (well, perhaps not on SHIP and incoming freshman) soon. Also, I plan to weigh in on the Real Live Preacher's sudden celebrity in Texas Orthodox circles.