Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here's the Email I Wrote to My Senator

Senator Cantwell,
It is my understanding that as a member of the Senate Finance Committee you are participating in debate today over the inclusion of a robust public option in the health care reform legislation being written by that committee. I want to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to vote yes on the Schumer/Rockefeller amendment, and include a robust public option in the bill. Without a public option to provide a benchmark of fairness against which insurance companies would be forced to compete, I fear (and expect) that the current trend of insurance industry rapacity will continue. We as a nation and a people can no longer afford to spend so much money to prop up an industry that's protected from competition and yet still fails to deliver on satisfactory outcomes, both in the countless individual cases we hear about on the news every day, and in the larger national sense.

Please, vote yes on the public option. And please understand that this constituent's continued support is contingent on that vote.

Thank you,
Dallas Taylor
Seattle WA

I also called. Her number in DC is 202-224-3441.

Today is a Very Important Day

Today the Senate Finance Committee debates the Public Option, an amendment offered by Schumer (NY) and Rockefeller (WV). If you believe, as I do, that without a public option to spur competition and keep insurance companies honest, any health care reform will be, if not meaningless, then certainly toothless, call or email the following Senators right now:

Max Baucus (Montana), Tom Carper (Delaware), Robert Menendez (New Jersey), Kent Conrad (North Dakota), Jeff Bingaman (New Mexico), John Kerry (MA), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Ron Wyden (Oregon), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Maria Cantwell (Washington), and Bill Nelson (Florida)

Romance Isn't Dead

It's just more an executive than a legislative thing, I guess.

(hat tip TPM)

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Just wanted to take a second and give props to NASA, who, problematic though they are, make up for at least some of it by publishing the Astronomy Picture of the Day, which I use as my homepage. The universe is full of cool stuff, and though I think it's best explored, for now, by robots, I do like looking at the pictures. Like this one today. What a feeling that must be, to be untethered in space, floating free, with only a spacesuit and a nitrogen jet between you and frozen oblivion. The quiet must be immense.

Something that Can't be Made Clear Enough

The United States is the only industrialized democracy that does not offer universal health care to its citizenry, which leads to things like this.

Even the Cubans get free health care. And they ain't got shit, thanks to us.

Sleep Dealer

I should say at the outset that I am not a cinephile. Don't get me wrong. I like movies. But I have to be in the right mood, and I'm picky about what I'll watch and even pickier about what I enjoy. It's not something I've chosen, I'm just that way.

I am, however, a great fan of science fiction, for its fun, escapist aspect (spaceships! lasers! green women with three boobs!), but more importantly because science fiction, as a genre, essentially boils down to a lot of very smart people sitting down and thinking 'Hm. What if the world were thus-like? What kind of lives would people lead? What kinds of conflict would arise? How does that relate to where we are now, historically?' and then working out the answers and presenting them in a narrative form that is not only thought-provoking but also entertaining and engaging.

Yes, yes, I know, it can be a bit like putting vitamins in candy. But I don't think that that undermines the essential worthwhile-itude of the genre. They're still vitamins, after all.

Science fiction cinema tends to be a mixed-bag for me. Hollywood (where you pretty much have to go to get the money to do science fiction movies, relying as they largely do on SFX and CGI) tends to trend more escapist than substantive, because they're a capitalist, for-profit industry, and as such they tend to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the hope that it will bring the largest possible number of people to the theatres. This is why most science fiction cinema tends to downplay its thought-provoking aspects in favor of more tried-and-true formulas, meaning that, for the most part, science fiction movies are usually either action or horror movies that just happen to occur in some sort of futuristic setting. Sometimes they're quite good, science-fictionally speaking, but very rarely, it seems, does the cinematic world really sit up and take notice of science fiction's potential for explaining today in terms of our likely tomorrows.

Sleep Dealer, directed by Alex Rivera, is an exception to that rule, and not a half-bad movie to boot. The trailer makes it look all action-y and exciting, I know, but the movie itself is really all about a small set of very human stories that are tied together and nested ineluctably in a near-term future history that is so plausible that it'll make you cringe a little when you see it, because you know that unless we (humanity, that is, not even just us Amur'kins) change course, and soon, that that is likely the shape of things to come.

(spoiler alert: what follows may or may not reduce your enjoyment of the film by revealing the setting and plot outline; I'll try to leave enough blank so as not to ruin the movie, but read on at your own risk)

Sleep Dealer is a movie that could only have come from south of the border. It's not that its portrayal of Americans is unflattering, it's that its fundamental perspective is not one that most Americans will recognize. Set in Mexico (in Oaxaca and Tijuana) in the near future, the world of Sleep Dealer puts a cinematic (and human) face on an all-too-plausible scenario. Memo, the protagonist of the film, is a farmer's son and ham-radio operator in a dusty village in the deserts of central Mexico. His village is dying, dried up and desiccated thanks to the dam on the river, built and maintained by a (literally) faceless corporation. Water must be purchased (cash up front) at usurious rates (around $10/gallon). Although there are actual guards by the reservoir, the gate is remotely operated from America. Every camera has a gatling gun attached, and there is, unsurprisingly, very little compunction on the part of the operators about pulling the trigger. By day, Memo helps his father on the farm. At night, he listens in on the ham radio and dreams of having nodes implanted so he can go online and become a node-worker. The nodes are similar to the Matrix, cyborg tech interfaces that allow the user to enter an online world not unlike virtual reality, and make the remote operation of machinery (and weaponry) both intuitive and easy. Meanwhile, his brother is addicted to American TV, most especially a show called Drones, modelled on COPS, only about the heroic efforts of the drone pilots who find and kill 'terrorists' (people stealing water, say) with high-tech long-range weaponry, probably not unlike what's happening right now in the mountains of AF-PAK.

When his father is killed, Memo makes the pilgrimage to Tijuana, which, though the border is permanently closed, remains a Mecca for those seeking a better life, thanks in no small part to its booming remote-machinery-operation industry, in factories called 'Sleep Dealers' (so called because after a long shift you collapse in exhaustion). Thanks to the good offices of Luz, a freelance writer who sells narrativized versions of her memories on TrueNode (a YouTube style website that functions as an open market for the sale of such things), Memo manages to get some nodes implanted and finds work at one of the Sleep Dealers. The work? Remotely operating a construction droid on a San Diego skyscraper. Just like a real Mexican, only without all the hassle of immigrating.

Luz has her own agenda, of course. She's not a very successful writer, but she does have one client, who's interested in learning more about Memo. The client is Rudy, a Hispanic-American drone pilot whose connection to Memo drives the latter third of the movie and provides the denouement.

I'll leave the remaining plot intricacies here, as I don't want to wholly ruin the movie for those of you that might actually watch it, which I recommend. It's not the best movie I ever watched, in terms of cinematic excellence, but it's a solid film that works both as a story and as social/future-historical commentary. The most striking thing about it, and the main thrust of the this blog post, is the sheer plausibility of its vision of our near future. The outside colonization of developing-world resources, the militarization of their defense (Rudy is a soldier, not a private contractor), and the outsourcing of everything to remote operators in countries where labor is cheaper (there's hilarious scene where Rudy crosses the border into Mexico, and the camera/gun is clearly operated by someowe in India) are all themes that resonate because they're based not only in present reality but in its very obvious trajectories. The power of the film is as much about its vision of the future as it is about the character and narrative arcs, which are determined by that vision but also stand on their own as all-too-human and believable.

It's thought-provoking stuff, a testament to the power of film to make something like this feel real, in a way that would be difficult to attain so viscerally through words and even still images alone. I recommend checking it out, and not only enjoying it for what it is (a decent movie) but also thinking about the future it envisions and what it would mean, and whether or not you think that's okay. Sleep Dealer raises a lot of questions, and they're really not that hypothetical. The finitude of resources like water, and the knee-jerk aversion to immigration on the part of Americans (even while we depend on the cheap labor that results), as well as our vicarious enjoyment of the application of violence to far-away people with darker skin, resonate precisely because they are so grounded in reality. It's a future you could easily see happening. Hell, it might even seem inevitable to the cynics among us. Either way, it's well-worth a viewing, and some pretty serious contemplation afterward.

I Wonder How Much Time He Spent Practicing in the Mirror

Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smile from Eric Spiegelman on Vimeo.

(hat tip to John Scalzi @ Whatever)

It's good to know that, in a world full of change, some things stay the same.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dispatches from Here: Random Notes from Away from Home

So much to write about here at work camp. Not that it's camp, exactly, in that I sleep in a bed and, though I do often cook food with fire, it is propane fire, on the gas stovetop and on the barbecue Mom had installed on the patio back in the day. But it's work camp in that I'm here mostly alone, and will be until I get all of this shit done. For those just tuning in, I'm in Florida renovating Mom's condo so I can rent it out for a few years, in the hope that the real estate market will, if not rebound, then at very least liven up a little. People who know tell me it ought to, if I can just hold out for a couple of years. I hope that they are right.

It was difficult, at first. Not only because there was more to do than there is now, but because all of Mom's things were still here, in all of the places she kept them. Mom was a bit of a hoarder, you see. Not like the people on that show Hoarders, who sometimes save their own waste. But Mom just couldn't bring herself to throw away something that was still useful, a trait I find I have inherited somehow. In some ways, it was quite impressive. Mom never lost anything. Every tupperware had the original lid, even the stuff I remember from my childhood, stuff we used in the '70s. Every appliance had the manual, usually immediately to hand, near the thing itself. Every nook and cranny of storage was filled, and treasures abounded. I found a coffee warmer circa 196?, still in the original packaging and clearly never not once used. Where did I find such a wonder, you ask? In the laundry closet, in the downstairs bathroom, on the shelf above the dryer, behind the fabric softener, under a box of sterling silver holiday trays that for all I know date back to my parents' wedding.

But that was ages ago, subjectively speaking, though it was less than a month in chronological time. So much has happened and so much has changed since then that it's almost hard to believe. Funny how time seems to dilate the more you have to do and the more that is happening. Even though the time itself seems to pass all the more quickly as you flail day after day through a to do list like a hydra (every time you get one thing done, two more pop up to take its place). Once it's past, the time stretches out. A week passes, but you feel a month older.

Thanks in no small part to my good friend Heidi, who I've hired to help me get through this monster list of things that need doing, the stuff is gone, carted off to Goodwill and the dump. What remains is all downstairs now. It's as if I live in a spacious studio apartment, downstairs from a construction site. The upstairs is mostly painted, except for the closet in my old room and the high wall in the stairwell, the one I need the sixteen foot ladder to get to all of. Luckily I spent a year and a half on a roofing crew once, so ladders don't scare me. They make me sad and angry sometimes, but they don't scare me.

I'll get around to finishing the painting eventually. Probably when I'm ready to move back upstairs and start painting the downstairs. But before that there is tiling. So much tiling.

Actually, it's only about six hundred square feet. It just feels like much, much more, because I'm a DIY kind of guy, so I'm doing it myself.

On the plus side, I'm starting to get the hang of it, and I think it'll start going faster now. On the minus side, tile is heavy, as is the concrete mortar in which you set it, and every single piece requires effort, concentration, and that little je ne sais quoi that is the difference between a craftsman and somebody with a Home Depot card. Needless to say, I'm trying hard to be or at least become the former and not the latter. I've only fucked up a little so far.

Having so much ground to cover, I was obliged to buy two pallets of tile, which was of sufficient bulk that I had to rent a truck from the Home Depot in order to move it from the store to the condo. I was warned that the tiles were from two different dye lots, which fact engendered some trepidation, but I was told I could just mix and match them and it would look ok, so I wasn't too worried. Turns out that, though you can tell the tiles are slightly different looking, the difference isn't much.

What I didn't expect is that the two lots are different sizes.

It isn't much. I can totally picture the guy at the factory (or quarry, or whatever) setting the machine and getting it just a little bit off (it's less than 1/8 of an inch), so little that probably nobody'd ever pick up on it. But it matters. Cheese on rice does it fucking matter.

At first Heidi and I thought that the thing to do was to go ahead and mix and match, figuring if we split up the lots, then the joint where they met would look funny. So we spent a whole day laying alternating tile, being super-careful to keep the order right and all that, so that the whole thing would look uniform. The problem, as I discovered when I went back up later, was that it makes the seams, which ought to be nice and straight, kind of zig zag back and forth. It's barely noticeable, mostly just one of those things that doesn't seem quite right, but you can't quite put your finger on it, and it makes you confused. But I noticed. And so I decided that I needed to change course, and do the rest of my room in the smaller tile, and save the larger for Mom's old room, the master bedroom. In the end, I think it'll be fine. But it makes doing the rest of my room kind of extra challenging, because some of the seams are set at different widths because of the larger tiles that I've already laid (and no, there is no pulling up tile, not without a jackhammer and a lot of very loud and probably quite nasty swearing), which means that I've got to do some of the spacing by eye, instead of just putting the spacers in, shifting the tile into place, and scraping up the excess mortar. Which is, as you might expect, kind of a pain in the ass. It's doable, and I'm doing it, and there's only one that I messed up badly enough that I might have to bust out the hammer and chisel. But it makes it all go slower, which makes me sad and angry, because even though I like the interruption in my previous lifestyle (because it shakes my head loose of some habits of thinking and living, which is often quite good for a person), I want to get home, so I can get to all the projects waiting for me there. Also my girlfriend is there, which if you've ever had one, you know they like it when you're around, and you like it too, because they let you sleep next to them and tell you nice things like: "I love you" and "You are very smart/sexy/funny/good-looking. Come here and kiss me." And you do, because it's awesome.

But the tiling must be paced. It is difficult, heavy work that makes a man's back hurt and tires him out more quickly than he thinks is right or reasonable. With luck, this will get better, and I have already purchased a back brace to help with the pain and a corded drill to mix the concrete with (the cordless batteries seem to get used up too quickly).

In the end, it will be worth it. If I do rent the place for a few years, it'll save me from having to replace the carpet between renters, and should increase the value of the place when it comes time to sell. People in Florida like tile after all. It's cool, and easy to clean, and it lasts forever, unlike carpet, which lasts for a good long while but absorbs odors and stains and liquids and keeps them forever, no matter how careful you are or how good your vacuum is. But for now, as my grandfather used to say, oh my aching back.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Posted Without Comment

The banking fiasco still underway is at once a proxy for the larger failure of the American economy and the greatest fissure in it. Put as simply possible: we can't service our debt, we can't generate more debt, and the notional "capital" we thought we possessed is dissolving into nothingness. The federal government and Wall Street remain committed to supporting all the rackets associated with a suburban sprawl economy that has entered its own zone of remorseless failure. It is failing as a capital investment first, and is secondarily failing as a practical living arrangement. The two failures will continue in a close race toward terminal entropy.
James Kunstler
Pabst Blue Ribbon, you are my friend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Look! Look at the Shiny Ball! Look! It's Shiny!

I was heartened and relieved to read this:
The Justice Department is preparing to impose new limits on the government assertion of the state secrets privilege used to block lawsuits for national security reasons. The practice was a major flashpoint in the debate over the escalation of executive power and secrecy during the Bush administration.

The new policy, which could be announced as early as Wednesday, would require approval by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. if military or espionage agencies wanted to assert the privilege to withhold classified evidence sought in court or to ask a judge to dismiss a lawsuit at its onset.
Until I read a little further, and got to this:
Leading Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have filed bills that would restrict how the privilege could be used. The Obama administration has not taken a position on those bills, but the new policy, which is intended to rein in use of the privilege by erecting greater internal checks and balances against abuse, could blunt momentum in Congress to pass legislation.
And I realized that it's a head fake. One of the things that's been so alarming about the Obama Administration has been their enthusiasm for following in the Bush Administration's footsteps in using the state secrets privilege to keep the press and the citizenry in the dark about not only the policies and clusterfucks they've inherited, but also the policies and clusterfucks they've created. Given Obama's campaign promises involving transparency and open government, promises, I should add, that were instrumental in this writer's early and enthusiastic support for the campaign, it's hard not to be disappointed in how quickly we've gone from brand new day to same old shit.

It's not even that I don't believe that Eric Holder wouldn't or won't do the right thing. It's that in a nation of laws we make rules to fix problems, rules that count no matter who's in charge, and while I believe Eric Holder probably does mostly want to do the right thing, for something as important as when the state can say 'no, sorry, you're not allowed to know that, national security, you know' I don't want to put my trust in the goodness and righteousness of a single man (or those who will come after him). I want to put my trust in a clearly articulated law that spells out when and why and how the government can claim the state secrets privilege, with sunsets, outside enforcement, and clearly articulated consequences for breaking said law, which are not contingent on the character of the enforcing officials.

Cuz that's what the rule of law is all about. And if we learned anything from the Bush Administration's eight years of catastrophic cowboy-ism, it's that if you put your trust in things like character and tradition and settled practice, without clear articulation of laws and limits, then you will eventually and inevitably find yourself dealing with people who don't have character, or respect for tradition and settled practice, and they'll do whatever the fuck they want until they run into those laws and limits, and even that might not stop them.

Which is another reason we need to see high-ranking officials from the Bush Administration on trial for all their various law-breaking. After all, if they didn't do anything wrong, they have nothing to hide. But that's a rant for another day.

Just remember what Louis Brandeis said: Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Let's hope the Obama Administration remembers, and lives up to their campaign promises.

I should add that I do consider this a small step in the right direction. Anything that makes it harder for any government agency to hide anything they're doing behind the state secrets privilege is a good thing, in my book. What concerns me is that by confining the change to administrative policy rather than legislation, the possibility is left open for abuse, so long as Eric Holder or any of his successors can be convinced it's necessary or legitimate.

There's a lot of walking back from a lot of very dangerous moral precipices to be done, thanks to the previous Administration. But even given the sheer quantity of such challeges that we face as a nation and a people, more than baby steps need to be taken back from each and every one of those brinks. Our country and all it's supposed to stand for are at stake.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Posted Without Comment

Sure do like the new Yo La Tengo record.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Kind of Thing that Gets Through My Spam Filter

Where this came from, and why it should come to me, I cannot imagine. I look forward to the coming Golden Age of Information Technology Wonderfulness, when swarms of slightly intelligent computer programs will spend the whole of their short, highly-focused lives making sure that things like this do not end up in my inbox.

And while the picture is amusing, in a campy sort of way, I can't help but think that somebody's marketing algorithm is off.

Still, it is a refreshing change from the usual Acai berry trials and offers involving male enhancement and/or discreet hookups with naughty wives and Nigerian bank officers.

I just hope they don't try to Facebook friend me. Well, maybe the dancers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Posted Without Comment

[I]f you start from the assumption that people are perfectly rational and markets are perfectly efficient, you have to conclude that unemployment is voluntary and recessions are desirable.
-Paul Krugman

Quick Thought

Macroeconomists generally base their predictive models on two underlying assumptions, assumptions that are, by definition, assumed but never investigated or proven.

One is that markets always work perfectly. The other is that people always act rationally.

You do the math.

Oh, and the other thing they assume? Bubbles don't (indeed can't) exist.

Posted Without Comment

In recent, rueful economics discussions, an all-purpose punch line has become “nobody could have predicted. . . .” It’s what you say with regard to disasters that could have been predicted, should have been predicted and actually were predicted by a few economists who were scoffed at for their pains.
-Paul Krugman

Newsflash: New Guy Surprisingly Similar to Old Guy

So Obama gets elected and swoops into Washington with a big mandate and now the question for him becomes, how do I make all of my various sponsors happy? If you look at the proposals carefully you can see that the whole policy debate is shaped by this dynamic. What is consistently present throughout the policies favored by the White House is an effort to use tax money to subsidize the existing employer-based private system instead of doing the logical thing and taking the bite — for a bite had to be taken out of someone — out of the pharma and insurance industries.

As an added bonus for all of us, the “reform” will include individual mandates designed to significantly increase the insurance and pharma industry’s customer base. So in the end, what we’re looking at is a pair of handouts to corporate donors: tax subsidies to ease the cost of insurance for employers, and mandates to push more business to the health care industry.

-Matt Taibbi

Here's a fun fact: during the dueling Golden Ages of the '50s and '60s (depending on where you stood on the political/cultural spectrum), and for a few years before and after, the United States of America experienced one of the longest and most sustained periods of prosperity in its (or possibly anyone's) history. Wages rose, year after year. Homeownership became the default setting, even for the lower middle-class. The segment of the population able to attend college and get higher education exploded, and even those without a degree managed to live the middle-class American Dream, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of labor and community organizers and the (perhaps enforced) largess of the massive companies that employed most people, who typically hired on somewhere and stayed there for life, taken care of by and invested in their workplace, where they were provided not only a living (and generally rising) wage, but benefits like pensions and health insurance. It was a good deal for everyone, lots of mutual back-scratching going on, where if you made the good faith effort to see that your employer thrived, your employer in turn saw to it that you had what you needed, both now and in the future, after you retired.

Then, somewhere around 1973, things changed. Since then, wages have been stagnant, which means that even if you make a little more money every year than you did the last, for the most part wage growth has, at best, just barely kept up with inflation. This means that even if you get paid more money (your cost of living raise), your purchasing power remains the same, because, thanks to the magic of inflation, that money is worth less than it used to be. This is why bankers and people at the Fed and at Treasury are always so on about curbing inflation, because even the rich and powerful with whom they lunch and play golf feel the effects of inflation, and they sure as hell don't want their money to be worth less than it was last year, just the same as you and your socioeconomic peers.

So what happened? Well, for one thing, corporate profits are up some 200% in that time, and executive pay has gone from an average of 42 times average worker pay in 1980 to 344 times average worker pay in 2007 (down from a high of 525 times average worker pay in 2000). But that's not the whole story.

The truth of the matter is, you have been getting those raises. It's just that, instead of getting them in the form of spendable cash, the money goes to your employer-sponsored health care. See, it's not just you who pays more for health care, though the magic of higher premiums and higher deductibles. The cost to employers goes up, too, to the tune of double-digit percentage increases every year. Right now, one out of every six dollars spent in the US is spent on health care. GM went broke thanks to its health-care (and, to a lesser extent, pension) liabilities, to the point where some $1100 of the price of every car they made was already promised, to pay for the ever-more-expensive health care of its active and retired workforce. That's just one example, and it's one of the reasons that health care reform is even possible now, because American industry, stuck offering health insurance by its own historical choices, is finding its ability to compete in a global marketplace hampered by its obligations.

Now, them on the right would tell you that the right thing to do is to back out of the deal and leave those folks high and dry. After all, to them on the right, if a person makes a bad decision, then that person must pay the price, and they will, as a general rule, be glad to stand around and hoot and holler while the punishment is being meted out. They love them some punishment on the right, so long as it's individual people (and poor ones, at that) being punished. Serves 'em right, they say, between cackles and hand-rubbing. But let it be a large corporate entity that makes said mistake, and consequences simply cannot be allowed to happen, for them on the right, whether they know it or not, are the tools of said corporate entities, and most of them don't even get compensated. They're like suicide bombers: they'll pay the price so their masters can make a buck (or a point).

But it's not GM's fault that health care keeps getting more expensive. It is, for the most part, the insurance companies' fault. The fee-for-service model, and the lack of competition, cause perverse incentives to be built into the system, making it more profitable for doctors to order unnecessary tests and medications, because that's how they make money. Not to mention the whole dropping you when you get sick because you had acne/toenail fungus/a headache once thing. There's a whole article in the September 2009 issue of the Atlantic that deals with some of this stuff, as well as make some recommendations as to what to do about it. I don't agree with all of the man's conclusions, but it's provocative stuff.

Health care reform is necessary. Of that there's no doubt. That we will not get the radical reworking we so desperately need is also not in doubt. What scares me is that we are likely to end up with a mushy middle-ground 'compromise' like the one in the Taibbi quote above that is the worst of both worlds. Yes, we'll probably get specific rule changes that, say, make it harder for insurance companies to deny people with 'pre-existing' conditions treatment or coverage, and they might even force health care into the information age, so that records are kept electronically, which with a few other common-sense, tinkering-around-the-edges-reforms could save up to $2 trillion (that's $2,000,000,000,000) over the next ten years. But if things go as they seem like they might, what we'll end up with is the individual mandate, in which you will be fined for not having health insurance, but without, say, a public option, which would be a (gasp! pearl-clutch! faint) government-run health care provider (like-gasp!-Medicare, or the VA) that would, ideally, be able to engage in economies of scale and common-sense cost-saving measures in order to deliver a better product at a lower price, which would provide a benchmark against which private insurance could (and should be made, imho) to compete. So the insurance companies are rewarded for their years of fuckery by a vastly expanded, captive pool of fuckees who are now required by law to buy their product, without an effective counterbalance to the new fuckery that will inevitably result.

See, I'm a big believer in capitalism, despite any appearances to the contrary. I think that insurance companies that say they couldn't compete with a government-run health plan aren't trying hard enough. I think they lack faith in American ingenuity, which managed to go from Great Depression to Kicking Fascism's Ass in less than a decade, and, as such, have shown themselves to be the parasitic, anti-American scum that they are.

I guess I'm like the folks on the right, except opposite. I'm for giving people, living, breathing, fallible-but-trying people another chance, especially when they find themselves in a bad situation through no fault of their own. But cold-blooded corporate entities whose food, air, and water is the sweat of the working man's brow and the product of his labor? Fuck 'em. Evolutionary conditions change, and those that can't adapt will perish. And when they do, something will arise from their ashes that can do the job for a fair price, and I will be the first one to sign up.

Capitalism works. It really does. But the rules have to be set up to where the right people win. We got out of the jungle, and we built this nice city to live in. We should start acting like it. As for Barack Obama, well, I'm willing to reserve judgement for just a bit longer, but he sure is starting to look like more of the same, just another politician, even if he does give good speech. We didn't elect him to hand the insurance companies another few quarters of unsustainable growth at the expense of middle- and working-class prosperity, much as we didn't elect him to continue Bush's policies of domestic surveillance or Wall Street's continued rapacity. We sent him to Washington with the expectation that he'd do what he said he would. It's high time he started.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yesterday, I learned that in Chicago's Midway airport you can take your drink out of the bar with you, which is, frankly, kind of awesome.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ask Propecia the Crack Hoe

(h/t Matt C. aka DJ? Whatever)

Not really a whole lot else to say.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Good Advice for Creative Folk

1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to be yours.

3. Put the hours in.
4. If your biz plan depends on you sud­denly being “dis­co­ve­red” by some big shot, your plan will pro­bably fail.
5. You are res­pon­si­ble for your own expe­rience.
6. Ever­yone is born crea­tive; ever­yone is given a box of cra­yons in kin­der­gar­ten.
7. Keep your day job.
8. Com­pa­nies that squelch crea­ti­vity can no lon­ger com­pete with com­pa­nies that cham­pion crea­ti­vity.
9. Every­body has their own pri­vate Mount Eve­rest they were put on this earth to climb.
10. The more talen­ted some­body is, the less they need the props.
11. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds alto­gether.
12. If you accept the pain, it can­not hurt you.
13. Never com­pare your inside with some­body else’s outside.
14. Dying young is ove­rra­ted.
15. The most impor­tant thing a crea­tive per­son can learn pro­fes­sio­nally is where to draw the red line that sepa­ra­tes what you are willing to do, and what you are not.
16. The world is chan­ging.
17. Merit can be bought. Pas­sion can’t.
18. Avoid the Water­coo­ler Gang.
19. Sing in your own voice.
20. The choice of media is irre­le­vant.
21. Selling out is har­der than it looks.
22. Nobody cares. Do it for your­self.
23. Worr­ying about “Com­mer­cial vs. Artis­tic” is a com­plete waste of time.
24. Don't worry about fin­ding ins­pi­ra­tion. It comes even­tually.
25. You have to find your own sch­tick.
26. Write from the heart.
27. The best way to get appro­val is not to need it.
28. Power is never given. Power is taken.
29. Wha­te­ver choice you make, The Devil gets his due even­tually.
30. The har­dest part of being crea­tive is get­ting used to it.
31. Remain fru­gal.
32. Allow your work to age with you.
33. Being Poor Sucks.
34. Beware of tur­ning hob­bies into jobs.
35. Savor obs­cu­rity while it lasts.
36. Start blog­ging.
37. Mea­ning Sca­les, Peo­ple Don’t.
37. When your dreams become rea­lity, they are no lon­ger your dreams.
-Hugh MacLeod
Just found out about this (hat tip to Shasta B.) on Facebook. As a writer myself, I've been wrestling with a lot of the same questions Hugh Macleod has. It's always been my gut instinct to just do my thing and write my book because that's what I want to do (or need to do, it's never quite been clear which), which frees me up to make the thing I want to make, but, like all who aspire to conjure something out of the depths of their experience and imagination, I've also fantasized about, you know, making it big and having writing be the thing I do for money as well as love. So it's helpful to have someone who's been there and thought all this stuff through more than I have tell me that my instincts are probably right. Anyway, it's a good list of precepts, and well worth thinking about. I ordered the book today, and I'm looking forward to reading it. Maybe once I have, I'll write something else about it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Posted Without Comment

It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)

Josh Olson, in the Village Voice

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Apparently, Al Franken is Kind of Awesome

How many people, much less Senators, can do that? (hat tip to Oliver Willis)

Posted Without Comment

I didn't vote for him, but he's my President, and I hope he does a good job.
-John Wayne, upon hearing of Kennedy's election

Another Example of How Well and Efficiently the Market Works, or If Kafka Ran a Roadside Assistance Program...

Having recently inherited, along with many other assets and not a few liabilities, a newish and, to me, quite nice new car, I decided to upgrade the insurance coverage for said automobile. After all, when you only paid $1000 for your car, it hardly makes sense to maintain comp and collision or much of anything besides basic liability and personal injury protection. Not that it's a bad little car. In fact, I've quite enjoyed having and driving it. But a thousand dollar car is a thousand dollar car, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to pay down the deductible to make it worth insuring the thing itself.

But for the new ride, it made sense to buy real insurance and get more or less full coverage (a rather ambiguous term in the insurance industry, I discovered, but suitable for our present purposes), including signing up for their Roadside Assistance Program.

Last night, I had occasion to make use of said Roadside Assistance Program. Suffice to say, I was not impressed.

I'll begin by saying that my needing the help in the first place is my own damn fault. I was driving back to West Palm from a lovely overnight stay with an old friend and his family up in Daytona Beach, a place I have not been to since high school, I don't think. His wife's mother has a condo right on the beach south of town, and I spent a lovely evening and day after there with them, their kids, their friends, their friends' kids, and a sea kayak, among other things. As I left, I knew I needed to get gas, but I had a quarter tank and figured I'd just get going and that I could gas up on the way.

I hadn't talked with my Dad for a while, and there were a few things for us to talk about, along with the usual catching up and so on, so I gave him a call, and we talked for about an hour and a half as I drove the three hours south to West Palm. After I hung up, my girlfriend called, and she and I got to talking, and everything was lovely, right up until the engine started stalling out and I remembered that I needed to get gas. I was passing a rest area, and I should've just pulled in there, but I thought I might get a little farther, and was distracted by the phone, and passed it up. I ended up on the side of the road about a quarter mile past it, at around the point that the road back to the highway from the rest area connected.

It was at this point that I realized that my cell phone battery was nearly out of juice. And no, for some reason, I don't have a car charger for it.

I thought to myself, well, although you are a dumbass, at least you signed up for Emergency Roadside Assistance and put the number in your phone, which should obviate the consequences of being a dumbass, at least a little. So I called them. The lady was very nice, and though I was a little confused as to where I was, I thought I had communicated it pretty clearly to her from looking at the map at the rest area. Shortly after I got off the phone with her, the dispatcher from the tow company called me and said the guy was on the way. So I walked back to the car to wait for him.

Half an hour later, the tow truck guy calls me and says that he's having trouble finding me. We get to talking, and between us figure out that the lady from Progressive sent him to the wrong rest area and that he's about twenty or thirty miles north of where I am. As we're figuring this out, my cell phone's battery gives out and the call is cut off.

This is the part where it gets fucked up.

I walk back to the rest area, with my plug-in phone charger, in hopes of finding a power outlet I can use. I find one, and call the tow truck driver back, who says that, since the call got cut off, and both he and the insurance company tried to call me and failed to connect, that the service call got cancelled.

So let me be clear on this. I'm stranded by the side of the road, and because my cell phone gave out, instead of thinking 'hey, this guy needs help more than ever now,' the response from my insurance company and their roadside assistance provider is 'well, we can't get ahold of him, so everything must be okay, so let's cancel the help that was on the way.' Why this should be the reaction I cannot fathom, except to say that logic and common sense as they usually apply to the real world that people actually live in seems generally to have no place in the world in which corporations exist and function, and that this is just another example of the default setting of said corporations, which is you get fucked unless you are able to be loud and articulate in the face of the oncoming fuckery and are able to threaten some retribution.

The tow truck guy, who seems decent and competent enough, tells me that what needs to happen is I need to call my insurance company again and start the whole process over, because the first service call has been cancelled. Awesome.

So I hang up with him, and get back on the phone with Progressive. I explain my situation to the lady, who sympathizes and orders another service call. At this point, it's been about an hour since I ran out of gas, but I recognize my own complicity in the situation, and I'm keeping my cool and taking my lumps, because after all, if I hadn't lost track of shit I wouldn't be in this situation.

This is where the real nightmare begins.

I get the call back from the automated system, saying that the service call has been arranged, and that help should arrive within 45 minutes. I sit there for a while, charging up my phone, but the first guy was so on it that I figure they'll just call him again and he'll be here soon, so I don't wait too long before walking back out to my car. My phone's got a little bit of juice, enough that I should be able to field the calls I need to field, but still only two of three bars, so low. About half an hour later, the automated system calls me back and says help is still on the way, and will be there within 15 minutes, and that it'll call back and make sure help arrived. So I go back to reading my book and sweating (it's south Florida, remember, so it's pretty muggy, and I don't want to run the a/c because I don't want to run down the battery).

Twenty-five minutes later, the automated system calls back to see if help has arrived. I indicate that no, it hasn't, and it tries to put me in touch with the tow company, who isn't answering, so it puts me in touch with a CSR from Progressive's Roadside Assistance contractor (who are called, btw, Cross Country), who tells me that the first company that took the service call has cancelled for some reason, and that they've called in another company, who should be calling me soon. We get off the phone, again because my battery is low, and a few minutes later the dispatcher from the tow truck company calls me. She seems very nice, and is sympathetic to my plight, having been waiting out there for near two hours now, and says that she's just talked to the tow truck driver, who's finishing up changing a tire for somebody and says he'll be there in ten minutes. I tell her that yes, I do in fact feel alone and abandoned out there after all this time, but that if her guy is gonna be there in ten minutes then everything will be okay.

Half an hour later, he hasn't shown up, so I call her back. She sounds all stressed out and gets testy with me, and says the guy's on the way, will be there literally any second now, and that he'll have his beacon lights on so I'll see him coming, and hangs up on me.

A half hour after that, I call her back, because of course the guy hasn't shown up yet, and some guy who obviously doesn't know a fucking thing about what's going on answers the phone, and tries to tell me that the truck's on the way, and should be there soon unless something else came up, and I cut loose on the guy, which is too bad, since he was obviously just hanging out with the woman who's actually the dispatcher, who equally obviously didn't want to answer the phone since she'd already lied through her teeth to me twice. In the end, the guy says he'll call the tow truck driver and have him call me, so at least I can get some actual idea of when, or even if, he's coming.

Ten minutes later, with no call forthcoming, I start calling back. The dispatcher won't even answer at this point, and my phone is nearly dead.

About ten minutes after that, I decide that since I cut loose on the guy and started yelling that they've decided to cancel the service call and leave me stranded. It doesn't seem like an unreasonable conclusion to reach, given how this company apparently operates, and so I pack up my phone charger again and start walking back to the rest area, so I can plug my phone in and start the whole process over.

I get about a hundred yards from the car when I see the tow truck finally arrive. I turn around and haul ass back to the car, much to the chagrin of my injured knee. But the knee holds up, and I make it back before the guy decides that I've abandoned the car and takes off. The second he's out the door I explain to him that his dispatcher told me an hour ago that he'd be there in ten minutes, and that a half hour ago she said he'd be there any second. Apparently that's just her thing, lying to people, and it's not the first time he's heard the complaint. An hour previous, he'd been on a tow, and there was no way he was gonna get to me in less time than he did, and she knew it, too, but lied to me, presumably to keep me from calling in another tow truck. But he's here now, and the last thing I want to do is alienate the one guy who's actually shown up to help me. Besides, it's clearly not his fault. He's just doing his job, and seems a decent enough fellow. I even tipped him five bucks, thinking that somebody needs to come out of this with some good karma.

So, three and a half hours after breaking down, I finally get the opportunity to pay about five bucks a gallon for three gallons of gas so I can drive the five miles to the next gas station and fill up and drive home.

Needless to say, I've called Progressive, and made my complaint to the specialist from their Roadside Assistance contractor. They say they'll call me back within 24 hours, to tell me what action they've taken, but aside from an apology, nobody has yet done anything to make this right. I'm going to hold off, and see what they have to say for themselves, but I'm not especially hopeful that there will be any real consequences.

The real bitch is the certainty that even if I were to cancel the Roadside Assistance on my insurance, or even take my insurance business elsewhere, that whoever I contracted with will likely have arrangements with the same jokers as Progressive. It won't stop me from taking my business elsewhere, if only on principle, if Progressive isn't willing to do something to make this right, but it does piss me off to know that little or nothing is likely to happen in the way of consequences to the lying, incompetent fuckwits that left me stranded on the side of the road for three and a half hours. I mean, in that time I could have fucking pushed the car to the next gas station.

There are those, I know, who would tell me that I shouldn't worry, that the market will self-regulate and take care of it, that people so obviously incompetent will surely be run out of business through the machinations of the invisible hand and that if they keep fucking people over like this then they couldn't possibly last. And I'm sure that if I cared to dwell on it for a bit that I could come up with a cogent, well-reasoned and logical refutation of that assertion. But I don't, so all I'll say to that is: Yeah, right. That'll happen.

Tell me I'm wrong, for I would surely love to be.

Posted Without Comment

The Movement plays for keeps. The Democrats just play. What remains unclear to us is whether the netroots writ large can rebuild a new Democratic Party from within fast enough. Or whether the whole rotten edifice needs toppling in favor of something new, unfettered with ghosts of mediocracies past.
-stiftung leo strauss

Posted Without Comment

With solid majorities now, and God knows what will happen in 2010, the clock is ticking on Barack Obama to take charge of what once promised to be the defining issue of his administration. Back In January Obama told Republican leaders "I won."

It's time to fucking start acting like it.

-tbogg, at firedoglake

Friday, September 04, 2009

Department of Well, Duh...

[W]hile the pace of job losses continues to slow, American workers will still be among the last to benefit from a recovery.
Jack Healy, in the NYT
People notice the rampant fuckery all the time in their daily lives. Everybody can think of someone who's screwing them. What I don't understand is why they so rarely make the leap to realizing that the fuckery is not just personal, but systematic.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Noam Chompsky

Yay pro-reform side. We too have teh crazy. And we're way more badass, too. Anti-reformers gotta pack heat, cuz they ain't got the stones to stand on their own two feet. Our guy got all up in there and was like chomp!

Funniest thing is the first comment on the thread:

Wonder if the 65-year-old paid for the treatment with Medicare[?]

Let the wringing of hands and the clutching of pearls on the anti-reform side begin...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Going to the Dump: A Comparative Analysis

Today I made three trips to the dump in Palm Beach County, Florida. Now, usually I like going to the dump, for a few different reasons. First off, they have big machines that crawl over the piles of waste and move them around, and I like watching big machines crawl over and move shit, cuz big machines are just cool (I used to fantasize about owning my own backhoe, back in my twenties. I didn't really have a plan for what I would do with such a thing (aside from never have to worry about finding a parking space), but I really wanted one anyway). Second of all, in Seattle, where I live, when you go to the dump, you get to back the truck up to a concrete overhang and just chuck your shit over into the pile and watch the bulldozer down in it move it all over to where they load it into trucks and take it to the actual dump (what I, as a civilian, think of as the dump is actually called a transfer station). It's fun. And though it always pisses the guy off and he hand-signals you not to do it anymore, it's also fun because you can chuck your shit at the bulldozer and not worry, because it's a bulldozer, and they build those things solid. All of these things make my inner punk-rock teenager clap his hands with savage glee.

South Florida, well, not so much. It's a perfectly well-run operation. I give them props for that. I was in and out in twenty minutes all three times. But it wasn't as much fun as Seattle, for a couple of reasons.

The first thing was, you just dump your shit on a concrete floor, and the bulldozer's there with you, pushing the shit over to the edge, where a backhoe loads the trucks below. So you don't get the feeling of throwing your shit over a cliff. And it smells in there. Oh Em Eff Gee does it smell in there. It smells so bad that just the little bit of the gook that sticks to the bottoms of your shoes from walking around on the concrete floor makes the cab of the truck stink the whole way back, so you have to open the windows to air it out while you drive back, even though it's hot out, although it's not so bad if you grew up here, which Heidi and I both did.

Still, more than enough to take the fun out of the experience. And I guess it did distract me from the fact that I was throwing away the couch my Mom sat on and loved since I was in like 9th grade. I used to hide my furtively-recorded Skinemax Friday after hours softcore under that couch. Why I didn't keep it in my room I'll never know, except that teenagers are dumb and don't think things through.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Eagle Rare, you are also my friend.

That thing you wanted, what was it? Oh yeah, information with which to make informed judgements about the world.

I know I'm a couple days behind the curve, and that noone actually reads this blog, but if you happen past here by mistake, on your way to the porno or your facebook page, stop and read this article by T.R. Reid in the Washington Post. He debunks the five most prevalent American myths about health care in other countries in three pages of lucid, matter-of-fact prose.

Reading it, one might be tempted to lose heart. After all, if the American People really are so wholly ignorant of the rest of the world and how they do shit there (even, and especially, shit they do better than we do, which is not only possible but, in many cases, actually the case), then we must truly be fucked and the Republic, god bless her, truly slipping down the slippery slope, past Empire and into a disgruntled senescence, like an Alzheimer's patient with a gun warning them damn liberals to keep their filthy government hands off his Medicare.

Or, on the flip side, you could take heart in the fact that our problems, in this case at least, are solvable. It's been done before. After all, when the mechanic opens the hood to fix your car, he doesn't have to go back and start from first principles. The shop manual has been written. The solution to the problem already exists.

And so it does in the case of health care reform. Sure, the crazies can come out and squawk all they want, and at the end of the day, the rest of us will scratch our heads and wonder how you get so goddamned stupid, but after that, when the squawkers have gone home to refresh the tinfoil and the grownups are left to roll up their sleeves and actually fix the problem (after all, most of the people who seem to think we don't have a problem, i.e. old white people, are on Medicare, so they already have single-payer, government run health insurance), all we have to do is study the health outcomes in other industrialized countries, find the ones we want to emulate, and then do what they did to make it happen, maybe with our own little twist thrown in to make it ours.

I'm not saying it'll be entirely simple and straightforward, but it's a solvable problem, which, if you have to have problems, are the best kind to have.

So chin up, everybody. Stiff upper lip and all that. The crazy always gets extra thick in the summertime. And if you're still feeling all pearl-clutchedy, then read this.

Is it wrong that I hope they will?

“This cannot pass,” the Minnesota Republican told a crowd at a Denver gathering sponsored by the Independence Institute. “What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.”
Michele Bachmann, today in Colorado
I hope that Michele Bachmann does join with a large coterie of like-minded individuals in slitting their wrists and mixing their blood. That way, they will share any communicable diseases any of them has, which, given the intelligence on display in that subset of the population, ought to include some doozies.

If nothing else, we can recognize them by the matching cold sores.
cafe bustelo, you are my friend.


The most important difference between America's Democratic left and Republican right is that the left has ideas and the right has discipline.
Robert Reich, in TPMcafe

Posted Without Comment

(h/t Balloon Juice)

dealing with jokers takes cards out of my deck

Today I received my new debit card. I have been waiting on it for more than a month.

As my mother lay dying in the hospital, back in late July, I was obliged to leave her side and take care of some business. I'd dropped everything to come here, and made it just in time, but I was flat on my ass broke and living off of my mother's bank account, which she didn't mind, being that money had become pretty unimportant to her, what with the cancer and all. I had Power of Attorney and all (hat tip to Mom for having her shit together), but we hadn't actually registered it with her bank, and it was going to expire when she did, anyway. When that happened, things were going to get complicated. So I had to take care of it before she died, or risk, being shut out from her checking account, which money I was planning on using to live on and to pay for her memorial service.

So, four days after we'd moved her into the hospice center, where she could be away from the loud noises and obnoxious staff on the regular floors of the hospital, I was obliged to run around talking with bankers and paralegals and so on, and ended up running to the hospital to get a note signed by the doctor that Mom was no longer able to make financial (or, indeed, any) decisions, so that I could get my Power of Attorney recognized by the bank and get the money out of her account so I could continue doing all the things that had to be done.

All well and good, and I made it happen. Problem was, my bank has no branches within twenty miles of Lake Worth. None. And I needed the money pretty much right away. So I decided to set up a checking account there at my Mom's bank, SunTrust. Everyone was very nice, and made all the appropriate noises and made things happen with relatively little hassle (it's amazing how nice people are to you when you tell them your mother is dying). I was able to withdraw the bulk of Mom's checking account, and deposit it into my new account. I ordered checks and a debit card, and got myself set up to do online banking. I got starter checks right away, and was told I'd get a debit card in five to seven business days.

Shortly thereafter, Mom died. Not long after that, I decided I needed to gtfo and I went back to Seattle for a couple weeks, assuming my new debit card would be waiting for me in the mailbox when I got back. I even got my uncle Mike's new wife Diane to check the mail for me a couple of times.

Suffice to say, upon my return I discovered that my debit card had not, in fact, been delivered. Which was not terribly convenient, as I was keeping a good-sized chunk of my living money in there. So I went to the branch and talked to the guy, who'd said that my first card was undeliverable for some reason and ordered me a new one, saying, again, that it would be here in five to seven business days.

Kendal came, and on the sixth business day we went over to the west coast so I could introduce her to some family and show her around New College. By the time we got back, it'd been two full weeks (and 9 business days) since I'd ordered the card. The card I needed, for all the things you need a debit card for. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the card was not in the mail. So I got on the phone.

The first option they offered me was to cancel the card that was presumably still in transit and order a new one, with the attendant five to seven business day waiting period. When I expressed my displeasure at the notion, I was informed that there was an option for expedited two-day shipping from FedEx, but that it would cost me $25.

I waited until I'd been passed up the chain to a 'specialist' before I blew my top. I'll spare you the details, and I did refrain from profanity (difficult though that was), but after I'd made clear my amazement at their incompetence and my willingness to take my business elsewhere, the line went very quiet for a minute (during which time I assume that someone up the chain from the 'specialist' hopped on the line, unheard by me, and authorized her to do the right thing), and the bank agreed to cancel the card in transit and order another, and to eat the expedited shipping cost. That was Thursday, and now, finally, I have received my debit card, so that I can actually spend the money I have deposited in their bank. Calloo callay.

Oh, and the extra hilarious part? The card they cancelled, the one that was already late when I called them and pitched my fit? Got here yesterday in the mail.

Fucking jokers.