Monday, August 31, 2009

Viva Viagra

Alaska State Fair 021

Jeff, me, and Rick at the Alaska State Fair.

We all met at Boy Scout camp about 35 years ago.  We were all a hell of a lot younger and thinner and all of us had a lot less forehead.  We’ve been fast friends for a long, long time, and somehow we all ended up as career military, Jeff in the Coast Guard, me Navy, and Rick Air Force. 

Nowadays whenever I see a picture of us together, well, I think of one of those Viagra commercials with the middle aged guys and I look around to see if we’re all riding Harleys across the Midwest.

We spent the day at the Alaska State Fair.  I ate way too much of things that are very bad for me and we had a lot of fun.

We got home late and now I’m off to bed.

More pictures tomorrow.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stonekettle Station’s Top Ten Science Fiction Short Stories

I love short stories.

A lot of authors, especially science fiction writers, play around with the format.

Short stories can be a real bitch to write well, and there’s no money in it. Short stories move the onus of imagination from the author to the reader. There’s little room for character development or world building - it’s story telling stripped down to the leanest elements.

But done well, short stories, vignettes, and novellas are my favorite form of science fiction. A collection of shorts by various authors is like a trip around the universe, it’s like the beer sampler tray at an exotic brew pub. You get a little bit of everything.

I own original hardcover copies of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame and a number of dog-eared and ragged paperback editions. Volume One was published in 1970 and edited by Robert Silverberg and it contains some of the most incredible short works of the genre ever written. Stories like Stanley Weinbaum’s A Martian Odyssey, Ted Sturgeon’s Microcosmic God, Murray Leinster’s First Contact, and Cyril Kornbluth’s The Little Black Bag. Volume Two, The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time, edited by Ben Bova was even better, and contained some of my very favorites, such as John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? and Robert Heinlein’s Universe (which later became Part One of Orphans of the Sky), E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops and Fred Pohl’s The Midas Plague. Volume Two was actually published in two, er, volumes, A and B, and there were later volumes in the series containing stories of somewhat lesser quality. I recently picked up The New Space Opera, Volumes One and Two, containing more contemporary shorts by the likes of such writers as Kage Baker, Ken McCleod, and John Scalzi, and I’m looking forward to reading them though I haven’t got there yet.

Here are some of my very favorites. I’ve kind of fudged the numbers. The list contains ten authors, but with multiple stories listed for some. That’s because I couldn’t decide and because some authors, like Alice Sheldon, specialized in short stories and were masters of the format.

James Tiptree Jr. (the nom de plume of Dr. Alice B. Sheldon, AKA Racoona Sheldon): Houston Houston Do You Read? Sheldon was a brilliant but supremely unhappy woman. As a child she travelled darkest Africa on safari, she was a rich New York socialite as a teen, an Army officer in WWII, and one of the first people recruited into the CIA. She lived an amazing life, but one that gave her little joy. She fought against her demons for her entire life, but in the end the depression consumed her and she committed first murder and then suicide. She was an amazing writer however, and Houston is one of her best and most frightening works. As is The Screwfly Solution.

Greg Bear: Hardfought. A complex tale, brilliantly told, about an interstellar war that lasts many millennia and literally changes the very nature and evolution of mankind. It first appeared in Bear’s collection, The Wind from a Burning Woman and was later published as a Tor Doublestar with Timothy Zahn’s most excellent Cascade Point.

George R.R. Martin. Martin is probably best known for his massive incomplete multi-volume A Song of Fire and Ice, but he also a master of the short story. You could close your eyes and randomly pick from any of his collections and be astounded by The Sandkings, Nightflyers, Plague Star, The Way Of Cross and Dragon and The Glass Flower.

John Varley: Press Enter. I love everything Varley ever wrote. The man is simply a brilliant writer. Enter is a bit off the beaten path from the usual Varley, it is a tale of caution and technology gone amok and one poor sap caught in the middle.

James Blish: Surface Tension. Blish was one of the greatest voices of the genre, I read his Cities in Flight at a young age and the image of Manhattan Island ripping loose from the earth and flying away to the stars has haunted me ever since. Tension is one of his best short stories. It’s about a race of microscopic humans adapted by technology to live in the puddles of a distant world and the day they discover the nature of their universe.

Robert Heinlein: The Long Watch. As most of you know, I’m a huge Heinlein fan. I own everything he ever wrote and periodically reread the entire collection. His YA novel, Farmer in the Sky (first published as Star Scout and serialized in Boy’s Life) is the first science fiction book I ever read. Watch is pure golden age Heinlein at his very finest. The story never fails to leave me a bit misty eyed and feeling like I should raise a glass to Johnny Dahlquist who saved the Earth from tyranny.

Larry Niven: Grendal, Neutron Star, and especially Brenda. Niven is another writer who’s works I periodically reread. Brenda, set in his friend and collaborator Jerry Pournelle’s Co-Dominium universe, is, in my opinion, one of the finest short science fiction stories ever written. The story can be found in a number of places including Niven’s retrospective collection, N-Space.

Arthur C. Clarke: The Sentinel, The Nine Billion Names of God. Clarke had two modes of writing, one I liked, one I didn’t much care for. All of his works are full of incredible vision, the unbelievable vastness of the universe, the steadfast belief in science and the quest for knowledge with a healthy caution and respect for it too – but his characters were often two dimensional. At the end of Rendezvous with Rama I could hardly recall a single character. And yet, every once in a while, Clarke could write near poetry and characters that would astound you, such as The Nine Billion Names of God. The final line of that story has stuck with me since the day I read it.

Vernor Vinge: The Blabber. Vinge is another author I can’t get enough of. He writes in directions my brain would never go without help. He’s written four of my favorite novels ever, The Peace War, Marooned in Realtime, A Fire Upon the Deep, and A Deepness in the Sky. The Blabber is set in the same universe as the latter two and tells the story of an ordinary, yet extraordinary, young man with a very unusual pet.

Keith Laumer: Night of the Trolls. Laumer was a prolific writer who penned some of the best light hearted space opera of the 70’s. Tolls is the first of the Bolo stories and the best of the lot.

Well, there you have it. Stonekettle Station’s list of great short science fiction.

What short fiction do you enjoy?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Note About Posting

Folks, as you may have noticed, posting has been a little light this week.

I've been busy.

As some of you know, I took a job with the Air Force for the next year or so. They, for some bizarre reason, expect me to get up early and come into work and do the things they're paying me for, instead of sitting around in my sweats writing blog posts. The nerve of these people, right?

I've been writing after I get home, but this last week has been a little hectic - and out of the five weekdays, the middle three were filled with Migraine and Wednesday night I was basically nonfunctional. Additionally, on the nights where my brain didn't feel like a full on tank battle complete with zombie infantry, I've had things to do that have kept me busy until midnight and just haven't been able to finish up the healthcare series or crank out a good rant. If tonight works out the way I hope it will, I'll be off looking at an industrial lathe that I'm hoping to buy (Ook Ook! Sorry, I get excited), and then I'm going to take my wife to dinner and a movie.

So, apologies.

The next two weeks will probably be somewhat light, posting wise, as well - we're going to be entertaining guests who arrive in town Saturday night. I'll probably be at the Alaska State Fair all day Sunday with these guys, so you may expect pictures and tales of manly misadventure. Expect. I didn't say you'd get them, I just said you may expect such things.

Anyway, I just thought you should know. Because I'm cool like that.

In the mean time, have some Friday going home music:

Note: Embedding for the weird creepy Tom Petty video with dead Kim Basinger is disabled on YouTube. You can find it here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Things That Chap My Ass About Commuting, Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1:

Saw a bumper-sticker this morning on the way to Anchorage: God used to be my copilot, but then we crashed in the Andes and I had to eat him.

That cracked me up.

I always thought the phrase God is my Copilot was just stupid. I mean look here folks, I wouldn’t let God anywhere near the controls. First, He's the guy who designed the platypus. Really, think about that for a minute. Also, there's the fact that the guy is immortal, you really want him playing chicken with the other idiots? And road rage? Seriously, here’s a guy who killed off every first born son in Egypt and blotted out the whole damned (literally) Earth under forty feet of water because people weren’t doing what HE wanted. God’s wrath is legendary, can you imagine Him in rush hour traffic. Yeah, I don’t think so. Try making that claim with AAA, look, Pal, the accident was an act of God. Yeah, yeah, I let Him drive. Whatdaya mean I'm not covered? Don't give me that shit, is was an Act of God, an act of God!

No, God doesn't get to drive. I've got enough headaches already. Get in the back, Jehovah, and keep it down back there. I'm warning you, don’t make me have to pull this car over. Because I will.

God isn’t the only one I’m worried about on the road.

As I noted in the first part of this post, I tend to classify other drivers into categories, slow, stupid, asshole, extra crispy. I give them names. I dream about replacing my front bumper with one of those giant harvester combine spinning jaws of death – and flame throwers.

Today I had the pleasure of sharing the road with:

Viagra Vic. Vic drives a giant truck, and when I say giant I mean fucking huge. In his mind, Vic is the biggest guy on the road. He's so manly he needs two regular car lengths and a lane and a half. He drives the Ford F350 Dually, glossy pitch black, six inch lift, enough chrome to outfit a dozen Terminators, racks of high power halogen lights strong enough to blind the Magellan Space Probe out near Jupiter, quad exhaust pipes belching fire and thick black diesel smoke, mud flaps as big as a king sized mattress with chrome silhouettes of naked women on them. He’s got some kind of vanity plate, MYTRUCK, CHKMGNT, BADAZZ. He drinks his coffee black and strong enough to qualify as a toxic superfund site – he doesn’t really like it, but he wants to make damned sure nobody thinks he’s gay. He buys male enhancement by the caselot and the amount of Rogain he’s taking would grow hair on a granite boulder - unfortunately it’s not doing much for him, other than giving him a nice set of man boobs. He’s got an ego the size of a Sherman tank, and a willie the size of my little finger.

Texas Pete. Viagra Vic, only he’s got a Confederate Flag in the back window and drives like he’s been lobotomized. Yeehaw, Pardner!

Donor Dan. The guy on the motorcycle. I mean, what the hell? He’s not driving a motorcycle, he on a Honda Goldwing. Full stereo surround sound, enough storage compartments to equip an ambulance, coffee cup holder, GPS thingie, two grand worth of leather – he’s not driving a motorcycle, he’s balancing a luxury hotel suite on two wheels. All that, and no helmet – because he wants to feel the wind on his face – in rush hour commuter traffic. Moron. But that’s OK, we only need his organs from the neck down, the head we just throw out. That’s why I carry a chainsaw with me at all times. Hey, first one on the scene gets dibs on the spare parts - I've always dreamed of having an extra set of arms like one of those big red warrior bastards in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom books.

Camper Cal. I don’t know if you’ve got these idiots in your part of the world, but here in Alaska they’re everywhere. I’m talking about those guys who drive a giant pick-up with a house strapped on top. In rush hour traffic. I mean seriously here, could you take up more fucking space? Oh, hey, wait, you could. You could tow a boat too! Where does this guy work? Sportsman's Warehouse?

Religious Rick. The guy expecting the Rapture, any second now, any second now, any... He's got a rear window covered in bible verses, most telling me why I'm going to burn in hell. He drives two miles an hour just in case Jesus sucks him up into space without warning.

White Knuckled Willie. Scared shitless to be on the road, Willie's got a hold on his steering wheel like Mr. Spock giving the Vulcan Death Grip to an unruly Klingon. He's only got two speeds, flight or fright, he's either standing on the gas pedal or standing on the brake - there ain't nothing in the middle for Willie. A cop going the other way on the far side of the highway completely oblivious to anything other than getting to the naked latte stand sends Willie into a 20G deceleration like a NASA space probe slamming into the Martian surface at interplanetary speeds - never mind the fact that Willie is doing twenty MPH below the posted speed limit already.

Asshole Al. He'll drive 50 in the left lane, until you try to pass him - then he drives hell bent for leather, nothing is more important to Asshole Al than being in front. Pull in behind him, and he slows down immediately. He's just pissed that he has to drive the mini-van to work.

Weird Winnie. There's one of these people on the road every damned day. Mid 50's, hair starched and painted like a big ball of electrified cotton candy, dressed like the Killer Carnie meets Bobo the Sad Colorblind Clown, glasses like the leaded spyglasses used to check the inside of a 2000 degree forge, giggling wildly and barking like a Tourette's suffer off her meds. Where in the hell is this woman going every morning?

Beater Bob. 1976 rust eaten BMW, trailing a cloud of black smoke and oil fumes. Door held on with duct tape and wishful thinking. Hood missing. Tailpipe made mostly from failure and dragging along in a shower of yellow sparks. Brake lights made from that red plastic tape and one headlight - bright and aimed to signal the mothership.

Prescription Pete. He leans over the steering wheel, face pressed up against the windshield, looking through the bottom of his glasses like a cat goggling a fish bowl. Being a foot closer apparently lets him see the road better. Do the rest of us a favor would you, Mr. Magoo? Get your eyes checked.

And finally, there's Off Road Roger. You've seen him, he drives the jeep, the one with the doors removed. The one with the huge knobby tires that would be better suited to Big Foot IX Monster Truck, tires that make a howling noise over pavement loud enough to liquefry your brain stem from a hundred yards away. There are gas piston shocks like the kind they use on that gargantuan crawler thing that moves spaceships to the launch pad. He's got a roof rack with fuel cans and a giant red jack. He's got a whip antenna with a tennis ball on it, tied over the truck like the St. Louis Arch. There's a hawser thick enough to moor a Navy aircraft carrier wrapped around the front bumper. The whole damned rig is covered in a hardened layer of mud and filth, there are bugs dried an inch thick on the windshield, and a small water buffalo is embedded in the grill. The only clean spot on the entire machine is that sticker on the back, the upside down one that says, "If you can read this, turn me over!" Heh heh, that just gets funnier every time I see it. He's rough and he's tough and there's nowhere he can't go and no mountain too high or valley too low and no terrain too rugged for him to pass.

Except speed bumps.

Those he slows down to a quarter mile per hour, shifts the transaxle into lock, drops her into ultra low L1, and creeps carefully over the obstruction. Hang on the your butts everybody, it's going to be rough! Wheeoh! Everybody still with us?

Commuting. It's like a free tickets to the circus.

The one where the Sad Clown lives.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ask Stonekettle Station

Today’s Google Search Phrase:  Did Mr. Bobbit’s penis work after being reattached?

We’re glad you asked.

Honestly we were starting to wonder if any of you actually knew what the internet was invented for.  Before the magic of instantaneous global communications and access to all the collected knowledge of the human race, you’d just have to wonder what Brittney’s Girl Gadget looked like, you’d have no access to penguin/crabapple/Cheney slash porn,  and you’d never know the fate of John Bobbit’s Hobbit. 

This, my friends, is why the Internet exists.


Did Mr. Bobbit’s penis work after being reattached?

Short answer: No, after its unemployment benefits ran out, it went on welfare and never worked again.

Longer answer lasting more than four hours: Mr. Bobbitt’s penis never worked reliably again – though this was not exactly a hard and fast rule.  As you know the penis attempted to sever all ties with Mr. Bobbitt. However, after its failed attempt to strike out on its own, and icy return to its original owner which left it in stitches, the penis was so traumatized – cut to the quick you might say and scarred by its experience – that it was never up to its previous stature.  For a while it worked intermittently as a turtleneck model, but it quickly plumbed the depths of that life. It tried singing, even cutting an album, but the critics said its performance was flaccid and lacked staying power. The penis limped along for while, pissed at the world, hanging out here and there, feeling exposed and deflated.  Increasingly it needed drugs just to get up in the morning, but the pills left it feeling wooden. Eventually it plunged into society’s seamy underbelly and worked briefly in amateur porn – but the competition was stiff and no one would pay it even lip service.    Rejected by society’s rigid expectations and stiff-necked disdain, the penis was on the brink of suicide when suddenly opportunity was thrust upon it.  The penis discovered others like itself, the ones society saw only as worthless dicks. After rubbing shoulders with others of its kind, it found that it could handle itself in public.  Eventually it found a job in broadcasting.  A lot of  people still think it’s still nothing but a stubby little jerkoff, and some days it feels a little Rushed so to speak, but you really couldn’t call what it does work.


Glad we here at Stonekettle Station could help, that’s what we’re here for. Hope that answers your question, dickhead.

Healthcare Reform, Part 4: The Screwfly Solution

Part 1: The Self Licking Ice Cream Cone

Part 2: What if Sarah Palin was a Liberal?

Part 3: If You’re Not Part of the Solution…

I smell a rat.

Rats are canny creatures. Sly and slick and cunning. They hide in the dark corners of the world, afraid of the light, rarely venturing out into the open, feeding on the scraps. They are cowardly little bastards with little loyalty and no honor – honor is a human trait, rats have no need of it.  Rats are opportunists and the ultimate survivors.  Rats will even eat each other, if it is convenient – and it often is.

You know how you can tell they’re about?

The rats, I mean.

There are little telltale piles of rat dropping in the corners and cupboards.  Trails of turds. Gnaw marks where the damned things have chewed into your food supply. You hear them up there at night, scampering through your attic, chittering in the dark – but you rarely see the foul creatures.

Get enough of them and people start to get sick and die.

You can put out poison. You can put out traps.  You can buy a cat.

But somehow they are always there, in the shadows.

Spreading disease and misery and plague.


Back in June, Karl Rove, former senior advisor and deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal outlining five points the Republicans needed to pursue in order to “stop socialized health care.”

Rove stated that “if Democrats enact a public-option health-insurance program, America is on the way to becoming a European-style welfare state.”  He offered no proof of his statement, neither substantiating the oft sited trope that the nations of Europe actually exist in a welfare state, or that the US is actually in danger of becoming one. Then Rove went on to explain 1) That reform was unnecessary, because there was already sufficient competition in the health insurance business, 2) Reform will undercut private insurers and pass the tab onto the taxpayer, 3) government run health insurance would “crater” the private insurance market, 4) it’s too expensive, and finally 5) the public option puts the government between the public and their doctors.

Rove’s opinion piece forms the core of the current opposition almost point for point.

And here, once again, we find the rats hiding in the shadows.  This slimy son of a bitch was the dean of NeoCon University, otherwise known as the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, and he was skulking behind every single significant scandal in the Bush White House. When the heat closed in on him, he slipped away like a big old wharf rat down a sewer pipe and landed slimy and stinking in the laps of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal where he sits, wiggling his whiskers and leaving little brown droppings, whispering in the ears of conservatives. Rove is a master of Information Warfare.  He is the king of doublespeak and the Washington Spin Cycle and he’s back there, in the shadows, pulling the strings just like he always has. 

Don’t believe me?

Read the WSJ article linked to above, and then think about how many times you’ve heard conservatives use those exact words.  Run a couple of Google searches on those phrases and check the dates – it won’t take you long to find Rove’s pudgy forearm jammed firmly up the ass of the GOP sock puppet.  Read his website, and his posts, and see how long it is until you hear Rush and Anne and Sarah and Beck saying exactly the same thing. 

Oh, I’m not postulating some vast right-wing conspiracy headed by Herr Rove.  But what I am saying is that there are hidden conservatives who pull the strings and have since Reagan. These people could care less about healthcare reform – the only thing they care about is beating the Liberals. If there is anything they fear more than terrorists and having their homosexual dalliances made public, it’s Liberals.  Nothing repulses them more. They see everybody as the enemy, but especially Liberals - that’s why so many conservatives drive hummers and carry guns, just in case the gay bunny hugging welfare staters try to invade their homes.

I ran into a guy I know yesterday. He’s a conservative and deathly afraid of Obama, the Democrats, and Liberals in general. We got to talking about healthcare reform, needless to say he opposes it.  And his arguments were almost word for word traceable right back to Karl Rove and his article in the Wall Street Journal.  My friend is afraid of healthcare reform – even though he is the exact kind of American who would benefit most from it.  See a year ago his wife lost her job, and along with it their healthcare benefits.  He was unemployed at the time.  For a long time, the only healthcare plan they had was “don’t get sick.”  He, more than anybody, ought to be supporting healthcare reform. 

Instead he’s been tricked into opposing it.

And that, right there, is the mark of a true master manipulator like Rove.

Forty years ago, the great science fiction writer, Dr Alice Sheldon (AKA James Tiptree Jr.) wrote a frightening story called The Screwfly Solution.  The story is about an alien invasion and the genocide of the human race – except the aliens don’t use death rays and nuclear bombs and giant tripod walkers. Instead they alter the perception of human males and trick the men into thinking that women are evil and dangerous and ungodly. The aliens appear as angels to the men.  This results in the rise of a new religious movement, one that believes Earth was a paradise before women were created – and that it will be a paradise again after they are gone.  The adherents, and soon all men are adherents, begin murdering women without even knowing why.  The implication is obvious – when the women are gone, the men will soon follow.  The aliens use human nature against itself and let the men do their dirty work for them.  All the while the aliens remain hidden in the shadows.  In the end, the protagonist sees one as she lays dying in the deep woods – and realizes that she’s looking at an alien real-estate agent.

The pundits and the manipulators, fueled by hidden money and rabid ideology, have turned Americans around on themselves. The very people who have the most to lose, who would benefit the most from a public option healthcare plan – people like my conservative friend - have become its most bitter enemies, and they don’t even know why.

The very people who have no coverage are enthusiastically defending a healthcare insurance system that won’t even let them in the front door. 

On his website, Rove has a section called Straw Man Watch, where he turns the President’s words around 180 degrees.  He quotes Obama:

In fact, whenever America has set about solving our toughest problems, there have always been those who've sought to preserve the status quo by scaring the American people.

Rove says nothing, but leaves the obvious implication that the president is creating a strawman argument – a fantasy that doesn’t exist. It’s an obvious attempt to discredit the President, and simultaneously give credence to himself and the anti-reform movement - without having to actually come out and say it. 

Watch and see how long it is until you hear conservatives using this exact phrase. Strawman.  Oh, hey, that didn’t take long at all, did it?

But the truth of the matter is that the President is exactly correct in his observation, there are those - Palin and Steele and Beck and McCaughey and Rove himself along with the Republican Old Guard – who are doing exactly this. Exactly. I.e. attempting to scare the American people into preserving the status quo – McCaughey, Palin, and Steele’s talk of “death panels” strikes right at the heart of senior citizen’s fears. 

Conservatives aren’t debating anything – they’re engaged in a campaign of lies and half-truths, solely in order to discredit the President.  Solely because they see him as the enemy and for no other reason. And they’ve duped a large segment of the population into their war, and those folks are going to get used the way cannon fodder always gets used.

Why would they do this?

My dad says, “follow the money.” 

Follow the money.

Dad’s right, follow the money, and when you do you’ll find layers of lobbyists, and men in $3000 dollar suits, and paid mouthpieces, and slimy little rats.  And when you follow the trail of rat droppings, you’ll find they lead directly to the health insurance companies.

The simple truth of the matter is that in the Untied States of America, access to healthcare is under almost complete control of the insurance companies.  Access is a de facto monopoly.  In his WSJ opinion piece, Rove claimed that there were over 13,000 health insurance agencies in the US and that fact alone provided sufficient competition to keep costs down and the industry in check.  Wrong, provably wrong. Obviously wrong. Utterly wrong. Indeed if it were even vaguely true, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.

It is nearly impossible to tell one insurer from another.  The coverage and costs are identical in almost every single comparison – it’s a lot like the price of gas at the pumps, you can shop around, but in the end the difference in price is pennies on the dollar and you’re either going to pay or you’re going to walk.  There’s a reason for this (in both cases as a matter of fact), the insurance companies collude to set their prices and coverage. There are letters of agreement between insurers that guarantees the status quo – all you have to do is look at how claims are handled if you have more than one insurer.  You’ll have to do some digging when you get the claim report, but the information is there.  The reform oppositionists talk about choice. What choice? You pay or you walk. You buy into your employer’s health plan, or you do without.  You get no say in which plan they choose. When it comes to healthcare in the United State, choice is an illusion – and an easily discredited one at that.

If the healthcare plan currently before Congress passes, the people who stand to lose the most, in fact the only people who stand to lose, are the insurance companies.  They stand to lose billions up front and trillions over the next decade. 

For the insurance companies and their stockholders this is a matter of life and death – and they are willing expend billions (which they’ll later recoup from their customers) in order to survive in their present form. They’ve engaged in an aggressive campaign of information warfare, they’re funneling obscene amounts of money into it, they’re calling in favors and buying lunches and greasing the wheels of government and piping up all the rats they can find to carry their message.

Some examples:

The Numbers Are A Lie!

I’ve heard this line repeated over and over. I heard it yesterday from my conservative friend, I’ve seen it in comments under media reports, and I’ve heard it from the usual TV rats.  The numbers are a lie.  The Administration says that 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage. The common response from anti-reformists, such as Julia Seymour of Business And Media Institute, is that those numbers are inflated by illegal aliens, people who can actually afford their own healthcare, and people who qualify for government healthcare in it’s current form and haven’t signed up. It’s also commonly claimed that 45% of the uninsured will have coverage again within four months, just as soon as they find new jobs.  The anti-reformists often claim that the actual number of uninsured may be as low a 8.2 million.

Do you see it? I do.  I used to do this for a living. It’s information warfare.  See how it’s done? Illegal aliens.  The dirty brown Mexicans are stealing our healthcare! Conservatives are already afraid of illegal aliens, using them as a stalking horse in the healthcare reform debate is a stroke of medium tactical brilliance.  Nobody asks for proof of this statement – conservatives are already sure that it’s true. It’s a simple step to make the next jump, the numbers are a lie because they include 20 million illegal aliens. Simple and effective. Two birds, one stone.

There’s just one little problem with that math, the 47 million figure comes from US census bureau data, and while you can quibble over the exact number and who exactly should have healthcare coverage in the first place – the simple truth of the matter is that either the Census Bureau’s data is trustworthy or it’s not.  And if it’s not, then we’ve got some major, major problems – starting with voting districts.  Also, note that the 47 million figure is substantiated by a number of other supporting data points, such as the number of uninsured showing up in emergency rooms, or the numbers of senior citizens crossing the borders into Mexico and Canada to fill prescriptions, or the number of children in schools with untreated maladies. And, in fact, the 47 million figure looks to be pretty solid. 

But 47 million is a big damned number, and left unchallenged it just might shame Americans into taking action.  After all, conservatives took us to war over the deaths of a mere 3000 Americans, 47 million uninsured Americans translates into the deaths of tens of thousands each year.  Many of them children, and you know how conservatives feel about children. 

The insurance companies are no different in this regard than Big Tobacco, who spent billions of dollars and decades of sustained effort trying to blur and discredit the numbers of people who died each year from their products.

But in the end, the numbers were right after all.

We Don’t Want Government interfering in our healthcare!

Well, yes. 

Unless it’s to tell women what they can or cannot do with their reproductive systems, then, of course, it’s OK.

And unless it’s to dictate when someone can be removed from life support, then, of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to turn healthcare matters over to a judge.

And unless it’s to dictate who shall have access to birth control education in the schools – or even at the pharmacies.

And unless it’s to stop a girl from getting a vaccine to prevent her later death from cervical cancer.


But other than that, we don’t want no stinking government in our healthcare!

What conservatives actually mean when they say they don’t want government involved in their healthcare is that they want freedom of choice – just as long as everybody else doesn’t get it.

Government run healthcare will make me lose my current coverage.

Here’s something funny, you know what else will make you lose your current coverage?  Losing your job.  Keeping your job, but having your employer take a nosedive, profit-wise, and decide as a cost cutting measure to ax your benefits.  Keeping your job, but having your hours reduced so that you are no longer “full time.”  Leaving your job for a different one. Starting your own business.  Working for a small business. Getting injured.  Getting sick. Having one of your kids get sick. Having your insurance carrier decide to drop your coverage without warning or appeal.

Guess who can’t lose their healthcare coverage?

No, I mean besides Canadians.

People who are covered by…wait for it, waaaaait for it…the government. You know, like Veterans and Military Retirees and those on Medicare.

Which takes us to

The government can’t run a healthcare program.


Which is why I prefer to use my VA benefits and military retirees benefits and civil service benefits over my civilian healthcare coverage.

Because it sucks so much more than dealing with the insurance companies.


Government Run Healthcare will cost too much!

And then we won’t have enough money left over for all those stealth bombers and new littoral class combat ships and predators and NSA wiretaps and those secret CIA prisons and so on.


When conservative congressmen talk about fiscal responsibility, what they actually mean is that they’re not getting a big enough piece of the pork. If healthcare reform was an assembly line of F-22 Raptors built in a red state they’d be all for it and damn the cost.

The healthcare insurance industry can reform without government interference.


The reason healthcare costs are so high is because of malpractice lawsuits.

Nope. Sorry. Completely specious argument. Once again the numbers don’t bear out the claim.

Several years ago Texas passed a tough law strictly limiting medical malpractice “pain and suffering” awards to $250,000. The number of lawsuits dropped to near zero.  Medical costs are higher in Texas than anywhere else in the country.

The high cost of medical care is a reflection of the high cost of medical insurance. And seriously, when the insurance companies are telling you that the high cost of insurance is because you keep, you know, using it and not because of their own overinflated business pactices – well, I’d take that shit with a big grain of salt.

We discussed the real reason why insurance costs are so high in part one of this series.

America has the best health care system in the world.

Actually, we’re number 37 according to the World Health Organization.

You’ll note that when it comes to healthcare and life expectancy, we’re behind one hell of a lot of socialist countries and pretty much all of the “European Welfare States.”  The good news is that we soundly kicked Fiji’s ass in healthcare.

They’re rushing the reform bill through Congress!

We’ve been talking about healthcare reform since the Clinton Administration, but yeah, whew, I can hardly keep up.

Obama wants to kill Grandma.

Remember the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip?  In one episode Calvin is confronted with a pop quiz, he doesn’t know the answer so he just starts screaming out random phrases, Lewis and Clark! The War of 1812! Titanium! and like that.

Every time I hear Palin randomly shouting sound bites I think of that cartoon.

Seriously, this bullshit is an indicator of just how utterly desperate the opposition is. They really don’t give a shit about healthcare reform – they just hate liberals so damned much and the mere thought of a major victory makes them want to piss their pants.  They’re down to shouting out anything they can think of to block the administration.

Here’s an example for you: Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said on the House floor, "One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine! Now I've got three daughters and a wife. I would hate to think that among five women, one of them is going to die because we go to socialized care." 

(3 daughters + 1 wife = 5 women apparently.  Or is there another woman in there, Louie?  Whoops, you haven’t taken any trips to Argentina lately have you?)

Because, in Canada, England, and well, pretty much all of those other 36 countries above us on the WHO list, the mortality rate is one fifth of the population annually. 

One fifth.


Government Run Healthcare is Socialism!

Here in Alaska, bastion of the Palin Conservatives, I guess we’ll be giving up the Permanent Fund – you know, money derived from a state owned corporation that taxes private companies and redistributes the wealth to the people. 

Funny how we red state Alaskans are all about socialism when it comes to PFD payout time, isn’t it?

I guess conservatives will be giving back their official George W. Bush stimulus checks now, huh? And returning their Social Security payments.  Refusing their Medicare and VA benefits as a matter of principle too, right?  I guess they’ll be refusing the protection of their military and police forces, refusing to drive on the roads, or use the Postal System, or any of the thousands of other services provided by the government.

It is pretty damned obvious that the vast majority of Americans are ignorant when it comes to how their representative democracy works – and they had that in school.  Most wouldn’t know socialism if it jumped up and bit them on their collective ass. In their minds socialism, Marxism, communism, atheism, and Canada are all the same thing.

Need proof?


Conservatives keep floating healthcare cooperatives as a viable alternative to the Public Option.

Healthcare Co-Ops?

Seriously here folks, when you propose a communist alternative to avoid a socialist solution to a capitalist problem – you really have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.



If you can’t see why you’re being manipulated by people behind the scenes at this point – well, nothing I can say will convince you.

But you might want to buy some rat traps. And I’d steer clear of anything that looks like an angel.

Just sayin’.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Guess what I've been doing?

Did you guess steam cleaning the carpets?

You did? Well good for you, help yourself to a cookie and a cup of juice - just don't spill the juice on the damned carpet. It took me three different cleaners and a scrub brush to get rid of the mystery spot in the sunroom.

I think I killed the steam cleaner though. We've had it for 16 or 17 years and it might be time for a new one. I'm pretty sure I can't fix this one. I did get the downstairs done before it began leaking water and whining (Ok, the whining noise might have been me. Might have). I still have the stairs and the upper level to do. Guess I'll be shopping for a new steam machine tomorrow.


On the plus side, there's little funnier than watching the idiot brothers walk across damp carpet. The big sissies act like their feet are going to catch on fire. Silly cats.

Shopkat on the other hand, is outside in the driveway right now.

Sitting in the rain.

Between steaming the carpets and antagonizing the cats I listened to UCFer Vince on WELY radio, streaming live from the fetid steamy Venus-like dinosaur infested jungles of Ely, Minnesota, and talked to friends and readers on chat and via email. Hell, I even got invited to a BBQ by people I don't even know - thanks Ed and Jan.

So far it's been a pretty good day, all things considered.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make dough and add dumpling to the chicken stew.

Later this evening there will be the next installment of the health care series.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Healthcare Reform, Part Three: If You’re Not Part of the Solution…

It should be fairly obvious by now that I’m strongly in favor of healthcare reform.

Major healthcare reform.

Including a public option of some kind.

The more I learn about so-called health co-ops the less I like the idea, and the less I think they’ll do anything to help fix the current mess – and, in fact, I’m pretty sure that health co-ops will make things worse. But that’s another post, maybe tomorrow.

Today, let’s talk about the not so loyal opposition.

Let’s talk about the GOP.

It’s one thing to oppose the President and the Democrat dominated Congress out of principle, because you honestly believe you have a better solution, or because you honestly believe that the nation will end up worse off.

It’s another thing to defend the status quo because you’re in the back pocket of the insurance lobby.

And It’s another thing entirely if you’re doing it just because you’re following a bunch of idiots.

Since the election, there’s been a lot of talk inside and outside of the party regarding what, exactly, the GOP needs to do to fix itself.

The answer is simple really.

Pick better leaders.

Yesterday on MSNBC, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was asked about the various healthcare reform bills currently before Congress.  Specifically, Steele was asked if he thinks there is a “death panel” provision in the bill.  He responded:

“It may or may not be. I don’t know. We don’t know what the bill is.”

We don’t know what the bill is?

We don’t know what the bill is?

The head of the RNC doesn’t know what the bill is?

The head of the RNC doesn’t know the details of what is very likely to be the single most important legislation before Congress since, oh, Social Security? Since Civil Rights? The RNC Chairman, the head of a political organization that represents roughly half of this country and is the primary opposition in a debate that will, one way or the other, have a profound impact on the future of the United States, doesn’t know what the bill is? Doesn’t know something simple and basic like if there are “death panels” in it?

What. The. Fuck?

How is that even possible? How is it possible for his party to debate the Democrats if they don’t even know what the bill is?  What the fuck have they been talking about?  Didn’t anybody tell them that the text of the bills are online at the Library of Congress? That they’re updated daily? Jesus H. Christ, who put this idiot in charge?

See? This is why shallow fear mongering rabble rousers like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin are such a power in the party. There’s a reason why the GOP appears to be a disorganized mob pouring through the streets with torches and pitchforks.

Nature abhors a vacuum – so does the crowd. They want and need leadership – and if they can’t or don’t get it from their elected leaders, they will get it from whomever is shouting loudest. People will follow whoever sounds like they know what they’re talking about – even if they don’t. And frankly Steele sure as hell doesn’t sound much like he knows what he’s talking about. You’d think that the head of the GOP’s strategy body would be running the reform opposition command center, picking apart every detail of the reform bills. Speaking in military terms, how in the hell do you form an effective strategy if you don’t even understand the battlespace? You’d think that Steele would at least be conversant in something as basic as the thoroughly debunked death panel issue, before conducting a news interview with a major network, wouldn’t you?  I’m mean it’s not like it was a surprise. ABC didn’t ambush him. It was an interview specifically about healthcare.  Healthcare? Uh, what the hell, Morning Joe?  I came here to talk about Britney Spears. Did you see her on David Letterman last night – her body is smoking. Wow!

There is, of course, another possibility.

The one where Steele does indeed know what he’s talking about – It is possible that he knows exactly what is in the various bills before Congress. But instead of saying so, he is deliberately fanning the flames lit by Beck and Palin and the other nuts. Because the conservatives really don’t have an argument against national healthcare reform – they just don’t want to hand Obama a victory. If this is the case, he’s still an idiot – because the end result is exactly the same – it’s called being too clever for your own good.

But I doubt that is the case. Steele isn’t clever. What you see is pretty much what you get, that’s becoming more and more obvious every day.

And that is exactly what’s wrong with the GOP.

Because it lacks strong leadership (hell, at this point I think it lacks even weak leadership, Steele isn’t leading so much as wandering around aimlessly), the not so loyal opposition is now in the hands of the insane clown posse: the Palins, the Becks, the Limbaughs, and the Coulters.

Understand something here, I think that the healthcare bill(s) should be debated.  I don’t think any party or any President including this one should get their own way unfettered and unchallenged.

But when I say debated, I mean debated.

That’s not what the GOP is doing.

Instead they’re on TV “debating” ghosts, phantasms from their own nightmares. Arguing against issues that don’t even exist.

Unfortunately for all of us the mob is now aroused and this nonsense is likely to stymie any chance for real reform.

Once again we’ll end up with the insurance companies and the bean counters in charge – instead of the people we actually elected. The RNC and the GOP will pat themselves on the back and declare victory.

But in the end there will be no victors. No winners.

In this debate either we all win…

…or we all lose.

Every last one of us.

With that in mind, Conservatives, I’d think damned carefully about who you’re following.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Healthcare Reform, Part Two: What If Sarah Palin Was A Liberal?

You know who is opposed to healthcare reform?

People that have heathcare.

People like this guy:

…my health care system works fine and has been working fine since finding a good job over 30 years ago after working at learning in school and not playing hooky and using drugs. my health care systems doesn't need reforming. what needs reforming are those lazy, drug addict deadbeats who think I'm paying for their trip trough life. Swim or sink baby cause all I have for your kind is an anchor not a lifesaver…

That was posted under ABC’s George’s Bottom Line by fred (Aug 16, 2009 10:58:20 AM).

You know who else is opposed to healthcare reform?

Ignorant people. Really Ignorant people.

Read down a couple more comments under that same post and you’ll find this comment from Jeff G (Aug 16, 2009 10:59:21 AM):

She [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] and the rest of Obama's side plan is to save money through eliminating people via health care. It will save Social Security and other costs that are out of control. The plans are not clearly written but lay very few details and give incredible power to the Executive Branch. Today throughout the USA anyone can go to a hospital and receive care if needed, so the numbers given are a myth. Do we want to give up our personal decisions to the government? [emphasis mine].

You know who else is opposed to healthcare reform?

Stupid people. Really, really stupid people.  People like rplat (Aug 16, 2009 10:59:56 AM) who said:

I can still borrow money or sell my house and contract with a doctor to obtain any critical care that is disapproved by insurance. Under the proposed socialist aberration I will have no rights and no options. Let them sell you this frightening socialist manifesto and you will become wards of the state to be dealt with as the state sees fit. [emphasis mine].

Read the articles, read the comments, listen to those people who are disrupting those townhall meetings. Listen to the pundits and the talk show rabble rousers.
A lot of people are opposed to healthcare reform. Especially the proposed public option.
So who’s for it?
The woman who used to be Sarah Heath is for it.
See Sarah Louise Heath was a girl who went to high school in some podunk little American town.  She wasn’t too bright, but that didn’t matter because she was pretty and popular. She played sports. She went to church. She had a boyfriend she was in love with.  Her family wasn’t rich, her dad was was a school teacher, her mother was the school secretary. There really wasn’t anything special about her, other than her looks – that was her only real asset.  She entered a couple of local beauty pageants and even won a few, but it didn’t go anywhere. She went off to college, she didn’t do terrible, she didn’t do great, and she got the kind of degree they give to pretty popular girls. 
Then she got the kind of job that they give to pretty popular girls who’ve won a few small town beauty pageants and aren’t all that bright - she ended up on TV.  She wasn’t bad at it but she wasn’t cut out for the big time either - but then again she didn’t have to be. She just needed to read the sports scores and wear a low cut blouse.
She married her high school sweetheart, Todd. They had a couple of kids. They bought some land and built a house on a lake – they got a really, really good deal from the bank.  Almost too good in fact. They were suspicious, but the bank said they only had to pay the interest for five years, then they could refinance. Besides, everybody was doing it. The government wouldn’t let the banks screw you, right?
She thought maybe she’d like to do something else. Hell, she even thought about running for mayor of her little town.
Then the economy tanked. Todd, who worked construction, lost his job.  Well, he didn’t lose it, he knew where it was, but nobody was building houses any more.  So he took odd jobs and worked where he could and raced snow mobiles on the weekend.  Things weren’t great, but they were OK.  Sarah still had her looks and her job with its all important benefits. The kids needed glasses and braces and they’d get strep throat once or twice a year. They needed flu shots and inoculations for school, it was a damned good thing her job had healthcare and dental.
Then Todd wrecked his snow machine during a race. Instead of winning the purse, he broke his leg.  The insurance covered some of it, but not all, not even close.  The part they had to pay wiped out what little savings they had. And, of course, Todd couldn’t work with a busted foot, hell he couldn’t even race.
But they were managing.
But then Sarah got pregnant again.
They loved kids, and they’d wanted another one, but the timing sucked.
Five years were up. They owed a hell of a lot more than they could pay on that house. Turns out the government could let the bank screw you. And screw pretty much everybody else too as it turned out.
They lost the house – and they sure as hell couldn’t get any credit after that. They moved into a rental. Todd finally started getting some unemployment benefits, but it barely covered the cost of groceries and gas.
They sold the truck and bought an older car.
There were complications with the pregnancy.  The doctors wanted some extra sonograms and some special tests.  The insurance company wouldn’t pay for it. They were worried, but there wasn’t much they could do. They sure as hell didn’t have the money for ten grand worth of tests that nobody was sure they really needed.
Besides the other kids had been healthy, this one would be too. 
Todd’s leg healed slowly.  He was going to need physical therapy. The insurance didn’t cover that.
Sarah worked up until the day she went into labor.
They really should have gotten those tests. The baby had Down’s Syndrome. He was going to need special care for the rest of his life.  The insurance wasn’t going to cover a lot of it.  But they were grateful for the part it did cover.  If they ever lost that insurance they’d be screwed, because, of course, the baby’s condition had been “pre-existent” pretty much from the moment he was conceived.
Sarah took maternity leave.  A month.  She asked for another couple of weeks, because of the baby and his special needs.  The station granted it. She was kind of surprised – it was almost like they didn’t need her back.
Sarah was feeling pretty bad. Post partum depression. She tried to talk to the doctor about it, the one at the emergency room when she had to take the baby in for a high fever – but the doctor didn’t have time or the energy or the interest – and sure as hell she didn’t have the money to see somebody who would actually listen.
She started a Facebook page to talk about her feelings – but nobody read it. She was still reasonably attractive, but her small town high school popularity was long gone.
The Economy was pretty bad.  The station needed to make some cutbacks.  Letting Sarah go at the end of her maternity leaves wasn’t exactly legal. Todd and Sarah saw an attorney - and ended up eating pancakes and baloney sandwiches for dinner for the next two weeks because the lawyer’s consulting fee finished off what little cash they had left.  People with jobs can afford to sue employers who violate the law.  People without regular employment and with four kids and a special needs baby can’t.
Sarah needed glasses, she couldn’t see without them.  But unlike the old days she couldn’t just go to the eye doctor.  She settled for a of pair generic reading glasses she bought for $20 at the Fred Meyers. She went without breakfast for two weeks to pay for them.  They gave her screaming headaches.
She signs up for WIC and she tries not to see the looks she’s getting when she pulls out her food stamps at the register. Screw those people, she’s got kids to feed. She’s not too proud to do whatever it takes.
Somehow, she still managed to gain weight, mostly in the hips and ass – she never had time to lose the baby fat and she isn’t eating right, cheap stuff, sugars and starches was about all they could afford. Somebody told her she should run to stay in shape or maybe join a gym. It is important to stay healthy. Yeah. Sure.
The good news was that their oldest daughter was pretty and popular, if not particularly bright. She had prospects. She’d be moving out soon, going off to college, one less mouth to feed. She had a small scholarship, but it was still going to cost them plenty. They had no idea how they were going to pay for it but they didn’t have the heart to tell her no. Beside, they really, really hoped that the girl would do better than they had.
They prayed for it, every night, and twice on Sundays.
Todd still couldn’t find work. Not too many prospects for an uneducated laborer with a gimpy leg. Sarah got a job waiting tables at the local Mugshot Saloon in downtown Wasilla. They didn’t offer benefits – well other than the drunks who pinched her chubby ass every night.
Then one day their daughter came home and tearfully told them that she was pregnant.
She was 17.
And the father was an 18 year old high school dropout who talked about maybe getting a job on the Slope. Someday. Then they could get married. His mother was a real nice lady with a meth addiction.
What do you suppose Sarah’s prospects are now?
You want to know the difference between a liberal and a conservative?
You know who’s opposed to healthcare reform?  People who have healthcare and don’t want you to have any – it’s sort of like Heaven in their minds, it’s only good if the riff raff can’t get in too. 
You know who’s opposed to reform? People who have healthcare and think that anybody who doesn’t must be a drug addict or a boozer or nothing but a lazy parasite on society.  Only losers don’t have healthcare, and we don’t owe losers a goddamned thing. 
You know who is opposed to healthcare reform? People who think that Emergency Room visits for poor people are free.
You know who’s opposed to healthcare reform? People who think that having 46 million Americans who use the emergency room as their primary healthcare provider is somehow cheaper for the taxpayer and the people who pay for health insurance.
You know who opposes reform? People who think the government is going to balance the budget by turning old people into Soylent Green. 
You know who’s opposed to healthcare reform? People who own houses – because they can always sell them and use the money to treat their kid’s leukemia or type II diabetes or a lifetime of Down’s Syndrome.
And you know who’s opposed to healthcare reform?
People who have million dollar book deals.
That’s who.
Part 1 of this series is here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Things That Chap My Ass About Commuting

By the time you read this, I’ll be on the Glenn Highway.

As some of you know, I recently took a job with the US Air Force.

This means that once again I’m a commuter. For the next year, every morning, I have to get up early and drive into Anchorage and do the reciprocal course in the evenings. Oh frabulous jay.

In the two years since I’ve had to regularly commute in rush hour traffic, things have not improved.

I swear, somehow the rush hours are still chock full of idiots.  I find this most vexing. I gave the dumb bastards two damned years. I mean, hell, I figured they’d all be dead by now.

I’ve driven all over the world, France, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Mexico, Canada, various places in the Middle East. New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Mexico City, Edmonton, Montreal, Honolulu.  I’ve driven everything from sports cars to semi-trucks.  I’ve twice now driven completely around the North American continent, trips in excess of 10,000 miles through dozens of cities, down every major highway in the US and Canada, down thousands of miles of back roads.

I notice things.

Ninety percent of commuters are idiots

And when I say idiots, I mean so goddamned stupid that it must hurt for them to think. I mean they’ve got brains like a square tire – it’ll roll, but Goddamn do you have to push that thing. Commuting already resembles a herd of cattle mooing their way from barn to field and back again, I suppose it’s only fitting that the mental state of the average commuter should be as cud-chewing bovine-like as well.

I’ve noticed that there are two types of commuting stupidity: regional and universal.

Regional Stupidity is like when Mainers, for example, do something called the Mainer Turn, which is where they put on their signal and begin slowing down about five miles before they actually get to the corner – I swear to all that is holy, lobsters on the way to the pot travel faster than Mainers making a turn.  Californians do the Socal Stop, that’s where everybody in eight lanes of traffic just comes to a complete standstill for no apparent reason whatsoever – Californians use this time to read War and Peace and do their taxes and fax the finished forms to the IRS from their cell phones. People who live in Norfolk, Virginia carry lawn chairs in their trunks – about once a week the only tunnel out of town explodes in a giant ball of flame. If you’re not killed outright, what you do is get out a lawn chair and sit on the bridge and read a book – it’s also a great way to meet girls and get free drinks, sort of the Norfolk happy hour.  Texans mostly just drive around in giant trucks wooping and a hollarin’ wearing really big hats and those giant foam hands like you get at a Dallas Cowboys game.  Michiganders consider the speed limit to be a personal thing, they all just sort of choose their own and drive it no matter what – that’s why there’s only one damned speed limit sign in the entire state, they just randomly move it around every once in a while (Note this is especially true in the town of Holland, there’s a reason why people from Ohio and Indiana tell Hollander jokes).  New Yorkers like to add horse carriages to the mix, along with about ten billion taxis driven by people from countries where they worship cows and allow them to wander around in the street – and who swear in the most amazingly creative ways. Hawaiians traded all their consonants for surfboards and those drinks that come on fire in a coconut – seriously, I’ve seen Hawaiians drive, the bastards aren’t fooling anybody they can’t read the damned street signs either and they’re as lost as the tourists.  They just drive around and around the damned Island until they eventually pass their houses. Oh, there it is.  Alaskans, well, my fellow Alaskans like to act surprised every time it snows – What? Snow is slippery again this year? Shit, never saw that coming. Most of them never see the ditch coming either.

But for all the variety, there are certain universal themes wherever you go, the idiots who make you feel at home no matter what highway you should find yourself whiteknuckling your way down.

I like to give these people names.  It amuses me to do so.  And being amused, ever so slightly that I am, makes me just a little less likely to start shooting.

I see these people every morning and every evening:

Left Lane Larry:  (To paraphrase) Dyslexia, Motherfucker, do you speak it?  Look, it’s simple.  Left lane fast, right lane slow. Left lane fast. Right lane slow. Left. Lane. Fast.  But there’s Larry, every goddamned morning and every goddamned night, tooling along at about 50 in the left lane.  You’ve seen him, tapping his fingers to the music, smiling slightly, head tilted to one side, about one doobie away from being an aquatic plant – ignoring the nuns honking and giving him the finger as they sail past in the right lane, late for happy hour or whatever work it is that nuns do.  I swear to God, when I become Emperor of the Universe, I’m going to make driving too slow in the fast an offense punishable by being locked in a car with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Ten Million Bottles of Beer on the Wall and a pack of rabid wolverines with small bladders.

Then there is Larry’s brother, Right Lane Rickey. He’s the guy that drives 50 in the right lane. 50. No matter what. His hands are fixed at ten and two. He never looks left. He never looks right. He never speeds up, he never slows down. He never changes lanes – even when people are trying to get on the highway from the entrance ramp. He’s like one of those tin ducks on a chain at a carnival shooting gallery.  You can shoot at him all day, but he never deviates. Ever. 50, screw you and have a nice day.

And speaking of the entrance ramp, meet On Ramp Ronald.  Ron is the guy who drives 35 down the ramp.  All the way to the end. Then he merges into 70MPH traffic. At 35.  Utterly oblivious the screeching brakes behind him, the blaring horns, the gunfire, the creative hand signals (Ok, that’s all me – but, shit, you’d think he’d at least glance in the rearview mirror).  I think Ron has a little Mainer in him, because he’s also the guy who can’t seem to understand why exit ramps are a half mile long, up hill. Ron likes to brake first, before exiting the highway.

Phone Talk Ted. You all know this guy.  I swear, it’s only a matter of time until it’s legal to just shoot these fucking people.  Shoot them and leave their decaying corpses along the side of the road as an example to the other idiots – or as fertilizer for the wildflowers. Either way, shooting them is a win/win.

My personal favorite, Brake Pedal Bobby.  You’re finally past the bottleneck. Traffic is flowing smoothly along at 70MPH.  Bob watches in his rearview mirror for you to turn your head.  The second you do so, Break Pedal Bobby hits the big rectangular pedal in the middle for no damned reason whatsoever.  Surprise!  One of these days I’m going to replace my front bumper with a railroad tie and a couple of flamethrowers. Think I’m kidding? Sometimes I get drunk and watch The Road Warrior, I get a little misty eyed when Mel drives the semi rig straight through crazy Mohawk hair Wez in a cloud of twisted steel, gay sex appeal, flying debris and flame – it’s just such a beautiful moment.  During the commute I dream of doing that to damned near every car I pass. 

Blindspot Betty.  What the hell is it with this woman? She’s the one that comes sailing up in the other lane, doing twenty miles an hour over the speed limit – right up until she gets in your blind spot. Then it’s like the bitch is fixed to your left rear fender. She’s like a fucking cling-on, you just can’t shake her. Speed up, slow down, but this turd just won’t fall off.

Shoulder Sam. He’s the guy who drives the pickup with the big knobby tires.  He had one too many martinis at lunch.  He drives half on the shoulder, flinging up gravel and hunks of semi tire rubber like Pig-pen from Peanuts. Thanks for paint chips and broken windshield asshole, let’s try to color inside the lines, shall we?

Willy the Weaver and Lane Change Charlie.  Willy weaves back and forth in no discernable pattern.  He’s got the attention span of a five year old.  He can’t stand to be in any one lane for very long. He gets bored, he likes to see what the scenery looks like on the other side of the road for a while.  He sort of drifts slowly back and forth, aimlessly changing lanes. Charlie? Charlie is an opportunist.  He is pathologically incapable of passing up a lane change opportunity.  Leave a gap between you and the car ahead, you know just in case it’s Break Pedal Bobby up there, and Charlie will break hard and slide right in inches from your bumper.  He’ll stay for a moment, then Zip and Swerve, he’s gone again in a cloud of diesel smoke.

Hey! It’s Make up Mary and Cheeseburger Chuck.  Always doing something other than driving. Driving is just so boring. God, it’s boring. That’s why you should bring a book, or use the time to wax your legs, or get rectal surgery, or eat a cheeseburger bigger than your head.  If you’re really lucky these people have a little dog standing in their laps.  I passed a guy the other day who had a hooded falcon on a post in the passenger seat.  The thought of that thing getting loose and ripping him to shreds, screaming, trapped inside his slow ass little pickup truck made me smile all the way home.

Then there’s Hybrid Harry.  I get it.  I do really.  He’s saving the planet.  He eats tofu and drives a Prius. Good for him, it’s admirable. Really. Right up until you discover the maximum speed for a Prius is about ten miles per hour slower than everybody else on the road – no matter what the average speed.  If everybody else is doing 50, Hybrid Harry does 40, If everybody else is doing 65, Harry tops out at about 55.  There he is, every goddamned morning like a big ugly boat anchor in middle of the road.  Every time I end up behind a hybrid, I go home and fill my gas tank with the rendered fat of baby harp seals – thanks for the carbon credits, you fucking hippy. 

I swear, Man, I’m not kidding – I pass a place that sells railroad ties every day.

If I can just get my hands on a couple of remote control flamethrowers…

Monday, August 17, 2009

Damn It!

Part of the problem with writing about ongoing current events is that the circumstances upon occasion shoot holes in your posts.

If you're really lucky - that happens before you actually go online with it.

I meant to talk about the so-called public option today in part II of the health care posts.

I spent time yesterday and today writing about it.

Then Congress decided to take the public option off the table and the White House agreed, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelious said that a public option wasn't a deal breaker.

Or did she?

See, according to a White House Official, Linda Douglass, director of health reform communications, apparently Sebelius "misspoke" when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option "is not an essential part" of reform.

Then about an hour later, another White House official said that Sebelius didn't misspeak, instead, "The media misplayed it."

And that was when there began to be serious talk of publicly owned heath "cooperatives" instead of a federally run "public option."

Health cooperatives? Now just a goddamned minute here, where did health cooperatives come from and why does it sound like something I'd find on a Russian collective farm?

Well, crap. Most of my post was about the federally run public option - nowhere in it did I mention health cooperatives. What little reading I've been able to do suggests that these co-ops might not be a bad idea. I need to do some more reading, obviously.

In the meantime you'll forgive me if I hold the post for a couple of days.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

If Life Was A Game Of D&D... (Updated)

...I'd be kicking your ass right about now

Just sayin'


I Am A: Neutral Good Human Ranger/Sorcerer (4th/3rd Level)

Ability Scores:







WARRANT - A Billion.

Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Rangers are skilled stalkers and hunters who make their home in the woods. Their martial skill is nearly the equal of the fighter, but they lack the latter's dedication to the craft of fighting. Instead, the ranger focuses his skills and training on a specific enemy a type of creature he bears a vengeful grudge against and hunts above all others. Rangers often accept the role of protector, aiding those who live in or travel through the woods. His skills allow him to move quietly and stick to the shadows, especially in natural settings, and he also has special knowledge of certain types of creatures. Finally, an experienced ranger has such a tie to nature that he can actually draw on natural power to cast divine spells, much as a druid does, and like a druid he is often accompanied by animal companions. A ranger's Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Really Ironic Movie Casting

Conan The Destroyer:

Wilt Chamberlain as the warrior chosen to guard the princess' virginity.

Wilt Chamberlain*.



*Wilt being famous for claiming to have bedded over 20,000 women in his career.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Racist Asshole Deserves No Mercy (updated)

I'm sitting in the Elmendorf base exchange food court.

Fox News is on the TV. I'm watching the President of the United States answer questions on healthcare reform at a townhall meeting.

An old man and his wife sit down across from me.

He's wearing a US Army retired hat.

He says loudly and with anger in his voice, "I wish to hell they wouldn't put this fucking nigger on TV."

I was standing before I even realized it. Face flushed, blood boiling. I honestly haven't been that offended in a long, long time.

I spoke very, very harshly. I told him to take that army hat off in as much as a racist asshole like him had no business wearing the symbol of America's freedom. Fuck him, fuck his wife, and fuck the horse they rode in on. They're entitled to their opinion, as noxious and dishonorable as it is. They are not entitled to express it in public among the men and women sworn to defend this country and sworn to obey the orders of that very President. Then I told them to get the fuck out. They did, sullenly, but they did - and it's a damned good thing because I was fully prepared to punch a 70 year old man directly in his bigoted mouth.

I'm sick of these bastards telling me that I should leave this country, that I'm not American enough, that my president isn't American enough. I'm tired of hearing these nasty sons of bitches call the President a traitor and me a traitor for voting for him. I'm tired of being told that freedom means only thinking and choosing exactly as they do. I'm sick and tired of these sorry bastards and their spoiled childish sour grapes attitude. America voted, Americans exercised their right to democracy, Americans choose Barack Obama as their president overwhelmingly, the Electoral Collage choose Barack Obama in a virtual landslide, and these petulant whining pricks just can't seem to understand that America is so very much more than their stinking racist vision. These idiots let Bush run roughshod over us for eight damned years and they cheered while he pissed on the Constitution and did everything in his power to destroy this country. I've had it with these small minded ignorant backward assed fucks and their version of patriotism, and I'm sick of having to apologize for them, and I'm tired of cleaning up their messes, and I've been pushed as far as I'm going.

And if they don't like it, they are welcome to pack a bag and leave.

From now on, I'm showing these racist assholes the door.


Update: Apologies for the, uh, density of the language in the original post, I've edited it a bit.

In my defense, I was seriously pissed. My hands shook for a half an hour afterward. I really wanted to belt that guy. He was just a mean nasty angry pinch faced asshole. One of those miserable old racist bastards who hates everybody and everything. It was written all over his face, he's miserable and it's everybody else's fault. One of those people who seem to think that "we" are taking "his" country away from him, one of those guys who seem to think that because he's old and because he's a veteran he can loudly spout racism and bigotry and frothing hatred and the rest of us should just put up with it, ignore it, pretend that it's OK because he's from a different time when such things were acceptable. He was very obviously used to having things his own way - and it just plain fucking pissed me off.

It's not acceptable. Nobody is taking his country away. It's not his country. America belongs to all of us. If you have no respect for that, you deserve no respect in return.

I was so damned mad I just wanted to beat the ever living hell out of him.

But there was more to it than that - I was embarrassed. There were only a handful of people around, but there were children in the food court area. There was at least one dependent wife (I assumed she was a dependent wife, I don't know for certain) with her kids, I think she was Hispanic. He spoke loudly, obviously intending for people to hear. His statement made me feel ashamed. It made me feel angry that those children should hear such things, that they should hear such things while their father was out there in uniform defending the nation. It made me angry that this guy thought he was superior to all of the rest of us who serve or have served - just because of the color of his skin. It made me angry that his skin color is the same as mine - I don't want him, I don't want to be associated with him, I don't want people to look at me and see him because of the color of my skin. It made me angry that he can't disagree with the President in any manner other than by race.

Friday Going Home Music

For all of you who are galley slaves rowing for the Man, here’s a little Friday going home music:

I never much cared for The Beach Boys – I think their amazing harmony was often wasted in light and fluffy fare. But Sloop John B, a cover of a much older song made famous by the Kingston Trio, is a rare exception.

Enjoy your drive home.

The Week, In Ties


Fridays are business casual. No tie.

Healthcare Reform, Part One: The Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone

OV-099, the United States space shuttle Challenger disintegrated seventy-one seconds after launch on the morning of January 28, 1986.

I was living in Spain at the time.  It was a long, long time ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

My friend and and occasional Stonekettle Station commenter, Beastly (AKA Senior Chief Shawn Riley, USN, Ret), and I were in the base galley at Rota, having dinner prior to going on watch, when news of the unfolding disaster came on the TV. In those days, in Spain as American servicemen, if you wanted to see American news broadcasting you had to go to base and watch the Armed Forces Radio/TV System (AFRTS, pronounced Aay-Farts), usually it was a day late but it was better than nothing.  So we’d eat dinner in the galley on base once or twice a week in order to see the news. 

I remember being stunned at the magnitude of the disaster.  I still have copies of the pictures and news clippings from that day.  I remember being outraged at the TV reporters who swung their cameras over onto Krista McAuliffe’s parents, gaping in horror and disbelieving shock as their daughter and her six shipmates fell more than seven flaming miles to certain death when what was left of their magnificent ship impacted in the Atlantic.  I thought then that those images, the ones of Ed and Grace Corrigan watching their daughter die, were one of the most despicable and obscene things I’d ever witnessed. I still do.

But the greater obscenity came over a year later when the cause of the accident was made public.


Seventeen years later, almost to the day, on February 1st, 2003, I again stood far from home on a US Navy Base and watched seven American astronauts die.

This time I was in Bahrain, on a brief liberty from the brewing conflict in Iraq. I’d gotten a pizza and coke and was sitting in the phone center, just enjoying the smell of real food and the warmth of the box in my hands. I was waiting for my turn to call my wife and son in distant California and let them know I was still alive and mostly whole. Once again there was a TV broadcasting AFRTN (now a network instead of a system, ruining the traditional pronunciation). And once again, flaming pieces of spacecraft fell like meteors from the sky. This time it was OV-102, Columbia, disintegrating during atmospheric reentry upon its return to Earth after two weeks in space.  It seemed like hours, my dinner grew cold and lay uneaten and unremembered in my lap, My shipmates and I, men who only moments before had been raucously celebrating just being alive and out of the conflict if only for a moment, watched as constellations of shooting stars that had once been men and yet another magnificent machine fell to earth at more than eighteen times the speed of sound.

The pictures were eerily similar to the Challenger disaster nearly two decades before. This was how spaceships died. This was how dreams died. This was how astronauts died.  As shooting stars on CNN.

And once again, the true obscenity of the disaster didn’t become fully apparent until the cause was made public many months later.


Neither disaster was an accident.

Oh, the loss of both ships were called accidents, but those tragedies were anything but accidental.

The loss of both the Challenger and the Columbia, the loss of fourteen average and yet extraordinary human beings, and the loss of our dreams and nearly the manned American space program were all caused by the same malignancy. 

Both disasters had exactly the same cause.

The morning Challenger made her final fateful launch was a crisp cold Florida winter day. The coldest ever for a shuttle launch.  You, of course, know what happened, either because like me you lived through it or because you googled it just now. The O-rings sealing hot exhaust gases inside the Solid Rocket Boosters became less flexible, much less flexible actually, because of the twenty degree temperatures on the launch pad. At booster ignition the frozen gaskets failed to seal between the bottom sections of the right SRB.  Seventy-one seconds later, moving at a speed of nearly Mach 2 and 46,000 feet up, the joint failed.  A blowtorch of flame burned through the shuttle’s enormous external fuel tank, the SRB lower attachment struts failed, the booster began to pivot driving the vehicle off course, and load stresses in excess of 20g caused the shuttle to disintegrate. The External tank ruptured in a cloud of hydrogen and oxygen, which mixed and then flashed into an enormous ball of flame (it’s a common myth that the Challenger exploded, it didn’t. Instead it was torn apart by aerodynamic forces, by the time the fuel exploded the shuttle had already been destroyed).  The boosters ripped loose from the disintegrating spaceship and streaked away - and were destroyed by the Range Safety Officer.

Columbia was also destroyed by cold.  Indirectly, to be sure.  A piece of foam used to insulate the cryogenic cold of the shuttle’s liquid hydrogen fuel fell from the external tank during launch and punched a hole in the leading edge of the ship’s left wing.  During reentry, star hot plasma from the shuttle’s Mach 18 plunge through Earth’s atmosphere tore through that hole and entered the structure of the ship itself.  The commander, Colonel Rick Husband, and ground controllers monitoring the ship’s telemetry had less than a second to realize what was happening before the maelstrom blasted apart the internal structure of the wing. The wing ripped off and the ship tumbled and again the incredible aerodynamic stresses ripped the ship to pieces in a millisecond. The crew died without even knowing that they were in trouble.

Do you see it?

No, the common factor is not the cold, or aerodynamic stress.  One ship was destroyed during launch, one returning to Earth. One was destroyed by failing gaskets, one by falling foam.

On the surface it would appear that my statement above alluding to a common cause is simply Palinesque raving.

But it’s not.

See, I didn’t tell you the whole story.  I left something out.

In both cases, the disaster was predicted by experts. By rocket scientists, if you will. 

The night before Challenger made that fateful leap into the sky, the lead engineers for Morton-Thiokol, the men who designed and built the Solid Rocket Boosters - and analyzed them after they returned to earth - told their bosses that they were opposed to the launch. They saw that every time the launch temperatures were low, the gaskets leaked. Only the redundancy of the system had prevented disaster so far.  They predicted that the O-rings would fail completely in the record low temperatures of that morning, and in fact they expected the boosters to explode on the launch pad. They presented charts and data and spoke passionately, and they convinced Morton-Thiokol managers to give a no-launch recommendation to NASA.  NASA administrators were outraged, even though this was the first no-launch recommendation given by Morton-Thiokol in twelve years of shuttle flight. A high level NASA official said he was “appalled” by such a recommendation.  There was talk of monetary penalties and negative publicity and scapegoating and blame laying. There were threats about future contracts. NASA was under pressure to launch the first teacher into space and by God that’s what was going to happen. But the engineers, led by Roger Boisjoly, one of the foremost experts on Solid Rocket Boosters, stood firm in their opposition.  Nevertheless, Thiokol managers capitulated to NASA’s bullying and rescinded their objection and the engineers’ worst fears were realized.

Seventeen years later, senior NASA engineers found themselves in exactly the same situation.  Analysis of the launch videos showed foam striking Columbia’s fragile wings. The engineers were deeply concerned. They were afraid that the ship’s heat shielding might have been holed.  They went to the administrators and asked that certain available military photosats be redirected to take high resolution images of Columbia in orbit.  They asked the administrators to alter the mission schedule and have the astronauts themselves inspect the wing, either with the robotic arm or by direct inspection via spacewalk.  The administrators refused. They justified their decision by reasoning that even if the ship was breached, there was nothing that could be done, therefore there was neither reason to panic the astronauts and the public or spend scare funds in the redirection of military satellites. They didn’t want to raise undue fuss – but more than anything what mattered to the administrators in that moment was keeping the engineers in their place. In an organization dedicated to the quest for knowledge, those with the greatest knowledge are second class citizens.

In both cases the ships were lost – specifically because professional administrators who lacked detailed technical training and a working engineering expertise in a highly specialized and complex field of endeavor were allowed drive the process.  Those administrators deliberately ignored the warnings and recommendations of people who were experts, the foremost experts in the world in fact.  The NASA administrators placed schedules and procedures and red tape and bureaucracy and personal desires and their careers and profit above their duty, above the lives they were entrusted to protect, above moral and ethical action. Both disasters were preventable. But the climate of risk, the climate of profit over duty, the climate of good-enough and bullet-dodging fostered by poor and selfish leadership led directly and inevitably to both disasters.

The decisions of those bean counters directly killed fourteen people and cost this country hundreds of billions.

The manned spaceflight portion of NASA has become an organization run almost entirely by bean counters, administrators, hanger-ons. Red tape and bureaucracy are the norm. Those who build and fly the ships have very little to do with the decision making process.  It is inevitable that in such an organization, those with the technical knowledge, the scientists and the engineers and the astronauts and technicians, would be separated from the decision making process – they are a direct threat to the professional administrators.

NASA is not unique in this regard.

Great businesses and financial institutions are often built by people of vision and technical knowledge – as NASA was.  But come back a couple of generations later, and you’ll find damned few engineers in the front office. Nowadays, the once mighty American industries are captained by professional administrators, MBA’s and bean counters with little or no technical knowledge and no interest in gaining any. A key indicator of this malady is the term “product.”  Professional administrators refer to a company’s output as product. To them it is the same whether the company is making a box of turkey franks or a Prius Hybrid or flying to Mars.

It’s all part of a set piece.

Which takes us, as promised, to healthcare reform.

Those arguing most strenuously against healthcare reform are the professional administrators.  These are the same folks who have taken over healthcare and worked diligently to remove the medical experts from the decision making loop.  How many hospital administrators are doctors?  How many Insurance company CEO’s are doctors? How many insurance company claims adjustors have a formal working knowledge of medicine?  How many politicians currently fighting reform are medical professionals? 

There’s a reason for this.

NASA has become a hidebound, administrator heavy organization. No real remake of the agency is possible without changing this fact.  As long as the technical experts have no power and are regarded with contempt, NASA will continue to kill astronauts and lose spacecraft. It is inevitable.

As long as the basic organizational structure of Wall Street remains unchanged, as long as the professional CEOs are running the show, the underlying causes of the recent financial collapse remain a very real threat.  Another boom and bubble and bust is inevitable. The names change, Dot Com, Junk Bond, Interest Only Mortgage – but the end result is always the same.

As long as the auto industry remains under the control of professional administrators and refuses to change how they do business – eventual extinction is inevitable, no matter how much money you pump into them.

And as long as the current healthcare system remains in its present form, under the control professional administrators, under control of for-profit insurance companies in a de facto monopoly, under control of bean counters who have nothing whatsoever to do with healthcare – nothing will change.  There is absolutely no incentive for it to change. 

The insurance companies complain about the cost of healthcare, but they are the principle reason that the costs are so high.

Let me give you an example:  A couple of months back, I sliced my hand open with a wood chisel in my workshop.  I nicked an artery.  I was bleeding profusely.  I wrapped the damaged finger in gaze and called my wife to drive me to the hospital.  As to medical care, we had several choices – we live about ten miles from MatSu Regional and their Emergency Room.  But we also live only about three miles from the Palmer Urgent Care Clinic. The hospital is down a long winding dangerous road, the clinic is a much easier and quicker trip.  The emergency room is crowded and at least three times as costly. I was bleeding badly, but I just needed some stitches.  We went to the clinic and I got sewed up by an LPN.

I’m covered by no less than three insurance companies.  All refused to pay the roughly $600 dollar bill in full. Instead one insurance company paid $12, the other paid $150 or so. Leaving me with a $400 tab. The reason?  I didn’t go to the emergency room.  They would have paid for the emergency room visit in full – and paid anywhere from $1500 to $3000 depending on a number of factors.  I appealed the claim, it’s being reprocessed now – but I was admonished to go to the emergency room in the future, not the nearest healthcare facility (which, by the way, takes all of my insurance and regularly sees me and for whom the insurance companies would have paid in full for an “office” visit).  The difference being a technicality – the clinic is Urgent Care and I had an emergency care situation, never mind the fact that no matter which facility I went to, including if I’d chosen to drive 60 miles into Anchorage to the base hospital or the VA hospital or the civilian Providence Hospital emergency room – the treatment is exactly the same, ten stitches - which could be put in by a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant or a highly trained emergency room physician who should have been treating somebody much worse off than me. 

The insurance companies demand that I utilize the most expensive option. Period. The insurance companies demand that I tie up a highly trained and specialized and scarce emergency room doctor when an LPN will do.  Period. Or I will be punished to the tune of $400.

The insurance companies give me no choice whatsoever.  Their rules shall not be violated.

Those who so self-righteously claim that they have a right to chose under the current system are deluded fools – the only thing they’ve chosen is the name of their dictator.

There is no conceivable reason for this nonsense. It is not deliberate malice on the part of the insurance company.  It is not greed – obviously. It is the inevitable result of the professional administrator, of bureaucracy, and bean counters and people who make rules and decisions solely to prove their power in the organization. Somewhere behind this rule is a web of shadowy fuzzy logic that appears sound (what if he gets to the clinic and they can’t help him and then he has to go to the emergency room anyway? Now we have to pay for both visits and an ambulance to boot. What if we find a hole in the wing? What then?) until it is examined closely. This is the result of administrivia. Of bean counter bloat. Of petty little people who have no real skill, who are not experts, who are not doctors or nurses or medical professionals, and who make rules and regulations and procedures and adjudications and adjustments because that is what they do.

This, more than anything else, is why healthcare costs you so goddamned much.

You can’t legislate it away.

Not directly anyway.

But what you can do is create an environment of competition.

See, right now there is no competition. Not in healthcare insurance.  All other forms of insurance you can shop around, you can buy individually – but not health insurance. For some reason that’s special, or so we’re told.  I wrecked my truck, my auto insurance company paid me the blue book value three days later, no bullshit, no adjuster telling me that the drunk driver who hit me head on was a pre-existing condition, no problem. I didn’t need two insurers, both of which decide not to pay what they are contracted for and instead hide behind treatment codes and the definition of Urgent vs Emergency.   And there is a wide variety in auto insurance, and different coverage plans, and choices of deductibles and premiums. But, not in health insurance. And why not?

Because health insurance has become a self-licking ice cream cone that exists primarily to keep existing. It consumes resources and excretes waste, sometimes it’s a symbiote - but more often it’s a parasite. You can’t fix it. Attempting to do so, will only increase the number of administrators and make the situation worse.

But by creating a public option, a federally run healthcare option with fixed costs that anybody can access, you force the health insurance industry to fix itself.  It will have to.  It will have to make itself more attractive to the average Joe than the “free” government option. There are many many ways to do this.  Ideally what you’d end up with is something that looks a lot like the choices you have with cell phone plans nowadays (Anybody want to guess what those would look like if Ma Bell was still the only telephone provider in the United States? And what they would cost?).

Those who oppose a public health care plan bloviate endlessly about socialism.

But they are wrong.

Done right, a national healthcare plan would force the industry to adopt a truly capitalist system for the first time.

There are, of course, dangers.

We’ll talk about those tomorrow, in part two of this post.