Monday, August 26, 2013

"Just In Case" Healthcare

About three weeks ago, I was on my way home from a lengthy bike ride.  Prior to that day, my beat up old bike had been out of action.  A piece had fallen off on a previous bike ride two years ago, and I've had so many other priorities (Read: was procrastinating like a crazy person) that I'd only just fixed it the day before this ride.  A friend of mine asked me to go for a "quick ride", which apparently was her way of saying "a twenty mile endurance test, dodging traffic and weaving in and out of tourists.".

Anyway, as I neared my house, I made a slow left turn onto a side street.  I heard a little "clang" (Or was it a "ping"?  Could have been a "clunk". Whatever), and suddenly the front wheel locked up.  I discovered later that the bike lock popped loose and got jammed in the spokes.  At the time, I really didn't care because I was far too busy flying over the handle bars.  I managed to get my right foot down, but I couldn't keep my balance.  My knee came down hard, but I still kept going.  I tried to break my fall with a roll and came down on my right shoulder.  There was a sickening little "pop" sound.

My friend was naturally a tad concerned.  She said "Are you all right?"  I said, "Yeah, I'm fine, just give me a second.".  At least, that's what I tried to say.  It probably came out like "NnnAarghMmm!" or words to that effect.  She came over with a look of horror on her face, because my arm was hanging at an odd angle.  I couldn't lift it.  She tentatively tried to touch it.  I could see her turning green.  Then she burst out laughing.  "I can't believe you wiped out!".  I have strange friends.

We eventually called another friend to help us with the bikes and give me a ride to the hospital.  My arm was in pain, but I have to admit that wasn't what was on my mind.  I knew that my emergency room copay was $300.  I could handle that, but it was still a decent chunk of change.  I don't like spending money that I don't have to.  Unless I'm spending it on frivolous things.

I walked into the emergency room hunched over to the right.  This was the only way I could stand without pain shooting up my arm.  This earned me a few odd looks, since the way I was walking resembled Igor, Dr. Frankenstein's assistant.  Still, I was a little confused by the looks.  This was an emergency room. Shouldn't they be used to people coming in a little banged up?

I was ushered into a room and instructed to lie down on a gurney.  While I waited, the nurse took the normal vitals.  Then she asked me if I wanted to watch TV, and pulled down a TV attached to an arm next to the gurney.  It had all the cable channels, or so she told me.  I couldn't reach the channel changer, because my right arm was dislocated.  The nurse had already vanished by this point.  So I had to watch the channel it was on, which (of course) was one of those asinine shopping channels.

After about twenty minutes of watching second string actors try to sell me useless crap, the nurse came back and dragged me to the radiology department.  After hobbling there, standing up straight for ten minutes (which is surprisingly painful with a dislocated shoulder), then hobbling back, I collapsed back into the gurney.

The nurse promptly hooked me up to a monitor.  Because there's always a risk of heart attack when your arm is out of it's socket, apparently.  She put an IV in me, then took some blood.  "We probably won't need this, but's it's good to take some, just in case, " she assured me.  Then she brought over an oxygen tank and put that little nose tubey thingy in my nose.  Normally, this is the type of thing 90 year-olds with emphysema have.  I asked why this was necessary.  "Just a precaution," was the answer.

Finally, the doctor came in with a physician's assistant who was there to make there were no complications from the anesthesia.  First, they gave me some painkiller (which was nice), then a bit later some anesthesia.  It wasn't the kind that makes you unconscious, just the kind that makes you woozy and causes short term memory loss.  The next thing I remember, my arm was back in, and the doctor was trying to sell me drugs.  He suggested some double strength ibuprofen and another, stronger drug if the pain got bad.  I told him to save the strong stuff.  I didn't need to get hooked on Oxycodone because of a bike accident.

The doctor told me to check in with my regular doctor and an orthopedic surgeon.  I saw my regular doctor three days later.  He said to keep my arm in a sling for five weeks and charged me thirty bucks for an office visit.  I saw the surgeon three days after that.  He said to keep my arm in a sling for five weeks and charged me thirty bucks for an office visit.

A few days ago, I finally got the hospital bill.  My $300 co-pay was charged to my credit card.  But the total cost was not quite $3,000.  And that's the moral of this ignoble and slightly goofy chapter of my life.  I think I've figured out why healthcare is so damned expensive. undisclosed number of years ago, I broke my other arm.  It was in a splint overnight, then the next morning I was put under while the doctors set it.  They took no blood.  Apart from the time in the operating room, there was no heart monitor or oxygen tank.  They only did what was necessary.

The reason my bill is so outrageous is this "just in case" healthcare.  Whenever I hear a doctor or nurse say "just in case" or "just a precaution" I hear "so I don't get sued by some two-bit shyster".  The oxygen, the monitors, the blood work, the extra physician's assistant, the extra painkiller, the two post-op visits, these all appear to be medical butt-covering.  Some people say healthcare is expensive because of overpaid doctors, but this looked like the expenses were incurred to prevent overpaid personal injury lawyers from preying on the overpaid doctors.

All I needed was an x-ray, a sedative, and someone to jam my arm back into place.  All this other crap is excessive.  Even the TV.  That's nice, but I don't want to pay for it.  Especially if I'm stuck watching HSN.  So let's stop having every procedure and test known to man.  The chances of me croaking due to lack of oxygen when I have a dislocated shoulder are probably less than my chances of winning the lottery.  I'll risk it.  I'll even sign a consent to keep the lawyers away.  $3,000 is ridiculous.  I normally don't spend that much money on anything that doesn't come with air conditioning.  And I know I don't need to spend that much to have some doc slap my shoulder back into place.  

Naturally, I don't pay all of that, but now I know why the health insurance that employer's provide costs so much.  I think doctor's are smart enough to know which complications are likely and unlikely.  They can discuss this with patients, weigh the risks, and come to a decision.  Instead, they're doing anything and everything to prevent even highly unlikely scenarios.  I think if the lawyers backed off and let the doctors and patients use their judgment, healthcare costs wouldn't be so ridiculous.

The sling came off today, and now I can look forward to several weeks of physical therapy.  Naturally, each visit will set me back a little bit.  My arm feels fine.  I probably don't need it, said the doc, but I should do it "just in case".  Hopefully, the PT place will be staffed by young, single women.  That might make it worth the extra expense.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bradley is Chelsea, Upon Pain of Death

The Bradley Manning case just got weirder today.  Because apparently he (she?) is now Chelsea Manning.  He had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder back in Some Year I Don't Care To Spend Time Looking Up and admitted to a counselor that he wanted to be a woman in 2009, well before he started dumping classified documents.  Suddenly, old and new media blew up with stories about Bradley.  Or Chelsea.  Or whatever.

There was much speculation and debate.  Why did he wait until just now, if he thought about becoming a woman four years ago?  Is it because women don't serve in Leavenworth, only men?  Do taxpayers have to pay for his hormone treatment, (If his lawyer gets his way, we will) and should we have to?  In response to these questions, the PC Gestapo launched into action.  Merely asking these questions was bigotry.  Also, anyone failing to refer to "her" as "she" was immediately dubbed Hatey McRacist.  Members of the press who failed to comply were decried by lib/progs.

I, like many people, don't care what he does with his junk.  I don't care to know anything about his various personal habits.  He can take all of the hormones he wants, but we shouldn't have to pay for it.  Nor should he be able to use this to dodge Fort Leavenworth.  What I'm amazed by is just how upset the lib/progs of the world are that we haven't all decided to say "she" or "her".

Failing to adhere to the canons of sensitivity is apparently a crime against humanity.  Lib/progs finger wag and lecture about transgender rights and say that Manning claims to be a she, therefore she is.  This sounds surprisingly similar to someone screaming that "the science is settled!"  The science isn't settled.  Psychology is still more art than science, meaning there is a lot of judgment involved.  Issues such as transgender are not based solely on empirical evidence, but also on the opinions of various psychologists.

There is even such a thing as "transgender regret."  This is where someone undergoes sex change therapy, and then has second thoughts.  Don Ennis, a producer at ABC, is a recent example.  He went through the therapy, and changed his name to "Dawn".  Recently, he told the world he wants to be Don again.  Apparently, to mention that there might be this sort of regret is hateful to Manning supporters.  I think some dude regretting this seems like an entirely plausible reaction.  Especially if he went the whole way (Ennis didn't, apparently) and lopped off his unit.

No one I've spoken to (Read: gotten into a shouting match/twitter war) with on the left cares that don't care what Manning does to himself.  Failing to accept everything and use the right pronouns makes me automatically hateful and homophobic and blah blah blah.  Not that I'm bothered by this.  Recent experience with the extreme left suggests that when one calls me a bigot, it doesn't mean I am a bigot.  It just means they've run out of intelligent things to say.  But what does annoy me slightly is that it's fairly clear that lib/progs assume that their way is the only way, despite the fact that there's still plenty of unsettled science.  We must call Manning "her" or "she".  Bradley is now Chelsea.  Any who fail to accede to the wishes of the lib/progs does so on pain of death.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tale of Three Leakers

Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years today.  Supporters think he's a principled whistleblower being oppressed.  Detractors say he's a miserable traitor and think he got off light.  Based on the convictions, he's not technically a traitor, but he's certainly not principled either.  This verdict actually makes sense, because Manning went too far.  He deserves the time he'll get, as will Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, if we ever get our hands on him.  There's a way to leak in a principled and responsible way.  It's happened before.

Manning's supporters frequently liken him to Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers.  Ellsberg has been public in his support for Manning. But Ellsberg's story differs from Manning's in a few key aspects.  The short version of the Daniel Ellsberg story is that he found top secret documents that appeared to show that the Vietnam War was started under false pretenses and that the military no longer believed the war winnable.  Unable to accomplish anything through channels, he attempted to leak it to several senators, and ultimately leaked it to the New York Times.  He was tried for espionage, but cleared.

Ellsberg is generally remembered as a heroic figure.  He took a stand against a war he was convinced was wrong, and did not like the fact that we were still prosecuting the war after we thought it unwinnable.  His goal throughout the process was to stop the war.  Regardless if someone agrees or disagrees, he remained focused on this objective and everything he did was to bring it about.  So at the very least this shows it was a principled fight for him.  He didn't veer off course.

Bradley Manning was also on trial because he leaked documents.  Documents that were merely secret, not top secret like the Pentagon Papers.  He was also disillusioned with lengthy wars we had become involved in.  Initially, he only leaked video that showed American airstrikes that appeared to be at the very least careless, and possibly criminal.  The video shows an American gunship firing on a group of men in a war zone.  The men are not running or doing anything overtly aggressive, but this is not necessarily relevant in a war.  In a war zone, a soldier does not have to wait for an identified enemy to be an immediate threat to open fire.  The only problem is, at least some of the men weren't enemies.

Two of the men were reporters of Al Jazheera.  They were carrying cameras that the pilots mistakenly identified as rocket launchers.  The gunship firing on the men was a mistake.  This is a tragedy, but also the sort of mistake that happens in the fog of war.  However, the gunship also fired on a minivan that came up to assist the wounded.  There was no clear evidence that the occupants were enemies.  Later, the gunship fires on a building because the pilots claimed they saw enemies enter.  This was a civilian building, and God only knows who else was in there.  This video alone was a worthwhile leak.  If Manning had stopped there, he'd probably be okay.

But he didn't.  He later released a critical installation list, some information involving a flap in Iceland, and tons of diplomatic cables.  Most of this information had nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan.  The release of these documents could not be expected to affect these wars.  Unlike Ellsberg, who released documents with the sole intent of ending a war, Manning just dumped everything he had to Wikileaks.  This suggests that his intent was not really to end the wars (because these documents were unrelated), but merely to harm and embarrass the United States.  That's why he's been sentenced to 35 years.

This explains why NSA leaker Edward Snowden went from Superhero Leaker to International Man of Douchebaggery within a fairly short span of time.  He also is no Daniel Ellsberg.  When he first leaked, plenty of conservatives, liberals, and libertarians hailed him as a hero.  Now, they sort of...don't.

The information he initially leaked seemed to be something that showed the government clearly violating the fourth amendment.  I can think of few more principled stands than standing up for the Constitution.  That's how people from all over the political spectrum were able to support him.  He could have been the next Daniel Ellsberg.  But instead, he'll just be the next Bradley Manning.

Not long after his initial leak, he decided to leak the fact that the US and UK spied on a G20 (or G8 or G-whatever) meeting.  Then he decided to leak that we were hacking the Chinese.  The fact that we spy on other countries is not a revelation.  They do it to us too.  Spying may be an inherently shady business, but in a world with dangerous and unpredictable countries and shifting loyalties, it's necessary for our survival.  Revealing specifics of our spying damages our ability to do so.  This is what moved Snowden into Manning territory.  None of this is related to the initial fourth amendment concerns.  This can only hurt the United States.  He either intended this or didn't care, both of which are enough to convict someone in a court of law.

Both Manning and Snowden seem to think that revealing everything makes the world a better place.  This mindset is common amongst many young activists, particularly the Anonymous/Occupy types.  They seem to believe that if everyone knows everything, the world will be a better place.  This is naive utopianism. These absurdist and foolhardy ideas demonstrate a severe lack of understanding about how the world works; a lack of understanding that is common in these circles.  

For example, King of Leaky Net Nerds, Darling of Nutball Radicals, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange actually claimed he saw no irony that Snowden was hob-nobbing with China and Russia.  Two countries who are not known for their respect of personal privacy, free speech, and so forth.  This sort of willful ignorance is common among those who occupy the hackivist bubble.

Maybe this only happened because Manning and Snowden are young and foolish.  Maybe they got bamboozled by members of the press who wanted a scoop.  An older person might be sophisticated enough to know that intelligence gathering and operating in secret are frequently necessary, because many world governments do not lead free countries and are not trustworthy.  But being a naive kid doesn't grant absolution.  Stupidity is not an excuse.

Daniel Ellsberg walks free.  Manning will go to jail.  And Snowden will too, if we ever catch him.  A real leaker stays focused on principle.  Manning and Snowden revealed everything they knew, even things that were unrelated to their supposed goals of ending war or protecting the constitution.  Had they stopped with their initial leaks, they'd probably go free, and maybe be remembered as heroes.  Now they'll just be remembered as small, ignoble men who could have acted on principle, but just acted to hurt the country they swore to protect.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why AMPAC'S Million Muslim March is Actually a Great Idea

Lots of really loud yelling broke out on various cable news shows last week.  Not that that's unusual, but last week's subject of controversy was the Million Muslim March organized by AMPAC (American Muslim Political Action Committee) and planned for the twelfth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  AMPAC is apparently chock full of Truthers and Anti-Semites.  A fringe, nut group.  In other words, they're like the Muslim equivalent of Occupy or Anonymous.

Conservatives are outraged.  I'm sure plenty of others are outraged too, but conservatives are less restrained by the shackles of political correctness, so they can be louder and get away with it.  And I understand the outrage.  But if AMPAC actually pulled this off, it would truly be fantastic.  No, really.  I realize this seems like madness (and most of the things I post on my blog are), but what I'm referring to is one of the silver linings of hate speech.

One adage that is often repeated in free speech arguments is that the first amendment doesn't protect speech we like, it protects speech we don't like.  I don't know who said that.  I also don't care, and don't feel like looking up.  But this is why even hateful ideas like the ones spewed forth by AMPAC nuts are protected.  And as infuriating as that can be, it is also comforting.  Because the advantage of letting extremists spew nonsense is that they marginalize themselves.  Silencing or censoring a nut can actually give him credibility, as he can claim he's being oppressed.  But if a nut is allowed to shout his wacky theories, people start seeing him for the loon that he is.  Nutty people ultimately will self destruct (See: Alex Jones), as long as we just let them.

It's important to keep in mind that the rest of us need to help nuts marginalize themselves.  The onus is on the sane among us to identify them, call them out when spout their lunacy, and expose their nuttiness to the world.  Since the number of people voicing opinions is ever increasing, we need convenient ways to identify the stupid and the screwy.  This way we can summarily ignore them.

There are several ways to identify nut groups already.  For example, any protester in America who burns the American flag can be dismissed as irrelevant.  Flag burners exercise their right to free speech by burning the symbol of their free speech.  This is probably not someone inclined to think things through rationally.  Also, anyone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask can be discounted.  Unless they were in "V for Vendetta."  Those people were just doing a job.  Guy Fawkes mask aficionados are frequently Occupiers and Anonymous members, two groups with more than their fair share of Truthers, False Flaggers, Anarchists, and Neo-Marxists.  None of these ideas is worth the time it takes to write this paragraph.

Like these two examples, the AMPAC march is a convenient mechanism for crazy identification.  Anyone who shows up will  be someone we can assume isn't worth including in a rational debate.  An attendee will not be the type of Muslim we should take seriously or expect any reasoned debate from.  Once we've identified them, we can disregard them and spend our time talking to those Muslims that aren't crazy.  And despite what some anti-Muslim extremists say, non-crazy Muslims do exist.  All someone needs to do is go have a beer in Turkey to see what I'm talking about.

A loon who spews hateful nonsense is offensive, but is also a labor saving device.  My making themselves readily identifiable, crazy people help the rest of us.  Those of us with brains and sanity can figure out who's not worth talking to.  Separating non-crazy Muslims from the crazy is worthwhile.  Non-Crazy Muslims want these nuts marginalized, because extremists make other Muslims look bad.

Sadly, though, the latest reports suggest that the turnout might be slightly less than a million (more like several dozen).  All of the outrage may have put a damper on the entire affair.  This isn't a good thing, I think.  I'd rather have all of the nutjobs out in the open.  Once I know who they are, I can make sure I don't waste my time on them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Argument is Settled, Provided You Agree With Me

Over the course of two days, SCOTUS has rendered controversial rulings on the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage.  Two serious issues that inflame passions on both sides.  Decisions which could echo through history.  And the reaction to these extremely weighty cases has been...absolutely hilarious.

When section four of the Voting Rights Act was ruled unconstitutional, the reaction from the left was unsurprisingly indignant.  Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC bemoaned her "loss of citizenship".  Chris Hayes, also of MSNBC, was "physically enraged" by the act of "judicial activism.  Apparently, the rights of minorities to vote has been completely obliterated.  Well, not quite.

Section one of the voting rights act makes voter discrimination illegal.  It's still illegal.  Section five makes certain areas with a history of racism clear any changes in voting procedures with the federal government.  Section four identified which states (as well as a few random counties and so forth) are subject to this.  The original formula was to apply this scrutiny to any area that used a "test or device" (i.e. literacy test) and whether half of eligible citizens were voting, or at least registered.  As of November 1st, 1964.  This was updated in 1968 and 1972, but not since then.  So under VRA as it was before the ruling, a state, county, or township that had a literacy test or not enough registered voters in 1972 had to clear any changes in voting policy with the feds.  Even forty years later.  The South has changed ever so slightly since then.  Jim Crow is long gone.

Huffington Post's Howard Fineman snarkily noted that anyone who thought the South had improved significantly should spend some time there.  Thus evincing that he hasn't spent any time here recently.  Or that if he has, he's stayed within one of the few liberal bubbles in the South.  A more sensible response came from liberal Fox News contributor Bob Beckel, who noted that there are still a few remote counties that have these problems.  And he's right.  That's why they're "remote".  We make our racists live all the way back in the woods now.  And if one of these jurisdictions did have voting irregularities, it's highly unlikely it would sway a vote.  In most of these places, the voter turnout could be five people, and that would be an 83% turnout.

SCOTUS lacks the power to rewrite the law, only Congress does.  So instead of leaving an obsolete law in place, they chunked it and forced Congress to finally update it.  Not too unreasonable, if the last update to the formula was in 1972.  50 years ago, Congress passed a law that prevented inappropriate tests related to voting, and updated it in 1968 and 1972.  And this was a great thing.  Now these jurisdictions are subject to a test that is forty years out of date.  But when SCOTUS threw out this inappropriate test, it was not a great thing.  I guess inappropriate tests are only okay when they have pre-approval from MSNBC.

Fast forward one day, and the same people are singing the praises of the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act.  And the reaction from the left is exactly the opposite.  No cries of judicial activism here.  Rachel Maddow spiked the football and said "This is now decided as a nation.  The argument is won."  Because apparently SCOTUS had spoken and SCOTUS is always right.  Oh, wait.

Obviously, there's going to be (and already has been) push back from conservatives on this.  (Personal opinion on DOMA: vast indifference, like most things).  But according to the left it's now The Settled Law of the Land.  Which is why these reactions are leaving me in stitches.  "Settled law" is a contradiction in terms.  All laws are subject to constant revision.  To use another controversial example, abortion was legalized after Roe v. Wade.  But recent advances in neo-natal care make third term babies far more viable.  They used to be just fetuses with only a small chance to live, but now this viability suggests that they are living beings with rights in the third term.  Thus, Roe v. Wade is not "settled".  As time passes and society evolves, old rulings may become obsolete and thus may require updating for our current environment.  This is also true for DOMA and the VRA.

That's why I roll on the floor when I hear spew like this from the punditocracy.  Nothing is settled.  Congress will (eventually, maybe) update the VRA.  States will pass new laws regarding gay marriage.  The law, even the Constitution, is a constant work in process.  So a vote against VRA is not the end of the world and a vote against DOMA does not settle the argument.  It just advances the argument.  A little.  The stupendous level of ignorance from the chattering class is what has my sides splitting.  An argument is only settled when SCOTUS rules in their favor.  How could this be funny?  Well, I only laugh to keep from crying.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Greatest Conspiracy Ever!

Given the amount of time I spend goofing around on the Internet and social media (which is what I do when I should be working), it's only a matter of time until I start bumping into the loonier side of cyberspace.  Every nutty conspiracy theory there is is out on the web.  I've been inundated with this kind of crazy for hours every day, except for the moments where my boss walks by my desk and I have to pretend I'm working.  And I finally noticed a common pattern.

All of these conspiracy theories were created by communists.  Commies.  Oh, yes.  That is the only explanation that makes sense.  All of the greatest conspiracy theories are obviously created by communists.  The faking of the moon landing, aliens at Area 51, the assassination of JFK, the various Rothschild, Illuminati, New World Order conspiracies, and the worst, 9/11 truther conspiracies, are all created by communists to advance a communist agenda.

They do this because the truth makes communists look bad.  The moon landing was an early indication that American capitalism would blow right past Soviet communism.  Communists thought they had the edge in the space race, but suddenly America was back in the game.  When America successfully completed the first moon landing, communists couldn't let people believe that capitalism was actually superior.  So they invented the myth that the moon landing was faked.  A pack of communist lies that claimed the moon landing was a pack of capitalist lies.  Irony, anyone?

The aliens at Area 51 is a similar example.  Area 51 is a real place.  It's a part of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.  The truth is that there was (and probably still is) Air Force research being conducted at Area 51.  Crazy, mad scientist, ARPA/DARPA stuff.  American enterprise was rapidly making Soviet communism obsolete.  The Soviets couldn't let the world believe that the innovations that we made were the product of capitalism.  So they cobbled together a half-assed theory that we were actually stealing the ideas from aliens.  Damn Commies.  Couldn't handle the fact that we were just way more innovative than them.

This isn't the only thing they thought we stole.  All of Illuminati, New World Order, Rothschild conspiracies have a similar theme.  A shadowy cabal of businessmen, bankers, and whatever controls the entire world's wealth.  America is apparently controlled by a few families, like the Rockefellers.  Uh-huh.  One look at the Forbes 400 disproves this.  70% of the 400 wealthiest Americans are self made billionaires.  Many are household names on the list, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Charles Schwab, George Lucas, and Donald Trump just to name a few.  There is a Rockefeller on the list.  He's tied for 151.  Less than the five I just mentioned.  How can a few families control all of the wealth, when so many self made billionaires are richer than one of the supposed conspirators?  The answer is simple.  Commies.  They can't handle the fact that capitalism allows people to thrive and be successful in a single lifetime.  So they claim that some rich people must have stolen it.  The old "behind every great fortune is a great crime" canard.

The last conspiracy led to another goofball theory that was apparently manufactured by the Politburo.  When faced with happy people enjoying the fruits of capitalism, communists swung into damage control mode.  Western society is "decadent" according to the commies of the world.  This was raw denial on the part of the USSR.  The commies couldn't admit that things were just better here.  They didn't want people to look around at the bread lines and start dreaming of a life in America.  So instead, they pushed the idea that we were weakening ourselves.  Slowly poisoning ourselves with debauchery.  We stole all the money and were living frivolously.  Anything to prevent the people living under communism from seeing the obvious truth: communism was a failure waiting to happen.

The JFK assassination theories are a little different.  They're a deflection of guilt.  The guy who actually killed JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a member of the communist party.  The party couldn't have people believing that a communist murdered the American president.  So the commies acted like it was a shadowy conspiracy, a convoluted, Byzantine intrigue produced by American capitalism.  Anything to avoid having people realize that the actual murderer was just another naive chump duped by communism.

The 9/11 truther conspiracies are a product of the even more naive neo-communists.  Communism rightly became extinct.  It's political Darwinism; the unfit system perished and the fittest system survived and thrived.  But a few leftover douches from the 60's occasionally con some young people into pushing the various quaint and archaic notions of communism.  We see this today with Anonymous and the Occupy movement.  And it should come as no surprise that plenty of these nuts are in love with the 9/11 Truth idea.  Youtube is full of the Truthers at Occupy rallies and Anonymopes demanding an investigation of the 9/11 "false flag" attack.

For the commies, it was absolutely critical that the United States not appear in any way sympathetic after 9/11.  The neo-commies would have us believe that 9/11 was a giant conspiracy by the corrupt shadowy cabals that rule the United States and stole the world's wealth devised it as an elaborate power grab.  Of course, they already control the world's wealth, according to various other communist theories.  So I'm not sure how much power they could grab for.  That is irrelevant, though, since logic and reason are not things Occupunks and Anonymopes concern themselves with.  America overreached when it responded to 9/11. The simple explanations are that this was political opportunism or, far more likely, a natural reaction that came from fear.  But if the world believed that, it would disrupt the commie narrative that capitalism is evil.  So they threw together a theory about planned demolitions.

There it is.  The one true conspiracy.  Communists invent all other conspiracy theories to advance their discredited ideology.  All of their conspiracy theories about capitalism and the New World Order are actually an elaborate conspiracy to install a communist New World Order.  Of course now that I think about it, does it make sense to assume there is an conspiracy every time I hear something that doesn't fit what I believe?  Could this belief that communists are behind everything be the product of paranoia; another Red Scare?  Maybe these conspiracy theories exist because there are lots of disaffected nuts in the world who jump on every screwy theory, especially the Anti-American ones, that they can find.  That's a much simpler explanation.  Nah, screw it.  Occam's Razor is for pussies.  Commies are behind everything.  Damn commies.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Every State Needs Two Senators Because I Like Maple Syrup

Last week, I saw Bill Maher repeat one of his frequent pet peeves.  He dislikes the fact that even states with tiny populations have the same number of senators as huge ones like California.  This is an outgrowth of the filibuster debate.  Because so many of those tiny population states are red states, they can prevent Democrats from moving legislation through the Senate.  Never mind the fact that it wasn't too long ago that Republicans had a majority, but not a super majority, and were clamoring for filibuster reform.  He wants proportional representation in the Senate.  But he assumes that the only thing of value that a state has is the people there.  Some of the tiny population states provide valuable resources that the larger states could not live without.

One of the most critical resources provided to me by a small state is maple syrup.  One cannot have pancakes without maple syrup.  I may live in the South and have ready access to cane syrup, but that's only good for biscuits.  In order to have proper pancakes, one must have maple syrup.  And butter.  And bacon on the side.  Butter and bacon are readily available in the South, but not maple syrup.

The only place to get good maple syrup is Vermont.  Vermont's population is approximately 600,000.  In Manhattan, there are probably zip codes that have more people than that.  Vermont has one senator for every 300,000 people and California has one senator for every 19 million.  But Vermont is equally critical to the national well being.  Only Vermont can can provide the critical resource that transforms simple fried batter into decadent breakfast bliss.

Utter chaos would result if larger states had more votes than little states like Vermont.  The large states would call all of the shots.  A small state like Vermont would have no power and just be forced to supply the large states with its precious tree sap/liquid gold.  Vermont would be little more than a colony supplying syrup.  Big states could push through regulations requiring higher quantities at lower prices.  Now I find it unlikely that Vermont would revolt, but there is the "Ah, screw it" effect that results from being under-appreciated.  Smarty pants people call this civil disobedience.  Because of big state mandates on supply and price, Vermont maple syrup producers would simply not bother creating the same quality of syrup.  Instead of high quality liquid breakfast orgasm sauce, we'd have the cheap, runny stuff.  Suddenly, breakfast would be ruined.  Making me even grouchier in the morning.

At that point, innocent pancake eaters would be forced to search for alternatives.  Some of my Whole Foodsy, Fresh Markety food snob friends like to put agave nectar on their pancakes.  But if we all did this, there would be fewer agave plants available to make Agave Ambrosia.  Also known as tequila.  This would cause brawls in the streets.  Kind of like the brawls we see when people drink tequila, but worse because the combatants would be sober enough to hit their targets.

There is one other option, but it's problematic.  Nobody likes to obtain resources from countries with questionable moral character.  But if Vermont has been beaten down so hard by big state bullies that syrup producers can't produce the good stuff, we would have no choice.  We would have to turn to the most evil and hideous nation the planet Earth has ever known.  Canada.  I mean seriously, no decent country would produce beer that nasty.  And don't get me started about hockey (shudder).

This is all about principle for me.  I'm not a small state guy.  The states I grew up in are Virginia and Georgia, the 12th and 8th most populous states.  I live in Florida, the 4th most populous state.  I'm taking this stand for the greater good.  Preserving the availability of high quality maple syrup (and various other lesser resources provided by small states, like grain and meat and timber and minerals) can only be done if small states have equal representation in the Senate.  Two Vermont senators could could face down the big state bullies and prevent any oppressive regulations, because a big state would also only have two senators.

Weakening small states in the Senate would reduce breakfast quality nationwide, or empower rogue nations who seek to destroy us by making us dependent on their syrup.  The only way to preserve our breakfast independence is to ensure that the makeup of the Senate remains as our founding fathers intended.  Ultimately, it's about justice.  Pancake justice.  And waffles, too, I guess.  Nah, to hell with that.  I hate Belgians.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The IRS Star Trek Video: You're Just Doing It Wrong

The latest government waste outrage is the IRS Star Trek parody video.  The government spent $60,000 on this and another training video based on Gilligan's Island.  People are up in arms over the perceived waste of money.  But making a training video wasn't necessarily a waste.  The IRS just made one that was lousy and taught nothing of value.  I'm not really against making more entertaining training videos, as long as they actually train people to do something.

I've been forced to sit through various training videos made by the various companies I've worked for over the years.  Usually, the typical corporate training video starts with 2nd rate graphics and a corporate logo, with cheesy elevator music playing in the background.  Then a narration about whatever blah-blah corporate policy the video is about starts.  The voice talent is usually a person with a voice that's both sonorous and soporific, like someone who works for NPR.  Right off the bat, this video starts to sound like cheap propaganda.  It's groan inducing, eye roll inducing, and cringe inducing.  I've seen these on everything from "good corporate ethics" to "how to lift heavy things.".  But whatever the subject matter is, no matter how valuable, the message is lost because the watchers stop taking it seriously almost immediately.

Granted, the watchers stopped taking the IRS video seriously almost immediately, as well.  But not because it used a goofy story to get the point across.  When done right, the entertainment approach can be very effective.  It's not the first time the government has used the slightly silly for training.  In World War II, Walt Disney famously produced many training cartoons for soldiers, such as this one.  Okay, it's actually Canadian, but there are plenty of others that were made for the US.  They're just much more difficult to find on YouTube, apparently.  This sort of video would have been effective at both keeping the recruits' attention (many of them were very young, and probably had the attention span of young people) and actually training them.

I'm wondering if the military still does this.  Looney Tunes was always way better than Disney.  Some of them would make great training videos. 

Wile E Coyote would be extremely effective at training explosive ordnance disposal personnel on how not to handle explosives.

And he would also be effective at teaching them why one should properly pack a parachute. 

Elmer Fudd could train infantrymen on the value of checking the flanks so that rabbits or Taliban or whatever don't sneak up on them. 

And Pepi Le Pew would be perfect for teaching soldiers about sexual harassment.

I digress, but not too much.  An entertaining video can help make learning about an ordinarily dry subject more palatable, and therefore more effective.  And I can think of few subjects more dry than the internal revenue code or policies of the IRS.  Sadly, the Star Trek video taught nothing of value.  It made a few references to subjects of interest (identity theft, for example), but didn't go into any real depth.  This video looked more like the type of thing a really nerdy frat house put together after getting drunk on a Saturday night.
I'm not sure how someone would successfully combine Star Trek with an IRS training video.  Perhaps it would involve an intrepid away team of IRS auditors digging it's way out from under a mound of receipts.  But it's worth noting that the Gilligan's Island video was actually determined to have some training value, so it must be possible.  Too bad the Star Trek video was a total waste.  Granted, $60,000 isn't a huge amount when compared to most government spending.  But it does provide another example of the government's cavalier attitude toward spending public funds.  There is a culture of entitlement amongst bureaucrats that assumes that they can spend money budgeted to them on whatever they like.  Like extravagant conventions held by the GSA.  Or Joe Biden's hotel bills.
Goofy stuff isn't necessarily a waste, though.  The makers of these videos claim that they can actually save money.  I think that's true, since it's probably less expensive than printing loads of instructional materials and hiring instructors to teach long, dull classes that no one pays attention to.  That might be more expensive than even five or six videos.  But we need someone to ensure that the content actually does the job.  And doesn't suck.
So the government doesn't have to explain why the videos were made.  It only has to explain why it couldn't do better.  I'm all for training government employees in the cheapest and most effective way possible.  Videos can actually do that, like the WWII cartons.  And on that note, I definitely think the military should consider bringing the Looney Tunes in for training.  At least use Wile E Coyote as a drill instructor.  But maybe don't have him instruct on the things he's bad at, like explosives, engineering, or anything involving falling from great heights.  Maybe he should be a shooting instructor instead?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Trolling the American Randstand

On March 6th, in response to a wishy-washy position posed by Attorney General Holder, Senator Rand Paul threw down an old school move.  An actual filibuster.  Not the half-assed "don't have sixty votes" filibuster.  He hit the floor and said he'd talk until the president responded.  The point was simple.  Eric Holder wouldn't commit to saying that we would not use predators to kill Americans on American soil.  Rand Paul took a stand saying he should commit.  Demanding answers from the president.  He went on for hours lecturing about due process, the constitution, and any number of entirely relevant things.  Not the cheap type of filibustering where some douche just reads from the phone book.

Republican senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, John Thune, John Barrasso, John Cornyn, Jerry Moran, Jeff Flake, Mitch McConnell, and showed up.  Also, Senators Marco Rubio (MINE!), Saxby Chambliss (from my home state), and Tim Scott (my home state's neighbor to the north) participated.  One of the old guard, Mitch McConnell, also made an appearance.  And I've heard a lot of people call him Johnny-Come-Lately, but that's better than the twelve Johnny-Would-Rather-Let-The-President-Buy-Him(And One Her)-Dinner senators.  And Mark Kirk didn't participate (he is recovering from a stroke, after all), but showed up and deserves a shoutout for bringing a care package.

Even some Democrats were there.  Ron Wyden (D) participated in the filibuster.  Dick Durbin (Heavy D) was there too.  Granted, he wasn't participating, just asking questions, but he was Involved In The Democratic Process.  Not something that seems to happen very often these days.  And the questions he asked (confrontational, but not discourteously so), added to Paul's credibility.  Paul knocked his first two questions out of the park.  The last one (towards the end), was more of a single. 

For the most part, when the senators broke in for questions, they did so with pertinent questions that added to the debate, Dems and Reps alike.  But there was also a bit of fun.  Ted Cruz took some time to quote everything from Shakespeare to Patton.  Marco Rubio followed up by quoting Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z.  It was all still relevant, though, as they tied the artistic references into the debate.
But the most epic part was when Ted Cruz carpet bombed the Senate with tweets from everyone who was supporting Rand Paul.  The twitterverse was alive with all things Rand Paul.  Around the world.  He did this twice, bringing thousands who were glued to C-Span (when's the last time that happened, ever) into the process.  Ted Cruz gets the Best Supporting Actor award for that.  But the MVP was still Rand Paul, because he suddenly energized the public about politics, for the first time in years.

Of course, it was only a matter of time until detracty detractors who detract started detracting.  The first salvo was the typical opening move of the radical left.  Articles, blog posts, and tweets starting referring to his RAAAACISM!  This was in reference to a series of interviews in 2010 where Rand Paul failed to properly bless and sprinkle and show proper deference to the Civil Rights Act.  Instead, he had the incredibly bad taste to note that other fundamental rights, like free speech and property ownership, are occasionally at odds with the CRA.  Instead of bowing and scraping before the almighty CRA, he actually had the temerity to suggest that the CRA and other fundamental rights might occasionally conflict with each other and need to be reconciled.  This is an obscure legal concept also known as: The Reason Judges Have Jobs.

Race baiting is all too common these days.  But it's a waste of time to obsess over this sort of thing.  Someone who fails to have even this rudimentary understanding of how the Constitution works is the posterchild for low information voters.  What this episode does is show two key things about Rand Paul.  He's willing to explore and debate the Constitution in a nuanced way, and he's willing to go where few dare to tread.

So when "Racist" doesn't work, go for "Irrelevant".  Various writers and journalists have decided that he was wasting time.  Debating a question that was already answered.  For example, I read a piece by Tommy Christopher on Mediaite pushing this point.  He believed that Eric Holder actually did answer the question.  But the fact is, Holder left the question open.  He used 9/11 and Pearl Harbor as examples of unusual circumstances where this might happen, but did not clarify explicitly what defines a circumstance where using a drone is allowed.

Of course, when "Irrelevant" fails, "Crazy" is always an option.  I saw Krystal Ball and Toure on the Cycle pushing this.  Apparently, Rand Paul was just a nut ginning up a silly, non-issue to pander to conspiracy theorists, anti-government nuts, and "savages" (Toure's word.  Stay Classy).  Notably, just as liberal Steve Kornacki took a different position (Not sure where S.E. Cupp was) from his two colleagues and upheld the need for exploring these points.  The relative newness of the drone program means there are lots of unanswered questions.

It's good that he did.  The attorney general's response was a tad vague, saying that use of drones on Americans on American soil would only happen in extreme circumstances, but not clarifying what criteria would be used to determine what those circumstances are.  And exploring unlikely hypotheticals is not something a crazy person does.  It's common practice in politics.

I'm reminded of the 2008 Republican presidential campaign.  In one debate, the various candidates were asked by Brit Hume about a highly unlikely, ticking time-bomb, Jack-Baueresque scenario.  Would they, in the wake of several damaging attacks against the US, torture someone who potentially had knowledge of another attack that was imminent?  Mitt Romney danced around it (shocking, I know. Kind of like an Eric Holder).  Rand's father Ron Paul was strongly against it.  So was John McCain.  Of course, McCain comes to that position honestly, and from personal experience.

Brit Hume asked a pertinent question about an unlikely, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-we scenario.  This is because these highly unlikely scenarios are the ones where people and governments take the most extreme action and are at great risk for overreach.  To a libertarian type of guy like Rand Paul, government overreach is to be avoided at all costs.  So I find it odd that John McCain, who was happy to answer the question about the unlikely scenario related to torture, was so willing to dismiss the unlikely scenario that was proposed by Rand Paul.

Paul admits it's unlikely that Obama would ever do this.  And it's unlikely that anyone would do this.  But one unfortunate election could result in a nut who would consider droning Americans without due process of law.  So defining the laws clearly now prevents this scenario from happening.  Just as defining torture ensures we don't cross the line there.  I'm surprised that McCain would be willing to deal in hypotheticals in one case, but spurn the same thing in another.  Especially when the one he spurned is the one more likely to result in dead bodies, if it did ever happen.

Eric Holder did respond.  The answer was that we can't use drones against "non-combatant" Americans.  Plenty of Paul critics claim that the simplicity of this response (including two out of three Cycle liberals) makes Paul look ridiculous.  But it doesn't.  Paul got some additional clarification (his goal from the start), which isn't ridiculous.  The response also leaves questions open, suggesting that Paul is on to something.  What is a "combatant" American?  Holder's still missing a few details.  And if we don't define it, and we elect some nutjob in the future, that guy may decide to define it for us with executive orders.

Rand Paul took a stand to make the administration clarify how far it would go to protect itself.  He's seeking to set a standard that, even if it is highly unlikely we'll ever need it, is something that we must be absolutely clear about.  Because if we don't figure it out now, we may find ourselves figuring it out the hard way in the future.  This is not Rand Paul being an anti-government conspiracy nut.  Nor is he pandering to the extreme right.  He's a libertarian.  That's not a wingnut; libertarians tend to be moderate.  And the evidence of that is the support he got from the left.  From politicians (Wyden) to actors (John Cusack) to activists (Code Pink and more than a few Anonymous and Occupy supporters, based on tweets I saw) to left wing journalists (Cenk Uygur of Current TV.  That happened.), members of the left wing supported him.  He was able to unite disparate factions in a common cause.  It's been a while since a politician could pull that off.  No wonder #StandwithRand is still trending.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas: An Excuse For Family, Friends, and Co-Workers to Slowly Poison Us

I was on my way to spend Christmas with my family in Georgia, and I stopped in a gas station not far from Savannah.  Given that I'd been on the road for over six hours, I felt an urge to use the facilities.  While performing the necessary tasks in the men's room, the janitor, who was busy cleaning, said "So, are you ready for Christmas, or are you ready for it to come and go?"  Initially, I was perturbed.  Problem one, the guy was being too damned happy.  I rarely approve of happy people, because I think they're unrealistic.  Problem two, he started a conversation with a guy standing in front of a urinal.  Major faux-pas.  Eyes forward, no talking, and tend to your business is proper bathroom etiquette.

But I overcame my initial annoyance with the guy, because I realized I had no idea how to answer his question.  After some thought, I answered honestly and said "That's not a bad question."  He thought this was hilarious.  I was somewhat disappointed in myself for unintentionally making a guy who was already unnecessarily happy even happier.  My inability to answer with a resounding yes was quite simple.  I'm not a Scrooge or a Grinch (although I am occasionally a grouch), but I have noticed a downside to the Christmas season.  Specifically 5-15 extra pounds.  It happens each year.

The evidence of this was confirmed earlier today, when my boss said "Hey, have you put on weight?"  If it's not already obvious, my boss has the tact equivalent of, say, Archie Bunker.  Or Oscar the Grouch.  Or Archie Bunker after he gets his ass kicked by Oscar the Grouch.  Or vice-versa.  The point is he has limited social skills.  But he's not afraid to speak his mind, and he wasn't wrong.  Still, I don't want to hear comments on my weight gain from friends, family, and co-workers.  This is like drug-pushers telling addicts they have a problem.  This was their idea.

Here's why it's their idea.  It starts in early December.  The biggest clients of my employer and the people who sell things to my employer (payroll provider, benefits provider, etc.) send us gifts for Christmas.  This usually means food, which is laid out in a common area to tempt all passersby.  Then the people I work with (including boss-guy) bring in leftovers from various Christmas parties.  The food in question is not exactly health food.  On the contrary, it tends to be assorted forms of sugar-coated lard drowning in cholesterol sauce.

Then I go home for Christmas, and it gets worse.  First step, dinner with the immediate family.  In Southeast Georgia.  Where the only thing we don't fry is the iced tea, and that's just because we haven't figured out how.  Yet.  Then the next day is dinner with the extended family.  Which is a potluck dinner.  In the South, that means a smorgasbord of waistline increases and myocardial infarctions waiting to happen.  Including ten different desserts covered in molasses or chocolate or both.  And iced tea.  Of course.  Sweet iced tea; loaded with sugar.  None of that pagan-style "unsweet" (shudder) iced tea.

As a parting gift, parents, aunts, uncles, etc. give me as much of their leftovers to take home with me as they can.  Old people are like that.  They pretend it's out of generosity, but they're really just jealously clinging to their remaining years of life.  They figure I've got quite a few more left than they do, so if lose a year or two I'll still have a few decades to play with.  Never mind that they're slowly poisoning me with the most unhealthy (but admittedly awesome) food on the planet.

So why not throw it all out?  Nuh-uh.  When you're raised in a culture that celebrates frugality (we use leftover pickle jars as drinking glasses), wasting all that food is sacrilege.  Besides, the food is just too good.  I can't resist, even though it could kill me.  Moth to the flame.  So Christmas alone results in double digit weight increase and multiple carb comas.  And it takes a week to go through the leftovers.

This means New Year's Eve is just insult to injury.  At precisely the moment I finish the Christmas leftovers, I'm beset by a holiday involving the eating of buffalo wings, fried chicken, barbecue, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, and onion rings.  Not to mention imbibing lots of alcohol.  No wonder so many people make a diet their New Year's resolution.  Our greatest dietary sins are committed just prior to the end of the year, so our penance begins in January.  Fortunately, the raging hangover on January 1st is a not so subtle reminder that I need to start behaving myself.

So, yeah, Random-Guy-In-Gas-Station-Bathroom.  I was ready to indulge in an eating orgy for a week, AKA Christmas.  But I was also ready for it to come and go, hoping that the damage wouldn't be too great.  Yeah, boss.  I did put on a few pounds.  Truth is, I don't really regret it.  It's ironic that I choose what's considered by most Americans to be the holiest time of year to indulge in one of my favorite sins.  Gluttony.  I know I'll have to make up for it somehow over the next few weeks or months.  Maybe I did take a year or two off of my life.  But it was worth it.