A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bipartisan Politics

Digby writes eloquently about the current Village Voice hypocrisy about bipartisan governance. She quotes former Oklahoma Democratic Senator David L. Boren:

"Electing a president based solely on the platform or promises of one party is not adequate for this time," Boren said. "Until you end the polarization and have bipartisanship, nothing else matters, because one party simply will block the other from acting."

She correctly points out that Boren and his fellow "backstabbers" were nowhere to be found during the fifteen years of Republican one-party partisan rule, when they effectively locked the Democrats out of the process of government. So, she assumes, it's okay if the Republicans do it, but not when the Democrats do it.

Her deconstruction is spot on, but she misses one thing that I think is critical to the discussion. Since assuming the majority role in 2006, the Democratic leadership in Congress have been doing nothing but push bipartisan politics. Pelosi bent over backward in the House to give the Republicans everything they wanted, as if they were still in the majority. Reid did the same, including honoring any "hold" on legislation from the Republicans, and ignoring the hold put on recent legislation by his fellow Democrat, Chris Dodd. You can not look at the past year in politics without truthfully acknowledging that the Democrats have distinctly not pursued partisan politics, and it has us very annoyed. The Republicans have demonstrated their gratitude for this cooperation by mudslinging, obstructing and doing everything in their power to make the Democratic majority look bad. They've succeeded brilliantly.

So I agree with Digby and Matt Yglesias that we need more partisanship from our leaders, not less. It's time to show the American people who is really responsible for the weight of the problems they're worried about, and who is responsible for blocking every solution to those problems. The Republicans aren't interested in bipartisanship, they're interested in talking about it to make the Democrats look bad. When it comes to politics, they allow only two possibilities: their way or no way. And the media is helping them get away with it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I need a doctor

Finding health insurance in corporate America is an awful lot like begging for scraps. If you can afford to visit a doctor on your own without insurance, then you really don't need insurance, do you? If you can't afford to visit a doctor on your own, the option plans include "pay on your own anyway, up to a certain amount" or "pay a ridiculous amount per month."

I've been suffering with what I'm pretty sure is shingles for the entire month. It's now time to bite the bullet and go see a doctor. So I went to Blue Cross/Blue Shield's website to look up affordable insurance policies. The most affordable monthly payment I could find had a $5000 deductible attached to it. Think about that for a moment: I'm looking for insurance because I can't afford the high cost of medicine in the US, but in order to benefit from insurance I have to have a lot of money on hand to begin with. My uncle, now a Vice President with Anthem (the company that owns Blue Cross/Blue Shield), once described this as giving people the freedom to make their own choices. Apparently, having a high deductible allows people the freedom to shop around for doctors they like best? He couldn't quite answer how this is supposed to work, since the deductible is doubled if you go out of network. Or how an amazingly high deductible allows people to shop around in the first place. I want insurance because a visit to the doctor costs the same as a fourth of my rent, and I'd really rather not have to choose between eating and getting urgent medical care.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield isn't the only one running this racket. This now appears to be the standard for all modern health insurance policies; my deductible with Aetna through my previous employer was $1000, and for this privilege I paid $100 a month. The days when having health insurance meant you could actually afford to get medical treatment are long gone in these golden days of "compassionate conservatism." There is no mandate for getting health insurance. Being healthy is a privilege in this nation, not a right. The free market has spoken, and the free market has decided that if I'm not rich enough to afford decent health care that it's appropriate for me to have to decide between eating and visiting a doctor.

Gods, but I miss Australia and its socialized medicine.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A day in the life of a common Joe

This story was lifted wholesale from a comment at reddit.com. I wish I could claim to be the original author, but that honor belongs to liberal_one.

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks on the government-provided sidewalk to subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe also forgets that his in addition to his federally subsidized student loans, he attended a state funded university.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards to go along with the tax-payer funded roads.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans.

The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Non-Libertarian FAQ

Libertarianism is one of the more popular utopian schemes to emerge in the last twenty years. My rather simple understanding of it boils down to one phrase: the free market cures all ills. Suggestions to the contrary tend to garner immediate and vehement (Hi, Denis!) reaction.

I have lots of reasons to have more faith in the government than I do in corporations. One is that government is meant to represent us all, while corporations don't have to answer to anyone but their stockholders. Another is that government -- at least those that pretend to follow democratic ideals -- can be changed with every election until the people find themselves with representation that satisfies them. With businesses, your only hope is either to find another corporation that doesn't follow the same business practices or go without.

I ran across a very useful site that pulls no punches in critiquing the libertarian mindset, and offers some very interesting responses to Libertarian evangelism. I'm posting it here so I can refer back to it again when the need arises.

As I'm sure it will.

The Golden Compass

Yesterday, T and I went to see The Golden Compass, the movie adapted from the novel by Phil Pullman. Pullman is an avowed atheist, and apparently doesn't pull any punches in his writing. I've never read his work so I can't say for myself, but Christians are calling for a boycott across the nation.

That alone was enough to ensure that I was going to go and pay money for this movie.

I'm still not over the shingles. Only through the agency of painkillers both mild and strong have I been able to go out and do things this week; I even managed to clock in 21 hours at work, which is really going to hurt my finances, but this month is pretty much a write-off already. But fortified with a pair of Advil we braved the winter snow (I think we got half a foot) to do some desperately needed grocery shopping before catching an early show.

I can see why the Christians are so upset. The protagonist works for the Magisterium, a church-like organization that wants to control what people think, believe and how they behave. Nicole Kidman stars as the main protagonist who lays on thick the need for most people to be told what to do. Her character also turns out to be behind one of the more disturbing policies of the Magisterium, which I won't reveal because I'm not in the habit of giving spoilers. Other agents of the Magisterium are shown trying to poison people with opinions or information they dislike, stealing private property to nullify others and using children in torturous experiments. As a whole, the Magisterium is depicted as a thoroughly evil organization whose members have generally abandoned any pretense of morality while furthering the organization's ends.

Now, there's no direct attempt to call the Magisterium a religious order, but the allegory is pretty clear. This is an organization that wants to "help" people by taking control of them and making sure everyone does what it wants them to. If Christian organizations feel that this is meant to be a slam against them, well, I suppose a guilty conscience would do that, wouldn't it?

Obviously, I don't have a lot of sympathy for people like Bill Donahue who calls Pullman's work "atheism for kids." As T put it yesterday, "if their beliefs are so special, what are they so worried about?" That's a question a lot of atheists and agnostics like to ask: if various religions really do have a lock on the Truth as they like to claim, why do they complain so much when that Truth is challenged?

You know what I think, and if you don't you haven't been paying attention. But aside from giving religious nuts a firm tweak in the nose, The Golden Compass is worth seeing at least once. I thought it handled an epic story fairly well, and the CGI is nothing to sneeze at either.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fundamentalism for the US Constitution

Once again, reddit has spawned another topic I think worthy of discussion. As a former political science student, I just can't stay away from politics and government. One poster posted the following topic: Fundamentalism+Bible=Bad, but Fundamentalism+Constitution=OK?

Political junkie that I am, I had to respond.

I can see the point of this argument, so I'm upmodding it. The Constitution was meant to be a "living document," one that was constantly challenged and updated to reflect modern issues not yet considered by the Founders. Right now we have 27 Amendments, addressing various aspects of our government and society. They appear to have passed at semi-regular intervals, indicating that the Constitution has, in fact, served as the "living document" the Founders intended.

When you consider a "fundamentalist," you are commonly discussing someone who is a literalist to a religious degree, someone who believes a body of text (usually religious) to be infallible and not to be challenged. The Constitution is anything but a holy text, but to some people it may well be.

Certain conservatives and libertarians seem to believe that the Federal Government is de facto prevented from governing outside the limited language of the Constitution. If the Constitution didn't explicitly allow the government to assume a particular role, then the government is automatically prevented from doing so. To them, the States have all power to pass laws and assume various roles, and all the Federal government can do is decide on matters of interstate commerce and national security.

To some liberals, the Federal Government is the final source of central power and the best resource for change on a national level. The lawmaking powers of Congress were meant to be able to impact the nation regardless of individual State wishes, so long as they phrase those laws within the confines of the Constitution. It was a liberal ideal that was enacted within the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment which states:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Thus beginning the age wherein the Bill of Rights are expressly applied to the States as well as the Federal government. Effectively, the Fourteenth began the Federal Government's tenure as a lawmaking body that supersedes State legislatures.

In effect, "fundamentalist constitutionalists" are fighting against the Constitution itself, or at least the interpretation of the part of the Constitution that was ratified after the Civil War. The writers of the Fourteenth Amendment realized that States could get away with all manner of atrocities in the name of sovereignty, and they used the Constitution to close that loophole. In time, people stopped appealing as much to State legislatures as to the Federal legislature to protect new rights and assume new services to reflect the changing times. This left the States with little more than maintenance, and to experiment with laws more radical (like California) than those imposed by the Federal Government.

When Journalists Allow Themselves To Be Manipulated - A Rebuttal

I found this Say Anything blog listed at Reuters Top News and couldn't help but respond. Essentially, this dimwit is blaming the media for supporting terrorism because they've been reporting it. Here is the text of my response.

Curiously, my impression of journalism over the past seven years is that they've been bending over backwards to accommodate the Bush administration. The fact that they keep reporting how dangerous Iraq is on the ground reflects more on how impossible it is to ignore that news without getting slammed by their international counterparts than any particular desire to be manipulated by "defeatism" politicians like John Murtha.

The general consensus by journalists and residents alike is that while the FREQUENCY of violence is down, the reasons for it and the attacks that do occur still make Iraq one of the most dangerous places to be right now. It doesn't matter that the series of bombings killed 22 or 222 during Gates' visit: the danger is still there, and as the British forces demonstrated in Basra, the reason that danger exists is primarily due to the occupation forces in place. They continue to fight because we're there, and unless we're prepared to place permanent "surge-level" forces on the ground to kill every single resident, it is simply not going away.

It's disingenuous to blame the media for terrorism because the media has reported on terrorist activities. Somehow, a media blackout will make the terrorists lose heart and go away? Do terrorists count on media exposure for their deeds? To some extent that may be true, but these are not propaganda specialists. These are a little more than bullies, and far more complex. They're jihadists, they're patriots, they're men and women with families they're trying to protect in a land where everyone is against his neighbor, and all the neighbors are against the occupiers.

We are already defeated in Iraq. The media has refused to say it, even John Murtha won't admit it, but a majority of Americans have a clue because they want our troops home. We were defeated the moment we defied the UN by forming our own coalition and occupying the country. Trying to shift the blame to anyone but our own government and those dittoheads who cheered them on is pointless.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Shingles SUCK

Shingles are an adult outbreak of chicken pox, that lovely childhood ailment that makes life hell for a few weeks. It's no better in adulthood, either. Let's look at the symptoms:

  • Pain, burning, tingling, numbness or extreme sensitivity in a certain part of your body

  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain

  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over

  • Itching

  • Fever and chills

  • Headache

  • Upset stomach or abdominal pain

Pain, burning, tingling, numbness or extreme sensitivity in a certain part of your body? Eh, not so much.

Red rash that begins a few days after the pain? Got those all over my arms and feet, and a few around my shoulders.

Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over? Thank the gods, no. Or at least not yet.

Itching? Oh yes. Those rashes are infernal. They were, in fact, my first symptom and they looked for all the world like bugbites. I tried a few methods to combat this, and finally fell back on Melaleuca's "Renew" lotion. They used to use just allantoin and their patented melaleuca oil which did wonders for my skin, but now all they offer is their "Renew" product which has a bunch of other stuff that does nothing for me. However, I've found it to still be the best product I can find. It has an amazing effect on quelling and reducing the itchy rashes.

Fever and chills? For about a week or two I suffered the rashes, then all of a sudden this Sunday I was struck by an avalanche of symptoms including fever and chills. They still hit me completely at random, day and night.

Headache? Yes, but it's the least of my concerns.

Upset stomach or abdominal pain? That's what really got me on Sunday, and it's persisted to varying degrees all week. I'm most comfortable when I stay very still and move as little as possible. Great for when you're sitting in front of the computer browsing or playing World of Warcraft, but working? Getting up to use the bathroom? Trying to roll over in bed? My entire world is pain, and I have to remind myself to eat.

I tried going to work after taking some heavy narcotics (leftovers from my adventure with the dentist), and barely managed to get in half a shift. They're already shorthanded so this is really not good, but all of them agreed I was in no shape to continue. So I can look forward to more half shifts until this goes away.

The best part: this is likely to continue for at least a couple of weeks. So my conclusion? Shingles suck.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sex and American Values

I am about to embark on a topic I revisit at least once a year, saying much of the same things in different ways. This may offend some people, and it may bore others. Read at your own risk.

Long ago I had a fiancee. We dated for four years, and over the course of the last year our relationship broke down irreparably. We were both in college at the time, and while the distance between Troy, NY and the capital wasn't that great, it represented a lot of time by bus. She went through the year having a series of nervous breakdowns over her major, which she changed twice. I went into a steady decline until I simply stopped going to classes altogether due to stress and spending too much time in Troy helping her. We were fighting too much, going through the motions too much, and neither of us were getting what we wanted out of it. Still, the breakup was traumatic for me. It's a hell of a way to say "happy birthday" to someone.

I mention this because it bears directly on my opinions regarding sex, monogamy and commitment. This woman was my first long-term sexual partner (both our mothers had fits when our secret was discovered). She wasn't my first, although I was hers. She was deeply conservative about such matters, so fidelity and monogamy were paramount. I wronged her by not admitting my previous partners, and I didn't truly accept that until much later. But it wasn't the sex that concerned me. It was love.

After she broke up with me, I had to decide what I was going to do about it. I realized that I still loved her, and always would. But how could I move on if I couldn't stop loving her? How could I possibly love anyone else with that in the way? My conclusion was that if I couldn't be with her and couldn't stop loving her, then I was going to have to learn to love more than one person at a time. That was the point when I accepted that the human heart can grow to encompass as much love as you can manage.

Since then I've had both open relationships and monogamous relationships. Curiously, the monogamous relationships were always the most difficult. Not because I couldn't be faithful, but because I discovered I can't stand being treated as a possession. I am mine. I may choose to give myself to another, but that doesn't give them property rights over me. Likewise, if I dally with another person it does not mean that I have no love left for the person I'm with. In my mind, monogamy is like restricting yourself to only one friend: it sounds romantic, but it's hardly natural. Sexual fidelity is a social construct, not a biological one.

However, monogamy is ingrained into Western culture, and American culture in particular. We impeached a President over the kind of sexual infidelity that would have gotten a French or Italian leader re-elected. We're horrified by the thought that our sexual property might ever be sullied by someone else. Our religions scream at us that sex is only proper between a man and woman who have been given the official religious blessing.

This morning I ran across a quote from an online novel called Tales of Mu that phrases the issue more succinctly than I've ever known: "You were taught that sex is the most degrading, depraved, disgusting, disturbing, nasty, noxious, filthy, foul, venal, evil, sinful and just plain wrong thing in this plane of existence, and you should only share it with the person you love most?"

That pretty much sums it up for American culture. Oh, there are always variations and people embrace it to greater and lesser degrees, but I can think of no better way to summarize the American attitude toward sex. It's dirty, horrible, sinful and shameful. The fact that we're inundated by it in our media and entertainment doesn't diminish that summary at all; it just makes it more exciting.

I'm keenly interested in demystifying sex in our culture. There are cultures in the world where children grow up knowing exactly what sex looks and sounds like because their parents do it with each other with them in the room. Somehow, these cultures still manage to avoid more than their fair share of sexual predators. Bill Clinton got a blowjob and outside of the US, the world opinion was largely unanimous: so what?

Do I think everyone should abandon all sexual restraint and engage in a massive sexual orgy? No, although that would make for some interesting evening news. Do I think monogamy is wrong? No, but I know it's wrong for me. What I think is that we need to wean ourselves away from our puritan attitudes and accept that sex is what we make of it. It can be pure physical gratification, it can be a powerful expression of intimacy and it can be abused as a tool of dominance. We need to decide for ourselves, as individuals, what sex means to us. What it means to everybody else is entirely up to them, and it's not our place to dictate to them.

My ex-wife and I talked about this extensively before we were married, and while I thought we had a good understanding it turned out we didn't. As soon as I put that ring on her finger, I was transformed from a person into property. It was inevitable that our marriage didn't last.

My lady and I have also talked about this extensively, and we still re-visit the issue on occasion. So far we're still in perfect harmony over the issue, and I know I'm insanely lucky to have found her. We've managed to maintain a remarkable state of bliss for the time we've been together, and there is every indication that we'll keep it up a lot longer. So ironically, we've achieved the classically romantic ideal without conforming to classically romantic rules.

Sex. Love. They're so much better when we stop obsessing about them and start embracing them.