Wednesday, March 31, 2010

License to Shill

I keep hoping that one day the Tea Party movement will have its' Jaws moment. I don't mean the shark movie, but the character played by Richard Kiel in two James Bond films in the 1970s. A assassin sent out to kill Bond, Jaws was 7 foot, 2 inces tall, had metal teeth, and was apparently indestructible. For instance, in The Spy Who Loved Me , during a fight scene on a train, Jaws has Bond by the throat and is about to take a metallic bite out of him. But Bond grabs a broken lamp and shoves it in Jaws mouth, temporarily (!) electrocuting him. Jaws is then pushed off the fast moving train, lands hard on the ground, and rolls down an embankment. Afterwards, he gets up, brushes himself off, and straightens his tie. I always loved the straightening of the tie part. It's hard to hate a villain who manages to retain some semblance of dignity after a rather humiliating defeat. Jaws, after all, was a freak of nature, and didn't really fit in with all that Bondian glamour. Maybe that's why he was so homicidal.

The Tea Party movement is no freak of nature. Is it homicidal? Well, some of our elected officials, the ones who voted for health care, have been receiving death threats. And the Tea Partiers have been known to carry signs with targeted representatives on them. In their defense, the Tea Partiers (I'm trying very hard not to refer to them as teabaggers; that joke's gotten kind of old) claim they're only targeted for defeat in the next election. If the representatives make it to the next election. On the day of the health care vote itself, John Lewis (D-GA), a significant figure during the 1960s civil rights movement, was called a nigger, and Barney Frank (D-MA) was called a fag by Tea Partiers as both gentlemen entered their office. I think Jaws showed more dignity when he bit into the broken lamp.

Until now, I've been somewhat reluctant to criticize the Tea Party movement. Most of them seem to come from the white working-class, about the only group left in these politically correct times the sophisticates feel free to malign. I've long felt the white working-class could be won over to the liberal side, at least when it comes to economics. Social issues, such a gay marriage, would be a much harder sell. Still, once you had them securely in the liberal fold, maybe you could win them over on those as well.

However, the way the Tea Party movement has reacted to the economics of health care reform has given me pause. Sure, this is not the best bill Congress could have passed, and some aspects of it, such as the mandates, have me worried as well. But a simpler way of doing it would have been labeled socialism. Of course, the Tea Party movement has labeled it socialism anyway, as well as communism, fascism, and Nazism. Supposedly what bothers the Tea Partiers most is government spending. Fair enough. So where were they during the war in Iraq? That cost the taxpayers money, as well as some taxpayers' lives and limbs. OK, they're supposed to be proudly patriotic, and lot of them probably equate patriotism with any military action someone in power deems necessary (which reminds me, the expansion of the war in Afghanistan is the one policy move by the Obama administration they don't seem to have a problem with), but what about George W Bush's expansion of Medicare? Where were they then? They claim to be upset with both political parties, but where were they during the eight years Bush was in office? They claim to hate the bank bailouts, but again, never protested until after Bush moved out of the White House.

The Tea Partiers claim to be against "elitism". Well, one definition of elitism is people who believe themselves to be better than others. When they call others "nigger" and "fag", doesn't that mean they think they're better? Or do they think Lewis and Frank enjoyed being called that? Apparently, elitism is relative.

I've often wondered if the Teabaggers--oops--Tea Partiers aren't paid to protest at town halls and the like. There's no proof that they are. But even if there is no direct change of cash, I nevertheless believe they take their marching orders from people with much bigger bank accounts than them, who live in much bigger houses than them, who have many more options in life than them, and who no way in hell identify with or understands them. I take the last part back. If you're going to manipulate people, it helps first to understand them.

Which brings me to the second James Bond movie with Jaws, Moonraker. In that film, an evil tycoon sends Jaws out to dispatch Bond before he can discover his nefarious plan. Jaws falls short of killing Bond, but at least captures and brings him to the evil tycoon's lair, in this case an orbiting space station. Confident Bond can't escape, the tycoon lays out his plan. Jaws listens in as well, probably hearing it for the first time. The tycoon is going to release a bunch of globes filled with poison gas into Earth's atmosphere, thus killing everybody on the planet. Aboard the space station are dozens of what the evil tycoon considers genetically perfect humans. Once the effects of the poison gas wears off, these perfect humans, these elite humans, will return to Earth and live in a perfectly elite world.

As Jaws listens to this plan, a look of realization appears on his face. There's not going to be any room for a freak like him in this perfect world. He's being used. Jaws switches sides, and helps Bond save the day.

Here's hoping the Tea Partiers have their Jaws moment.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Archival Revival: Duo Over

(This post originally appeared on 3/12/09--KJ)

There are two criticisms I sometimes get.

One is that I'm a loner.

The other is that I care too much about what other people think of me.

I've thought long and hard about those two criticisms, and, I've decided, the critics are right. So, I'm turning over a new leaf. No more being a loner, and no more caring what other people think of me.

Starting today, I'm joining every club, organisation, society, institution, federation, association, affiliation, team, league, lodge, order, fellowship, charity, cause, movement, party, group, gang, pack, clique, and tribe I can find.

Also starting today, I'm going to be as informative, pontifical, iconoclastic, challenging, critical, opinionated, judgemental, contrary, non-conformist, expressive, romantic, extroverted, dramatic, emotional, excitable, confessional, uninhibited, horny, discomfiting, disturbing, boring, eccentric, weird, strange, odd, goofy, neurotic, psychotic, and certifiably insane as I damn well please.

But first, I'm going to stop off at the Army-Navy store and get myself some body armor.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Quips and Quotations (Flitcraft Parable Edition)

"Here's what happened to him. Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up – just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn't touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger – well, affectionately – when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works."

Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not in step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By that time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

He went to Seattle that afternoon," Spade said, "and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

--The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Medical Center

I'll be honest, the passage of the health care reform bill took me by surprise. It wasn't just that it passed, but that it passed this week. For some reason, I thought they would be arguing about it for another couple of months. It's not like I haven't been paying attention. I wrote about health care back in June , expressing my disappointment that a single payer system wasn't even considered, and that the alternative, a public option, looked like it might be dropped because it was considered too "divisive". When the option was indeed dropped, the whole health care debate began to seem like background noise. I tried to pay attention, but one can only listen to "We must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good" or "They want to shove government health care down our throats" so many times until it begins to sounds like, "Don't let a perfect enemy shove government throats down our good health care." So I gradually tuned out, until this week, when, lo and behold, it passed.

But what passed exactly? Here are some highlights of the bill, culled from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, along with my comments.

Major coverage expansion begins in 2014. When fully phased in, 95 percent of eligible Americans would have coverage, compared with 83 percent today.

So far, so good.

Beginning in 2014, almost everyone is required to be insured or pay a fine.

This is the part I don't quite get. I thought the reason there are so many uninsured is because they couldn't afford it. They can all of a sudden? But wait, help is on the way.

Expands federal-state insurance program for the poor [Medicaid] to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014.

Now, are they saying 133 percent of $29,327, or are they saying the poverty level is something else, and the $29,327 is the 133 percent of that something else? Whatever the amount, a childless adult is going to have to divide it by four. Everyone better bone up on their math by 2014.

Tax subsidies for purchasing insurance available on a sliding scale for households making up to four times the federal poverty level, $88,200 for a family of four. Premiums for a family of four making $44,000 would be capped at around 6 percent of income.

More math. Maybe they should add a pocket calculator subsidy.

Insurers barred from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies or from denying coverage to children with pre-existing existence medical problems.

I just so happen to know some parents of a child with pre-existing conditions. I haven't talked to them about any of this yet, but I can't help but think they're happy.

In 2014, insurers barred from denying coverage to anyone with pre-existing conditions or charging them more, or from charging more for a woman.

Until I read the above sentence, I had no idea that one's gender could be considered a pre-existing condition. Bars may offer Ladies Nights but not hospitals? Maybe Chastity Bono was just trying to save money.

Beginning in 2008, taxes health care plans costing at least $20,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. Increased Medical payroll tax on investment income and wages for individuals making more than $200,000, or married couples above $250,000.

Taxes. The number one reason people bitch about big government. Well, look at it this way, those of you of the bitching persuasion, no tax is as expensive as the spot that may one day show up on your X-ray.

Gradually closes "doughnut hole" coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit that hits seniors who have spent $2,830. When it is eliminated in 2020, seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of the cost of their medications until Medicare's catastrophic coverage kicks in.

Seniors, don't throw away those pocket calculators just yet.

Beginning in 2014, small businesses, the self-employed and the uninsured could pick a plan offered through new state-based purchasing pools.

And what exactly are state-based purchasing pools? Will they have actual addresses? Will they advertise? Will they be in the phone book? Will they be found online? One thing we don't need is word-of-mouth insurance.

Those of you from countries with national health insurance have probably read all the above and thought, "Wouldn't it just be simpler if the government payed for everything? Sure, you'd pay more in taxes, but you'd offset that with what you'd save on doctor's bills." Well, those of you from other countries, it's like this, any U.S. health care reform has to meet the approval of the middle-of-the-roaders, who decide everything in this country. What you consider national health insurance they consider Stalinism with a stethoscope. I'm sure the middle-of-the-roaders in your own countries would disagree. Maybe some day we'll have a middle-of-the-roaders cultural exchange. Just make sure your middle-of-the-roaders get a check-up before coming here.

For all my misgivings, I'm glad health care reform passed. Not ecstatic, as I would be were it single payer, but glad. It's better than what we had before. I don't know about the perfect being the enemy of the good, but the mediocre should at least be the enemy of the unconscionable.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quips and Quotations

It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so.

--Artemus Ward

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pleasure Measure

I walked into the Looking-Glass Cafe Monday and saw my old friend Eddie Templeton sitting at the bar with a huge smile on his face.

"Well, Eddie," I said, as I sat down next to him. "You look happy."

"I am, Jusko. I just realized I had a wonderful weekend!"

"You just realized that? You didn't know it at the time?"

"At the time I thought it was a shitty weekend."

"Why did you think it was shitty?"

"Well, Saturday night I wanted to do something exciting, but I didn't have much money, so I just came here."

"Well, Eddie, just because you came here doesn't mean--"

"Hold it, Jusko. I'm not finished."

"Oh. Sorry. Go on."

"Well, like I said, I came here, I ordered some buffalo wings and a beer, watched some basketball game on TV, chatted with the bartender for a while, played one of those video trivia games, had another beer, watched a hockey game, chatted with the bartender some more, played a video game, had another beer, chatted with someone I know from work, and left."

"Well, Eddie, it doesn't sound all that shitty."

"Like I said, I don't think it's shitty anymore."

"What changed your mind?"

Eddie pulled out his cell phone. "For the last hour I've been calling up people I know and asking how their weekend went. You know Mycroft Ptolemy?"

"Yeah, I know him."

"Know how he spent Saturday night?"


Eddie burst out laughing. "Reorganizing his rock collection! Oh, man, can you imagine that?!"

"Well, Eddie, if I knew exactly how one goes about reorganizing a rock collection, I could probably imagine it."

"Then I called Marty Volare. Do you know how he spent his Saturday night?"

"I don't think I want to know."

"He spent the entire night waiting for Sally Field to answer his emails. Ha! Like that's ever gonna happen."

"Actually, Eddie, I think there's a certain poignancy--"

"Poignancy or not, it's a crappy way to spend the weekend."

"Um, did you talk to anyone else?"

"Yeah. Right before you walked in, I got off the phone with Ken Speer."

"Hold it right there, Eddie. I know all about Ken Speer. He gets invited to all the best parties, goes to all the opening galas, gets his picture on the society page from time to time; there's no way he had a shitty Saturday night."

"That's where you're wrong, Jusko. Ken broke his leg a while back, and spent the entire night in his living room watching a Rocky and Bullwinkle DVD."

"Well, that show could be kind of funny some--"

"Whatever, Jusko. Anyway, I compared my weekend to Mycroft's, Marty's, and Ken's, and realized I had a great time. An absolutely fantastic time! It was maybe one of the best weekends ever!"

"Well, Eddie, I'm happy for you. Maybe next weekend--"

"Oh, next weekend's gonna suck. I'm not looking forward to it at all."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not gonna have much money again, so I'll just have to come here. I'll have a few beers and buffalo wings, chat with the bartender, watch some sport on TV, play some video, chat with someone from work, and go home."

"But, Eddie, that's what you did this past weekend, and you said it was one of your best ever. So why should next weekend be so different?"

"Ken Speer will be out of his cast by then."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Quips and Quotations

A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.

--Citizen Kane, Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

Sizing It Up...or Down

The financial industry?

Too big to fail.

The middle-class?

The jury's still out on that one.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Connect the Thoughts

I going to conduct a little experiment today. Not the kind of experiment you do in a laboratory. A laboratory where you might expect to see scientists pouring things in and out of test tubes. I wonder if that's where the expression "down the tubes" originated. Expressions can originate in all kinds of different places. As many places as there are on a map. Do they even still print maps now that there's all these Global Positioning Devices? God knows, they're coming out with all kind of new devices these days. And the days will start getting longer once Daylight Savings Time ends. Time is relative, as Einstein said. Einstein changed our conception of reality. Reality as opposed to make-believe. Make-believe is for kids. But kids have short attention spans. In fact, to get them to pay attention, the teacher has to sometimes hit her desk with her ruler. And she's going to need that ruler if she wants to teach geometry. Geometry being a math skill. And you're going to need all kinds of skills if you want to survive in today's economy. As the economy is in a recession, maybe depression. Though not the Great Depression, which they had in the 1930s. I don't know that I'd want to live in the 1930s, though I do like lot of the movies they made then. My favorite kinds of movies are comedies. I think some of the funniest comedies starred Laurel and Hardy. I wonder if Oliver Hardy was related to Thomas Hardy, a writer who lived in the 19th Century. I don't know that I'd want to live in the 19th Century when they were still riding around on horses. I can't believe horses like people sitting on their backs. Maybe their backs are just super strong. I believe the strongest animal is the elephant. And it's a myth that elephants are afraid of mice. Mice do scare a lot of humans. But many more humans simply regard them as pests to be got rid of, usually with traps. When setting a trap you need the right kind of bait. For instance, if it's a mousetrap, the bait is cheese. You can use any kind of cheese: American, provolone, Swiss, etc. The Swiss are known not only for there cheese but also their chocolate. However, chocolate originally comes from South America. South America is also where tobacco originated. Tobacco has caused all kinds of health problems. If you want good health, avoid tobacco, along with foods with too much cholesterol. One source of cholesterol is beef. However, the late Robert Atkins thought beef was better for you than food with a lot of carbohydrates.

As I said, I'm conducting a little experiment. The Philadelphia Experiment. Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The moon is made out of green cheese. Green Eggs and Ham. Ham sandwich. The Earl of Sandwich. Duke of Earl. Hello there, pilgrim, this is the Duke speaking. Plain speaking. Cleveland Plain Dealer. The dealer well sell you some dope. The straight dope. Walk the straight and narrow. I Walk the Line. What's My Line? What's New, Pussycat? Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? Been there, done that. That Girl. The "It" Girl. It Came From Outer Space. Space Ghost. Casper, the Friendly Ghost. Ed Friendly. Mr. Ed. Mr. and Mrs. Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter. May I take your daughter's hand in marriage? Marriage license. License to kill. Time to kill. Time magazine. Magazine subscription. Subscription drugs. Addicted to drugs. You might as well admit it, you're addicted to love. Love means never having to say your sorry. Sorry about that, Chief. Indian chief. Indian summer. What I did on my summer vacation. Plan the perfect vacation. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Good morning. It's morning in America. North America. North by Northwest. Northwest Passage. Passage to India. India ink. Ink stained wretch. That carpet is stained. Magic carpet. Black magic. Jack Black. The House That Jack Built. The House That Ruth Built. Babe Ruth. I've Got You, Babe. I've Got a Secret. Secret agent. Talent agent. Talent show. The show must go on. Go, man, go! Man does not live by bread alone. Wonder bread. Wonder Woman. American woman, stay away from me. Me, myself, and I. I cannot tell a lie. To tell the truth. Truth be told. Twice-Told Tales. Fairy Tales. Clap if you believe in fairies. I don't believe it. Don't go there. There's no there there. The answer is no. The answer to the question. I have just one question. One Live to Live. Live and let live. Let us pray. Pray to God. Oh, God. Uh, oh. That's the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it. Any way you like it. Way out. Out and about. About last night. It Happened One Night. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Dick and Jane. Dick Tracy. Hepburn and Tracy. Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Meadows. Jayne Meadows. Jayne Mansfield. Mike Mansfield. Open mike. Open, sesame. Sesame Street. On the edge of Lonesome Street is Heartbreak Hotel. Hilton Hotel. Paris Hilton. I love Paris in the spring time. Spring in your step. Step right up. Right wing. Left wing. Left of center. Center of attention. Pay attention. Buy now, pay later. Sooner or later. Sooner than you think.

In conclusion, stream of consciousness as a literary device is best suited to a medium other than blogging.

Following Update

I'd like to welcome Standing On My Head (I know you take the e e cummings non-capitalization route, but I'm afraid anybody logging onto this blog for the very first time won't know what the heck I'm talking about.) She's left plenty of comments in the past, for which I'm grateful.

I have no plans to stand on my own head. The world seems upside down enough as it is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Quips and Quotations

All generalizations are false, including this one.

--Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Creative Differences.

The politicization of religion continues unabated. Or maybe the religionization of politics. Not just what's going on now, but politics past, i.e., history.

I was reading this one blog about some politician's beef with gay marriage, and it got me thinking. Not so much about the politician or gay marriage, but what was being said in the comment section. As all bloggers know, the comments can sometimes stray off-course. In this particular instance, instead of a debate on the pros and cons of gay marriage, there was an argument raging about the meaning of this particular phrase from one of our nation's founding documents:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

A commentator seemed to imply that since a Creator bestowed this equality, atheists and agnostics are doomed to forever favor fascist dictatorships. Or something like that. But I'm going to leave that question for some other day. I prefer to concentrate on something else.

Is God Almighty really about equality? Let's examine the facts.

Some people are born big, others are born small. Some people are born beautiful, others are born homely. Some people are born healthy, others are born sickly. Some people are born with 20/20 eyesight, others wear glasses. Some people are born with high IQs, others are born developmentally challenged. Some people are born rich, others are born poor. Some people are born in Western countries with all kinds of modern conveniences, others are born in the Third World and can't, or shouldn't, drink the water. Some people were born into centuries with access to such wonders as cell phones and home computers, others were born at a time when the highest technological achievement was the wheel.

Does that sound like an equal opportunity deity to you?

To be fair, some of those imbalances are human constructs. Rich and poor, for example. Still, if you're going to believe in a God that takes an active interest in human affairs, and that's the kind of God most people seem to want to believe in, then that God must know if that if he (or, more likely, it) plunks a baby into a poor family, than that baby probably will have a harder time of it than another that grows up rich.

On the other hand, can any of those imbalances be blamed solely on God? Take big and small. Clearly, that's God's doing. But the fact that we humans tend to look so much more favorably on the big than the small, well, that's our own fault. No one's making us.

In fact, if you subtract human judgement, they're not inequalities so much as mere differences. But we can't seem to just let different be different. We have to quantify that difference. Assign such people a rank. Figure out where such people go on a graph, chart, or scale. And the bigger the difference, the lower such people may go on that graph, chart, or scale. We, of course, get to be on the high end. Feels better that way.

And it's this desire to quantify, and to feel better about such quantifying, that, throughout human history, has produced such interesting institutions as feudalism, royalty, caste systems, nationalism, imperialism, racism, sexism, slavery, and, in the technically advanced century that ended just a decade ago, genocide.

It also makes some of us picky about who should be issued a marriage license.

When it comes to inequality, we outdo God.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Quips and Quotations

You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald