Archive for August, 2009

The Tao abides in non-action

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

I have to admit that the Republicans are equally lame on the health care issue. The new Republican Health Care “Bill of Rights” is utterly disgusting. I can’t believe they are doing this.

Neither party wants to tackle any of the substantive, necessary, therefore unpopular, aspects of health care reform. Nobody wants to:

1. Tax employee health care benefits just like any other income.

2. Make individuals more responsible for their own routine health care costs, so that they have an incentive to be frugal and aware.

3. Take steps to reduce the amount of end of life care that pointlessly extends and tortures the lives of the terminally ill.

The Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty of dodging these issues. All of the ways in which Obama is lying and demagoging are counter-balanced by Republicans doing the same in the opposite direction. The Republicans have a few good proposals, like tort reform, and insurance competition across state lines, but when they were in power, they had no interest in health care reform whatsoever.

Now that the Democrats are in power, health care reform, like all of their major initiatives, is just another name for more pork for Democratic constituencies. There isn’t any reform in it, just like there isn’t any global temperature reduction in cap and trade and there isn’t any stimulus in the stimulus. It’s all about shoveling cash (in this case our grandchildren’s cash) to one’s friends, Chicago writ large.

The one virtue of the Republicans is that they are somewhat more inclined to do nothing than to do something. As Lao Tzu said, “The Tao abides in non-action, Yet nothing is left undone.”

Mad about Mad Men

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I am totally hooked on the TNT series Mad Men. Tim Goodman, the TV pundit at sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle website, has written a brilliant analysis of episode two, which premiered last night. The article is written at a very high level of observation and perception, as are the comments attached to it, as is the show itself.

It’s a cable TV prime time soap opera fer crissake, surely not as important as health care reform, or the proper role of government in a free society? But the depth of the analysis is superior to 95% of political punditry, and the comments are vastly (I do not use that adjective lightly) superior to comments on anything political that appears on the web, including here, on your humble blogger’s blog. The show itself is as subtly conceived, written, directed, and acted, as anything I have seen, movies or TV, ever.

There is a great deal more intelligence, passion, integrity, and courage entering such diverse fields as professional sports, cable TV drama, technology, and, dare I say it, blogging, than is going into politics these days. I assume this bodes ill, but as long as entertainment is improving, what the Hell? I already have Medicare, I get Social Security starting next year, and I can read books and watch TV about John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and Andy Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. It is my children and grandchildrens’ problem.

But, I gotta say, looking back to the 50’s, and the early 60’s, which were part of the 50’s, we have come so far. I was there. I am here. Here is better. This reverse nostalgia is not a point that Tim Goodman makes, but for me it is a fundamental element of the program’s attraction. It is fun to watch everybody smokin’ and boozin’ and oppressing women and wearing ties and reclining on Danish furniture, but it is not a reality to which I wish to return. And I don’t have to.

Episode Two takes place in 1963, a year after Bob Dylan’s first album, and the year in which President John Kennedy was assassinated. I was 19.

Evil

Monday, August 24th, 2009

A friend of mine, after reading the previous post, asked if I really thought that Obama was evil. It’s a fair question, and it may have been a mistake for me to characterize him in that way. Liberals have been routinely portraying conservatives as heartless, racist, and evil for so long that I may have just fallen into their habit. I used to be a liberal after all, and I still pass as one to avoid social and economic ostracization, like what happened recently to the CEO of Whole Foods. I should probably avoid heating things up even more by reciprocating.

I assume that many, most, maybe all, evil people, like Lenin, Hitler, Tailgunner Joe, are sincere in their belief that they are dedicated to the greater good. I suppose politicians and revolutionaries should be differentiated from Richard Speck or Charles Manson, but even those guys, I am sure, had some story that they told themselves about the ultimate goodness, or at least excusability, of their actions.

It looks to me like Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Dodd, Rangle, Frank, Franken, and a bunch of other Democratic leaders and followers, are totalitarian in their instincts and tendencies. I’m not really worried that they will get away with it. This is still America, but they nonetheless need to be called on it.

We all have our totalitarian streak to some extent, the Devil inside. Some small, tiny, infinitesimal, part of me, the nazi within, wishes I could just impose my view on everyone else by diktat. But the current administration in the White House and in Congress, seems to be heavily skewed in that direction.

They appear to be anti-capitalist, for one thing, which, because it is really anti-freedom and prosperity, is sufficient cause to be called evil in my book. They also are showing a disturbing tendency to demonize anyone and everyone who disagrees with them, calling them nazis and un-American and racist.

So I take it back. I don’t want to say that President Obama is evil. I believe that the policies he advocates will have evil results, if they are ever implemented, which is looking more and more unlikely. Let God and history judge him and his confederates. I love and respect all people.

UPDATE: I have been admonished for saying that the Democrats are calling their critics un-American, racist, nazis, without giving any examples. So here are a few examples.

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer call health care protesters un-American.

video of Nancy Pelosi saying that town hall protesters are “carrying swastikas”

A number of liberal columnists from Chris Matthews to Cynthia Tucker to Paul Krugman have said that the town hall anti-Obamacare protesters are motivated by racism.

Harry Reid calls protesters “evil mongers”.

Hope and Change

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

My hope was that Obama was just another cynical, ruthless, corrupt, Chicago Democratic pol. That was my naive, optimistic hope when he won the election. But I’m beginning to doubt that first blush, innocent, idealistic pipe dream. My illusions are being shattered.

He’s not a hardened, savvy, Chicago Democrat. He’s a young, Alinsky acolyte, community organizer with delusions of grandeur. The projected multi-trillion dollar Obama national debt is nothing compared to how far this guy is above his pay grade. I deplore the right wing fringe element that is comparing Obama to Hitler and the Nazis. It’s worse than that. The President and his gang are evil and incompetent.

I still retain faith, however, in the collective spirit of the American citizenry, and in the unique, divinely inspired, disorganized, unmanageable system of government bequeathed to us by the Founders. These pathetic, power mad, amateurs will fail like all of their evil and/or incompetent predecessors, from James Buchanan to Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and now Barack Obama. Looks to me like he’s the worst one yet.

God, please, bless America.

Why not Government Foods?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Suppose that whenever you go to the super market, there are no prices posted, and the clerk has to file a claim with your food insurance provider, who then processes the claim, and reimburses the grocery store company. Your “food benefit” is provided by your employer, who receives a tax deduction. However much food you consume, it doesn’t feel like it costs you anything. Furthermore, every state has a different set of laws defining what food has to be covered, and what food cannot be covered.

What do you think the price of food would be?

Why is health care any different? If anything, food is more essential to health than medicine. For those who can’t afford food, we have food stamps.

It is a series of historical accidents that have created the ridiculous health care system that we have today. Of course it needs reform, but the Democrats are not reforming it, they are expanding the existing Rube Goldberg system, actually making it worse by turning it into Meddie Mac, to join Fannie and Freddie.

We need tort reform. We need to eliminate state insurance laws and allow competition across state lines. We need to separate insurance from employment. We need medical price transparency. We need to make individuals responsible for their own routine health care, just as they are for ordinary car repairs. And food. And then we need a means-tested health care stamps program for the poor.

This is the opposite of the Democrats’ plan. It lowers costs and lessens government control instead of increasing costs and government control. The more of people’s lives that are controlled by the government, the more power and access to money the politicians have. So it tends to usually look like the perfect solution to any problem, for both Parties, but especially for Democrats. It rarely is though.

The Health Care Marketplace – an Anecdote

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

I had a little personal experience with the American health care system today. I took a tumble Wednesday night playing tennis, and hurt my foot. Although I went on to finish the set, my foot was still swollen and painful to walk on two days later, so I went to a walk-in storefront clinic here in Murfreesboro today to get it x-rayed, to see if it was broken or not.

After the usual rigamarole, filling out forms, being told that they did not take medicare, and that medicare plan A wouldn’t cover it anyway, being weighed, having my blood pressure taken, I was ready for my close-up.

I asked the Physician’s Assistant (I never did see an actual MD), what it was going to cost. He was a nice guy, but a little taken aback by such a question. He said, “Let me go check.” A little while later he came back and said it would be $50, was that OK? “Yes, that’s fine,” I said, pleasantly surprised.

So they took some x-rays and sure enough my foot is fractured. It is fractured in two places and the fracture is slightly separated. They put a splint on it and advised me to go and see an orthopedist, who might just put a cast on it, or might recommend surgery and the installation of a pin to bring the fracture more tightly together, and then put a cast on it. They kept asking me if I wanted anything for the pain. It doesn’t really hurt that much, so I said no, but I could have gotten all kinds of salable on the street prescription dope. Oh well.

When I went to pay, the girl said, “That will be $100.”

“I was told it was $50,” I said. After some consultation among the staff, I was informed that the $50 was just for the x-ray. There was an additional $50 for the office visit, and presumably the application of the splint, although nobody said that. I argued. More people became involved. I was told I was lucky to be getting such a great deal, that I would be charged as much or more anywhere else, which I’m sure is true. There was no apology. There was no admission of error. Everything was my ignorant fault.

But, damn it, I had asked. If he had said $100, I would have said fine, but he didn’t say $100, he said $50. No auto mechanic would try to pull that kind of shit. I got pissed off, I felt insulted, taken advantage of, I lost my temper, eventually informing them that, “I’m not paying you anything. Goodbye.” and walked out. I did not, however, utter a single swear word.

It just doesn’t occur to them, in their medical arrogance, that I should have any say in the cost, or even get to know what the cost will be for the service that they provide. I should just take whatever they dish out. They are medical professionals. I’m not a customer who is always right. I’m a patient, who should just shut up and do what I’m told, and pay what they tell me to pay, after the fact.

My Volvo mechanic would never, ever, do anything to the car without telling me exactly what it was going to cost and getting my OK. I never even have to ask. He just does that as a matter of course, like any small business person dealing with his or her customers. But of course the medical profession doesn’t work that way, because most people are insured and don’t care what it costs. This is why health care costs are rising. My health care costs doubled just in the brief time I was in the clinic getting my foot x-rayed.

My grandfather, Ralph Nichol, broke his arm cranking a Model T that backfired on him long ago up in South Dakota. His arm never did get set quite right, but he played a wicked game of tennis well into his 70s. I called and canceled the appointment with the podiatrist that the clinic had gone ahead and made for me. I can’t afford it, and I’m pretty sure that my foot will be alright once it heals. It’s feeling better already. This is free market rationing. This is how it should be.

Clowns for Hire

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I believe there is a growing realization among those occupying all positions on the political spectrum, that the clowns are in charge, and they are available to perform at your party for modest fees. The Republicans are fortunate to not be in power at this time. Clowns are scary.

    

    

Incalculable Suffering

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

The Secretary General of the United Nations says we only have four months to save the planet from global warming, and prevent incalculable suffering. I think suffering is already incalculable, so that doesn’t worry me, but it does seem like a crash program to explore other planets would be in order, since, obviously, nobody is going to do anything about global warming in the next four months.

Artistic Differences

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The greatest frustration arising from an obsession with politics, is that no matter what the issue, even if you find yourself in the majority, there are a whole bunch of people on the other side, and they just won’t go away. Whether it is global warming, Obamacare, Iran, gay marriage, abortion, or legalization of marijuana, the opposition, like the poor, thou shalt have always with you, win or lose. The Democrats are finding it out now. The Republicans found it out as George W. Bush rode the “permanent majority” into the sunset. Caesar found it out the hard way. Victory, like all that “exists”, is temporary.

Doesn’t anybody ever win, with finality, once and for all? There are still Communists in the world, not to mention monarchists, anarchists, and ABBA fans. No bad idea, much like government programs, ever dies. That no good idea ever dies either is small consolation, since time inevitably transforms good ideas into bad ideas, witness environmentalism, the civil rights movement, unionism, and the Rolling Stones.

What would happen if everybody actually agreed about something, anything? What if every sentient inhabitant of planet Earth agreed that we should adopt the metric system of measurement, or that girl babies were just as valuable as boy babies, currently very much a minority opinion? What would happen? Would the Earth’s crust split open to reveal the end of the material plane? Why is universal agreement among human beings about anything whatsoever, apparently, obviously, impossible? What does that say about our essential nature?

When there is universal enlightenment, will there be universal agreement? Do Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha have differences? I believe they do. I believe they always will. if you disagree, you are an un-American, racist, Nazi.

Hill Hoppin’

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Had a brush yesterday, if not with death, with prolonged terror. Candace has taken up running lately, and one of her fellow runners, who lives on a little farm outside of Wartrace, Tennessee, mentioned that she and her husband like to go horseback riding on Sundays. Candace said she loves horseback riding, so we got invited to go riding around the lake with them this Sunday. That sounded nice, a horseback ride around the lake.

We got to their place about a quarter to twelve. Her husband, good-looking, mid-40s, fit, is a local boy, grew up in a house down the road. He knows everybody all around, and is related to many of them. They have cattle and horses and grow hay. She is also good-looking and also very fit, the star runner of Candace’s group. They have grown children and grandchildren living nearby.

The horses are already saddled up when we get there. It’s a hot day, mid-90s, high humidity, mostly sunny. He finishes packing the saddle bags with ice and Bud Light. “How many beers do you think you’ll wanta drink, John,” he asks. “You a beer drinker?”

“Not usually, not too many.”

“I like to drink 7 or 8.”

He gets all four horses into the horse trailer, hitched to his big Chevy pickup, and we all get in the truck and head out.

We get to a spot in the woods, where there is a long line of pickups and horse trailers on the side of the road. We park, and get the horses out. Man, it is hot. We lead the horses down the road a little ways and then mount up. They had me on the biggest horse, a big black horse. I have problems with my hips, and sitting on that horse was not making them happy. I knew I just wouldn’t be able to do it. “I can’t do this,” I said. So, Candace’s friend swapped with me and I got on her horse Bud, a pretty palamino, a smaller horse with a better saddle, and I was OK. My hips felt alright. So we took off into the woods.

The very first thing that happened was we went up this steep, rocky, narrow path into the woods. The horses charged up the hill, lunging forward. I was not expecting this. I was sure I was about to get thrown off. It was terrifying. I held onto the front of the saddle for dear life with both hands, bouncing violently up and down and lunging up this almost vertical path. When we got to the top and stopped, I was obviously freaked, gasping for breath. Everyone was concerned and asking me if I was OK and wanted to go on. It was really hot. I was drenched in sweat.

Of course I had to go on. There was no way, after all this trouble, these nice people, beautiful horses. I thought there was a high probability that I would be seriously injured, but I couldn’t back out now. Sin of Pride. I was wearing my cowboy hat and cowboy boots. So we went on, up and down the ridges. I never knew when the horse would just start galloping, going down or up. It was continuous terror for three hours, our little ride around the lake, the lake which we almost never saw.

When we would get to the top of a ridge, there would be a little clearing, with 30 or so people, and their horses, hanging out, talking, drinking Bud Light, having a smoke. Everybody knew each other, except for me and Candace of course. They were talking about how all the good riding land over around Short Mountain was getting bought up by rich hippies driving Mercedes and Cadillacs. “I come upon this barn one time over there and these two hippies come out of the barn wearin’ nothing but cowboy hats and boots. They told me this was private property, that I was trespassing.”

Short Mountain is where the radical faeries have their celebratory orgies. That’s who’s moving in around there. One guy said he’d heard there was members of the Manson family moving in over there. Candace jumped in and said that she knew some people over that way, and assured him that there weren’t any Manson people moving in. He wasn’t convinced though. He knew some people over there too and they said different. Who knows. I doubt it, but it’s possible.

After awhile, we would ride on. When we would get to the top of the next ridge, there would be 30 or so people and their horses, many of the same people as on the last ridge top. And they would do some more talking, and drinking, and smoking cigarettes. Our host says to one woman, “John and Candace have never ridden before.” She replies, “And you brought them here? Hill hoppin’!?” “Yeah,” he says, “John’s probably thinking ‘why am I doing this?'”. Yes, I certainly was, but it was great, in spite of the fear. These people are great. They are tough, and smart, and funny, and really nice. I will never be a real Tennessean, but I sure do like them.

I actually began to get the hang of it a little bit towards the end, and could even relax a little. Then we were going up a steep climb, and Candace started yelling, “I’m going! I’m going!”. Her saddle slid around sideways and she fell off on her back on the rocks. Fortunately, she was not killed or disabled. She got back on her horse, and we went on.

Here’s a picture taken with my iPhone at the end of the ride. You would think to look at us that we had been having the time of our lives, which we were in some ways. It’s one of those times that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. We are both very sore, especially Candace, but grateful to have survived intact. This is what Candace’s friend and her husband do on Sundays for fun.