Category Archives: Status

Status Update: Ubuntu is Now my Friend Again

I whacked Windows 7 on The Son’s old laptop (circa 2012ish) The Dell laptop gifted to me by Eric finally died a tired, old death last year and I’ve been rummaging around the house for another functional portable now that mom is in the hospital. I stumbled across this one in a bag in The Son’s room (also in the bag? The Mac Mini we’d been planning to give to mom. The Wife was ecstatic) but it’s drives were full and it was running a dead old version of Windows that I wouldn’t trust to run reliably or securely away from home.

We discovered that Ubuntu has a Studio version for graphic creators and video editors, so we burned a disk of that OS and after a bit of back and forth we’ve managed to make it work reliably. I am now happily keyboarding from the couch in mom’s hospital room. She’s happily snoring quietly as Rainymood plays on my phone which is plugged in across from her bed.

The interface is clean and spare. The tools for graphics editing are plentiful. I just wish I had enough editing skills to be able to judge their quality. I have always found Gimp perfectly acceptable as an image editor given the limited amount of image editing I do. But then I get by on Windows with just Irfanview. In Windows 10 Paint is capable of saving in common graphic formats (not just for bitmaps anymore!) I don’t know when they added that ability but it is a welcome discovery in version 10.

It looks like I’ll have plenty of time to test tools, sadly. We could easily be here for several more days. But that is OK. I am a vampire and I enjoy waving the nurses away at night so that mom can sleep. With Sister #2 being a nurse and willing to drop by for the day shift, we can keep doing this indefinitely. Well, I can. I don’t really have anything else to do aside from sit at home and enjoy my vertigo. At least here I can medicate my vertigo if it occurs and do so under medical supervision. It is a win-win in my book as long as mom gets better. 

Remembering Tom Petty

I am very nearly without words today. It takes great effort to even think in words. Melodies and harmonies are all that are running through my head. I cried when we lost George Harrison. Despaired when Prince died too young. But those are just the wounds that spring to mind because they are contextual. Revived because of proximity.

Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and others,While My Guitar Gently Weeps 

Tom Petty was more than a musician to me. Tom Petty described my soul to me, and he didn’t just do it once. He did it over and over again through the course of my life, the course of his career. I identified with his music in ways I simply cannot describe.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers –  Even the Losers

He died doing what he wanted to do, ending a tour in support of his latest album. He went quickly and without suffering. Most of us want to be that lucky when it comes our time to go.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  – Breakdown

I could post tracks all day long, and I did post tracks all day long on the day I learned of his death. I read about it not too long after getting up that day, but his death wasn’t officially confirmed until later.

Petty’s final show was last week, performing three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl to conclude their 40th anniversary tour, CBS News reports.  

He told Rolling Stone that he thought this would be the group’s last tour together.

“It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months. With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.” – Tom Petty obituary in The Independent

It was the day after the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. One more mass shooting in a near-infinite string of tragedies that, quite frankly, I refuse to pay attention to anymore. If anyone cared we’d actually talk about gun control in a way that might be productive. But we can’t and we don’t and so, like September 11th being my dad’s birthday, I didn’t and won’t post about another mass shooting that won’t change anything. Jim has it right. We are Bang, Bang Crazy.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – You Don’t Know How It Feels

So instead I will mourn the death of a man whose work I cherished above most others of his caliber. He lived a full life and died early. Not as early as many who had the kind of talent he had, but he also didn’t live as long as the rare few do. I’ll miss him. We all will miss him and the music he might have gone on to make.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Time to Move On

A Facebook friend and fellow fan challenged other fans to quick, give me your favorite Tom Petty lyrics. Rather than give her my favorite (which is Breakdown above) I posted the Lyrics that I went to the point of actually signing up to edit that day, Learning To Fly. I signed up so as to get the correct stanza structure for the song set down properly on Lyrically. Someone had just pasted content from another website (probably) and/or didn’t understand how poetry is written and why. But that is how much I thought this was the song to remember him by on that day.

Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County, October 3rd, 2017

Well I started out
Down a dirty road
Started out
All alone

And the sun went down
As I crossed the hill
And the town lit up
The world got still

I’m learning to fly,
But I ain’t got wings
Coming down
Is the hardest thing

Well the good ol’ days
May not return
And the rocks might melt
And the sea may burn

I’m learning to fly
But I ain’t got wings
Coming down
Is the hardest thing

Well some say life
Will beat you down
and break your heart
Steal your crown

So I’ve started out
For God knows where
I guess I’ll know
When I get there

I’m learning to fly
Around the clouds
But what goes up
Must come down 


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Learning to Fly

It has now been about two weeks since the day he died, but I’m back dating to the day because I really don’t care if anyone reads this or not. I finished watching the documentary Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down A Dream a few days ago. Watching it brought back some memories that I really wanted to put down in this post.


Stevie Nicks – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

His album, Hard Promises came out the year I graduated. I remember going to the Hastings record store next to the Safeway I was courtesy clerking at in 1980 and buying that cassette (vinyl was and is the purview of music collectors with money. Something I’ve never had any of) and subsequently Damn the Torpedoes. I remember not being willing to buy the first album because of the cheesy cover art, which says a lot about the importance of graphic design. The title of You’re Gonna Get it I deemed too juvenile, like Fair Warning, Van Halen’s fourth album.

If you’re poor fighting is the norm. You fight to get everything, all the time. When your stepfather is abusive, conflict is a foregone conclusion. Using the phrases of the abuser you’re gonna get it is descend to their level. I always tried to be more than that, more than the abuser was in their petty little mind. So violence was to be avoided, not encouraged. If violence is inevitable you make sure you emerge the victor, you don’t worry about methods beyond their capacity to produce desired outcomes. Hit them from behind, above, with a blunt object and keep swinging until the target stops moving. Easier to do than thinking.

Tom Petty knew how to fight and proved it repeatedly. Proved it by filing for bankruptcy to get control of his music back, winning the first case against a record company, leading the way for others who had signed usurious record contracts to also get control of their music back. His lawsuit altered the face of the music business, leading the way towards the music industry of today which exists to serve artists and not the other way around.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance The hit that almost wasn’t. 

After completing his Southern Accents tour, he was one of the best-selling artists in music history. So what does he do next? He and the Heartbreakers agree to go on the road, touring with Bob Dylan as his backing band. Who else has progressed from headlining his own shows to being the backing band for another artist? Has anyone else ever done that? After a few more albums and more success, they joined Johnny Cash’s studio back up band.

“What they call country today is like bad rock groups with a fiddle” – Tom Petty


The Traveling Wilburys – The End of the Line

Roy Orbison. George Harrison. Now Tom Petty. We’re running out of Wilburys. 

Status Update. A Lot of Hot Air.

The only time you’ll ever see
my #bedhead

So I’m finally feeling almost normal after our trip to Chicago. The day after we returned home, the sore throat that had been bugging me in Illinois turned into a full-blown sinus infection complete with glaring red pink-eye. This prompted a hasty trip to my immunologist and a series of antibiotics. I finished the ten day course of antibiotics on Wednesday, and had my first physical therapy session in three weeks on Thursday. I was bushed after the PT, but that was only part of the problems that surfaced this week.

Monday morning was the follow-up for the 90 day Betahistine (Serc) test that my ENT and I had been running. The results looked promising, and so I’m going to try upping the dose for a year and see what that gets me in the way of relief from Meniere’s symptoms. I’ve noticed that I seem to start exhibiting symptoms again before the next dose of Betahistine is due, so I’m going to take the same dosage three times a day. If you are a Meniere’s sufferer and you have triggers similar to mine, you probably should get your ENT to trial you on Betahistine and see if it helps you or not. I am curious to know if there is a sub-group of Menierians who benefit more from Betahistine than others. This data would clarify whether there is a benefit to Betahistine treatment or not. Comments on this subject are not only welcome but I’ll beg for them if I have to.

I’m feeling better, I thought. I should have known this was a prequel to the hell life had in store for me later in the week. On Wednesday the air conditioning dropped dead on us. It had been acting a little squirrely for awhile now and the system is nineteen years old. Several times over the last few years I had noticed that the thermostat didn’t seem to control the system like it should. It would sporadically fail to come on when it got too hot in the house, and would fail to turn off when it got cold. Sometimes the interior spaces got chilly enough that I thought seriously about wearing more clothing. On Monday, the system’s lackluster cooling performance lead me to do some basic troubleshooting and I noticed that it was well past time for a filter change. Changing the filter did seem to improve cooling and airflow, but Tuesday evening the fan wouldn’t start if we set the thermostat to cool, and Wednesday the fan said fuck it, I’m outta here and refused to start in any position. On or auto. Heat, cool or off. No dice and no air conditioning.

myhistoryfix.com

Ah, Texas in the summertime with no air conditioning! Back in the days before that invention every building in the region had ten or twelve foot ceilings and floor to ceiling windows that allowed cool air to enter the building from the lower sash, while simultaneously allowing the heat to escape the building from the upper sash (this is the origin of the term double-hung for the architecturally curious. Windows which can be opened from both top and bottom) and even then you slept outside on what was referred to as a sleeping porch because it was too hot to sleep indoors at all. Air conditioning changed architecture radically and not necessarily for the better. With the ability to alter indoor temperatures builders could ignore long-held rules of thumb that governed Southern construction, putting large glass facades on South-facing walls and lowering ceilings to the now-common eight foot height. Which is all just fine, as long as the air conditioning works.

So we called our handyman, but he was out of town for a week. Deeming it time to bite the bullet, we called a contractor we have dealt with successfully before, and they sent a guy out on Friday. Based on his estimation we had to replace parts just to see if the system could be revived or not. I’ve been down this road a few times. Replacing one part leads to replacing another part, which leads to replacing a third part until at some point you’ve rebuilt the entire system. As I mentioned previously, it’s a nineteen year old system. I can’t even get refrigerant for it anymore, legally. Spending money on this dinosaur is throwing good money after bad.

The heat and the humidity were threatening to send me spiraling back down into vertigo hell, but the salesman (comfort specialist) who showed up to pitch us on a new system came bearing gifts of window units. Consequently we were open to the idea of looking into replacing the ancient HVAC system. This was a theoretical possibility on Friday, a possibility that is rapidly gelling into a reality for Monday. So I’m taking this opportunity to start some renovations of my own that I’ve been wanting to get done since the first day we toured the place before buying it.

I won’t be raising the floor in the former garage yet, that project is a bit too ambitious even if it is desperately needed. The attic fan that has hulked above my head every time I climb the stairs is going away though. I’ve wanted that thing gone from the time we moved in. I can’t use it. It draws outside air into the house unfiltered. Everything outside wants to kill me with allergies. The last thing I need is something that pulls even more allergens into my breathing space. The window units alone are making my symptoms worse, I can feel vertigo perched above my head like an unwelcome avian visitor. Removing the attic fan means the upstairs HVAC will finally be properly balanced without the thing taking up attic real estate and letting attic heat into the living space.

Who knows, maybe other repairs and modification are following fast on the heels of the new HVAC system? Hope springs eternal, even for those cursed with chronic illness.

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer 
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”Edgar Allan Poe

A Toast to My Alcoholic Father

“You would never know if I relapsed,” he said to me. “I was very good at being an addict.” 

No, honey, you weren’t. None of us are. We think we are cleverly hiding it. We think we have it under control. We think we are getting benefit from it. We think we are the exception to the rule. We think we will be able to prevent it from consuming us. 

– A Facebook Status Post

I have taken out the garbage in my home (eldest son always gets that job, ditto with husbands)  for my entire life. Consequently I know what people throw away in the house. I know who recycles and who doesn’t. I know who is doing what based on what garbage appears in their waste cans. It is extraordinarily hard to disguise behaviors that create garbage, behaviors that leave behind evidence which must be destroyed if you want that behavior to be secret.

My dad went through an astronomical amount of Canadian Club, Black Velvet, etc. At least a fifth every, single, day, without fail. I must have hauled several tons of discarded glassware to the ashcan over the course of the years I lived at home with my parents. We kids knew the drill. Ice (this much) bourbon (that much) water (a much smaller amount) He always drank, all the time. It wasn’t until the drunk driving laws started appearing that he knew he was heading for trouble, because he couldn’t be without his glass of bourbon and a cigarette (Pall Mall‘s) at any point in any day. Couldn’t do without it (them) until the cancer started.

When the cancer started it became imperative that he stop smoking and drinking, and he still couldn’t do it. He just didn’t know how to stop. He switched to low-tar cigarettes first. No more filterless Pall Mall’s, it was Carlton‘s or whatever else he was trying that week. He insisted the low-tars were filled with cabbage leaves, but he had to have a smoke. The bourbon took longer for him to give up. He switched to cheap beer when it finally became clear he was going to have to stop his addictions, not understanding that he was going to have to actually stop the behaviors entirely. He smoked and drank until they stopped allowing him to eat because of throat cancer. In the end the addictions killed him by causing the cancer, and that is what I remind myself of mentally every time someone offers me a cigar or I pour myself a drink.

I stopped smoking cigarettes ages ago because I could feel the drag they were putting on my lung capacity, and that process took years. One of my sisters now runs a cigar shop and I have to decline offers of cigars every time she comes to town or we meet with relatives who have seen her recently. I can feel the itch of a lifetime nicotine addiction in the corner of my mind just thinking about picking up a coffin nail. The air in the Steele household was blue with tobacco smoke for my entire childhood. Nicotine was in the air I breathed every day until I left home and had to infuse the drug by smoking it myself. Kicking that habit was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it took years of mentally associating the desire to smoke with the smell of a the bars I worked in as a young adult, reminding myself of the stale smell of smoke, sweat, alcohol and vomit that permeates the air of a bar before all the people show up and renew the smells with life.

My dad loved to tell a story about me when I would drink with him. One thing my dad was really good at was spinning yarns, and he could talk all day and night if you let him. He was a certified master of bullshit and I could sit and listen to him talk for as long as anyone would let him talk. I was fascinated by his ability to just make stuff up on the fly. The bare bones of the story went like this; The first time my parents took me along for a fine dining experience, one that included courses of meals and an after-dinner drink, I cried for the glass of cognac they sat in front of my father. My father, being the indulgent person that he really was, wanted to see what I would think of the cognac. Would I hate it? Would I reject it because of the alcohol taste? He didn’t know. So he handed me the snifter and as he told it “You drank it right down. Sat there for a few seconds. Then you cried for more!” It always got a laugh and I laughed right along with him.

I am reminded of that story every time I crack open a new bottle of brandy or cognac, which is about the only thing I will drink these days; and I will drink a quiet toast to my father on those days. It is because of him that I am not an alcoholic, and that is probably the best lesson I learned from him. I have often wondered what he would have made of the efforts to end addiction these days? Would any of them have helped him? Would he have wanted help?

#trypod – Dating Advice and Tim Harford

If anyone were to ask me for dating advice…

No one ever does, one of the benefits of repeating the story of how I met The Wife almost 30 years ago. I have to say, this is an unexpected side benefit from knife skills and stories of knife skills, not being bothered with requests from single people asking “how can I be as happy as you?” I mean, knife skills have their own benefits to you and your partner, such as the person who has your six in a bar fight having the ability to gut anyone who comes at you from behind. That is a very useful skill, but I never thought the story itself had a benefit until I started writing this post. I’ll have to remember that.

…anyway. Dating advice. I hereby vow to never give any. If I’m ever tempted to I will simply tell people to listen to this one episode of Planet Money,


Then I will tell them to subscribe to Why oh Why and listen to Episodes #8 How Will I know  and #12 Oblique Strategies specifically to get to the end of the story started in the podcast linked above. Why would I do that? Because a single girl like the host of Why oh Why is going to know more about dating than any guy who is breathing, and I’d be a bigger idiot than Tim Harford to offer any suggestions of my own.

Not that I disagree with Tim Harford. I’m rather fond of him. I’m currently listening to his 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy podcast, and I’m loving it. I’m noticing a pattern with Tim Harford, and that pattern is his love of the Oblique Strategies approach to answering really hard questions. Hard questions that don’t have right and wrong answers, like most things in life.

I mean he uses Brian Eno’s deck of cards in another (enjoyable) episode of Planet Money,


He mentions Oblique Strategies again in this TED talk,

Personally, I don’t think he did the host of Why Oh Why any favors by pulling out Oblique Strategies as a way to answer her questions about dating. Reverse (the card he drew) is a particularly cryptic concept to apply to the notion of mate selection and dating. You can’t really reverse. Asking herself why she started the dating and the podcast about dating (her interpretation of the meaning of reverse) leads her essentially to the question of discovering who she is before trying to find a mate. Life is to short to worry about finding out who you are before getting on with it. Part of finding out who your are is taking the journey through life. Picking a mate or even a series of mates if need be is also part of that process.

What follows is as close as I will ever get to giving advice on this subject. When you are doing things you like, you tend to find people you like. I think that is why so many people suggest “get a hobby” as a way to meet people. I think that is also the wrong advice. Get on with living your life, and then notice who you are living it next to. Across from. In competition with. Have conversations with those people. You might discover your very own knife-wielding love of your life. Or not, as the case may be.

Why #trypod? Clearly you didn’t listen to the episodes. NPR and other podcasters are running a promotion this month trying to get people to promote podcasts using the hashtag trypod. I’ve promoted four podcasts in this blog post, not that I’m counting or anything. I routinely post what I’m listening to (if it is good) to my Google plus profile. What I look back on and really like gets spread around to other social platforms. So nice try NPR. I’ll play along. Been suggesting things for people to listen to for years now.

Happy Birthday

This is usually where I type HBD into Facebook. It’s my annual, typical ‘sup? To my online friends.

But you just said you dread birthdays.  I read it. It meant something to me.

I frequently dread birthdays. Birthdays when I was a kid meant the end of freedom. The beginning of torment. School starting. The incomprehensible social jockeying for status.

As I grew older the dread festered. Now I expected myself to have a good time. Everyone around me was so anxious that I enjoy the parties they threw. I just wanted to be alone. By myself, where I wouldn’t have to try to figure out what was expected of me.

These days I toe the line of social norms. I type HBD on Facebook as I used to scrawl a spartan “happy birthday” on company cards, lacking any real connection to the birthday person in question.

I wonder.

I wonder if your dread is my dread? Are you adrift in social events? Lacking any clue as to what the faces around you mean? Terror at being the center of attention? An unbelievably bad liar because communication itself is a challenge?

The internet is a blessed wall that obscures the faces I cannot read.  The gestures that have meanings that I do not know. The words mean what I want them to mean and nothing more. I can say “happy birthday” here and no one doubts that it is sincere. Strangers can ask “how are you doing?” and you know they really do care because they took the time to type it. I can shelve my canned response of “fair to middling” because I know that I can be honest with the inquirer if I want to be.

Oversharing is a chronic problem on the internet for me. For many people. The false familiarity leads to contempt for foreign ideas. Commenters whom you disagree with are driven from the field in a hail of ridicule. Your stream of information becomes a self-deluding stream of misinformation. Of comfortable lies you’d rather believe than truths you find hard to stomach. Unless.

Unless.

Unless you take the time to understand the other. One on one. Pick apart the ideas. Discover the meanings of the words we all think we know for ourselves, but really aren’t the same meanings assigned to the words by others.

So I type HBD on friend’s Facebook walls once a year. SMS the real friends whose phone numbers I still possess. Friends I can disagree with and still stay friends. Hopefully stay friends, anyway. Yes I really mean it, especially if it comes with an exclamation point and a cake emoji.  Do I care if you reciprocate? Not really. Consider it an invitation to open a dialog.  What does a happy birthday mean to you? Maybe I’ll figure out what it means to me in the process.

Journalism? General Education, That is the Problem

A comment on Robert Reich’s status went a bit long;

Trump is a manifestation of poor education in the US exacting its price on the US and the world.  The chickens have come home to roost. The wide-spread, wrong-headed notion that a strong leader is the way to get the change you want in a complex system, has manifested in the personages of Trump and Sanders, the demagogic “outsiders” who are believed by the uninformed to be capable of effecting change on a system by themselves.
While Sanders elected alone would fail just as Obama failed to live up to the dreams of the people who voted for him in 2008, Trump is quite capable of wrecking the system all by himself if he is elected. 
It is much easier to destroy than it is to create. 
At this point in this one election all that is left is to hope for is that the Democrats can pull out a win.  It would be nice to think that they could gain a sweeping victory that would bring in enough progressives to alter the system in a positive way.  Hand the Republicans such a crushing defeat that they are forced to re-invent themselves into a opposition party that doesn’t deny science and embrace religion as its starting point.  The Bernie or busters are going to make that possibility as remote as they can, unfortunately.
The Bernie or busters are not interested in reforming the system any more than the Tea Party Trump supporters are.  They want to re-invent it, which is just one step more than simply destroying it.  They tell themselves they’ll be happy with a Trump presidency because at least the status quo will end.  Both the Trump supporters and the Bernie or busters don’t really understand the kind of misery bringing down the US system will create.  I’m becoming afraid we might just find out how deep that well of misery is.
The fix for this is so much more than just reporting.  Just being able to predict what the population will go for in an election. That is not even scratching the surface of the problem. First you have to educate the voting public on just how blind this faith in a strong leader is.  The journalists who inform us on politics cannot be held responsible for the failure of the education system in the US to actually educate the population to the dangers of dictatorship.  As college educated people they of course discarded the idea that the average American would fall prey to a demagogue like Trump.  It’s obvious he’s lying and has no clue what he’s talking about.  Why would anyone take this orange hate-monkey seriously?
…Unless of course you believe that a strong leader is what we need, in spite of the obvious fact that a system as complex as the US government cannot possibly be run by one person. Then all bets are off and the people who want a guy who pretends to have all the answers have control of the mechanisms of statecraft through the selection of the next head of state.
We’ve been so busy propping up dictators in other countries that we’ve forgotten we might be subject to one ourselves.  That fate is now just the flip of a coin away. 

The Corrupting Influence of Faction

Another observation and question from Robert Reich,

I was speaking yesterday with a group of European politicians, who expressed surprise at how “undemocratic” our presidential nominating process is. They pointed to:

1. The large percentage of “superdelegates” (political insiders) that will decide on the Democratic Party’s nominee. 

2. The large number of primaries (such as the critical New York primary on April 19) that are closed to independents – even though there are more independents than registered Democrats or Republicans.

3. The increasing likelihood that the Republican convention will be “brokered” and that neither of the leading Republican candidates will emerge as the Republican nominee. 

I explained that before the early 1970s, it was even worse; each party came up with its nominee in party conventions, without relying on the outcomes of primaries or caucuses. 

“And we thought you were a democracy!” said one of my visitors.

What do you think?

The parties organized themselves outside of government as a way to control government to profit themselves. We were never a Democracy, and to the extent the parties have subverted the election process, we are that much less a Republic.

I have never been interested in living in a “dictatorship of the proletariat” no more fond of one dictator a thousand miles away than I am of a thousand dictators a mile a way. Democracy is and should be limited to the vote, the selection process of our representatives.

The parties should only endorse candidates that embody what the parties sees as their core principles. Should only embrace candidates that further the cause of the party. That is their purpose. The problem arises when the only candidates which can appear on the ballot are the candidates from the two parties. When the only candidate which can win belongs to one of the two parties.

The situation we find ourselves in now.

I don’t think the GOP should nominate Trump. The fact that he has won primaries has no bearing on his benefit to the party itself. His status as an outsider is detrimental to the party if they embrace him as a nominee, giving him power to set the course of the party for several years to come.

So too the Democrats should not embrace Bernie Sanders if they are not convinced that he would improve the prospects of the party. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be on the ballot. That Trump shouldn’t be on the ballot. It means that the system as it currently exists is broken in ways that most people are only now beginning to understand. What is needed is to break loose from the calcium deposits that have formed around the structures of our government, and shake up the ways that our representatives are selected.

If you are dissatisfied that your candidate will not appear on the ballot, I say “it’s about time. Now roll up your sleeves and get to work” because it’s going to take a lot more than one election to fix this mess

The ACA vs. Delusion

Courtesy VOX

Stumbled across this in my news feed this morning,  liberals attacking this Senator for the stupidest tweet ever. Hyperbole aside, this isn’t even a remarkable example of the kind of thinking that goes on in libertarian and conservative circles in their attempts to justify their beliefs concerning small government, the evils of government.  Far from being the stupidest tweet ever this is much more like standard operating procedure in any subset of humanity that is trying to justify their unjustifiable beliefs.

I can’t count the dozens of times I’ve gotten in an argument with a small-government type who insisted that laws create crime; ergo fewer laws means less crime. Less government equates to more freedom.  Less regulation yields a fairer, free-er marketplace. It makes sense, if you stand back and squint at the concept for awhile. The mind is amazingly agile at creating justifications for things that you believe, whether or not those beliefs are justified.

If you were to approach one of these small government types and suggest that the behavior in question, let’s say murder for example, remains egregious or unacceptable even if the laws don’t exist, they would probably brush the argument off as reductio ad absurdumwithout realizing that the argument is legitimate in any case. The thought never crosses their minds, or is easily diffused with some other simple heuristics. People are peaceful and don’t murder. It is government that murders, not individuals defending their rights. 
What happens when individuals without government have competing claims, though?  What if neither of the parties involved actually knows who has prior claim to property, as another example. Who is defending their rights and who is the transgressor? What authority will they empower to potentially strip their claim from them? The thought that government might have been created specifically to address these kinds of conflicts doesn’t even occur to the anarchically minded, small government types. Can’t occur to them, in a general sense.  To contemplate how laws and government serve a legitimate purpose brings on cognitive dissonance, which the believer will avoid at almost any cost.
Apply double-think (thank you George Orwell) like that illustrated above, and you can reverse cause and effect and suffer no cognitive dissonance.
The ACA isn’t good in the estimation of the libertarian and conservative mindset. It can’t provide a benefit, because it is a bad program. The people who benefit from the program can’t actually be benefiting; that would be an admission that the program isn’t bad, that it served some larger purpose. The blind assertion that healthcare is a personal choice rules out any possibility that healthcare might be a public good. That the group as a whole benefits when the health of individuals in the group is improved. That poor people will economize with healthcare to the detriment of their health if they are allowed to include those costs in their calculations of how much money they have to spend on other necessities. Things like food, shelter, etc. 
No, the ACA is bad in their estimation, so ending it is good. How then to justify denying care to millions of poor people who will not get care without the ACA? It extended false hope of being seen as valuable while remaining poor.  The poor cannot be of value because they are poor and beneath notice. Insurance is for those who can afford it. Everyone else should get to the business of getting wealthy or dying, makes no difference to those who have the benefit and don’t want to share access to it.
Quite some time back Robert Reich posted this status. I saved it for this article I’m writing now. I knew I would get around to writing it at some point in the future, because I knew I’d stumble across some idiot who hadn’t bothered to check his beliefs before posting something stupid on the internet;

Republicans who are intent on stopping 9 million needy people from getting subsidies through Obamacare and 15 million through expanded Medicaid don’t seem to realize that almost all other Americans get subsidized health insurance, at a far larger cost. Who am I talking about? 

1. Over 50 million Americans get Medicare (Part A and/or Part B), at an annual cost to the government of around $500 billion. The amount retirees receive in Medicare benefits is several multiples of what they paid into the system, even after accounting for inflation. 

2. About 158 million other Americans – me included — receive a whopping $250 billion-a-year insurance subsidy through our employers, because employer-provided health care is excluded from our taxable incomes. This is the equivalent of a tax expenditure of $250 billion. 

In other words, around two-thirds of all Americans already get subsidized health care. And most are not nearly as needy as those who have signed up for Obamacare or those who would get extended Medicaid if all states signed up.

The ACA is unpopular precisely because it shares the benefits of living in the US with the poor people who cannot afford those benefits without help.  There is no other reason for opposing it, because it has been demonstrated to be a benefit to those who did not have access to healthcare before it was instated. There is no cost-based reason for opposing it, because the US government already subsidizes everyone else’s healthcare in the US, with tax dollars taken from the pockets of the poor as much as from anyone else in the nation.

The poor are a hated group in the US.  The hatred of the poor for being poor (generally by poor people who can’t admit that they themselves are poor)  is so pervasive that it is masked by quite a few other prejudices which are really just a shorthand for saying poor people.  The sooner we Americans realize this, the sooner we can escape some of the delusions which entrap us.  Delusions which shackle us to concepts which no longer serve a useful purpose.


The SCOTUS did as I expected and interpreted the phrase “the state” to mean the US government (which is also a state; i.e. government) the fact that anarchists and small government types would willfully spend millions of dollars to contest the meaning of one word in one phrase in a several thousand page set of laws simply speaks to the desperation motivating the people who brought the suit.

The case was, in other words, a sophisticated game of gotcha, based on what was, again, essentially a typographical error. The case was only about trying to destroy the law by denying insurance to millions and setting in motion a death spiral of raised premiums, cancelled policies, and more rate hikes until the system collapsed. 

courtesy The New Yorker

So that is that.  The ACA will stay in force for the foreseeable future. If the Republicans want to overturn it or modify it they are going to have to come up with a better plan than just throwing the poor back out in the cold (as the lawyers in the case alluded to with their response “deal with it”) but I doubt that the Republican party leadership really wants the law repealed. There is little doubt the base of the party does, which is why you get the kind of hypocritical pandering from their representatives that I started this post with.

In the end, the poor will exact the cost of their existence from the system, whether the government factors that cost into the calculations it makes or not.  Personally, I’d rather they had access to the cheaper preventative care rather than have them clog the expensive and already overburdened emergency care system.  That will mean building out the system more than it is now.  Recruiting healthcare professionals to fulfill the needs of the poor.  Making it easier to become a doctor or a nurse.  You know, economic investment.

The Strange World of TV News

Robert Reich is the highlight of my Facebook experience.  I look for his posts in my feed to inform me about what is really going on politically from a left-sided vantage point.  He rarely fails to get my political brain turning over. Sunday he posted this status;

I’ve just come from ABC’s “This Week,” where Newt Gingrich, Matthew Dowd, Donna Brazile, and I went from talking about “American Pharoah”’s Triple Crown win to the Republican and Democratic primaries. In other words, it was all about horse races. The media seems to have no other way to address American politics than to ask who’s ahead and who’s behind, rather than what the candidates stand for and what America needs.

Seven months until the first primaries, and 17 until Election Day, we have plenty of time for a national debate about the nation’s real challenges. Yet every Republican candidate is repeating the same platitudes (strengthen the military, lower taxes, and promote religious values) the GOP has been spewing for 35 years. Scott Walker leads the pack in Iowa, but on the basis of, what? Fighting unions, defunding Planned Parenthood, making it harder for students and low-income people to vote, blocking abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape or incest, and threatening a constitutional amendment allowing states to decide on same-sex marriage. Oh, and he rides a Harley. He’s a brainless knee-jerk conservative whom the media is celebrating because he happens to be up in Iowa, whose Republican caucuses haven’t predicted anything in years.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are discussing real issues. She wants to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and expand Obama’s executive order on immigration, roll back Republican state laws designed to suppress the votes of the poor, automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18, demilitarize the police, and get rid of mandatory prison sentences. Bernie Sanders wants to bust up the biggest Wall Street banks, make higher education free, and strengthen safety nets. But as long as the media remains fixated on the political horse race, America isn’t going to be debating any of this. Horse-race reportage allows the Republicans to get away with their racism, homophobia, anti-worker economics, and total dearth of ideas, while burying the important initiatives Democrats are proposing.

So what’s the answer?

TV news? It’s come a long way from the days when I used to watch it with my parents every night. We never missed the 10 o’clock news. Dan Rather.  David Brinkley. The giant himself, Walter Cronkite.  Most people watched television news at least on a daily basis, especially if you didn’t take time to read a daily paper.  You couldn’t consider yourself well informed without reading at least one paper a day.

Today the newspaper industry has either moved online, or fallen by the wayside.  TV news, the baseline for an informed society through most of my life, has become a pre-digested wasteland of oatmeal reporting on one end of the spectrum, and a haven for the craziest of right-wing political views on the other. You could still watch the nightly news if you wanted to, but why bother?  Most of the events that will be reported on during that half-hour broadcast are old news by the time the TV reports on them.

But I am a news junkie, have been one all my life.  I don’t feel like I’ve finished my day unless I’ve had a dose of the day’s events summarized for me.  So I need news, and a steady stream of it works best. Since I spend large sections of my day with a laptop, that’s generally not a problem.  Still, I like my news to sometimes be delivered in a video format. I am constantly two-screening as the saying goes; writing or gaming on one screen, watching something on another one.

I watched MSNBC daily for more than a year (probably more like three years) I started watching back when Dylan Ratigan was brought on.  The TV would be on and tuned to MSNBC from mid-afternoon through most of the evening shows, pretty much every weekday.  During that time I felt more informed, but spent large segments of my day trapped watching repetitive news items.  As the hosts of the afternoon and evening programming changed, with Ratigan famously flaming out (a moment I’m glad I got to see live) Cenk Uygur being added and then hastily removed, the inclusion of Al Sharpton’s hour-long program (which inexplicably remains on MSNBC despite his lack of journalistic competence) Chris Matthews’ maddening insistence on reporting politics as if it was a horse race (echoing Reich’s comments) rather than something real, I found my interests waning.

For the last few months I’ve moved away from watching any television news and getting my news almost exclusively from the internet.  The news programming on television feels disconnected from the reality of living in the US today; All In with Chris Hayes & The Rachel Maddow Show being the few exceptions to this observation (and a shout out to MHP on weekend mornings for being worth getting up for) but not worth the time to record and watch daily.

The only TV news I still reliably take the time to watch is faux news (as opposed to FOX news which is fake but treated as real) The Daily Show and The Nightly Show (which replaced The Colbert Report earlier this year) studies have shown not only that most younger people get their TV news from these shows, but that people who watch these shows are more informed than people who watch real TV news.  Which is a sad state of affairs if you think that TV news is important and relevant.

The solution to this problem is to move with the times.  As other commenters noted on the status, television news is a largely dying industry.  They influence smaller and smaller segments of the population.  The Young Turks gets more eyeballs than television news, and other internet sites do even better than they do at communicating news through text articles; the way humans have consumed news since the invention of the printing press.

When you look at the problem from a modern perspective, people are more connected than they have been in decades to the events around them.  This fact doesn’t reliably translate into actual influence of events, doesn’t sway the actions of the political leaders, probably because of the corrupting influence of money in politics.  The solution is to target the sources of corruption and get them closed off through legislative action in the states. It can be done, but it won’t be a short process.