Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Coming off the Bench

This has been the longest stint on the PUP list I've ever had, never mind the DL. 28 days of nothing requiring lung action beyond walking twenty feet at a time! Lungs are still a bit on the bubbly side, but after the month of respiratory crap following several months of limited lifting thanks to a bum shoulder and bum elbow (Aging: It Sucks), I am hobbling into the gym tomorrow afternoon and giving the trainer free rein to make me cry.

The fantasies of transforming back into the stud I was at 19 or even the approximation of an athlete I was a few years ago may remain safely in my head. Or, hell, maybe I'll get a step back or be able to return to outlifting at. I got spiffy new running shoes, anyway.

Day One. Comeback Day. Tomorrow. I'm stoked.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Commie Fascist Socialist Liberal Media Strikes Again

The AP sure has been interesting recently. The byline on this morning's above-the-fold shrieker isn't Ron Fournier's, but it might as well have been. Insurers' profits not as big as claimed, the headline intones, before tsking into this lede:
In the health-care debate, Democrats and their allies have gone after insurance companies as rapacious profiteers making "immoral" and "obscene" returns while "the bodies pile up."

Ledgers tell a different reality. Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a percentage point or two. That's anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Aren't the multiple scare quotes a nice "touch?" Because the Democrats are just being hysterical about the eeeeeeeevil insurance companies. Why, health insurance companies posted an average profit margin of only 2.2 percent last year! Which is only good for 35th place on the Fortune 500 list of top industries! So why are Democrats whining about how much money Cigna rakes in when its credit rating is tanking, and health insurance in general is outperformed by Tupperware and Coors?

After mulling the question for perhaps two seconds--hey, the bright and shiny objects in my office distracted me for a while there--I came up with two reasons for not shedding tears over my insurer profiting less than Clorox. Number one, I don't really need Clorox on a regular basis, much less Tupperware and Christ on an ignored hop-plant, Coors. My bleaching and food storage and beer needs are met, wonder of wonders, by the company whose product is on sale this week, and if things are tight it's not much of a problem to do without for a while, or improvise something on my own, or borrow from a friend.

My healthcare needs, on the other hand, can't exactly be put off, and, as the past 27 goddamn days have illustrated in a big way, can't be shopped around--Boltgirl is not made of money--or nicked from my neighbor's pantry. Don't get me wrong; I'm very grateful that I have insurance and that it only sets me back about twenty bucks out of every paycheck, plus about $150 out of pocket for the flu-related doctor visits and prescriptions. But if my plan sucked? Good luck finding a similar level of coverage in an individual plan for the same costs. I wouldn't be able to; that's what pooled risk is all about.

Speaking of being made of money, number two looks something like this.

Company and CEO's 2008 Total Compensation:
Aetna $24.3M
Cigna $12.2M (a 50 % drop from 2007! oh noes)
WellPoint $9.8M
Coventry Health Care $9.0M
Centene $8.8M
Humana $4.8M
Health Net $4.4M
Universal American $3.5M
UnitedHealthGroup $3.2M (although "in May 2006, the amount of Hemsley's supplemental retirement benefit was frozen based on his current age and average base salary and converted into a lump sum of $10,703,229.")

Another list that breaks the numbers down into base salary, stock options, and cash bonuses is available here. So from the perspective of obscene piles of cash being thrown at executives who may or may not have "earned" it, depending on your definition of "earn," the health insurance industry isn't necessarily much more or less revolting than, say, any investment bank still in business.

But a lot of people--Democrats and their allies included--see the compensation as "obscene" when cash bonuses representing five, seven, ten times a million-dollar base salary are funded by annual rate increases on the order of 20 percent. This isn't a cable TV or high-speed internet level of luxury item we're talking about here. It's the ability to go to the doctor when you're sick, or, better yet, before you're sick, for preventative care. It's the ability to, oh, say, not die from a preventable condition or treatable-when-caught-early disease. It's an industry that we're beholden to with little choice in provider (well, those of us not, as mentioned before, made of money), so when those providers rake in the cash, yeah, "rapacious profiteer" isn't a bad term at all.

Thanks for reminding us that it's all about the bottom line, AP.

Public Service Announcement

Even if the president hadn't declared H1N1 a national emergency, it is definitely a household-level emergency, and that should be enough to get your attention. You don't want to get this friggin' virus; you probably won't die--although about a thousand people have, sorry for their families--but you will lose anywhere from a few days to a month of your life to lying on the couch in too much of a daze to read or follow TV scenarios more complicated than Dancing with the Stars.

Get the vaccination if you can, and until then wash your hands, don't touch your face, and make every day your personal Beat the Record Day when it comes to ingesting immune-boosting foods like sweet potatoes, oranges, and green tea. And drink lots of water.

Seriously, be at least somewhat vigilant for a while, even if you normally don't get the seasonal flu. I don't usually get it, or if I do it doesn't last long. But this bug knocked me on my ass for a month and I don't like that one bit. Who am I and what am I doing? And do my lungs still work? I get to figure all that out today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Mystery for Our Time

My fairly lofty opinion of McClatchy Newspapers may need to be dialed back a notch or two after this lede this morning:
MERCED, Calif. — Nobody can say why the Virgin of Guadalupe would appear on a hunk of rock formed millions of years before the birth of Jesus.

But David Nunez says the image is unmistakable — a bluish-black stain on the football-sized rock outlines what looks like the Holy Mother.

Friends have called it a miracle.

Really? Nobody can say? It seems like somebody could say, though, and it turns out a couple of people actually can, so thank Mary-in-a-rock the reporter decided to ask them. One is a priest, and the other is a geologist. What does the priest think?

"People see what they want to see," said [the Rev. Harvey] Fonseca, who hasn't examined the rock.

Well then. Scientist?

[Rob] Rogers, the geologist, said he couldn't see the image in the e-mailed photos of the rock. "I must lack imagination," he said.

And science lives to fight another day.

Personally, I think it looks like a giant Cretaceous almond. You know, the kind of big ol' nut T. rex was given those pointy teeth to crack open before Eve ate the apple and brought planet-wide veganism to a crashing halt. Can't you see the long gougy toothmarks? Does that make it a slightly cooler miracle? I think so.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Marriage Parable for Our Time

Keith Bardwell is a justice of the peace in a state where, despite contentious debate and strong public sentiment opposing such pairings, a formerly banned type of marriage is now legal. He recently refused to issue a marriage license to a local couple, the law be damned, citing concerns for any children the couple might wish to raise and his certainty that their kinds of marriages don't last. In fact, he's done this four times in the past two and a half years.

Sigh. We've heard this plenty of times in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California, haven't we?

Except that we haven't. The couple in question is straight and male-female, and the state in question is Louisiana. So what about these two people triggered JP Bardwell's won't-someone-think-of-the-children lobe, with a touch of you-people-can't-stay-married palsy? Oh. The woman is white. The man is black. And no way in hell are they getting married under Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's watch.

But don't get the wrong idea about Bardwell! He's not a racist! Look, he says so himself:
"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

See? He has piles of black friends! He even lets them use his bathroom! How can you call him racist?

Bardwell clarified that conversations with both black and white people, and his own observations, have led him to conclude that mixed-race children aren't accepted by either blacks or whites. And that their parents don't stay married for long. The only thing lacking in his argument is the citation of the passages from Leviticus forbidding interracial marriage; otherwise, it's a spot-on simulation of arguments we've heard from other people--including, sadly, county clerks and other people whose job descriptions include "issue marriage licenses to qualified couples"--who rail against gay folk seeking marriage equality.

Hey, I have gay friends. I just don't want them to be allowed to get married because gays screw everything that moves so they'd probably just get divorced anyway and oh dear god people will make fun of their kids.

Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, the most recent couple to be denied by Bardwell, plan to file a discrimination suit. I suspect the repercussions will be very, very interesting should the court find that perceptions about a certain class of people's ability to form lasting pair-bonds, and predictions about society's treatment of any children they might raise, have no bearing on those people's rights to enter into a marriage contract. I only wish Bardwell had tossed in a religious objection as well, but we can't have everything.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do You Need Another Reason to Love Bao?

Not that you really do need another reason to love steamed buns, but if you do, here are three: (1) they dance, (2) they bust wicked nunchuk moves, and (3) they are adorable when they do it.

Dragon Fist from sun haipeng on Vimeo.

(via Serious Eats)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Boltgirl Hearts Al Franken

Al Franken had me way back in the late eighties the first time I saw him do his draw-the-US-map-freehand trick on SNL. He got me again today in a big way.
Rookie Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) passed an amendment to a defense bill this week that would withhold government contracts from organizations like KBR if they restrict employees from taking rape and sexual assault cases to court.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, 30--thirty--Republicans voted in favor of gang-raping contractors. Do I need to point out that my two illustrious senators are among them? Stay classy, Jon Kyl and John Fucking McCain. Happily, they lost. Suck it, Halliburton!

What Brings Me out of my Flu Hibernation? Ok-La-Homa!

As I tossed around in bed this morning trying to weigh the relative merits of actually getting up against the vertigo and pounding in my head as the last remaining flu viruses sprint circles around my tired and cramping white blood cells, my thoughts stumbled onto a long-slumbering memory of a musical my grandparents wrote back in the 1970s. Zuh? Yes. My grandparents were career high school music teachers and leaders in a surprisingly vibrant community arts movement in our small southern Illinois hometown, and after decades of directing teenagers in sophisticated productions of other people's music and books, they decided to give writing a shot themselves and turned out something called Mississippi!

That's all I remember about it, and I spent a good many minutes wondering why in the fuck they chose that state. Granted, Oklahoma! was already taken, but Jesus on stage left, Mississippi? Because fewer complete sentences or multisyllabic words would be required? I do not know. I recall seeing sheet music strewn across the kitchen table, and possibly some promotional posters. The community college may have staged the production. Couldn't tell you.

Anyway, Mississippi! naturally leads to Oklahoma! and, coincidentally, my friend who points out all the good stuff I miss--and I have missed everything over the past 11 days--sent me a link to this bit of comedy coming out of Oklahoma, which unfortunately I cannot chalk up to music directors with their sights set on off-off-off Broadway:
A new Oklahoma law requires physicians to disclose detailed information on women's abortions to the State's Department Of Health, which will then post the collected data on a public website. The controversial measure comes into effect on November 1 and will cost $281,285 to implement, $256,285 each subsequent year to maintain.

Well, that's interesting. And expensive. What public good, exactly, does this achieve? Oh, but of course. It serves exactly the same purpose served by my (other, non-musical) grandmother's police scanner. It gives people something to gossip about and essentially serves as state-formalized fuel for informal social sanctions that will frighten some of the remaining women unbowed by 24-hour waiting periods, long drives, and crowds of shrieking protesters calling them murdering hell demons away from seeking abortions.

Police-scanner grandmother would sometimes take me to the schoolyard on Saturday afternoons, when I would scamper around and play and she would sit in a swing facing the school cafeteria. I didn't think much about it until my grandfather asked her, so, watching to see who comes out of the AA meeting today? The Oklahoma law will let anyone with internet access sit in a swing outside all the clinics in the state at once. Sure, no names will be attached to the data, but if small-town Oklahoma is anything like small-town Illinois, the legions of biddies will have a field day matching age, marital status, education, and nature of the relationship with the father to women they just didn't see around town on a specific date.

One of the legislators sponsoring the bill calls it "common-sense legislation," apparently so common-sense that his statement doesn't require any further explanation. I remain unconvinced; fortunately, so do a lot of other people with standing to file a suit that would block its implementation. Stay tuned for the future of state-sanctioned slut-shaming in the Dust Bowl.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

H1N1, Day Bazillion

Slightly only more disturbing than this fucking bug's ability to sap my energy is its ability to sap my cognitive processes. I have not watched Maddow for a week. A week! I tried, but anything requiring concentrated thinking for more than ten seconds or ten consecutive words is pretty much a no-go. I can skim Jezebel, but can't read Greenwald. Crosswords marginally okay, Ahmed Rashid definitely not.

It's heartbreaking. Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink. I have nothing but time and piles of books on my hands, and no faculties to do anything with either of those treasures.

The world continues spinning on out there. I hope to catch up again soon.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Swine Flu, Day Seven

Bleary eyes and a gouge on my nose between them I don't quite recall incurring. Football on TV. Food not exactly sounding good.

All in all, a Sunday pretty much like every Sunday when I was an undergrad, but for completely un-fun reasons, and no suicide wings from Buffalo Joe's to soothe my soul.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Last Word

No, not from me, since I can barely get the first word pounded out here over the roar of clogged sinuses, plugged ears, a raggedy throat, and a chest that protests at being asked to expand any more than absolutely necessary to let in any of that... ah, yes, oxygen. Instead, the last word for today comes from Katha Pollitt, injecting all the reason you need into the insane why-are-we-even-having-this-debate debate over whether drugging and anally raping a child should matter if you're, like, a really artsy filmmaker.
It's enraging that literary superstars who go on and on about human dignity, and human rights, and even women's rights (at least when the women are Muslim) either don't see what Polanski did as rape, or don't care, because he is, after all, Polanski--an artist like themselves. That some of his defenders are women is particularly disappointing. Don't they see how they are signing on to arguments that blame the victim, minimize rape, and bend over backwards to exonerate the perpetrator? Error of youth, might have mistaken her age, teen slut, stage mother--is that what we want people to think when middle-aged men prey on ninth-graders?

'Nuff said.