Some thoughts on the Rolling Stone Tsaranaev cover

2013
07.17

I’m really disappointed with anyone who thinks CVS or any other business is justified in _not_ selling Rolling Stone because they are afraid of controversy over the current issue’s cover, which features a picture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect in a pose that makes him look like a teen heartthrob. (Accompanied by the words “The Bomber” in large, bold letters, and the description of him as “a monster.”)

If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. But having a vendor turn their back on carrying it – especially if it’s because _some_ of their customers might get offended – prevents anyone else who might want it from buying it.

If you’re thinking “Yeah, that’s it, exactly,” just hold on for one second. That’s *economic censorship* plain and simple. And that’s against the very spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment.

You know, one of those rights that some terrorists would just as soon see us do without.

The whole point of the cover is to demonstrate the paradox of the Boston Marathon bombings – that this wasn’t carried out by some swarthy “evildoer” in an Afghanistan cave wearing a turban – this was done by a kid that could just as easily be your neighbor, your boyfriend, or your college roommate.

We’ve watched our constitutional freedoms dissolve since 9/11 in a miasma of panicked, ill-thought-out responses to a largely invisible enemy. Here’s another opportunity for us to show we’re better than them, and, as usual, we’re fumbling the fucking ball.

I’m particularly appalled at my fellow Bostonians and Bay Staters who share my left-leaning Massachusetts librul sensitivities, who think, inaccurately, that this cover or the editorial content therein in any way glorify this incredibly twisted and malevolent young man. You need a lesson in reading comprehension and less knee-jerking.

For shame on all of you. For shame.

In Voting Rights, Scalia Sees a Racial Entitlement : The New Yorker

2013
03.01

In Voting Rights, Scalia Sees a Racial Entitlement : The New Yorker.

Justice Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, said that the Court had to rescue Congress from the trap of being afraid to vote against a “racial entitlement”—the “entitlement” in question being the Voting Rights Act.

Anyone else mad yet?

Congress created the US Postal Service’s financial problems

2013
02.06

Most of the news reports I’ve read and seen on television reporting the US Postal Service’s decision to stop Saturday letter delivery have one common theme – that the USPS’s “red ink” is correlated to dwindling first class mail revenue and changing times, as people use e-mail and pay bills online.

This is wrong – this isn’t why the Postal Service has lost billions. It’s because of a 2006 law passed by Congress that required the Postal Service to prefund health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years within 10 years.

This required the USPS to set aside billions of dollars to pay health care benefits for employees it hasn’t even hired yet and won’t for DECADES. This legislation is unprecedented – never before has the government mandated that any business or government agency fund such payments for such a period.

In other words, this is a problem that Congress created. an American institution is suffering, and American citizens are seeing a service they’ve counted on for generations get unnecessarily diminished.

Comparative analysis of French and German languages

2013
01.22

“l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier” – Jacques Necker

“Treppenwitz.” – Germans

Resignation Suggests Rift Between CNET and CBS – NYTimes.com

2013
01.14

Resignation Suggests Rift Between CNET and CBS – NYTimes.com.

CBS has nothing but the highest regard for the editors and writers at CNET, and has managed that business with respect as part of its CBS Interactive division since it was acquired in 2008. This has been an isolated and unique incident in which a product that has been challenged as illegal, was removed from consideration for an award. The product in question is not only the subject of a lawsuit between Dish and CBS, but between Dish and nearly every other major media company as well. CBS has been consistent on this situation from the beginning, and, in terms of covering actual news, CNET maintains 100% editorial independence, and always will. We look forward to the site building on its reputation of good journalism in the years to come.”

If this isn’t yet another screaming condemnation against corporate media control, I don’t know what is.

Corporate media shills for Hostess management and vulture capitalists

2012
11.17

I’m very disappointed but not surprised that the corporate media has reported Hostess’ demise as an uncooperative union refusing to budge rather than vulture capitalists intent on wringing as much money as they could out of a company already in trouble when they took it over.

The leveraged buyout firm that bought Hostess had already pilfered the pension fund and had previously gotten huge wage concessions out of the baker’s union. To position this now as the fault of the union is a bit like saying that a woman shouldn’t have let her throat be cut after refusing to be raped again.

Not to mention that Hostess’ top management, fully aware of what was coming, did its best to line its own pockets by dramatically changing its compensation structure in the year before the shutdown.

It sickens me almost as much as binging on a box of Twinkies would.

Another example of Apple’s superlative customer service

2012
11.04

Over the past several years, I’ve gradually replaced the kids’ older Macs with newer models. And with each of them, I’ve gone the Mac mini route instead of getting another iMac. They’re less expensive but they’ve been solid upgrades for what the kids need, and I haven’t regretted it. Mostly.

Robert was first to get a Mac mini; he got one in November, 2009 when his Power Mac G4 bit the dust. I got him the high-end model for that season, a 2.53 GHz model with 4GB RAM and a 320GB hard drive – much faster and more capable than the aged tower he had. I got AppleCare, too, as I routinely do for new Macs.

And I’m glad I did. Because we’ve had to bring that thing in three times. Each time, the local Apple Store (Derby Street in Hingham, Mass.) diagnosed it as a hard drive failure. Robert would try to launch apps and have them go nowhere, restart, and be faced with an Apple logo but it would never reach the desktop.

A few days ago I tweeted that I had to bring in Robert’s Mac mini for service at the Apple Store because its hard drive had failed again. The problem presented exactly the same as it had before. The last time it was in – just this past June- the Genius told me that there was no longer a 320GB replacement drive available, so they bumped us up to the next best thing: a 500GB model made by Toshiba. 

OK, I thought, this should take care of the hard drive problems – a complete different model.

Robert’s mini failed again, one day before its three-year AppleCare warranty was due to expire, so I wasted no time bringing in to have it serviced. At first the Genius wanted just to replace the hard drive. Their service routine showed the hard drive was faulty but wasn’t able to find any other issue. I wasn’t not convinced it’s an actual hard drive problem, based on the computer’s service history. So the Genius got a manager involved to see what else the Apple Store could do.

The manager agreed to swap out the Mac mini, and replaced it with a new, comparable model (a SuperDriveless 2.5GHz version with 4GB RAM running Mountain Lion). What’s more, the unit retails for less than Robert’s system did, so he applied the difference to a new AppleCare protection plan. The net result? I paid less than $50 for a brand new computer with three-year warranty.

Everyone I dealt with, from the guy who signed me in to the Genius who took my system in for service, the one who called and the manager I spoke with, were all singularly focused on making my repair experience the best possible  customer service experience it could be. I certainly explained my position a few times, but never once had to raise my voice or speak even slightly stridently.

It’s one of those cases where I know I wouldn’t get customer service like this from just about any other company out there, and it’s one of those circumstances where I’m very happy to be an Apple customer.

The salve of structure and purpose

2012
10.01

Today’s the first day since mid-August that I haven’t had to drive to the wound care center I’ve been going to for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It’s a weird feeling, because it’s been such a routine. It’s been this reliable block of four hours when I knew what I had to do, where I had to go and what was expected of me.

10:15 – Leave for the wound care center.

10:45 – Arrive. Wait until the hyperbaric tech was ready to prep me.

11:00 – Change into a hospital johnny. Get a blood glucose check, get a blood pressure check, and depending on the day and the doctor on hand, get my ears and breathing checked.

11:15 – Go into the chamber. Be wary of equalizing the pressure in my ears for the first ten minutes or so of each session. Constant swallowing, yawning and blowing into my nose while pinching my nostrils.

12:45 – Repeat the equalization process as the tech decreases the pressure in the chamber. Get another blood glucose check (damn, but their glucometer needs a lot of blood compared to the one I have at home), another blood pressure read, sometimes ears and breathing, then get changed again and be on my way.

Typically I’d get home between 1:30 and 2:00 PM

That same routine, day in and day out. Except for Thursdays, when they’d ask me to come in in the afternoon so the doctor could check my foot.

There were a few days that I didn’t do it – like the time Bonnie and I had to take James to the oral surgeon to have some teeth extracted as part of his orthodontia; or one day when I just flaked and decided I didn’t want to (the hyperbaric tech tells me that happens pretty frequently, so I didn’t feel too bad about playing hooky). But I was scheduled for thirty treatments and I did the vast majority of them, finally getting the clearance to stop from the doctor who’s been treating me since I was discharged from the hospital.

Now, to be clear, I haven’t totally recovered. There’s still a wound on the bottom of my foot that requires me to wear a dressing and use a special shoe and take a walker or cane with me wherever I go, and they still want me to elevate the foot constantly (I think the actual order is “five times a day”). But I’m confident – and so is the doc – that it’ll heal without surgery, so I’m just taking it day by day at this point.

I won’t miss this four hour void in my schedule that’s been absorbing my late morning and early afternoon every day. Most of it was interminably boring: the treatment involves laying in a lucite tube on a mattress that’s too thin to be comfortable, doing nothing but either napping or staring at a TV screen as the compartment is flooded with pure oxygen at high pressure. Nothing to do but breathe.

The hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been disruptive to me personally and professionally, and I complained about it regularly. But at the same time, the routine of it gave me a sense of purpose and a structure to my day that I found very reassuring. And it was something that had been missing from my life for a while.

Going on the dole

2012
09.29

Some Republicans like to imagine there are people who want an easily life of living on the dole. Anyone who’s ever actually *needed* public assistance will tell you that it’s not easy.

Simply qualifying for basic assistance is an endless slog, a miasma of paperwork and bureaucracy that’s gotten gradually more complicated as more disparate services are offered. Coordination of care and service requires very advanced logistical skills, and you need to constantly renew your credentials whenever you’re asked in order to continue to qualify for help.

You’re also advised repeatedly that if you get gainful employment or any sort of windfall, you risk the services and assistance that you’ve spent in some cases weeks or months getting to begin with. And if you do lose services, you’ll have to start over at square one.

So is it any wonder that once people are in the system, they’re very reluctant to get out?

Dangers in health care’s hidden costs, coverage gaps

2012
09.03

Last week I wrote about my experience with state-mandated health insurance – how it probably saved my life and without question saved my family from bankruptcy. Making health insurance affordable solves one problem faced by many Americans today – it keeps them from suffering catastrophic financial ruin in the event of a major medical crisis. But it doesn’t do a thing to actually reduce the cost of that care, which has spiraled out of control over the past few decades.

A recent article in The Boston Globe certainly drives this home.

“Of more than 3,000 Massachusetts adults surveyed in fall 2010 — the most recent survey data available — 17.5 percent reported having problems paying medical bills in the previous year. Twenty percent said they were carrying medical debt and paying it over time. Those figures changed slightly from 2006, but researchers said the difference was not statistically significant.”

Contributing factors include medical insurance plans with high deductibles and lapses in coverage.

Certainly having insurance coverage helps reduce the financial strain on families who undergo unexpected and catastrophic medical expenses, but if your budget is already stretched to the limit just trying to meet your family’s basic needs, it doesn’t take many high deductibles or hidden expenses to push you over the edge.

There’s a huge problem with a lack of transparency when it comes to the cost of coverage. Patients can run up huge bills without realizing it, even if they’re insured.

A 2010 survey from Blue Cross Blue Shield cited in the article cited a significant drop in the number of patients with unpaid bills totalling between $500 and $1,000. “But there was no statistically significant change in people reporting smaller or larger amounts.” It’s trivial to run up a much larger bill than that for seemingly minor procedures, or for the associated cost of emergent medical care like ambulance transportation.

But a bigger problem – and one that Massachusetts has yet to solve in any substantive way – is what happens to a lot of lower-income families like ours:

“Low-income people commonly lose insurance for brief periods when they move from one state assistance program to another. Others can get lost in a maze of eligibility requirements.

“The state is developing a website meant to streamline the enrollment process. Meanwhile, bills can add up during those gaps in coverage.”

There’s a huge problem with a lack of transparency when it comes to the cost of coverage. Patients can run up huge bills without realizing it, even if they’re insured. That’s precisely what happened to us last December when my daughter was hospitalized. She had insurance, but the insurance wasn’t good enough to cover non-emergency ambulance transportation from one hospital to another – required because the hospital she was brought to didn’t have the inpatient services needed to treat her effectively. We ended up getting a bill for the ambulance that drove her, to the tune of almost $2,700.

We’re still fighting that one. But it’s not like we were given the choice between taking her to the other hospital ourselves or footing the bill for the ambulance. It wasn’t until months after the incident that the issue of the bill even came up.

The bottom line is that insurance improvements in Massachusetts and the Affordable Care Act both help to make sure that catastrophic illness won’t be a death sentence for the financial stability of families living at the edge or below the poverty line. But both services stop dramatically short of actually correcting many of the cost problems that make health care in the United States such a big problem for so many people. For that, we’re going to need much more dramatic changes to the way that hospitals, pharma companies and others do business.