Monday, January 27, 2020

The Low Point of the 21st Century (so Far)

That’s what it seems like, already. I know the century just shy of 20% of the way through, but I don’t know what a worse level of political discourse would even look like.

And by political discourse, I’m not talking about the garbage that goes on at social media sites or comment sections. I’m talking about the internal function of the government.

The 2000s have already introduced us to “alternative facts,” and general indifference to public figures telling obvious, easily refutable lies and those lies being vigorously adopted by the liar’s cult followers. Which brings us to the reality that we have one side of the Senate who refuses to listen to or even be in the room for the presentation of a legitimate case for the impeachment of the president.

They say there’s nothing new, while they actively prevent the addition of anything new. (That just harks back to the good old days when they complained about how Obamacare wasn’t working, while they actively sabotaged it.) They said the impeachment was too rushed, now they’re setting a land speed record getting it through the Senate.

The thing is, the GOP senators know that the evidence is correct. They know that offering bribes to a foreign country to induce them to interfere with our election is an impeachable offense. They know that if there was exculpatory evidence to be had or witnesses to bolster the president’s case, they’d be brought out.

They know that Trump is a friggin’ idiot and a danger to the country and Constitution.

Yet still, they deny, defer, alibi, excuse, rationalize and squirm.

And I can see why they do. They’re afraid. They know that their political career could well end with a vote to hear evidence or a vote to impeach. And the number one Commandment of the modern politician is “Thou shalt not cause hindrance to getting re-elected.”

They know what their disobedience will bring about.

They’ll have plum committee positions taken away. They’ll suddenly have well-funded primary challengers. The President will tweet mean things about them, causing his minions and the inevitable bot brigade to follow suit. Some of them will issue threats, especially the ammo-sexuals and professional trolls.

It’s not by accident that the only Republican Trump critics are former or soon-to-be-former Congressmen.

It’s so much easier to stay in line and hide behind Mitch. Mitch cannot be shamed. There is no amount of political blowback he won’t happily withstand if doing so cements his power and that of the GOP. Mitch McConnell will withstand a Category 5 PR Shit Storm and the only thing that will make him reverse course is if his corporate benefactors (like the Koch Brother) tell him to.

But the Kochs and Waltons of the world want to see health care continue to erode and Social Security go away, so they keep their puppets in office, right where they’re the most useful. Wall Street can’t wait to get their hands on seniors’ retirement money. If they go bust, so what? They’ll get another government bailout. And the seniors? Not their problem. They should have invested smarter. And because the Trump administration is doing away with the Fiduciary Rule (meaning an investment company must put their client’s interests before their own), they have no obligation to guide them toward safer investments. Isn’t the free market wonderful?

The Democrats running for president should be beating this issue like a drum. This should be right in Warren’s wheelhouse. Republicans want to end Social Security… the fund we’ve all been paying into our entire lives! McConnell’s also mentioned in the past, out loud. Whip that news on some senior citizens. Run that interview with Trump from last week non-stop, talking about cutting “entitlements.” It’s a major chance to peel off some 55-and-over conservatives.

“Isn’t giving up your Social Security too high of a price to pay just to ‘own the Libs?’”

“’Liberal tears’ are not enough to pay for your retirement home.”

Seniors are the most reliable voting block there is. To threaten their retirement income is to invite the wrath.

Go ahead, try to suppress their votes with long lines. They’ll bring chairs. They’ve got all day.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Homeless Thoughts - The Princely Edition

I do “Homeless Thoughts” posts when I have several ideas that are too short to make “Odd Bits” posts. Although we’ll see how this shakes out. Sometimes I’m not sure how things are going to shake out until I get to the end.

Rush to Judgement
The Senate Republicans mad dash to fill judicial seats with their own people makes perfect sense not just because they might only have the rest of this year to do so, but because it might ensure another four.

They may well need friendly judges in place when all the voter suppression, election-fixing charges, and recount requests get filed. They already have SCOTUS, but the top court may not even be brought to bear if all the lower courts find in favor of the suppressors.

From the “What Are They Thinking?” Dept.
When walking from my office to the subway last Monday, I saw that the Powers That Be installed a series of plastic posts along the main drag into Baltimore’s Harbor East office complex, to seal off a bike lane.

My first thought was that they’d have to be bendy, like ski slalom gates, or else they won’t last long around here. So I walked over to test one… nope, it was rigid, a piece of PVC stuck in a collar, somehow attached to the street.

Are they freakin’ crazy? I don’t see how those are going to last a month. Some idiot who’s talking on the phone is bound to mow over a half dozen at a time. And the ones he misses, bored kids are going to knock over out of mischief or boredom.

Lo and behold, when I went back to work the next day, I could see it starting.

I hope they have someone on retainer to fix these, or else these things will soon be only a distant memory.

Memories… Like the [something, something] Moonlight
I have a list of ideas for this post jotted down on a pad by my computer. I made the notes last week, before Sweetpea and I had a little getaway. (More on that later).

So I come back to my desk, ready to write my post, I check the list, and the first Item I see says “Steamed Vajj.”

I have no idea what the hell I was talking about. I mean, I’m sure it had something to do with Gwyneth Paltrow’s new candle:

It must have been something I was enthusiastic about because it was the first item on the list, which meant it was the one that caused me to start the list in the first place. I must not have wanted to let that one get away. Alas, I should have added a little more detail.

I have the memory of a goldfish anymore. It’s probably time for me to start dipping my CBD gummies into a big jar of Gingko Biloba.

Royally Steamed
Not that it matters, but I totally support the Harry formerly known as Prince, for walking away from royal life. It’s easy for people to harrumph from the gallery but it must be a real burden to live under such a spotlight and microscope. I don’t blame Harry one bit for wanting to protect his family from the howling jackals who drove his mom to her death. Riches, fame, and royalty didn’t do HER much good.

If he wants to step out and become his own man, more power to him. It’s not like there was any real scenario where he was going to take the throne anyway. What was he in line, 6th? The only way he becomes king is if Trump tries to drone strike the Mayor of London and a bomb accidentally takes out all of London, including the royal family, and they have to bring him in from the Canadian bullpen.

Meet-A-Versary Weekend
To celebrate the day we met three years ago, and following day when we had our first date, Sweetpea and I decided to have a little stay-cation down in the ritzy part of town.

We stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn, at which we found an excellent rate. (Consider that the surrounding hotels, the Marriott Waterfront and the Four Seasons, want $320-$450 per night. No thanks!)

Our plan was to burn up some of the very generous gift cards we got as wedding presents. We had $200 for the rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons, and $100 at Fleming’s Steakhouse.

For what it’s worth, we had a grand time. We had dinner at Flemings Saturday night, followed by brunch at the Four Seasons Sunday morning. It was quite a feast, in two parts. We didn’t even need to eat again on Sunday. (We did, but that’s beside the point. We didn’t have to. Just appetizers.)

Sunday afternoon, we saw "1917," which was a real masterpiece of film making. We totally recommend it.

But what I wanted to talk about was the hotel. As you may remember, this summer we stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn in Pittsburgh, and I was most unhappy with the design of the bathroom. I wondered if the design was institutional throughout the company and we’d have the same problems we had before.

I’m glad to say, they solved most of my issues in this location.

·        They had regular hinged doors to the bathroom.
·        The fixtures were not loose.
·        Water pressure in the shower was fine and the temperature got as hot as we wanted it.
·        They still had a large mirror opposite the glassed-in shower stall, but it was designed so that you were out of visual range when you were near the showerhead.
·        And even though the toilet faced the same mirror, you were again out of visual range, so you needn’t be tortured with the sight of the faces you make whilst trying to rock one out.

On the downside, they still didn’t have an exhaust fan. Yes, there was a continuous ventilation duct, and that was effective at air and mist filtration, but ignored the primary purpose of a hotel bathroom fan: sound cover. In the closed quarters of a hotel room, no one wants to hear what someone else is doing in there, and vice versa. Maybe if they had a switch to pipe in some traffic noise or something.

The other issue, and this was new, is that the shower stall leaked. There as about a half-inch gap on the hinge side of the door, which allowed water to escape onto the floor. And if the door wasn’t completely closed tight, water could get out the other side as well. There was no “latch” to seal the door, magnetic or otherwise.

You would think that the primary principle of designing a shower stall would be to keep the water inside. How can one intentionally leave a half-inch gap, right where the water bounces off you? Where’s Art Vandelay when you need him?

Do you know how I discovered this problem? I didn’t spot the water leaks when I was standing in there barefoot, getting dressed. That would have been too easy. It wasn’t until we were getting ready to go and I walked back in wearing dress socks and stepped into a big puddle.

Gah!  I hate that! So now it’s time to leave for the restaurant and I have soaking wet socks. (And it’s not like I had packed a whole rack of backup socks, either.)

But, Sweetpea came to the rescue before I could begin swearing in earnest. She said, “I’ll get the blow dryer.


It kills me to say it, but I never would have thought of that. (Probably because I haven’t used a blow dryer in 40 years.) And as an even nicer benefit, it made the socks all warm and toasty. I decided I should blow dry my socks every winter day from now on.

So thank you, Sweetpea, for finding me, accepting me, loving me, marrying me, for richer and poorer, dry socks and wet. You’ll dry my socks, I’ll fold your underwear, and we’ll live happily ever after.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Jellyfish and a Case for Single Payer

I long for the days when I was indestructible. From ages 18 to 40, I almost never went to a doctor or got any kind of medical care whatsoever.

Then I hit 40 and the grand disintegration began. Turning 50 just hastened the onslaught. Heart problems, hives, torn shoulder ligaments, kidney stones; they all lined up to greet me. “Happy Birthday to you” and BAM, right over the cliff.

And now my eyes are giving me grief.

I started to notice something wrong in March when I went to get a new contact lens prescription. They said my prescription hadn’t changed, but I was having a hard time reading street signs. I toughed it out for a couple months until in October, I went back because something had to be wrong. I USED to be able to see with this lens strength, but not now.

My eye doc checked me again and came up with the same prescription. I said, “That can’t be right, because I can’t read a freakin’ street sign!

She checked my eyes again with some new gear and then said the dreaded word… cataracts.

That’s why I couldn’t read street signs; the beginnings of cataracts were fogging up my view. She altered my prescription a bit and gave me a referral for an Eye Surgery outfit. I didn’t figure it to be an emergency. I could still get around, (as long as I’m not navigating alone to somewhere I’ve never been), so I figured I’d table any talk about cataract surgery until at least spring break, or the summer when Sweetpea is out of school and can shuttle me around to the appointments.

Then in mid-December, I started seeing things in my right eye. That got my attention quickly. Now, by “seeing things,” I don’t mean ghosts or evil specters (as long as Fox “News” wasn’t on TV), I mean I was seeing spots… or globs… something from which I couldn’t shake loose.

I immediately called for that referral but found that they couldn’t even see me until January 6th. That meant I’d have to make do over the holidays.

To be helpful, I thought I’d draw out what I was seeing. Here, you can see the progression.

A sketch artist, I am not.

Eventually, I took to Web MD to look this up and found that I have a common occurrence called “floaters.” They said they take several forms:
They come in many different shapes:

·        Black or gray dots
·        Squiggly lines
·        Threadlike strands, which can be knobby and almost see-through
·        Cobwebs
·        Rings

I figure I have “rings,” with a side order of “cobwebs.” All that junk that’s attached to the large ring? When I look around, it sways, like a jellyfish in the current.

With great trepidation, I went off to my appointment last week. I went by myself. I knew they were going to dilate me but they also said driving yourself is optional. Some do, some don’t. I opted not to have to drag someone else to a three-hour appointment.

My trepidation was not only the drive but wondering what they were going to do to me. The idea of someone poking around in my eyeball with a needle or shooting laser beams into it totally skeeves me out, so believe me, I was fearing the worst.

“I need a better HMO!”

I saw several doctors and technicians there and after they got me dilated until I looked like Mexican child on a black velvet painting, they began peering in at the depths of my eye.

What they found was a “horseshoe retina peripheral tear.” It was located in the upper right portion of my eye and was probably what produced the floaters. The prognosis was for me to come back a few days later and have them seal it off with a laser.

[Cue dramatic sphincter tightening.]

But I put on my Big Boy Pants and went along with it. And while I was there, they talked to me about the cataract situation, which brings me to the broader point of the state of American health care.

They told me there are two types of cataract surgery and two types of new lenses they can put in.

The first surgery, I go in, lie down, the doctor works on me for about 10 minutes to break up the current lens, extract it, and insert a new one.

The second option, I get laser-guided prep first, to break up the lens while making smaller cuts in the eye. Produces less physical trauma to the eye and leaves the doctor with a 5-minute process to insert the lens. They said they would use this technique for every such surgery they do but for one problem: Insurance will only cover the first option.

As for the lenses, the first option is for a single-focus lens that will enable distance vision. I would need glasses or contacts to read a book, newspaper, computer monitor or phone. (Or in other words, about 85% of my waking hours.)

The second option is a multi-focal lens that would allow me to see distance plus anything around arm’s length away. Guess which one Insurance covers.

So, to get insurance coverage I need to choose a method that will cause more trauma to the eye, with higher risk, and put in a lens that will need nearly constant correction.

And I have the “good” employer-provided insurance coverage, the kind so many people are yelling about wanting to keep! Not me. Please, swap me out for a program that covers what I need, not what they consider the lowest, most basic level of treatment. I want a program where quality care isn’t trumped by cost savings. The bean-counters shouldn’t have such an outsized say in my medical care.

I know, I’m probably dreaming.

The person I spoke to wouldn’t engage regarding price. I wanted a ballpark… $2000? $5000? $10,000? Give me a clue, man! All he’d tell me is that they’d lay out all my options when it was time to address them. Naturally I imagine the worst. But I figure, if you’re going to get this kind of surgery done, it’s not worth skimping on results just so save a few (thousand) bucks. That’s my thought going in… we’ll see what I think when they lay out the prices and I can count up all the zeroes.

Anyway, I went in and got my laser repair done. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I’d imagined. They didn’t even strap my head down. I told the doctor I was surprised they didn’t have my head restrained. He was like, “Just don’t move your head.”

I was mostly afraid of a sudden sneeze and having my nose cut off, which would totally spite my face.

And there was no big Dr. Evil Death Ray machine; it was more like a little hand-held circular light that he’d hold right up by my eye. When he pressed a button, it got brighter, that was it. After a number of zaps in a row, I could feel a little ache in my eyeball, but nothing too harsh.

Good thing they told me I wouldn’t be able to see out of it for a few minutes. I’d been running around the office bumping into things and yelling, “What did you do to me! I’m BLIIIIIIIIIIIND!”

But not to worry, the vision cleared in a few minutes, like they said.

I was in far more danger just driving home after dilation. It wasn’t so much the brightness… they gave me these ridiculous wrap-around sunglass strips that you basically roll out around your face, and then put your eyeglasses overtop. I think they do that just to laugh behind your back once you walk out the door looking like such a dork.

Going home after my first appointment, my problem was my glasses, which have multi-focal lenses that make the world look like a giant fishbowl. I swear I saw a giant treasure chest full of bubbles in the median. Add the unnatural darkness of the face-wrap shades, which made the world turn a sickly shade of green, yellow and brown, like a tornado is coming, and it’s a wonder I didn’t kill myself just walking to the car.

After the surgery, the trip home wasn’t as bad. It was cloudy and later in the day, so I didn’t need the shades. But driving on an interstate in a fishbowl-mobile is not recommended for the faint of heart.

So, in the end, they repaired the retinal tear and so far there doesn’t seem to be any problems coming from that. I have to go back in a couple weeks for inspection and I suspect we’ll talk about cataract options then.

The bad news: they said there’s not much they can do about the floater and my brain would get used to it.

Great. From now on, everything I see looks like it’s from a monster movie… The Jellyfish That Ate Baltimore.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Facebook Warriors

I guess we all know the big news from the weekend, that the Current Occupant* staged a drone assassination of the top Iranian general. He had Iraq unknowingly lure him out into the open to do it. Now Iran’s mad and threatening retaliation, Iraq’s mad and is evicting all US forces, our allies are mad because they received no notice (except Israel), Congress is mad because they got no notice either, except for a few stray Republicans. Various rich Mir-A-Lago elbow rubbers got notice, though, of “something big about to happen.”

So, no one’s happy. Except, Vlad. He’s very happy because instability in the Middle East and among Western allies is good for Russia. Does Trump ever do anything that’s not good for Russia?

Trump was desperate to retaliate over the Embassy bombing, lest it is marked as “another Benghazi,” so he had his generals draw up some options. According to the New York Times, the option to drone-bomb the general was only included to make the other options look reasonable and measured. Naturally, that’s the one Trump went for; a truly disproportionate response.

Trump and his people say they have intel that there was a serious plan afoot and their action eliminated it. That’s intel from our intelligence agencies… the ones they’ve spent the last two years defaming as agents of the “Deep State.” So, in other words, they’re all wrong when they said that there are dangerous connections between Trump and Russia, and wrong when they found that Trump obstructed justice ten different times, but they totally nailed this Iranian plan.

Does anyone wonder how taking out a guy who thinks up a plan eliminates the execution of that plan? I’m pretty sure the dead general told somebody about his big plan. His being dead won’t stop jack shit.

In today’s society, Republicans are duty-bound to defend whatever dumbass decision the president* makes, so not only were the talking heads bobbing in agreement on Fox “News,” but the troll farms were working overtime to provide jingoistic memes and the ditto-heads military fetishists were busy sending them around. I culled a few out for inspection.

The issue is not that we “defended Americans” against Iran after the embassy bombing, but the way we did it. You can “defend Americans” with sanctions or a nuclear bomb. There’s a lot of room to maneuver in between.

We assassinated a military leader of a foreign country in a non-wartime period, on the soil of a third country, after using false pretenses to gain their assistance. There are United Nations rules against that sort of thing. And even if there weren’t, it was basically kicking a hornet’s nest, without a plan for the fallout. (Other than bomb them some more.) We made a martyr out of this guy and moved Iranian citizens from pursuing rebellion against their government to uniting and rallying against us!

Also note that you could say Obama was “defending Americans” with every foreign policy move, but that didn’t quell any of his critics on the right, whether he was sending troops or bringing them home.

This meme, as usual with this crowd, takes an element of Democratic thought, turns it sideways, and criticizes that as if it was something we believe. No wonder they're confused.

 There’s a big difference between the two sets of actions. Obama was engaged in two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, both started by the previous Republican administration. The president doesn’t need Congressional approval to carry out any activity during a time of war. There was also the pursuit of ISIS, which was an extension of the previously sanctioned wars.

Trump’s assassination of the Iranian general did not take place in a time of war but appears to be the opening salvo of a new war, which indeed requires Congressional approval, or at minimum, notification. So yes, we Democrats do freak out about the president* unilaterally deciding to launch military action. As would Republicans if a Democrat did the same (or anything at all).

This meme is an apples to oranges comparison and cannot be taken seriously.

No one in their right mind is criticizing the soldiers called upon to execute military action in Iran (or Iraq, or wherever the hell they’re going.) And no one’s overlooking their service. But it’s easier to pretend that we are because then military fetishists can wrap themselves in the flag and pledge true love to the big guns of the US Military Services, which I’m sure gives them such a tingle way down in the nether regions.

What we DO criticize is sending our beloved troops into another war of choice meant solely as political gestures to save face and divert attention. People who really love the troops should balk at sending them back to the Middle East under such flimsy pretenses, at the behest of those who don’t know anything more about “service” than the number of pieces in a tea set.