Friday, July 31, 2009

Government Gets Another Lesson In Supply And Demand

In the original draft of my post about the Cash for Clunkers program I included a couple of paragraphs about how it was a basically a big pool of free money. Using the law of supply and demand, a free resource generates a huge demand. I predicted that the pool (around $1 billion, I believe) would run out quickly. I speculated that was the real reason for the changing of the fuel economy ratings for so many cars.

In the end, I cut that part out because it was speculation; nothing in the linked article provided any proof of that. Looks like I was probably right though, as the government is poised to suspend the program because the money is being used up too fast.

I hate to tie everything to healthcare (though I'll keep doing it anyway), but what's going to happen when there's a big pool of "free" healthcare? After all, people won't pay anything out of pocket; it's all paid for by tax money. It will be just as free as the tax money used to pay for the Cash for Clunkers program. Which is to say, it's not really free at all. How quickly will that pool of money run out?

Healthcare Roundup

  • The New York Times has an opinion piece on another reason healthcare costs have risen. Hint: it's not (only) the evil insurance companies' fault. Another hint: who decides what constitutes "being healthy"? [link via Instapundit]

  • How often do you think your Congressperson votes on a bill without bothering to read it? No matter how high your guess, it's probably too low.

  • Fortune rounds up some fun easter eggs hidden in the Senate's healthcare bill. [link via Instapundit]

  • Why the "incremental approach" (read, "buy now, worry about the cost later") is how you say, not a good idea.

  • This is why politicians don't ask questions in public unless they already know he answer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Into The Woods Once Again

Donna, Macy and I are heading back out into the woods this weekend to go camping, so all blogging will be automated until Sunday night. Kris (my old Air Force buddy), his wife Sunny (from the bar I lived in while in Grand Forks) and their daughter are coming along for the ride. Should be a lot of beer, food, canoeing, biking and learning about life.

Hopefully I won't get pummeled by rain trying to put up the tent like last time.

NEWSFLASH: College Kids Like To Drink

North Dakota State University is in the midst of rolling out its latest effort to combat a problem that plagues the school, oh, pretty much once a year judging by the clockwork-efficiency with which the Forum publishes breathless articles about it.

Yes, it's handwringing-about-binge-drinking season again. It seems college kids have a high prediliction for getting drunk and NDSU is working feverishly to reverse that. Good luck. College kids are going to drink no matter what. If the campus is dry they'll drink in their dorms and the greek houses. If it isn't, they'll drink in the yards in front of the dorms and greek houses.

The university is planning an all-out educational blitz to inform students about the dangers of alcohol overindulgence. The problem with this is that students already know what can happen. That overconsumption of alcohol can cause problems mild (hangovers) and severe (kidney and liver damage, death) is something every kid knows. But it doesn't stop them from drinking. Why not? Well, does it stop you? Raise you hand if you've never done the lampshade dance before going to St. John's Church of the Porcelein Altar. Put your hand down, you liar.

Here's another thing every kid knows: alcohol is forbidden fruit. Kids who are 18 today grew up watching their parents enjoy beers at the lake or cocktails with friends. Even if their own parents were teetotalers, they undoubtedly had friends who weren't. In other words, kids grow up around alcohol but aren't allowed to touch it. It's bad, we tell them. You better not touch this stuff or I'll kill you. If you ever come home drunk I'll kick you out of the house. Now go get me a beer. If there's a better example of 'do as I say not as I do' than alcohol, I haven't seen it. It's no wonder kids want to go out and get drunk as soon as possible. It's a rebellious act, and if there's anything teenagers love more than stores that blast crappy music on eleven and forming cliques, it's rebelling.

I'm not advocating giving your kid a Jack and Coke when you sit down to watch Spongebob together. But if your kid asks you what you're drinking, tell them what it is. Not that "it's a grown up drink" crap. Tell them it's alcohol. When she wants to know why she can't have one, don't say it's because she won't like it (she won't) or because only grownups get to have those kinds of drinks. That's going to come back to haunt you when she turns 15 and (like all 15-year-olds) thinks she is a grownup. Don't tell her alcohol is dangerous and try to scare her with stories about drunk drivers and power hours gone wrong. She'll give you a look that says, I wonder, are you an alcoholic or just a hypocrite.

Tell her alcohol is something she has to learn to enjoy responsibly. Explain to her that's it's illegal for her to drink beacuse of the effects that alchol have on the developing bodies of children. Tell her how drinking can be a fun way to celebrate, but that being drunk has drawbacks, then explain them.

In other words, talk to your kids about alcohol in a way they can understand. Remove the mystique. When they're older, this won't keep them from drinking. Peer pressure and the sense of invulnerability all teens have are way too powerful for you, a mere mortal, to overcome. But they won't go to their first kegger thinking that moment is the one in which they became adults.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Suckers

It appears that 19 is now the magic number. The government's so-called "Cash for Clunkers" program gives discounts of up to $4500 to car owners who are willing to trade in their gas guzzlers for shiny new petrol-sippers. Of course, their are restrictions to this; including the m.p.g. rating of the old car, the age of the car, etc.

It appears that the program was launched before being vetted completely via the EPA's gas milage standards, which are being used as the benchmark for eligibility under the program. Magically, many models that were eligible for the discount now aren't quite gas-guzzly enough to qualify. Many people who were about to take the plunge and trade in their old car found out recently that many models the EPA listed as getting 18 m.p.g. (which qualified said models) now get 19 m.p.g., making them ineligible.

I never realized that fuel economy was so malleable; why can't we just say everything gets 50 m.p.g. and be done with it. We'll be free of foreign oil in no time!

The EPA says that upon further review, just as many models were added to the qualifying list as were removed. I'm pretty skeptical of that, but maybe if they announced which models were added and which were removed....

Oh, and what about people who have already traded up and are now expecting a credit for a car which no longer qualifies? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (who is administering the program), too f'n bad. All sales are final and no money back for you.

Boy, the government is great at running these types of programs. If only we could put it in charge of heathcare.

[link via The Consumerist]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Closed Captioning At Football Games

An Ohio State football fan has had enough of going to games and not being able to hear everything. So he's suing the school in order to force them to provide closed-captioning on the scoreboard for everything from "referee calls to song lyrics".

I've been to games and couldn't hear the referee calls or anything the announcer said. Admittedly, these games were at the Metrodome, the single greatest abomination in the history of football, baseball, architecture, hot dogs, and parking. That aside though, I never thought, "you know, I paid for a ticket and I have a right to hear every word the announcer says. I have a right to hear the result of a flag from the referee's mouth, rather than having to figure it out by the placement of the ball and the replay showing the infraction".

I'd feel more sympathy for the guy if it wasn't for the following:

  • He's been going to Ohio State games since he was a kid, and they were "some of his earliest and happiest memories". Somehow he was able to enjoy them despite the lack of closed captioning. (Yes, he was deaf as a child.)

  • His first move wasn't to talk to the school. He went right to lawsuit. Do not pass "ask nicely", do not collect geniality points.

  • Like all lawsuits, "it's not about the money". That's why he's not asking for comensatory damages. Oh wait, yes he is. What's the proper compensation for providing someone's "earliest and happiest memories"?

H/T to Overlawyered.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ebony Predicts The Past, Not-A-Pit-Bull Bites Man, And Fox To Screw Up Futurama Return

  • In the wake of Michael Jackson's death, an old Ebony article is making the rounds in which the magazine projects (from the distant past of 1985) what several black celebrities might look like in the year 2000. No qualms here with being so far off on their MJ projection; who could've known he would use surgery to look like an alien banshee with occasional stubble? What I take issue with is the apparent belief by the editors of Ebony in the lasting stranglehold skinny ties, pastels and jherri curl would have on our society.

  • After reading this, I had two distinct thoughts. First, I hope everyone at the party is okay and that the thugs get everything they deserve and more. Second, the fact that a city cop and a transit worker can afford to spend $50,000 on a Sweet Sixteen party may help explain New York's budget woes.

  • I knew this story wasn't about a pit bull as soon as I saw the headline. I can't recall the last time I saw a dog attack story name the breed in the headline unless it was a pit.

  • Donna looked for a Tetris game for her DS forever before finding one used on Amazon. Here is a free take on that game. The best part is that you've tied the high score just by clicking on the link.

  • I should've known it was too good to be true. After it was announced that Futurama was coming back, I rejoiced. Now it looks like, in a cost-cutting move, Fox is going to replace the original cast. Way to suck, Fox.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Riot In The Kitchen

Word out of MS Fargo's cafeteria cartel is that Kathy won't be asked to work in the new common dining area that opens next month. For those of you not in the know, Kathy is by far the best cook ever to grace Eurest's dining halls. People routinely came from the Horizon building (which has its own cafeteria) just to get her hashbrowns. Understand, this was in the winters before we had the Broken Fibula Memorial Covered Walkway between the Horizon and Vista buildings.

On top of being a fine cook, she was also a friendly lady with a smile on her face and a kind word as her constant companion. In short, she's the kind of person our cafeteria overlords should be hiring more of, not less.

Word on the street is (to channel Huggy Bear for a moment) she had clashes with management. I don't know the extent or nature of these dustups, but unless they involved kitchen knives it seems like there should be a way to resolve the issues at, uh, issue.

This post is a companion piece to the Kathy Must Make Hashbrowns At The New MS Fargo Dining Facility Facebook group. If you can find time to join causes to bring back Barney Miller, create a mocha flavor of Doritos, and suppport Boom Boom Pow as the greatest song of the 21st century, surely you can use your joiner predeliction for good for once and join this worthy cause.

California Schools Skip Chapter On Light Refraction

I pick on California a lot, but people like this make it so easy. Instead of wondering what government plot is responsible for rainbows appearing in water sprinklers, maybe this woman should wonder how she made it this far in life without learning what happens when light is filtered through a prism.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death Race 2000 Meets Narcissus: Ruminations On Bad Drivers In Two States

I noticed something funny after returning from my trip to Georgia; my driving experiences down south didn't imbue me with the rageahol overdose I manage to stumble into with alarming frequency while driving in bucolic Fargo. I remember being amused rather than homicidal at the antics of Georgia drivers. I remember calm rather than rage. Humor rather than blinding hate.

I didn't realize it until the first time I drove a car after getting back north. Some turd-smeared douche inconsiderate motorist performed what I've come to call the Fargo Maneuver[*]: passing a car not because the car is travelling too slowly, but rather because one wants to be in front.

This immediately made my blood boil. I wished for the 1,001st time that .50-cal machine guns were available options on a 2001 F-150. I had visions of the driver's bullet-ridden corpse tied to my hood like a deer carcass, a sign hung around his neck which read, "TARDS BE WARNED". For once, though, this feeling didn't linger until I made it home and ineffecutally punched a pillow. Instead, I had an epiphany about the difference between regions when it comes to "bad driving".

I firmly believe that bad driving is endemic to every state, city, town, village, and family in America. It's just a given. But the way this manifests itself is very different from group to group. In North Dakota, drivers have a "me first" mentality. They aren't in a hurry per se, they just want to be first in line. They don't want to wait at anything, whether it be a red light, a stop sign, a yield sign, a funeral procession, what have you. They have an inherent belief in the primacy of their own needs.

In the south (and Georgia in particular), the mentality is one of pure speed. Bad drivers do all the stupid things they do in North Dakota, they just do them 30 m.p.h. faster. Red lights are suggestions. Yield signs are for tourists. There's not much problem with funeral processions, but only because funeral processions are doing 65 all the way to the boneyard anyway.

The commute on Veteran's Parkway in Columbus, GA earlier this month.

To give just one example from my recent trip, Donna and I were sitting at red light on Veteran's Parkway (formerly Beallwood Connector). As the cross light turned red, not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE cars ran the red light. That's insane. It's patently illegal. The crazy thing though is that no one honked a horn, rolled down the window and yelled, or gave a middle finger salute. After the chain of lightrunners were on their way, traffic resumed normally. I didn't notice at the time, but I don't think my blood pressure went up even one point.

Why am I so passive and accepting of episodes like this when some idiot in an '87 Civic running through a red light on University Drive in Fargo makes me want to kill?


It's the biggest difference between the two states' bad drivers. Georgia drivers are rude, merciless and psychotic. But they're quick about it. They weave into the other lane and pass you because you're going too slow. They run red lights, but they do it fast. In North Dakota, people pass you because they want to be at the front of the line. They don't want to go fast once they get there. Most of the time, they want to go slow. But they want to be slow at the front. That guy in the '87 Civic? It took him longer to get through that red light than it took those five cars in Georgia.

A driver runs a red light in downtown Fargo.

The North Dakota driver tends to do dumb things for the sake of showing you he can. He looks at you as he sloooowwwly goes through a red light as if to say, "I'm running this light and there's nothing you can do about it." The Georgia driver didn't even see you. He was too busy trying to, you know, hurry up and get through the red light.

The North Dakota driver speeds up when he sees you waiting to enter the road. Once he sees you aren't going, he slows down. The Georgia driver speeds up when he sees you waiting, speeds up when he sees you aren't going, and speeds up again when he sees you pull out behind him.

The North Dakota driver slows down at every green light, presumably just in case the light turns yellow. All the better to slowly run the red light to follow. The Georgia driver is already through the intersection and running the red light two blocks up.

I guess it all comes down to preference. I prefer my bad drivers to drive badly from the pure motivation of speed. In the meantime I need to find a local welder who can rig me up a .50 cal mount.

[*] the other move Fargo drivers have down is a corollary to the Fargo Maneuver: staying in the rightmost lane on the interstate while traffic is trying to merge in without adjusting speed to let anybody in. They don't speed up. They don't slow down. But once they get past the on-ramp, then they move over to the left lane.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Company Picnic More Violent Than I Remember

Despite rumors to the contrary (rumors I apparently started), Microsoft's Fargo campus did have a company picnic this year. It was bigger than ever actually with some new attractions, a rootbeer float bar, and these spicy hot baked beans completely inappropriate for the age demographic most prevalent at the proceedings. One of the new attractions was laser tag, which Macy had never seen before. She got into it though. All that combat arms training she got in Georgia last week really paid off.

Laser tag was new this year. Despite some early misgivings,
Macy had no qualms with shooting strangers in the face.

Shooting strangers wasn't the only violence to be had, though. Check this out:

More bloodshed was to be found in the boxing ring, where I successfully defended my Excessweight belt against a young challenger fighting way out of her weight class for a shot at the title:

After that, Sally decided to move down several classes (and change sports) to take a shot at a different title:

More videos from the picnic can be found at my Youtube channel.

Monday, July 20, 2009

But It's My Right!

A brief Simpsons interlude:

Milhouse: You're lucky. You only joined the Junior Campers. I got a dirty word shaved into the back of my head.

(Skinner walks by and stops when he sees the unseen "dirty word" in the back of Milhouse's head)

Principal Skinner: What is it with you kids and that word? (grabs Milhouse) I'm going to shave you bald, young man, until you learn that hair is not a right, it's a privilege!

Buried in the incredibly long post I used to explain my opposition to government-run healthcare was a line about free healthcare not being a right. This got me thinking about the proliferation of rights in this country. Everything is being described as a right, usually in order to elevate a privilege or to sway voters.

My admittedly inadequate research failed to define a precise point in time when this phenomenon started, but I feel confident that if I could find that point, it would lay a lot farther back along the time continuum than I would guess right now. For the record, my current guess is 8:14 pm on October 26th, 1997.

What is the difference between a privilege and a right? In the context of the Constitution, I would argue that a privilege is something that can be taken away, while a right is something that cannot. The Constitution is a handy document, but one that is commonly misunderstood by people who quote it. Many people think that the Constitution lists the rights of individual citizens of the United States. That's sort of true, but it does it from the angle of limiting the rights of the federal government.

Take the right to free speech. People commonly misread the First Amendment, usually to argue that not allowing a speaker time on the air is a violation of free speech, or that not allowing a permit to this or that group to walk in this or that parade is censorship.

The First Amendment reads thusly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Too many people think that means they have a right to say whatever they want, whenever they want and use any medium to say it, without consequences. It doesn't really work that way. The government can't limit your right to speak out, but that doesn't immunize you from the consequences visited upon you by your employer, the private business where you exercised your right, or the public at large.

I say all this to throw contrast on some other things that people claim are "rights" when they really should be saying "privilege". Things like:

* Internet access (skip ahead to the 4:45 mark)

* Clean air

* Peace

* Quiet

* Milk

* Power usage statistics

* Nutritional information on menus

I could go on (and on and on). I'm not arguing that any of those bulleted privileges above are inherently undesirable. But when you elevate something to the status of a right by virtue of the item in question being a nice idea and something you really really want, you demean the word "right" in its greater context.

If a study came out tomorrow that milk causes cancer, most people would be fine with limiting access to milk. Does your "right" to quiet trump my "right" to host band practice in my garage? Do I have to pay out of my own pocket so that someone else's "right" to internet access isn't infringed upon? Define clean air. What if I don't like your definition?

On the other hand, I can't think of a situation in which a person in his or her right mind would agree that free speech should be revoked, that religion should be outlawed, or that there's no such thing as unlawful search and seizure. See the difference? We have laws to define acceptable behavior in a society and to convey privileges (or restrict said privileges). Rights are things we can never envision or support being taken away.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary Apollo 11, The Amish Suffer From Outsourcing, and More

  • Add Maryland to the list of states I have no interest in living in.

  • This is so me. Not so much because of the cost of keeping up with the latest hardware. I just can't stomach paying $60 for the software.

  • Seriously: if you want a dog, go to a shelter. There are literally millions of dogs that would gladly trade undying loyalty for a home. Puppy mills are a disgrace. I also find it interesting that many of these mills in the northeast are, according to the article, run by the Amish. Amish, who (also according to the article) are complaining about foreigners taking their jobs. Wait, what?

  • Happy anniversary, Apollo 11! Wow. It's been 40 years since man first walked on the moon. Look at all we've accomplished since then. Or better yet, don't. Makes it easier to preserve the warm feeling.

  • If someone sends you this picture in an email, and you're wondering if it's real, it is.

  • Hey! I made it through the whole thing without mentioning the word politics. Wait. Crap.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kids Sliding and Crashing Into Things

A couple of videos from my Georgia trip. First up, my nephew A.J. demonstrates why putting nets around trampolines is a good idea:

Next up is Macy going down the big slide at Georgia's Callaway Gardens:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Butterflies of Callaway

Callaway Gardens is a resort in Pine Mountain, Georgia that is home to a huge butterfly preserve. While in the state for my 20-year high school reunion, I visited Callaway with my family and got some cool pictures in the preserve.

For more butterflies, go here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Still Have A Little Bit Of Skin On My Left Arm

My family (and Donna) headed out to Callaway Gardens Sunday to spend the day swimming, playing and enjoying the sun.

Callaway is a resort in Pine Mountain, Georgia that has been around since, well, long before I was born. It's a sprawling retreat full of cottages, day camps, nature attractions and scenic views threaded through with narrow driving roads, bike paths and hiking trails. At the center is a huge man-made lake for swimming, water skiing and, as you'll see later, tubing. The Masters water skiing tournament, the largest in the world, has been held on that lake forever. I had forgotten how big, beautiful and downright cool that place is.

Among the attractions is the huge butterfly preserve, where thousands of butterflies from all over the world are allowed to do what butterflies do. New specimens hatch every day in special cases where their cocoons are protected. It's awesome, though a little on the steamy side.

At the end of the day, my brother Andy hooked us up with some time behind the little red boat, which pulls tubers around the lake. To my surprise, this was Andy's first time tubing. It was, of course, a blast.

Pictured: me, triumphant, waiting for Andy and Macy to swim back
after being thrown off the tube. Not pictured: me, getting thrown
off the tube twice, losing the skin off my elbow and pinky from
holding on for dear life.

Couple all this with burgers, dogs, beer and family and it was pretty much the perfect day. My arm and hand will no doubt heal in time for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

20 Years Later

My 20-year class reunion is over now and boy am I glad I came. I caught up with a lot of old friends, heard some stories I never knew from the old days, and shared a couple that I thought were common knowledge and were not.

We ended up with about a third of the class there. I have no idea if that's a good turnout or not. We toured the school, which has gone through some changes over the years.

Kind of looks like a Rock of Love reunion show. Shortly after
this picture was taken, somebody called somebody else a slut
and a brawl ensued. It was awesome.

The catered dinner on the campus was nice, but the real fun began when we headed back to one of the alumnus' homes for the after party. Free flowing beer, my old "band mate" breaking out the guitar, and telling stories of the old days. It was a really great time and I think I'll be looking some of the locals up when I'm back in Georgia this fall.

"There I was completely wasted
out of work and down..."

For more picture goodness, you need to either be my friend or a member of the class of '89 (though hopefully, if you're the latter, you're already the former).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We're Gonna Party Like It's 1989

Donna and I attended a party last night in advance of my 20-year high school reunion. There was an amazing turnout; the house and grounds were packed. If you are bound to me in friendship on Facebook, you can see all the photographic evidence. I was unable to upload these to my normal photo sharing site for some reason. I also shot plenty of video of the karaoke that went on in the basement after the beer had flowed a little too freely. Once I have it edited I will get that up on YouTube. For now, have a look at the gang:

Tonight is the reunion where I'll undoubtedly capture more precious moments.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Of Reunions And Pork

I am in Georgia for my 20th high school reunion this week. I'll chronicle the festivities in this space (they take place Friday night and Saturday). Before all that though, the plan involves beer, pork, swimming, and Krystals. Mission accomplished:

For those of you that don't know what a Krystal is, I have an easy explanation: Krystals are basically White Castles, except good. As a matter of fact they're one of the greatest things in the world.

In between filling myself with beer, barbeque and Krystal burgers, my dad and I took time out to introduce Macy to the world of target shooting:

If you're wondering, Macy is firing a pellet rifle and a .45 replica BB pistol. After some early uncertainty, she got the hang of it and enjoyed puttin' the smackdown on some plastic cups. I don't own any guns myself, but I grew up handling them in their various age-appropriate forms (ed. note: "age appropriate" has a different definition in the American South) and believe that familiarity with firearms falls more on the side of "good idea" than "child abuse".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Look Closely

When i was a kid, i didn't like country music at all. Even now, the country i like comes from bands like drive-by truckers and drag the river rather than shania twain. Relatively speaking, i now find mainstream country to be boring and repetitive. Every now and then, though, i heard a country song growing up that caught my attention.

First, let me say that i can't name another song by the charlie daniels band. Likely this is because country was part and parcel of growing up in the south. You couldn't spit on the sidewalk without hitting cowboy boots or a giant belt buckle. I resisted this, and it was probably my earliest stab at nonconformity. Now it just seems like good sense, considering where country music has gone in the last 25 years.

Georgia, naturally, loved this song. I was no exception. Never had i heard anything quite like it. Without getting too deep, it was a profoundly disturbing song. Every chord sounded like something the devil would play if he were looking for a soul to steal. Doing his best to counter, 'johnny' played a hoedown as though his life depended on it, and it did (or at least his soul). Never mind that he was fiddling against the devil himself; a gold fiddle would sound awful, though that was beside the point. Every note conveyed good against evil. Struggling against satan never sounded so good. Damnation was the penalty for failure. Awesome stuff to a young kid (and still pretty cool today). You have to love this song:

The Sunburn's Red Glare

We headed down to Harding for the July 4th weekend. Each year we ride in a restored firetruck owned by Donna's father, which he and Donna's brother Ryan restored. The weather was perfect. We threw candy and freeze pops from the back of the engine. Since Macy and Emily (Donna's niece) had the parade watchers closest to the road covered, I set my sights on the people way in the back who usually don't get treats. My tally: 1 man hit dead between the eyes, 1 grandmother with a cool surprise in her lap and one dented minivan. Other than that, my accuracy was uncanny.

Cool fire truck. Rice still has Engine No. 1.

Macy displays the flag she made with a little help from Ryan.

The part of the dalmatian was played by Ruby.

We followed up the parade with a picnic in Harding's park. I contributed a new baked bean casserole recipe which turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. Donna made some caramel rice krispie bars which turned out pretty good by all accounts. Before and after dinner I got to showcase mah mad skillz on the football field. I can still highstep like a pro, so I've got that going for me. And I was only moderately disabled the next day.

Me rifling a pass to Chris. I'm not going to lie: I was amazing out there.

On Sunday we attended (but did not ride in) another parade and followed that up with dinner at Chris and Jodi's (Donna's brother-in-law and sister) place which conveniently puts us 30 minutes closer to Fargo before we headed home...

Somebody throw that poor one-armed kid with the flipper some candy!

Some crazy person flying directly overhead. Probably
the DNR looking for people burning leaves.

Don't go anywhere else for your castration and dehorning needs!

...but not before we were treated to some free entertainment courtesy of Macy, Emily, and Donna's other niece and nephew Carly and Cole:

For more video, check out my YouTube channel.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Insert Clever 'Random' Title Here

I was too tired last night to put together a post covering the 4th of July activities in Harding and points south so look for that tomorrow, or maybe tonight if I can get the lawn mowed early enough. Suffice to say you can look forward to pictures of parades, picnics and me ruling the gridiron. I still have the Prime Time gene.

In the meantime, here's some stuff that has nothing to do with the preceding paragraph:

* Remember when playing golf was a terrible thing for a President to do? Now, it apparently displays "calm confidence". Personally, I don't care if the President plays golf a few times a week. One needs a break of the hardest job on the planet. Clinton didn't have an outlet; he spent all his free time at McDonalds and look what happened to him. Reagan spent all his free time wrestling communists and punching union bosses. I can't find the link, but I think Eisenhower was into puppetry. You need an outlet. I just wish the coverage didn't depend on party affiliation.

* Remember in the movie Tombstone when Kurt Russell brought down all kinds of wrath on the Cowboys, the rowdy lawbreakers led by Powers Boothe? Russell (as Wyatt Earp) declared, "I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it!", referring to the accessory the Cowboys wore to announce to the world, "hey, I'm a Cowboy and red is the new black". That was awesome, right? Would anyone seriously have a problem if America made the same sort of declaration about the Taliban? Shouldn't every country that claims to care about the rule of law sign off on that?

* Considering I have the word "poker" right up there in the banner, I sure don't talk about poker much do I? Well, here's a list of the most ridiculous poker hands in the movies. Some are ridiculous because of the statistical improbability involved (Casino Royale, The Sting) and some are just funny (Oceans' 11, Stripes). I've played in games like the one Brad Pitt oversees. They're not as fun as you might think.

* Inner workings of blogdom dept.: Here are the top ten searches that return links to my blog in the results:
  • Pocket Jacks (makes sense to me)
  • myconids
  • bifida regularis
  • pvc bazooka
  • bottle rocket bazooka
  • back pocket bottle rocket (I'm sensing a trend)
  • 16 horsepower, folklore
  • alien nazi transvestite republican stripper furries

Just kidding about that last one. Or am I?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My MP3 Player Won't Stop Playing: Since You Been Gone

Rainbow was a band that went through lead singers like politicians go through mistresses. I think this was mainly because Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple fame), the driving force behind the band, was patient zero for what would later be named Yngwie Malmsteen Disease, a malady which causes talented guitarists to develop a God complex and piss off their lead singers (as well as everybody else in the band).

Ronnie James Dio gave way to Graham Bonnet, who gave way to Joe Lynn Turner (who would later sing with Yngwie's band before leaving. See? SEE?) who gave way to something called a "Doogie White".

Anyway, lately the ole' Zen has been feeling nostalgic for a time when lead singers wore giant aviator sunglasses, drummers sported wristbands with big spikes that went perfectly with their windbreaker, and feathered hair wasn't a fashion choice, it was the law:

What this might mean: Zen is interested in the dynamics of how a band can survive, and even thrive, after multiple lineup changes while retaining the one piece of the puzzle (Blackmore) who keeps mucking it up in the first place.

What else this might mean: If I made a Halloween costume that combined Bonnet's sunglasses, Blackmore's leftover haircut from Deep Purple, Roger Glover's satin jacket and white tie combo and the wristbands that the drummer stole from Gwar's dressing room, October 31st, 2009 would be the day I took over the world.

Bonus trivia: Russ Ballard wrote this song. If you don't know who that is, Google Bing him. He wrote an awful lot of songs you'll recognize.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another Socialized Medicine Rant (Now With More Words!)

I am 100% against turning over American health care to the government. I have this opinion for several reasons, but the biggest (by far) is that I don't trust the government not to screw it up royally. Because that's what governments do. Amtrak. The U.S. Postal Service (which seems to have retained many of the inefficiencies from its time as a governement entity). The IRS. The Veterans Administration. Is there anyone who believes the government can do a good job running a business?

The above paragraph serves as enough of an argument for me personally, as I see it as the common sense argument against government healthcare. That's not to say there aren't a lot more arguments against it.

Proponents don't like the term "government-run healthcare" or "socialized medicince" because of the negative connotation they (rightfully) believe people associate with them. Many proponents like to refer to it as simply "universal healthcare" and (my favorite) "free healthcare". Simply put, nothing the government ever does is free. The government runs on tax money, and everybody pays taxes. I know a common refrain from the right is that taxes fall disproportionately on the producers (i.e. the rich and the middle class) while those lazy poor people get everything free. That's true to a point; income taxes do fall disproportionately on income earners. The disparity widens as one earns more; that's why it's called a progressive income tax system.

The truth however, is that everyone pays taxes in one form or another. Sales taxes, property taxes, hotel taxes, capital gains taxes. Of course there's all kinds of things out there that we don't call taxes but have the same effect. We might call them procesing fees or registration fees or whatever, but they amount to money we pay to the government to get a building permit or license our cars or a million other things.

The upshot: there's nothing free about socialized medicine. Taxes will be used to pay for all this coverage, which means everybody is paying for it. It's all sleight-of-hand: you don't pay as you go, you pay well in advance. What happens when costs go up and the system needs more money? I'm sure you can guess, but we'll explore it anyway a bit later.

Another argument in favor is the inherent unfairness a private system gives us. The quality of care is dependent on how much coverage you can afford. Insurance companies deny claims to reduce costs. This leads to 45 million Americans not having health insurance (though there seems to be some dispute as to whether that number is rising or falling). I grant that all of the above is true (except I don't know which of the two articles linked in the previous sentence is more accurate). I still wouldn't advocate switching to a socialized model.

That some can afford better quality is something we accept in every other facet of our lives. Yes, I can afford better health coverage than my unemployed (and completely fictional) cousin Jimmy who picks up construction work whenever he needs beer money or the next Halo game comes out. I can afford a nicer car, a nicer house, nicer clothes and a bigger tv than him too. So I have a personal doctor and get biannual physicals while Jimmy goes to the walk-in clinic only when he thinks he might be dying.

Ah, you say, but cars and tv's and clothes are niceties. Healthcare coverage is a right. To that I say, no, it's not. Wherever did you get that idea? Politcal posturing and rhetoric aside, I can't find anything in the U.S. Constitution or Supreme Court case law that would convey a right to free healthcare. And I should point out that in every hospital in this country, if my cousin Jimmy stumbled into an emergency room and was about to die, U.S. law requires the hospital to treat him even if he stumbles in screaming, "I'm dying and I have no money or insurance!" Note that this law doesn't mean healthcare or insurance are rights; if Jimmy walks into said clinic with a sprained ankle and announced his inability to pay, the hospital would probably work out a payment plan, but they would not be outside their rights to tell Jimmy to hobble on out of there.

As to the propensity of private insurers to deny claims in order to keep costs down (or, if you prefer, increase profits), what makes you think government wouldn't do the same thing? As the population ages and healthcare costs rise, government will have to control costs. How can they do this? Well as I alluded to earlier, they can raise taxes. The other option is to ration care. Sounds like denying claims to me. Factor in government's endemic bureaucratic inefficiency and pretty soon we'll be Massachusetts. Or Norway. Or Canada. Or Britain. The linked articles add a lot to the already bloated word count of this rant. The short version is this: governments aren't good at controlling costs and so have high tax rates and ration care in order to make up for their fiscal irresponsibility. Whee!

What about those 45 million uninsured? Well, when you take out those that are eligble for Medicare but haven't applied, those who can afford insurance but choose not to buy it, and illiegal immigrants, it turns out the number shrinks significantly.

Now, you may be thinking, "I can't believe I wasted all this time reading this. It'd be nice if he had an idea to fix healthcare rather than just bashing everyone else's ideas." Touche. My only response to that is, here is what I would do. Oh snap.

First, end employer-based healthcare as it currently exists. I say this as the recipient of what may be the best employer health plan in America. I don't pay for jack. My daughter was on antibiotics for almost two years as an infant due to a medical condition that couldn't be corrected until she was two. I never paid a dime. Pharmacists used to run my insurance information multiple times because they thought it was a mistake that the amount due kept coming back zero. No co-pay, no deductible. My daughter ended up needing two week-long hospital stays, one of which included the surgery. Out of pocket I paid zero. I tell you this not to brag, but to show you that what I am advocating would cost me some kick-ass coverage.

The downside to this is that I am disconnected from the cost of healthcare. My decision to go to the doctor is not based on whether I really need to go. My employer picks up the tab, so why not go? Maybe I'll score some percodan for my acute back pain! In all seriousness, I don't go to the doctor for every little thing. However, it's more a function of stubborness and having better things to do with my time. The reason I don't go unless I really need to should be that I don't want to waste money or file an insurance claim that could negatively affect my rate for something trivial.

Right now companies use healthcare as a benefit. The coverage comes in lieu of more pay. I advocate companies paying more in direct compensation, allowing the employee to use that money to purchase their own coverage. This has the benefit of letting the individual make decisions about their healthcare based on direct knowledge of the cost. No more going to the emergency room because you have the snifles. Now you would have to decide for yourself if you want to spend the money on elective visits. You'd pay your own premiums and make decisions accordingly. Right now people with coverage like mine go to the doctor for all sorts of minor things that normally would handled through rest and over the counter medicines. Why not? The company's paying for it. When healthcare is "free" for everyone you can expect the same mindset on a national scale.

This would also address another problem. Right now, insurance companies bend over backwards to make companies happy. They work with hospitals to get reduced rates on procedures, office visits, and prescriptions because the company represents huge numbers of insured. Think of it like a bulk discount on health care. Those costs get made up somewhere. In this case, "somewhere" is a town populated by individuals who buy health insurance without the benefit of a corporation negotiating on their behalf. If health insurers were competing for individuals instead of companies, the same forces that exist virtually everywhere else in the marketplace would take hold.

The other action I recommend is overhauling Medicare and Medicaid by eliminating the waste inherent in the system. Prosecute fraud and abuse of the system and fund it as the safety net it was meant to be. These programs have a place. I believe it is society's duty to take care of those who can't take care of themselves. I also believe that it is society's duty to make sure the definition of "can't take care of themselves" is as narrow as possible and to keep the number of people who meet that definition small.

There. I fixed healthcare, right? Of course not. Not even my tremendous and well-deserved ego is that big. But I believe in the idea that the free market, even with its inherent problems (primarily, that profit is the primary driver, sometimes at the expense of the customer) is infinitely better than a government-run alternative. The government hasn't given me any reason to think they can balance a checkbook. How could they possibly run a business?