Thursday, July 30, 2009

With health care more isn't necessarily better.

Europe spends thousands less for breast cancer treatment, the patient has a much easier time, and the outcome is astonishingly similar.

Marcy Wheeler (of the inestimable blog Emptywheel) had breast cancer a few years ago.

[She received] 6 rounds of chemo plus Neulasta, surgery, radiation, then five years of Tamoxifen--the standard of care in Europe would have been just the Tamoxifen. Or, by my rough calculations, well over $72,000 more in costs [for the US Treatment]. And, at least according to the limited studies they've done on women with breast cancer at my age, the outcomes are exactly the same.

Read about it here.

Why more cost, more pain (radiation, surgery, chemo--hardly a walk in even the darkest, most dangerous park), with no measuable increase in outcome in the US? Because doctors make more money if they push any given patient's insurance coverage to the limit. Capitalism at work.

The New Yorker, here, explains the perils of medical capitalism in an article that details how two areas in the US have close to identical medical outcomes, but one area's prices (evil region A, also called McAllen, TX) are twice (TWICE) that of the other good region B ( that slacker region served by the Mayo Clinic.) Why? Because in good region B, doctors are on salary, while in evil region A, doctors get paid by procedure. The doctors behave rationally and make more money for themselves, hurting their patients (because of the extra expense, pain, and risk of overdiagnosis) and the rest of us (as health care premiums go up all around). As a personal favor, read the article. Thanks.

I said "perils." Overtreatment is not good for anyone, except those picking up the paychecks. Why should someone, say Marcy Wheeler, be made substantially sicker (unnecessary radiation and chemo [I remember my aunt undergoing it. Horrible]), just so some guy who went to med school should have a better summer house?

On the subject of perils, I heard some congressmen getting all spittle-flecked discussing the horrors of the British system (not on the table here in the US, and so beside the point) because they didn't provide free mammograms until 50 for women.

I realise this is counterintuitive, but often too many madical tests lead to worse, rather than better outcomes. Why? Because overtesting leads to overdiagnosis, which in turn leads to unnecessary procedures, surgical and otherwise, all of which have a health cost. For way more than you want to know about breast cancer overdiagnosis, I suggest one of my favorite blogs, written by an oncologist, respectful insolence, here.

So, the senator was full of it. Cancer outcomes are a tiny bit worse if woman waits until 50 for her first mammogram, but if she has one one earlier, the health costs, such as unnecessary surgery associated with false positives more than balance out the danger. Not to mention the totally unnecessary expense.

Take home point? With health care more is not always better. More may very well be worse. And more expensive.

Kissing, security guards, and videotape in the shadow of the temple.

The picture to the left was taken at the Salt Lake Temple on June 30th, by Read Feather Photography, more of whose stunning work can be found here.

I realize this post has gotten quite lengthy, so I thought I would provide a summary. Gays kiss on former state now church property, Mormons bash, caught on tape.

The loooonger version.

If you haven't been keeping up, on July 9th at about 10:30 pm two guys were walking home from a public concert in downtown Salt Lake City. The city is laid out such that the Mormon Church owns a portion of what used to be called "Main Street." To walk north-south often requires cutting across church property or taking a several-block-long detour. The path looks like a public pathway; the sign marking the path is here:

When walking through, they kissed and hugged. (According to the couple involved there was a hug and a kiss on the face.) Then, well, just watch the movie. The police were called (on request of the gay couple involved), they were originally charged with trespassing, but the city dropped the charges.

What did the Mormon Church say about the incident?
As we said earlier on this matter, these men were asked to stop engaging in behavior deemed inappropriate for any couple on the Plaza. There was much more involved than a simple kiss on the cheek. They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol. They were politely told that the Plaza was not the place for such behavior and asked to stop. When they became belligerent, the two individuals were asked to leave Church property. Church security detained them and Salt Lake City police were called.
The entire statement can be found here.

The Police report says: "Nickel(one of the security guards) said that he observed Matt and Derek kissing and hugging on their property." (Full report here.) [Aside--Kissing and Hugging, Huh? Do you suppose the beautiful wedding photo, at the top,taken in broad daylight was produced by some sort of guerilla operation involving, uh, gorilla suits to disguise the nature of the couple's presence until the last possible moment?]

The story from the point of view of the two gay men involved can be found here, and matches up pretty closely with what can be seen on the video tape.

I mean, really. Many marriages in the Mormon church take place in the temple. Photos for these weddings (pretty much) always take place on the beautiful temple grounds. Aren't passionate kisses not only expected but required?

It defies reality to think that PDA's are not allowed on the plaza as anyone with even a passing familiarity with Temple grounds can tell you, and I personally passed it hundreds, perhaps thousands of times.

What do I think? It seems to me that the Mormon Church wants the street formerly known as Main Street to exist in some sort of twilight zone, where they get to determine the behavior they deem appropriate. However, they also want this definition to be fuzzy to not scare people off, as would undoubtedly happen if they posted a huge, terrifying list of rules.

Perhaps a simple stating "Warning, black-suited, quick tempered security guards. Enter at your own risk" would do the trick. Welcome to the church plaza, y'all.
Thank you, Salt Lake Tribune.

As a final aside, I really don't think Mormons either in general or in specific think two guys holding hands should be treated as badly as they were. I just think this situation got out of control, but considering the number of security officials I saw milling about (9?, 10?) used to subdue two completely non-threatening individuals, I hope changes are made.

Hurting the victims, aiding the culprits, or, yes another health care post.

NPR is using the exact reasons we need substantive health care reform to argue against it.

I made the mistake of turning on NPR this morning, and heard their "health care debate" piece. What to say? To paraphrase: point 1) the government might have to tax high-cost health plans. point 2) Health costs are going up so rapidly for so many that pretty much everyone has high cost health plans. conclusion 3) Health care reform will your life worse because THEY'RE GOING TO TAX YOUR HEALTH PLAN. TAX! TAX!

What's wrong with this? Well, for starters, individuals already pay taxes on any health plans that they purchase themselves, essentially. I don't remember this being mentioned, minor problem.

Big problem--what do you think the debate is about, what are we fighting for? Well, the average American who's paying attention is hoping for, uh, affordable health care, assuming they can even find a plan, the plan isn't cancelled out from under them when they get sick, and the illness is covered by the plan in spite of preexisting conditions. (You see, the NPR piece admitted that health care costs are skyrocketing, but didn't discuss why.) The Insurance companies are raking in huge profits, want those profits to continue, plus, because of the profits, they have masses and masses of money to spread around to smother health care reform in its cradle. To extend the metaphor beyond the breaking point - with dollars!

See the sad, sad irony here? Insurance companies are strangling the average person's ability to get decent health care --because they have monopolist/monopsonist power (see post below, here). They are then turning around and using all that blood money (is that a bit over the top? Blood money?) squeezed from you and I to convince us, the victims, the American people, to act in our own very very worst interest. Yes, I understand how convoluted that sentence is.

Everything you need to know about (some) Republicans

Why, oh why does anyone further need to discuss Republican sex scandals, when Little Britian has nailed the subject? Watch and learn.

To find the American politician, fast-forward (fast-pixel?) to 3:32.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Health Care Competition is dead. Today.

First, a definition, from Wikipedia.
In economics, a monopsony (from Ancient Greek μόνος (monos) "single" + ὀψωνία (opsōnia) "purchase") is a market form in which only one buyer faces many sellers. It is an example of imperfect competition, similar to a monopoly, in which only one seller faces many buyers. As the only purchaser of a good or service, the "monopsonist" may dictate terms to its suppliers in the same manner that a monopolist controls the market for its buyers.

Now we can get to the good stuff. Wanna know why the American Medical Association came out strongly for the health care public option, after decades of loudly shouting down any hint of government intervention in health care?

It's because of that definition up there. In pretty much every region in the country, one or two insurance companies have gotten so big that they set the prices for doctors, and the doctors are out of luck. If they don't like their compensation they can take their medical equipment and go home, because if the doctor isn't in the preferred patient network for the monopolist insurance company, no one will be their patient. Monopsony. It's good. If you are the monopsonist insurance company. Otherwise, not so good.

How does this work from a patient angle? Like buttah. The patient, unfortunately is the buttah. Or spread of choice. Quoting from the AMA report:
While large health insurers have posted very healthy profits since 2000, premiums for consumers have increased without a corresponding increase in benefits. In fact, during the same time period, consumers have faced increased deductibles,
co-payments and co-insurance. This has effectively reduced the scope of their health benefits coverage.
Got that? Once someone is big enough, they can charge whatever they want. If you are priced out of the marketplace and, say, die for lack of coverage (22,000 approx. last year), too bad suckah. Free market wins, dontcha know? The whole AMA report detailing the exact amount of (non-)competition in the US can be found here.

The secret of Republicanism or maybe the secret of success.

Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld figured it all out in the middle of the 19th century.

The world rewards the appearance of virtue more often than it rewards the virtue itself.
This pithy bit of wisdom resonates with the latest in a long line of family-values (in the I vote that my values don't allow your family kind of way) Republicans to be taken down by a sex scandal. This particular juicy tidbit involves:

--a Republican state senator from Tennessee that worked for indicted ($7 Billion) fraudster Alan Stanford,
--an 22 year old intern (bonus points, she's married)
--a bill sponsored by said Repub to disallow gay adoptions,
--the catchphrase "when you're married, there's commitment there." (Commitment to interns, perhaps; shush girl.)

According to the Nashville Scene,

He relentlessly pushed legislation to ban gay couples from adopting, though it would have meant hundreds of unwanted children remaining as orphans in state custody.

"The best home environment is one where mom and dad are there," Stanley said. "When you're married, there's a commitment there."

--a shared name with the KISS guitarist, (poor girl, she was just confused. I imagine her waiting for Gene Simmons as Paul baby snaps various photos. I blame the schools. There should be a class in KISS member identification to avoid such sad, sad mixups in the future. )

Bear with me, dear reader, but the story thickens, and develops lumps. Here we go:
--a blackmail attempt by the intern's boyfriend,
--incriminating pics taken in Rep. Stanley's apartment,
--a confession (A CONFESSION!) by the good, godfearing Rep.,
--a hatred of family planning, because "unmarried people shouldn't have sex."
--an abstinence education supporter, of course.
--a history of such behavior. The current Mrs. Stanley was, yes, an intern when he met her,
--a history of abuse; "His ex-wife filed a restraining order against Stanley in 1994, claiming he physically assaulted her at least three times and 'verbally abused' the couple's children."
--and, for the win, who's the victim? Yes, yes. It's Rep. Stanley. Let's let him speak for himself: "Unfortunately, I am the victim and a witness to crime in an ongoing investigation." (Found here.) All you soft hearts out there, don't worry about his eternal soul either" "Whatever I stood for and advocated, I still believe to be true...."

Bonus evil fact:

What is remarkable, given the strain Stanley was under during this last session, is that, instead of hunkering down, he kept on taking prominent roles in controversial legislation — e.g., in sponsoring a bill, which ultimately and narrowly failed, that would have prohibited local political jurisdictions from passing “living wage” ordinances.
Translation into English: "I get some sweet, sweet (censored.) You get (Censored.) Got it?"

As to the pic, above, to post Paul Stanley, R-totally busted, was too gruesome for my tender heart. To post Paul Stanley (R (probably)-filthy rich) was also too gruesome, so some awesome French dude is doing the honors, as they are wont to do.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A fondish farewell to Sarah.

Palin, that is. From her final speech to the relieved citizens of Alaska: “In the winter time it’s the frozen road that is competing with the view of ice fogged frigid beauty, the cold though, doesn’t it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs?”

And so she says, uh I'm not sure what, but. Also.

(A couple of days later...) I just discovered that none other than the not yet late but quite great William Shatner himself has done a dramatic reading of the speech, complete with bongo drum accompaniment. Here. It's a must click, as we are all "heading north into the future. "

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My New Favorite Lanscape Photographer

I found a link on The Daily Dish for landscape photography by Marcin Sacha, and was completely wowed by his images. Here are two terrific ones, but you should really check them all out.

They remind me of the dreamy hyper-realism of Grant Wood in his famous depiction of The Midnight Ride Of Paul Revere.

Found Poetry?

I posted this image a little while back, and asked readers to figure out what the biggest joke was. The trick was to look for what wasn't there as opposed to what was jokingly described. Lots of people didn't seem to notice that Africa, a whole continent, is missing.

A few days later, I came across a piece of "found poetry", entitled The Relevance Of Africa. Found poetry is just what it sounds like, a bit of language, or a part of a speech that someone with a poetic soul recognizes as having vision, power, or in some cases, "fruitful ambiguity". John Lundberg presents us with the startling finds of Julian Gough and Hart Seely.

Julian Gough of the UK's Prospect Magazine opined facetiously this past December that "Palin is a poet, and a fine one at that. What the philistine media take for incoherence is, in fact, the fruitful ambiguity of verse." His example of this "fruitful ambiguity" is a found poem he termed "The Relevance of Africa:"

The Relevance of Africa

And the relevance to me
With that issue,
As we spoke
About Africa and some
Of the countries
There that were
Kind of the people succumbing
To the dictators
And the corruption
Of some collapsed governments
On the
The relevance
Was Alaska's.

Whether you consider Palin a poet laureate, or the consummate anti-poet, you must admit she pretty much captured the essence of unthinking American self-centeredness in her comments.

Why I Have Stayed Out Of Local Politics

Sadly, the level of public commentary and discourse on the local level seems to be about like this, at least where I live. Does anyone have any idea at all what she is getting at?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Theft gazillionaire style

Watch Eliot Spitzer explain why the Fed + the Banks + the stock market = Ponzi scheme.


Iowa Votes No

For those of you wondering about the outcome of the vote in Iowa regarding Michael Jackson's inclusion as a butter sculpture in the upcoming Iowa State Fair, the vote is in, and Jacko is out.

But of course there are more than enough celebrations of his life and art to satiate our appetite for memorializing him. Consider chocolate Michael Jackson; although it looks nothing like him, and certainly fails to capture his pallor, at least he represents Jackson's roots.

From an array of horrible wax figures there is this likeness (on the left!) which is excellent compared to the others in the gallery. (Cher must be really pissed! Check it out.)

But still, some people can never get enough.

But who would stoop low enough to steal a prosthetic nose, reputedly Michael's, which has gone missing from the morgue?

Cheney seems like the only person evil enough, but I doubt he was a fan.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm Green With Envy

But on the other hand I can just sit back and enjoy listening now that George Li has done all the hard work of learning and interpreting this piece by Ravel. It is fiendishly difficult, but Li plays it with such energy and style! The slow section in the middle, while easier technically, is artistically demanding-----few "prodigies" can muster the expressive color that he does.

I don't think there is a better recording of this anywhere on u-tube, though I may have missed some.This is especially impressive because the recording was made at a recital------no do-overs or dubbing! Definitely a musician to keep watching. In fact, watch this clip carefully, and you'll see him play the left hand note with his fist at t=40. I wonder if his teacher tried to talk him out of that fun gesture! Given the spirit of the piece, I think it works just fine.

I also just really love this piece-----I'm a such a sucker for Spanish piano music.

Invisible Man Or Ghost?

I came across some of the artworks by this man, Liu Bolin last year, but couldn't find them again. As luck would have it, my husband saw these and thought I would like them, so now I am going to put them where I can always find them------you're welcome to enjoy them as well. There are lots more here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Breaking: NYT lies about health care cost

and breaks my heart.

First, the lie. The NYT says, here, that health care reform will cost ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. This is wrong. It will actually cost about 24 billion annually, as detailed here. As explained in this Slate article, a very modest progressive Medicare tax (with a top rate of 2.4%, compared to the current 1.8%) could raise $50 Billion a year annually, easily paying for actual health care reform and then some. But oh noes! Better to have 20K dead americans a year than tax the very rich a very small amount.

But, health reform looks like if not totally dead, at least pining for the fjords. Harry Reid has caved. He's held up the vote on the health care bill until after the August recess at the request of the Republicans, and he has the stupidity? gall? to use the word "bipartisan." Didn't the last 8 years teach him anything? I think this guy isn't a Democrat at all. What is he doing as the Senate majority leader?

Rationing is what US health insurance companies do best!

This morning on a local news show I heard yet another health insurance apologist sledge-hammering home the single talking point that the anti-public option vampires (and not the cute kind either) have chosen: the government will be blocking our access whenever we need medical care.

Could such scary unknown governmental 'rationing' possibly be any worse than what happens today? On July 22 a New Jersey hospital, Bayonne, filed suit in federal court detailing the antics of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (BCBSNJ).

What have BCBSNJ been doing? A few tidbits:

--Selling customers higher priced "out-of-network" coverage, and then disallowing out of network claims.

--Making absurd determinations that procedures are not medically necessary and refusing to cover them. In one case (found on page 40 of the complaint) a patient with out-of-network coverage was initially denied emergency coverage at the nearest out-of-network hospital. After they admitted that the patient had purchased such care, they decided that because the patient had once been a nurse, she should have been able to administer IV antibiotics to herself. Care Denied!

--Sending emergency room patients letters (by courier delivered directly to the patient's bedside) telling them that BCBSNJ won't pay for their emergency room coverage, and they must transfer immediately to a BCBSNJ facility on the grounds (determined by mysterious, faceless bureaurocrats) that the care isn't medically necessary, no matter what the attending physician says. The entire complaint can be found here.

Rationing? Methinks so.

Not surprisingly BCBSNJ makes quite a bit of money. This is such a great business plan! Make people pay through the nose for health coverage and then don't give them any. The market value of BCBSNJ is between 7.5 and 8 Billion dollars; they paid their CEO just a hair under 5 Million dollars last year, and they currently have 1.6 Billion dollars in reserves.

BCBSNJ has paid 5 Million dollars to Wall Street to take the company private. Shocking. Not. As a non-profit, they have to at least attempt to pretend they are working for the public good.

Moreover, 21 hospitals have been driven out of business in New Jersey in the last few years, and it appears that BCBSNJ is attempting to kill Bayonne as well. This would be a serious problem for the people of Bayonne, as the next-nearest facility is between 30 minutes (when traffic is light) to over an hour away.

BCBN's 2007 annual financial report can be found here. If you're curious, the company has 20% overhead--contrast with the 3% overhead for Medicare/Medicaid.

They're At It Again!

McKalip, a conservative neurosurgeon, and a member of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates said after circulating this image,
....he believes that by depicting the president as an African witch doctor, the artist who created the image "was expressing concerns that the health-care proposals [made by President Obama] would make the quality of medical care worse in our country.

Last month McKalip participated with congressmen Tom Price and Phil Gingrey in a virtual town hall fighting healthcare reform. This racist GOP nonsense is not confined to the 'uneducated rabble', and this is just another example of it


I came across this video at The Daily Dish.

I just wish an American had had,....guts to do this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PZ Meyers to Visit Creation Science Museum

According to the Secular Students Alliance website,
.....10:00am on Friday, August 7, in conjunction with the 2009 SSA Conference, the Secular Student Alliance will be sponsoring PZ Myers to take a one day, in-person tour of the Creation Museum! We've even invited Ken Ham himself to give PZ a tour of the place.

Over a hundred people (scientists and their sympathizers) have signed up to take the tour along with him in Nowheresville, Kentucky, and there are other events planned. It is too late to register, but skeptical people are encouraged to show up and chortle along.
For those of you unfamiliar with PZ Meyers, enjoy this rant from a post of his last year about desecrating communion wafers. (One of many...)
I think if I were truly evil, I would have to demand that all of my acolytes be celibate, but would turn a blind eye to any sexual depravities they might commit. If I wanted to be an evil hypocrite, I'd drape myself in expensive jeweled robes and live in an ornate palace while telling all my followers that poverty is a virtue. If I wanted to commit world-class evil, I'd undermine efforts at family planning by the poor, especially if I could simultaneously enable the spread of deadly diseases. And if I wanted to be so evil that I would commit a devastating crime against the whole of the human race, twisting the minds of children into ignorance and hatred, I would be promoting the indoctrination of religion in children's upbringing, and fomenting hatred against anyone who dared speak out in defiance.

I'm sorry to say that I only aspire to be a teeny-tiny bit evil, and my target is a handful of virtually inedible crackers in my possession. It's not much, and all I can say in my defense is…it's a start. A very small start. I'm going to need lots and lots of people to rise up and follow suit, subjecting old, dishonest institutions of hardened dogma to our chief weapon of ridicule and deris…our two weapons of ridicule, derision and laughter…no, three weapons of ridicule, derision, laughter, and skeptici…oh, never mind. You know what I mean. Get to work.

I don't plan to attend the proceedings in Kentucky, but look forward to reading about the fun.


I happened upon a site with some cartoons about evolution, and I just had to share this image.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Some people blame the recession and others blame body dysmorphic disorder or BDD. But more and more people are attempting crazy (stupid) do it yourself plastic surgery procedures.

This woman injected her face with cooking oil ?!? She was a model before, and now.....!

So if you can't stand the way you look, get professional help: a plastic surgeon, or perhaps better yet, a psychiatrist. After all, the plastic surgery route did not seem to work wonders for Michael Jackson if memory serves.

Don't Get Me This For My Birthday!

Barbara W. certainly got an unusual gift: a portrait of herself made from fruit and other produce!
(I included the second shot because it shows off the little pooch she is holding better. After all that work, they should have taken a better picture!)
I suppose who ever gave her this should get some bonus points for thinking outside the bun, but are they out of their frickin' gourd?
I suppose that produce portraits have a long tradition, but this one seems to draw at least as much from De Kooning's portraits of women for inspiration. See for yourself.
(I mean, jicama boobs?------really!)

I'm just too easy gift-wise; take me out to dinner, or buy me a hat. In a pinch jewelry will do!

(These two portraits are by Arcimboldo who traveled around Europe painting during the late 1500's.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Former top health insurance exec blows the whistle

Wendell Potter was the top CIGNA spokesman for many years, then he took a short trip.

I thought I could live with being a well-paid huckster and hang in there a few more years until I could retire. I probably would have if I hadn't made a completely spur-of-the-moment decision a couple of years ago that changed the direction of my life. While visiting my folks in northeast Tennessee where I grew up, I read in the local paper about a health "expedition" being held that weekend a few miles up U.S. 23 in Wise, Va. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were volunteering their time to provide free medical care to people who lived in the area. What intrigued me most was that Remote Area Medical, a non-profit group whose original mission was to provide free care to people in remote villages in South America, was organizing the expedition. I decided to check it out.

That 50-mile stretch of U.S. 23, which twists through the mountains where thousands of men have made their living working in the coalmines, turned out to be my "road to Damascus."

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the Wise County Fairgrounds, where the expedition was being held. Hundreds of people had camped out all night in the parking lot to be assured of seeing a doctor or dentist when the gates opened. By the time I got there, long lines of people stretched from every animal stall and tent where the volunteers were treating patients.

That scene was so visually and emotionally stunning it was all I could do to hold back tears. How could it be that citizens of the richest nation in the world were being treated this way?

The whole piece can be read here.

22K Americans 0 Canadians dead from health care rationing

I listened to the news a couple of days ago (bad idea) and heard members of congress prattling on about how single payer insurance would lead to rationing, which then would lead to dead americans. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) said in testimony before the house:

Madam Speaker, a critically ill baby was born in Canada just last month. Her name is Ava Isabella Stinson. She was born 13 weeks premature and weighed only 2 pounds. Unfortunately, Canada rations health care. And since the government must grant permission for one to have health care access, Ava was unable to get the treatment she needed to survive.
Fortunately for her, Ava's parents were able to quickly transport her to Buffalo, New York. Little Ava's life was saved by the best doctors in the world right here in America.
His entire remarks can be read here.

What really happened? Early in July, a Canadian couple delivered their high-risk preemie at an American hospital in Buffalo, NY, because there was not an open bed in any appropriate hospital in their home province of Ontario. Paid for by the Government of Canada. Got that? Canada didn't ration care at all, they just outsourced it. I'm not going to out and out accuwse Rep. Poe of lying, but he is certainly confused.

Here's a newspaper story about the couple, and here's a link that explains that Canada pays for care out of the country if timely care is not available inside.

Poe continues:
Autumn, Brooke, Calissa, and Dahlia Jepps were born in America to Canadian parents back in 2007. The girls are doing just fine now. They are an extremely rare set of identical quadruplets. There was no room for them in any neonatal facility in all of Canada. Their parents flew to Great Falls, Montana, from Calgary so they could be born safely in America. Think about that for a minute. Great Falls, Montana, a city of 56,000 people, offers better access to health care than Calgary, a city of over a million people. Why? Government rationing in Canada.

Same story again. Canada outsourced this birth; there was no rationing. Wrong, Hon. Rep. Texas Republican.

This little bit of disinformation is equal parts amusing and disheartening because Texas does explicitly ration care. The Texas Futile Care Law allows "a health care facility to discontinue life-sustaining treatment against the wishes of the patient or guardian ten days after giving written notice if the continuation of life-sustaining treatment is considered medically inappropriate by the treating medical team." According to Wikipedia, 22 people have been "discontinued" this way.

The Representative in trying to slander Canadian health care was only able to produce two examples of rationing. Not.

Not only does Texas explicity ration care, but so does US, implicitly. Multiple studies have been been published, all of which show around a 25% increased chance of death for the uninsured. That breaks down to about 22,000 deaths in 2006 due to health care rationing based on wealth.

I remember when Harry and Louise were on the telly lying through their scripted teeth about Clinton's health care plan. And it worked! Never again, never again.

Map Skills Headed South-----Which Way Is That?

In spite of the tremendous combined weight of old issues of National Geographic magazines in basements across our country, it turns out Americans are pretty bad at geography, and show a surprising lack of basic familiarity with maps. We seem to know way less even than the above map indicates.
American Map Skills - Australia is Iran?

I seem to remember that in the early 1980's, the University of Michigan dismantled its geography department. So maybe that academic trend contributed towards the problem. The following young lady has a different theory.

By the way, did you notice the most pointed joke in the first map? I'll give you a hint. It's not any of the written labels.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why a single player health care option? 9 Billion saving in CA alone.


Paperwork is driving up health care costs by as much as $9 billion annually in California, according to a public interest group that suggests physicians and insurers spend way too much time on processing insurance claims

That's significant. Seeing as how we're number one in health care costs, but all the way down to number 37 in actual health care performance (according to the World Health organization), behind Costa Rica at 36 and way way way way behind Columbia at 22, one would assume something could be done to improve health care while cutting costs, or perhaps I'm just way to optimistic.

Single payer RokksQ!!!!11! Have I mentioned lately how insurance companies spend between 20% and 50% on "overhead?" Overhead, of course, equals at least in part lobbying members of congress to vote against the most cost-effective plan because it would cut into the CEO's rather ludicrous pay.

Peace out.

You're anti-abortion? I don't believe it. If you really wished abortions to disappear you'd allow them.

The more difficult it is to get an abortion in a locale the more abortions will happen, the more women will die, the more children will be left motherless. All you theoretically antiabortion people, unless you are actually helping reduce the number of abortions by providing comprehensive sex education and contraceptives you are evil lying creeps who hate women and only care about punishing them for imagined misdeeds involved with them actually having (vapors) sex, but not with you. So there.

Utah is not really all that pro-choice. So we find have a young girl who paid someone to beat her up to induce abortion. Fun, huh? Here's the story.

Want to prevent abortions? We know how to do it. We just have to follow the Netherlands' lead. Their rate of abortion is 11% that of ours. That's right. For every 10 abortions in the US, there's one in the lowlands. 10 to 1, hmmm. Maybe they're doing something right. Plus, there's plenty of peer-reviewed studies that show that, paradoxically, the more difficult abortions are to get, the more of them happen. Read about it here.

So, what was this post about again? Oh, yeah. It's painfully clear that the way to prevent abortions is to give females access to both birth control and abortion. The way to create way more abortions and way more dead/harmed/destroyed females is to outlaw it.

So all you anti-abortion folks--you don't care about actual abortions, you just hate women. Suck it up.

Summer Bonus! Edie Sedgwick + the Velvet Underground + Venus in Furs

Youtube is truly a magical, magical place.

Brand new vintage Nico from 1967: Femme fatale. I love Nico beyond any reason. Listen to her sing perfectly on key as the rest of band fails to perform up to her standards. Even though she's not playing a harmonium. We're strong. We deal. Still all perfect. PS. Thanks, my BFF Beck.

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico "Femme Fatale" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

OOops. Beck. Bad Beck. The original Nico version can't be embedded. You can find it here. I strongly recommend you listen. She's got perfect cheekbones. And perfect pitch.

Astonishing; Nico in her phasers set to stun phase.
A brief bit of live Nico from back in the day, with her harmonium, singing her very own song. Unfortunately, for scenes of Edie Sedgwick dancing, you'll have to google youtube. At any rate, (and with this recession, one can hope that the rate is pretty minimal) even though Nico and the gang are cooler than us, to lessen our grief, they're also dead. Mostly. But the music remains. How does one deal with grief, but to tackle it straight on?

A song for the recession: No one loves you when you're down and out

Greg and Duane Allman.

Greg was one of those annoying idiot savants--He couldn't even stay married to Cher for longer than a forgotten weekend--with a perfect voice. And a perfect face. Not a good combination. Duane, just a perfect musician who died way too young.

Plus, I have this theory that Duane Allman was one of the best musicians of the 20th century. Damn those motorcycles.

If that isn't enough, just above is a clip of Duane and Eric Clapton playing the same song. Duane does a much better job on guitar than in the earlier version with his brother; Eric Clapton is a fine fresh fellow, but to compare his vocals with Greg...not going there. There's not a single live version available, so please put up with the sound, only--well worth it. All of you with stereo, listen, intensely, to Duane's slide guitar emanating from the left speaker. Heaven.

A bit of a personal recollection. I remember on our second date geebee (my sweetie) was astonished to discover that I was a huge Allman brothers fan. Of geruning course. No one better.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happy Weekend All You City Slickers!

'Nuff said.

Irish blasphemy, begorrah.

Do you suppose the following stories would get one introduced to the Bloody Mary if published in Ireland? They do speak ill of the clergy, after all.

Back in May, the Irish Commision published random uncurdable substance-curling stories of abuse suffered by Irish children that were wards of the state by the (I just took a break to encase my Irony Meter in lead) Catholic priests "Christian Brothers" and the Catholic nuns "Sisters of Mercy."

General conclusions:
There were 474 reports of physical abuse involving 26 Schools given in evidence by 403 male witnesses (98%), some of whom were admitted to more than one School. While many witnesses reported that the abuse was pervasive, they particularly wished to report extraordinary incidents from their experience. Other witnesses reported multiple episodes of physical abuse. Witnesses reported being physically abused by religious and lay staff and others including: visiting clergy, members of the general public and men in work and holiday placements. Witnesses also reported being physically abused by co-residents.

There were 383 reports of physical abuse given in evidence to the Committee by 374 witnesses (99%) involving 39 Schools. Witnesses reported being physically abused by religious and lay staff and other adults who were associated with the Schools. Witnesses also reported being physically abused by co-residents. The number of witness reports heard in relation to physical abuse in different Schools diverged widely:

The Catholic Church horribly and harshly abused the minors in its care. I'm not even going to quote specific instances, they're too horrible. Do you suppose this report counts as blasphemy? I suspect so. OK. One story concerns a girl who befriended a kitten. She got found out. Kitten + pot on stove = I leave it to the reader to look away.

If you dare, the full report can be read here.

Did someone mention book burning *cough*Amazon*cough.

Not to be outdone by Ireland, the New York Times reports that Amazon has deleted copies, yes, of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindles of people who had, in good faith, purchased them. Says the NYT: Some Ebooks are more equal than others. Read about it here.

Yes, you, an innocent consumer could have purchased, say, 1984, only to have it magically erased from your kindle. Your recourse? None, it appears. Perhaps the headline should have been "Blasphemy, not only for the Irish."

Thanks for the pig pic to

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dumb and Dumbest

This is the dumbest thing I have heard in a while, and I live in a country with the likes of Coulter and Palin.

In Ireland they have just narrowly passed legislation that makes it illegal to blaspheme. They have defined blasphemy as any statement, written or spoken, that offends a substantial number of adherents of any particular religion. The fine for such behavior is 25,000 euros.

Naturally they have a good reason to want to suppress religious hate speech as they try to put their past behind them. But their writing of the law is so vague that it is completely open to question what sorts of speech-----or books!-----would be considered criminal. Would a book of philosophy that includes essays about the existence or nature of God be criminal? What about a book about evolution? Many Christians find that offensive.

The ironic thing here is that they seem to think that they are protecting religions from blasphemers. But really, all religious claims are in effect blasphemous to other traditions. Can a pastor say that only through accepting the sacrifice of Jesus can one attain salvation without offending Muslims, Hindus or Jews? Can priests say that Protestants are doomed to Hell without committing blasphemy according to this new definition? Can anyone in Ireland object to the practice of stoning adulterers (rape victims?) to death without offending Muslim traditionalists?

According to the new law in Ireland, police can forcibly enter your home and confiscate materials (books?) that have 'offensive' material in them.

I see a book burning coming on. I hope they can tap that energy source for cap-and-trade tax benefits, or nothing good will have come of this.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sax Solos!

Of all the many things to hate about 80's music, the sax solo stands out. For the life of me, I can't figure out why all and sundry forgot how to play the sax in the pentultimate decade of the 20th century. It got so bad for awhile that I was truly, truly astonished listening to those old bebop records with the sublime sax. Who knew?

Some valiant soul at has now taken the thankless task of grading those sax solos. He's much more generous than me. I'd give them all a big F, and a phhhffffft for good measure. Maybe one reason I like the Smiths so much is simply lack of sax solos.

I do like his grading system, though. Mood Breaker, bad continuity, whole notes, blaring, middle school level.

What do Senators Ensign and Sanford have in common other than mistresses?

They're both members of a shadowy Christian group called "the family." Members of the family live together in a house on C Street in Washington DC and have what I dearly hope is a nonstandard view of Christianity. Christianity, it turns out, is about helping the rich get even richer, and is actively opposed to helping the poor, the weak, the oppressed etc. Plus, if you are one of the chosen, normal rules of behavior do not apply. Jeff Sharlet, who lived with the family, heard one of the leaders say to another man that it would be OK if he raped three little girls, because he was chosen, so normal rules do not apply.

These are scary, scary guys. They get to both make and break the rules. Fun to be them. No wonder we now know that two of them have had affairs! Because it's OK. And did you wonder why Sanford in one of his rambling speeches compared himself to King David? It's because David, in that Bathsheba incident, got away with not only sleeping with someone else's wife, but got to kill him too! David and Bathshebah's son, Solomon, became the next king of Judah, with the promise that the line of David should rule Judah forever.

I suspect the family reads the story like so:


The Rachel Maddow show from July 9, 2009 has a clip, here, from whence I gleaned this information, can't get it to embed.

Counterpunch has an article up about the family here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hold Onto Your Hats!

Iowa Votes On Michael Jackson Butter Sculpture!

That's right. Because emotions are running high for the planning of the annual Iowa state fair, officials have decided to let Iowans vote on whether or not a butter version of Michael Jackson will join the previously planned sculptures for this years festivities. Naturally, one of the originally intended sculptures is the traditional iconic cow. The other sculpture planned is intended to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. According to Lori Chappell, the fair's marketing director,
The sculpture will include an astronaut, an American flag, the surface of the moon and, depending on the public vote, Michael Jackson in recognition of his "moonwalk" dance step.

This has been the biggest butter sculpture controversy since a decade ago, when again according to Chappell,
there was a minor flap over the role of religion in 1999 when former sculptor Duffy Lyon chose to carve "The Last Supper".

Most butter sculptures in the US tend to feature cows or scenes one could reasonably attribute to Norman Rockwell. But someone did sculpt Elvis, so the precedent exists.
Sculpting with butter is an old and widespread tradition. Tibetan monks have long created religious motifs out of yak butter.

Below, enjoy a small gallery of butter sculptures including Elvis, Tutankhamen (in Texas, no less!) and Buddha.

I wonder if there will be a chocolate Michael Jackson anywhere?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is there life on Mars?

The magic is in the grooves.

I haven't heard the album version of Hunky Dory since I was eighteen ish, (casettes and CD's for me, baby) when I was at (shudder) BYU. There was this awesome and beautiful girl on the first floor of my dorm (I was on the second floor) that had a copy; I'd go down to her room and listen to it. Until now, I'd totally forgotten about that particular section of my life; but it reared its ungainly head this evening when George played his newly bought extremely early version--all those memories unlocked. I can't remember the girl's name; but she was from Boston, looked Jewish, had a devoted boyfriend who wasn't Mormon that she refused to entertain. I wonder what happened. Is there life on Mars?

Music for Hilary

This is all just imaginary fer reals, but music has gotten me through some very bad spots, so on the off chance that we share a modicum of shared taste here goes.... If our musical tasted don't intersect, I really don't care at all, this is just a silly attempt to, uh, acquaint you with one or two songs you may like. Feel free to discard the rest, or all, if you wish. My tastes are not easily discernible; and I assume others are similar. So, with that hedging preface without the benefit of a leafy background, here goes:

Brian Eno and Harold Budd:

Anne Briggs, the beginning of the English Folk movement, and the wildest of the wild chidren, but also one of the most lyric singers I have ever heard:

Anne Briggs former boyfriend, Bert Jansch. I heard him twice in 2007, just listen:

And now for something completely different! Tinarowen, a Malian group; Mali, like most African nations was cut out of Africa proper like a piece of pie by the clueless Europeans, paying no attention to the tradional tribal boundaries. Tinarowen are Tuaregs/nomads that live on the coast and have little in common with the inland people, but, boy can they play guitar.

That's enough for now. If you like anything, let me know.

How come my crayon set didn't come with "flesh of Christ?"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Good With Numbers

Chris Jordan creates images that help us to experience in a different way the collective impact our civilization is having in different dimensions. He depicts our consumption habits, (bottles, plastic bags, cars etc.) as well as our society's soaring prison populations among other things. Check here to see more of his works.

A Detail

A Partial Zoom

Complete Picture Depicting 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds

The images can be overwhelming, but perhaps the way we should look at it is that if we each just make small changes, collectively we can start to make things much better. No nagging here, just feel good whenever you find yourself doing one of many small things that can make a difference like: keeping your tires full, eating vegetarian food every now and then, reusing your own plastic bottle for water rather than buying bottled water all the time, turning the thermostat a little bit down.....

You can also hear him discuss some of his works in the short feature below.

Nailing It

I am really struck by how evocative Vlad Artazov gets nails to be. This pic is my favorite of this series even though in this one the nail is relatively static.

He has more pics here too.

Sarah Palin Not The Most Delusional Woman In America

She's got some real competition at any rate.
Check out a few of the entries at a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest in Cincinnati.

(Do take into account that these pics were published in Pravda, the fine newsgathering institution that brought us this headline:

Russian fishermen catch squeaking alien and eat it

Sunday, July 5, 2009


"We took government out of the dairy business and put it back into private-sector hands – where it should be." Sarah Palin, July 3, 2009

For those who have not read about Palin's shenanigans with the Creamery Board, here is Roberto W's synopsis:
Palin fired the whole state Agriculture and Conservation board in July 2007, ostensibly to save a mismanaged state-owned dairy, and replaced it with her usual gang of cronies.

As a result, the dairy lost more money than it had in twenty years.

The dairy, an Alaska icon, closed anyway in two months, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional state money with it.

Millions of dollars in dairy equipment ended up, at a steep discount, in the hands of a local Palin ally, who now runs a remarkably similar operation with the help of a Ted Stevens earmark.

He has a more in depth account that he updated later if you read further in the article.

A salient detail is that the agencies involved recommended closing the state owned dairy, but Palin fired everyone simultaneously on the BAC (the board of Agriculture and Conservation), and appointed a new Creamery board that agreed with Sarah about the need to keep the state run dairy open. Not too surprisingly, the new members seemed to be people related to cow-owning Wassillans. The committee was then spearheaded by childhood friend of Palin's-------who said she liked cows------rather than the a respected PHD in agricultural economics. They voted to extend a $600,000 grant for the struggling dairy.

A few months later, it was necessary to close it after all. In the meanwhile, the dairy had purchased new equipment, and this was sold at steeply discounted prices to well connected local dairy farmers. And a federal earmark to subsidize dairy farmers to pour their too-expensive-to-compete milk on the ground shifted the financial burden from Alaskan tax payers to the rest of the country.

There are so many aspects of this story to get upset about. Policy-driven firings, backroom deals, cronyism, incompetent management, earmarks, and Palin's insistence on not listening to the experts who knew the dairy was doomed. (I could be petty and complain in addition about Palin's poorly worded sentence which suggests that she put the government "back into private-sector hands.")

But the weaseliest aspect of all seems to me to be that although she fought to keep the state run dairy open, and subsidize it with state and federal dollars, she now takes credit for getting the "government out of the dairy business." What gall......such brazenness!

And she figures she can get away with it just like she got away with saying she nixed the bridge to nowhere because she understands that most people are too busy to follow the details of her administration closely.

In her resignation speech she declared herself to be unwilling to "milk it". Does she ever do anything else? Clearly she has found a bigger teat to latch onto, and will continue to do what she does so well......suck!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Beck's waiting for his man.

I somehow managed to be the only teen in the 70's who listened, rabidly (was there any other way?) to the Velvet Underground and did not start my own band. The distinct lack of musical talent might have had sooomething to do with it, but after the Punks, even that wasn't much of an excuse. What was I thinking? Beck, in so many ways (well, there is that Emperor Klaaktu of Rigel VII bit, but I have skeletons in my own closet, so who's to talk), got it right. He continues to do so -- he and his buds have covered the first eponymous VU album. Here's 'Waiting for My Man' with an amazing groove--listen for the slightly dissonant Sonic Youth style guitar tunings plus bonus sitar! Enjoy.

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico 'Waiting for My Man' from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

I found another one! 'Sunday Morning'! I confess that my current favorite Beck album is "Sea Change," his sad breakup album. I still can't believe his long time girlfriend (from when he was just a random street kid) dumped him. But what an Album (or whatever musical delivery devices are called these days). This song has the same wonderful, wistful, regretful, adjectival quality. I'm astonished that he found someone not only icy but Icelandic to replace Nico (I confess, one of my favorite artists.)

Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico 'Sunday Morning' from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

I just figured out that Beck seems to have dropped the 'c' in his name, (be the first on your block to know) and his website can be found here.

Now She's Gone and Done It!

For many months, djinn and I have been avoiding all mention of Sarah Palin even though it would have been fun to laugh at her antics. She was negotiating a book contract, and basically, the more interest in Sarah was shown on the web, the higher her fee would be. We just did not want to add anything to her bottom line.

But now, the contract negotiations are over, so we might as well enjoy ourselves while keeping track of her weaselly political maneuvering.

Naturally enough, the very first thing I ran across was so appalling that I wonder what I have been missing lo these many months.

Check out her new SarahPAC Independence Day message in this video.(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan) (You'll just need to man up to get past the music, or turn your volume ALL the way off!) Make sure to watch at least until t=1:45

OMG, she has already taken the video down! (Today was it's debut!) I guess you won't have to suffer through the music after all. Can we consider this reaction to her flop a flip-flop?

Luckily I have some screen shots I took, because I figured something like this would happen. She starts off with fireworks and features the word 'Independence'. Is this meant as a coded message for the Independence Party of Alaska? Or did they just walk right into that unthinkingly?

She shows lots of pictures of missiles (threats? or foreplay?) and then has a couple of shots of herself in flight suit type gear a la Bush.

(I feel so safe now at the very thought her her protecting us from those bad, bad missiles ......NOT.)

Then after palling around with men in uniform near fighter jets, she proceeds with a montage of images from that ill advised PR shoot of Air Force 1 buzzing the Manhattan skyline interspersed with pictures of Obama smiling and laughing-----as if he were laughing in real time at the scare he was giving the citizens of NYC.

Obama did not even know about that photo shoot.

But then to top it all off, right after she shows yet another shot of Air Force One over the city, she cuts to this!

Can You F@cking Believe It?!? She compared Obama to King Kong! How could they not think that that was horribly racist? Who is running her PR? What are they thinking?!? Was that just some red meat that they were throwing to their base? Have they already gotten so much flack over that that they decided to pull the message?

This is just one more example of the Republicans at the highest levels of the Party making racist allusions, comments and images. Remember that GOP staffer that just a few of weeks ago sent this image to the "wrong people"? She did not apologize for sending the image, just for sending it to the "wrong people".

Sarah may have pulled the add within a day, but that can never undo what she did. What do you bet that Republicans will deny that there is anything racist about juxtaposing images of the president with King Kong. Remember how they all denied any racist content in this cartoon?

Update: Apparently this video was not official. One of Palin's misguided fans (Laura VW) uploaded it and put the SaraPac logo on it. I wonder if Laura VW has any connection whatsoever to the PAC.

Truly, these people are their own worst enemies.