Friday, March 24, 2017

Entry 373: Healthcare Again

I don't want this blog to become dominated by politics, but I write what's on my mind and politics are on my mind a lot these days, so that's what I'm writing about.

As I begin this entry, Friday afternoon, March 24, 2017, the United States House of Representatives is a few hours away from voting on their healthcare bill, AHCA (aka Ryancare, aka Trumpcare, aka Pileofshitcare).  Alternatively, they are not a few hours from voting on AHCA.  There probably aren't enough votes to pass it, so they might pull it altogether.  But Trump, supposedly, for reasons only he knows, wants to hold a vote anyway, so maybe we will have a vote.  Maybe it will even pass.  Then again, maybe they will never vote on it at all.  Nobody knows!  But even if it does pass, it will surely die in the Senate where the margin for error is even slimmer (only two Reps could dissent).  That is, unless it passes there too.  Nobody knows this either!

The whole thing is a complete and utter farce that I would find hysterical if the farce wasn't being produced by my government.  The only thing that's good about this is that it's very gratifying to watch years of Republican lies about Obamacare catch up with them.  It's like that episode of Seinfeld where George lies to his future in-laws, and they call him on it, and he keeps on lying, and they keep calling him on it, and whole thing culminates with him driving them to a house in the Hamptons he doesn't have.  As many smart people have been pointing out for a long time, a good Republican replacement bill for Obamacare is as imaginary as George's vacation home.

To see why this is the case, you first have to understand how Obamacare works.  It is held up by what some call a "three-legged stool": 1.  Laws that prevent insurers from denying coverage to citizens for, say, preexisting conditions; 2.  Subsidies that allow poor people to buy insurance; 3. An individual mandate that compels healthy people to buy insurances.  In addition, the ACA gives states federal money to expand Medicaid (which some states accepted and some (cruelly) did not), which it pays for through tax increases.

Republicans in Congress are, to a person, ostensibly against Obamacare.  But the reasons they give are not consistent with a replacement bill or even with one other.  There is a strong contingent of Reps -- The Freedom Caucus -- who object to the ACA on almost purely ideological grounds.  They want the stool gone completely.  They don't believe the federal government should have any role in providing healthcare to its citizens whatsoever.

The problem the Freedom Caucus has is that not a whole lot of other Americans feel the way they do.  There are parts of Obamacare everyday people of all political stripes really like.  Sick people like Leg 1, and poor people like Leg 2 and the Medicaid expansion.  For this reason, other Republicans have been saying they want to keep these parts.  The problem with that, of course, is these parts rely on the unpopular parts -- Leg 3 and tax increases.  If people want insurance when they are sick, then they need to buy it when they are healthy too (hence the mandate), otherwise everybody could just wait until they are sick before buying insurance, and then the market would collapse because insurers would be paying out a lot without bringing enough in.  And if we want to provide health insurance to poor people who can't afford to pay for it themselves, then somebody has to pay for it somehow.  Hence the tax increases.

For these reasons, a large faction of Republicans, most of them, in fact, have been attacking Obamacare not on ideological grounds, but for practical reasons (or for no reasons; they just disparaged it without specifics; Trump, of course, is the master of this -- "it's a disaster").  They say it's premiums are too high, that it doesn't provide enough people with good coverage, and that it could be headed for total collapse (the dreaded "death spiral"). But these are problems any replacement bill Reps propose won't and can't solve -- in fact their bill would exacerbate them -- because they would need to strengthen Leg 3 and/or raise taxes to solve them, and those are the exact parts Republicans want to trash, not bolster.  In this way, Republicans have been incredibly dishonest about Obamacare since before the law even went into effect (or they are incredibly delusional and ignorant, I'm not sure which), which is why their entire approach is doomed.

As I've said before, part of me wants this bill to become law.  Republicans would surely say I'm wrong about all this, so let's see what happens.  Let's see whose right.  But ultimately the price -- millions of people losing their health insurance -- is to high to pay.  So I hope it fails -- spectacularly.

And it does, for now, at least.  Paul Ryan pulled the bill again.  In the words of Nelson Muntz,

Until next time...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Entry 372: Where All the Women at?

On Tuesday, I had another crossword puzzle published in the New York Times.  I won't spoil it for you if you haven't done it yet and are planning on doing it.  (The NYT puzzle runs a few weeks behind in syndication in some local papers.)  I always write an entry on my other blog about my puzzles, and you can read it in full here (which will spoil it).  But I'm also going to copy a large portion of it here directly, because it's an interesting general topic, and because I don't have a lot of time this weekend.  (I also wrote a "guest entry" for a blog I read daily called Football Perspective.  It's supposed to run tomorrow, Monday, and I spent a lot of time recently working on it.)

[Chuck Berry: October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017]

What follows is my commentary on the dominance of males in field of crossword puzzle constructing.
If you keep up with the crossword blogosphere, you are certainly aware there is a push among many puzzle enthusiasts to make crossword puzzles more inclusive.  I think this is a good thing.  Constructing and competitive solving are dominated by men. In the former, there are a few prolific females (particularly C.C. Burnikel who I swear has a puzzle published somewhere every day) and then that's about it.  The big question: Why is this the case? 
It's something I've thought about quite a bit.  In a way, it's something I've been thinking about most my life, as I discovered at a relatively early age that most my major interests -- sports analytics, math, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, etc. -- are predominantly male pursuits.  After many hours thinking and rethinking about this, reading opinion pieces, scientific studies, and the occasional controversial "academic exploration of hypotheses," here's what I came up with as the reason: I have no fucking idea.  I haven't come across a single theory yet that I've found particularly convincing. 
The root cause I think is clearly sexism.  Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing these activities, and so we're seeing the residual effects of that today.  This makes sense, but the missing piece -- the thing I really don't understand -- is why aren't we seeing this male-female gap to the same extent in other fields.  Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing pretty much anything other than raising a family, right?  So why is it that today woman are much better represented in fields like law and medicine (though still not close to 50-50) than they are in fields like math and crossword puzzles? 
Like I said, I have no answers.  I do think however that if somehow we could get more women involved in underrepresented fields that it would self-perpetuate.  I remember hearing about a study, the author of which I can't remember on a podcast I can't remember (get sourcing, huh?), demonstrating that representation really matters a lot when people are in their formative years.  If a child sees somebody with whom they can identify doing something then they are much more likely to pursue that thing than they would be otherwise.  This is why diversity matters.  Even if you don't believe it's inherently good, without it you effectively block people, particularly young people, from pursuing things they might otherwise want to pursue (and might be very good at), and that's not the way things are supposed to work in the land of the free and the home of brave.  
So it seems to me the only solution I have for getting more women involved in something like crossword puzzle constructing is to get more women involved in crossword constructing.  And that's not actually a solution at all.  It's a tautology.
(And by the way, if there are any aspiring female constructors reading this right now, and you need some guidance, I'm available!  Actually, I'm available even if you're male or anywhere else on the gender spectrum.  I'll just be excited somebody is asking me for advice about something.) 
And with that we will call it an entry.  Until next time...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Entry 371: Healthcare and Climate Change

The Republicans roll-out of their Obamacare replacement bill has gone about as well as anybody remotely paying attention to healthcare policy over the last half decade could have predicted.  Nobody likes the bill.  The right sees it as Obamacare Lite, which they oppose because they don't want Obamacare at all; the left sees it as Obamacare Lite, which they oppose because it doesn't make much sense to replace a bill with a shittier version of the same bill.   You can read more about the bill at Vox or from Jonathan Chait or Paul Krugman, but my basic understanding of it is that it's a huge shift of the burden of the cost of healthcare from the young, rich, and healthy to the old, poor, and sick.  It's all shrouded in typical Republican nomenclature about "freedom" and "choice" and "small government."  (In one hilarious bit of theater that could honestly pass as an SNL sketch if Melissa McCarthy were in frame, Sean Spicer makes the case for the new bill based solely on how many sheets of paper it is.  Governance by word count!)  But it seems as if nobody, not even other conservatives, are falling for it.  There have already been many Republican members of both the House and the Senate who have adamantly come out in opposition to the bill, and most the major "conservative" think tanks are against it as well.

One part of me really wants it to become law.  The Dems have been saying one thing about healthcare; the Reps have been saying something else.  We got an idea of how the former's plan plays out in practice, so now let's all see how the latter's works.  It's a great chance to do an experiment.  Also, a lot of the people who are likely to be negatively affected by this new law are people who voted for Trump, so it's only fair they get what they voted for.  If their premiums skyrocket or their insurer's marketplace goes into a death spiral or they no longer qualify for the same subsidies they did under Obamacare, then they would have nobody to blame but themselves and the party for which they voted.

But a much bigger part of me doesn't want it to become law because there would be a lot of collateral damage if it did.  Many people who opposed Trump would also find healthcare unaffordable, and that's too big a price to pay for an experiment.  Plus, the Trump voters hurt by this law probably would not blame themselves or the GOP.  They would still find a way to blame Obama and the liber-tards.  Sure, the Republicans wrote the bill and they control the presidency and both chambers of Congress, but if you believe that millions (millions!) of people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election, if you believe that Trump won in an electoral landslide, if you believe that Obama illegally tapped the phones in Trump Towers based on nothing, then surely you will believe that liberals are somehow responsible for the Republicans' healthcare bill.  The truest thing Trump ever said is that he could shoot somebody on the street and his supporters still would not abandon him.  I now believe this literally, and it is quite scary.

Ultimately, what's going to happen with this bill?  Who can say?  Nothing would surprise me at this point.  The majority opinion is that this bill is "dead on arrival," which, given how the GOP has conducted its business over the last few years, means that we can all expect it to be voted into law very soon.

[Apropos of nothing, here are some desserts S and I got on date night last Saturday.  They were $35 because it was at some chichi bistro in downtown DC.  I can't really complain though.  We at dinner at Qdoba for about $15 combined.  Also, the desserts were f*cking amazing!  I felt like Vince Vaughn in "Pulp Fiction" drinking the $5 milkshake.  The best thing was the dish at the top right.  It was a mocha flavored mousse that was absolutely heavenly.]

That is, unless climate change doesn't get us first.  I'm only half joking.  In my last post of overrated and underrated things, I neglected to mention the most underrated thing of all: climate change.  Certainly it is an important topic to many people, and it is covered in the media (the New York Times recently ran this distressing article), but considering the permanent damage anthropogenic global warming could do to human life as we know it, we aren't talking about it nearly enough.  It was barely mentioned last year as a campaign topic, and people seem much more concerned with other horrific parts of Trump's presidency (the travel ban, healthcare, Russian ties) than they are with his steady dismantling of our environmental protections.  Even the head of the EPA, saying, in so many words, that climate change is bullshit garners much less attention than the Obamacare replacement.

In a way, it's tough to fault people for this, as the terrible things I mention above do deserve attention, and with Lyin' 45 at the helm, tweeting something absurd every other day, it's difficult to keep up with and sort through all the nonsense.  But without an environment that's suitable for human beings to live in, everything else becomes pretty much moot, don't ya think?

Recently I came across this interview of Bill Nye by Tucker "You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show" Carlson.

It's not a great segment content-wise but it does illustrate a few tactics that climate change skeptics frequently employ.  First, they pretend they're having a good-faith, science-based discussion, but the truth is they want to "get" the other side much more than they want to uncover the truth.  This is clear from the ominous, unflattering intro given to Nye.  Skeptics seem to be of belief that climate change is something that can be solved by sticking it to the other side.

Second, they simply don't understand the usefulness of science.  What science is good for is drawing empirical conclusions.  It's about using the available evidence to come up with the most reasonable explanations for phenomena on our planet and in our universe.  If you never draw any conclusions then science isn't of much use.  Of course, it's good to always have an open-mind and question these conclusions, but at some point you have to roll with what you got or else -- what's the point?  So when people say of climate change "we need more information" or "the science isn't settled," it's an indefinite stall tactic.  Because for these people there will never be enough evidence to convince them.  You can tell this is the case because they never offer what evidence could convince them.  Skeptics never say I'll believe you if x because there is no x that will make them believe.

Third, they effectively denounce all science because it's carried out by humans and humans are not omniscient and infallible.  This is the line Carlson mostly sticks to in the clip above.  He asks Nye "simple" questions that are actually things nobody could possibly answer exactly, and then uses that fact in an attempt to discredit anything else Nye has to say on the matter.  The true answer to the question, "What percentage of climate change is caused by humans?" is "We don't know."  Nye knows this, but he doesn't want to say it, because he (rightly) understands that it will immediately be (unfairly) throw in his face.

I applaud Nye for going into a very biased environment.  I think people need to use any forum they can to warn about the dangers of climate change.  It's true that the vast majority of people watching won't change their mind about anything, but with the country divided nearly 50-50 politically, any movement is good.  I don't think it was a great performance for Nye, but I don't think it was a terrible one either.  The thing I think people need to do with climate change is analogize it to sickness.  Here's how I would handle it.

Interviewer: So you think the science on climate change is settled, right?

Me: In the sense that humans are hurting the environment by putting too much carbon into the atmosphere and heating the planet, yes, I think that is settled.  If you mean that we know everything there is to know about climate change, and can answer every question on it with 100% accuracy, then of course not.  No science is every settled in that way.

Interviewer:  What percentage of climate change is caused by humans?

Me: It's impossible to say exactly.  But we do know that it's large enough that we would be very wise to do change our behavior.

Interviewer: So it sounds like it isn't settled science -- you can't answer a very simple question about climate change!

Me: Let me give you analogy.  Suppose a heavy-drinker goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with liver failure.  The doctor obviously would say, "stop drinking."  We all agree that that's good advice. Now, the doctor doesn't know exactly what percentage of this person's liver problems is caused by drinking; the doctor doesn't know exactly what would have happened if this person never drank; and the doctor doesn't know exactly what will happen in the future if this person does or doesn't stop drinking.  But what they do know is that the drinking causes liver problems, and so this person should stop.  That's where we are with climate change.  The scientists are the doctors telling us we're making the environment sick, and we're not listening to them.

Interviewer: Yeah, but that's medicine.  The difference is that climate change science is so political now.

Me: Not really.  The science is science.  It's just that people don't like the results so they say it's political to muddy the waters.  By the way, people do this on the left too with things like GMOs.  The difference is that the fallout from these things and the urgency doesn't remotely compare to climate change.

Interviewer: Okay, then.  We are out of time, but you've totally convinced me, and I'm going to donate $100 to Earthjustice after the show, and I'm going to vote against any climate change skeptics in the future elections.  Thank you!

Me: My pleasure.

Until next time...

Friday, March 3, 2017

Entry 370: Overrated, Underrated

Sometimes it's good to be introspective and evaluate yourself and the things over which you control.  Other times it's good to be extrospective (this is an actual word) and evaluate the things outside yourself over which you have no control.  Today I shall do the latter.  Below is an incomplete list of things I find overrated and underrated.


Pajama Day: My oldest boy goes to a D.C. public elementary school.  Every so often they have "Free Dress Week" (in lieu of the usual uniform), and always one of the themes is "Pajama Day."  I do not like Pajama Day, because pajamas are specifically made to not be worn all day.  Pajamas are not durable, and they're super thin, so it's 35 degrees out (like yesterday), and you're sending your kid to school with a nanometer worth of cotton on.  And Lil' S1 always wants to do it up proper, so he insists on wearing his slippers, so now I have to bring an extra set footwear, which is just asking for something to get lost.

Actually, Pajama Day is just a synecdoche for all of Free Dress Week.  I don't really like any of it.  Some of the other days are "Twin Day" (just asking for kids to feel left out), "Book Character Day" (he went as Captain Barnacles from Octonauts -- sure, it's a show on Netflix, but they have books about it too), "Wild and Wacky Day" (I just put him in normal clothes -- wild and wacky are subjective terms), and "School Spirit Day" (you gotta get parents to buy school paraphernalia somehow).  How about normal pants and a sweatshirt day?  I could go for that one.

Alcohol: The older I get the less I feel like drinking.  I still very much enjoy a cold pilsner or a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon among friends.  Alcohol is still my social drug of choice.  But no matter how little I drink, I pay a price for it later.  Knock back a few beers and I go to sleep with a bloated stomach; have a glass of wine or two and I wake up in the middle of night with a mild headache and severe cotton mouth.  Maybe if I could sleep in regularly these things wouldn't bother me so much, but when you are waking up at 5:45 every morning to a crying kid (and then on the rare occasions I'm able to coax him back to sleep, his brother wakes up the whole house ten minutes later), you already feel like you're hung over.  Adding alcohol to the mix makes it that much worse.

One thing I almost never do now is drink at home by myself or with S (who almost never drinks herself).  It's a catch-22 -- if I can't sleep in, I don't want to drink, and if I can sleep in, I don't want to spoil it with alcohol.  I want pure, unadulterated slumber.  Actually, that's not really a catch-22; it's just prioritizing sleeping over drinking.  The joke is that having kids drives you to drink (It's not wine; it's "mommy juice!").  But for me it did the exact opposite.

Date night: I'm not anti-date night by any means.  I recognize the purpose it serves in a relationship.  It's just that I don't always have fun on date night.  I'm always worrying about the kids; I'm usually tired;  S is usually tired; I often don't feel like going out; I'm especially prone to get annoyed by trivial things (even more so than usual); it's usually super expensive; and I don't like the "date night" expectations hanging over my head.  Do you ever go on vacation and feel compelled to do the famous things wherever you are because you're there, even though you know you won't really enjoy them -- like you find yourself at a museum of something you don't care about, pretending to read the placards, secretly wishing you had just stayed at the hotel pool and read a book and napped?  That's how I often feel about date night.

Incidentally, we have a date night scheduled for tomorrow night.  We are going to see Moonlight, which I really want to see, and we got our favorite babysitter, so I won't be as anxious about the kids.  It's actually setting up to be a good date night.  We shall see.

Knowing how to sew buttons:  My sister recently shared an article on Facebook about preparing your teenager children to be functional, independent adults, and she included a list of things that she wants her two boys (who still have a few years before their teen years) to be able to do before they leave the house.  It was a good list, but one of them was "sew buttons."  She might have gotten this from my dad, as I remember him talking about what a useful skill this was to have in the navy.  Also the inability to sew buttons is a common synecdoche (apparently this is my word of the day, and I'm not even sure I'm using it correctly) for a lack of traditional life skills among today's youth.  "Kids can't even sew buttons anymore!"  But I'm going the other way with this.  To all the teenagers reading this right now: You don't have to learn how to sew buttons.

I'm sure once upon a time somewhere it was a valuable skill, like, say, in the navy in the '70s on an aircraft carrier floating by itself somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.  But today, in urban society, it's not really that useful a thing to know.  First off, I need a button sewn on something maybe once every few years.  Since men don't where button-up shirts and ties everyday like we used to, I suspect loose buttons are not the problem they once were.  Second off, when a button does pop off you can take it to a dry cleaner and get it reattached for -- what? -- five bucks?  If you consider the alternative -- putting in the time to learn how to sew and buying the supplies to keep on hand -- I contend it is actually more efficient to not learn how to sew buttons.

This is illustrates my main gripe with most "life hacks" and "common skills" in general.  There is often a pro-DIY bias to everything, often underplaying the fact that DIY activities usually take a lot of time and energy.  There are many, many things I would rather pay somebody to do than learn how to do myself (e.g., change the oil in my car or change a tire on my car or do just about anything on my car).  Even if I didn't put any monetary value on my leisure time (which I do), it would still be economically inefficient in many cases to spend time on so-called life skills stuff, because I can use that time making crossword puzzles instead.  I get at least $300 every time I publish a crossword, so... that's a lot of buttons.  Now, obviously not everybody has the exact same options as me, but I think you get my point.

The last thing I will say on this is that there is also a large degree of back-in-my-day-ism with life skills.  It's more about lamenting the changing times than it is about kids being ignorant.  I hate back-in-my-day-ism, because, by definition, we are no longer back in your day!  I remember when I was growing up there was a lot of tongue-clucking among adults about kids didn't know how to drive a stick shift anymore.  (I was one of these kids, and now I'm one of these adults; I still can't really drive a manual transmission car.)  Well, guess what, not only are we now at a point in time when driving stick is almost a completely obsolete skill, we might not be that far away from the day when driving period is almost a completely obsolete skill.


Podcasts:  Podcasts are certainly starting to get their due, but nowhere near what they should be getting.  I learned of a stunning statistic recently: Less than 100% of the population listens to a podcast on a regular basis.  I know, can you believe it?!  I, for one, was on the podcast train very early -- almost a decade ago, back when people didn't even know what they were.  But I'm no podcast hipster.  I'm a podcast evangelist.  I want to make everybody a convert.  Podcasts are amazing, and there are so many good ones that I literally can't keep up with them all.  I've had to make some tough cuts over the years.  I very famously unsubscribed from The Adam Carolla Show, but I more quietly also had to ditch a few others.  Sorry Terry Gross, sorry Sklar Brothers, sorry Jonah Keri, sorry Dan Patrick.

There are two great things about podcasts: (1) they're on-demand; (2) they don't require the same attention as something on paper or on a screen.  (2) is the true game-changer.  You can do menial tasks and listen to podcasts.  How did people do laundry or walk the dog or drive to work before the invention of podcasts?  Fifteen years ago were we all just bored all the time?

Anyway, since you asked, here is my current list of podcast subscriptions in no particular order:

Missing Richard Simmons
The Poscast
On the Grid
Playing with Science
The Political Gabfest
Hang Up and Listen
The Gist
The Ringer MLB Show
The Bill Barwell Show
Effective Wild
NPR Politics Podcast
Vox's The Weeds
StarTalk Radio
The Bill Simmons Podcast
This American Life
Real Time with Bill Maher
The Dave Dameshek Football Program
Savage Lovecast -- Magnum Feed

This puts me just about at podcast equilibrium.  I'm more or less at a steady state, where the amount of podcasts coming into my phone equals the amount of podcasts leaving my phone.  Some of the less time-sensitive ones build-up two or three episodes at a time and sit for a while, but then I'll have to go on a long drive or take a flight or something and binge-listen right through them.

Fighting for Sport:  I started taking Krav Maga classes a few months ago, and I love it so far.  It's great cardio; it teaches me some basic self-defense; and best of all it's something physically intense I can do with other people.  I wrestled in high school, and I found that it's something I really missed throughout the years.  It's not just the competition; it's also that physically cathartic feeling I got when I was getting my face ground into the mat (or better yet grinding somebody else's face into the mat).  Sometimes you just want to exhaustedly grapple with another human being in a pool of sweat (and possibly a little blood), while somebody (in the case of my Krav Maga class, it's a jittery 27-year-old with too many tattoos) stands over you and barks a mix of criticisms and platitudes in your direction.

It's good to do it in a classroom setting too because then you build a sense of camaraderie with the other participants.  After class you feel like you accomplished something together.  It's make believe, of course; you didn't actually do anything other beat up some pads.  But it feels like you did.  And it feels good.

In general, I really appreciate fighting for sport.  I'm a big fan of MMA.  I get why people don't like it.  It can be pretty violent, but it's consensual violence.  I've heard it called "human cock fighting" before, but that makes about as much sense as "clean coal."  Just as coal isn't clean due to the fact it's coal, humans aren't roosters due to the fact they are humans.  It two people want to get into an octagon and test their mettle against one another, while others watch it for entertainment, so be it.  Cuts heal and bruises go away.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches:  I've been on a huge PBJ kick of late... well, not even of late, it's been going on for like a year.  I don't eat them that often, because they aren't really that healthy, but there are few better ways to start your weekend than with a cup of coffee, a banana, and half a PBJ on toast.

The key, of course, is getting the right kind of peanut butter and jelly.  For the former, I try to find something "natural" that doesn't separate overnight into a rock-hard block of peanut butter concentrate underneath a pool of oil.  For the latter, I go purely for taste.  The best combination I've found to date is Field Day organic, smooth, and unsalted peanut butter, and Bonne Maman strawberry preserves.  Although I recently went to Trader Joe's, and they didn't have either of these brands, so I'm going to try something new.  Hopefully I won't be disappointed.

Pandora Radio:  I've heard these type of streaming service aren't great for artists, but they are great for people like me who don't have time to "get into" music anymore, but also don't want to listen to the same old albums over and over again.  I've been working on my main Pandora station, trying to get it to play the right mix of songs I know and songs I don't know, and I think I've gotten it down pretty well.

Here are a few great songs I learned through Pandora.

And with that, I bid you adieu.  Hey-y-y-y-y, I'm not a young man anymore...

Until next time...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Entry 369: Stick to Sports!

I read a lot of sporting news online, and then on occasion sometimes I make the mistake of reading the comments.  I know enough to stay away from the comments on the "big" sites (if you want to feel even worse about the state of humanity than you already do, read the comments after an ESPN story, especially one about race in sports), but even the comments on some of the smaller, "smarter" sports sites are getting to be tough to stomach.  Sportswriters, by and large, seem to be a mostly liberal bunch, and from time to time, since they are human, they might inject a small amount of their own personal politics into a story -- or they might keep politics totally out of their stories, but tweet about political things.  Whenever this happens there is a vocal backlash from both poles of the political spectrum.  Fellow liberals complain because they want sports to be a sanctuary from the constant barrage of political media, and conservatives complain because the typical sportswriter is espousing views contrary to theirs.  From both sides the refrain is the same: Stick to sports!

In different times, I might agree with this notion, but we don't live in different times, we live in these times.  And the following is a comment I put on a blog about this topic:
The problem with the “no politics,” “stick to sports” position is that when you have a president, as we do, who doesn’t cohere to objective reality, just being factually accurate becomes a political position. 
Trump constantly says things that are flat-out untrue — not exaggerations, not spin, not typical-politician wishy-washiness — but straight-up, factual falsehoods. And if you point this out (or use it as the intro for a silly story) then suddenly you’re “getting political,” even though you’ve done something (corrected falsehoods) that shouldn’t be controversial or political at all. 
As long as Trump continues to say things like he had the biggest electoral victory since Reagan, *everything* is going to seem political, because simply acknowledging reality is equivalent to opposing Trump, and a lot of people still wish to live in reality.
I thought that was particularly well put, as did the author of the article who said, "This is well-reasoned, insightful and eloquent.  Even with an allowance of 3500 words, I could not have said it better myself."

It is weird that one of our two major political parties is effectively willing to concede truth to the other party, but so it goes.  Republicans had a choice between reality, and Trump and they overwhelmingly chose the latter.  It's working out for them quite well in the short-term; the long-term is still an open question.  I'm a glass-half-full guy by nature, so I definitely see the path by which this Trump lovefest could backfire on Reps in the future.  But I'm also not naive.  One thing I've come to realize is that a lot of people don't want to live in reality.  It's much nicer to create you own reality that conforms to your political views, instead of vice versa.  And now with the "niche-ification" of news and social media echo chambers, it's quite easy to do as well.

Then there are others who aren't anti-reality per se, they just don't think reality is something to get too hung up on.  Living a lie is just the price of admission sometimes.  This includes most "mainstream" Republicans -- the ones who were against Trump before they were for him (over the course of a few weeks).  I don't think Paul Ryan, for example, actually believes millions of people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton.  It's just that the truth isn't that big a deal to him.  He has different priorities, and if he has to pretend that 2 + 2 = 5 to pursue those priorities, then so be it.  In Ryan's view, it's better to have a lying president who will cut taxes for the rich than a truthful one who won't.  (Jonathan Chait has a good article about Ryan's priorities.)

Finally, there are the people who don't (or can't) pay attention and just vote for the candidate from their "tribe."  I think this covers most people actually.  On a podcast I can't remember, a man whose name I can't remember (great sourcing, I know) studied exactly what were the criteria people used when voting, and it was shockingly simplistic.  Almost all of politics is identity politics.  People identify with a group, and then they vote for the candidate who best represents that group.  And once this candidate wins over the group, it doesn't really matter what they do or say after that.  If Trump has any political acumen at all (other than just getting really, really lucky), it's that he understood this much better than everybody else.

Anyway... I gotta go, but before I do, I wanted to post something.  Remember how I said that reading Trump's remarks was comedy gold?  Here's a perfect example:

Until next time...

Good soup!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Entry 368: A Doctor's Appointment and Other Stuff

S went away for the weekend to visit her sister in Atlanta, and she took Lil' S1 with her, so it's just me and Lil' S2 for a few days.  I considered going as well, but decided against it for a few reasons: (1) I'm just not as into traveling as my wife; (2) If I go then Lil' S2 has to go too and taking him makes the difficulty of traveling go up tenfold.  Lil' S1 is a pretty good traveler; his brother, not so much.  The flip side of that is that Lil' S2 is much easier at home than his brother, so we've allocated our children efficiently.

Before leaving, S pulled a fast one on me and scheduled a doctor's appointment for Lil' S2 this morning knowing that she wouldn't be around to take him, so I would have to do it.  I doubt she would frame it this way; she would probably say it was my turn or something to that effect.  It's an on-going "discussion" between us that she does the bulk of the appointment stuff (dentist, doctor, haircuts, etc.), so I think in her mind it's pretty much always my turn.  I don't completely disagree, however, I think I do it more than she realizes, and the reason she does more than me is because she wants to do it -- or rather she wants it done her way.  That's my thing: Either you do it or you let me do it the way I want to do it.  S will often want me to do something with the kids, but then she will rattle off a list of instructions I'm supposed to follow.  It drives me crazy.  It's kinda insulting, actually, because it implies that I can't take care of my kids on my own, and I'm going to bungle everything up left to my own devices.  I mean, it doesn't hurt my feelings, because almost nothing hurts my feelings, but if things did hurt my feelings, this would be one of those things.

Today was a bad day for it to be my turn.  We arrived on time for an 8:30 a.m. appointment and didn't actually see the doctor until 9:20 a.m.  I didn't get home until 10:15 a.m. and the doctor's office is only a few blocks from our house.  So irritating.  The thing is, if you are running that far behind schedule just inform your patients somehow before they leave their houses.  Send me a text alert to come 45 minutes later.  We have this technology now.  Imagine a computerized system that checks people in and out, and then automatically sends out alerts based on how many people are in the queue to see the doctor ahead of you.  That would be such a nice feature.  But considering our pediatrician's check-in system currently consists of writing your name and arrival time on a sticker.  I'm not holding out hope for this anytime soon.  Well, at least we like the doctor, once she actually is able to see our kids.

Although I didn't like what she had to say today.  The primary purpose of today's appointment was to get Lil' S2 some vaccination shots, but naturally the doctor wanted to ask some questions about his general state of wellness.  Everything is totally great except for one thing: He's still not talking.  He sometime says syllables, like if you say "hi" or "bye" to him, he will wave and say "h-" or "b-" back, and he will say "m-m-m-m-" when he wants "more" of something.  But he's only said full words a few times, and even then we couldn't get him to do it again, so it's not clear if it was on purpose or not.

I'm not worried about it yet.  I would be if I felt like his growth was stunted in other ways, but physically he's on pace -- ahead of pace, probably; he can already climb out his crib, which means he beat his brother by five months, and I thought his brother was fast -- and comprehension-wise he's also on pace.  If I say "daddy" he points to me; if I say "get your shoes" he runs and gets his shoes; if I say "brush your teeth" he goes to the sink in the bathroom.  Everything is clicking.  In a few months he's going to start talking, and then he's quickly going to catch up with all the other kids who can already say a handful of words.  I'm like 75% sure that that's what's going to happen.

And this is basically what the doctor thinks as well, but she still wants him to see a specialist.  She said that she doesn't like to wait until they are two before taking action.  She likes to be proactive about it.  S already was leaning this way, so now that the doctor agrees with her, she's all in, and so we almost certainly will take him to see a specialist.  I don't really have a leg to stand on in opposition.  And it's not like I don't want to help the development of my son.  It's just that I want to wait.  I think it's premature to get special help right now.  But I suppose it won't really hurt anything (other than it will cost time and probably money), so it's fine.  I'm certainly not going to take a stand against my wife and our pediatrician on this.

[I just found out George "The Animal" Steele died today.  RIP to the greatest green-tongued, turn-buckle-eating entertainer the world will ever know.]


In other news, how about that Trump press conference, eh?  This article made me laugh -- legitimately the funniest thing I've read in a while.  I know Trump's presidency affects a lot of people in a negative way, and there is nothing funny about that, but sometimes you just have to laugh, right?  I mean, we are all going to die relatively soon, anyway -- that's the biggest joke of them all -- and with that in mind nothing is too serious.  Plus, Trump just says some funny-ass shit.

One thing I found about Trump is that when I actually hear him speak, I don't think he's very funny, in large part because he sounds less ridiculous than the words he's actually saying.  He still sounds ridiculous, but he moderates it somewhat with cadence and intonation.  Judging him solely as an orator, I don't think he's awful, and he's able to mask his madness to some degree.  But when his words are printed -- oh my! -- the absurdity just pops off the page, and it's hilarious.

So from now on, do yourself a favor, anytime Trump has a media event, read excerpts of it before you listen to any audio.  It's comedy gold.

Alright, I'm done here.  Until next time...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Entry 367: Pinkeye and Socialism

Lil' S2 came down with pinkeye Wednesday night.  It wasn't too bad, actually.  S took him to our local doc in a box, and they actually had the drops onsite, so she didn't even have to bother with a pharmacy.  And by Thursday morning, after just two doses, he looked good as new.  Of course, we still had to keep him out of daycare for a few days, but even that was not such a big deal.  S and I both have sick leave, so she took off Thursday and I took off Friday and that was that.

Lil' S2 is a pretty easy kid to take care of also.  He's more independent than his brother was at the age.  Lil' S1 would be all up in your grill demanding you entertain him every moment of the day.  Come to think of it, he's still kinda like that (except, of course, if the iPad is on, in which case you, and the entire rest of the world, do not even enter his plane of existence).  His brother's more chill.  You can play with him for a few minutes to get him going, and then if you want to, you can sit down and read or work on the computer, and he'll mostly just keep playing on his own.  You will have a mess to clean up afterward -- his two favorite activities are raiding the shoe closet and strewing everybody's footwear across the house and pulling the books off the shelf -- but you will also have a stretch of relative peace, which is so nice.

While I was home, getting paid to not work and spend time with my son, I was thinking about how weird it is that something that for me and S is no big whoop, could have been a devastating blow to somebody else in worse circumstances.  I mean, if I was a single dad living paycheck to paycheck, working a job with an hourly wage, what would I have done when Lil' S2 got pinkeye?  He couldn't go to any daycare with other kids, and I imagine asking somebody already stretched to the hilt to take two days off work and forgo two days pay is a tall order.  So what does somebody do in that situation?

Naturally I started to think about things like privilege and upbringing and personal responsibility and luck, and I came to an interesting conclusion: I might be a socialist.  I've always been very liberal, economically and otherwise, but I've never really thought of myself as a socialist.  But I might be one, or at least a Scandinavian-style quasi-socialist.  My ideal economic system, the one that would be in place if everybody thought like me, is a system of free enterprise like we have now, but with stronger regulations, higher taxes, and more social services.  I don't necessarily want bigger government, but I'm not against it.  I don't think it's inherently evil.  I want smarter, more effective and efficient government.  I want government that helps make people's lives better.  If that leads to bigger government, so be it.  And if the cost of that is that people like myself have to pay another 5% or 10% in taxes, then so be that as well.

I've never really bought the argument that providing government services somehow coddles the less fortunate and leads them into a life of laziness and dependency.  But I might be jaded, because even if it does, I don't really care.  If my tax dollars allow somebody to be lazy and not work or contribute anything of value to society, oh well.  As long as these people aren't on the streets raising hell and committing crimes, it's not really a big deal to me.  Because it probably also means that other people, who aren't lazy, who are legitimate underprivileged or down on their luck, have available the resources to get help when they need it, and to me that's well-worth the trade-off.  Why are people such sticklers about the government not helping others?  I don't understand it.*

At the moment, however, I would take an Ayn Randian, libertarian asshole, like, say, Paul Ryan, in the White House in a heart beat.  Pretty much about anybody would be better than our current shit-show of a POTUS.  This week, I actually figured out my least favorite thing about him.  It's tough to narrow it down because he has so many bad qualities -- he's sexist, racist, corrupt, untruthful, and whiny as hell -- but the one that takes the cake for me: fearmongering.  He's a total fearmonger.  He wants everybody to be scared all the time.  He wants all of us to spend our lives looking over our shoulders thinking that somebody is coming to get us at any moment.  He wants white people to be scared of black people; he wants black people to be scared of the police; he wants natural born citizens to be scared of immigrants; he wants immigrants to be scared of ICE; he wants Christians to be scared of Muslims; and he wants us all to be scared of the next big attack that's just around corner if we don't acquiesce to his every command.  It's sickening.  It's utterly odious.  And sadly it works on a lot of people.

I'm out of time.  Until next time...

*Or maybe I do.  Maybe it's just good old fashion racism.  I mean, let's be honest, if the US was 99% white we would probably be much more like Scandinavia right now.  (A racially and culturally homogeneous population is one of the reasons socialism works there.)  We don't mind the government providing services to us and people like us; we just don't like the government providing services to them.