I write like
Cory Doctorow

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Kind of creepy and kind of cool

Yes, the hills in the far background (just north of L.A -- that would be downtown L.A toward the back left side of the first photo where the tall buildings are) are indeed smoking!  Most of the largest of the wildfires in Southern California are burning in an area between La Cañada and Acton.  The first photo shows the south edge of this fire.

In the second photo, I captured a little bit creepy yet beautiful sight a little closer to home thanks to the eastward push of smoke from this fire, some hot dry weather and a set of meteorological circumstances I'm not quite bright enough to explain.  The smoke clouds are stacked up on top of each other like oversized mushroom caps.

Temps were not quite so high today and I even started to feel a slightly cooler breeze coming from the west late today as I walked down the Blvd.  Hopefully, we turn the corner on the temps and humidity before the fire reaches more homes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kristof: Existing Health Care System Kills More Than An Army Of "Death Panels" Working 24/7

Reading the column was one thing -- anyone's opinion could be challenged point by point. It was the citation of a report from early 2004 (to which there is a link in the column) that should grab everyone's attention. It grabbed mine. An unnecessary death every 30 minutes due to delaying getting everyone's health care costs covered !?! We have laws to catch and punish and discourage drunk driving, get booster seats in cars for kids, make seatbelts mandatory in cars, inspect so many things for potential hazards to everyone . . .

. . . yet our response to one final law that would prevent a death every 30 minutes is to yell and scream nonsense in every other legislator's Town Hall Meetings. Can you imagine our response if this occurred before any of the other safety laws above were passed?
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

An orange lining in every "cloud"

If it's hot and dry in Southern California, there must be fires burning.  This time around, my little slice of SoCal gets to sit back and watch while multiple fires burn all around.

These photos I just took as the sun sets on the West are from the fire near La Cañada/Flintridge.  The low hanging sun filtered through the smoke created the look of these dramatic smoke clouds.  Lack of wind and moisture take care of the rest.

It's the longest I spent outside today taking these photos above. Even 30 miles away the smoke and ash are sneaking into everyone's lungs and, frankly, it felt as if I was slogging through a pool of water to get to the corner and snap these.  It was worth it!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A meditation

Like many a politics aficionado, I would love nothing more than to wax poetic over the passing this week of Sen. Kennedy.  Unfortunately, I did not know the man personally and he was not my Senator.  Writers more learned and deeper entrenched in history and government have written many a post in the past few days.  I promised when I started the new job five months ago that I wouldn't attempt a point of view post unless I had something new to contribute and that is most certainly the case here.

So, here is what I know.

Politics as we've known them has hung on by its fingertips.  Just like the feeling of soon-to-be lost baby teeth in our mouths, we can twist it, wiggle it and play-act like we want to pull the tooth out, but they are usually lost when we stop working at it so hard.

With the hollow sentiments of various Republicans in the past few days, any kindling of the once mighty fire of bi-partisanship has gone neglected and the fire pit stone cold.  Now, more than ever, any hope of health care insurance reform will have to come from Democrats devising a bill they all can support, kept fully insulated from the Republicans.

The glass half-full part of me hopes that this is a one-time occurrence in the Legislature.  History is on my side with that bet.

On a more personal note, I have finally been hired as a permanent employee where I work.  I have much better health care benefits that start in a few days and cost a few bucks less a month than it did with the temp agency.  For my new employer to afford to cover me so cheaply, the monthly premiums soar into the hundreds of dollars a month very quickly.

We've got a few months more of fighting, yelling and intermittent sound logic -- as well as whatever comes from the liberal side of the aisle -- when it comes to health care insurance reform.  Not even someone like me should sit on the sides hoping it all works out.  Where and when I can jump in to the debate, I will.

Meanwhile, I have two songs rolling around my iPod that put me into a "rest and take it easy" frame of mind for the weekend (with the fires burning twisting my asthmatic lungs into a pretzel, even typing is getting me winded.  As I slow it down for a few days, I hope these two songs put you in a more mellow, reflective mood.  And, if anyone is searching, I'd love either of these songs played at my memorial.  Not that I'm planning on checking out anytime soon -- I just know me well enough that if I don't write this down, the idea will leave my head soon enough.  And, these are really lovely songs that capture my feelings on leaving, if only for a little while.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"To you we are a loathsome breed that will never be ready"

(h/t to memory-alpha.org for the quote from one of my favorite original "Star Trek" episodes)

Is the above photo just a picture I took of the commuter parking lot I return to at the end of the work day for the four-mile drive home OR could it be a "still" from the movie District 9, which I saw yesterday afternoon?

I wanted to see District 9 at a gi-normous multiplex feature screen with a digital projector, top-of-the-line sound and big, plush seats.  Through an interesting set of circumstances, I saw it in a 99-seat badly-in-need-of-renovation home-theatre style screen from a 35-mm print with sound to match this decades-old technology.

I'll leave an actual movie review to the professionals.  What I will say that, in a summer that started with a terrifically fun re-imagining of "Star Trek" and is wrapped up with "District 9", it's been a great summer movie season!

Here is what caused my jaw to really drop (outside of the unexpected gory violence and the play-by-play dialogue of the main human character in scenes involving eviction of the aliens from District 9):

First, it took a lot of people to make the photo above look the way it does.  With the same resources, this parking lot would look a whole lot cleaner if the same people who caused the litter in the first place just took their trash into their cars and disposed of it properly.  It is incredibly depressing to look at this every day and reminded me a bit of the classic PSA from the 70's which featured Iron Eyes Cody.  I now totally understand the sentiment expressed by Cody in that 30-second spot.

Second, the couple sitting next to me walked out of the movie 1 hour into it and never returned. I don't normally notice because even I cannot usually sit still that long.  I could not take my eyes away from the screen for the entire two hours and, because I sat still that long, was hobbling for the next 15 minutes or so when the show ended.  It's really the only thing that annoys me about getting old is how much more difficult it is to sit still for long periods of time then easily bounce up and carry on the rest of the day.

Finally, when someone behind me while the final credits rolled said loudly "Well, that was $10 wasted!", it suddenly occurred to me the likely reason the couple left in mid-movie.  What I thought was really a science fiction / morality play much like many of  the "Star Trek" and its revived set of series from the late 80's to the mid 00's was actually some kind of hippie-liberal-far-left propaganda tool!  

Heavens, I wish I was just joshin' you, but I'm not.  As an aside, it's the fictitious multi-national conglomerate MNU which does all of the evicting, etc., to the aliens, not the government. The film explains that the task of dealing with the aliens was contracted out to MNU years earlier.  Leave it to a conservative "news service (?)" to mess up that important plot point.

I thought the story, while reminiscent of the allegory present in "Star Trek" (meaning, the show isn't really about starships and aliens, it's about us), was very original in its telling and featured a protagonist that at times was milquetoast, cowardly and ultimately driven by love (very rare in an R-rated sci-fi flick). The gore, which I'm normally not drawn to, was necessary to drive the story along.  I found myself rooting for the aliens for much of the movie, which I suppose puts me in the liberal/commie/pinko/fascist column.  However, the movie, as is the case in much of real life, doesn't paint everyone with a broad brush.  There are heroes, cowards, villains and bit players throughout the movie.

Maybe the fact that what, on the surface, seemed like a summer popcorn flick was really a whole lot more, was what made this move so good in the first place.  If people walk out of a fictional movie thinking about where their opinion was if the movie was an actual documentary (District 9 is part documentary style, part news footage style and part traditional movie format), then perhaps it has actually earned much of the praise it has already garnered and, perhaps with a little bit of luck, the people who put on the award program in late winter which features a gold statuette with a bald headed male figure holding a sword pointed downward will recognize this movie for more than just the effects.

Perhaps, this one gets recognized more for the affects instead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The other side of an e-mail campaign

Have you ever wondered, my fellow liberals, what it must be like to be on the receiving end of an e-mail campaign to get advertisers to stop advertising on a TV and/or radio program that makes our stomachs churn and offends our senses?

Colorofchange.org has been running a campaign to get advertisers to avoid Glenn Beck's daily Fox News program.  The count of big-name companies who are avoiding that one hour of programming on Fox News each day is up to twenty.

This, of course, does not mean that you won't find these companies' ads in every other Fox News program.  While voicing our opinions and putting economic pressure on the most irresponsible commentators is a most noble cause, this has the feeling of avoiding one rain puddle yet traipsing through 10 others to get from point A to B when all you have to do is cross the street and avoid puddles altogether.

Now, I'm not saying that this movement needs to come to a halt because of its futility.  In fact, if this helps to rally liberals behind one idea and cause it to move in the same direction, it will be nothing short of a minor miracle.

I have seen some of the e-mails that people have sent in to one of the many advertisers on Glenn Beck's program and, as a public service to those who want to continue their boycott and move it along to other programs who permit the most loopy/nutty notions to go out over the airwaves, I wanted to tell everyone what I see when I help filter out the "Glenn Beck" e-mails.  In addition, I have a couple of suggestions for catching the eye of those companies who you are trying to talk into joining the movement:

1)  While using the template provided by websites to gather your thoughts is a huge help (I've done this myself), copying the text verbatim or making minimal changes to the template serves to make your e-mail blend in to all of the others.  It also plugs a great big neon sign on your e-mail that says "hey, I just sent this because all of my fellow liberal buddies told me to".  It really fails to pack the punch you think it might.

2)  Please stop entitling your e-mails "Glenn Beck".  Some of the writers of recent e-mails have eschewed this generic subject line in favor of more emotional slogans (i.e. "Please stop wrongheaded advertising").  Instead of flagging a bunch of "Glenn Beck" e-mails and moaning about the mind-numbing volume, we readers have to actually read your e-mail to find out what you are talking about. Isn't that really why you are sending the e-mails so corporations have to read what you are saying?

3)  Spelling, grammar and punctuation count.  Though I'm as liberal as the next out gay man, I cringe at poor spelling, bad grammar, run-on sentences and poorly constructed thoughts.  If you are sending a protest e-mail, please read it through twice before hitting "Send". The more errors we find, the less seriously your e-mail will be considered.

Now that you know a little about what it's like to read your e-mails, I am now expecting more unique, better composed and overall smarter e-mails from everyone. 

Keep the cards and letters coming!

A different kind of memorial on the Blvd

Just today, two days after the 32nd anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, I saw a lovely tribute at his star on the Walk of Fame.  While tourist still surround Michael Jackson's star near Graumann's, this star has been left relatively untouched.

The official website for Elvis has his bio and all sort of other interesting information.  The question is still out there about whether Michael Jackson will wind up with something similar to Elvis' site.

Being a new century and all, it would be nice if Michael Jackson's legacy remains, for the most part, on-line, leaving nothing like a Graceland for hard-core fans to visit.  That said, I'd still like to visit Memphis and Nashville someday and take a tour of Graceland, the Grand Ole Opry and have a night of the blues back in Memphis.

Now, I just have to get a permanent job so I can get some vacation time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A walk back while looking ahead

Whilst I wait for my all-veggie meal bought earlier today from a local organic grocery store to heat and my partner slowly wakes up, I've been playing "Flight 666" which aired last night on VH1 Classic.  The documentary follows the band Iron Maiden around the world (40,000 miles - like a season of "The Amazing Race" with a heavy metal soundtrack) last year as they played to arenas large and small.

While watching the all-too-brief clip of the song "Fear of the Dark" from the movie, the most obscure memories wafted up from the darkest recesses of my mind.  Nearly 25 years ago, I attended my first rock concert.  Twisted Sister opened for Iron Maiden at the now just a memory itself Capital Centre in Largo MD.  I remembered where I sat (stage right, loge level just a couple of rows up from the balcony) and, odd as this feels to write, the song I'd never heard before (Fear . . ) in a town I'd never visited (Buenos Aires) awoke the memory of the smell of the arena in the midst of Maiden's set.

The smells in that arena that night were a tapestry of cold, night air (even though the arena was indoor, I could smell cold night air wafting in through the large, garage-style openings on the floor), testosterone, sweat, marijuana (the first and last time I ever smelled it and liked it. Since then, it's always smelled of sweet sewer water to me), darkness in the area meshed with lights from the lighters in the audience and lights to and from the stage.  Subtle shades of vendor style beer, popcorn and soda mingled with the other scents like perfume from a woman's wrist on a Saturday night date.  It was the smell of freedom, celebration . . . 

and rock and roll.

Enjoy this version of "Fear of the Dark", which (here are the lyrics) I'll dedicate to all those right-wingers fanning the flames of fear themselves as of late in all of the town hall meetings this month around the country.  A little sad to say that politics did not entirely leave my mind as I ambled down memory lane tonight.  However, I have my past to thank for how far I've come since then.  

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yet another weighty matter . . .

Sitting in the middle of Hollywood Blvd earlier this evening was a great big crane with a basket attached to the end. I don't think the writing on the basket shows very well, so I'll let you know that Jimmy Kimmel Live! is written all over the side. It airs way past my bedtime, I'm afraid - maybe I can catch it somewhere on line to see where the basket was placed in the show.

Sometimes, it not the big things that catch my eye.  Sometimes, just a simple traffic snarl will do it for me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Time to let my expertise out

Inspiration has struck.  I'll address the woman with the red-covered book in her hand at the 12 second mark in this video a little bit further down:

It's time to put aside the rhetoric, the hollering and every last cable news talking head.  I had not wanted to write until I thought I had something original to say. Well, that may still not be true (the original thought thing, I mean) but I  have 9 years experience working in managed care (better known as the health insurance industry) and am learning more about legal documents used to designate someone to act on ones behalf in all things financial and medical.


The public option being sought in health insurance reform works like this:
Go to your doctor for an exam, check up, etc.
Your doctor submits a claim to the "public option" people (yes, these will be government employees)
"Public option" pays the claim.

My partner has had government run health care (better known as MediCare) for most of his life as he is disabled.  In the 20 years I've been with him, a doctor has never turned around and billed him in full for a service they provided yet Medicare chose not to pay.  As we receive an Explanation of Benefits (a piece of paper that says what the doctor bills, what MediCare pays and what portion of the bill, if any, my partner needs to pay as a co-pay) for every visit and every set of lab work ordered, it's pretty easy to see for us that what my partner needs in terms of basic, regular care for his conditions, he gets.  Six doctor visits and three sets of lab work a year for a disabled man is not a big drain on the system.  Here's the math:

Doctor's visits: 6 visits at $35/visit = $210.00 a year
Lab work:  3 sets of lab work at $150/set of labs = $450.00 a year

All is not cheap these days under MediCare, though.  Sadly, my partner needs medication.  A bunch of it.  With a great deal of effort from the pharmacy and my partner, the private company that manages the MediCare Part D plan covers nearly all of the medications and only asks anywhere from $1 to $3 from my partner per medication.  

The thousands of dollars paid out for the medications would drop your jaw.  Having spent all my adult life working in businesses, the notion that a group like MediCare cannot negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for a large-quantity discount is just bizarre!  It's as if the MediCare went to Sam's Club and was told that instead of being able to buy a 10 pack of Mac N Cheese for $6 they'd have to pay $12 for it or go to the local market and buy a box of Mac N Cheese for $1.20.

You'd laugh at that "bargain" and put the 10 pack back, wouldn't you?  Makes me wonder what would happen if our country's senior citizens and disabled could do the same with their medications.

And I know that all of us working people, small business owners and/or people on COBRA have had issues of maintaining eligibility with our insurance plan.  If there's a lapse in eligibility AND/OR the doctor bills for a service not covered by the plan AND/OR a diagnosis not covered AND/OR the physician's assistant billed instead of the M.D . . well, you get the idea

WE pay in full!


Please stop believing the whole "the Government is out to kill Grandma" talk being bandied around.  The portion of the bills to which this twisted statement is attributed speaks about MediCare now officially paying for a once every five year visit with a doctor to set up, in essence, a "Living Will".

A Living Will is a legal document (though the version you and your doctor would set up would apply, most likely, to just the hospital at which your doctor has admission privileges) that says just what you want done should you wind up hooked up to life support in a hospital.  A Living Will can say (and I am translating from the legalese I have recently learned) "Keep me hooked up to a machine forever and a day." or "Keep me hooked into a machine until three doctors agree that my condition will never improve" or "Keep me hooked to a machine until my wife says it is time to turn the machines off" (which also bleeds into a Health Care Directive/Health Care Power of Attorney.  Basically, you assign a living breathing human to act as a Living Will on your behalf).

Living Wills can also say things like "I want every last organ in my body donated to everyone if the machines are turned off" or "Only donate my liver to the local University for medical research" (my local University could write volumes on mine, what with the cholesterol meds, etc.) or even (gasp!) "Keep your freakin' mitts off my body parts. Where I'm going I need every last molecule!".

The nice thing about this doctor/patient agreement is the burden is taken off of you to decide if/when grandma is removed from life support.  Grandma and her doctor have had a heart-to-heart ahead of time and have written up directions to be followed.

If you really want to usurp Government's overreaching authority, get yourself to an attorney or at least a document preparation company with attorney oversight and have a Living Will written for yourself.  Keep the original signed version for yourself, give a copy to your doctor's office and make sure the family member you trust the most has a copy of this document as well.


If you are just not sure what to think about all of the changes being proposed in Congress (and likely to be voted upon in late September), please have an honest conversation with your friends and family.  Ask if they have ever had to pay for medical services in full or have had to max the credit cards to afford antibiotics, pain medication or high blood pressure pills OR if they've had to go without coverage because of the month by month expense.

If you find out that you or someone you love had to "just pray that no one gets sick", you need to seriously consider a "public option" to cover those who get stuck between this rock & a hard place.

I've been there and, in the right set of circumstances, could be there again someday soon.


As a Christian, regarding the woman in the video talking about the book in her hands being the "only truth she needs", contained in the version of the Bible she clutches and holds out as a shield is this version of 1 Samuel 18:1-5 (thanks to biblegateway.com)

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that A)" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">(A)the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and B)" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">(B)Jonathan loved him as himself.   2Saul took him that day and C)" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">(C)did not let him return to his father's house.   3Then D)" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">(D)Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.   4E)" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">(E)Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.5So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants.

It's one of my favorites as it references a love shared between two men united only by that love (not family). I'd plan my own wedding to my partner by exchanging robes, armor, sword and belts in the church, but our pastor frowns on guys getting married in their underwear (though, I swear, it would only be a couple minutes of exposure.  Nothing extreme and nothing, I'm sure, out of line with the above passage).

I'd imagine my newfound Bible totin' buddy may hold her copy a little further ahead of her if she really had a good, long, hard read through that Bible.  As a liberal, I'm partial to the version found in The Message.  Though, something gets a little, uh, watered down in the translation.

Wonder what version of the truth would work best for her and her fellow "protestors"?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Further transition

I'm all lined up with the iPhone and am enjoying a new world of connectivity outside of the home.  There are all sorts of things going on in this country and elsewhere to write about.  Trouble is, much of what gets written happens when I'm working.  So, by the time I form anything close to a thought, it's already been chewed, ground up, swallowed and spit out by many others with more time on their hands and more opinions than grains of sand on a beach.

I'm not 100% sure how much more needs to be written here.  It is always possible that a unique thought/point of view will come along and, with any luck, the iPhone will be at the ready.

Until then, there may be fewer posts than usual here.  I'll be bouncing around the blogs I've listed on the left side of this page.  And, if there's something happening on the Boulevard or in my backyard which compels me to write, it'll be here.

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