Wednesday, 28 June 2017

"Let's Not Start Sucking Each Other's Dicks Quite Yet"

Paul Ryan to Mitch McConnell before Deplorable Care Act vote was postponed.

Ok, fratboy Eddie Munster is probably too homophobic to refer to blowing another guy even as a joke but he's behind on his Koch-sucking and his sugar daddies aren't happy.  Americans For Prosperity (a.k.a. IGMFY) announced that "the piggy bank is closed" until they see some motherfucking tax cuts.  I mean, they paid good money for them and they've got two out of three branches (and they've already stolen a seat in the third—they'll have the whole enchilada if Ginsburg's health fails), so what's the delay?  The Rethugs can't complain that Dems are thwarting their nefarious plans, so why didn't they ram through their whole tax-and-reg cutting agenda in the first 100 days?  Could it be that some Rethugs might….gosh, dare we even say it….have a heart?  Or a modicum of reason?

Alas, no.  Turns out the delay on the Trumpcare vote is mostly due to Senators who think it's too generous.  They want healthcare to be left entirely to the market, with no government involvement whatsoever.  See Ron Johnson's staggeringly stupid Op-Ed in the New York Times.  Read the comments whilst you are there.  The piece is so devoid of basic logic and rudimentary sense that the cheesehead Senator's ass was deservedly handed to him by nearly 2,000 commenters.  It is a satisfying takedown but a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.  The question I always have with fucktards like this moron, and the religionists as well, is do they actually believe their own drivel?  I mean, are they peddling it knowingly for their ignorant voters to swallow or are they braindead enough to actually believe it?  They're supposed to just spoonfeed it to the gullible masses, not swallow it themselves, but sometimes I wonder how they can sell it with a straight face if they don't buy it.  Lasik as an example of why all healthcare could be left to market forces?  If Johnson doesn't see the absurdity of that comparison, how does he tie his shoelaces in the morning, let alone get elected to public office?  Peristalsis must be a significant mental challenge for him.

To be fair, there is some opposition from GOP moderates as well.  A few Senators are concerned that taking healthcare away from too many of their constituents might hurt their re-election bids.  After all, 64% of nursing home residents, 49% of births (yep, nearly half of total births in the entire country), and 39% of children are on Medicaid and the vast majority are in red states.  But they needn't worry:  Poor red state voters elected them in the first place and they aren't going to suddenly stop voting against their own interests.  If they were gullible enough to think Cheetolini had their backs, they won't realise that Ryan telling them that his plan will give all Americans "choice" and "freedom" and "access" to care means the unsaid, "if you can afford it."  People tend to listen to what is said and latch onto words that sound good to them rather than shrewdly noting what is not said.  Rand Paul remains the staunchest opponent of the current bill because it isn't libertarian enough for him yet he comes from a state that was one of Obamacare's greatest successes.  Kentucky's uninsured rate was over 20% in 2013 before Obamacare and dropped to around 7%, with about 80,000 people obtaining individual subsidized policies and 420,000 new Medicaid enrolees.  When a Republican governor roared into office on a campaign promise to dismantle Obamacare in his state, he found that his voters' vocal support of that idea was at odds with their dependence on the ACA.  Some of the voters most in favour of repealing Obamacare had insurance because of it but were, mystifyingly, unaware of the connection.  So, he mostly settled for re-branding to make it more palatable to Rethugs.
You have to feel sorry for the Senate. They almost won their bet with the House that they could take healthcare away from more people but they came up one million short on the CBO score: 22 million vs. 23 million for the House bill.  When Ryan was confronted with the number, he tried to spin it that no-one would be thrown off, they would just be choosing not to buy coverage once the individual mandate was eliminated.  As this NY magazine piece recognises, most of the people losing coverage are on Medicaid, not the ones buying insurance, and Ryan had claimed that the Rethug successor to Obamacare would offer lower cost and better policies that people would want to buy.

But this bill isn't about healthcare; it's about tax cuts.  The Rethugs have two goals: 1) Gut Medicaid to facilitate massive tax cuts; 2) End government subsidies to buy private insurance to enable more tax cuts.  Tax cuts are really popular, so that bit is an easy sell.  The trick is to spin the resulting loss of healthcare access as encouraging "personal responsibility" and "freedom from government dependence."  To make that work, you have to paint everyone who can't afford healthcare without government assistance as undeserving, whether due to laziness or an unhealthy lifestyle.  Affording healthcare must be seen as in their power if only they had a better work ethic.  Given the myth of the American dream, mentioned in my previous post on healthcare, it's usually simple to get Rethug voters to throw the poor under the bus to justify tax cuts.  They just have to lie a little more baldly when it comes to healthcare because most Americans cannot afford to pay for it, not just those at the very bottom of the income spectrum.  Thus, they can't quite spin it like welfare or foodstamps; they have to pretend that they are actually making healthcare more accessible and affordable for more people rather than admit they are doing the exact opposite.  The reason that the vote was postponed today, the reason the Rethugs have failed to implement their agenda despite having complete control of the government, is simply the fear that some Congressmen have about not getting re-elected if their constituents ever begin to notice the yawning gap between their rhetoric and reality.  In almost no other policy area is the evidence that Rethug voters are voting against their own interests more obvious.  As I said above, I don't think they need have any fears on that score, but it looks like enough of them are worried to prevent Obamacare from being repealed, despite its being their main campaign promise in the 2016 election.
Also note that most of the provisions in their bill to reduce healthcare access don't go into effect for years—a decade from now, in some cases.  That timeline gives them the ability to tell their donors that they did their bidding whilst at the same time preventing an immediate electoral backlash.  Smarmy, but effective.  Getting inside the head of a Rethug makes you want to wash your brain out with soap.

When the voting delay was announced, I was in my local Barnes & Noble picking up a copy of New York Magazine, which I usually read online but I wanted a hardcopy of the current issue.  Some people in the café were talking about the individual mandate and risk pooling.  I overheard someone say, "The way to get people to buy insurance is to end medical bankruptcy."  Their conversation moved on and I bit my tongue but, Jesus bloody fuckballs.  I live in a notoriously liberal area—one local town has its own foreign policy, another is the lesbian capital of the known universe.  I'm kind of staggered that someone around here would propose something so terrible that even Mitch McTurtle might consider it beyond the pale.

As I noted in my last blog post, most medical bankruptcies are filed by people who have insurance, and people who could afford to buy insurance but choose not to are a vanishingly small minority, in the same mythical Rethug fairytale as those avocado toast-eating SNAP-ers.  Besides, Rethugs believe that no-one should be forced to buy insurance so they should approve of those Americans who choose not to purchase it then use bankruptcy to get out of paying their medical bills.  "That makes me smart", right guys?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Sorry You Asked?

No, I haven't been for a visit & not planning one anytime soon.
I've somehow acquired quite the motley united nations of foreign friends.  Some wake up to spiders that look like this on their bedroom ceiling, others consider lutfisk an edible substance.  But they have one characteristic in common (other than great taste in friends): They arebaffled by the U.S. healthcare system.  You see, all civilised countries have some form of universal healthcare.  Access to affordable healthcare is something my overseas friends have been able to take for granted all their lives.  But now that we've reached the age when the 'rents are starting to show some wear and tear, and even our own knees and backs are needing servicing, we end up discussing healthcare a lot more than we used to.  Yes, I'm afraid the conversations have shifted from "Should I get that cute dress?" to "Should I get that hip replacement?"  It seems our main topic of discussion these days is not whether to order dessert (we always do) but what to do about our increasingly dysfunctional parents.  Somehow, despite watching our parents take care of our grandparents, we never expected it to be this frustrating.  But my foreign friends don't have to worry about money.  There may still be screaming fights and slamming doors, irrationality and guilt-tripping and hair-pulling exasperation, but at least there are resources.  When the conversation gets around to me, "But can't you just…." is always followed by my shaking my head and lamenting, "Can't afford it."  But doesn't the U.S. have universal healthcare for old people, they ask, and I have to explain the limits of Medicare.

They've also read in the news that Obamacare gave millions more people access to healthcare and they don't understand why Trump is trying to repeal it.  So, for my foreign friends, here is a brief, simplistic primer on the egregious travesty that passes for healthcare in the United States.

If you don't have universal healthcare, how do people get the care they need?

Via an ugly patchwork of methods, with many holes and loose threads.  Most people receive health insurance via their jobs (about 72%).  Their employer pays part of their monthly premium and they pay the rest out of pre-tax income.  People who don't get health insurance from work can purchase it privately.  The very poor are sometimes eligible for Medicaid, which is a government insurance program a bit like universal healthcare just for people in poverty (75 million as of April 2017).  But providers are not required to take it and states can set strict limits on who qualifies.  Everyone over 65 is eligible for Medicare, another government program, which covers about 17% of the population.  But, again, providers are not required to accept it and its coverage is minimal.  To avoid large out-of-pocket costs, Medicare recipients who can afford to do so top up their coverage with additional insurance.  But these supplemental policies are expensive and half of all Medicare recipients earn less than $24K/year.  Special categories of people can sometimes get government-subsidized coverage, such as veterans and the disabled.

So, everyone is covered, one way or another?

Not even close.  People who are not covered by their employer or a government program and who cannot afford to purchase private insurance simply go without (that's about 10.5% of the population currently).  Some may be able to pay out of pocket for very minor illnesses: an acquaintance who cannot afford insurance but who makes too much for Medicaid just paid $50 to a low-income clinic and $300 for a prescription for a simple case of pink eye.  She only broke down and searched for a clinic in her city when she could no longer work her waitressing job due to the pain and itching.  In other words, she spent money she couldn't afford only when she was going to lose more money by missing work.  That's typical.  And how many people did she infect before she gave in and paid for treatment?

Emergency rooms are required by law to see patients regardless of ability to pay so some people without insurance use them for non-emergency care or wait until a problem festers into an emergency.  Since these patients cannot afford to pay and have no insurance to pay for them, the hospitals pass the cost of their care along to everyone else.

Wait, if people who are uninsured just do without care, then why do I hear horror stories of Americans losing their houses due to medical debt?

Ah, well, the ER is required by law to stabilise people.  Someone who arrives unconscious from a car wreck could rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills before being released from the hospital.  The hospital would then sick collection agencies on them, and sue them, resulting in their homes and other assets being seized.  So, a sudden illness or injury is one way people lose everything to medical bills.  If they have nothing a creditor can seize, the debt follows them and prevents them ever acquiring any assets—you can't buy a house if it will be taken in fulfilment of a judgment against you for outstanding medical debt.  In fact, you can't even save for a down payment on a house because any money in your bank account is vulnerable to seizure.  Shortly after Obamacare went into effect, a struggling young comedy writer in NYC who was unable to afford a policy suffered a serious leg injury and received a $405K bill for her treatment.  She raised $75K towards it via an online fundraising campaign.  Crowdfunding medical bills is becoming a thing.  It's counterproductive, as are stunts like John Oliver paying off $15M in people's medical debt because it legitimises the debt and feeds the dodgy collection agencies.  The correct response is not to pay a penny of it and protest it as illegitimate.

But the appalling fact is that most crippling medical debt is accumulated by people who have insurance.  You see, insurance doesn't cover 100% of healthcare costs.  There is usually a deductible, co-pay, and co-insurance for most services.  If you have treatment that costs $100,000 and your insurance pays 60%, that still leaves you with a $40,000 bill.  There is also the tiresome issue of in- vs. out-of-network coverage.  Many outrageous medical bills result from patients inadvertently receiving care from a mix of in- and out-of-network providers.  A typical example is someone having surgery at an in-network hospital by an in-network surgeon and then getting a bill from the out-of-network anaesthesiologist.  It is difficult for patients to ensure that every care provider in a hospital is in network, even if they inquire beforehand.  I know of a pregnant woman who checked carefully that everyone associated with her delivery was in network.  But her baby was born prematurely and it turned out that the NICU in the hospital was contracted to an out-of-network company.  She received a $750K bill that was not covered by her insurance.  This is typical in the U.S., and it's not accidental.  The official line from providers is that you are responsible for all charges and they bill your insurance as a courtesy.  They claim that they cannot be experts on what every policy might or might not cover, which is technically true, but it's more sinister than that.  Providers are paid on a per-procedure basis, so they have an incentive to deliver as much care as possible, from as many specialists as possible.  Insurance companies negotiate how much they will pay for each covered procedure and providers agree to accept it.  But an out-of-network provider can charge whatever they want.  This gives them an incentive to come and "consult" for 5 minutes on your case so they can send a nice juicy bill for far more than they could get reimbursed for by insurance.  The differences are staggering:  It's not unusual for a doctor to charge over $5K to an uninsured person for a test that insurance wouldn't pay them more than $100 for.  This piecemeal billing also incentivizes doctors to see as many patients as possible, spending little time with each one, but that's another issue.

Wasn't Obamacare supposed to fix all this?

No. It was designed to solve one problem only: Cover the uninsured.  Before Obamacare, around 18% of Americans lacked health insurance because they weren't covered by an employer, they couldn't purchase it privately, and they weren't eligible for programs like Medicare or Medicaid.

Obamacare did attempt to address an additional problem: People who were underinsured.  That is, they technically had health insurance but the coverage was so limited that it was virtually useless when they needed it.  Estimates vary, but this number was at least as high as the number of uninsured and much higher in some states; in Texas, for example, the number of underinsured people before Obamacare was over 38%.

Obamacare attempted to fix these coverage gaps by requiring everyone to buy insurance and mandating minimum coverage.  But if you require insurance companies to provide minimum coverage they are going to raise premiums, as well as deductibles and co-pays and co-insurance, so how the heck can you then require people who already can't afford insurance to purchase it?  The Obamacare solution was a system of income-based subsidies that paid part of the premium costs.  In theory, this would make insurance affordable for most people who lacked it, and expanding Medicaid would cover many of the rest.

Reality was less rosy.  The Supreme Court ruled that states could not be required to expand Medicaid, leaving insurance still out of reach for most of the working poor, and people who made too much to be eligible for subsidies (for 2017 eligibility was capped at an income of only $47,520) could not afford the premiums.  And then there were the out-of-pocket costs.  Obamacare ended coverage limits and it capped annual out-of-pocket expenses.  But with policy deductibles of $7K, many people found themselves paying high monthly premiums for insurance they could not afford to use.

There were a few other teething pains for the new law.  People who had cheap but barebones insurance were angry that their premiums rose under the new minimum coverage policies.  Some found that their local and/or preferred providers were not in their new policy networks.  (Early in the policy-making process, Obama glibly assured people that they could keep their doctors.  It was a mistake that came back to haunt him, although rising premiums and changing networks were a feature of the U.S. healthcare system before Obamacare.  If you changed jobs, there was never a guarantee that your new employer's policy would cover the family doctor you'd been seeing for 20 years or the only specialist within 200 miles that treated your kid's condition.)  The idea of being forced to purchase insurance, a provision demanded by insurance companies to pool risk in exchange for covering people with pre-existing conditions and providing minimum coverage, grated with many Americans as a matter of principle.  This is cultural and something foreigners may not understand.

Obamacare did nothing to address the in- vs. out-of-network billing problem and may have made it worse.  With insurers jockeying to maintain and increase their profits under the new system, some of them simply pulled out of markets they deemed less lucrative, leaving people in certain areas with only one insurer, or none.  Some people are stuck in places with only one insurer and no in-network providers for hundreds of miles.  Almost all of the counties in this predicament are poor, rural, Southern, and voted for Trump.  These are the people Trump was pandering to when he lied that he would give them better and cheaper insurance than Obamacare.

Obamacare has cut the number of uninsured nearly in half and it has saved lives, not to mention improved quality of life for millions of people who could not obtain insurance previously.  But its reliance on the cooperation of states and insurance companies has left it vulnerable to high costs and limited coverage options.

So, what happens if it's repealed, you go back to status quo ante?

Obamacare & Trumpcare comparison
No, all except the most rabidly conservative Congressmen realise that is not an option.  The Rethugs would like to remove all government-subsidized healthcare, cut taxes, and leave everything to do with healthcare to the private sector (well, except for regulating women's bodies).  The callousness of this attitude is baffling to foreigners who see healthcare as a basic human right.  How can the richest country in the world let people suffer and die if they cannot afford to pay their healthcare costs?  The main reason is the myth of the American dream.  America, the fiction goes, is a classless society, with no barriers to unlimited socio-economic advancement.  So, if you are poor, it is your own fault.  Why should others who have worked hard for their money bear the costs of your laziness or unhealthy lifestyle?  Add to that an individualism that doesn't recognize societal benefits from public goods like education and healthcare and you have a fair part of the explanation for the Rethug mentality.  The legacy of Calvinism also figures in there, as well as a smattering of racism and sexism.

Yet even the most ideological Rethug Congressmen is shrewd about re-election.  Openly reducing access to healthcare is an electoral risk a few are not willing to take.  So, they have crafted a repeal bill that they can claim retains the most popular provisions of Obamacare, such as the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, and eliminates the unpopular ones, like the individual mandate.  (No, I am not kidding.  Yes, they are bad at math.)  It throws a bone to the fundies by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, to companies by ending the employer mandate, and to the rich by cutting taxes.  The hard sell is going to be around the issue of out-of-pocket costs for consumers.  The main complaint about Obamacare was high premiums, coupled with high deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance, despite the subsidies and caps.  The Senate bill eliminates minimum coverage, which will allow insurance companies to go back to selling useless plans – the kind that left so many millions of Americans underinsured – but which might have cheaper premiums, superficially appeasing voters who won't realise they are being screwed until they need the insurance.  And the ability to sell whatever useless plans they can get away with might entice insurers back into some of the markets they have pulled out of.  But cuts to Planned Parenthood, which millions of lower-income Americans rely on for basic care, the end of Medicaid expansion, raising the cost of insurance for older people from 3x to 5x what younger people pay, and drastically reducing the premium subsidies, are all likely to lead to higher out-of-pocket costs, even for plans with greatly reduced coverage.  Also, the elimination of the individual mandate combined with keeping the too-popular-to-cut requirement to insure people with pre-existing conditions is likely to cause premiums to keep rising, even for policies with useless coverage.  Overall, consumers will be paying more for less, the opposite of what their orange saviour Trump promised them.
Notice anything about where the uninsured are located?
Clearly, Obamacare and Trumpcare both have their problems, but what the hell should be done to fix this mess?

Well, obviously, what you have in the civilised world: Universal, single-payer healthcare.  But that is not politically viable.  One issue that no-one across the political spectrum has addressed is the cost of healthcare.  All of the debate is around who pays but no-one ever proposes limiting what providers charge.  Of course, intervention in the sacred free markets in the current political climate is about as likely as Trump spontaneously quoting Demosthenes in the original Greek in one of his speeches.  The most likely outcome is that enough Rethug Senators will get cold feet to prevent the repeal of Obamacare.  In the short-term, nothing will be done about the dearth of insurers in certain areas or the high out-of-pocket costs, leading to more Rethug electoral victories due to misplaced blame but no concrete change in policy.  If Dems were in charge, there might be some sort of public option brought into those markets that lack private insurers, but don't hold your breath—that's not covered.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

More Dubious Than Desperate

I was savouring Laura Kipnis’s snarky book review until I read this:

"Over dinner recently, an acquaintance (single and approaching a certain age) returned repeatedly to the theme of not wanting to be coupled. She wondered why people kept insisting she get coupled, and proleptically bemoaned how much narrower her life would be were she coupled. What I heard was someone desperate to couple.”

Oh shit, are my musings about whether I really want to be in a relationship a sign that I am secretly yearning for one?  Doth this lady protest too much?

After confronting that possibility and considering it from various angles, I think not.  Questioning the merit of another LTR is genuine, based on my particular life experiences.  And I mean my experiences since birth, not just my own LTRs:  Our expectations for relationships are formed by observing our parents.  Looking at my parents and grandparents, I don’t have good models.  Amongst my contemporaries, few of my friends are happily coupled.  From my personal experience, the two LTRs in my adult life were object lessons in disappointment, exercises in lowering expectations, adjusting to the miserable reality that was forged by our individual shortcomings.  In entering the dating scene again, looking for a potential third LTR, I would have to be singularly unintrospective not to question whether I wanted another LTR and, if so, why and what for.

I have been earnest in considering whether I value certain features of relationships, like love and intimacy, that are taken for granted as desirable.  My motivation has been the distasteful undertaking of goal-oriented online dating.  Because I must stay focused on finding someone with money, who wants kids right away, I know I will have to compromise in other areas.  That naturally leads to consideration of what my deal-breakers are and what I'd be looking for if money and the biological clock weren’t overriding concerns.  Would I be looking for anyone at all or are practical needs my only motivation for dating?  It would have been myopic not to wonder and I think one is allowed a certain amount of navel-gazing after the demise of two LTRs that together comprise most of my adult life.

Most alarming to me is that it was my partner in both cases who ended the relationship despite the fact that I was miserable in both LTRs once it became undeniable that my partners were too fucked up to engage in any type of adult relationship at all.  I was prepared to grit my teeth and stick it out each time.  That’s disturbing.  In both cases, I should have left years earlier.  In fact, I should have heeded warning signs from the beginning and never let them become such serious long-term entanglements.  What the hell does that say about me?  Nothing good, that’s for sure.  I need to be careful not to do that again.  Yet how to avoid it if my main motivation is financial stability?  So you see, I have to give this relationship business some honest thought.  Neither partner was capable of intimacy and I was evidently prepared to live without that.  So, can I honestly claim that intimacy is something that I need from my next relationship?  Can I even state unequivocally that it is something I am capable of myself?

Likewise love: I never loved City Boy, which made me sad at the time (it’s not something you can force - believe me, I tried) but it was also a safeguard, a protection from future pain.  (I have taken to heart the scene in one of my favourite movies when the protagonist announces her engagement and her mother asks if she loves him.  When she replies in the negative, her mother says “good”.  When City Boy left, my mother scoffed that she'd never been in love nor depended on any man and it served me right for being stupid enough to depend, emotionally or financially, on a male.  She was right.)  Yet, not loving him didn’t stop me from going through hell when he left.  (In the same film, when the fiancé-she-doesn’t-love breaks their engagement, he says, “In time you will see that this is the best thing,” which is true, but her reply is priceless: "In time you'll drop dead and I'll come to your funeral in a red dress.”)

In contrast, I was smitten with Country Boy yet I later realised that I was in love with the person I wanted him to be, not who he was.  So, was that really love?  That question has perturbed me ever since.  Add to this a third variable:  I later loved someone who was unsuitable for a relationship for several insurmountable reasons.  Feelings don't make things work out in the real world, despite what the songs say.  (“The storybooks are bullshit!”  Ok, ok, I’ll stop now but that is the greatest speech.)

Solving for that equation, what do we learn about the importance of love in a LTR?  I didn’t love my partner in my longest relationship and was prepared to stay in it forever anyway.  And it didn’t save me from pain at the demise of the relationship.  I didn’t love the person my prior partner turned out to be, although I figured I'd made my choice and would just live with it anyway.  And love alone doesn’t make someone a suitable partner; practical considerations must always trump feelings in real life.  Add up emotions, subtract misconceptions, divide by reality, and solving for X tells me that love is not a necessary ingredient in a LTR.

It seems heretical to say that intimacy and love aren't required, just money and willing sperm.  Temperamentally, I'm the last woman on earth who is a suitable candidate to be a trophy wife, and I'm reaching the outer limits of fuckability agewise, so the whole enterprise just seems absurd and humiliating.  I'm a realist—I'm never going to earn enough money to buy my own horse farm or have a child on my own—but I am also a feminist who has never had a penny of support from a man.  My OCD would be a challenge for someone to live with and I'm also introverted to the point of needing to spend most of my time alone.  My motto is "I'd rather be right than liked", which has never gone over well in the in-law dept.  I'm hornier than my partners can keep up with, which, snickering aside, is a more significant issue than you might imagine.  Not to mention that I deeply resented, in both LTRs, doing all of the housework, shopping, cooking, etc., despite paying over half the expenses. 

Given all that, it would be odd, as I vet candidates, if I didn't query the value of relationships.  I don’t see how I could reenter the dating market without asking these kinds of questions.  I suppose one could bumble along brightly with a “third time’s the charm” optimism but I seem to be more Wednesday Addams than Pollyanna.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Let's call this one a nauseating second-rate felony


Inevitable comparisons of the Comey firing to Watergate have occasioned the word "loyalty" to crop up in numerous political articles in the past week.  The key difference that is noted in piece after piece is that some Nixon-era Republicans chose principle over party, the good of the country, and the value of democratic norms and institutions, not to mention the rule of law, over personal loyalty to the president or their political party, or even their own career.
In reading one of these articles, I learned, to my dismay, that half the U.S. population was born after 1979.  So, if the above is opaque to you, read the Wikipedia entry on the Saturday Night Massacre.  I'll wait.

Back?  Ok, so why did Trump go full Nixonian and fire Comey?  I know, he's given at least five different reasons so far.  Wait until his next Tweet or interview and there will be a new one.  It's not the Russia enquiry.  Trump has viewed that as an annoying mosquito buzzing around him without any chance of it biting him.  He wishes he could slap it dead but he has no fear of it in part because he is a man incapable of believing he has ever done wrong.  He's happy to sacrifice others as needed—like firing Flynn when then Acting Attorney General Yates warned him that Flynn could be blackmailed over his Russian contact lies.  No, it's not the FBI's Russia investigation that goaded Trump into firing Comey, not that it helped.  Nor was it Comey's dismissal of Trump's wiretapping claim, although that put him on thin ice.  It was one word: "nauseous".
When Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was "mildly nauseous" that his announcement about the Clinton email investigation could have affected the election, Trump was outraged.  Trump, you see, isn't interested in non-partisan or apolitical government officials.  He isn't even interested in parties, policy preferences, norms, laws, or institutions (I could go on…..).  Like a petty third world autocrat, he is focused on personal loyalty, full stop.  He interpreted the Clinton email announcement that helped swing a close election as a personal favour, an endorsement of his candidacy.  It would never cross Trump's mind, nor could he comprehend it if someone explained it to him, that Comey may have been acting, however blunderingly, in a way he believed to be nonpartisan and dictated by the obligations of his role.  Likewise, Trump never interpreted the Russia investigation as a nonpartisan endeavour by the FBI.  He has repeatedly asserted that it's nothing more than Democrat sour grapes and sought Comey's personal loyalty and assurance that it was a mere formality.  True, he was increasingly frustrated that Comey would not swear unconditional loyalty to His Serene Highness but it was the "nauseous" comment, and that alone, that precipitated the firing.

Everything that diehard Trump supporters say is disturbing—and, to borrow a term, more than mildly nauseating—but I've been particularly alarmed by their uncritical embrace of the loyalty concept.  They say that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein better not appoint a special prosecutor, and that Congress must not do so either, because that would be disloyal to Trump.  The implications of that reasoning are chilling.
They have also expressed disdain for Democrats denouncing Comey's dismissal after calling for his head in October.  Trump himself was clearly not expecting that Democrats would have any objections, with White House spokesweasel Sarah Huckabee Sanders snapping, “How could he have, considering the fact that most of the people declaring war today were the very ones that were begging for Director Comey to be fired?”  I myself wished President Obama could have fired Comey then but I was under no illusion that he could do so as the appearance of partisanship would have been beyond the pale.  I'm no fan of Comey and I doubt many Democrats are sorry to see him out of the job but that's not remotely the point.  The reason that all sane people, Democrats or not, are appalled by his dismissal is its obvious partisanship and attempt at obstruction of justice.  Trump fired for disloyalty an official whose job demands rigid nonpartisanship.  Trump's supporters are incapable of seeing that Comey's sacking sets an alarming precedent and is a dangerous abuse of power that overshadows any personal opinions about the official himself.

Better get yourself a bucket because it's going to get much worse before it gets better.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Familiarity is not Intimacy

Familiarity is not intimacy.

Lying awake one night recently, that line popped into my head.  It explains much.  I've had two long-term partners in my adult life, one for 7 years, one for 13.  I thought each was permanent and considered myself as good as married.  But each relationship was lacking fundamental elements that I always took for granted were part of long-term relationships.  As I attempt to vet and select a third life partner, something I never expected to have to do, I've been considering what was missing in previous relationships and evaluating if it's important in my next one. The answers have been somewhat surprising.

With the perspective of hindsight, I have concluded that there was no true intimacy in either relationship, but I did not realise that at the time because I mistook familiarity for intimacy.  When you live with someone for years—especially in a tiny studio apartment—when you hear all their stories about the big and small humiliations of their childhood and learn, in post-coital conversations, how each scar, physical and emotional, occurred.  When you've seen everything from their baby photos to their primary school report cards and the refrigerator art their mother saved.  When you've met the exes they are still friends with and their childhood best friend.  When you've seen their full emotional spectrum, not to mention seen them with food poisoning.  When you know their habits and preferences so well that you can order for them and shop for them and be spot-on every time.  When you can finish their sentences, and know exactly how they will react to situations and events.  When you have seen them naked, and seen them cum, and explored every inch of their body.  When you have watched them become disillusioned as they self-sabotage themself out of their dreams and ambitions.  When you know their demons, and how and why they are slaves to feeding them.  When you have travelled with them, endured rental car breakdowns in foreign countries, lost luggage, inopportune illnesses, the odd concussion or a few stitches, not to mention a miscarriage, or the death of a family member.

When you have lived in – proximity – to someone through years of life events, good and bad, and they have asked you to pop that zit in the middle of their back, it's easy to assume you are intimate with that person.  But that's not necessarily the case.  Intimacy is more than familiarity, it is a connection that must be forged through love.  It takes empathy, patience, understanding, some form of trust and caring, to build intimacy.  Intimacy is a much deeper bond than familiarity.  You can have familiarity without intimacy.  Is the reverse possible?  Can you be truly intimate with someone with whom you are not extremely familiar?  It doesn't sound probable, but I can't say for sure.

Why were my relationships lacking intimacy?  The easy answer is that it was not something that my partners understood, valued, or sought in a relationship.  Intimacy requires self-esteem, a deep-seated belief that you are worthy.  It was not something either was capable of.  Am I?  I don't know.  Is it important then, when online dating, for me to find a man who seeks intimacy and is capable of creating it?  In my twenties, I would have replied yes, of course, that such a connection is the essence of true love and the secret to long-term contentment with a partner.  But then, in my twenties I was blindly hopeful about so many things in life.

Now, I don't think that I would pursue any relationship if I had financial stability and the means to have a child on my own.  Taking care of a child is so demanding that I don't see how any woman can take care of a man as well.  I don't want to waste my time cleaning up after some asshole, I have things to do, life to live.  It seems like a drag, to have to deal with someone's issues and messes—I have enough of my own to deal with.  Not to speak of the expense.  I've always paid more than half the household expenses and done 100% of the housework, and relationship work.  It's draining and costly and what's in it for me?

So, to be brutally honest about it, if I wouldn't be seeking a relationship if I had money, is intimacy something I really value at this stage of my life?  It is always difficult to conjure a counterfactual in the real world but, it's possible that I am wrong in my belief that I would not be looking for a partner if I were rich.  I tell myself I only want a man for the financial stability and the baby daddy aspects of a relationship.  Why would I take on the headache and the hassle otherwise?  I'm too set in my ways to live with someone and I find myself less and less willing to compromise on anything.  It's my way or the highway.  People make adjustments, sacrifices, concessions to fit a partner into their homes and lives.  I can't imagine any reason to do that if I were independently wealthy; I can't see any positives to a relationship.  That's not normal; most people want a partner because they are lonely or bored.  I don't think I've ever been lonely or bored in my entire life.  I live for solitude and down-time.  That signals that I must lack a craving for intimacy.

But, the truth is, I simply can't think past the practical things because they loom so immutably.  I can't hear anything else for the increasingly deafening tick of the biological clock, or think of anything but juggling which utilities I pay each month so I don't accidentally not pay the same one two months in a row.  So, it may be that I would still put up an online dating profile if I were rich, I'd just have the freedom to look for other things in a partner than his solvency and desire to procreate.  I think one of the reasons I haven’t found anyone permanent yet is because I hate this focused, targeted dating, the weeding out of anyone who seems intellectually compatible but is poor or is certain he doesn't want kids.  It feels calculating but that doesn't bother me as I am calculating by nature.  Could it be that, deep down, I do want intimacy in a relationship and balk at settling for another relationship without it?  If so, I need to get past that.  This is a time in my life to be practical, not ask for the moon.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Tires or Testicles (Part I)

Ain't that the truth.
 Tires
The day before I left on a road trip to farmsit for a friend several states away, I asked my garage if they'd listen to an abnormal noise my car was making.  I expected that I was being overly cautious, that they'd tell me it was nothing.

Well, "nothing" turned out to be a dying water pump that would have left me stranded roadside, undoubtedly halfway between Shartersville and Outer Bumfuck.  With no loaner car available, I was stuck waiting for 4 hours and left $400 poorer.  But at least my 26-year-old car was content with its new water pump and made the long trip stoically.

On Friday, for the first time, I made the 500 mile round trip to see Silas in one day.  My friend who boards him for me is willing to let me spend the night but I don't like to put her out and I can't afford to take that much time every visit.  I used to have a friend who lived about halfway but she moved in November.  I also used to be able to stay with City Boy's relatives.  So, it's now harder to see my baby.  This was an experiment to see if I could handle the drive in one day.

Saturday was shearing day at the farm where I have a sheep share.  I'm not that fussed about seeing the shearing itself, to be honest, although I do like examining the fleeces and learning about quality and variations in the wool.  But mainly it's an excuse to see the lambs.  However cute and cuddly you imagine newborn lambs to be, I assure you they are cuter and cuddlier.  They are also some of the gentlest, happiest, and most carefree little creatures on earth.  Watching them leap and gambol and rest in the sun is soothing to my chronically anxious soul.  They are peacefulness personified.  Also, after the shearing is done, everyone celebrates maple syrup season with lunch at a local sugaring house's restaurant.  (I skipped lunch and went straight for the maple ice cream.)
Baah, baah, fat sheep.  This sheep hasn't been missing any meals.
Baah, baah, black—yes, dammit, we'll have plenty of wool.
Finding the sunny spot. 
The sheep farm isn't that long a journey from my house—up the Interstate, across a state highway, and along some country lanes.  But it's about 60 miles round trip, a significant enough distance.  So, I was amazed at my luck:  When the exhaust system fell out of the car, it happened as I turned onto my own street.  It was only attached by the gasket at the tailpipe but I was able to get down the block and into my driveway with it dragging on the ground and making an obnoxious racket.

I'd had it spot-welded a few times as the salted winter roads had taken rusty nibbles here and there, and I could hear that it was getting louder.  I knew it would reach the point where it had to be replaced soon but I was hoping to make it at least through next winter.

Car is obviously not driveable so I will have to get it towed to the garage, when I can afford the repair.

The silver lining (or perhaps aluminium, under all that rust) is that by some stroke of luck, despite all these road trips, it somehow broke down within sight of my house.  What are the odds?  Also, I had a ticket to the monthly burlesque show for Saturday night.  I was leery of biking such a long distance in the dark and the cold but I was able to persuade an acquaintance to go.  I'd been trying to get her to come to the burlesque since last summer and she loved it.  So, I got a ride and she finally popped her burlesque cherry and can't wait to do it again.

Next instalment: Testicles.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Kinky and the Friesian

I finally saw the live action "Beauty and the Beast".  Since the animated version is one of my favourite Disney films, I was sceptical when I heard they were attempting a live action remake, starring Hermione.

<Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.>
 <Spoilers imminent.>
<Absolute spoilerificness from here on out.  You have been warned.>
Hermione may be the brightest witch of her age but she sings like a Muggle.  It's ok; no-one gets every talent.  But once upon a time films dubbed actors who could not sing.  That's a tradition they might want to think about reviving.

Gaston rides a Friesian.  And the carriage sent to take Maurice to the asylum is pulled by four Friesians.  Thanks, Disney—you embrace PC colour blind casting yet you go with tired stereotypes like putting the bad guy on a black horse.  Did you notice, Disney, that in "Ladyhawke", the film that introduced the world to the Friesian horse (to our infinite gratitude), the bad guy rode a white horse and the good guy rode the Friesian?

Philippe is a Lusitano rather than a draft horse.  He also appears to have been played by about four different equine actors.

They added a few songs that weren't in the first film and they were all unlistenably awful.  This was Disney's biggest mistake, though they also used the ridiculous movie trope of having someone ride away on a horse that has been harnessed to a wagon.  Funny how the surcingle, traces, and long driving reins mysteriously morph into a saddle and bridle.  Must be magic, but the castle ain't Hogwarts and Hermione doesn't have her wand.

There were some minor changes and elaborations on the backstory that made it more realistic, if that word has any place in reference to a movie about an enchanted castle:

Maurice is an artist, not an inventor, and it's explained that Belle's mother died of plague.  The one mystery left hanging is that Maurice fled Paris with the infant Belle when his wife was sick so she wouldn't catch the disease, but not everyone who contracted plague died, so theoretically the mother could have survived but had no way to find them.  Perhaps she will appear in the inevitable sequel.

Incidentally, Maurice is played by Kevin Kline.  When I heard he was in the cast, I assumed he was going to be Lumiere.  He would have been the perfect choice for that role, although he was a distinguished Maurice.  I am glad they decided to re-envision Maurice as an elegant Frenchman rather than a goofy one.

The prince is enchanted as an adult.  This makes much more sense.  In the original, it was never clear where his parents were.  Why was a small child in the position of answering the castle door and turning away the old woman on his own, and why was a child, whose morals were being shaped by the adults around him, punished for life for his behaviour. 

Even the question of why the innocent castle staff were punished along with him is lightly addressed here, although poorly:  They blame themselves for letting the prince's character be influenced by his evil father.  That's a bit of a stretch given that they were servants in an era when they could have been dismissed or even killed for the slightest disobedience.

His older age at enchantment means that the prince is literate ("I had a very expensive education" he quips to Belle when she is surprised he can quote Shakespeare).  Rather than Belle somewhat unrealistically teaching him to read, a love of books is instead something they bond over.  The prince gets to be a bit snarkier, teasing her about her taste in literature, which she returns in kind.  This gives more bite (pun intended) to their interaction.

LeFou is gay and infatuated with Gaston.  It's implied that they are butt buddies.  Not that Gaston is gay, it's more in the way that men in certain macho cultures believe that, as long as they are topping, casual homosexual behaviour is not emasculating.  When LeFou sings that Gaston bites during wrestling, he lifts his shirt to show a bite mark on his abdomen, and he dances with a man (earlier shown to enjoy dressing in drag) in the finale ball scene.  But the pièce de résistance is when LeFou changes the line "no-one's neck's as incredibly thick as Gaston's" to, you guessed it, "no-one's dick's as incredibly thick as Gaston's."  At first, I thought this must be wishful thinking on my part, that Disney wouldn't dare, but that is definitely what he sang.  Disney has always snuck in jokes and references meant to go above children's heads and amuse the adults but this took it to a more overt level.

The townspeople are not romanticised.  They are illiterate, anti-intellectual, superstitious, shallow, and easily misled.  Basically, the 18th century equivalent of Trump voters.  Belle's disdain for them is amply justified.

When the curse becomes permanent, the enchanted staff become fully inanimate objects, no longer anthropomorphic.  It's fairly dramatic and moving to see them losing their humanity, conscious of it slipping away but unable to stop the process.

The "Be Our Guest" segment contains a number of mistakes that are played for humour.  After all, the castle staff have not organised a dinner in eons, so there would be some flubs in their eagerness to go all out.

That's all that jumped out at me on first viewing; I'll augment this review after I have seen it again as I am forgetting a lot.  Oh, one more thing: When the beast lamented, "Who could love a beast?" it raised a titter from the Internet-savvy crowd.  Today, all he'd have to do is Google to find plenty of people who are into that.