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 accident 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.

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 usual 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 bullshit 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 drastically limited 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 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.

Christ, you guys are fucked.  Come move to a civilised country.

Working on it.

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.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

"You have great hair. Can I see your tits?"

Why, sure, strange man on the Internet viewing my online dating profile, I'd be delighted to send you nude pics.  Would you like a blow job as well?

Where do men get their sense of entitlement?

This recent post in my opera group inspired an outpouring of similar screenshots and tales from other women:
A female barrister posted a reply to a man mistaking LinkedIn for PornHub and it went viral.

I respond to about one out of 50 messages I get on the online dating site I am using.  Guys I don't respond to sometimes message me angrily with some charming variation on "Fine, don't answer, you stuck-up cunt, guess I ain't good enough for you, well, fuck you, bitch."  Gosh, missed a gem there.  My loss I didn't take him up on his request to send more pics.

Apparently, when a woman posts a photo on the Internet—whether a professional headshot along with sound clips by a singer, a suited and suitably dour LinkedIn pic, or just your bog standard profile photo on Twitter or your blog (no, I don't have one here, but that's less to avoid the creepers than because this blog is deliberately anonymous to keep me at least nominally employable)—she is inviting men to make unsolicited comments on her appearance, request more photos, and excoriate her as a lesbianfeministmisandrist (or is that redundant?) if she doesn't respond, or responds negatively.  And I haven't even gotten into the dick pic phenomenon.

Actually, since what I want to know here is why men feel this sense of entitlement, the dick pic thing is instructive.  A journalist actually conducted an (admittedly informal, unscientific) survey of men who sent unsolicited dick pics to learn their motivation.  Were they just trolling, attempting to annoy and get a rise out of random women?  Did they actually think the women would want the photos, that some positive contact might result?  In some cases, it was the former: “I think that 'lashing out' towards women on online dating sites, whether harmless annoyance or genuine harassment, is caused by being ignored so thoroughly by so many women. After a while, women on these sites aren't people with feelings; they're just thousands of profiles who all seem to dislike you for completely unknown reasons."

But for the vast majority, it was the latter: "Anais Nin once said, 'We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.' I would be over the moon if some woman sent me a picture of any nudity whatsoever, so I assume that women feel the same way.”

I suspect that is also part of the reason for the inappropriate compliments on professional photos.  Men aren't known for their empathy; women tend to be better at seeing the world from another's viewpoint.  A man wouldn't mind getting unsolicited nude photos, or having strange women tell him he looks hot in his professional headshot.  He wouldn't see it as threatening, nor as denigrating his professional abilities or trivialising his worth in any way.  So, it simply doesn't occur to him that women might view it differently.

But that's only part of the story.  There is also an overriding sense of entitlement that seems to be pervasive amongst men of all races, classes, and cultures.  Cat calls and online harassment are its most benign manifestation; it is exhibited throughout the world via rape and the subjugation of women.

Where does it come from, this sense of entitlement?  It seems to have been an indelible part of the male psyche since the dawn of recorded history.  Was it an evolutionary adaptation that tracked with some useful traits for survival?  Confidence may be sexy, but entitlement is a turn-off.  Yet, entitlement is rooted in narcissism, and some amount of selfishness is undoubtedly linked with an instinct for self-preservation.

Entitlement also manifests outside of the battle of the sexes, in behaviours like cutting in line, road rage, cheating on tests, stealing, etc.  And women are certainly not immune—I have a shocking sense of entitlement in certain areas of life, and I don't know anyone of either sex who doesn't.  But what mitigates it in dealing with other people is empathy.  A lack of empathy is at the root of an obnoxious sense of entitlement.  Men, stereotypically, do not develop empathy.  Is that nature or nurture?  The jury is still out on that, but it seems to be a little of both.

Digging for the cause might help us find a solution.  In the meantime, occasionally a creeper gets what's coming to him:

Saturday, 18 February 2017

What forges a connection?

“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” 
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

Before Facebook, there were email lists (via Yahoo! Groups and other hosts) to connect with other horse-crazy lunatics people who shared your interests or profession.  I subscribed to groups for opera singers and early music lovers, knitters, Alaskan Malamute owners, political scientists, with subgroups for environmental policy and constitutional law, and, of course, a group dedicated to Friesians.

The Friesian list was global but it was started by a Friesian breeder in Australia so the list had a high proportion of Aussies.  I joined in 1997, which was 16 years before I had a Friesian of my own.  I lived vicariously through the experiences of other listees, as did other members who were Friesian-less.

List members would come and go, and ugly spats occasionally ensued, but a core of frequent contributors grew to share off-topic personal info – marriages, divorces, babies, moves, job changes, accidents, cancers, etc. – in addition to all the Friesian talk.  One U.S. listee even took her honeymoon in Oz so she could meet list members there.  Questions from newbies about caring for those long, thick manes and tails (it's a full-time job) and keeping black coats from getting sunbleached (not possible unless you only let your horse outside at night), came up so often some list members compiled FAQs.  The best posts were about someone finally living their Friesian dream, or going on their first Friesian ride, with the obligatory photos sporting the "Friesian grin".  Worst were the panicked colic posts, when we waited with our hearts in our mouths for news, which was always bad – Friesians rarely survive colic.

People would also post about the illnesses and deaths of their non-equine family members – dogs, parents, etc.  The problem with a large global list was that there was always someone celebrating a joyous event – the purchase of their first Friesian, the birth of their first foal, a first premie award at keuring – at the same time someone else was experiencing the death of a beloved Friesian or other personal tragedy.  It was an emotional roller coaster.  Some days, I could not face the list, knowing that my emotions would be buffeted by events out of my control, happening to people and horses I had never met.

Oh, I did meet some people.  I've met most list members in New England, and their Friesians.  I experienced my first Friesian ride (yes, I posted the inevitable Friesian grin photo) thanks to a list member, and the memorial portraits of my dogs are by list members, one in NH and one in Oz.  The artist in NH used to have a booth at Equine Affaire, in which she hired me to work each year.  I've made friends, both equine and human, thanks to the list.

Once we all started connecting on Facebook, the list petered out.  It still exists, but posts are rare.  Most conversation has moved to Fb, either on personal pages or in the various Friesian groups.  It's easier to connect on Fb but more diffuse as there are dozens of Friesian groups and none replicates the environment of the list, which felt closed and close-knit, even though there could have been any number of lurkers, just like on Fb.

I mention this because last month a list member in Oregon had her barn roof collapse under the weight of unaccustomed snow, killing 5 of her 6 horses.  I don't know how she and her daughter are coping with such a devastating loss.  I followed the disaster on Fb, cringing at the photos in helpless horror.  I found my heart going out to someone I barely know, have never met in real life, and probably never will.

Members are diverse; the only thing we have in common is a love of Friesians.  There are a lot of right-wingers.  This wasn't as apparent on the list, when things like politics and religion were almost never discussed.  But everyone's views are on display on Facebook.  Horse owners are often rural people in red states, with pick-up trucks and without a college education.  It's to be expected they'd be guns'n'god types but the recent election tested some online friendships.  Listees who are gay saw "marriage is between one man and one woman" posts from other members, views that would never have been apparent on the list.  Can liking the same horse breed overcome these sorts of differences in an increasingly polarised climate?  The list member whose barn roof collapsed had recently un-friended me.  I have no idea what I said to offend her, but I can only assume it's linked to the election—my anti-Trump posts have been frequent and scathing.

Of course, the bigger picture window into other's lives afforded by Fb also shows how good some people are.  One listee has turned out to be one of the nicest, most kind-hearted and deserving-of-all-good things people I have ever known.  She is in Oz, so it's unlikely I will ever meet her, unless the plane ride gets a lot shorter and the wildlife gets a lot less homicidal.

They have bad brush fires in Australia, just like in southern California.  Every year as the fires rage in both places, listees in those locales are expected to check in and let everyone know they're ok.  Yesterday the super kind listee told us the nearest fires to her were moving slowly in another direction and local authorities had assured everyone that there was no need to prepare to evacuate.

Next post she is explaining that wind picked up, shifted direction, and the fire is at her property line.  She got her kids, her dogs, and as many of her chickens as she could and evacuated with only the clothes on her back.  She had a hauler coming to evac her two Friesians and she wondered why it wasn't arriving.  As she was forced to flee, she passed a road block – on the only road to her place – through which the police would not let the trailer pass.

Needless to say, she spent a sleepless night in the evacuation centre with her family, practically puking from the fear and horror of imagining the great loves of her life being barbequed alive.

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.” 
― Walt WhitmanSong of Myself

She posted this Thursday night and my dreams were haunted by fears for her horses and chickens left behind.  I couldn't grab my phone fast enough when I woke up Friday morning.  The news reported that 15 houses had burned to the ground and the smoke was too thick to speculate about animals.  Finally, a neighbour got through and was able to inform her that her house was still standing, albeit with burn marks on the brick and the downspouts melted.  Every fence and outbuilding and piece of vegetation on the property was burned to the ground.  The chicken coop and yard were just ashes, along with her favourite rooster, Charlie, three younger cockerels, some beloved hens, and 12 baby chicks.  Her hay shed was toast, along with all her hay, feed, and tack and equipment for her horses.

The only thing standing was the fence to the horse pasture, because it was made of steel.  And moving slowly on burned feet and with pained lungs, looking like ghostly apparitions through the haze, came the two pieces of her heart she'd been forced to leave behind.  Every patch of ground, every tree and bush in their field was charred and smoking.  I can't imagine how terrified they must have been.  No-one knows how they survived.  I can only assume they stood in the pond in the middle of their pasture.
When she posted that photo, sent to her by her neighbour, I was at the gym, on a bike, waiting for class to start.  But I cried—tears of relief for the horses, and of sadness for the chickens.  I have not met this woman and I probably never will.  But I cared deeply that these horses survived; I've heard so much about them for the last 20 years, I feel like I know them.  I felt her wrenching fear for their fate all night.  I don't particularly want to; I can't take on the weight of everyone else's troubles in the world, especially when there is nothing I can do but worry helplessly.

"To perceive is to suffer" - Aristotle

I can't say why the Friesian list has become so much tighter than other online groups.  I can't say why I care about animals, and to some extent people, I've never met.  (There have certainly been scammers on the list, people who were not who they portrayed themselves to be.  I never fell for them—my innate distrustfulness and shrewdness come in handy sometimes.)  But it seems to be human nature to put yourself in others' shoes and imagine how you'd feel if it were your babies in that fire.  This isn't a political post but it makes the callousness of the right more galling, the lack of empathy.  And it sure as hell makes me wish my little fuzzy guy wasn't so far away so I could hug him now.