Susan's Musings

These musings—blog entries—are for the year 2010. Other years can be accessed from the blog's home page, use the link in the upper right.

Why do we pay so much for health insurance?
My host at Christmas dinner told me he will be paying $900 a month for health insurance for a family of three, up $100 a month from last year. I was shocked. This is a HUGE amount of money, especially in these times of shrinking wage income. Why are people willing to pay it? My best guess is that they fear that without it they risk losing their assets, especially their home, to pay for the huge bills that accompany major illness today.

Being an occasionally tactless person, I probably mentioned the risk of denied claims, a situation that seems to happen more and more. If your claim for a major medical intervention needed to save or extend your life is denied, what are your choices? Are you any better off than if you had no insurance? Is there another way to protect your assets from overwhelming medical bills? Is there an insurance product that must pay claims? Please comment! This is not a rhetorical question. (12-28-2010)

Local food, part 2
"Primitive" people have always eaten local food. If there was no food, they moved on. If there was food, they learned how to choose and prepare it to maximize nutrition. For example, Inuit thrived on a diet of sea mammals and fish. . . .

When Europeans arrived on these shores most of what is now the continental USA was populated by people eating local food. Yes, they traded for specialty items, but they could only survive where they did because there was local food.

So why, if you live in northern Minnesota or southern Arizona, do you feel it necessary to eat foods primarily imported from more moderate climates? Because you've been sold the idea that it is your birthright to eat whatever you want whenever you want. Not only to eat foods out of their natural season in your location, but to eat foods that would never grow in your location. Foods like green beans in December or avocados in Minnesota.

Who benefits from this massive importation of food? Importers, truckers, purveyors of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Probably not you—because the nutrition of such food is sub-standard —and not the farm workers who produce the food. (12-21-2010)

Local food is not enough
Buying and eating locally-grown food has a number of benefits:

Certainly it is in our best interests to protect local agricultural land. This includes protecting it from commercial or residential "development."

But there is a place for imported food. Humans have been eating imported foods for thousands of years. Some of the basic staples in our kitchens are imported: olive oil, coffee, spices, etc. I for one am not willing to give up salt, sugar, tea, chocolate, and lobster. (12-20-2010)

Tax and spend
Aren't you even slightly fed up with the phrase "tax and spend," didn't we get enough of that empty rhetoric during John McCain's campaign? What are these people thinking? What else do governments do but spend, and how else do they finance that except with taxes? (11-28-2010)
European boundaries
There is an absolutely fascinating video on YouTube that shows the change of national boundaries in Europe over 10 centuries in 5 minutes. (11-15-2010)
Lochsa
The Lochsa River rises in the Bitterroot Mountains of north central Idaho just west of Lolo Pass. The first European Americans to see it were Lewis and Clark in 1805 on their westward expedition of discovery. The name is Nez Perce for rough water. The area is gorgeous and considered by some as the "last wild." The river was included in the 1968 National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It runs unchecked 70 miles to its junction with the Selway River where the two become the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River. The Clearwater National Forest lies on its north side, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness on its south side. Two-lane US Highway 12 follows the Lochsa River and the Clearwater River from Lolo to Lewiston, 176 miles, passing through several locations of the Nez Perce National Historical Park, managed by the National Park Service, and 63 miles of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

This area is endangered by corporate desire to wrest a profit from the tar sands of Alberta. How? The extraction of oil from the sands requires huge equipment which is being built in Asia and shipped to the West Coast, then up the Columbia River to the Port of Lewiston, Idaho. From there the oil companies want to haul the equipment over Highway 12 through Montana and into Canada. Some 274 loads are planned, up to 210 feet long, 24 feet wide, 30 feet high, and weighing up to 675,500 pounds. These dwarf normal traffic and require rolling road closures.

The locals are resisting this use of a scenic highway—the Northwest Passage Scenic Highway—along a federally-protected river and in federally-protected forest, seeing it as a cheap new way to open up Canada's oil sands at the expense of one of America's national treasures. They created a website FightingGoliath.org to publicize the threat and mobilize resistance. Please give them your support. (10-20-2010)

Meet Toxo
Toxo, short for Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite, may have contributed to the domestication of cats. More . . . (10-20-2010)
Microsoft Word 2007
I was exposed (!) to Word 2007 for the first time on Wednesday, what a shock. I cannot say I like it. It does away with the whole menu bar thing, with drop-down menus. Which I have come to love. Microsoft replaced it with a "Ribbon" which needs a mouse to access, not shortcut keys. That's a total bummer for me, as I seek to protect myself from the likes of Carpal Tunnel something-or-other by sticking to the keyboard as much as possible. (9-24-2010)
The problem with health care
The problem with health care in America is
(1) the health insurance industry which ensures profits by minimizing risks—increasing premiums, refusing coverage for risky customers, and denying claims;
(2) the AMA member physicians who are intent on fee-for-service, rely on expensive treatments including surgery and prescription drugs, and limit the number of medical school graduates; and
(3) the pharmaceutical industry which ensures profits by compelling MDs to prescribe their drugs, defining health conditions as illness caused by lack of drugs, and advertising their products in the public arena.

None of these three blocs negotiate with each other, none dictates to the other. Instead they preserve the status quo, defend their turf, and look to increase profits.

This is the medical-industrial complex, the MIC. Their influence over the political state ensures their hegemony. Their ability to block limitation is equally impressive and dismaying.

It may be that the so-called health care crisis, whose main features are unsustainable costs and worsening public health—paying more for less—will strengthen the public resolve for viable solutions. Such worthy achievement will require:

As long as the MIC controls the public discussion and ability to envision a different system, the MIC will prevail and continue their domination. And worse, their hegemony threatens to undermine our political democracy. (9-19-2010)

Making a difference with food
Rebecca Thistlewaite wrote a super article titled "Do you have the balls to really change the food system?" which is published on Grist. The article was originally published on Honest Meat. Read it! (9-16-2010)
Hegemony and the US health care crisis
"Hegemony and the U.S. Health Care Crisis: Structural Determinants and Obstacles to a National Health Insurance Program" by Mehdi S. Shariati published at Payvand News is an invaluable discussion of the current state of health care in America. Over many pages it describes the structural causes of the current health care crisis.

It's important for us to understand (1) where we are and (2) how we got here. Only then can we realize our current situation is not inevitable nor without solutions. And to understand the effort needed to correct the ills—corrections made ever-so-difficult by the forces arrayed against us.

Keep in mind: the current situation was carefully established to separate us from our money, and with wanton disregard for our health. The American health care system—the medical industrial complex—exists only to rip us off.

As long as our laws and our taxes favor them over us, we're screwed.

As it stands today, our political will might buy us a small box of popcorn at the matinee. This is no accident. Our political apathy, our feelings of powerlessness, our alienation from the political process, all shape our inability to correct the problems.

The dream of democracy tells us we can change the status quo. Let's make "single payer" a reality! Let's improve our health, lower our medical costs, increase good jobs, and strengthen our democracy.

What's not to like? (9-15-2010)

The nature of scientific knowledge—global warming is scientific reality, but what about vaccines?
Scientific knowledge is based on the collective vetting of claims by experts. The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has accepted global warming as a reality. But why should I accept the vaccines-are-good-for-you story of "leading medical researchers"? Read the entire article. (9-15-2010)
Obsession becomes reality
When we obsess over a past or possible future event, we risk shortening our life. We certainly invite the object of our obsession, be it disease, unemployment, or some such other, to manifest itself now. Obsession causes our life energy—chi, qi, or prana—to be directed to a negative process and be diverted from our cells. Obsession depletes our vital cellular processes, and bodily distress results.

Childhood abuse can cast a long shadow. Our efforts to ignore or forget it hurt us physically and emotionally until we acknowledge the past and quit obsessing over it. How we were mistreated by omnipotent adults, especially parents, will shape our adult lives until we stop our obsession with it. (9-1-2010)

Why are Americans so gullible?
It sure seems that gullibility is an epidemic. But perhaps it is that the unfounded beliefs held by others, even your friends, that make the rounds of social conversation and emails are just particularly visible. One person suggested that the capacity for credulity and deception, including self deception, is basic human nature. Another said Americans believe anything their government tells them; this seems like a special case of the human capacity for self-deception. Well, if there is no possibility that gullibility will cease in the near future, what can we do to protect ourselves from it? I think the first thing to do is to commit ourselves to avoiding gossip and rumor. The second is to check facts. For example, when you get those emails from supposedly well-meaning friends, that they have received from others, about a computer virus that will cause Armageddon, don't pass it on without first verifying yourself that it is accurate. If you can get email, you can search the Internet for information. A search engine, Google is my favorite, is your best friend. In addition, there are websites that explain all varieties of mis-information, among them Snopes (www.snopes.com). (8-27-2010)
Health insurers are pimps and extortionists
Health insurers and the American Medical Association (AMA) are bedfellows, partners in a hegemonic alliance. Private health insurance only covers AMA-approved medicine. This relationship looks a lot like the insurers are pimping for the AMA. It also looks like extortion of customers—a protection racket.

If I were able to choose a medicine for an illness and if money were no object, I would choose one that worked without harming me. Those criteria eliminate most of AMA-approved medicine.

The AMA is surely spending money to preserve its own hegemony (preponderous influence) and that of the private health insurers. Most visibly they did this in 1961 when they hired Ronald Reagan, then an out-of-work B-actor, to speak in opposition to a bill that would have provided medical care for seniors, a program later known as Medicare. The AMA acted to preserve their fee structures and their dominance of medicine.

The health care crisis is an inevitable outcome of (1) the designation of health care as an economic commodity (the commodification of health care), (2) its control by the private medical care industry, (3) the industry's use of a powerful lobby, and (4) the almost powerless political class. (8-27-2010)

Sergey's search
The July 2010 issue of Wired magazine has an article about Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, who thinks he runs the risk of Parkinson's disease because of a mutated gene he has on the 12th chromosome, LRRK2. He hopes to avoid that disease by looking in the data from the testing of pharmaceutical drugs.

Young man, old model. Drugs are a failed model, regardless of the "scientific method" that is followed to test them.

Brin does know that chemistry is not destiny. He may not know of the concept of "intercepted heredity" recognized by Dr. Weston A. Price in the 1930s. Dr. Price's explanation is that a genetic or otherwise inherited vulnerability is most likely to manifest in the presence of malnutrition, and that it can be avoided by a nutrient-dense diet.

Malnutrition? In a very rich man? Dr. Price's malnutrition is not a matter of calories or quantity but nutrients. He found that if you seek sound health, there is no room for junk food, that every bite of food can reinforce your health—or damage it.

Modern diseases, other than contagious ones like plague, are the result of nutrient deficiencies—malnutrition. Ironically, pharmaceutical drugs often exacerbate the same deficiencies that cause the illness.

Sergey would be better served researching nutrition and health. I like his ideas for analyzing large data sets, but he'll get farther if he focuses on nutrition research. The website of the Weston A. Price Foundation is an excellent resource for information on a nutrient-dense diet. (8-12-2010)

Junk mail
I never thought much about how junk mail finds its way to me, but began to when I first got mail addressed to my dead uncle (by name) at my street address. It outraged me. Here is what I found:

The USPS sells your name and address to direct marketers! You know there are two kinds of unsolicited junk mail. Some of it is intended for prospective customers and some of it is intended for actual customers. You can limit the latter by informing the businesses you patronize to not share your account data. The junk mail for prospective customers, like those "welcome to the neighborhood" pieces, are sent to people who file a permanent change of address with the post office, after which their name and address are "automatically" shared with direct marketers who add the data to mailing lists. Here's the process:

  1. unsuspecting person files a permanent change of address (COA) with the post office
  2. USPS adds the COA data to their National Change of Address Service (NCOA) database
  3. NCOA database is available via license to service providers
  4. licensed service providers use the NCOALink product to access the COA data and sell it to direct mailers
  5. direct mailers add the COA data to mailing lists which they sell to many organizations and businesses
  6. unsuspecting person gets junk mail addressed to them at their new address.

Aren't you thrilled? What recourse do you have?

The future of moral disapproval
I don't think the opponents of Prop. 8 should get their hopes up. It seems unlikely to me that the Supreme Court will accept Judge Walker's opinion. Moral disappoval is at the heart of so many laws and wars. There is a huge vested interest in it. I cannot imagine the Court's willingness to admit that moral disapproval is no grounds for laws as well as for constitutional amendments. (8-9-2010)
Moral disapproval no basis for denying constitutional rights
What a concept! Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled yesterday in the case seeking to overturn California's 2008 Propostion 8 which amended the CA constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Walker said evidence of the Prop. 8 campaign showed that the most likely reason for its passage was "a desire to advance the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples." He went on to say Prop. 8 violated the 14th Amendmentís rights to equal protection and due process of law. Appeals are planned (of course, there is no end to moral disapproval). (8-5-2010)
Please stop with the high alcohol wines!
I am so tired of them! A California 12% alcohol wine is mostly a memory. The current trend overwhelms food and my alcohol tolerance. I begin to suspect today's winemakers are deliberately hiding their lack of skill and/or poor quality grapes under the guise of high alcohol, high extraction. (7-22-2010)
Columbus brought genocide to the Americas
I'm reading Lies My Teacher Told Me by James M. Loewen. Now I know why others hated high school history as I did. It turns out Columbus is not the unadulterated hero he has been made out to be. He delivered slavery, slaughter, rape, infection, and mutilation to the Native Americans. By 1555, 63 years after his first voyage, all of the original 8 million Native Haitians were dead or gone. On his first voyage Columbus kidnapped 10 to 25 Natives and took them to Spain. On his second yoyage, the next year, he enslaved 1000. In all he sent about 5000 slaves across the Atlantic. Other European nations quickly followed his lead in enslaving first the Native Americans, and when they ran out of them, the Native Africans.

Rascism began on Columbus' watch. Before 1492 the European nations had neither the concept of Europe as a whole nor the concept of a "white" race. All Europeans were white. It took the introduction of Native American and African slaves, both dark-skinned, to highlight their "whiteness." "Europeans increasingly saw 'white' as a race and race as an important human characteristic."

As equally fantastic as the impact of Europeans on the Native Americans was the impact of the Native Americans on the Europeans. The European discovery of America transformed European institutions: religion, economy, government, food, medicine, philosopy, and society. (6-28-2010)

So, Mr. Obama, where goeth your presidency?
Have you confined yourself in your preconceived ideas like Mr. Carter? Will you learn?

Your demand for health care reform seemed to be grounded in the death by cancer of your grandmother and the aggregate cost to the nation expressed in GDP. I for one was willing to believe in your sincerity. But the ensuing debacle changed my mind. You acted as if you were not motivated by either of these events.

How could you abandon your grandmother to the morass that is modern "health care," an oxymoron of gigantic proportions? What caused the cancer and the "health care" that could not help her are embedded deeply in the American Way of Business. True medicine is absent.

And you stood silently by. Why? (6-21-2010)

Empty web pages
Today I encountered, for the first time I believe, a webpage with zero content, only JavaScript code which presumably meant to construct on the fly a web page with actual content, perhaps from XML. For me, running XP and IE7, the page was empty with no message. I'm sorry, but I think this is a disgrace. (6-4-2010)
Plant medicine
Plants can heal people. You can learn how to select plants and use them therapeutically. You can heal yourself with plants. Read the entire article. (6-1-2010)
Whence America's "greatness"?
The July 2010 issue of Harper's Bazaar has an article on Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol, who achieved notoriety by being "outed" as an unwed pregnant teenager during her mom's campaign for VP. The article ends with her opinion of Obama's performance as President: "I think he is making more Americans become dependent on government, and he's acting like government can and should take care of everyone. That is completely contrary to what made America a great nation. We should be expected to take responsibility for ourselves."

Spoken by a 19-year old whose education stopped in high school. I'm commenting on this only because so many college graduates say the same thing—that self-responsibility is what made America great. They either have not studied history or they are blinded by ideology.

If you are going to repeat this drivel, you owe it to yourself to discover the truth, what really "made America a great nation." And don't stop there, consider what's so great about a "great nation." Pride in something you inherited is not enough.

Private interests have influenced or controlled our government from its inception. Self-responsibility and self-interest are not mutually exclusive. Clearly, personal efforts to secure government gifts and patronage can be successful; TARP is just the most recent flagrant example. (6-1-2010, revised 3-16-2015)

The myth of multi-tasking
Multi-tasking, the presumed ability to do more than one thing at a time, is considered desirable because of efficiency. But neuroscientists tell us that dividing our attention between competing stimuli instead of handling tasks one at a time actually makes us less efficient. Personally I observe at least two problems with attempting to multi-task: (1) because I give neither task my full attention, each is not done as well as it could have been, and (2) if one task is talking to someone, I am inevitably rude and/or uncivil to that person because I am careless with my attention towards them.

There are a number of things that we try to combine. Walking and chewing gum are a traditional combo that is the butt of a joke. Driving and texting have proven themselves to be fatal. But even driving and changing the radio settings can cause accidents. There are spiritual practices that advocate giving any task your complete attention. This seems a good idea. (5-15-2010)

The truth about HSUS—"animal rights" means "no pets"
Watch this YouTube video titled "The Truth About HSUS" for a simple presentation of the Humane Society's real objectives to eliminate pet ownership "one generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals." (4-19-2010)
"England has 500 years more history (minimum!) than we do"
I found this remark in a comment to a New York Times essay, it was apparently written by someone living in Vermont. I hope I am not the only one who finds it offensive. The author seems to be referring to the entity known as the United States of America, which as a nation came into existence in the 1700s. And the majority of the population has, until recently, been of European ancestry. However the land occupied by the US has a history far older, and an indigenous population far older. An indigenous population that still remains, despite ongoing efforts to excise it. (3-18-2010)
CA Senate Bill 1277 for an animal abuse registry
This bill was introduced by Dean Florez on 2-19-2010. It establishes:
  1. An animal abuse registry with public access via a website funded by pet food tax.
  2. "Misuse" of the registry to be punished by fine and/or imprisonment.
  3. The pet food tax will be used to pay for: the DOJ's costs to create and administer the registry website; costs to collect, administer, and audit the Animal Protection Fund; local governments for spay and neuter programs. The first two items are limited to 3 percent of the revenue, meaning that local spay and neuter programs get the lion's share.
  4. Local governments will not be reimbursed for their costs associated with the registry.

I see a number of problems with this bill:

  1. There is absolutely no need for an animal abuse registry and website.
  2. Recognizing abuse of the registry is problematic.
  3. Actual costs to undertake legal actions against suspected abusers of the registry are not covered by this bill, and will be covered by local taxpayers.
  4. A tax on pet food to pay for the registry and website is a terrible idea. It makes pet owners pay for animal abusers. This is completely wrong. And it makes a disincentive, in these hard financial times, to feed your pets. This is altogether the wrong message.
  5. The bill is imprecise in its discussion of the pet food tax. All it says is that "the store shall collect the charge from the customer at the time of sale [and] remit the charge collected to the State Board of Equalization on a quarterly schedule." There is no definition of pet food. The definition of store is "a retail establishment that sells pet food." Is pet food bought via a website and/or from an out-of-state business taxable? Will I be taxed on the meat I buy from the butcher to feed my cats? Will people who eat canned pet food themselves be taxed? Will vets who sell pet food be required to collect and remit the tax?
  6. The pet food tax puts a costly administrative burden on the stores. Who will undoubtedly have to pass it on to their customers in increased prices.
  7. The State Board of Equalization is not required to publicly account for monies received and paid out of the Animal Protection Fund and for its balance.
  8. There is no limit to the amount of money the DOJ can spend on the registry and website. Nor is there any public accounting of these costs.

In 2010 the State of California and all too many of its residents face economic challenges that are overwhelming. There has been talk of reducing the prison population in an effort to reduce state expenses. What real benefit to the state is a bill that increases state and local government costs, provides for the imprisonment of certain people, and penalizes responsible pet owners—and all in the name of pet abuse? This is the wrong thing to do. (3-6-2010)

Response time
Many years ago I worked for a brokerage house that demanded the software applications developed in-house have sub-second response time. Is this quaint?

Now that we've adopted websites as a way to do things, including learn, when was the last time you had sub-second response time? I can't remember, it seems so long ago. Instead web pages take longer and longer to open—we could call it web bloat.

I just want to read a news article and I'm forced to wait 45 seconds or more for all the image files to open—over a DSL line no less. Those images are not really part of the article. They're ads, either for the website itself or its sponsors. Given a choice of response time or images I choose the former.

What about you? (3-3-2010)

Rationing medicine
The odd 2009 public "discussion" of health care raised the specter of rationed medicine. This eerily irrational and/or disengenuous talk, highlighted by unfounded claims, completely avoided mentioning the ways in which medicine is rationed:
(1) by ability to pay. Few doctors and hospitals will treat patients who cannot pay.
(2) by "covered " treatments named in insurance policies. Medical insurance routinely refuses to pay for treatments labeled "alternative," such as acupuncture—treatments which are truly effective (and cost-effective) and which in many cases are the best choice.
(3) by age. Doctors routinely ignore their elderly patients. They spend less time with them, order fewer tests, ignore symptoms—and write off their ill health as "age."
(4) by Medicare. Yes, some doctors do not accept Medicare patients, for the simple reason that Medicare pays so little. These doctors, and who can blame them, would rather devote themselves to patients who will pay their full fee. (2-10-2010)
Underwater mortgages
These days a home mortgage is described as "underwater" when the amount owed exceeds the value of the property. It is at this moment that a home becomes a consumer product instead of an investment. While it poses a real problem to the home owner—should I stay and pay or walk away?—there is a different side that is not so visible. For years, especially in large urban areas, home real estate prices rose so high that the only way we could justify buying them (and borrowing) was by considering the home an investment, and tight budgeting now was the price paid for a big nest egg at retirement when the home could be sold (cashed out). Indeed, in the San Francisco Bay area, the single largest investment that many middle class people make is their home.

Home buyers allowed this situation to happen by paying the high asking prices. Lenders cooperated by offering mortgages for these expensive homes. (And, as we so well recognize now, some of those mortgages were essentially unsecured.)

Can you imagine a different scenario where homes are bought at prices that can be comfortably paid in full within 5 years? Well, consider the automobile purchase. We know this is a consumer product, we do not expect it to appreciate or be something we can will to our children (as if it would last that long). We know that the value of a new car drops nearly in half within one year of purchase. So, if we borrow money to buy the car, we are "underwater" on it for some time. We don't mind that because we consider the cost of the car purchase to be an expense item in our budget.

I'd sure like to see a different housing market where at least some homes have price tags that can be paid in full within 5 years or so. But I imagine politicians will never allow this to happen, because their corporate masters would lose us as consumers, as sources of income, a completely unacceptable situation for them. (2-3-2010)

Women's rights vs. gay rights
How is it that women's rights, in the form of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), has been virtually abandoned and replaced in the public discourse wth gay rights? The ERA granted women—over 50% of the population—equal rights with men under the Constitution. That idea faded away in the 1970s when not enough states ratified it. Nowadays we face "gay rights," meaning social equality based on sexual preference—who we want to fuck. How did equal rights for women get supplanted by equal rights for homosexuals? Am I the only one who sees this as unbalanced? Is it a co-incidence that the people most in favor of gay rights are men? We women keep giving up our rights of entitlement to (1) heterosexual men (who want to fuck us) and now (2) homosexual men (who don't want to fuck us). Why are we still bending over for men? (2-2-2010)
Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address
I listened to Obama's State of the Union Address last night. What technology has wrought! I watched it online. Here are the comments I wrote down at the time, mostly with a sense of outrage. (1-29-2010)
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Revision: 3-16-2015.