Saturday, March 27, 2010

Health Care: Time to Facebook Reality

Facebook recently surpassed Google as the most visited website in the world.

Accordingly, I am now using Facebook to gather all my information.

For instance, check out this nugget of wisdom about health care reform, which originated from God-knows-where:

"This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

"I then took a shower in the clean water provided by a municipal water utility.

"After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC-regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by NASA.

"I watched this while eating my breakfast of U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"At the appropriate time, as regulated by the U.S. Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to drop my kids off at the public school, and to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

"After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to various law enforcement agencies.

"And then I log on to the Internet -- which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration -- and post on and Fox News forums about how Socialism in medicine is bad because the government can't do anything right."

I could not have said it better myself.

Of course, conservatives reading the above are likely to miss the point, which is that we rely on the government all the time to protect our rights.

"Rights," in our society, are defined as that which we've decided all people should have, regardless of personal income. Things like roads, safety, and education fall into this category.
A hundred years ago, no one would have dreamed that access to doctors and hospitals would be a "right." You expected half your kids to die of typhoid, smallpox, or massive goiters induced by witchcraft, and you more or less accepted that, even if you were lucky enough to find a doctor, there was not a damn thing he could do about it, anyway.

Nowadays, if a man shows up at the emergency room with third degree burns, they treat him, even if he's broke. We've already decided that health care is a right.

Yet there are plenty of people who are not "broke," and still can't afford to hire their own oncologists. How do we pay for them?

The same way we should pay for all our other rights: by taxing the hell out of Google and Facebook.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vaping in the Boys' Room

A lot has changed for us men in the last 20 years.

We've gone from an era when a man could be vilified for not helping out with childcare and housework to an era when a man can be vilified for not helping out with the childcare and housework without being asked to do so.

Not so long ago, a man trying to find his way around an unfamiliar neighborhood would have to use a map, or (yikes!) ask directions.

But nothing signifies the profound cultural shift in notions of masculinity more than the growing popularity of the electronic cigarette, which, try as I might, I just can't imagine between the lips of any rugged cowboy like the "Marlboro Man."

The e-cigarette is for all you smokers out there who would love to keep your addiction to nicotine without constantly smelling like an ashtray, having to figure out where your lighter is all the time, and basically just offending the general public with your very existence.

(Plus there's that whole emphysema thing.)

"Electronic cigarettes look like the real thing but don’t contain tobacco," explains Boston Globe reporter Norma Love much better than I can. "They use a metal tube with a battery to heat a liquid nicotine solution in a replaceable cartridge. Users inhale and exhale the resulting water vapor. The tip of the tube lights like a cigarette.

"The process is called “vaping’’ instead of smoking."

I know you're shaking your head. So am I. Seriously: "Norma Love" cannot possibly be this reporter's real name.

She probably used a pseudonym so the tobacco industry's mob goons would not track her down and have her injected with some kind of addictive poison.

They can't be happy with her article, which is clearly biased against inhaling anything besides air, and celebrates the efforts of the worry-wart nanny state freedom bludgeoners who are already trying to step in and limit the fun.

This "Love" character's article features the efforts of 16-year-old Mara Zrzavy of Peterborough, NH, who is campaigning to have her state legislature prohibit e-cigarattes from being sold to or used by minors. The "Live Free or Die Trying" House of Representatives already passed a bill.

The fear is that once kids are hooked on nicotine, they will be more likely to eventually switch to less expensive tobacco cigarettes.

Baloney. That may be true in New Hampshire, where they don't believe in taxes, but the research I did around here finds the 21st century version cheaper, if not comparable. That's before you factor in medical bills and teeth whitener.

Besides, it's a struggle to get a smoker onto a nicotine patch, even though it's cheaper than cigarettes. Clearly, money is not the main factor in the decision-making here.

Fact is, "vaping" is the next hot trend. Smoking is so 2002.

Besides, if these battery-powered addiction sticks were any real threat, our very own state government would be already sending troopers out to personally remove them from the mouths of any offending scum.

Instead, according to Love, these devices are popping up in shopping mall kiosks, invading the epicenter of suburban teenage life. They are on par with soda and cell phones: addictive, for sure, but otherwise harmless enough.

("Enough" being the operative word, of course.)

If there's a way to market these toy-ish cigarettes to children (say, by using some sort of cartoon character and playing off insecurities about masculinity), the tobacco industry has met its doom.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Balls and Strikes

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has come to this.

We live in an age when the electorate struggles to keep up with an increasingly complex world, flushing democracy into a perilous vortex of bloated bureaucracy.  The politician and voter alike make decisions based on oversimplified and stereotyped caricatures of complex systems and issues.

Delivering a fair, nuanced, and digestible picture of the world so that our political ideals may survive is the task bestowed upon the news media, a news media which, increasingly, is saying, "the hell with it," and instead obsessing over which members of the Red Sox infield wear cups.

On March 3, barely into Major League Baseball's exhibition season, I clicked open the home page of The Boston Globe to find a prominently-displayed article called "Getting Into a Sensitive Area," by Dan Shaughnessy.

"Cup or no cup?" reads the first line, "That is the question."

Okay. Dan Shaughnessy is a highly-paid, nationally renowned sports columnist. Can he do no better than a trite bastardization of the oldest Shakespeare cliche in human history?

Secondly, why is he being paid so much money to write about baseball players' undergarments?

The article, as it turns out, focuses on the testicular trauma of one Adrian Beltre, Boston's new third baseman. Beltre does not wear a cup, and he paid the price last summer when a ground ball took a bad hop and crushed -- that's right, I said "crushed" -- one of the family jewels.

I know what you're thinking:  If this would happen to John Baldacci a little more often, maybe it wouldn't be such a struggle to get the mainstream media to offer complete coverage of political issues now and then.

Hell, I'd drive to Augusta myself for that.

Anyway, Beltre becomes the second consecutive Red Sox third baseman who has overcome catastrophe in the cajones (Mike Lowell conquered cancer down there several years ago).  Get in touch with the Elias Sports Bureau; that has to be some kind of record.

But the really amazing thing is that Beltre, even after eviscerating his vitals, still does not wear a cup

"I should," he told Shaughnessy, "but it just isn't comfortable."

His stones swelling to the size of a grapefruit, on the other hand, must have felt wonderful.

Now, if you're thinking that this is an issue that should really only concern Mr. Beltre, then you obviously know nothing about baseball or capitalism. Millions of fans have invested time and money into this guy already, hoping he will find a way to resurrect his drooping career and become one of the more potent bats in a lineup that has the potential to be rather anemic.

In other words, if he gets tagged in the testimonials one more time, millions of dollars will have been shriveled away, and the hopes and dreams of an entire region will remain, uh, undescended.

So it's safe to say that no balls will be watched more closely this summer than the ones hit toward Adrian Beltre.

Meanwhile, some dazed and doped-up version of a health care bill plods through Congress, and people who haven't set foot inside a classroom in decades decide how to divide up resources for our kids, based on the latest formula or test scores that are supposed to tell us everything we need to know about education so we don't have to think about what's really going on.

Let's get our priorities in order, folks, so tomorrow's leaders won't have to struggle to save our rights, provide decent opportunities, and remember all those euphemisms they used to know in middle school.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Politics Ref

I have high hopes for "The Marriage Ref," the new show NBC cooked up to try to become relevant again. 

They hauled in Jerry Seinfeld and a bunch of other peacock stars to try to joke about people's marital conflicts.

The show offers funny moments, for sure, but Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria, and Tina Fey are not improv comics, so the conversation is pretty obviously scripted and edited, stripping it of most of its chemistry.

Sort of like marriage itself, actually.

On the other hand, the panelists and host somehow manage to cut to the real issue behind seemingly inane conflict. While their views sometimes seem warped, at least they seem aware that an argument about installing a stripper pole in the bedroom is as much about communication and mutual respect as it is about sex.

So the show manages to give some laughs, with a few Dr. Phil moments sprinkled in. It has promise.

And, most importantly, all the female stars wear outfits tight enough to restrict blood flow and small enough to qualify as lingerie in some states. This will attract some male viewers who might otherwise watch "March Madness" on ESPN.

Wouldn't it be great if we could resolve political conflict this way?

Put Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell together in a suburban split-level ranch, roll camera, and edit the footage down to a short vignette so that celebrity experts can finally decide how many people get to have health insurance.

Actually, we'd probably have to begin with a smaller issue first, so we could resolve it in time for a commercial break.

Let's float serenely by the cherry blossoms and into the halls of congress, where we find 14 House Republicans struggling to honor the legacy of their hero, Ronald Reagan, by sponsoring legislation to put his warm, grandfatherly visage on the $50 bill.

Reagan's legacy is certainly strong enough to replace Ulysses S. Grant, who didn't really do much, except win the Civil War, lead a battered nation through reconstruction, and stabilize the office of the Presidency after Lincoln's assassination and Andrew Johnson's impeachment.

Compare those measly accomplishments with approving the largest tax increase in American history, wasting billions on a pointless missile defense system, and illegally selling weapons to rogue countries full of terrorists, and it's easy to see why maybe the $50 bill isn't even a big enough honor for Reagan.

The Politics Ref has arrived at a decision: Leave Grant on the $50, if only to annoy people from Alabama who have Confederate flag bumper stickers.  Put Reagan's face on the $1 trillion bill, in honor of the fact that he was the first president, leading the party of fiscal responsibility and small government, to propose a $1 trillion budget.

Next, we meander up the Interstate to Augusta, Maine, where Rep. Andrew O'Brien (D-Lincolnville) has proposed a bill that would make it easier for people to learn when and how farmers in their area spray toxic chemicals. 

Because, you know, if you live next to a farm, you might be curious about that sort of thing.

But other members of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry have proposed blunting several of the notification requirements, exempting many sprayers from participating in a Pesticide Notification Registry.

The Politics Ref says: spray some of these chemicals near these politicians' personal residences, and see if any of them come around before one of their kids starts growing a third eyeball.

Of course, if you wanted to watch college basketball and sexy women in skimpy skirts at the same time, a third eyeball could come in handy.