Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Healthcare Reform for Dummies

To Your Health if it Kills You
© 2011 Ross Williams

My battles with the company’s health insurance carrier are legendary. From bawling out the computer-generated voice that pleasantly informs me, “I didn’t quite catch that ... did you say ‘Fuck you, you brainless automaton’? I don’t know how to do that...” to demanding to speak to a supervisor before the first level real-person nincompoop can have a crack at me, to sending emails that spontaneously combust when opened. No one I’ve sat in an office with – ever – would come close to supporting the notion that me and insurance companies are tight, unless they were describing my fingers on their throats.

I can tolerate life, auto and homeowners insurance companies ... if I’ve had a glass of wine and an anti-depressant. But health insurance companies make my blood boil. I’d like to think I return the compliment to those health insurance retards I’ve personally dealt with.

My company currently uses Aetna. The only carrier worse than Aetna is United Healthcare. The only one worse than that was ... hell, they’re all the worst. I’ve had several.

In 1996 my oldest son drove the riding mower into a ditch and I – body-double for Lou Ferrigno that I am – hoisted it out with a clean and jerk. I was successful, but my form deducted badly from the judges’ scores and I ended up going to the doctor the next week with what I thought was a pulled hamstring. Turns out it was a herniated disk; very shortly it went acute, as they say. Flaming, stabbing, tearing pain from the middle of my right ass cheek down to my pinky toe. I passed out walking across the front yard. My leg was as useful as a wooden peg and, pain notwithstanding, had as much feeling.

The doctor knew my nucleus pulposus was impinging both my spinal column and my sciatic nerve [L5-S, for anatomists], and that without surgery, and soon, I would have permanent nerve damage. But – because I had health insurance – I was required to undergo the treatment that the actuaries and CPAs at the insurance company set out for me.

The doctor sent me to physical therapy doped up on pain killers and muscle relaxers, because a majority of “back problems” will go away or be remediated with exercise and medication – because the majority of “back problems” aren’t acute, they are chronic. I was required to undergo several weeks of unsuccessful physical therapy before the accountants would allow any diagnostic tests to be performed. You know, like an MRI. And then only in the order they allowed, and only if the prior test showed “enough” damage to warrant the next test on the list.

My back went acute the morning after my first session of physical therapy after I had gone downstairs to get a cup of coffee, so one could even argue that “conservative treatment” made me worse. Seven weeks later, after having had some kind of thoroughly forgettable first test, I was scheduled for an EMG. The doctor performing it studied under Josef Mengele. ...which was odd, being as this doctor was Jewish. He laughed when I noted the irony in that, and turned up the voltage on the needles. My electromyography indicated what the CPAs at the insurance company had made certain would happen: I had nerve damage in my right leg due to their rules. How much, I asked. “Moderate”, he replied.

Happy day! I have moderate nerve damage!! I could now – after 9 weeks – have the MRI I should have had the day my annulus fibrosus tore and spilled its contents into my neural channels. The MRI clearly [clearly to the neurosurgeon, I dutifully nodded and said, “Sure, I see that...”] showed a severe prolapse that would have indicated surgery almost immediately if I’d had my MRI sooner, thus preventing quite a bit of nerve damage. As it was – thanks to insurance requirements – I had a microdiscectomy nearly 11 weeks after the initial injury. That afternoon I was up and walking, walking, walking, pain-free – in comparison to how I’d been for nearly three months – bare butt hanging out the back of the gown.

Afterward, I went back to the physical therapist whose job it was to get me back into shape so they could conduct their neural deficit test. The insurance company was pleased to learn that due to their playing doctor and rendering my doctor into a bureaucrat, my right leg enjoys 25% nerve damage. They must have been pleased: they paid the bill. Another successful outcome!

To this day I have numbness and tingling, periodic bouts of stabbing pains in my ass, hamstring, and calf, and sporadic demons with 8-lb sledges pounding on my heel or my peronaeus brevis. Cramping is a major issue, and particularly when I sit still for prolonged periods [like driving], and my right foot is just about always permanently cold. And this doesn’t include the muscular atrophy. Thank you, health insurance company. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you were there to help me through this. What a quality-of-life saver you turned out to be.

Thanks again.

That was nearly fifteen years ago. Since that time, of course, certain people have come to the conclusion that we need “healthcare reform” in this country. Actually, some of those certain people had concluded that earlier, and gave us Medicare and Medicaid as a result. Wuptidoo.

And why do we need this health care reform? Because insurance companies run the industry and they run it badly – people are dying. “We need a system like ... [fill in your favorite social-democracy]!

Well, okay, then. Insurance companies having too much authority to be doctors...? Doctors being relegated to technocrats in order to get paid...? Yes, that’s a problem. No argument here. In fact, if you’d like a few sesquipedalian adjectives, and some colorful and uncomplimentary turns of phrase for your argument that health insurance companies are too controlling and manipulative of the system, let me know. I’ll donate my efforts.

But there is no health care system in the world better than ours. A health care system is measured by how long people live. US life expectancy is up there at the top of the world’s chart, and while critics point at certain countries which are above the US, only a few show a cumulative life expectancy that exceeds the US by greater than the margin of error.

Which means that for all practical purposes – and despite the specific areas of concern we legitimately have – the rapacious, insurance-megalith system is no better or worse than the socialist system everyone points at as better. And considering that the US lifestyle with its fat-heavy, salt-saturated junk food, high-calorie sugary drinks and sedentary couch potatoing is statistically even with all the “superior” socialist “Everybody gets care” systems in nations which have a better diet and a more active lifestyle ... suggests instead that there’s something wrong with socialized medicine. By all accounts, US life expectancy should be down there next to Mother Russia and her potato vodka liver-pickled population.

But still: “Insurance is the problem!” THE problem? No. A problem, yes.

Nevertheless, armed with an Easy Answer®, we embarked last year on a massive legislative proposal for “healthcare” “reform” [I will digress on this phrase later – remind me]. Insurance is the problem, and to fix it we require everyone to have health insurance.

Let’s ignore for the moment that only a third of our Of, By and For the People country wanted “healthcare” “reform” in the first place [for the one-sixth who are uninsured, and one-twentieth who are involuntarily uninsured], even among those of us who loathe health insurance companies; Congress gave it to us anyway. Instead, let’s look at the thought [sic] processes of the healthcare reformers.

Insurance is the problem, so the solution is ... more insurance?

Let’s suppose you go to the doctor with a headache, and he takes an X-ray and discovers, “Hmm, your problem is that you have a bullet lodged in your brain.” What kind of delusional idiot would suggest that the solution to this problem would be to put another bullet in your brain? The answer to that is: Liberals, democrats, and [ironic term] “progressives”.

They rationalize this lunacy by saying that, really, the “healthcare” “reform” proposal needed to have a “single-payer” or government option included, so that the government, and not the insurance companies, would cover medical procedures. “Obamacare isn’t enough!

...which means that the government would be acting as an insurance company – or THE insurance company if certain people get their wish.

We’re right back to the same question the microcephalics just dodged: If the problem is a bullet in your brain, what kind of delusional idiot would suggest that the solution this time would be to put a government bullet in your brain? If, as we are told, “the problem is insurance”, then the solution cannot be more insurance, government-run, government-mandated, or both, unless you want to magnify and multiply the current problems.

And haven’t we already seen enough evidence that the government cannot run health insurance programs any better than health insurers do? We already have two government-run health insurance programs ... mentioned above: Medicare and Medicaid. Anybody who’s on ‘em like ‘em? Not many. For most, it’s just “better than nothing” and chosen only because it’s all there is. Medicare requires supplemental insurance before it actually pays for much, and – according to charges made in a lawsuit filed yesterday in Vermont – Medicare doesn’t even pay for those things it’s required to pay for. It is, as predicted of our new Obamacare system, rationing medical care – what Liberals, democrats and [ironic term] “progressives” claim only happens with free-market health insurance, but would not happen with government health insurance. It already is happening.

Medicaid has, for decades, been swamped with charges of, and convictions for, fraud; failure to reimburse “healthcare providers” [can we use “doctors” and “hospitals”, please?]; dropping coverage outright [the same criticism leveled at traditional health insurers]; and denying coverage [ditto]. In other words: rationing healthcare and for more cost than necessary – just like health insurers.

A government-run health insurance program would be better than what we’ve got?

Not according to any evidence.

One can even make the argument that because traditional health insurers are in business to make money and that government is profit-neutral [in theory; in practice they are profit-hostile], that government-run coverage is worse. At least someone is profiting from idiot health insurers, even if it’s only the shareholders. In this day and age of mutual fund-heavy 401(k)s and IRAs, that’d be most of us.

So again: if the problem is that insurance isn’t run by the government, why are we failing to look at current government-run insurance programs as the twin bullets already lodged in our noggin as reason enough to not do more of the same? What is so great about shooting oneself in the head with stupid, pointless, disproven ideas that Liberals, democrats and [ironic term] “progressives” continue to do it again and again and again?

Why does their “reform” invariably mean “more of what doesn’t work”?

And speaking of ... I promised a digression on the idiot’s phrase “healthcare” “reform” being used to describe the Chimera-trap of Obamacare. Here it is.

Healthcare is going to the doctor, having him whack your knee, stick a nozzled light in your ear, gag you with a stick and give you a prescription for aspirin. Healthcare is going to the hospital, having them X-ray your arm and wrap it in gauze and plaster, and sending you on your way with a lollipop.

The government doesn’t do that for its citizens, and won’t do it under Obamacare. There is no healthcare in this “healthcare” “reform”. The only thing the government is claiming to do is pay for any healthcare you may get – which, as we’ve seen, may never happen.

That makes it health coverage – and no better than what we have.

The government does provide healthcare to a very small, select group of Americans – and nearly universally those Americans despise it, and we despise it for them when they no longer can; it’s called VA hospitals, staffed by those who couldn’t land a job folding bedpans at a real hospital or hack it in private practice. Show of hands: who wants government health care?

Furthermore, “reform” means to do something differently [ideally better, but that’s iffy]. All Obamacare is purporting to do is what was already being done and that many people believe didn’t work [“at all” versus “well” is debatable] in the first place … only doing more of it, mandatorily, and with a layer of government bureaucracy added in – because the insurers’ own bureaucracy apparently isn’t enough.

“Reform”? Nay. Stagnancy.

Obamacare is healthcare reform? Wrong. It’s health insurance ossification.

Yay, us.

The American healthcare industry is corrupt and failing because, we’re told, health insurance effectively breaks us into a two-tiered nation: those who can get the medical treatment they want or need, and those who ... have to use the emergency room to get the medical treatment they want or need and then don’t pay for.

...as opposed to Canada, Britain, France [et cetera] who have systems where all citizens are given the same care by the same doctors paid by the government.

Except every single nation with these “superior” systems is also two-tiered. Those who have to endure the government-rationed healthcare because it’s all there is for them, versus those who pay to go to a private hospital for actual medical attention, or fly to the US for same. How long does it take to renew your plates at the DMV, where the transaction consists of giving the government employee a pre-printed form and a check, and getting back a sticker? Pay workers by the transaction, a few seconds; pay workers state scale, you can be in a line of six for an hour – and I have been. And so have you; don’t lie. And they kick us out of the building at 5 o’clock whether we’re already in line or not.

Now imagine the DMV behind the glass at your doctor’s office and the doctor is the guy you take your driving test with. They get paid the same regardless of how many patients they see or what the outcome is. There’s a reason the VA medical system attracts the dullest and dimmest “caregivers” we have.

And there’s a reason that Canada has [quietly, in the US press] called for ideas on how to improve the time it takes between when you call the doctor for an appointment and the time you can see him – it’s weeks. And how to reduce the cost to the nation, because Canada’s going broke.

And there’s a reason that Britain is now asking for ideas on how to increase their medical emergency survival rates from “pitiful” to those seen even in Mother Russia. And how to reduce the cost, because they’re going broke, too.

And there’s a reason that France cut to the chase and offered – for those willing to pay extra, in installments even, proportioned to how much you use it – a legitimate entry into that second tier of their medical system where you get better care. What they offered was [hold onto your hats and send the children to the other room] insurance. They did this because they’re going broke.

And it’s not confined to rich countries with large populations. We went to Nassau, Bahamas in ’07 and rode around town in a horse buggy driven by a kid of 25 or so. He pointed out the hospital Anna Nicole Smith gave birth in, her son died in, and she would later die in. If you have $500 [payable at the door] you can get in and a doctor will see you right away – “Like the US” we were told. A few blocks later he pointed out the hospital for those who do not have $500, where you go for free, to wait in line and die because you’re too ill, or leave after getting better on your own ... because the doctors are all on break.

In other words: the rest of the world with Mommy Government Healthcare is discovering that our system is better than theirs just as we get fed up with ours in order to try theirs. Trading known problems for other known problems is musical chairs for dummies – two chairs, one dummy. It’s no wonder Liberals, democrats and [ironic term] “progressives” like the idea so much.

Except we aren’t even trading known problems. We aren’t getting rid of those parts of our system where we acknowledge the problems to be; we are instead doubling down on it. Second helpings. Putting the Stupid Idea gun against our temple and pulling the trigger because the first stupid idea rattling around in our nation’s windswept skull was lonely.

Insurance is the problem? More insurance!!

Bureaucratic rendition of medicine is the problem? More bureaucrats!!

I’d continue this essay, but two things occur to me: I would only be flexing my imaginative insult muscles in repeating the same argument, and second, I’ve been sitting for an hour and a half and my foot is numb and tingling. Old injury.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wagging a Civil Tongue

Wagging a Civil Tongue
© 2011 Ross Williams

Old news by this point. Six dead, 14 injured in Tucson. Among the dead is a federal judge; among the injured [and presumably permanently incapacitated] is a US Representative.

I know nothing about the federal judge, but chances are I would not have approved of his ability to match the law against the Constitution and decide which to give prominence. Most judges are a little too smugly enamored of their own “special” ability to bend words into pretzels to allow something as trivial as our nation’s Constitution to stand.

Just going with the odds, here, I’m afraid I’m going to have to quote a few famous people in response to the news of The Honorable’s death:

I’ve never killed a man, but I’ve read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.”
- Clarence Darrow

I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
- Mark Twain

One fewer federal judge means one fewer person having the ability and authority to subvert the Constitution.

Yes, I know. I’m not being very sympathetic to the gentleman, or his family, in their week of tragedy. Well ... I’m not trying to be. This may be unfair; this judge may have been the only one in the last 90 years to have actually read the Constitution and understand what it means. ...but I doubt it. And besides:

If you expect cheers when the crowd likes what you do, then you should expect them to boo when they don’t.”
- Every Disgruntled Sports Fan, Ever

And, well, Mr Judge? Boooooooo. Ride the pines.

As anyone could have predicted, both sides are lining up to blame each other for causing the shooter to pull the trigger. It was the constant bath of insufferably strident, closed-minded political discourse he was subjected to on a daily basis, they say. And as some people could have predicted, the most common target of blame is the Tea Party, and the new conservative everyone loves to hate [since the old one retired]: Sarah Palin.

Palin had put out, for the 2010 election, a map of the US with bulls eyes on it where conservatives had the best chances of unseating a liberal. Or something. It’s hardly a new concept, and versions of the same thing have been created every few election cycles since I’ve been voting – by both sides – when the mood of the electorate has shifted dramatically and Key Seats were being targeted for electoral change.

Liberals and democrats claiming that Palin is somehow out of bounds for doing in 2010 what they did as recently as 2006 need to see a doctor about their memory problem. There was no shortage of graphics for eight long years showing Dubya in a scope, and the only reason I can think of that some liberal nitwit didn’t actually do what was implied by it is because “Darth Cheney” would have succeeded him. Say what you like about Junior Bush [or what you dislike, as the case may be]; it may well be accurate. But in the final analysis, Bush the Younger was a basically inoffensive executive, neither strongly competent, nor strongly not, and well within the century-long trend-line of federalizing new authorities. His main flaw is being an inarticulate dweeb.

With bad table manners.

There’s no reason to believe the US would now be uninvolved in the wars we’re in, nor have responded to, um, certain events with any less statist tactics in our domestic policy if Gore had been elected. Note how quickly we’ve exited Iraq and Afghanistan, closed Gitmo, rescinded the Patriot Act and shut down the Freedom is Slavery Department of Homeland Security under the democratic Congress we got in 2006 and the democratic White House we acquired in 2008 – both elected expressly to do those very things.

Our National Savior isn’t the first grasping elected official to subscribe to the sentiment “Never let a crisis go to waste.” George Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion with federalized militia; it started there. Whoever was president on 9/11 was going to do essentially the same thing Bush did ... to within decimal places. You’re lying to yourself if you don’t admit it.

So, no. Both the left and the right pointing fingers at each other over which side is more responsible for the take no prisoners political rhetoric is monumental hypocrisy. Clarence Page – who’s penned an anti-Palin polemic at least once a week since her name showed up south of Skagway – I’m looking at you, here, though I could as easily look at thousands of others. You calling for “civility” is a Mirror, Mirror moment.

Speaking of inheriting the wind ... the only example of any candidate from either side in the 2010 mud-terms calling for death or violence is Paul Kanjorski, the democrat Congressman from PA [diselected in 2010] who had this to say about republican Rick Scott, the winner of the FL governor’s election: “Put him against the wall and shoot him.”

Nice. Paul must really be a conservative, Tea Party republican, then, right? No democrat would say such a thing.

And not that it matters any, but parsing which side owns the political sentiments of the shooter is also a waste of time. ...though I’d have to suggest that for him to belong to the conservatives, being as he’s a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, is an extreme long shot. Just sayin’.

Those with cooler heads have taken a different approach: it wouldn’t have mattered if our nation’s political discourse was festooned with flowery fart gas, the guy is unhinged; anything could have been enough to set him off. Mark David Chapman believes Catcher in the Rye led him to kill John Lennon. Loughner read Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth. ...and had it in for the AZ congressman for 4 years, outliving any familiarity he – or anyone else – had with Palin or the Tea Party.

Like Kaczynski, he regaled everyone with a litany of “evils” upon which the United States government is conspiring. Perpetrating 9/11 against itself is just the first. Not to imply anything about some of his lesser-known crackpottings, even if only because the government is involved in a helluva lotta things, but he – like every other conspiracy theorist – cites loads of circumstantial evidence as support for their favorite conspiracy. And, as always, it is the circumstantial support that, to many people with a flimsy grasp of reality, makes sense.

The US orchestrated 9/11 because it gave an excuse to invade a muslim country, to further erode civil liberties, et cetera.

Circumstantially ... all very correct. We invaded Afghanistan, and we Patriot Acted ourselves out of still more semblance of a free country. To people who can’t tell cause from side effect, it’s reasonable to conclude a unifying motivation.

Bush invaded Iraq [variously] to “finish Daddy’s war”, to demonstrate machismo after the defensive invasion of Afghanistan, to steal Iraqi oil... Except for the oil-stealing thing, the circumstantial evidence is either there or can be plausibly inferred [a commodity price doesn’t increase if there is a free supply of it – “steal oil” is a tinfoil hat insanity with nothing rational beneath it]. The only thing missing is a non-witless way of getting from Premise A to Conclusion B.

Other bits of circumstantial evidence cited by previous crackpots when doing their insanities:
• certain shortcomings of industrial society and technology – Ted Kaczynski
• excesses of industrial society’s government – Randy Weaver
• impending Armageddon brought on by the sins of the world – David Koresh
• paranoiac Waco siege – Timothy McVeigh

Et cetera.

In each case, the superficial evidence is largely accurate. Modern industrial society has flaws. You’re right, Ted; stick a gold star on your forehead. Yes, Randy, there is excess of [and in] government. I’m with you on that. Reverend Koresh – or “god” if you prefer – the world is indeed a sinful place. Has been ever since you gave Adam and Eve the capacity to choose Knowledge over Instinct. Deal with it. Right, Tim, another in a long, long line of governmental overreactions. Crack a history book; that’s what government does.

In all but one of those examples, the loony tune is dead – obituaries that I read with great pleasure, I might add.

Self-serving political commentators who, by and large, particularly those on the “left”, have been uncivil and strident in their snively rhetoric, are backtracking like mad, covering their trail of mopey partisanship by largely denying they ever participated, and are now writing treatises on “the lessons of Tucson,” with civility heading the list ... as they plow all blame for their actions to the right.

Our National Savior, who called republicans and independents who lined up to vote against his party “the enemy”, is now claiming “We can do better”. No, dude; you can do better.

Lawmakers are calling for “toning down” the harangue we give each other on a daily basis. Some – democrats, as if it needs to be said – are actually claiming that we should, by law, be prevented from pointed political disagreement altogether, erasing one more clause from the highly redacted First Amendment. Unfortunately, the ADA doesn’t require handrails on Slippery Slopes.

Others – more democrats, as if it still needs to be said – are all in a panic to invent more gun control laws, as if taking away yet another of our rights is going to reduce the circumstantial evidence of all the conspiracy theories that hinge on the government taking away our rights.

Loughner is a nutjob, just like the many, many who spun conspiracy theories during Bush, and the many who spun conspiracy theories during Clinton, and the et cetera during yadda, and the blah during everyone else. He’s just one of the few who did anything about it. That is the only thing not always allowed in a free society. Spout if you’re a republican, spew if you’re a democrat, write angry incoherent manifestos if you’re batshit. Blame everyone else for your failed responsibilities if you’re in the media. All good.

Use fists, brickbats or bullets for punctuation? Not good.

The circumstances are there: the usurpations of power, the obliteration of rights, the elevation of a bureaucrat’s paranoias into policy. The government is doing all these things, and much much more. It is justified to distrust the government – indeed it’s naively delusional not to. But it’s psychotic to conclude conspiracy; it is criminal to do much more about it than vote against every bastard when given the opportunity, and to yell at them the rest of the time.

The lesson here is not civility or any similarly puerile, cotton candy sentiment, and it certainly isn’t to fan the flames of the whack-a-mole conspiracists by giving them one more excess to rail against. The lesson to be learned here is not for the citizen, nor even for the feckless, cowering media; it is for the asshats in our government – elected, appointed and career bureaucrat, all.

Dig it, bozos: if you don’t want the conspiratorial nitwits to step off into criminality, then don’t provide the circumstances that makes their conspiracy theory seem – to the pillocks they are – plausible. How many Americans have gone to their graves, and taken others with them, complaining about the erosion of their rights, the highhandedness of the IRS, the paranoias of one mob of bureaucrats or other?

Their ammunition, even before they dig out the Glock, is the erosion of rights, the highhandedness of the IRS, and bureaucratic paranoias imposed upon everyone. Do you actually need to be told this? They have a point, and often a good one, beneath their bonkers.

If you weren’t scanning children for naked images and groping nuns at airports, we’d be able to tell who was insane when they claimed the government was porno-scanning kids and feeling up old ladies. As it is, we don’t know who to nod in agreement with and who to get the butterfly net for.

But we know who to yell at, and who to vote against. And why. Do your job, please; the one you were given by the Constitution, not the one judges and legislators cut from whole cloth. Because when you don’t do your job, but instead do a job on us, we find it very hard to scrape up any sympathy when these things happen.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Good Intentions Don't Count

To Hell in a Bushel Basket
Building In-Roads with Safe, Organic Pavers
© 2011 Ross Williams

There’s a few community farmers markets near me where the farmers bring their wares and sell it to the gawking, gabbling masses to whom “farmers market” is a stamp of authenticity. There’s another farmers market near me which is run by a single farm, but which buys produce from the wholesaler in the city, and buys various other supplies of farm-made stuff from whoever has any to sell. I sell this guy a small supply of jelly throughout the year for just over cost, and he sells it at a 100% markup.

My brand of jelly consumes about one-half of one percent of his total shelf space for local farm-made preserves, sauces and compotes – if that. He has two 40-foot long double-shelved tables with display space on the front and back, and my section is two jelly jars wide on one shelf. But I’m the only one who has mulberry jelly and mint jelly under his tent. Yeehah! I’ve cornered a mini-market!

One-fourth of his preserves aisle is taken up with an outfit twenty or so miles up the road which spits out hundreds [perhaps thousands if they sell to other markets] of jars and bottles filled with various gunk. I can see a bald-headed grandpa wearing overalls and a long-dead John Deere cap shuffling in the back door with a bushel of pole beans in his mitts, and a blue-haired granny hollering, “Jus’ set ‘em down on the porch, Paw, the first batch is about ready fer the cellar,” as she lifts quart Masons full of pickled beans out of a steaming pot.

Or, the outfit twenty miles up the road may simply be a small storefront office complete with potted ficuses on their faux-marble floor which serves as the rural address of a wholly-owned subsidiary of a commercial produce packing plant in Cincinnati Ohio – production units per year in the 6 figures and revenue in the 7s. I don’t know. I don’t even care.

But many people do.

Many many people care. And for one of three clusters of reasons.

The first cluster belongs to the pretentious crowd of organics. Part of this group wants “organic” food for the sake of “organic” food, regardless of where it comes from, but other parts only want “organic” food that is also “small”, “local” and “family farm”. There’s a dozen or more other parts to this group as well, and keeping them and their agendas straight – let alone being able to hold a sensible conversation with any of them – is a trick. “Natural”, “fair trade”, “pasture fed” ... all corruptible terms swung like righteous battle-axes in a holy food war.

Second, there is the group of craven ninnies who want somebody else to do for them what they think is important to do. ...because they don’t want to do it themselves, mostly. “Protect me! Make me ‘safe’!” And who better to do it for them but the government. That’s what they’re there for, isn’t it? [Ans: no, not really, not in a nation built upon liberty].

The third cluster who cares whether the outfit taking up one-fourth of the shelf space in a farmers market in small town Illinois is ... well, I’ll get to them soon enough. Let’s ignore the eminently ignorable first cluster, and deal with the second cluster first.

We’ve very famously had several food recalls in the past few years. Meat and produce has been tainted with e Coli and salmonella. Possibly listeria and others as well, I have long ago forgotten. And ... so what? You can’t get any more “natural” than common-as-dirt bacteria. In fact, in the dirt is often where it’s found, thus making contamination inevitable.

Doctors have been suggesting for 30 years, and the evidence is mounting that they’ve been right, that we Americans are too clean. We sanitize everything. The smallest, trifling malady we pump ourselves full of antibiotics. Together, these lead to infections which don’t even phase a third-worlder knocking an American on his ass, and creating more and more strains of “super-bug” germs that no antibiotics can touch.

Common nasal allergies have been linked to children not being around enough dirty animals. Crohn’s disease and colitis are being linked [and treated accordingly] to a lack of a common gut worm that disappeared from most US drinking water with the advent of filtration. I personally believe that the proliferation of asthma – coinciding as it did with the invention of electronic games, rampant cable television and the corresponding lack of children’s outdoor playtime [often forced upon them by harried parents] – are also related.

[Prescient moment: the day after writing the first draft of this essay I read an online news article discussing a Yale medical school report that children under 6 months of age which get antibiotic treatments are significantly more likely to develop asthma later].

Even so, basic garden variety germs that cause the false “stomach flu” of food poisoning are everywhere; we literally cannot get away from them. And they are essentially harmless, even in hyper-sterile America. Our species hasn’t been able to get away from them for so many millions of years that we’ve grown accustomed to them. Each “tainted” food scare is remarkable not for how many get sick from eating it, but for how many do not get sick compared to the number who had been exposed.

For every 100,000 people who are exposed to more e Coli than “normal”, a few hundred will have noticeable symptoms. Of those who get symptoms, most will have an upset stomach, gas, bloating, loss of appetite. A few will actually barf or get a simple case of diarrhea. Of those who get the heaves or the trots, maybe a handful will do either to the point of dehydration. It is the extremely rare case that requires hospitalization, and the even rarer case which dies. Show me someone who dies from an e Coli infection and I’ll show you someone who is either very old or very young or already fairly ill.

...and that is what the CDC tells us every time there’s another new outbreak of e Coli-tainted asparagus.

Do the math on this. Expose 100K people to e Coli, maybe 500 will get symptoms. That’s one-half of one percent ... 0. 5%. A few dozen will barf or squirt ... 0.025%. Maybe a half dozen will need to be hospitalized and connected to an IV ... 0.0006%. Maybe 1 will die ... 0.0001%. It is estimated [mostly because few of us go to doctors with a tummy ache after eating rancid strawberries] that 50,000,000 Americans contract one form or another of food poisoning – which is now called “food-borne illness” for the PR value. That’s one out of six. 3,000 Americans die each year from food poisoning [according to recent quotes made by the Secretary of HHS] ... nearly always the very old, the very young, or those who were already ill for other reasons.

Conversely, let’s do the math on a boring, old, routine “cold and flu season” – November through April. It is estimated [for the same reasons] that 75,000,000 Americans will come down with influenza annually, nearly all in the late fall to early spring months. That’s a fourth of us – in half a year. 30,000 will die in a “normal” year – which is six months long. 0.04% of those infected will die from influenza versus 0.0001% from food poisoning.

This partly explains the jumping out its own ass the CDC did with the recent swine flu nondemic ... and to no effect besides. Americans avoided getting the swine flu shots we were being hysterically badgered to get; Americans avoided, also, getting swine flu, and the number of deaths in the US was countable on two hands. Maybe three. Even so, influenza is a fairly big killer each winter – but again, of the old, the young, or those with otherwise compromised health. “Food-borne illness”? it’s a piker, and should be treated that way.

Yet rather than wash our lettuce, cook our eggs solid and serve our beef to where it won’t still moo, we demand that the government make our food safe for us; we’re too lazy to do it ourselves. And too pampered. And too spoiled and wasteful. Better to throw away enough food to feed a small country, and which is less germy than even the sterilized food in dozens of countries I could name – some of which I’ve visited and eaten local food in – than to risk an idiot American getting a tummy ache because he’s too dim to grasp basic hygiene or follow a recipe.

As a consequence, there was our National Savior last week, signing into law yet another regulatory power-grab allowing the FDA more dictatorial control of our food supply, for the stated purpose of making food “safe” from the one-in-six chance that we’ll get food poisoning and the one in one hundred thousand chance that we die from it. The craven ninnies in our country jumped for joy.

This new law authorizing more regulatory control by the FDA is not supposed to affect the “small”, “local” “family farm” who sells directly to his customers or in small batches at farmers markets, but only those big factory farms and food mass-producers where the vast majority of these food scares come from.

Not supposed to”.

It’s unknown if it will. Or, rather, to what degree it will. Because it will.

The craven ninnies who support this [and every other] dictatorial government regulation continually point to the law’s requirements that only those producers who produce more than ‘X’ units of farm product can be regulated by this new authority. They have to label; they have to produce scientifically-generated toxicology statements and other reports – on demand, or face fines per day for noncompliance; they have to grant inspections on demand of production facilities... et cetera.

If you’re saying “it’s about time” then you are one of the craven ninnies. If, on the other hand, you’re saying “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” then apart from seeing the Star Wars series so many times that you can quote the intuitive Jedi precognition, you’re also a realist who’s seen just a bit too much of our government in action.

How does the FDA know whether or not an individual producer – say: me with my two jelly jar-wide shelf space – is “small” enough, “local” enough, and “family farm” enough to leave alone?

They don’t. This is why one of the powers they hold is the power to demand that a suspect organization can be compelled to submit to their hearing process during the investigation into whether or not the suspect organization is properly subject to their regulation in the first place. “We get to treat you as if you are not merely regulatable, but guilty of noncompliance until you prove we should leave you alone.” In law, the burden of proof is on the accuser; in regulation, the burden of proof is on the accused. They explain this away by declaring that the agency has the authority to regulate and if you wish to claim they don’t, then you yourself are the accuser, accusing the government of overstepping its bounds ... you have to prove they overstepped their bounds; they don’t have to prove they can regulate.

I can come home from a day at work and find an FDA Summons To Appear tacked to my front door. I’ll have to hire a loyyer, a CPA [not my wife; she’s in on it. And she’s unfamiliar with the regulations involved. Insurance regulations, yes. Food and drug regulations, no], and spend several thousands of dollars preparing to prove what any color-blind jackass with a luke-warm IQ could see without trying.

In the meantime, though, the FDA may decide they wish to see the reports written by my on-staff biologists and chemists. Since these scientists don’t exist [computer science isn’t what they mean], then neither do the reports. I’m now further out of compliance with their regulation. Our processing plant is the kitchen range [Kenmore, propane, with a convection oven] with the various home canning accoutrement we’ve collected over the years, and they have the power to confiscate it, or seal my house, until the investigation is complete. And because I’m not in compliance with their regulations until they figure out if they’re even allowed to regulate me, I’m subject to [make up a number] a $5,000 daily fine until I comply.

I have perhaps $5,000 of total revenue [not income; the farm typically loses money each year] from seven years of sheep-raising and three of jelly-making. Not per year, mind you; total. Whatever the fine might be per day for failing to provide what the FDA is authorized to compel me to provide, my farm revenue won’t begin to cover it.

Oh, but once the loyyers straighten it all out, those fines will be rescinded.”

Hahahahahahahahaha. That’s not how government regulation works.

No administrative court judge in the land is going to take back a fine levied at a time when a regulatory agency believed it was fulfilling its lawful duties. If the agency later learns that the authority was being misdirected...? then the fine is regarded as one of the tools that allowed that fact to become known and is therefore justified: either way, I must pay it. It could be in the several hundred thousand dollar range by the time the hearing takes place.

But... but... the FDA wouldn’t just go after someone like you...!”

Probably not “just”, no, although that has happened to others. But what if my mulberry jelly starts selling at the farmers market up the road in bunches? It’s my best-selling jelly online – hey, it could happen at the market, too! What if my two jelly jars wide shelf space becomes four, then six, then ten? Over two shelves? What if the outfit twenty miles up the road discovers they aren’t supplying the market with as much product as in years past? are they being squeezed out? who are they being replaced by?

All the bald grandpa in the John Deere hat needs to do is give the FDA a little jingle and report my farm as a “suspected large-production food safety scofflaw”, and bingo, there’s the Summons To Appear on my front door. I could probably afford to fight the thing, but afterward I may well consider that the whole ordeal was too much of a hassle to be worth going through again, and the world – or at least my corner of it – will be deprived of the unique taste of mulberry jelly.

The USDA and FDA already have the authority to effectively shut down the same “small”, “local” “family farms” their rules do not allow them to regulate, and they are doing so in the name of “certified organic”, and “raw milk clubs” and in other areas of their regulatory control. They confiscate livestock, seize property, levy endless fines until the administrative judge tells the agency to stop it. The money spent to defend the farm or other outfit from misplaced regulation? non-recoverable. At which point the agency – which is in a major pissing contest with one local dairy farm in PA, I believe it is – starts it up again. “Malicious regulation” is not a crime.

Thousands of farms not subject to specific regulations have been forced to liquidate in the effort to prove to the regulators that the regulations did not apply to them. Thousands more simply grew too weary of the effort and closed after winning. Even more got preemptively frightened out of business.

Question: what’s the best way to guarantee that corporate mega-farming with on-staff legal counsel is the only type of farming allowed in the US?

Answer: regulate corporate farming practices for exaggerated and fear-mongered reasons, and put the regulatory burden of proof on the unregulated farms which get caught in the inevitable crossfire ... and keep the regulatory agency immune from reimbursement and punitive damages over misdirected use of regulatory authority.

You can find stories of farmers with bad blood twixt ‘em calling the feds on each other until one or both are bankrupt; you can find stories of corporate farms which skirt the laws calling the feds on small farms to whom the laws don’t apply, driving the small farm out of business with non-recoverable legal fees. You can find stories of federal regulators a little too big for their britches randomly and capriciously bullying their way past, through and over anyone they choose. You can find these stories relating to virtually every farming and food regulation ever invented. They don’t apply to small farms, yet small farms go out of business because of them.

Oh, I almost forgot ... the third cluster of reasons why certain people like having these laws is held by those who get to throw around the power described above: the federal regulators themselves.

Welcome to hell, folks. Thanks for paving the way.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Spare Me

Save Us From the Planet-Savers
© 2010 Ross Williams

In an effort to reduce the amount of electricity we use in the US, we’ve embarked upon a crusade of truly benighted self-deception. We’re going to be unable to use anything but CFL bulbs starting in 3 years. 2014. That’s the drop-dead date for those incandescents. Hundred watt incandescents die in 2012, seventy-fives in 2013, all the rest in 2014.

Because we use too much electricity to light them; that’s the pretense. Electricity that is made [largely] by burning coal and oil and natural gas. The thought of using nuclear energy doesn’t seem to have crossed our minds – still. Reflexive dogmatism loses its edge when the ogre is reduced to a kitten spitting and hissing in the corner.

Those who would save us from ourselves need the predominance of hydrocarbon-based US energy supplies every bit as much, if not more, than Big Oil does, just because the messiahs need something to save us from. If we built nuclear power plants and weaned ourselves from the inarguably largest portion of our hydrocarbon needs such that we wouldn’t have to import more than a fraction of our oil, why, the Enviro-Knights would be left with no dragons to slay, no windmills to tilt, and no reluctantly distressed damsels to save. All that chivalry and no one to court.

And then where would they be? They’d have to dig out their old “Save the Trees” pamphlets which call wood fired home-heating a grossly inefficient, polluting, and forest-stripping self-indulgence rather than the “natural”, “eco-friendly” and “appropriately technological” Gaia piety it was reclassified as in the mid 1990s. Ecological piety is closely linked to Noble Savage mythology; the world’s savages still burn every scrap of wood they can find. It’s called survival. Saving trees becomes killing natives. Oops.

Remember in the 70s when the push was for “clean-burning” gasoline because soot and grime was a problem? Well, we’ve got it. “Clean-burning” means the energy-packed hydrocarbon chains in gasoline [coal, natural gas, et al] are completely broken, thus releasing more of their energy – which is to say “fuel efficiency” – and water vapor, nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide, all of which are made by plants and other ecological things, are generated. Fuel efficiency is confined predominantly to The West; the savages still nobly spit out tons of soot. Oops, again.

So now, of course, CO2 has been reclassified as a “pollutant”. Yet go virtually anywhere else on the planet that has automobiles and industry and even their small towns are choked with dirty, sooty air – they look like large American cities – while their large cities look like the sixth circle of Dante’s Inferno. Yet it’s America, with fuel efficient “clean energy”, which is still the big polluter. Clean is the new dirty. Iron Eyes Cody is tracking carbon footprints today. And he’s only looking for them where the air is relatively clean.

So, no, we need to maintain our coal, oil and gas power plants so our Environmental Know-Betters will have a totem to dance around as they invent new and more exciting ways to tell us all what to do. The new edict: compact fluorescent lighting.

Their benefits are:
1. They use less electricity for comparable light generated – called lumens.

We are told they also last longer – 10 times, 20 times, lifetimes – but this is not necessarily accurate. What CFL-boosters meant to say is that CFL bulbs can last 10 times longer ... if they are used properly. Which is to say: properly for fluorescent lights.

...which is to say: Leave them on all the time.

Fluorescent lights hate being turned on and off. It causes their mechanical ballasts – the thing that actually makes the fluorescent gas in the bulb glow – to wear out. If you use your fluorescents like you use your incandescents, they might last twice as long. If you use your fluorescents the way fluorescents are supposed to be used to make them last longer, you won’t be saving energy.

A 60W incandescent uses 60 watts. A 13W CFL uses 13 watts to generate the same number of lumens. Turn one of each on and leave them on until they die, the CFL will last 10 times longer. Put one of each in a two-bulb overhead light and use that light the way you typically use the light – on, off, on, off, on, off, on, off – the CFL will die about the same time next year as the incandescent does, maybe outliving it by a few months. And at 20 times the cost? how can that not be a bargain?

If you turn the CFL on and leave it on while you turn the incandescent on and off as you normally do, your CFL will outlast the incandescent by years, but swallow five times the total energy – by providing light when you don’t want it or need it. Eliminating unwanted and unneeded light is the reason for light switches.

Oh, but incandescents create heat as well as light, we are told, which is a further inefficiency, and that is in fact true. But sometimes this is a good thing. We have chickens, and a 100W bulb in their chicken house in the winter does two things:

1. Deters certain predators who resort to raiding chicken houses while their normal meals hibernate, thus helping to keep the chickens alive
2. Keeps their chicken house warm, thus helping to keep the chickens alive.

What did my chickens do – my free range chickens, no less – that they are on the hit-list of our Eco-Warriors right below Big Oil and incandescent light bulbs? Or are chickens “acceptable collateral damage” in the war to save our planet?

Apparently the rest of my farm – and everyone else’s too – is on their hit-list as well. Incandescent light bulbs are also used in build-it-yerself freeze-proof livestock water buckets. Build a square box out of the scrap lumber that’s always found around a farm, put the bucket into the box, install a light socket below the bottom of the bucket, and screw in a 100W bulb. One forty-five cent bulb will last all winter and create enough heat to keep the water from freezing so that the horses, sheep, goats, cattle, and chickens can drink. If livestock don’t drink water, they’ll resort to scratching up ice and eating snow – which lowers their core temperature and can cause hypothermia [and death] in severe weather conditions.

Of course, those of us with livestock can always buy a product called a heated bucket – a regular old bucket with a heating coil built into the bottom, and a 6-foot cord which uses twice the electricity of a 100W bulb and costs four times the price of a regular bucket and 60 times the price of a 100W incandescent and scrap lumber. Heated buckets last two years, maybe three, before the heating coils break or the bucket cracks. Yet another bargain!

I won’t even mention the heat lamp I use each spring to keep the new chicks warm enough that they don’t die before joining the flock.

But these aren’t the only benefits to CFLs. In no particular order, here is a partial list of what else CFLs will do for us:

1. Trigger migraines in a portion of the population
2. Trigger seizures in another portion of the population
3. Make food look washed-out and unappetizing
4. Make your reflection in a mirror look washed-out and grotesque
5. Take significantly more money out of your pocket to light your home with iffy [at best] utility savings
6. Render every small-wattage light fixture obsolete – they don’t make CFLs to fit night lights, or the 20-light chandeliers, or other decorative applications – thus costing even more money to replace perfectly good fixtures
And ... last but not least ...
7. Create a brand new environmental catastrophe due to mercury leaching into ground and surface water supplies from landfills where CFL bulbs are cast when they stop working.

...CFLs, like all other fluorescent light bulbs, contain mercury which escapes when the glass breaks. Mercury poisoning is a growing problem, leading to food recalls, permanent injury, incapacitation and illness. What a great thing!

All this to reduce our electrical usage – which probably won’t happen ...
And reduce total consumer cost – which definitely won’t happen ...
As a means to reduce our carbon emissions and “save the planet”.

Mankind’s carbon emissions are 3% of the total carbon emitted annually on the planet – the planet and non-human life itself generates 97%. We are being nagged and hectored to reduce our carbon emissions by up to 20% - to 2.4% of the total. If we don’t [we are told], the planet’s temperature will increase by up to 2 degrees Celsius in a century. ...of which the planet and non-human life is 97% responsible. Which means that for the endangered livestock, the migraines, the seizures, the loss of appetite and blotchy appearance in the changing rooms, the compulsory consumerism and mercury poisoning, the planet’s temperature a hundred years from now will only increase – due to the insulating properties of CO2 in concentration – by a mere 1.98 degrees. And that will save us.

Maybe. ...and this caveat isn’t even my own interjected by overwhelming cynicism. It is their caveat. They, themselves, say “maybe”. The difference between our doom and our redemption doesn’t even exceed the margin of error. It can barely even be measured.

We are being saved – as if once wasn’t enough – back to the dark ages. But this time we’ll be lit, CFLs aglow, in the jaundiced pallor of any Soviet style tenement.