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      I get the feeling we’re about to be sucked into yet another war: A flyer distributed in the eastern Ukrainian city Donestk is telling the city’s Jewish community that they need to “register” with the separatist government, but the head of the self-appointed new leadership in the region has denied involvement. In a set of […]
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      The Ukrainian military clearly doesn’t care enough to actually fight: The day began inauspiciously for Ukrainian forces as they sought to establish an operating base in the city of Kramatorsk, moving in units from a nearby military air base. According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and a witness who spoke by phone, a column of six [...]
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Heartbreaking, preventable things that piss me off

In no particular order today, these are things that make me want to choke someone because there’s no good reason for them:

1.) Check out today’s Doonesbury:

Yes, this is really happening.  How do I know?

2.) There was a message on my phone at work when I came back from lunch.  It was from a youngish woman with a softly accented voice.  The call was for my predecessor who left 4 months ago.  The voice sounded a little desperate.  She wanted to know how to apply for the jobs the department has posted on the website.  I could have just ignored the call.  It wasn’t for me.  But something made me call her back.

It turns out that she’s a scientist from another department.  She got laid off because her grant was not renewed due to the sequester.  She told me she was very good in the lab and listed a number of things she could do.  I didn’t doubt her.  I told her I wasn’t the best person to ask for assistance for a variety of reasons and pointed her to a website she could check out for current positions and the temp agency that hires too.  But the more I heard, the sadder I got.  She’s a loooong way from home.  The job she had was the only one she’d ever known.  It occurred to me that her visa status might not allow for her to apply for just any job or unemployment or even to stay in the country.  I just hope she has money to get home.  I felt so bad about it that I kept her number.

3.) 24 year old Gus Deeds shot himself to death and seriously injured his father Creigh Deeds in Virginia today.  Sounds like a typical murder-suicide attempt, right?  Not at all.  Here’s what really happened:

The day before he stabbed his father at the family’s home, the son of Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D) underwent a psychiatric evaluation but was not admitted to a hospital because no bed was available.

We’re not talking about no beds available at the hospital where he had his evaluation.  We’re talking about no beds available in that part of the state at ANY hospital.

People, that is a sad, tragic, preventable story.  The father will recover and I hope that he and incoming governor Terry McAuliffe use their political skills to advocate for greater resources for the mentally ill.  They need access to safe places and medical care.

Behavioral health care isn’t even covered by many insurance plans and is almost totally absent from plans on the individual market. That will change next year.  But even with that change, beds in safe facilities are hard to come by even on a good day and treatment is much shorter than it should be.  What a waste because with good treatment and medication, the mentally ill can lead normal, productive, creative lives.

In this day and age and in this country, there is absolutely no excuse for letting a tragedy like this occur except that we simply do not care enough to give the sick the treatment they deserve because we fail to see mental illness as the manifestation of a physical problem, just like every other illness we treat.

My thoughts are with the Deeds’ family tonight.

Mandelbrot Birthday Set

Meant to play this last year on Mandelbrot’s birthdays but forgot so I’m doing it early this year.  Unfortunately, Mandelbrot is in heaven and no longer teaching math at Yale.  But the set is still mesmerizing.

And here’s a little ditty on doodling in math class from Vi Hart, Mathemagician:

It’s easier after you’ve had coffee.

Happy Birthday to all you November babies.

Democrats are screwed next year if they can’t figure this out

Another short one and I’m gone.

I’ve noticed that a lot of partisan Democratic blogs have kinda sorta stepped away from the relentless cheerleading of the ACA.  Now, the message is, “Well, the GOP plan is nothing so Obamacare *HAS* to work”.

I’m guessing that a lot of researchers have been there.  You spend months, years on a project and the sucker just refuses to go anywhere.  There are no breakthroughs.  Generally, it’s the biologists’ fault but what are you going to do?  You don’t want to abandon the project so you keep propping it up.  Unless you have a really talented project leader who can reassess and has the courage to take a new approach, the project is doomed to being terminated the next time it comes up for review.

That would be 2014.

Look, guys.  I’m talking to YOU, Democrats.  I don’t know what your project manager has been telling you but if you don’t get your shit together and offer a radical and effective alternative to the ACA, you’re all going to be laid off in the next round of restructuring.  You may get laid off anyway because that’s just the way things go these days.  There’s always some political asshole gunning for your job and trying to steal credit.  But as long as you are employed, you might as well do your f&*(ing jobs.

There should be THREE health care reform plans: the non-existent GOP plan, the Obamacare “let’s give the insurance companies everything they want and guarantee a hefty profit for them for eternity!” plan and YOUR plan.

Your project manager is incompetent.  He got promoted too soon before he even ran a single project on his own.  If you don’t want him to take you down with him, you’d better figure out a way of digging yourself out of this hole. And let me make this perfectly clear to you, because you don’t seem to be getting it: protecting your project manager with phrases like “it’s not his fault, it’s the policy” is not helping you.  Of course it’s his fault because it is his policy but he and his friends are going to point the finger at anyone but himself.

And may I remind you that every other country in the developed world has figured out how to do this without impoverishing the citizens who through no fault of their own have been forced to seek insurance on the independent market. And here’s an update for you: back in 2009 this might have been a tiny segment.  It is tiny no longer. More and more people are unemployed or underemployed and don’t get health benefits.  Stop calling us a tiny fraction.  We are legion these days.  That’s why there has been so much outrage over this stupid, ill-conceived policy and it’s disastrous implementation.

There is no excuse for failure here.  There are a lot of templates to choose from.  Pick one and get on with it.

You have a year.

We have now entered the realm of the fiasco

I learned about real fiascos in Italy.  A fiasco is a bottle that you cook beans in.  You put the beans and water in the bottle and sit it in the warm embers of your fireplace before you go to bed.  If everything goes right, those beans will be tender and delicious in the morning.  But beans are full of gas producing and nitrogen containing compounds so they tend to be unstable when they’re cooked under pressure.  So, you could come downstairs to find that your fiasco has blown up all over the place and you now have a mess to clean up.

In other words, fiascos are more likely to occur when you leave the bottle unattended.

On Nov 1, 2013, This American Life reprised one of my favorite episodes on Fiascos.  The funniest act in the episode is about what happens when an untested director reaches beyond her modest abilities to stage a Julie Taymor-esque version of Peter Pan complete with flying apparatus.  It’s hysterical but also illuminating.  You get the stages of a fiasco in the making from this act.  At first, the audience is bemused and forgiving.  Then the mistakes keep piling up and the audience progresses from sympathizing with the actors to ridicule.  Then they start getting involved.  The play completely breaks down and the audience is fully engaged in demolition.  At some point the audience recognizes that they are no longer watching a play.  They are watching a fiasco.

I think we are at the ridicule stage right now with Obamacare.  We are rapidly reaching the point of no return with this play.  We may get a reaction to Obamacare that was completely absent with HAMP but what the heck, why not revisit HAMP too, while we’re at it?

Some of us knew the Democrats were working with an untended mess of explosive beans but did they listen?  No.  They did not.  There are really no good options right now.  Just watch it explode and be ready on the other side with some game changing plan.  I’m going to bet that the fiasco is going to generate enough public anger that there will be a slim chink of an opportunity to get something passed.

Go big.  Like a public option.  Make it administered by a non-profit insurance company like Blue Cross.  Pour the subsidies into it.  Make sure providers in the area can’t lock public option participants out and tell everyone you’re working on a permanent fix.

The problem is the for profit insurance companies and the politicians who cooperated with them. Let’s stop forcing this fiasco on the uninsured, the poor and the sick.

And check out Fiasco! on This American Life for one of the funniest episodes they’ve ever broadcast.

Neat Trick

Dashing off a few things before I dash:

1.) The Richard Cohen thing.  The lede kind of got buried in the Richard Cohen s^&*storm.  It’s not that the Tea Party people are racist, though some of them clearly are.  It’s that they consider their views to be “conventional”.  That’s the cover that the Fox News manipulators, Limbaughians and Glen Becksters have given them.  My hypothesis about how the right wing has been able to get away with so much is that it makes it Ok for some Americans to give in to their secret desires.  They want to feel superior to some  people and exert power over others.  That’s why they tend to take it out on people of color, women, gays and immigrants.  They’re f^*(ing cowards when it comes to taking on the real culprits who are making their lives an economic nightmare.  That’s why you’ll never see them at an Occupy rally, because that might actually make a difference but would also be potentially dangerous to their physical bodies. But they’re perfectly fine bashing people who have no political power.  And they allow this because they call themselves conventional.  I think Bob Altmeyer wrote a book about conventional people called The Authoritarians.

Richard Cohen, on the other hand, makes me despair for the future of employment.

2.) When you’ve lost Bill Clinton’s support, it’s bad.  The Clintons have stood behind the party that trashed Hillary and elected an untested, inexperienced, ruthless friend of Wall Street and Obama through thick and thin.  But it looks like The Big Dog draws the line with Obamacare.  I don’t think he is enjoying this bit of schadenfreude.  Some people take policy and politics seriously.

And some people just check that box on their CVs.

3.) Sylvie Guillem recently retired from the Paris Opera Ballet but oh, how wonderful it must have been to see her dance in person.  Here’s a very short clip of her rehearsing Dulcinea.  If only every day could be like this:

The Democrats’ big mistake. HUGE

So, it looks like the federal healthcare exchange site is not going to meet its deadline. And there are a bunch of Senators getting all antzy about Obamacare (really? Just now? Didn’t you guys READ what you passed??). And to top it all off, Obama is going all Waffle Man on us, all right?

Now, I’m not going to claim that Hillary Clinton would have given us a better healthcare bill, although I’m going to bet she would have researched it to within an inch of her life. But what I am absolutely sure of is that damn healthcare site would have been up and running on time because it would have been tested thoroughly two years ago. Because, you know, some people do their homework and are diligent pains in the asses and some people aren’t, all right?

Here’s a blast from the past from Tina Fey to remind the party where it went wrong. Well, first, it listened to a bunch of overeducated grad student guys who had problems with women and were quite willing to saddle us with an untested corporate schmoozer type from their tribe. This was clearly more important than poor and sick people getting healthcare. Some accomplishment.

Thanks for ruining everything, Assholes.

Obamacare and EXTRA taxes

I was reading this opinion piece at the NYTimes about how un-PC it is to complain about being shackled with Obamacare.  The Obama PR campaign has been very effective about laying on the guilt.  Apparently, if you complain about the sticker shock and skinny networks and canceled plans, it’s the equivalent of protesting the Iraq war in 2003.  You’re un-American.  You hate sick people.  And besides, aren’t the lucky Americans who have employer sponsored health care paying taxes for the poor unfortunates, you ungrateful wretch?

Which makes me wonder, don’t we underemployed, or contract workers, or temps or, the blessed entrepreneurs ALSO pay taxes??  Some of us are paying both sides of the social security tax.  We pay taxes out the wazoo.  And we’re still getting the shaft on these skinny network plans, cancellations and the subsidy crunch.  If we make even one dollar more than we should, we could get socked with a monumental bill.

Talk about killing innovation.  I can’t think of a better way to avoid success and innovation than to take people who are forced into entrepreneurship in this economy to scale back so as to not hit the limit on the subsidies.  I can’t think of a better way to encourage getting paid off the books and depriving the treasury of tax dollars than to make a zero-tolerance, not-one-dollar-more boundary for people to qualify for subsidies.

Let me remind some of the Congresspeople who didn’t bother to read this bill before they signed off on it that in 2009, Pfizer laid off every scientist in the company Wyeth that they had acquired in a merger.  Yep, every one of them.  A few found jobs in Pfizer but the vast majority of them, that would be thousands and thousands of BS, MS and PhDs, were just told to go their own way.  Innovate!  Become your own boss!  Which is very odd because if a multibillion dollar international company can’t get drugs through the FDA approval process, what makes anyone think  that a bunch of poor, under equipped scientists are going to be able to do it in their garages working with shoestring and bubblegum?  THAT is a Wall Street MBA’s secret wet dream but hardly reality.

Now multiply Pfizer’s strategy by all of the other drug companies and you get an idea of how many newly minted entrepreneurs are out there, struggling to make a living at companies that don’t pay benefits.  Or think of the Chemical Engineer who works by the project and doesn’t have coverage who is now paying all of his taxes AND is getting a rate hike.

Why should these people be required to foot more of the bill from their income than the people who are sitting comfortably (for now) behind their employer sponsored health plans?  We all feel compassion for the poor who can’t afford insurance or the people with pre-existing conditions.  Not only that but we might even BE some of those people through no fault of our own.

But why should be made to feel guilty about not caring MORE for them?  Why do we need to sacrifice more of our money than anyone else when we are already expected to carry a full load?  Shouldn’t the burden for this fall more evenly?  Or here’s a better question: if we are expected to make this sacrifice, shouldn’t we be getting top notch plans and treatment and be treated with more dignity?

By the way, the lucky who are covered by their employer should think about this long and hard because one day, through no fault of their own, their companies might require them to sacrifice their own jobs in the name of shareholder value and then, they’ll have to suck it up and shut up about how much these crappy plans cost.

It could happen to anyone.

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