Saturday, March 14, 2009

A New Direction in Appearance Consciousness

Watching some portly individuals outside the ski lodge today, I realized that humans labor at an insurmountable handicap because of their naked skin.

It doesn't take much to make us look unsightly when unclad. A few extra pounds, a few too many years gone by, and suddenly nudity is something to overcome, not celebrate, on the way to attempts at pleasures of the senses.

If humans were covered with lush pelts of soft, thick fur, like big kitties or cuddly bears, a few extra pounds would only add to our appeal. So instead of trying to devise yet another skin moisturizer, wrinkle remover or sure-fire weight-control program, medical research should focus on developing the fur-bearing human.

Likewise, the bony among us could benefit from the fuller figure and smoother contours provided by a furry coat. So there's something for everybody in this idea.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Times are hard! Gut the schools!

Hey, the financial picture looks bleak. How can we cut some fat out of the budget? I know: whack programs out of the schools!

They sure don't need crap like music and art. There's plenty of recorded music to entertain us in the few short years between now and the environmental destruction of the planet. Seriously: does anyone need much of an education when no one's really got a future anyway?

Interestingly, in a certain school district in Maine, not only is orchestra on the chopping block less than one year after they hired a highly qualified teacher to spiff up the program, but they're also planning to completely dismantle their technical school. Wait a minute. What happened to all that bullshit about math and science education, and educating our work force for the demands of the 21st Century?

Cutting technical programs seems like a none too subtle acknowledgment that our young people really do have nothing to look forward to. Cutting music and art is just gratuitous cruelty. Shove them toward their future with no skills and no aesthetics. How soon will it matter?

If you produce an ignorant enough generation, they won't even know they should complain. Even if they figure it out, they will have no ability to do so. So the system works!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Billionaires

Forbes Magazine reports fewer billionaires on its annual list of the richest people in the world, and smaller fortunes among most of the survivors.

Before you cry sarcastic tears or give way to genuine worry that this pool of potential benefactors has lost its ability to trickle down upon us, consider two things.

1. If they truly lost solid wealth based on genuine assets, that means someone else gained it. Find and follow the money trail to find out who has benefited.

2. If this is just shrinkage of perceived value, they never really had it to begin with.

Perceived value drives much of so-called wealth creation. In truth, there is no wealth creation. It's wealth fabrication. Perceived value drives the stock market up and down far more than real disruptions in the flow of actual resources do.

In times of trouble, many traded assets may change hands below their actual value. But some simply stand revealed as having little or no value. A smart money manipulator, seeing that people are paying ridiculous sums for fairy dust, might trade in fairy dust a little. An honest one won't extol the virtues of fairy dust, but simply ride the wave of other people's interest for a while. It is always easier to exploit people's folly than prevent it.

The shrinkage of perceived value is the scariest part of any economic downturn. That's the money that simply disappears. In the case of solid assets temporarily undervalued, it will return. If it was fairy dust, it has simply turned to actual dust and blown away.

The poor billionaires will weather this, if they have lived within their means. It's the same as with any of us, only with more houses, more cars, bigger boats and perhaps an oil company or two.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No Sign of Hell Freezing as Nation Waits for Decent Health Care

The Obama administration is using the time-honored tactic of fake motion to make it seem like they can come through on their promise of health care reform any time in the next eight years.

This article in the St. Petersburg Times has the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget telling congress it's up to them and all options remain open. That sounds like business as usual and a complete cop out. The insurance industry's lobbyists will continue to work Congress as they always have, dividing the votes enough to insure that nothing changes for the better.

All across America, citizens continue to follow the health plan they've been using: Don't Get Sick, Don't Get Injured.

My dentist subscribes to a service called Care Credit. My doctor might also. I haven't asked. It's a deferred-payment credit card that gives you a year to pay off your balance before a hefty interest charge kicks in, retroactive to the date of purchase. So it's basically a time bomb. Pay off in full before the deadline and you owe no extra fees. Fall short by a dime and you owe all the fees you would have owed at something like 23% interest. That's almost a full quarter of whatever price you needed to finance. The year is definitely some help, but if you get several balances open, each with its year, you'd better keep track of your payments to be sure you discharge each of these obligations before the magic date.

Games like this, as well as John McCain's token tax credit that would not have paid half of what a year's health insurance actually costs, and Mitt Romney's Massachusetts plan requiring people to purchase their own health insurance if it is not provided for them are actually considered viable alternatives to a single-payer system covering everyone without all the arm wrestling with private corporations.

Private insurance companies have a profit-driven motive to deny care. As much as it costs them to employ legions of petty minions to stand between the customer and anyone who might actually approve payment for care, actually paying for care apparently costs more. Otherwise, why the legendary obstructionism? Why the scale of premiums that makes even catastrophic care basically unaffordable for people of moderate means over the age of 50? Yes, friends, as you age and are more likely actually to need care, you must bet more with the corporate casino even to stay in the game.

If we are being told to take our lumps and die of whatever befalls us, do NOT turn around and tell us, as Romney would, that we have to piss away what resources we have, buying fake coverage at scandalous prices. Toss us a token tax credit if you like, but quit trying to make us believe that it does more than half-close the spouting artery opened by health insurance premiums and health care costs. I'm being generous to say it half closes it.

Snide Republicans already lob partisan dung-bombs at Obama administration plans for any kind of spending. The usual opposition to a government of the people, by the people, for the people that actually shares the national resources to provide something useful to the people still wields its unchecked power.

Monday, March 09, 2009

I don't care if it rains or freezes...

Life in northern New England is a long-term relationship with fire and ice. Winter is when ice dams build up on roofs of houses that could catch fire the next day from a heating system malfunction. And, malfunctioning or not, some form of fire has to provide life-sustaining warmth while water freezes all by itself outside.

That bit about water freezing by itself really seems to freak some southern folk out. If you've only ever encountered the domestic ice cube in its protected habitat, your freezer, a face-to-face encounter with aqua glacialis in the wild can be unsettling. Born and bred Texans and Floridians scare their unruly children with tales of dark and frigid lands north of Dallas or Jacksonville, where the nights are long and all life is frozen to death eight months of the year unless it can find shelter before the first killing frost.

As in any long-term relationship, those in New England's cold embrace do consider divorce. But as long as you're in the relationship you have to work with it. Fire must be built and tended. Ice in its many forms must be moved to more convenient locations if possible while you wait for nature to remove it entirely. Anything you can't move you have to live with, drive over, or stand out from under.

When the snow stops falling today I have to shove some around to get through the next few weeks before we can expect a period of hub-deep mud on the way to what passes for warmer weather. We got a foretaste of it this weekend. Then winter snatched the month back from spring's weak fingers.