Category Archives: Politics

I despise politics, but sometimes I rant anyway.

Holy Cow, it’s September Already!

Why is my computer smoking?

September 2022, and I haven’t posted for nearly a full month. I mean, it’s not as though I have anything to say, but I still feel like I ought to say it. And, as always these days, it’s probably not very interesting, because it’s all about writing.

First, the novel. I had hoped to finish this draft of And the Devil Will Drag You Under by the end of August, but even though I’ve been averaging 500-800 words per day, I haven’t reached the end. I think I have another 5,000 words at least to go. This puts my plan to have the story ready for submission to my writers’ group in October in jeopardy. Ah well. Maybe in the new year. I’ve been working on this revision for over a year, and I’m looking forward to working on something else. I’ve still got pirates on the brain.

Second, the short stories. I’ve finished “Meep” and a flash fiction piece about a failed redemption arc in a fantasy setting, and am awaiting feedback on them. I’ve gotten plenty on the flash fiction piece, and may start revising and sending it out. I’ve also started a new science fiction piece, “Just a Little Bit Human”, which presented itself to me a few days ago as a full-fledged idea. It’s part Se7en, part Silence of the Lambs, and part Bladerunner. So I will need to do some research into police procedure (or, at least, crime scene investigation), and so on. One of the major characters in the story is trans, so I’ll need to hire a sensitivity reader as well. This is definitely a fun story to write, and addresses some deeper themes that I’ve been thinking about for some time.

Third, this blog. Well… you know. I haven’t been updating it as much as I’d like to.

In other news, it’s hot. Crazy hot. We’re in the midst of a heat wave in the valley, with temps hitting 107 at least, breaking a record set in 1988. The whole country has been, except for those parts of the country which are suffering from massive floods. I feel like we’re living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Midnight Sun”, where the characters are dealing with the fact that the Earth has drifted out of its orbit and is headed directly at the sun. It’s a good episode — check it out if you can — and the twist is magnificent.

So anyway. Thank you climate change. And to all the politicians who ignored it and all the corporations who profited off of it and to everyone who dismisses the dangers of it, a hearty fuck you. Sort of like the covid-19 pandemic, I feel like we could have gotten a handle on it if people had just made some minor sacrifices and listened to the scientists. It’s a little late to address the covid-19 pandemic and turn it around, but we’ve still got time to address and possibly prevent the very worst of climate change. Katherine Hayhoe’s book Saving Us is a great one. I highly recommend it to everyone who is concerned but doesn’t quite know what to do about it.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind lately. How about you?

Personal Choice and Societal Ethics

LRRR, ruler of Omicron Persei 8

TL;DR: If you are able to get the COVID-19 vaccine and do not do so, then you are responsible for the consequences.

Now, before I get into this, may I remind you I have a degree in Philosophy and I’m not afraid to use it? Because I do, and my sense of ethics, particularly in relation to societal terms, was heavily influenced by some pretty heavy-duty thinkers, including Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, and, to a lesser extent, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Practically, I’m a utilitarian by nature, but I find the hedonistic aspects of the Good as defined by Mill and Bentham a bit tricky. I like Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and while I find Rawls a little too optimistic about human nature, I still like his notions of justice as fairness.

So, having said all that to establish (to some extent) my philosophical bona-fides, let’s go.

I’ve been concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning, when I first heard about a new SARS-related disease spreading rapidly through the Wuhan district in China. Given the international connectiveness of the world, it was only a matter of time before it reached the States, starting with New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles, the big port cities. The first community contracted case was, I believe, seen in UC Davis Medical Center here in Sacramento. To be perfectly honest, I was less concerned about it until then-President Donald Trump announced that he had it under control; at which point, I knew we were screwed.

Politics aside, I figured we’d see the pandemic and vanquish it fairly quickly; within a couple of months at most. I figured we’d find a vaccine and people would rally around it and we’d all be better and this thing would go away soon. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The vaccine didn’t come into nearly a year into the pandemic, and the newest (at this time) variant of the SARS-COV2 virus, the Omicron variant, is blazing through our population like wildfire. All told, we have nearly one million people dead in the United States, millions more are sick, our hospitals are overrun, and the health care system is on the brink of collapse.

It didn’t have to be this way.

The pandemic and its mitigation measurements have become politicized, which is a shame. Conspiracy theories surround the vaccine, and notions of mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine mandates have been decried as socialism and tyranny by certain parties (never mind that said parties probably don’t actually know what socialism is). There is one refrain that bothers me the most, and that is that getting the vaccine and wearing masks are individual choices not to be imposed by the state.

I have Thoughts about that.

Vaccine mandates do work. People who get the vaccine are less likely to come down sick with COVID-19, and if they do catch it, they are less likely to require hospitalization, and far less likely to die from it. They are also less likely to spread the disease to other people. And where vaccine mandates are in place, more people definitely get it. Sure, some people resist the mandate, but employers (such as hospitals — and it blows me away that there are health care workers who refuse the vaccine — and government services such as police departments) report that less then 1% of their employees quit over the mandates.

“But it’s all about personal freedoms and individual choice!” say the ones who (maybe) recognize the utility of the vaccine but who do not believe in vaccine mandates.

And they’re right. Whether or not to get the vaccine is a personal choice. But it’s one with societal consequences. As I said above, getting the vaccine significantly reduces the probability that you will spread COVID-19 if you catch it. which is a good thing. If you’re unvaccinated and contract the disease, then you have a much higher chance of spreading it, even if your symptoms are mild or simply nonexistent. If you do exercise your personal freedom to refuse the vaccine, though, and then you contract the virus and spread it to someone who is unable to get the vaccine because they are too young or are immunocompromised or some other legitimate reason (and I don’t believe in religious accommodations here), then you are responsible for the consequences.

Society has a responsibility, I believe, to protect its most vulnerable members: the elderly, the very young, the injured and sick. This comes right out of my Christian value set. If you are a member of society, then you have the responsibility to partake in that protection. My utilitarian mindset is in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number, and that greatest good means good health.

This is also why I believe governments have the authority, nay, the responsibility, to restrict travel to those have been vaccinated and test negative for the virus. If an athlete from another country tests positive for the virus, or has publicly refused the vaccine, then the government has the responsibility to keep that person out.

“YOU CAN’T FORCE ME TO GET THE VACCINE!” yells the societal libertarian. This is true.

But you should be held responsible for the consequences of not doing so. And if, say, your elderly grandmother, your immunocompromised neighbor, or your child’s playmates, if any of them contract COVID-19 because of your own anti-vaccine position, then you are responsible for the outcome.

If you disagree, feel free to let me know. I’m not likely to change my mind, though. I’ve done my due diligence in informing my opinion and philosophy here, so I believe my conclusions are sound and valid.

Time for some politics!

I promise, this one will be brief.

I used to describe myself as a “generally appalled liberal”, but now that the word “liberal” is disliked on the left just as surely as it is on the right, I have to figure out what to call myself next.

That existential issue aside, I have to wonder a bit about Joe Manchin. Why doesn’t he just swap allegiances from the Democrats to the Trumpist Death Cult that is shambling zombie remains of the GOP? He’s already demonstrated that he does not care about his voters or the welfare of the country. Plus, I bet right-wing lobbyist payouts are better than he’s getting as a Democrat. He’d simply make more money.

Some other things that bug me:

  • Anti-science politicians. Did you know that the climate is changing? You didn’t? WELL IT IS. The changing climate is driving more and bigger storms, it’s contributing to the drought in the western United States, and more. It’s driven by carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, and the vast majority of those gases come from the oil industry. Many municipalities and counties throughout the nation have divested entirely from the oil industry, and so as the Episcopal Church. Now, in some states, no one cares, and in some this divestment is applauded. In Florida and Texas, however, it’s illegal. You can be hit with a fine in Florida if you are a business or a city and you divest from fossil fuels. The problem is that science, not political opinions, drives our understanding of global warming, which is agnostic of politics. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you’re still in danger when the new and stronger hurricanes hit in an ever-expanding hurricane season.
  • Speaking of anti-science, I’m also bugged by anti-vaxxers and covid-19 conspiracy theory mongers slithering their way into the national discourse and positions of responsibility within the US government.
  • Anti-education forces. For example: Did you know that Critical Race Theory is a real, existential, horrific, evil, terrifying, awful thing that exists? That it’s teaching white children to hate themselves and worship their Black classmates? Etc.? No? That’s because it’s not true. CRT is not taught in elementary schools, junior high schools, or even high schools. You can pass all the laws  you want against teaching CRT, it just won’t change reality.
  • That applies to library censorship too. Anti-democratic and enti-education..
  • Anti-health forces. Sure, antivaxxers fall into this category, but so do politicians who think outlawing abortion will stop abortion from happening. It won’t, of course, it will just stop safe abortions for poor people. Now, I’m not a big fan of abortion — I believe in preventing abortions by providing comprehensive sex education at an early age and handing out prophylatic measures like candy — but I do believe that a woman’s reproductive choices are her own. Plus, once you outlaw one medical procedure, you’re well on your way to outlawing others, and that’s no good.

That’s all that’s got my ire up right now (though I could also go on about how much I hate laws that affect LGBT+ folks). Have a good day.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that brief.

Random Sampling

Christmas is coming! Huzzah! Hooray! Etc.! I don’t know. I don’t really get as excited about the holidays as I used to when I was a kid. The spiritual meaning of Christmas is not lost on me, of course, but the rampant consumerism and cultural baggage tend to leave me cold, and the right-wing talking points about a so-called “war on Christmas” make me cynical about the whole thing. The latest craze is to blame President Joe Biden for the supply chain problems the world has been having instead of the pandemic and the fiasco with the Ever Given in the Suez Canal earlier this year (yes, that was this year). Christmas is threatened because toys and other material goods might not make it into the stores? I suspect the true meaning of Christmas really is getting lost, but the right-wing folks are the ones who are losing it.

Of course, if you DO want to buy me a present, you can find my wishlist here on Giftster. It’s a wish list sharing site that my family uses instead of the ancient home-brewed one that I wrote in 2001 and never updated since.

Last night I wrote 500 words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, and also jotted down some ideas for two short stories. This is the most productive I’ve been in weeks. Well, aside from stuff around the house and at work, of course. And even though I feel like the novel is basically stagnating right now, I’m excited to be moving forward on it again. And those two stories —  one is straight science fiction while the other is a mystery with a science fiction twist — are going to be BLAMMO when I finish them

BLAMMO. It’s a word now.

I don’t really have much to say that’s blog-worthy these days. In years past, I see, I used to complain a lot on this blog. Not so much these days, or at least I don’t think so. I mean, I have some complaints — like, new cat Guffaw gets excitable and jumps up on the kitchen counter too often —but it’s no longer a permanent state of mind. See, I’m growing as a person. Jennifer says I should post a picture a day as my blogging process, and maybe I’ll do that. Starting tomorrow, assuming I get my rear in gear and start taking pictures.

Looking over the first couple of paragraphs of this entry again, though, I do see some complaining going on. Ah, well. I’m not complaining constantly about my job these days, and that’s nice.

No more story acceptances since the last time I wrote about my story submission process, but I got a fresh rejection. I still have eight stories on submission right now, some with markets that can take nearly a full year to respond, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks and months. I think that I will try again in 2022 for one hundred submissions, but I do need to get some new stories written first.

I haven’t been reading as much as I should be; you can see what I’m currently reading in the handy-dandy widget from Library Thing to the right of this entry. It shows that currently I’m reading a couple of novels that my friends Andrea Stewart and Megan O’Keefe have written, as well as a couple of books about the craft of writing and a book about pirates. But I’m also reading a couple of books for my novel-writing critique group, so I need to concentrate on those as well.

The Bone Shard Daughter was an excellent book by an excellent writer. I’m only one chapter in to the sequel, The Bone Shard Emperor, and it’s just as well-written. Andrea Stewart did not win the Hugo Award for these novels (wasn’t even nominated, from what I can tell). She was robbed. And Megan’s Protectorate Trilogy didn’t make it either. She was robbed too.

I leave you with my favorite Christmas song, which I post every year to my blog and to Facebook and Twitter, but what the heck, it’s a great song: “The Season’s Upon Us” by Dropkick Murphys, my favorite Boston-based Irish punk band.

Merry Christmas to you all, and in case I don’t blog again, Happy New Year as well! May 2022 be a better one for us all.

Happy Holidailies to us all!

Pandemic Blurbs

I’ve been working at home for nigh on to three months now, and I know I’m blessed to be able to do so. And so today while I take my afternoon break and listen to Queen’s Greatest Hits (which I love because it reminds me of college and also that I have to call my friend John this weekend), I’m going to spin up this blog post and let the world in on what I think of the pandemic and what I’m writing.

There’s a meme that conservatives have been sharing on Twitter which says something like, “Remember that experts built the Titanic, while an amateur built the Ark,” and relates this to the current COVID-19 pandemic which has been kicking the planet’s butt for three months now and probably won’t go away for quite some time. Why should we listen to epidemiologists and virologists and other so-called “experts” when, uh… we have gut feelings or something? This mistrust of expertise and higher thinking has been a part of American politics for centuries, odd for a country founded by a bunch of revolutionary philosophers. But it’s what we’ve got, and now we have a Presidency that’s devoted to the cause of rooting out expertise wherever it can be found.

This irritates me.

No, scratch that. It fills me with a sense of impotent rage that this sense of “my feelings are more qualified than your facts” is so prevalent in modern America. It really is a failure of the American experiment.

*Takes a deep breath*

I can’t really go into much more about that because I took my blood pressure earlier today and it already is too high. So I’m going to finish this blog post up with a list of my current writing projects. So here it is, with various projects listed in order of when I plan to get to them and finish them (though some will be concurrent with others):

  • Finish up rough draft of And the Devil Will Drag You Under. I plan to finish this up by the end of June, then I’ll let it sit for a little while before revising and submitting to my writers’ group.
  • Revise The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. I gave this to my group a few months ago and got some really great feedback that I have yet to incorporate. I hope to start doing that this weekend, and finish this by the end of June as well. Maybe I’ll start shopping it around. Who knows?
  • Start outlining and writing my pirate trilogy. This consists of The X of Doom, The Lord of Nightmares, and The King of Oblivion. This probably won’t start happening until July. But in the meantime I’ve built a pirate-theme playlist on Amazon Music and have been listening to that a lot for inspiration. I’m also looking for good pirate movies to watch (Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies are fun, as is Swashbuckler, from 1976) and good pirate novels to read. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers is a great one. I want to find more.

Those are all novels. I also have short stories to revise:

  • “The BIM”
  • “A Pine Romance”
  • “Sauromancy”
  • “Just Like This”

These are all stories that just need revising, though “The BIM” has been undergoing some intense structural revisions and so far has ballooned from 5,000 to 8,000 words, and probably more will be added as I work on it. I don’t have deadlines in mind for any of these. I’m taking the year off from short story submissions, mostly because I feel like I’ve run out of story/market match-ups. I need to get some new ones written and revised before I can start submitting again. I do have three outstanding submissions that I should probably query on since they’ve been at markets for over six months. So… we’ll see what happens.

That’s all I’ve got for now. My break’s just about over, as is the Queen album, so it’s time to say so long. Be well, and be safe. And be smart, for crying out loud. WEAR YOUR MASK!

That Time I was Inadvertently Racist

My parents did a really good job of raising my sisters and me, I think. We learned that racism exists, and we learned that it was bad. My mom tells me of the time she deliberately hosted Black friends at a party when she lived in Texas in the late 60s, and was subsequently booted from her apartment. We learned that that was wrong, that the landlord was racist, and that racism was just wrong.

Imagine. That was in the late 60s. We’re just barely fifty years away from that.

Me, I’ve gone out of my way to not be racist, but I know from personal experience that racism lurks somewhere deep in my bones. Here’s my story of that:

It was the second Tuesday of November, 2008. I know that very well, because it was Election Day, and I was swollen with liberal pride, having just come from a polling station where I’d voted for Barack Obama (our last great President). Imagine! Me, a white man, voting for a Black man for President! How noble!

But as I was sitting in my car at an intersection on Stockton Avenue in Sacramento, waiting for the light to change so that I could pull into the parking lot at the public library, I saw a young Black man crossing the street toward me.

Without even thinking about it, I locked the door of my car.

He wasn’t running. He wasn’t carrying any weapons or anything that looked like a weapon. I don’t recall if he was carrying anything at all. It wasn’t a “bad neighborhood”. He was just a teenager, going about his business.

I locked my car door.

That moment, that one incident, taught me that despite my parents’ best intentions and my own liberal pride, I still had racism built into me. After I realized what I’d done, I unlocked my car door, and the kid just passed in front of my car, not paying attention to me at all (or if he did, I didn’t notice).

I’ve thought about this a lot. I went to a private high school that had a significant Hispanic population; when I was at UC Davis, I studied with plenty of people from marginalized communities, and one of my favorite Philosophy study partners was a man from Ethopia. I live in Sacramento, California, which is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country. I belong to the Episcopal Church which, despite its own problems in some areas, does teach that racism is a sin. I’ve had plenty of chances to confront my own racist sensibilities, and talk back to them. But they still lurk, I know, and confronting them is a constant conversation with myself.

Racism is such a pervasive part of culture, that so permeates our educational, political, even our religious systems that sometimes we whites don’t even believe it’s there, like a fish who doesn’t even notice the water it swims in. It’s always been there, lurking. It’s generational, and will take generations to solve. I mean, it’s only been fifty years, more or less, that my parents were booted out of their apartment in Texas. We’re less than sixty years away from the Jim Crow laws. Less than two centuries away from slavery. How can we possibly expect to have overcome racism in such a short period of time? We white people have an obligation to see the racism that lives inside ourselves, confront it when we see it, and do our best to promote those marginalized voices when they speak up.

Personally, I don’t envision a day when Black men and women get to participate in the same American dream that we whites do. I envision a day wherein we’ve built a new American dream that embraces Black culture as much as it embraces any other culture. We’re far, far away from that, and the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency has probably hurt our chances of reaching it anytime soon.

All we white people can do is our best to have this conversation with our racist selves. Racism is a power structure built right into our culture, and we have the obligation to tear it down.

P.S.: A friend of mine on Facebook noted that I hadn’t made mention of specific actions. I quote her here (with her permission):

We as white folks can actually do quite a lot. We can participate in government to vote in (and perhaps be) the white folks who use their privilege and power to create space for POC. We can call in our fellow white folks. We can educate each other and practice inclusive language and actions. And there’s more.

P.P.S.: I don’t believe for an instant that the incident above was the only time I’ve ever been racist. It’s just the one that stands out the most to me. I’m aware of some of my own biases and problematic behaviors, and I strive to overcome them; but I’m sure there are some that I don’t even identify.

A wee reflection, here on Labor Day

I don’t know much about the history of the labor movement here in the United States, but I can certainly offer reflections on how I got to be Where I Am in my life. And two major factors that got me here are, without a doubt, Opportunity and Luck.

I’ve been laid off from jobs, I’ve been fired from jobs (“Are you firing me or laying me off?” “Well, you’re not good at your job, but we really like you, so it’s a bit of both.”), and I’ve quit jobs with and without notice. The job I have now I got primarily through some luck and some effort. No formal interview or resume/application process was involved because it started as a temp job. I had worked hard to learn Linux and shell scripting and PHP; but I also had a previous job that gave me the opportunity to learn those things while not working on formally-assigned tasks.

I had a good college education, and I was lucky to have that opportunity. I was lucky — though that word is problematic for reasons I won’t go into here — that I could pay for my education without having to take out some serious loans.

In my time, especially in one particular job (that I quit with only two days’ notice), I’ve met with literally hundreds of people who for various degrees of misfortune of birth or just plain bad luck, had no such opportunities.

I’m well aware that I speak from a position of privilege. I’m also well aware that the current administration is pathologically determined to dismantle the structures of opportunity that have been put in place for women and minorities and low income people over the years.

So this Labor Day, in between the barbecues and sleeping in and what-not, remember that there have been and continue to be people who for whatever reason are in a “bad place”, employment-wise, and who are struggling for justice for themselves and for others.

That’s all.

I Suppose I Ought to Blog

I have a blog, theoretically, and once in awhile I post to it. I’m going to make a goal of posting at least once a week, but who knows how long that will last. Who knows indeed. I have Thoughts and Things to share, some of which might be of interest to both of my regular readers.

So here we go.


  1. The election of Donald Trump as President was unfortunate at best. I don’t think it will end up being apocalyptic for the world at large, by which I mean I doubt we’ll see nuclear war. But for many marginalized groups, things are already getting bad. As as middle-aged, middle class, white, Christian, cis-hetero male, I probably have the least to lose, but I firmly believe that what harms one population in the US harms us all.


  1. For NaNoWriMo, I wrote Padma, which I’d had in the planning stages for several years, ever since I wrote a strange little story called “The Flower” back in 2005. This story was called “very sexist” by one editor, but “charmingly engaging” by another. I hope that the novel works out well. We’ll see what happens to the novel version.
  2. My novella The Winds of Patwin County is still for sale, in both Kindle and paperback editions. See the link to the left.
  3. I have a silly little short story called “Tumbleweeds”, which has been called the definitive entry in the carnivorous plant genre by at least one friend of mine, and which at least one professional writer suggested ought to be submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. I’m not thoroughly satisfied with this story. It needs a new ending. But once I have that ending written, I have some markets in mind that I want to send it to.
  4. My next novel-length project will be something called And the Devil will Drag You Under, which I’ve mentioned before. The outline requires a good rewrite, since I’ve decided to switch the point of view character and make some other serious changes to it.


  1. Asthma. I underwent all three Bronchial Thermoplasty treatments, and my breathing has significantly improved. Now if only the insurance people would get their act together and decide how much I owe for that.
  2. Weight Loss. I went back up over 300 pounds at one point, but then I joined Weight Watchers (since the weight loss plan I tried to make up for myself wasn’t working), so I’ve lost about ten of those pounds. You want them? I’m not taking them back.


  1. My mental state has been good of late. The Kobolds of Depression haven’t been bothering me much, though every now and then they send out a scout party.

And that’s all I got for now. Enjoy your day. And if you get a chance, listen to some Tom Waits.

A Political Interlude

I’ve avoided politics on my blog for several months now, for a couple of reasons. First, most people who know me know that I am a pretty liberal guy, so I haven’t had to espouse my opinions. Second, in a world where political discourse is increasingly divisive and people on both ends of the political spectrum seem to keep themselves isolated from conflicting points of view, I haven’t really thought that anything I said would make any difference to anyone anyway. I think this second point speaks to my increasing cynicism about political discourse in our modern age, and why I am not sure things are going to get much better anytime soon.

But Saturday’s tragic and senseless shooting in Tucson, Arizona, made me want to speak out a little. Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the horrific events, and my prayers rise for the victims and the survivors. There was a lot of confusion in those first few hours; first we heard that Representative Gifford was dead; then we learned that she was alive; then she was dead again; then alive again. As I write this, she’s alive and her condition has been upgraded, but she has a long recovery ahead of her, and who knows if she’ll ever recover completely from a point blank shot to the head.

Much has been made about the shooter, Jared Loughner, and his state of mind. At the time of the shooting, we knew very little about him, but to most people it looked like a political attack, and there were many on the left who blamed the Tea Party movement. I was skeptical about that; I don’t have a lot of respect for Tea Party rhetoric, but I think the people who are part of it are on the whole law-abiding citizens who are above political hits like this. Phil Plaitt over at Bad Astronomy tweeted, “Let me be clear: it is way too early to know motives here, and speculation is counterproductive.” I agreed with him on this point. At the time, it was just too early to know what was going on and why.

As the days have passed, more about Loughner’s state of mind has become clear. Based on his YouTube videos and messages on his MySpace page, many people have suggested that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t know, personally; that’s the sort of judgement that should be made by doctors, not folks like me who just watch a few rantings on YouTube. One thing is clear, though: the fact that he named Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, the writings of Ayn Rand, and The Communist Manifesto as some of his favorite books points to a man without much political consistency. Is he a right wing fascist? A left wing communist? A Tea Party libertarian? Impossible to say. His points of view seem too inconsistent to make a firm judgement.

One side effect of the shooting, however, seems to have been a growing attention to the levels of angry rhetoric that seems to have infiltrated out political discourse these days. And that’s good; on both sides, discourse seems to have gone past “I’m right, you’re wrong” to “I’m right, you’re evil” (to echo the words of Representative Emanuel Cleaver). And while politics has never been free of contention (look back to the dirty politics that surrounded the signing of the Constitution, for example; and, more recently, there were conservatives loudly accusing President Kennedy of treason, just as they are accusing President Obama of the same thing), the sort of hate-filled talk that’s spreading around these days seems to be a new invention. And it’s a scary one. We’re right to be looking at this rhetoric and the impact it might have on unstable persons like Loughner.

But here’s where I get cynical. The mudslinging and the hating and the angry rhetoric aren’t going away any time soon. We have talk show hosts and news commentators who are paid not for their insights but for their ability to “rabble rouse”. Whole news networks aren’t afraid anymore to blatantly take sides in political dialog, when they ideally should be neutral. Outrage, especially of the “I’m right, you’re evil” variety, sells. The media, and the money behind it, favors extremist rhetoric on both sides. Until we see a fundamental shift in human nature, where people will not feel threatened by ideas different from their own but challenged to rise to dialog instead, we’re just not going to see an end to the violent rhetoric.

I fear that things will just get worse before they get better.

And now to counterbalance this cynical post, here’s a picture of our cat Ingrid flopping around on my chair:

Sometimes I’m pretty sure that cats have the right idea.

Lungs O' Doom

“Can Primatene Mist contribute to airway remodeling?” I asked the nurse.

She looked horrified by my question. “You’re not using Primatene are you?” she asked.

I shook my head. There’s no need for me to use Primatene. I have pretty good health insurance through my employer, and I happen to live in California, where it is illegal for employer-provided health insurance to refrain from covering pre-existing conditions. And since I’ve had asthma since birth, it definitely counts as a pre-existing condition. So fortunately, my insurance will pay for me to use Proventil, an albuterol-based inhaler which is considered the front-line medication for asthma patients having serious attacks (though recently my co-pay increased from $10 to $20, a result of a new remix using more ozone-friendly propellant, meaning the drug no longer qualifies as a “generic”).

Primatene Mist, by contrast, is an over-the-counter inhaler meant to treat mild asthma attacks in patients whose asthma is pretty well under control without medical intervention. It is NOT recommended for people with diagnosed asthma, because in patients with moderate to severe asthma, it can just do much more harm than good. And while it doesn’t contribute to airway remodeling (a phenomenon where the airways in the lungs change permanently due to chronic asthma-induced inflammation, leading to decreased airflow and lung capacity, and often alarming physicians who take X-rays of my chest), Primatene can cause long-term damage in asthma patients. This is why the nurse told me in response to my question.

Years ago, though, there was a time when I relied on Primatene Mist. I’ve had asthma since birth, as I’ve mentioned, and when my student insurance ran out after I graduated from college, I had no way of treating myself. I couldn’t afford to go to a doctor. I went deep into debt for the occasional hospital visit due to severe attacks; at such visits, I’d get a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, but I wouldn’t get them filled because I simply couldn’t afford it. (Of course, because I was unable to pay for my ER visits, the costs simply carried over to other patients). So I used Primatene. It was available without a prescription, I could afford it, and it worked for short-term relief. It caused damage to my lungs, worsening my asthma in the long-term, but it’s all that was available to me at the time.

MediCal was recommended to me as a way to get medical coverage during this time. Unfortunately, I was earning too much money at the time to qualify for MediCal; I was working two part-time jobs, neither of which provided any insurance, but I needed the income to pay rent (even though I had two housemates to help cover the cost of rent and utilities). It was  a choice for me between MediCal and shelter. I suppose there would have been resources to help me keep a roof over my head while I sacrificed part of my income so that I could get proper treatment for my asthma, but I wasn’t too keen on going on welfare. And, of course, I could not afford private health insurance, since my asthma counted as a pre-existing condition that would have made my premiums prohibitively expensive (and yes, I did look into it).

Fortunately, after a life-endangering episode, I finally got in touch with Dr. G., a local allergist and pulmonologist, who agreed to see me for a minimal cost. Dr. G. gave me the sample medications that drug reps gave him when they came to visit, including an albuterol inhaler so that I no longer had to use Primatene. And because he knew my financial situation, he agreed to see me monthly for the absolute minimal cost that he could — $10 per visit. This meant he wasn’t charging me for any of the tests that he performed, the spirometry and blood pressure and other tests that he performed regularly to keep tabs on my asthma. It was, as I understood it, at least partially dodgy for him to do so since he had to account for all of these tests, but believe me, I appreciated it. Of course, my asthma was aggravated by severe allergies, and, of course, he couldn’t give me the immunotherapy (allergy shots) that I really required to keep my asthma under control; and the drugs he gave me were barely adequate. In short, my asthma was under control, but just barely, and any irritation was liable to cause a serious flare-up which might require a hospital visit.

When I finally got a full-time job that offered health insurance benefits (after years of working part-time for a newspaper where I was regularly exposed to particulate matter in the form of paper dust and ink mist), Dr. G. was thrilled because now I could get the top-of-the-line medications he wanted me to have, and start on immunotherapy. I was thrilled to, although with my employee contribution to health insurance and all of the co-pays I was now paying for office visits and prescriptions, I was earning just under what I’d been earning before with my two part-time jobs. Still, six years after I graduated from college, I finally had adequate health coverage.

All of which is just to point out that the health care system in our nation is a joke. It’s full of pitfalls and traps. You might be able to qualify for state-run health care, but you have to go on welfare to do so because the job you need to pay your rent simply pays too much, putting you at just above the poverty level. If you have children, you have a better chance of getting assistance from the state, though if your child has a major condition — such as asthma — then you’re in trouble (my mom was still paying off my childhood medical bills even when I was in high school). God forbid you have to go on private health insurance, especially if you have a pre-existing condition, which pretty much rules out any notion of self employment. And me, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be working all my life instead of retiring, since I’m sure my asthma and other conditions will simply be too expensive to treat under MediCare or Social Security, without supplemental income. That is, if these conditions don’t kill me before retirement age anyway.

And from what I can tell, I’ve been lucky. I’ve known people with worse medical conditions than mine who can’t get any coverage at all. 68% of bankruptcies in our nation are caused by astronomical health care costs. Of those, 70% of the people filing for bankruptcy have health insurance. 50 million Americans have no form of health care coverage at all, and the majority of those people are children. And children who are sick pose health threats to other children, to say nothing of people in low-wage jobs who have no insurance (or inadequate insurance), who must stay on their job anyway because they can’t afford to take any time off.

The health care debate in our country isn’t just an issue of poor people not having access to adequate health care, it’s a public health issue as well. Diseases spread. Untreated diseases spread further and more aggressively. Even if you have adequate coverage, exposure to someone who is uninsured and sick and still preparing your food or driving your bus will make you sick as well.

That’s why I am totally in favor of health care reform in our country, and why I favor a public option as well. Vague threats about “socialized medicine” don’t scare me at all (and, to be honest, I’m convinced that most people throwing around the boogeyman of “socialized medicine” don’t even know what the term means). I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about insurance companies that link health care to profit and deny previously-guaranteed coverage when an illness becomes too severe. Our “system” is not any sort of system; it’s a convoluted mess of half-assed measures, cracks, and loopholes for executives.

Thus, I support President Obama’s goal of reforming the US health insurance industry to provide affordable health care coverage for all Americans. I’m not a Communist or a Socialist (and again, I think most people who use these terms as perjoratives have no idea what they really mean), though neither am I a Libertarian or a hard-core capitalist. I’m simply an American who believes that when all other Americans have access to adequate health care coverage, the entire nation will benefit.