Friday, March 31, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

What? Friday again? Well, last Friday we announced our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, so that means it's time once again to dip into our collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Here we go ...

I think the editor had fun with this layout ...

This headline applies at every level of government ...

You have to love those father-daughter outings ...

Don't worry ... they don't understand it, either ...

Gotta protect the ghosts ...

Hmmm ...

I took this picture of a sign at the swimming pool of a hotel we stayed at in New Jersey earlier this year. I wonder what it says about their usual clientele that they thought it necessary to tell people not to wash out soiled diapers in the pool ...

I don't care for those styrofoam coolers that look dead, how about you? ...

Well, yes, perhaps after too many rounds of beer pong ...

I think this person is advising Representative Devin Nunes on how to conduct an open and above-board investigation ...

And there you go ... our last collection of editorial and signage gems for the month of March. Be sure to come back tomorrow, when we'll celebrate April Fool's Day and Cartoon Saturday together.

More thoughts then.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Guest Post

Hey, there! It's me again, Clara - Bilbo and Agnes's granddog ...

I just realized that I haven't posted anything since October of last year! I mean, it's not my fault that it's been so long ... I can't always get to the computer, and I don't want to post unless I have something worthwhile to say, so I don't post very often. I don't want to waste your time.

But I'm ready now ... Bilbo's out grocery shopping, and the computer is available. Here we go ...

I'm really amazed that you humans waste so much time harping on politics instead of working together to make things better. It's no wonder you can't get anything done. You spend so much time arguing about who's liberal and who's conservative (or conservative enough or a RINO*) and who loves the country more and why everyone who doesn't think like you do are crazy and all that stuff. You guys are nuts.

Now, we dogs are basically conservative. We're suspicious of change, because we like things to be nice and orderly, and to know what to expect from day to day. We approach change cautiously ... we take plenty of time to carefully sniff out new things before we decide if they're okay or not. But we're also kind of liberal, because we know that sometimes change works in our favor (dog food gets better all the time, and it's more fun to chase drones than old-fashioned frisbees). We're wary of changes, like I said, but one we've sniffed around enough to make a good decision, we make it and stick with it until it's time to sniff out something else. You humans do a lot of sniffing, then just keep on fighting against good ideas, just because the wrong person brought them up.

We're not good at playing political games like you humans do. We're loyal, and we'll protect you and your children from danger and won't turn on you for some silly reason, like that Trump person. If we like you, we're behind you all the way. If not, well, that's when we growl and bite.

Cats, of course, are neither liberal nor conservative ... they're clearly libertarians: they depend on you, but are completely convinced of their own independence and superiority. They're very political and very calculating and insist on having everything their own way. They're the Freedom Caucus of the animal world. A cat will throw you under the bus in an instant if someone else fires up the can opener before you do.

I'm not sure when you humans are going to get your act together, but it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. Don't make us have to come over there and bite you.

That's all for now. The garbage collectors will be here any minute, and I need to make sure they know I'm on guard.

Bilbo will be back tomorrow with his own post. Until then, woof!


* I think it means "Republican in Name Only" and it's supposed to be an insult. Bilbo says there aren't any actual Republicans any more, anyhow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thinking About What Health Care Plans Should Cover

If you needed any proof that the compassion train has left the station in the health care debate, you could have heard it in an interview that aired on NPR on Saturday, March 25th, in which former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declared, "Health care is not a right, it's a responsibility."

In fairness, I must admit that I agree with Mr DeLay in part: each of us has a fundamental responsibility to maintain our own health. We know that we shouldn't smoke, drink to excess, take drugs, have indiscriminate sex, or eat an unhealthy diet; that we should exercise, keep our bodies and our environment clean, get enough sleep, and so on. To that extent, we are each responsible for keeping ourselves healthy.

The much-maligned Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") tries to help people keep themselves healthy by establishing a list of "essential services" that any plan offered in the health care insurance exchanges must provide. Many Conservatives object to this requirement because they don't think the government has any business mandating something that ought to be a personal responsibility. I understand that argument. However, given that when people shirk that responsibility (say, by choosing not to buy insurance), they end up costing the rest of us money when they have to resort to more expensive emergency care that we're paying for through higher insurance premiums. Seen in that way, I think it's justified.

In bold type below are the ACA's ten "essential services" (copied directly from the website), with my thoughts on why they are important to helping us keep ourselves healthy:

1. Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital).
Sometimes it's not an emergency, but you need to see a doctor for care you can't provide yourself. Think routine care for infections, illnesses, sprains, minor injuries, etc.

2. Emergency services.
In spite of our best efforts to keep ourselves healthy, we can always get injured in accidents. At times like these, we may need emergency help for acute conditions we can't treat ourselves. Unfortunately, emergency services are often abused by people who have no other alternative for receiving care, which raises costs across the board and ties up capabilities needed to respond to true emergencies. A health care system that prioritizes routine services that keep people healthy would almost certainly reduce the use of emergency services for non-emergencies.

3. Hospitalization (like surgery and overnight stays).
Most of us aren't qualified to perform surgery on ourselves when it's required, and surgery conducted by a professional is (justifiably) expensive. In-patient care at a hospital is also expensive, although I suspect If you don't need surgery, you might consider it unnecessary frippery you shouldn't have to pay for ... but when you need it, chances are you really need it. And you'll almost certainly need insurance to help pay for it*.

4. Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth).
When the expectant mother keeps herself healthy (diet, exercise, etc), receives good routine prenatal care, delivers a healthy baby in a safe environment, and that baby receives good postnatal care, both mother and baby will remain healthy and be far less likely to need expensive care in the future.

5. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy).
Maintaining sound mental health is important for a lot of reasons, one of which is that advocates of unrestricted gun rights often blame the perpetrator's mental problems for violence committed using guns. One would think they would support such care. I can understand an aversion to requiring insurance policies to cover treatment for substance abuse (which is, generally, a personal failing), but if we look at the long term cost to society (in terms of crime, stress on the health care system, and so on), perhaps covering this treatment is worthwhile in the long term.

6. Prescription drugs.
While prescription drugs are difficult to develop and test, allowing the Holy Marketplace to set their price tends to price them well beyond the means of most Real People. I had my own experience with the cost of prescription drugs a while back when my employer shifted us to a "high-deductible" plan and my copay for a medication I take went from about $20 to $1300. Don't get me started on price-gouging with prescription drugs.

7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills).
There's a good case to be made for providing medical services and devices which speed a sick or injured person's recovery. The faster such people are returned to health, the sooner they can return to work or other productive activity.

8. Laboratory services.
Your doctor needs accurate information to help keep you healthy, so it seems reasonable to have insurance policies cover routine laboratory services and tests.

9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management.
There are things we can't necessarily do for ourselves to keep ourselves healthy ... think things like flu shots and routine immunizations against illness. Don't get me started on the selfish stupidity of the anti-vaccination crowd.

10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care (but adult dental and vision coverage aren’t essential health benefits).
This one goes hand-in-hand with #4, continuing the maintenance of children's health through adolescence. Helping children and adolescents stay healthy breeds healthier adults who are less likely to need more expensive health services.

There are two more "additional benefits" the ACA requires plans to provide: Birth Control Coverage; and Breastfeeding Coverage. I have to admit that I'm of two minds on these.

I can see that requiring insurance plans to cover birth control has the benefit of helping limit unwanted pregnancies and all the medical, and socioeconomic problems that go along with them; on the other, it may force insurance providers to be a party to an action to which they have a religious objection**.

As for "breastfeeding coverage," I don't understand why it couldn't be included in the "Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care" requirement we discussed in #4 above. Making it a separate requirement just complicates things. And if you're going to require insurance to cover the cost of breast pumps, why not require it to pay for formula for women who don't choose to breastfeed?

Oh, and one last thing: why on earth do we require separate insurance for vision and dental care? I suppose there's someone with a PhD in medical economics who can explain it in terms of arcane economic theory, but I just don't think it makes any sense.

I don't pretend to have all the answers to our health care problems ... I'm just a blogger who reads and thinks a lot, and who has to figure out how to keep his family healthy in the midst of world-class health care most Americans can't afford. All I know is that President Obama and his allies actually tried to bring American health care into the 21st century. The ACA is far from a perfect plan, but it's not the cataclysmic disaster that the GOP tries to portray. And speaking of the GOP, they had seven long years to come up with either a new plan more to their philosophical liking, or tweaks that would help fix the shortcomings of the ACA. They did neither. All they did was bitch and complain and hold useless show votes to repeal the ACA. They have forfeited the right to be taken seriously as a governing party.

Have a good day. Stay healthy ... you can't afford not to.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Unless your last name is "Trump," "Rockefeller," "Gates," "Buffett," or something similar.

** My personal opinion is that people have no business imposing their religious beliefs on others, but not everyone sees it the way I do.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spam Roundup

It's time once again to explore some of the weirdly amazing things that have shown up in my e-mail in-boxes over the last few weeks ... punctuation and spelling are as in the originals ...

I seem to get a lot of e-mail from "President Trump" - the latest one is titled "How to gain wealth in 2017." I know this is spam, because there's no policy Mr Trump advocates that will result in my gaining wealth in 2017 or ever. If the GOP has its way, Social Security will be gutted and Medicare will be slashed, which will pretty much wipe out any illusory "tax cuts" I'd be eligible for (if I were rich enough to be eligible for them ... although living in a cardboard box in an alley would probably save money over my mortgage payments.

Russian brides are so 2016 ... now I'm being offered Ukrainian brides in an e-mail which offers video chats in which I can "care for the lonely women." Although I do, in fact, know several absolutely beautiful Russian and Ukrainian women, I think I'll pass on the opportunity to import any others.

From the Department of How on Earth Did They Get My Address comes an e-mail from "Miracle Bust" with the subject line, "Before and After Results: Natural Breast Enlargement."

"Matt Roberson, MD" sent me this interesting message: "This hidden muscle makes you look 10 lbs lighter." The joke's on him ... I'm over 65 - all my muscles are hidden.

"Keranique" says that I can "Regrow Thicker, Longer, Stronger, Healthier Hair." The problem is, it will probably grow in my ears and nostrils.

"Burial Insurance for Seniors" is still after my business, urging me to "Protect loved ones with burial insurance - details inside." Yes, I'm going to hurry up and click on that one right away.

Here's an interesting one: "Megan Kelly Controversy" sent me an e-mail with the subject line, "NBC Hires Megan Kelly After Controversial Drug Discovery." Hmmm ... if anyone were on drugs, I'd think it would be Kellyanne Conway, but I'm not interested in more information about either lady.

"Joel" has sent me one e-mail offering "Grandma & grandpa's 2 min ritual for rapid fatloss" and another with the subject line "Grandparents shed flab fast." I suspect they have something to do with recommending divorce attorneys.

"Cannabis Gummies" is offering me the chance to "Legally Buy Cannabis Extract in All 50 States (9072014)." I'm not sure what the "9072014" in the subject line means; it's probably the paragraph number in the US Code that lists the federal penalties for the purchase of cannabis extract.

Spam. What would we do without it?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when we crown our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Notes from Our Vacation - Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

The last official day of our cruise was Wednesday, March 8th, and the Star Princess put into the port of Ensenada, Mexico for a brief visit to satisfy US legal requirements before returning to Los Angeles. There really isn't a lot to say about Ensenada, which came across to me as just another tourist-trap Mexican port.

The approach to the harbor ...

No shortage of pleasure and working boats ...

The Star Princess shared the port with another cruise ship ...

We'd originally planned to just spend the day on the ship, because we've had our fill of visits to Mexican tourist ports where we were besieged by armies of hyperaggressive street vendors, but we changed our minds when our on-board waiter recommended a good restaurant.

We hopped the $3 shuttle bus ($1 to town, $2 to return to the ship) and went into town, where we were immediately reintroduced to every junk-hawking street vendor in Baja Mexico. In desperation, we hopped on a bus tour to the tourist center at La Bufadora, although this did not free us from the local "entertainment" ... a fellow climbed into the bus to bang on his guitar and loudly and ineptly serenade us until the seats were all filled. We had the misfortune of sitting in the first row of seats, so he was blaring away at full volume right next to us as the bus slowly filled. I gave him a dollar in the hopes that it would shut him up, but it didn't work. He did, however, by standing right at the top of the steps in the doorway, keep the rest of the vendors from getting on the bus, so I guess it was sort of worth it.

The drive to La Bufadora took about 45 minutes and passed through the sort of scenery we've grown accustomed to in Mexico: alternating between the beautiful and modern and the seedy and run-down. Lots of agriculture, including endless fields of asparagus, and lots of discount pharmacies (about which more later). There was nothing worth taking pictures of until we reached our destination, which had some glorious views of the surf crashing on the rocky shoreline ...

The La Bufadora marketplace was a long, winding stretch of restaurants, bars, and shops selling leather, silver, jewelry, t-shirts, and all sorts of other touristy junk. In order to get to the actual scenic overlooks, we had to run the gauntlet of shop owners calling out to "Mr Rockefeller" and "pretty lady" (you can guess which of us was which), and trying to drag us into their lairs. I ended up buying only one thing: a carved dragon as a birthday gift for my granddaughter who loves dragons ...

La Bufadora ("the blowhole") itself is said to be one of the largest marine geysers in the world ("you will get wet!", according to the ship's tour information office). In the picture below, you can see a group of slicker-clad kayakers waiting to get doused by the mighty blast ... but they rowed away disappointed. We were halfway to La Bufadora on the bus when our guide told us that because we would be there at low tide and there was very little wind, we would be unlikely to see the geyser in its full glory. Sadly, he was right ... we saw a few anemic pffffts of spray, but none of the glorious blast we'd been ready to see. Oh, well ...

Somehow, I'm not surprised that signs like these are needed ...

We did the usual swapping of cameras with a pair of Japanese tourists to get our touristy happy-snaps over the glorious blue sea ...

When Congress gets done mucking up health care, these "discount pharmacies" which require "no prescription" (of which there were at least three in the La Bufadora marketplace alone) may be the last places you'll be able to afford your meds ...

Back at the ship, we spent some time watching the show provided by hundreds of sea lions that swam, sunned, squabbled, and barked loudly along the pier.

And not just along the pier ... Agnes spotted these four sea lions snuggled up on a floating buoy we passed as the Star Princess cruised majestically out of the harbor ...

And with that, we left Ensenada and the sea lions behind and sailed off into the sunset, headed for Los Angeles and the end of our cruise ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Poetry Sunday

As the father of a daughter, I can very much relate to this ...

At the Diamond School of Dance 
by Jon Loomis 

It’s me and the mothers, out in the foyer.
Linoleum floors, knotty-pine, late ’50s rumpus room-
long row of trophies, blue ribbons on a shelf.
I’m here with my daughter, who’s four.
Who, because no one gives princess lessons,
has opted for dancing. She likes the tutus, the tap shoes,
the tights. The teachers are kind.
They’re graceful as egrets, strong in the thighs.
We chitchat, the mothers and I. We futz with our phones.
We’re large, rooted like silos.
Chopin leaks from the studio: a nocturne, full of rain.
The little girls dance-pliƩ, sashay, arabesque-
earnest as death, as if nothing
was ever so hard, or mattered so much. Mothers!
Let us rush in and embrace them! Let us snatch them
up to our great bosoms, and never tell them the truth.

Never tell them the truth. Unfortunately, they'll learn it soon enough. And nowadays, sadly, the truth means little anyhow.

Have a good day. Be good to your daughters, and your sons, and your grandchildren. More thoughts tomorrow, when we visit Ensenada, Mexico on the approach to the end of our vacation.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

It's spring, and in spring a young man's thoughts turn to ... well ... usually they turn to thoughts of love*. Nowadays, they turn to thoughts of what the hell is Trump going to do next?.

A hopelessly fractured Republican party failed to pass it's replacement for the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") despite control of both branches of Congress and the White House, and Mr Trump immediately blamed everyone but himself for the debacle; Chuck Barris, creator of TV's legendary "Gong Show" and "The Dating Game," died in Hollywood at age 87; in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the director of the FBI stated flatly that there was no evidence of truth in Mr Trump's accusation that former President Obama had wiretapped him during the presidential campaign; in the last five months, eight prominent opponents of the Putin regime, including five diplomats, have either been murdered or died of "natural causes;" and a man suspected of being a radicalized British citizen used a car and a knife to murder four people and injure more than 50 others in London.

Since Mr Trump appears to believe in government by Twitter and innuendo, in 140-character increments, I thought it would be appropriate this week to feature cartoons about social media in general, and Twitter in particular.

Could there have been a medieval Twitter based on carrier tweets? ...

One wonders if things might have been different with social media on the Ides of March ...

Oddly enough ...

Social media noir ...

This may be the ultimate outcome of the bromance between Mr Trump and Mr Putin ...

The Trump approach ...

Sadly, I can see this ...

When the time comes, I imagine this is how Mr Trump will choose to go ...

Truth ...

And there you have it for this week's Cartoon Saturday. If you are in despair over the state of what passes for governance in Washington, I hope I've managed to brighten your day a little bit.

Agnes and I will be headed to the teeming megalopolis of Midlothian, Virginia, today to cheer for our granddaughter Leya as she participates in another rock climbing competition. Not the sort of "on the rocks" I usually go for, but we grandparents do what we must.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


* "In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove; / In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Locksley Hall")

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2017

As we approach the end of March and enter the third full month of the Trump administration, the crowd of eager ass clowns clamoring for recognition grows every day. Mr Trump himself is the all-time record holder for ass clown recognition, having been a winner or a co-winner of the award seven times in the history of this blog (dating back long before his ill-fated* presidential campaign); thus, I have decided to retire his eligibility (however well it may be deserved) in favor of other deserving recipients.

And so it is with a bit of trepidation that I decide once again to award recognition to yet another repeat recipient, one who has worked nonstop and with great energy to earn his place in the roster of world-class ass clowns.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, the

Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award
March, 2017

is presented - for the second time** - to

White House Press Secretary
Sean Spicer

The job of White House Press Secretary is a difficult and an important one. The Press Secretary is the face of the administration, speaking to the American people and to the world with the voice of the President. He - or she - is the person we expect to present the essential truth while putting the best possible face on bad news.

Mr Spicer is a colossal failure on all counts.

In his (very weak) defense, he is representing a president who has absolutely no problem with lying shamelessly and doubling down on it when presented with proof of his falsehoods. Nevertheless, by twisting himself into rhetorical pretzels*** in defense of the indefensible, Mr Spicer has contributed to the cheapening of his position and the reduction of the American presidency to an international laughingstock.

As parents, we tell our children that words matter, that truth is better than lies, that our integrity is a priceless asset not to be squandered. Parents today have a difficult time impressing those lessons on their children when their president and his chief spokesman stand up every day and fire off not only lies, but needless lies that are easily disproven, that make the speakers look like clueless idiots. This opinion piece by former National Security Advisor and permanent US representative to the United Nations Susan Rice pretty much sums it up.

For his blind abetting, in the face of all contrary evidence, of the blatant lies of the Trump administration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer is presented his second Ass Clown award.

And we are the losers.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday - more thoughts then.


* For the country.

** He was designated the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2017

*** Graydon Carter, writing in Vanity Fair, described Mr Spicer as "the M.C. Escher of the English language."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Notes from Our Vacation - Lahaina, Maui

On the morning of Thursday, March 3rd, the Star Princess anchored off the port of Lahaina on the island of Maui, said port not being large and deep enough to accommodate big cruise ships. This meant we had to get to the shore via the ship's tenders - small vessels able to carry 50 or 60 people wedged in cheek-by-jowl. Ordinarily, this is not a big deal; however, the seas were quite rough that morning, and getting from the ship onto the pitching tender* was ... well ... exciting. I fully expected at least one person to end up either in the drink or mashed between tender and ship, but we all somehow made it safely aboard.

Our tour was scheduled to visit two locations: the Haleakala National Park, and the Maui Ocean Center, and our tour guide - a huge, genial Hawaiian who told us to just call him Henry (his actual Hawaiian name being very long and difficult for non-natives like us to remember) - kept up a very entertaining and informative patter as we went along.

The summit of the Haleakala volcano sits at about 10,700 feet (3,200 meters) above sea level, and is reached by a steep and endlessly-switchbacking road that works its way through just about every sort of vegetation zone on Earth, from tropical to desert to alpine. There aren't many guardrails along the route, especially at the higher elevations, and the giant bus's navigation around some of the tighter switchbacks tended to be exciting, particularly on the way down. The route to the summit rises from sea level to 10,700 feet in about 37 miles, making it one of the steepest and fastest-rising climbs in the world.

Here's a shot Agnes took from the bus as we approached the lower visitor's center, at about the 7,000 foot (2,100 meter) level, with the deep blue sea in the background.

There are two visitors centers in the park: the lower one is larger, and has the usual gift shop and staff of helpful park rangers to answer questions. 

It also had a helpful "you are here" map to help us place ourselves on the mountain. In case the picture doesn't blow up enough to see it, the lower visitors center is at the lower right of the map, and you can see how the road switchbacks up to the upper visitors center, which sits about 600 feet below the actual summit.

The upper visitors center (at about 9,700 feet or 3,000 meters) was significantly less inviting when we got there. A front had moved in and the summit was completely socked in with cold, wet clouds. It was raining steadily, with a very stiff wind blowing**. As you can imagine, we did not get the beautiful volcanic landscape photos we were hoping for ...

After a stay of about 20 minutes at the upper visitors center (which was manned by only one park ranger, probably the one who drew the short straw that day), we picked up our date-stamped "I made it all the way up Haleakala" certificates and boarded the bus for the white-knuckled ride down the mountain to warmer climes and the Maui Ocean Center

The center is a focal point for marine study and conservation, and has beautiful and informative displays about marine life. Tropical fish are gorgeous, and it's very peaceful and calming to watch them swim by ...

One hopes we will be able to save the beautiful and ecologically-important coral reefs ...

This was a fascinating example of natural camouflage ...

And this is about as close as I ever need to get to a shark ...

We finished the day by wandering around the harbor area of Lahaina, where Agnes - ever the lover of wildlife of all kinds - couldn't pass up the opportunity to pose with a few of her new friends. Yes, they're all real ...

The last - and one of the most fascinating things - we saw was this enormous banyan tree. The picture actually shows only a small part of it; the entire tree covers about half an acre of a local park, and is the largest banyan in Hawaii. The original seedling planted in 1873 was about 8 feet (2.4 meters) high; by 2005 it had grown to a height of about 49 feet (15 m), had 16 trunks, and a circumference of nearly a quarter of a mile ...

By the time we boarded the tender to return to the Star Princess, the seas had calmed quite a bit from the morning's excitement, and we had a much more pleasant ride across the harbor to end our too-short stay on Maui.

This was our last stop in Hawaii. The final port of call before we returned to Los Angeles was Ensenada, Mexico, and we'll talk about that next week, after the usual Friday, Saturday, and Sunday posts.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow to greet our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March. More thoughts then.


* I now know why they call them tenders ... it's because of how every part of your body feels after it's been slammed around for a while against the sides of the boat and the other passengers.

** The people who ignored the tour guidance to dress in warm layers didn't get off the bus for more than about 10 seconds ... there's a reason the Park Service recommends against tank tops and shorts for visiting the summit. I also recommend against using the rest rooms there ... as they are unheated and will absolutely wake you up.