Idyllic Serenity, a "poem"

maybe some day we'll get that cabin in the woods
grow a garden and only go to town once a week
invite good people to come out and visit us
not too often
we'll have really sturdy railings
i'll be barefoot and in the kitchen
still learning to cook
you screech in from your pregnancy bed
bring another beer and light your cigarette
i come running
it sounds so ideal


Zero-Sum Games: an oversimplification at best

[I wrote this little bit a while ago and forgot about it in my "drafts" folder. I'm posting it now without any additions to pretend I'm doing something with this blog space. -Dylan]

At worst, a political shell game.

Lately I've been hearing about this catch phrase "privacy and security are a zero-sum game." Supposedly it's been on the lips of every U.S. intelligence analyst and operative since SIGINT got it's own agency. (I exaggerate but you get the idea.) It makes no sense. If they really did have a zero-sum relationship, our intelligence community would be the most transparent part of our government because by giving up their privacy they would magically become more secure. So what do these proponents of security mean when they say that? I think they mean: you would be more secure if you give your private information to us, you trust us right? But were people in East Germany more secure because of all the surveillance that the Stasi did? Or was it the state that was more secure because of the fear promoted by their ability to surveil? Are they, at the same time they say this, calling for more real oversight of the intelligence community? No, they aren't. They, along with the rest of the Executive branch believe they are above the law. (While that definitely applies to Bush II's Whitehouse, I believe it applies to all presidents.)


at war with my own magical thinking

So here's the thought, on some level I believe I have an almost supernatural tendency to run into people I know when I travel. I know, this happens to everyone but I feel like it happens much more to me than to others.

Last year, in New York, I was speaking about this to my friend, about how I run into people I know everywhere or meet people I don't know with odd connections to myself or people I know. Not a few hours later, on the subway, I see a sloppy drunk talking to some random other drunk. "I know that blond guy," I whispered to my friend. "You do not!" she replied. Maybe I'm just mistaken, looking for connections everywhere, as any good paranoiac does, I thought. The drunk was grossly eating a shawerma and, after spilling it on himself and the floor and scarfing down the rest, he stood up, walked to the other end of the car, opened the door, and threw his wrapper out of the moving train. Disgusting I thought, glad I don't know him. But on his way back to his seat I caught a good look at his face, and yes, I know him, hopefully he won't recognize me. A few seconds after sitting down, his arm shoots out at me, "YOU, I KNOW YOU! Cafe Express, Right?" He comes and sits next to me, spraying his shawerma saliva on me as he talks. We exchange a little information, he expresses his hatred of his job and obvious disdain for mine and my plan to study economics. I believe his exact words were "all economists I know are glorified accountants." Which happens to be my current profession, accounting. When I tell him I'm just in New York to help my friend move he gives her a pretty vile undressing with his eyes, best as he can while sitting on the other side of me. We get off at the same station and, unable to cut the interaction short for some reason, I follow him outside where he's catching his bus. Thankfully, we're able to leave him here to the rest of his drunken path home.

Then, this year, I went to New York again. Again I stayed with that friend who didn't believe me. Walking from the train to her place I cross paths with another friend, luckily someone I wanted to see this time, someone I forgot was in New York. In a neighborhood she said she generally avoids. We decided to have lunch the following day, which was nice. Not as much of a story as the other but 2 for 2.

Then, at most four weeks later, I'm in Portland, drunk, smoking, sitting on a low wall on my way back to the youth hostel. In something of a depressed mood. three women are walking towards me and not wanting to stare like the drunk I was, I looked away, past them. "Dylan?!" one of them says. Not just a friend, but someone else I missed while in New York, visiting Portland. Three for three.

So I try to avoid thinking that the world has some inscrutable plan, or my chi or whatever draws people I know to myself, or any one of the other magical thoughts I've had regarding my life, regarding this most stupid of "super powers." I can tell myself this just happens but it repeats and repeats and repeats. When I think somewhat rationally about this, I figure the fact that I still look almost exactly the same as I did in high school has a lot to do with it, or at least being recognizable doesn't hurt. But how often do any of us really think rationally?


HSA "Insurance": the scam

My employer has Health Savings Account insurance. This means that I have a high annual deductible (what I pay before they start to pay) and a savings account that I can add to and that my employer does add to each month with non-taxed dollars to pay for expenses before I've met my deductible.

I have Hepatitis C. I probably received it from a blood transfusion in 1983, before before they knew of Hep C and before they were testing the blood supply for HIV, so I actually feel lucky. I didn't find out about that until around 1996 when I tried to give blood for the first time. I saw a hepatologist when I found out and since the genotype of the virus I have was the resistant kind, I figured a 30% success rate for putting up with a treatment that was almost as bad as Chemotherapy wasn't good enough for me to actually do anything about it at the time.

So fast forward 10 years, to the next time I saw a doctor for this issue. I did see a doctor for an unrelated sickness 8 years before that but that was the last time I saw a doctor at all. I had to fight my insurance company to pay for the doctor's visit but that wasn't very hard and it was my money from the HSA that paid anyway. Their excuse was that it was a "preexisting condition," which I'll give them but legally it's only a preexisting condition if I'd seen a doctor for this in the previous two years. They did pay for those visits but only after angry calls and threats of getting a lawyer. At that visit, my doctor seemed to be steering me towards this same treatment, though the results have gotten better (~50% for the resistant strain) and they know sooner if it's not working and can stop the treatment. Before I got the treatment I started to feel seriously depressed and since suicidal depression is a possible side effect I wanted to make sure it was necessary before I started. So my doctor mentioned that I could get a liver biopsy to see what the effect on my liver had been. I went in, had the biopsy, the results said there was no damage to my liver. Confirmation that the treatment is not an emergency. All told, that brought home a bill of around $2500. I knew this would be an expense so I had put money into my HSA to cover it. My insurance statements, there were 3 of them for this one event, showed up and they covered the doctor's time (1st statement), refused both the lab work (2nd statement) and all the extra hospital expenses like needles and the local anesthetic (3rd statement). What they refused was, again, on the grounds that it was a "preexisting condition." So here I am, 8 mos. later, fighting them to pay these bills that probably won't go above my deductible. This wouldn't feel like such a slap in the face if I was fighting them to cover it with their own money, but it's my money they're refusing to spend. Money I set aside for this purpose.

So this is what I learned, markets are the wrong mechanism for insurance. Markets provide incentives for insurance companies to a) push their responsibility onto the consumer, b) to refuse paying for treatment whenever possible (even, as in my case, the biopsy was cheaper than the treatment likely would have been), and c) refusing or pricing out of the market many "high risk" individuals from coverage altogether. Obviously they also hurt hospitals too because we need to spend much higher percentages of our health care dollars on overhead such as billing departments that don't actually improve health care. And they are paid for this service. A job well done. Too bad that job is creating bankruptcy and making it more difficult for hospitals to provide the care we need.


Morality (as I see it) in action - pt I

This is an exploration in morality as I see it. It is in parts that should be read in order.
I start off with the assumptions and basic moral principles I believe. This list is merely in the order I thought to include them, I do not see them in this order.

  • I believe that there is "evil" in the world, that it is always perpetrated by people, often in the name of something they see as "good" whether that is a selfish "good" or not. "Evil" is a social thing and while it differs across religious/cultural boundaries, I believe there are a few things that are considered wrong to the point of "evil" by the basic tenets of almost every tribe, religion, and nation. By "evil" I mean selfish action by individuals and groups that severely limits other individuals or groups from also realizing themselves in non-"evil" ways. Some examples I see are killing, inciting others to kill, restraining people without proof, torture, genocide, combat that is not in self defense or mutually agreed upon (boxing, for instance), and forcing people to live in ghettos or other forms of poor spaces by limiting their free movement. I believe there may be justifications for some of these actions such as self defense or extreme pain but these justifications are very rare (torture, genocide, and ghettoizing have no justifiable examples that I can think of). I believe that watching something happen and not opposing it is wrong and should not happen, but I do not see it as evil. I see these things as evil when they are done personally or in an impersonal manner, though this may be a false distinction since it's always personal to those affected.

  • "Good" is always personal. I do not believe there is any sort of universal "good." There is a good for masochists that differs from the good for most people but even there, for hurting a masochist not to be wrong, it must be agreed upon or in self defense.

  • I do not believe that belief in any god or even anything beyond consciousness is necessary to live morally as I see it. I do believe in something beyond individual consciousness, though I'm not exactly sure what. While I take comfort in this belief, I do not see it as necessary to behave morally and I understand that I may be wrong.

  • Ideas in themselves can not be evil. Action alone can be evil. No matter how misguided I see their ideas, if a racist group proposes merely to non-violently separate and limit themselves from any interference or interaction with their hated group(s), this is acceptable and I don't feel that I can classify it as evil. If a group sees themselves as god's chosen people or special or otherwise superior, as many groups do, this also is not evil, though I see it as misguided. Either of these strains of superiority can lead to selfish actions that limit others but, as long as those actions are not taken, the ideas are just that, ideas, and they should be engaged and confronted with other ideas or let to stand, ignored.

  • People should have a part in decisions to the degree they are affected. I understand this would be difficult and likely impossible but I believe that "a part in decisions to the degree...affected" is a theoretical limit to fairness, equality in decision making, and non-coercion that we, as a species, should aspire to. "Limit" I mean as a limit in mathematics is the line that a curve may approach but never quite be able to reach no matter how close it appears to get. I do not feel that representative democracies or market economies even approach or try to approach this measure. (for a more detailed view of what I mean by "People should have a part in decisions to the degree they are affected" see Parecon: Self Management)

  • As I see it, the only way to justify self defense is to be attacked, literally, by the individuals and those responsible above them in the chain of command you are defending yourself from. That if a person or group escalates the situation, returning fists to some one's cold remark, they are an aggressor. Self defense must be an equivalent or lesser action to those already acted upon you. Civilians and infrastructure that civilians depend upon for survival should not be targeted. This applies to terrorists killing innocents and to "targeted" assassination of terrorists that end up killing innocents. Preemptive strikes are not self-defense by this measure.

  • It is only by trying to live up to the moral views we hold others to that we can say anything of comparing morality between ourselves and others. I concede that I am a failure by my own measure. I believe we must explore these issues, that exploring these issues is important however flawed we are according to our own standards. We need to find out what those standards are in order to try to live up to them.

  • I feel that state and organizational actors (both the entities themselves and those who hold power within those entities when acting in their official capacity) must behave to higher standards than individuals since they generally have more power to throw around and, often, an enforced monopoly on violence and coercion within their borders, area, or purview. I also believe there are other reasons for this such as having to answer to groups of people and have rules that many individuals can agree upon. With this great power comes greater responsibility, particularly in an age with nuclear weapons and a society so large and fragmented that each of our knowledge is so specialized.

  • I believe that there are many ways to oppose or confront ideas and actions that we dislike without the use of force and coercion. Sometimes they do require the threat of force or a show that one is unwilling to back down on these issues but refusing to move is a different matter than lashing out. They both require a willingness to risk but one is active upon the other person while the other is active only with regards to oneself.

  • I believe that respect is all we can ask. Love is a strong emotion and perhaps some can love all equally but it is more than I can do and definitely more than we can ask of everyone. By respect I primarily mean fairness, living up to one's agreements or providing explanation for why one can't, honesty, and an attempt to understand the other's point of view. We should not put on a false smile or otherwise deny our own feelings and humanity for anyone since this is disrespectful to ourselves. It is also our duty to let those who disrespect us know that they have disrespected us in no uncertain terms, in the hopes that they will alter their behavior though we can not force them to. If someone seems unaware that they have upset us or offended us and we merely are upset but do not tell them directly, if we talk about it indirectly hoping that they will understand and be shamed, it is only our fault that they have not changed their behavior in that instance. It is only our fault that they don't understand because we are not being clear, we are trying to protect ourselves with plausible deniability and that is not respectful because it is dishonest or at least leaving a space for dishonesty which is inherently dishonest. We can not expect others to see with our eyes if we do not tell them what we see. If we tell them and they still do not see, then it is on them, but we have done our duty.


Pat Robertson calls for CIA assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez

article on Pat RObertson's call for assassination

What is good old Pat thinking? Pat's reasoning, according to the short CNN bit about it that I saw, is that he is making Venezuela a launching pad for "communism" in the region. Having just been to Venezuela, this is a claim I won't deny since Chavez has openly said he would like to spread socialism but I think it is more than a little something of a simplification and rhetoric. The "communism" Pat refers to brings images of Stalin's Gulags and central planning. What I saw in Venezuela was not the communism of Russia or East Germany but more a capitalist society with some necessary social programs. It was decentralized, with neighborhoods overseeing the programs that they benefit from. Plenty of Chavez supporters that I spoke with were less concerned with the man than that he needed to be kept at his word to provide these necessary services to the poor in a country of extreme dichotomy between the rich and poor. Those in poverty still live in barrios of large public housing like apartment buildings or houses built one on top of each other up a hill where the only health and education services they have access to have been created by Chavez's government. The few times I spoke with anti-Chavez folks, very few good arguments against him were brought up. While one man thought the medical services provided by the Cuban doctors were necessary, he thought it should have been done with Venezuelan doctors, a good idea, in theory. He ignored the fact that the Venezuelan doctors opposed the idea from the beginning and they hadn't made it a priority to offer their services at a price that a large majority of Venezuelans can afford. He also ignored the fact that some Venezuelans are being added to the payroll of these clinics, at about twice the pay rate of the Cubans. The only other somewhat understandable disagreement with him that I heard was that while Chavez said he was a friend to the poor and working to make their lives better he was sitting there wearing signs of wealth such as a rolex. While I do see this as being disconnected to his rhetoric it is better that he is actually making the lives of people better and wearing a Rolex than Bush's rhetoric of security from terror when he hasn't worked to protect the ports or our many nuclear facilities and the only real alterations he has made were to make it a huge hassle for foreigners to come to the U.S. or for those in the U.S. to fly.

But why, I might ask, is it wrong for a man with the influence that Pat Robertson has to call for the assassination of the head of state of another country, particularly Chavez? Most importantly, if Pat believes in democracy like he says he does, why would he call for assassination, a very disgusting method of regime change, an undemocratic process? After two unsuccessful electoral attempts to remove Chavez from power and one attempted coup, Chavez is still in power thanks to popular support. While the heads of state in the U.S. (Bush and his cabinet) have been calling Venezuela an "autocratic democracy" or worse, Chavez has not suspended the constitution or attempted to overstep his constitutionally mandated powers as chief executive since taking office. Despite our government's support of anti-Chavez groups, an obvious attempt to influence the politics of another country, these groups have been allowed to speak and protest. The oligarchs own much of the land and media in the country. It is only the State media that supports Chavez and yet he still reaches approval ratings that Bush only Rivaled after 9/11. The people of Venezuela are proud of the accomplishments of their country under Chavez. If it were not for them the programs created under Chavez would not be possible since many of them are largely volunteer based. Many of these programs are largely self sufficient or very cheap thanks to these volunteers and the fact that people are participating in lifting themselves up proves strong support for Chavez and the programs he has helped build. Why would a man who says that he is a christian be opposed to someone who provides aid to those who need it?


Biking New York City

I recently spent a week in Manhattan and realized that it is a great city to bike. If you ever get the chance when in NYC, borrow a bike. It isn't in spite of the traffic, it is because of it.