Monthly Archives: October 2013

Adventures In Obamacare 4: Wrath Against Obama

There has been some somewhat warranted righteous indignation against President Obama for his repeated comments that you will be able to keep your insurance if you like it.  Obama really pulled a Obi Wan Kenobi on this one.  What he said was true from a certain point of view.  Plans were grandfathered in when the Affordable Care Act went live.  All insurance companies had to do was not materially change the coverage during that time.  In the real world, insurance companies materially change their coverage all the time.  People don’t even recognize that this happens.  They get a lengthy legalese notice from the insurance company and quickly check to see if they owe money and then recycle it.

Another part of the story is that insurance companies are just choosing to not continue certain plans even though they are grandfathered in.  There are no statistics that I can find, but I would guess that a majority of the individuals receiving cancellation notices (including myself) fall into this category.  Look at it from the insurance company’s perspective.  They can either choose to keep a plan which they can no longer sign up new customers or they can drop the plan and force customers to choose a new Obamacare approved plan.  Which would you choose if you were an insurance company?

We have to also keep in mind that this is just the individual insurance market we’re talking about here.  And while potentially 15 million individuals (including myself) fall into this pool, it’s still only 5% of the entire population.  We get inundated with horror stories of people’s rates going way up, but they’re all just anecdotes.  Me?  Similar coverage from my cancelled plan to my new plan will actually save me money.  Without a bigger picture, it’s all just rage over nothing.  Not to mention we have no proof that the anecdotes are actually true.  One told of an individual whose rates were going way up and he was saying that he’ll just cancel his insurance and wait to get insurance when he gets sick.  Um, insurance doesn’t work like that.  I certainly hope the reporter told the guy so.

The worst thing is that the information that comes from the insurance companies is basically crap.  My notice doesn’t mention any concrete reasons why my individual policy was being cancelled.  It does make mention of pediatric dental coverage being necessary under Obamacare, but it doesn’t really say that my current plan doesn’t cover it.

This was really a shoot yourself in the foot moment for Obama.  Even though a vast majority of the population is going to be able to keep their insurance, he should have really nuanced his bold claim that you would be able to keep your insurance a lot more than he did.  With all the blanks being fired at Obamacare based on complete unreality, he’s gone and given the crazies actual ammunition.

Movie Review: 12 Years A Slave

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 Stars

Bottom line:  Dark.  Depressing.  Brilliant.

It is hard to admit that you liked a film such as “12 Years a Slave”.  It is a brutal and honest recounting of the darkest part of American history.  It is based on the autobiography of the same name which recounts the twelve years that free man Solomon Northup spent in slavery after being kidnapped and sold in the South.  Free Blacks being kidnapped and sold into slavery was a common occurrence.  The uncommon occurrence was Solomon Northrup being rescued from slavery and being able to write about it for the world to hear.  I do not feel that I am spoiling the ending by telling you this because it may make you feel a lot better to know that the movie has a happy ending.  If you can call that happy.  The many unhappy endings throughout make even this small victory bitter.

The injustices perpetrated upon Solomon Northup are legion, but the one that sticks in my mind the most is the one done at the hands of Ford, the “good” slave owner.  There is little doubt that Ford knew all along that Northup was once free and, despite his decent treatment of his slaves, he did nothing to help Northup and ends up selling Northup the minute he becomes inconvenient.  To some extent, one must accept the evil in the world, but putting on a facade of good to cover the rot in your soul gets to me more than the actions of the cruellest of dictators.

Despite it’s dark content, there is a lot of beauty in this movie as well.  The dire circumstances are interspersed with hauntingly beautiful landscapes that only the South can provide.  Director Steve McQueen (not THAT Steve McQueen) does a remarkable job of not only bringing to life the daily cruelties but also the daily pleasures that slaves try to bring to their lives.

This is certainly not a feel good movie and the violence is often quite graphic.  That makes it very hard to recommend this movie to a general audience.  But neither life nor history is all rainbows and lollipops.  Sometimes you need to look into the dark maw of the past to see our not so sparkly past.  Only then can we create a slightly less muddy future.

Russell Brand Should Vote

This video of Russell Brand talking about being a political editor is making the rounds.  There’s a lot of stuff that he says that is quite true.  He nails the biggest societal problems and berates the current political systems for completely ignoring them quite effectively.  I don’t agree with all his revolutionary conclusions, but he and I agree about the things that need to change.

The one thing that I vehemently disagree with him on is his decision to not take part in voting.  His reasons for not voting are mostly valid, but there is still something to be said about the gesture of voting.  Get out there, get a ballot and turn it in blank.  Show your disdain for the system that way at the very least.  Really, though, if you can’t find even one person worth voting for (or at least against in terms of judges), you really are part of the problem.  The national political stage does suck.  It’s filled with prima donnas and sociopaths.  Someone may come around once in a while worth voting for, but that is not the norm.  Local elections, however, are arguably more important and can easily become a source of candidates worth voting for.  There’s your revolution.

Book Review: Peter Pan by James M. Barrie

Jean-Paul’s Review: 5/5 stars

Continuing my effort to read children’s books I somehow missed as a child, now comes “Peter Pan”.  Sadly, most children’s experience with Peter Pan is from the Disney movie.  I don’t remember much about the movie, but I do know one thing for sure:  Peter Pan was not a complete ass in it.  In the book?  Peter Pan is a complete ass.  This was both shocking and delightful.

There is a mantra that gets repeated in the book that only people who are “gay and innocent and heartless” can see Peter Pan.  In otherwords, children.  That was another big surprise about the book.  Barrie describes children as sociopaths.  It’s beautiful.  There is a line in the book that I can’t remember exactly, but it basically says that as long as there are mothers to come rescue their children, the children will take advantage of that and be complete dicks about it.

As is becoming a theme with the old children’s books that I read, “Peter Pan” is both racist and sexist.  Gender stereotypes are strictly enforced throughout.  The sole purpose of both Wendy and Tinker Bell is to be mother and/or pining female.  Wendy doesn’t take part in the fighting and the killing and adventures like the Lost Boys do, she just takes care of them.  Oh, and you read that right, the killing.  Peter and the Lost Boys do quite a bit of killing of pirates and Indians and, though it’s not explicit in the book, it is implied that the Lost Boys suffer quite a few deaths as well and Peter just refills the ranks.  The racism is mostly in the description of the Indians.  Yeah, Indians.  It’s funny how bad that sounds when I read it now.  It’s your usual stereotypical nonsense about them being savages, etc.  It should be pointed out that Tiger Lily, the daughter of a chieftan, despite pining over Peter the way every female in the book does, is the person in charge of the Indians.  I’m not sure if that was progressive of Barrie or just a recognition of the different roles that women played in Indian culture.

Another delightful thing about the book that I have not seen repeated elsewhere is the use of vocabulary.  Barrie is not against using more complex words, but when he does so he then brackets an easier synonym of the word immediately after it.  He also does this with idioms.  What a wonderful way to expand children’s vocabularies.  How has this not caught on in every children’s book known to man?  I almost want to start doing it in my blog posts just for giggles.

Once you get past how much Barrie thinks children are horrible little monster, he captures the sense of freedom and wonder that is being a child like very few people ever have.  Dare I compare him to Bill Waterson and “Calvin and Hobbes”?  Yes, yes I dare.  I would not be at all surprised if Watterson’s inspiration for Calvin was in part due to Peter Pan.

In conclusion, “Peter Pan” should be required to be read to every parent’s sociopathic gay and innocent and heartless children.  It should also be read by non-spawning adults so they can relive the wonderment that was being a child.

The Closest Chicago Comes To Mountains

Chicago is as flat as my singing, but with a warm lake and cool air above, we sometimes get a feel for what its like to have mountains in the distance.  Observe:


Now I Want A Spongebob Squarepants Gravestone

I am in the minority that thinks Spongebob Squarepants is decidedly unfunny.  I am also in the minority that thinks burying bodies in a giant field filled with other bodies and markers identifying who the body was when it was alive is a decidedly silly idea.  Combine the two and it somehow seems to work.  It’s a shame that the cemetery changed their mind and decided to remove the gravestone.  It’s good to see that they seem to have acknowledged their mistake and are paying for replacements.

So let it be known that if I can get a Spongebob headstone, I give my full permission to bury my body underneath said headstone in a cemetery somewhere.  If not, I want my family to completely disavow any knowledge of me and let the State do whatever it wants with my remains (donated to science!).  They should then throw a giant party inviting all who know me.  There should be lots of food and even more drink.  New relations should be forged and old rivalries forgotten.  As many hookups as normally happen at weddings should also occur.  In short, it should be a grand celebration of life instead of a doleful mourning of death.

Oh Noes Snows!

Flurries have been spotted in the Chicagoland area raising the ire of its residents who are still grasping at the last wisps of the summer that was.  Suck it up, Chicagoans!  You’re embarrassing us all!  I’d swear I lived in Atlanta or something.

Many seem to think that it’s way too early for snow to be spotted in Chicago, but that’s not true at all.  The average first snowflakes in Chicago fall on Halloween so we’re a little earlier than average.  It’s not until mid-November that we normally get any measurable precipitation and it’s not until December 1st that we get our first inch of snow.

So this is a perfectly normal occurrence in what has so far been a perfectly normal fall in Chicago.  Unlike South Dakota which had a freak blizzard at the beginning of the month which may have killed over 100,000 cattle and dropped over 19 inches of snow in the area.  The cattle were without their winter coats and inches of rain has already fallen on them before the temperatures dropped and the snow began.  Hypothermia because of the 70 MPH winds and suffocation from getting caught in snow drifts were the two leading causes of death for the cattle.

Book Review: Hard Times: An Oral History Of The Great Depression by Studs Terkel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

A quick note about typography.  I read “Hard Times” in ebook form.  By the amount of typographical mistakes, it was obvious that minimal effort was put into converting it from book form to ebook form.  It’s as if they simply scanned it and never edited the ebook version for errors.  There were so many mistakes it was actually distracting.  So many misspelled words and 1’s in place of I’s.  Ugh.  I greatly appreciate the effort of The New Press for bringing old books deemed insufficiently profitable back in print, but please put just a little more effort into your ebooks.

The premise of this book is quite simple.  Find a whole bunch of people who lived through the Great Depression or are children of those who lived through the Great Depression and ask them their thoughts on the time.  All walks of life are represented from those hit hardest to those who barely even recognized the Great Depression was even happening.  This method of history keeping is both informative and eye opening.

There is the old expression that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it and boy, howdy are we repeating much of the Great Depression now in the Great Recession.  The same people who were blind to the bread lines of the Great Depression are blind to the necessity of Food Stamps now.  The banks who are robo-signing foreclosure notices illegally taking away people’s houses without due process were doing so during the Great Depression.  And the beat goes on.

What I found most intriguing about reading “Hard Times” was how completely the Great Depression shaped the American identity for generations to come.  Families came out of it determined for their children never to “have not” again.  Our present day overconsumerism can likely be tied to the “never again” attitude that was installed in many individuals as a result of living through the Great Depression.  And who can blame them?

It also should be noted that politics hasn’t changed much since then either.  Much of Roosevelt’s plans for getting the country out of the Great Depression were fought with just as much ferocity by Republicans then as the present day Republicans are fighting now against Obama’s Great Recession agenda.  The only difference is today Republicans are resorting to drastic measures to fight against Obama whereas then Roosevelt resorted to drastic measures to fight against Republicans.

Another surprising similarity between present day and the Great Depression is the amount of people that are simply unwilling to see that things are wrong with society.  A few of the people Studs Terkel interviewed got through the Great Depression without even recognizing that things like bread lines even existed.  How do you do that?  That these same people are the ones that also tend to have a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is hardly surprising.  Such is the life of those who live with blinders on.

This is one of those books that should be required reading for everyone.  It gives first and second hand accounts of the most economically devastating time in our history.  It is unbiased and straight forward in its presentation.  I sincerely hope someone is working on a similar book for the Great Recession.

We’re Still In A Pretty Big Hole

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you can count the number of ways you were affected by the recent Great Recession on one hand with all its fingers cut off.  This makes it very hard to grasp how serious of an event it was and still is.  At the bottom of the Great Recession, the United States lost around 6.2% of its jobs.  We’re talking 10 million job losses in about two years.

Well, the bottom of the recession was over three years ago now and we’re still not back to the number of jobs we had when the Great Recession started.  Despite adding 7.5 million private sector jobs since the bottom, we’re still 1.4 million private sector jobs down from when we started.  And that doesn’t even include the 700,000 public sector jobs that were lost and will likely never return.

The jobs that were lost were about 60% mid-wage jobs.  Only 27% of the job gains were in mid-wage jobs while 60% were in low-wage jobs.  So not only are down in the number of jobs, the jobs that have been created are much lower in value than the jobs that were lost originally.  This is what’s happening to the middle class.

What I am hopeful for is a silver lining in all of this.  With mid-wage earners who have a modicum of political support being shifted to low-wage earners who generally have zero political support, we’re finally seeing some attention paid to how impossible it is to live on a low-wage job.  While the high costs of low wages at Wal-Mart has been looked into for a long time, the same is finally being done at fast food restaurants.  We’re starting to see instances of workers organizing at this level.  If this organization continues, we may finally see some sectors that have been traditionally low-wage pushed into the mid-wage range bringing millions out of poverty as a result.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a living wage law come out of all of this.

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bottom Line: An intriguing story of a real life event.  More Somali pirate background should have been included.  Some editing would have been nice.  Damn, Tom Hanks is a good actor.

“Captain Phillips” tells the true story of a massive container ship hijacked by Somali pirates and the ordeals that the ship’s crew and the eponymous Captain Phillips endure.  The movie starts with two opening sequences that establish the main characters.

We see Captain Phillips getting ready for his trip to take command of the Maresk Alabama and driving to the airport with his wife.  He’s just an everyman going to his job discussing issues of the family with his wife.  It’s a beautiful scene and the interactions with his wife make you believe the two have beem married for years.  Captain Phillips’ life is familiar to us so it doesn’t take much time to establish his character and it certainly helps that you have as talented an actor as Tom Hanks doing so.

We also see Muse, a Somali pirate gathering a group of men to go looking for ships to hijack.  You get the feeling that almost none of them want to be doing this.  But threats of violence from the local warlord and a bit of drugs and a bit of competition and they are raring to go.  I wish they had spent more time establishing Muse’s background.  What does he do when he’s not hijacking ships?  What is his family situation?  Barkhad Abdi does a really good job of establishing Muse’s humanity throughout the movie, but his life in Somalia is so foreign to us he and his fellow pirates might as well be aliens.

The events leading up to the eventual hijacking of the Maersk Alabama are fairly taut as are the events that take place on the ship as well.  When the pirates escape the ship taking Captain Phillips hostage, things kind of slow down.  A good ten or fifteen minutes could probably have been cut from this portion of the film without any loss of cohesion.

The ending scene is absolutely riveting.  Tom Hanks will just blow you away when you watch this part of the film.  After everything that has happened, Captain Phillips is understandably in shock.  Tom Hanks captures this so heart-achingly beautifully.  I don’t think this is an Oscar caliber movie, but if they could give an Oscar for a single scene performance, Tom Hanks would win it hands down.

As with all movies that claim to portray real events, there is a bit of a controversy if things happened as they did in the film.  A lot of people blame Captain Phillips for putting the ship in the position to be kidnapped in the first place.  This is somewhat portrayed in the movie, but kind of glossed over.  It just goes to show, history is not only written by the victors but by the heroes on the winning side.