Sunday, January 23, 2011

Good by Keith ( and good riddance)

The news is somewhat abuzz about the sudden resignation of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC, and the resulting cancellation of "Countdown With Keith Olbermann". Personally, I can't say that I am even remotely sorry to see the man go. His contribution to the political arena (and the first amendment) can best be compared to Larry Flint in that so long as he was running his mouth, the rest of us had relatively little to worry about. But I definitely have a thing to say now that his name is in the news.

As we have mentioned before, the freedom of speech is a dynamic, powerful, and often times controversial law that we have all more or less grown up knowing how to use (and abuse) reflexively. Under its protection, people are allowed to say some of the most... "charged" (to be polite about it) words and phrases they can come up with. Olbermann was never one to pass up an opportunity on that front. In fact, while we are not the only country that allowed its subjects to call elected leaders names, I'm willing to bet we are one of a very few where some people make a comfortable living off of it.

My problem with Keith Olbermann isn't his politics. The fact he's liberal does not set him apart from a whole host of liberals I know and gladly interact with. My problem with him is his attitude. Olberman's contribution to the political arena was little more than a well polished stream of vitriol directed at just about anyone who didn't agree with him. It wasn't enough to disagree or debate, but rather he dedicated whole segments of his show to name-calling rants against others, including the president and other political pundits. I want to say it was some time back in 2007 when I got the opportunity to watch him look into the camera and say "President Bush, you are nothing but a lier, the whole world knows you are a lier, I know you are a lier, the true Americans in this nation know you are a lier and now, hopefully, maybe, you will figure out that your farce is over and stop trying to destroy this nation that the rest of us love." (I used quotes, but its based on a four- year-old memory, so go easy on me). Okay Keith, we get it, you're liberal, you hate Bill O'Riley, Rush Limbaugh and George Bush. But does that really accomplish anything? Doe saying it over and over (and over and over) again really further any productive goal?

People like him set exactly the type of example we as a nation should strive to not be like. When we stop talking to each other, we not only hurt ourselves, but we add to a political mindset that has broken down into "us" and "them", rather than the "we" spoken about in "We the people..."  People that hateful and combative may well exist inside the protections of the first amendment, but they fly in opposition of its intent. Numerous judges, congressmen and attorneys have said that the first amendment was meant to protect the free exchange of ideas, the flow of information, and to create a marketplace of interaction meant to foster a more enlightened people. Since the definition of those terms are vague at best, we draw hard and broad lines protecting as much speech and expression as we can. But still, the intent for civil discourse is clear from the first. Olbermann's thesis during his time on "Countdown" can best be summarized as "if you dont agree with me, you're an idiot and unpatriotic."

If we as a nation are ever going to come to some kind of functional understanding about things like health care, immigration, and gay wrights (just to name a few), that's going to have to start with shutting up people who's only contribution to the conversation is to piss off the other side. Is Olbermann the only one? Not by a long shot. Personally, I would love to lock him and Ann Coulter in a room together and see what happens. I may agree with her politics, but condesending bitches like her really make me sorry to be a conservative at times.

"We" (the whole of the US) are going to get mad at each other from time to time. In fact, I would wager that on the issue of politics, there is always going to be more than a few topics that spike our blood pressure. But honestly, what good is accomplished when we let the attacks get personal? When that happens we have nothing but winners and looser, and the looser are bitter, angry, and just waiting for a chance to get even (wow, doesn't that sound like the last few legislative elections?).

So how do you shut up someone like Oberman, or Coulter? The first amendment makes that hard, right? Not really, and its not even so simplistic as turning off the TV (The law may not recognize qui tacet consentire videtur, but it's gospel for the media). If you want to shut them up, you start by creating an environment that favors discussion rather than insults. You tell  someone "I don't agree with you one bit, but that doesn't mean I am going to question your intelligence". And if you really want to go out on a limb, the next time you get you head handed to you in a political argument, invite the guy who just creamed you out for drinks, and make sure to toast his good health. In the end, I encourage you to argue the points as they come, but cherish the people who argue them.

Friday, January 21, 2011


So, I found out yesterday that I am completely uninsurable on an individual policy. Three companies all told me, in no uncertain terms, that I don't even qualify for their high-risk/high-deductible plans. One operator even had the gal (or maybe guts, I honestly haven't decided) to tell me "look, as far as the number-crunchers are concerned, you are guaranteed to get sick again, and that costs us money."

So, there it is. Money aside, I can not get medical insurance without getting a job that offers it as part of a group policy. Presently the insurance offered by my employer is capped at about $3,500 in coverage. (And if you want to hear something really cheesy, the monthly rates would add up to over $4,000 a year) So, after applying for as many jobs as I have this past year, I think I am starting to understand why people are so desperately applying for government jobs.

Oh, and I'm not done yet. Guess what else is no longer available in the individual health insurance market: maternity care.

Thats right, even if we were well-to-do, insurance companies are no longer offering maternity care coverage on individual policies. To translate that into raw numbers, the cost of my wife having another child just got appraised at about $25,000 out of pocket, between prenatal care and delivery (required c-section).

So there is it, I am officially on my own, and my wife and I have the very simple option of making sure our birth control never fails, staying celibate, or risk having to file for bankruptcy.

You would think at first glance that I would be sold on at least some elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Think again.

I asked one other question, just off the top of my head, to the insurance companies I was talking to. I asked them if they had any cost estimates regarding rates when the brunt of the legislation kicks in (specifically, the part that prevents preexisting conditions from disqualifying you).

The short form answer was this: 1) Yes, they did. 2) I couldn't have afforded it even if I was making twice what I am making now (and even then I wasn't even close to being able to afford it). And the individual mandate they are talking about, its a "wet noodle" when compared to the costs of even basic health coverage by today's standards. (and I am deliberately not even speculating as to what the market will look like when the last of the major provisions kick in in 2014.

So, my situation is this: I can A) stay healthy, or B) get sick, get care out of pocket, and then go broke.

Oh, and something you might not have thought about. Background checks for certain security jobs DO take into account your current debt level. If you owe more than a certain percentage of your annual income, no mater how diligent you are at paying them, some companies will not hire you or allow you on their site.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A bit on "reading" and an old book

As some of you know, reading and writing are major components of my life. The creativity of the printed page, and the freedom of blank paper have long been outlets for me to exercise my creative abilities. Now, with that being said, I am presently in a situation where actually reading some books is just impractical. With long commutes, irregular work schedules and a family, the ability to sit down and put any appreciable dent in my "to read" list is minimal.

I do, however, spend an inordinate amount of time on the road, so listening to my MP3 player is always a good option. Towards this end, I have become a very ardent supporter of, and The first is a distribution site for amateur productions of operational works. As a hole, they are kind of hit and miss, but there are some outstanding audio books to be found (proud Scott Sigler junkie, right here!). The second is a collaborative effort, organized through the website, to record books that are now in the public domain (in general, books printed before 1932, as I understand it).  This collection is excellent as well, and I have listening to several outstanding recordings, including "20,000 Leagues under the sea", "War of the worlds", and "Diary of a U-boat commander".

My latest listening project is a tried and true classic, Bram Stoker's Dracula. If you've never read it, I think you would be surprised at some of the mechanisms that Stoker used to convey his story. The entirety of the novel is conveyed through diary and journal entires, including the transcripts of a phonograph record, and a few news clippings. In this way, the story is told in first person, but from various perspectives. It is told is chronological order, but discoveries made later in the story shed new light on previous statements and observations, so there are points where I found myself going "Oh, wow" right along with the character. There is no explanation given as to how all of these records were compiled into one place (a mechanism that I think modern audiences almost expect in our post-"Blare Witch Project" age), so the sense is that we, the readers, are hopscotching around the world and looking over each character's shoulders as they write about their experiences.

As far as the story is concerned, I really was not expecting the type of effect that Stoker's work has been able to impart on me. The book is the embodiment of everything I have ever been told a horror story should be, including a basic ability to scare the living daylight out of you. After seeing so many other depictions of both this book, and vampires in general, it was actually interesting to see how the "original" novel depicted them. I say "original" in that Dracula was the first book to put them on the modern literary "radar" so the speak. Vampires themselves are a product of folklore dating back to the earliest civilizations known. It is interesting that the subject of the book had remarkably little "screen time". A huge portion of the novel is spent chasing after the centuries old count, and we are left to learn about him through his handy work. I must say, there are parts of the book, including the log entires of a Russian Freighter captain, that were just terrifying to me, even though there wasn't one bit of gore or violence even hinted at. Frankly, Stoker knew how to get under your skin, and how to keep people awake at night like Steven king never did (and I happen to like Steven King).

All in all, I am enjoying the production, and am grateful to for giving me the opportunity to listen to classics such as this on my otherwise busy schedule. But more to the point, I am getting a better appreciation for some of the old masters when it comes to story telling and word craft.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just a chance to bitch, if nothing else.

I like Facebook, I really do, but there is just not any room to bitch about stuff in any detail. I'm not saying I bitch all the time (though more often now than some other times in my life). But seriously, doesn't it feel good to just get it out of your system?

Case in point: My life right now.

No, my wife isn't leaving me. No my son doesn't hate me. I didn't say my life was horrible. In fact, I am grateful for a great deal of it.  But I certainly have a few complaints (okay, more than a few, but I'm trying to be reasonable here).

Tried and true, lets start off with politics, that always gets people fired up, right?

Well, as a gun owner (both longarm and sidearm), I guess I can say that I am paying more than passing attention to the political cauldron thats been bubbling since the shooting in Tuscan, Arizona. The facts in this case are still largely developing at this point in time, though everyone and his brother seems to have "the" answer as to why the shooting happened. I guess calls for stricter regulation of firearms are to be expected. I'm hardly saying that I agree, but it's almost a given that that camp will be out in force after an event like this.

As an aside, while I do firmly believe in the constitutional wright to bare arms, even the NRA know that gun ownership is not a God-given wright. People are denied firearms every day due to criminal records, mental health issues and other legal restraints. I think every time something like the Arizona tragedy takes place, we do need to take a hard look at "the system" and ask ourselves some hard questions.

However... I really, really never this coming: 'we need to tone down the angry political rhetoric because that is what caused this shooting'.

Say what?

Am I to understand that in a society where groups like the Westboro Baptic Church are afford police protection for their protests outside other people's places of worship, and the Klu Klux Klan are legally allowed to apply for and get permits to demonstrate in front of city hall, that we are actually talking about trying to regulate or legislate the statements of political pundits and commentators? Lets just set aside for a minute that we still actually have no idea what set this guy off (as of 1/12/11), and remember that there is this little thing call the 1st amendment, that more or less says we can't block speech just because we don't like it, or like the people who listen to it.

And please, don't anyone even try and tell me that political news coverage and reruns of Rush Limbaugh caused this guy to shoot nineteen people. If you really, really believe that, have your facts ready and standing by, because that is one argument I will take to the mat with the full intent of shooting down.

How about work?

Okay, I'll be fair, I'm really more upset about money, but since one (supposedly) leads to the other, Ill shoot for the source.

I won't say that I miss my old job. I mean, I do, in a way, but it had its hassles. I found out just the other day that one of my co-workers from my last office was laid off as well. That takes that particular office down to one. Why am I not optimistic about getting back into the fire-safety field any time... well, at all.

I actually like my current job. Security work suits me on a number of levels, but its not without drawbacks. The top three are easy, pay, pay and... oh yeah, pay. I'm making more or less half of what I was brining in at my desk job. The hours aren't much fun either, there are a lot of nights in this field. Also, its not a job that tends to attracts friendly people, or is likely to put you near people when they are in a good mood. Last but not least, benefits; there are none.


My transmission is acting funny. It handles all the forward stuff fine, but wont engage for reverse. Checked the fluid, toped it off and all that. Some friends of mine familiar with cars say that the cold can cause that to happen (I have no earthly clue how, though) I'm really just hoping that this isn't a major mechanical issue because I just don't have the cash to fix it.

The cold

I'm normally not one to gripe about bad weather, but I have to go out in this stuff for work, at night. Sunday night (the last night I worked)  the air temperature at my site was -17 degrees with the wind chill. All the long underware and ski masks this side of the Atlantic didn't keep me even functionally warm, let alone comfortable.


I'm not really bitching about the SCA itself, but more my current situation in relation to it. Work has eaten all of my weekends for the time being, so eventing is out. The loss of my old job had killed my old travel schedule, so I can't make meetings in Northkeep, Wiesenfeuer and Namron. I had to shut down The Blackfeather news Podcast as a result as well. Honestly, that what rough because I really liked doing that. My eventing is minimal, my activity is minimal. Dammit! This isn't the path I was taking two years ago, and I just think it sucks!

And its not like my group is all rosy either. We just got served notice that Mooneschadow's regular meeting place is now charging cash where we used to be able to invest "sweat equity" for our time each week. Bottom line, we're needing to move on for the first time in well over twelve years.

So that more or less is my bitch session, for now anyway. I'm sure I sound like an ungrateful lug at this point. I'm not ungrateful, trust me at that. I thank God for every day I wake up at this point. I do have a job, which is more than a lot of my friends can say right now. And I have a wife and son who both love me. I do have a good life.

I just have a lot of stuff to bitch about too.