Thursday, August 19, 2010

How hot is it in the hustings?

It's not what Robin Sparkles (Scherbatsky) had in mind when she was a teeny-bopper rock queen (see here), but in some places it's hot enough that one local newspaper feature on the heat had a doctor recommending that people without air-conditioning go to the mall (see here). Not the summer I would like to spend on the campaign trail.

We here in Washington have no lack of hot air, despite the congressional recess, but I shudder to think of the diabetic guy in that story who lives on disability aid, which turns out not to be enough to have A/C.

Some of us who grew up without A/C everywhere are tempted to scream: Stop whining, you Southern, do-nothing slobs! (You do know that Southern states are net takers of the federal aid your lawmakers are constantly trying to shrink, dontcha?) Most of humanity did fine without A/C for millions of years.

Yet the story's not the heat. It's the poverty—in the richest country in the world.

Nobody, not even bigoted, lazy Southern slobs who hate the hand that feeds them, deserves poverty. We're forgetting, aren't we, that as we lick our portfolio's chops in expectation of GM's IPO, there's a lot of poverty out there.

The rising new wave of home foreclosures is almost all caused by unemployment—not Wall Street shenanigans (although those are coming back, too). Just think: the government is giving up its share of GM, after reviving it, now that there's real profit to be made.

Monday, August 16, 2010

All Unhappy People

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” wrote Leo Tolstoy memorably in the opening sentence of Anna Karenina. He may have been wrong. It's the unhappy who are, in general, quite common and ordinary, the happy rare and uncommon.

In "My Life in Therapy" by Diana Merkin, the author discloses a tidbit about Freud that I had never heard before and struck me with the simplicity of a classic truth:
Therapy, as Freud himself made clear, is never about finding a cure for what ails you. Its aim, despite the lyrical moniker it is known by (“the talking cure” was not actually Freud’s phrase but rather that of Dr. Josef Breuer’s patient Bertha Pappenheim, whom Freud wrote about as Anna O.), was always more modest. Freud described it as an effort to convert “hysterical misery” into “common unhappiness,” which suggests a rather minimalist framework against which to judge progress.
Common unhappiness. I haven't spent nearly a tenth of the fortune or time the author devoted to psychiatrists, but I am just as convinced that therapists are a colossal waste of time, not to mention money. It may not be their fault.

Maybe the problem is that there is a common unhappiness that, like the common cold, cannot be cured.

Most of us are in some respects garden variety neurotics. We have the hangnails of mental illness. Our parents were not perfect—nor did we understand them perfectly as children. Our spouses fail us—just about as much as we fail them. We are afraid of the dark, of being alone, of being poor—and of living alone and poor in a dark room, most of all. We suffer the wouldacouldashouldas of life.

Our mental hangnails are, to be sure, elaborately shaped, worthy of an exhibit at one of the more bizarre of modern art galleries. But they are still hangnails.

Most of our families are not “dysfunctional.”

Most of us are all fed, clothed, housed, schooled, eventually employed for some of our lives. Sure some are fed and clothed better, schooled in name schools and end up with corner offices overlooking a famous avenue. But the rest of us muddle through just fine.

Families exist mainly to help us muddle through, regardless of the members emotional quirks.

So, perhaps, Tolstoy bears rewriting. All people are alike in their common unhappiness; a few are happy, for a while. All happy families don't stay that way; all unhappy families, welcome to the club.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Where's the Reform in Health Reform?

Having lived in Canada and the United Kingdom, I would have happily had single-payer socialized medicine in the United States, just as President Truman proposed in 1947. But I am mad as hell as I see President Obama's "reform" kick in.

My company got no increase last year for health care (note: it's two words!). That's when the whole medical gouging system was afraid of reform. Now they got the reform they want and rates have jacked up: 29 % for us in no-inflation times!

That's not the worst case.

An acquaintance, I'll call him Bob, lost health insurance because he is unemployed. United Healthcare and Kaiser Permanente rejected him because he suffers from depression -- I'm talking serious, clinical depression. As always, you have to be healthy to sign up for medical care, right?

Bob is on disability. He could work with medication, but he can't get any prescribed.

OK, "reform" kicked in during July. Everyone has to be insured. But if commercial firms won't insure you, Bob learned, you have to have been uninsured 6 months to qualify for "high risk" pool. Then he gets to pay more than $600 a month for insurance that has a $6,000 deductible.

So if you're unemployed, you have to have spent about $13,000 out of pocket. Where, pray tell does someone uninsured (because he is unemployed), get $13,000 in the first place? Get it, unemployed? Meaning little or no income?

This is not the "change" I voted for, Mr. Obama.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Death Month

(This is a repost for the benefit of the people involved.)

For two sisters I know who live together, and their third sibling far away, today is what they regard as the second "Death Day" in less than a month. August brings anniversaries of the death of both their parents.

Other people they know have died this month, but nothing quite tops the loss of a father in childhood. A father who by all accounts was an older man besotted with the daughters of his senectitude, yet a strong-willed pater familias with ideas of yesteryear that would have clashed with these children's in a matter of a few years.

The young woman he'd met as a spy in World War II -- true story! -- was left to spend nearly half a century on her own; well provided, yet surely bereft as she raised three daughters. Decades later she still referred to herself as Mrs. X, rather than by her own given first and family names.

He died what must have been an excruciating struggle with cancer a few decades earlier than the actuarial expectations would have led anyone to expect. She died at a ripe old age, in her sleep.

They were both individuals whose lives, and the artifacts of their lives, with which I became acquainted long after the heyday of either one, bespoke a manner of abiding seemingly now gone. People of few spoken emotions, of thorough learning received and augmented as a given, lucky enough to be born to see the fruits of their labors pay off handsomely.

They were people of distinction, yet also rebels. She was a mother and housewife with a then-rare graduate degree designed to fulfill her unrealized ambition to run worldwide cartels. (I recounted her interment here.) He was that unusual businessman with a love of Dante Alighieri.

After people have lived long enough, there are always death days throughout the year; dates that remind us of people long gone.

In my mother's childhood it had been December, for her older sister, whose teenage death had put an entire household in mourning. For me it was November for years, the month my father died; that is, until my mother died on a date that was, only a few years after her passing, destined to become famous -- September 11.

Now I have photographs in which everyone portrayed is now dead. People I knew, people whose jokes still resonate from the picture as if they were still speaking.

I suspect that is what the two sisters will recall: their parents in their light summer clothes having evening drinks by the lake beside their home; he tossing witticisms, she laughing gently and her laughter rippling across the water.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Why Congresscritters (and "Outsider" opponents) Don't Care About You

Congress and the self-dubbed "outsiders" who are vying to win their seat this November ultimately don't give a damn about the likes of you and me (assuming you're not a billionaire) -- nor much, much less the unemployed and the poor. The question is: How come?

Aren't these supposed to be the people's spokesmen and women defending "the little guy" (and gal)? No. Here are three reasons why:
  1. They are not like you and me. Almost anyone who runs for Congress, certainly almost everybody in Congress, is a multimillionaire. They went to the best (read: most expensive, private) schools and played ... what's that Iroquois game called, again? ... ah, yes, lacrosse.
  2. You and me can't finance electoral campaigns. Didn't the last presidential candidates spend about $100 million apiece? You can frisk me all you want, but I don't have that kind of money. If I did, why would I throw it away on someone else's political campaign? The only reason would be to get laws that apply to everybody else, but not me.
  3. You and me don't have the necessary votes. Who votes the most? The elderly, who are as a whole well off and want their well-being protected. The rich and most educated, ditto. Some of the middle class (including those people who can't tell Jay Leno what the candidate they voted for looks like) -- most against their best interests. Not enough people who depend on public services and help ever vote.
All right, there probably are some exceptions to no. 1; some hard luck cases, including the president, get elected. They're still the tiniest of minorities and they haven't been called late for supper in decades -- after being elected, they will never be poor ever again.

So, if they're not average folk, they don't need our campaign money and can do just fine without our votes -- why in hell would they care?