Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bring Back the (Real) Filibuster

It's getting pretty bad in the Senate these days. The Republicans threatened to filibuster the decision to serve tuna sandwiches and salad for lunch yesterday, so the Democrats caved in and offered to drop the salad and serve potato salad instead. Okay, not really. But the Republicans did try to filibuster a spending bill, just to hold up debate on the health care bill.

Now, I understand that the health care bill is causing much heartburn in Washington these days. But I'm not here to argue for or against its many provisions and the forests of trees that are killed every time someone prints it out (not today, anyway). I'm simply frustrated with the filibuster.

When the Republicans were in charge, they didn't need a supermajority to get anything done. I guess the Democrats didn't have the guts to send a note to the Senate leaders saying "You know, I feel like filibustering this, as do 40 of my closest colleagues. Feel free to focus on other matters." The Republicans, however, are not shy about it. This is not a partisan issue. It's just the Republicans has taken an oft unused power and revealed just how powerful it is.

The filibuster was not always like this. Prior to the 1960's, someone actually had to stand in front of the Senate and talk and hold up ALL business (not just the specific bill they were opposing). This means that a Senator had to feel so strongly about something that he was willing to hold up all bills to stop some legislation from being passed. But now we have a system that allows other Senate business to continue and other bills to be passed, even while a particular bill is being filibustered. This appears to be the result of efforts by Senators from the south to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This confuses me. In filibustering the Civil Rights act, they prevented Congress from getting anything else done. So the Senators who wouldn't necessarily vote for the bill but still wanted to move on with the business of being a legislator were likely to vote to end the filibuster. Now, ending a filibuster is almost equivalent to voting on the bill, except you need 60 instead of 50 votes.

It would seem that this would be good, because Congress passing fewer laws isn't always a bad thing. But think about it. There is already a ton of pork in bills because the people who wrote it want to convince this person or that person to vote for it. That's just to get to the majority needed to pass a bill under normal circumstances. But watching this health care bill get passed, I realized it's that much worse! Now you essentially have to convince 10 more people to vote for a bill. So you drop this, add that, change this, until even the best bill ever written costs more, accomplishes less, and frustrates everyone.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Can't I Just E-Mail My Doctor?

I'm sick of doctors. I've been sick of doctors for a long time, but I'm at a particular low right now. For the zero of you who don't know, I've been suffering from hives since the end of July. My doctors have run zero tests to uncover the root cause, unless you count the blood test my primary care physician ran to see if I had an underlying infection when I complained of stomach pain (turns out I did, but it wasn't the root cause of the hives and it wasn't caught by the blood test). I don't want to visit specialists, one by one, as the back story for this little saga becomes more and more convoluted. I'm going to the dermatologist tomorrow, and I have a 3 page timeline, with an executive summary, a list of medicines I'm currently taking, a list of medications I've taken since just before this all started, and a list of current symptoms (as opposed to the ones that I had at one point, but don't anymore). The dermatologist is doctor #4, after PCP, allergist, and gastrointestinal doctor. I've also seen an acupuncturist because the "real" doctors weren't helping. That didn't help, either.

They say the cost of medical care is so high because doctors run too many tests. Where? Who? Point me that way! If my doctors are just going to dismiss my symptoms entirely or pump me full of drugs, I don't see why I have to go in to see them at all. Can't I just e-mail them with a list of symptoms to selectively ignore (does not compute, deleting from memory) or treat (I think there's a drug for that one; let's prescribe it!)? If they aren't going to run a test and my symptoms aren't necessarily present while I'm at the doctor's office (stupid erratic problems!), I'm not really sure why I have to be present. And with e-mail, if the doctor is baffled, he can just forward it to the next doctor, instead of forwarding ME to the next doctor. Screw HIPPA. All it does is create more forms for me to fill out and put up more barriers between my doctors.

I wonder if a flexible spending account would cover the cost of an annual fee for a concierge doctor.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Outsiders

I found this article today while reading, of all things, a "Flash Forward" recap on Television Without Pity. It talks about the ability of highly intelligent people to adapt socially. It's from 1987, but I think it still holds true. At least from my own observations. Then this evening, I ended up talking with a friend of mine from college and his wife about raising their four-year-old daughter. She is apparently quite bright and has started acting out in class. Their theory - she's bored in school. So now my friend's wife is trying to tap into the experiences of him and his friends to try to understand her situation and deal with it as best they can, particularly when it comes to interfacing with the school about her needs.

"The Outsiders" identifies four key adjustment problems that gifted people experience throughout their lives.

"One of the problems faced by all gifted persons is learning to focus their efforts for prolonged periods of time. Since so much comes easily to them, they may never acquire the self-discipline necessary to use their gifts to the fullest."

I find that many highly intelligent people also tend to be lazy, mainly because they can get away with it. If I can daydream in class 90% of the time and still get an "A" in class, why try harder to pay attention? The problem comes when they are faced with a challenge that actually, well, challenges them. Those who are used to being challenged by the world around them know that it may take a few tries to succeed at something, and so they keep trying until they get it. Those who are used to succeeding with little effort are perplexed and frustrated by things that do not come easily because they have been spoiled by their own brains into thinking everything should be easy, so they may give up long before finding out what they are truly capable of.

"A second adjustment problem faced by all gifted persons is [that] ... [s]o far from being one-sided in ability and interest, they are typically capable of so many different kinds of success that they may have difficulty in confining themselves to a reasonable number of enterprises. Some of them are lost to usefulness through spreading their available time and energy over such a wide array of projects that nothing can be finished or done perfectly."

I thought about this one for a while and realized that I am somewhat guilty here, too, especially in the last few years when I have been perfectly guilty of over-extending myself at times. I think that this is more often a problem for those who, faced without a challenge, seek one out... only to find twenty, all of which look interesting. These people may never stand out in a particular area, even though they may be capable of doing so, because there simply are not enough hours in the day.

"A third problem faced by the gifted is learning to suffer fools gladly...

A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests."

I grew up perfectly aware of the fact that I was not like other people, so I never expect people to see things the way that I do. I am more often surprised when they DO see things the way I do. As such, I do my best to listen to other people's ideas, if for no other reason than to give myself some insight into how they see the world. But there are plenty of people who never reach that awareness, and even those who do may still have trouble relating to "normal" people.

This blog post on "Clever Sillies", which discusses social adaptations of highly intelligent people in a slightly different manner, is perhaps most relevant to this part of "The Outsiders" article.

"The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity."

The section that starts with this sentence hit so close to home that I felt like I had an arrow in my chest. I had to wait until college to find a group of people I could converse with and relate to in a real and meaningful way. And even then, it took me a while to figure out how to be a social animal. I'm still learning.

The article then goes on to discuss how the difference in IQ between an individual and those around them can make a difference in how the individual adapts to their environment. Smart people who are surrounded by other smart people adapt socially to their environment better than smart people who are surrounded by average people. Here, though, I would refer back to the "Clever Sillies" article, which suggests that if high IQ people spend too much time around each other, their world view can become very skewed. I would prefer a mixed exposure, since that's what you get in the real world. But the key, I think, is to make sure that a smart person has enough smart people around to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and motivated to meet their potential.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Stargate Universe Episode Names

The episode titles for Stargate Universe have so far been one, elemental word: Air, Darkness, Light, Water, Earth, Time, and the next one will apparently be Life. So I've taken to guessing the name of the next episode based purely on pattern. After "Water", I figured we'd get "Land" (we got "Earth"). I wanted the next to be "Space" or "Sky", but they went for "Time" (seriously, we're 8 hours into the series and they're already resorting to time travel?). I don't know, though. I think the last episode should have been called "Death" (and if you're not satisfied with an off-screen resolution or want to know if both past-future kinos were found by the crew of Destiny, watch this). At some point, they're going to need "Food". I suppose the third-time's-a-charm results of "Time" mean they aren't out of antibiotics yet, but they might start to worry about "Health" soon enough. Turn "Health" into "Heart" and you've got all of the elements for Captain "Planet", which of course would orbit a "Star". "Light" could just as well have been called "Fire", but that episode name is still an open possibility. If they decide to get a little mystical, they can go with "Spirit". And since they're flying on the "Destiny", the season's last episode can be called "Fate."

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Lego Sorting Evolution

I found a rather hilarious generic timeline of the evolution of a Lego collection, or, more specifically, the organization of the Lego collection as said collection grows. I laughed so hard at number 15 that I had to stop reading for a minute. Just that afternoon I had been in Wal-Mart, grumbling about how Rubbermaid's quality had gone downhill in the last few years. I'm kind of at step 13 with my Legos at the moment. If only I had known the Silverdome was going to be so cheap, I could have skipped straight to step 24.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Tilting at Windmills

Yeah, yeah, someone already took that headline. But if you haven't heard this story yet (and even if you have), watch the Daily Show interview of this guy who built a windmill in his backyard in Malawi when he was fourteen when his family was too poor to send him to school. My favorite part is when he describes his introduction to Google after coming to America.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Peep Nightmares and Daylight Savings Time

I could not sleep last night (surprise). This was bad for three reasons. 1) The beginning of Daylight Savings Time was already robbing me of an hour of my day, inevitably carved out of the "sleeping" part. 2) I had an 8 am meeting this morning, which meant super-extra-no-sleeping-in pressure. 3) I had my midterm in my class tonight. I avoided caffeine yesterday and even attempted to go to bed at 10 pm. At 11:30, I was very much not asleep or even close to being asleep, so I got up and surfed the web for a bit.

The Washington Post is having it's annual Peeps Diorama Contest. Someone made me throw out all of my candy that was more than two holidays (or was it two years?) old, so alas, I have no Halloween Peeps with which to build a Kitten themed diorama. But I did spend a bit of my sleepless time looking at entries from last year.

So when I finally got to sleep, what did I dream about? Peeps. Peeps taking over people and trying to eat me. Just how am I suppose to sleep when my brain thinks something as harmless as a Peep is out to get me? I can see the t-shirt now: Can't sleep. Peeps will eat me.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bad Day, Part 2

Why? Why am I paying money for services that don't support me when I need them? Why do I pay for a locked garage that lets people break into my car anyway? Why do I pay such high rent to a place that has no actual security and a front desk that can't answer basic questions or provide basic assistance in an emergency to residents? Why do I pay for insurance that uses a new math to turn my $250 deductible in to $420+ out of pocket expenses (and I'm not done replacing what was stolen)? Why do people try to rip me off?

It turns out that my stolen back-pack and said contents are not covered by my auto insurance. Instead, they are covered by my renter's insurance (which is with the same company). I also decided to get my windshield replaced (since it's had a crack all the way across for a while now) while I was getting my driver's side window repaired. For those keeping track at home, that's three claims in one day, two of which were for the same incident. None of the associates I talked to today reminded me that each claim had it's own deductible. So instead of this mess costing me $250, it could have potentially cost me $750 dollars. The insurance company will pay me absolutely nothing, especially since my backpack theft is so conveniently covered by a different policy and therefore doesn't bring the cost of the incident above my deductible, which is effectively $500 for the incident (I'm kind of pissed about the windshield, too, because if I'd realized the deductible was per claim instead of per year like it is with health insurance - way to be consistent with terminology, insurance industry - I wouldn't have bothered. But I was honest about it being a separate incident. Honesty is costly).

On top of that, the glass repair center I went to wanted to charge me the full deductible for both glass repairs, despite the fact that each repair cost less than the deductible. I refused. He dumped the claim forms in the trash. I paid the actual cost, which was still more than my cost would have been had it been covered by a single claim.

I called my insurance agent to ask why my insurance costs me so freakin' much if it doesn't actually, you know, help me. Turns out, I was only saving $14 a month by having a deductible. You better believe my deductible is now zero. I reduced other things to bring down my cost, but I'm still paying a ludicrous amount. I refuse to go through this B.S. again. It will now take me fifteen years to pay the insurance company as much money as I lost on this.

The windshield and the window I can almost understand (though it still makes me angry). But why on earth does a single incident require two separate claims? The bag was not stolen from my apartment. It was stolen from my car.

And now I'll have the two insurance agents who read this telling me why this is all a perfectly legal shell game.

So tell me: does the fact that I made three claims that will pay me nothing still count against my premium? Because I don't feel like getting robbed again just because I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Being punished for being a good person is starting to wear a little thin.

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So, my Dad forwarded me an e-mail about the horrors of keeping a GPS in your car - i.e., making yourself a target for criminals who can then use said GPS to find your home and steal even more stuff. I think such tales severely over-estimate the intelligence of criminals.

Case in point: I got to my car this morning to find my driver's side door smashed. I had a car charger plugged into my cigarette lighter, but nothing plugged into the charger. The moron who broke in ripped the charger out of the lighter (but left it behind), couldn't figure out how to open my center console and so only found a tire gauge and some AAA batteries in the top layer, didn't even bother looking in the glove compartment as far as I could tell (the GPS wasn't in there, either. Just the mount. It would take someone many, many valuable minutes to find where I hid that thing. It was still where I put it.), and - in hopes of getting something for all his hard work - stole my 15-year-old backpack where I keep my basketball shoes (size 3 1/2) and football gloves (children's small). There was also an X-Files long-sleeve shirt in there, but I have two of those anyway. I'm sure he'll have plenty of use for those things. If he's eight. :P Moron.

Oh, but the fun does not stop there, friends! No, no. I went to the front desk of my apartment and told them what happened. The guy at the desk (who's wearing a badge labeled "Security") just kind of shrugged and blinked at me like "what do you want me to do?" So I called 911, then asked the guy at the desk if there was a vacuum cleaner I could use to clean out my car or if he knew a number I could call to get it fixed. Again, shrug and blink. Frustrated, I went back upstairs to take care of police and insurance reports. When the police officer asked me if there was security at my apartment, I laughed and cried. My insurance put me on a call back list, so I went back downstairs to ask AGAIN for a vacuum cleaner, because surely maintenance has something, right?

The guy at the front desk was not happy to see me. He looked about ready to yell at me, then thought better of it and instead said something about everybody has their job and he's just security. That set me off. "Yes, you're security, and I'm telling you that my car has been broken into but you act like you don't give s#!$." Yes, I said the word. Out loud. With a raised voice. I pay $50 a month to park in a locked garage to prevent just this sort of thing from happening, and I pay a hefty rent that goes toward paying this guy to sit at the front desk. I've worked those sorts of jobs. I know it's not exciting and I don't envy dealing with unhappy customers. But I had been calm up to that point and, it seems to me, reasonable in my expectations of help of SOME kind. Your job, dude, is to help the people who live here. Never mind that the word "Security" on your shirt implies that you should have some interest when a resident experiences a breach of security. You shouldn't hear someone say "my car got broken into" and act like they just said it's cold outside.

Anyway, he disappeared into the back and came out with the head of maintenance, who was considerably more helpful. He even gave me a cushion to sit on so that I could drive my car the short distance required to get within reach of their shop vac. My car is now cleaner than it has been in months. I now have a plastic bag for a window. Hopefully, I can get that taken care of this afternoon and still have time to buy new basketball shoes before practice tonight.

But if you see anyone wearing a small pair of blue and white basketball shoes and carrying an old black backpack, let me know.

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