January 24, 2007

The Simple Pleasures

Necco Hearts are back in stores!

Posted by Kevin at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

Gold-Plated Idiocy

So part of President Bush's brilliant solution to America's health-care crisis is to tax those fat cats out there whose "gold-plated" health insurance premiums are above a certain yearly cap: $15,000 per year for families, $7,500 per year for individuals.

These $15k/$7.5k caps include the employer's contribution. So, curious, I went to the employer's benefits website to compare the total costs of the various health plans available to us. Our current plan comes under the $15k cap, but all of the married-couple plans are within a few thousand dollars of $15k. Once we add a daughter to our family, all of the plans worth having (everything but the Kaiser HMO and the oops-I-just-sawed-off-a-limb catastrophic plan) jump above the cap. I pity my single colleagues, for the cheapest plan they can buy right now costs $9,240 per year. Oops!

And I've never seen my insurance premiums go down, so it's just another year or two before any of our choices is above the cap, and we're stuck paying higher taxes for less-but-more expensive medical care. (I'm sure that the cap amounts aren't indexed to inflation or the average cost of insurance, so this is going to turn out just like the AMT — a gigantic tax trap intended for the "gold-plated" that ends up grinding the middle class.)

And while I can hear the shrieks of horror coming from economists at conservative think tanks already, raising taxes on our health insurance isn't going to change our utilization of that health insurance one iota. Why? Because we already only go to the doctor when we need to. The current Republican bogeyman — the modern version of Ronald Reagan's Cadillac-driving welfare queen — seems to be someone with "gold-plated" insurance who goes to the emergency room as a regular recreational activity. Who the hell does that? We've been to the emergency room, waiting for hours for Shelby to be seen, serenaded by the sounds of a drug-crazed arrestee who's been strapped to a gurney and is shrieking insensate nonsense at the police and the ER nurses. Going to the emergency room is not fun. Even visiting our regular doctor with an appointment can involve forty-five minutes of sitting and waiting as he takes in all of the people he's overbooked ahead of me (and let's not even talk about what happens when you visit the urgent-care clinic).

If I'm getting "gold-plated" service, I shouldn't have to argue with my insurance company for months about whether a paramedic call followed by ambulance transportation was actually an emergency, rather than some kind of expensive and exotic taxi ride. (One means the insurance company pays $25.50, one means they pay $300 — guess which one they chose.) I shouldn't have to call the insurance company multiple times to correct a series of 'clerical errors' that mysteriously always break in the insurance company's favor (these 'errors' seem to start cropping up every year once we hit our out-of-pocket limit — but I'm sure there's no connection). But yet some idiot Republican speechwriter chooses to characterize the medical care we receive as if we're making weekly trips to a concierge clinic on the Upper East Side — and the media pretty much uncritically laps up the whole "gold-plated" theme.

Also not helping are the sensible liberals who react to this proposal with credulity — this is actually a quite progressive change to the tax code! It would make an excellent incremental first step to single-payer universal health care! No it wouldn't. This isn't an incremental first step toward anything. Give Bush what he wants, and he'll shaft the middle class with a tax hike, give the insurance companies a big shiny gift, and then stop right there. And he'll probably find a way to hang the whole mess around your neck, too.

Posted by Kevin at 08:54 AM | Comments (2)

January 18, 2007

80s Nostalgia Time

If you're of my vintage, relive the time that you spent at somebody's house or in your school's computer lab playing Apple II games with a visit to virtualapple.org. It's a website that hosts an Apple IIGS emulator, along with disk images for hundreds of games. All of my old favorites are here: Taipan, Swashbuckler, Microsoft (yes, that Microsoft) Olympic Decathalon (the first few screens of intro graphics are munged, but have patience and you'll get to the game itself), Captain Goodnight, Ultima II — even Lemonade Stand. I'm sure that this is all screamingly illegal, but I'm also sure that nobody cares very much.

(Technical notes: the emulator is an ActiveX control that only runs inside Internet Explorer on Windows. I had no luck with installing the ActiveX control directly from the virtualapple site, but if you go to freetoolsassociation.com — the website of the people who wrote the emulator — click on "Emulator" in the left-hand menu, and then click on any of the items in the "Demos" tab, you should get a dialog asking if you want to install the plugin.)

If you choose to open the door, turn to page 5: Also, during a trip to Costco, Shelby noticed that someone was reprinting Choose Your Own Adventure books in boxed sets of six and made me buy the two sets that were available. They're pretty much exactly like I remember, except that someone has "reviewed and edited" the books and brought them "into the Internet age", which seems to involve throwing in random references to technology. In particular, the author has a fetish for PDAs: in one story, we check the time on our PDA; in another, we get a high-tech diving suit that contains "advanced microprocessors" and a "PDA with a laser communicator". They should have just saved their time and left in all the old references to Pong and Video Bowling — in a couple of years, children living in The Future are going to find all of these ham-handed edits just as anachronistic.

(The new CYOA people have a website; if you want the books yourself, but can't find them at your Costco, they're selling the sets on Amazon: 1, 2, 3, 4. Is CYOA author "R.A. Montgomery" somehow related to L.M. Montgomery?)

Posted by Kevin at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2007

Rescuing the Rescuers

One of my occasional wouldn't-that-be-nice daydreams involves buying a big 'ol shingled Craftsman bungalow and moving back to Berkeley. The dream usually hits the wall when I think about the bazillions of dollars we'd need to buy such a bungalow (or the hypnotism job I'd need to do on Shelby to get her to leave Southern California). But even if we were to make such a move, I think that the local culture would get to me after a while. The same mindset that can make Berkeley so great — that's produced endless protests, candlelight vigils, and letter-writing campaigns — can have a tendency to turn into the worst kind of caustic, unhinged and unforgiving NIMBYism as local "activists" turn inward and contemplate their own neighborhoods.

Witness the Milo Foundation, an animal-rescue group that runs a no-kill animal shelter in Mendocino County and runs regular adopt-an-animal events around the Bay Area. Eighteen months ago, the foundation bought a retail space (the former site of a pet store) on Solano Avenue in North Berkeley and opened the "Milo Foundation Pet Adoption Store". Since then, two thousand dogs and cats have been adopted through their storefront.

All that comes to a stop soon, as this week Milo announced that they're closing their Berkeley store in the face of unrelenting neighborhood hostility. While the Milo people aren't blameless — they say that they've made mistakes (and this blog entry would definitely lend credence to a they're-in-over-their-heads theory) — it seems like they've tried to work with the city and neighborhood associations to find compromises that would have allowed their operations to continue. But when you've got neighborhood residents writing insane screeds like this to the local media, making the Milo Foundation sound like a charnel house/bioweapons disposal facility that happens to do pet adoption on the side, would any compromise have ever been possible?

After reading the article in the Chron, we sent Milo a donation and a "don't let the bastards get you down!" note.

(The Bay Area hasn't been acquitting itself all too well this week — the Monday Chronicle also had a story about neighborhood opposition to a Habitat for Humanity building project in the city of Tiburon, a rich folks' enclave in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The four-home project, the first in Marin County, has neighbors all worked up about the twin specters of decreased property values and increased traffic. [From four single-family homes?] "We don't have anything against Habitat, but nobody wants the traffic here. It's going to kill us." I'm glad to see that all of The Stupid isn't down here in Orange County, writing letters to the editor.)

Posted by Kevin at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2007

Short Shameful Holidaytime Confession

Given how much of a food snob I've become regarding other comestibles, and how I'll often make something from scratch rather than buying the readymade alternative, it just seems dirty and wrong to admit that I ... I ... l-l-l-like grocery-store eggnog straight from the carton. The lowfat kind, even. I happily buy my first carton right when they first show up, sometime after Thanksgiving, and wistfully buy my last just before they disappear, sometime around New Year's.

Does this make me a bad person?

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone out there, by the way.)

Posted by Kevin at 08:34 AM | Comments (1)