The Thinker

Is blogging dying?

When I started this blog in late 2002, blogging was an up and coming thing. Fourteen years later, there is plenty of evidence that while blogging is not quite dead it is dying. I can look at my own web statistics to see the trend. While I strongly suspect my web statistics were overstated in the early years due to incorrectly counting robots and search engines, according to the most accurate gauge that I have (Google Analytics), I am getting 18% of the page views in 2015 that the blog got in 2010.

I am not helped because my blog is both very personal and largely themeless. Those blogs that succeed today tend to be rooted around a much more popular website, like a blogger posting on Huffington Post. A successful blog is often extremely specialized (narrowcasting is the term I have heard used). Over the last decade or so, web marketers have learned all sorts of tricks on how to catch eyeballs. Just ask Facebook, Gawker (RIP), Twitter and Tumblr, to name a few. Mobile devices with smaller sized screens just further the trend. People want content in small and succinct bites, which bodes ill for long form blogs like mine.

My monthly foray into the Craigslist Casual Encounters section was due largely to people continually coming to my site for these postings. Making a monthly review of local postings is not so much for my own amusement as it is for yours. My hope is that having satisfied your prurient interest, you might stick around and read my other stuff too. It works somewhat and may explain that while my statistics like most blog sites are declining, I suspect I am doing better than most. You know things are bad when bloggers like Andrew Sullivan give up their blog.

I don’t feel particularly inclined to throw in the towel. This blog has been more about keeping me engaged mentally than anything else. Not that I haven’t considered giving it up. I did once drop out for a couple of weeks after Google mysteriously delisted me. Blogging may not bring in the traffic it used to, but as part of a site it’s definitely useful. If you run a small business on the web, one of the best ways to increase traffic (after convincing other sites to list your site) is to maintain a blog and regularly post relevant content on it. This helps establish that you are serious about your site by demonstrating that are willing to spend time to keep it fresh and topical, as well as offer nuggets useful to the public at large. In my case, this blog is the website. It serves no higher purpose and has not proven a way to make me independently rich.

I have noticed that web traffic is just one piece of my total traffic. A lot of people read me through the site’s feed. This week Feedcat (my blog aggregator) tells me I have 295 readers. If these readers are regular readers, that’s a whole lot more valuable to me than webpage hits. How many singers would be happy if the same 295 people came to hear them sing once a week? So while I don’t fill stadiums, I do fill a small virtual auditorium with generally the same people. I don’t know how much of my post they read, or if they read it at all. Judging from the dearth of comments I receive, most of them probably scan my content or are looking for that one special post, like the monthly Craigslist casual encounters post.

The general trend though is clear. Blogging is not dead, but it is less interesting to people on the web and it is becoming more specialized. Right now it works best as a narrowcast channel for mostly textual content. If your content is video, you are probably better off with a YouTube channel instead. It’s also quite useful for small communities where there are handfuls of content creators. The popular blogging software WordPress serves 26 percent of the content on the web, more than any other software solution. Most of that content is coming from hosted web servers. The beauty of WordPress is that it is both elegant blogging software and an elegant content management system. Obviously I like it as I have been using WordPress for at least eight years. Most likely WordPress is being used for your church’s website, but also to post the minister’s blog on it too. Small businesses find WordPress a no-brainer as well as the entry fee is small (just hosting) but the features available in WordPress and its thousands of plugins make pretty much anything possible and not too hard to do.

So perhaps it’s better to say that blogging is changing. It’s becoming a feature of a site rather than its reason for being. Blogging is probably not a way to riches, unless it is of the non-monetary kind. It does make it simple to get your content on the web and simple for you to control it. It allows you to personalize the content and make it easily available on lots of devices and media. It offers you a level of control that can’t be matched with a Facebook page, or a Tumblr or Twitter account. A blog is not easy to market. It depends mostly on friends or colleagues promoting it for you.

Blogging is still useful but it’s not a way to get lots of page views, at least not without a lot of really popular and unique content. Keep your expectations modest if you are going to blog; make the blog at least interesting to you so you will want to keep at it. This has to be enough or there’s no point in starting.

I’ll keep hanging in there.

 
The Thinker

Second viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 6)

Season 6 of this series emulates Season 5, which means that the overall quality is very good. There are no major clunkers in Season 6 (no Majel Barrett as Deanna’s mom helps) so every episode warrants at least a C grade. There is only one more season left for me to see again. It’s amazing that I forgot all this stuff over the last two decades when I originally watched them on TV.

Anyhow, if you want to scan Season 6 and watch only the good stuff, you can use my mini episode reviews with confidence.

  1. Time’s Arrow II. This is the conclusion from Season 5’s cliffhanger, which was not much of a cliffhanger. In Part I, Data’s head was found in a cave underneath San Francisco, causing certain members of the Enterprise crew to go back to that time to figure out what’s going on. In Part II they succeed and discover that some alien shape shifters are using a cholera outbreak in the bay area at that time to surreptitiously drain the life force out of many San Franciscans. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and Data’s jeopardy feels forced, but Mark Twain does get to visit a 24th century Enterprise. B
  2. Realm of Fear. The terminally shy and deeply annoying Enterprise engineer Lt. Barclay is back, this time with a new phobia: transporters. He slowly masters his fear and transports over to the starship Yosemite, where Barclay become pivotal in rescuing the missing crew. One of the stranger parts of this episode is where Transporter Chief O’Brian is talking about how safe transporters are. Transporter malfunctions are a regular feature of STTNG episodes. Of the Lt. Barclay episodes, this is the easiest to stomach. C
  3. Man of the People. Something is weird about the Lumerian ambassador the Enterprise is ferrying. The ambassador maintains his cool so he can excel at his duties through an intimacy ceremony that has the effect of prematurely aging his partner. When his companion “mother” with him dies, an innocent Counselor Troi becomes his next victim. She ages prematurely but no one seems to think this or her overly seductive behavior is that big a deal. Using 24th century magic, of course Troi will revert to her former svelte self by the end of the episode. C
  4. Relics. Pretty much every STTOS actor gets a chance to reprise his or her role aboard the Enterprise D if they wanted to, and in this episode it’s James Doohan’s (Scotty’s) turn. Speaking of transporter accidents (see Episode 2), Scotty’s been in one for 75 years that is why he doesn’t look a day over sixty when La Forge finally pulls him out. Scotty resumes being Scotty, but he’s a bit off his kilter (kilt?) on the Enterprise D. The only thing noteworthy in this episode is the Dyson’s sphere they encounter, making for some neat special effects for 1992. Scotty helps solve the crisis of the day and as a reward (but probably because he is sort of insufferable) he is sent to a more permanent retirement: Picard gives him an extended loan of a shuttlecraft as a going away present. Go study those technical manuals, Scotty. C
  5. Schisms. Apparently one episode using the insomnia meme was not enough in this series. Riker has a bad case of it but this time he is not alone. With the help of a holodeck, various crewmembers remember fragments of creepy “dreams” where they are being examined by aliens. In Riker’s case, he was partially dismembered and put back by curious alien doctors. It’s suitably creepy and well done, however. A-
  6. True Q. A promising intern Amanda is assigned to the Enterprise who soon discovers she has supernatural powers that frighten her. It turns out that she is a new member of the Q Continuum so naturally Q (John de Lancie) shows up to act as something of a sarcastic coach and naturally to spar with Picard too. Amanda must ultimately decide whether to become a Q too or abdicate her powers, which would not be a good idea, as Q must destroy her in that event. Guess which one she picks? C
  7. Rascals. Yikes! Yet another transporter accident! This one rolls back the aging for some Enterprise crewmembers including Picard who revert to 12-year-old children while retaining their adult memories and capabilities. The senior staff finds it hard to take orders from a child Captain Picard and we get to marvel at a young Picard with bountiful hair. O’Brien finds that having his wife Keiko turn into a 12-year-old changes their marriage big time, but if there was ever a case for legitimately having sex with a kid this would be it. (Glad O’Brien is not a creepy child molester!) The actor playing a young Picard though does a great job, and this is simultaneously fun and amusing while we await their eventual “re-aging”. Meanwhile, these child officers get to outwit a rogue Ferengi captain that takes over the Enterprise who has no idea who they are. B
  8. A Fistful of Datas. Speaking of transporter accidents, holodeck accidents are also a recurring theme in STTNG. We get another one in this episode when Worf, his son Alexander and Counselor Troi get caught up in a too-real holodeck simulation of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Worf gets to play sheriff, Marina Sirtis makes an unconvincing deputy and Brent Spiner gets to play a bad guy. They have to find a way to safely end the simulation for the program to end. A mildly amusing waste of time. C+
  9. The Quality of Life. Dr. Farallon is another brilliant, cute but bullheaded Federation scientist. She is working on a “particle fountain” to make mining more efficient on the planet Tyrus 7A. To assist she creates “Exocomps”, intelligent mining machines that prove too intelligent. Data thinks she has created an artificial life form, which naturally Data finds “intriguing” and eventually becomes protective of. This is interesting mostly for Brent Spiner’s acting. A-
  10. Chain of Command, Part I. Figuring there was no reason to wait for an end of season cliffhangers, the writers decided to put them in the middle of a season. Starfleet gets wind of a secret Cardassian biological weapon and covertly sends Picard, Crusher and Worf on a mission to Celtris III to verify then locate and destroy the technology. This illegal weapon is tantamount to war if it exists, so the Federation feels the need to go to war status. They send Captain Edward Jellico to take over Picard’s command, presumably permanently. This abrupt change does not sit well with the crew and Jellico goes out of his way to ruffle feathers, but only because the mission requires it. It turns out that the Cardassians are luring the Federation into a trap. Worf and Crusher escape, but Picard is captured. This and the next episode will press all your favorite Star Trek buttons. A
  11. Chain of Command, Part II. While Jellico continues to ruffle feathers as Enterprise captain, a Cardassian interrogator, Gul Madred, tortures Picard on Celtris III. Both Patrick Stewart and the interrogator played by David Warner give exceptional performances as all sorts of torture tactics are tried to break Picard’s will. Stewart proves yet again that Star Trek producers got the best deal ever when they hired him, as evidenced by his terrific acting in this episode. This is one of the best episodes of the entire series. A+
  12. Ship in a Bottle. After episode 2, you would think they’d give the Lt. Barclay character a rest, but he’s back. Fortunately Barclay is somewhat ancillary in this episode, but he does discover a very persistent Professor Moriarty in a Holodeck simulation, one who has been in memory since Season 2. Picard has been lax in his promise to try to free Moriarty so he can safely explore the real universe, so he takes things into his own hands, so to speak. So there’s yet another bug in the Holodeck software while Moriarity and his lover Countess Regina twist Picard’s arm to allow him to escape to the real world. This is a fun episode because it’s mostly a hall of mirrors episode. Moriarty gets what he wants, sort of. A
  13. Aquiel. Geordi falls in love with Lt. Aquiel Uhnari, a somewhat difficult officer assigned to a subspace communications relay station who lost her crewmates but still has her dog. The plot actually hangs on Aquiel’s devoted dog, which is not quite what it seems. C
  14. Face of the Enemy. In another one of these “you can’t make this shit up” episodes, Deanna wakes up to find she is a major in the Romulan elite. She was captured on orders from Spock, who is trying to bring peace to the Romulans by ferrying three secret passengers to the Federation. Posing as Major Rakal, Troi must bossily assert her dominance over Captain Toreth, who resents her privileged place in Romulan society. There are lots of problems with this episode; the biggest is that Spock would not order something like this. Marina Sirtis though does get to act very bossy and seems to enjoy the change of page. C
  15. Tapestry. Picard dies, or does he not? He seems to be in the afterlife, which is not all that great because who should greet him but Q? Because he’s in the Continuum, Q lets him redo pivotal points in his life. Picard discovers that some of his less than savory youthful aspects were essential to the man he became, so Q lets him and his artificial heart live. B
  16. Birthright, Part I. We get our first glimpse of Deep Space Nine in this episode, in its pre-Sisko era. There Worf encounters an alien who claims that his father was not killed on Khitomer, but is actually isolated on a secret planet with other Klingons and Romulan overlords that he will take him to, for a price. Meanwhile, Data encounters Dr. Julian Bashir (a recurring and annoying DS9 character) who wants to study him. During a test, Data receives an energy surge, which causes him to dream for the first time. Worf takes leave to go to the planet where the Khitomer Klingons and their offspring live. After secretly entering the compound he soon discovers that the Klingons are happy to be there and the younger ones have no memories of or care of Klingon traditions and history, which he finds very disturbing. B
  17. Birthright, Part II. Worf cannot understand why these Klingons don’t want to escape. In fact, the Romulans are benevolent overlords. Worf manages to stir up the blood of some of the Klingons by relating their customs and rituals, which irritates the Romulan commander who wants the status quo. B-
  18. Starship Mine. Everyone on the Enterprise must check out for a barium sweep. To avoid a long-winded colleague, Picard makes an excuse to go back to the ship and encounters some thieves after the ship’s trilithium. Picard must beat these foes while the sweep reduces the survivable space on the ship. B
  19. Lessons. Picard falls in love with the new chief of stellar cartography, when he becomes taken by her musical abilities. After getting an unnecessary okay from Troi to pursue a relationship with Lt. Commander Daren (fraternization is apparently not a problem in the 24th century), they move deeper into love while Picard and Riker struggle through boundary issues with Daren and each other the relationship raises. Most of this episode is blessedly free the usual jeopardy the crew must overcome. However, Daren must eventually lead a team to a planet to protect a crew there from an unusual solar storm, pitting Picard’s personal feelings for Daren with his command duty to be impartial. This is an unusual episode because it’s of the heart, not the head, and Picard fills out more as a human being. A
  20. The Chase. Picard unexpectedly meets an old mentor of his, Professor Galen who tempts him to take an archeological adventure with him. Despite Picard’s great interest, he must decline, which makes the professor angry. The professor’s shuttle gets attacked when he leaves the Enterprise and he dies shortly thereafter. Picard senses Galen’s great discovery is at hand, and directs the Enterprise to a number of planets to chase it rather than attend a conference. His crew puts together part of Galen’s puzzle: that there was a master species from which all humanoid forms evolved billions of years earlier who seeded the galaxy. If they can construct the whole thing they expect to get a message for them from billions of years ago, literally encoded in the DNA. But both the Klingons and the Cardassians are hot on the trail as well, seeking advantage. So a treasure hunt of sorts is underway to get the last genetic material to complete the sequence of understanding. This turns out to be a really interesting episode combining an interesting idea with a lot of action. A
  21. Frame of Mind. Riker is cast in one of Beverly’s plays in a challenging dramatic role where he is a prisoner in a mental asylum. It gets surreal when he has dreams that he is in such a place. Which is real: the asylum or the Enterprise? B
  22. Suspicions. Dr. Crusher finds herself out of a job when she sticks up for a Ferengi scientist who believes he has created metaphasic shielding that would allow spacecraft to enter previously dangerous places, like a sun’s corona. She invites some scientists to the Enterprise to critique his controversial work, one of who dies during an attempt to test the shield using a shuttlecraft. On a second attempt, the Ferengi scientist also dies, and Crusher performs an illegal autopsy to figure out the cause. Someone’s hiding something. B
  23. Rightful Heir. Worf is having a crisis of faith due to his experiences in Episodes 16 and 17. He wants to have a religious experience and get in touch with Kahless, the founder of the Klingon code of honor who died 1500 years earlier and promised to return. Granted leave, he goes to Boreth where devout Klingons go to pray, but has little luck summoning Kahless. On the thirteenth day though he suddenly appears to Worf, who wonders if he is the real Kahless or a fake Kahless. His faith is tested yet again while Gowron (head of the Klingon empire) butts heads with Kahless, thinking he is a phony. Most of these episodes featuring Klingon power plays are good, and this is no exception. A-
  24. Second Chances. In yet another improbable transporter accident (how many is this now?) Riker discovers a clone of himself left on the planet Nervala II. He had been there as a Lieutenant eight years earlier, and only now has a window opened allowing transporters to get down to the planet again, where he literally finds himself. Commander and Lieutenant Riker have sharp words with each other, the Lieutenant is still deeply in love with Deanna and you know before its over will come sort of test of Wills, literally. B
  25. Timescape. Returning from a conference aboard a shuttle, Picard, Geordi, Data and Troi encounter weird pockets in the space-time continuum and arrive at their rendezvous point to find the Enterprise and a Romulan vessel seemingly frozen in time and in the midst of a battle. They must figure out what’s going on because it’s clear a warp core breach is underway on the Enterprise. Can they figure it out and restore the Enterprise? Of course! B
  26. Descent, Part I. Time for a second cliffhanger, which turns out to be the last one of this seven season series. Unsurprisingly, the Borg are involved but it seems they have mutated. They don’t care about the collective, their ship looks different and they just want to kill people, but not Data. Trying to save his crew, Data must kill a Borg, and he experiences his first emotion: anger and finds it instantly addictive. He spends much of the episode on the holodeck trying to recreate the feeling and not succeeding, while Starfleet raises its shields. Picard is put in charge of a fleet of three ships trying to protect some new border colonies from the Borg. The Enterprise goes through a number of vortexes trying to find a shuttlecraft stolen by Data, ending up on a planet where they find Data and a surprise that suggests the Borg are not their real enemy. A
 
The Thinker

Defusing the angry Trumpsters

Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. For being sort of retired, my life has been plenty busy lately. Mainly I’ve been hosting family, who seem to have finally accepted that we have moved to Western Massachusetts and suddenly want to visit. My brother arrived for a weeklong visit. In the middle of it my sister arrived, along with my stepmother. For eleven days we enjoyed their company, fed them and took them places. Now things are getting back to normal and I can think about blogging again.

What thought that have been occupying my brain these last couple of weeks have not been Donald Trump, but the people who support him. Trump has been true to his form, going from crazy to crazier. I no longer worry at all about him winning the election. As I said in June, Trump is toast. I’d like to think he is smart enough to realize this, but he is surprisingly tone deaf to things like his ultra high negatives and polling that shows him pulling farther behind Hillary Clinton.

He seems convinced that he will somehow pull this election thing off somehow, unless it gets “stolen” somehow. (What a strange concern from a party that has been putting up voting roadblocks for poor and minorities.) Even Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has thrown in his towel. For months he was dogmatically certain that Trump had us all hypnotized. He had said he had 98% confidence that Trump would win the election because he excelled at mass hypnosis and persuasion techniques. I do give him credit for one thing: Trump certainly has his followers hypnotized. It seems there is nothing too wild that he can say (the latest is that President Obama “founded” ISIS) that will dissuade his followers from voting for him. Fortunately this is but a sizeable minority of the country. To quote Bertrand Russell, the rest of us aren’t hypnotized; we are “uncomfortably awake”. You know you are in trouble when my stepmother, who reads Bill O’Reilly’s books and watches Fox News told us she couldn’t vote for Trump. Hillary will get her vote.

This is not my first rumination about Trump’s followers. This is America, and we’re entitled to believe any crazy thing we want, which is why many of us are dogmatically certain the earth is only 6000 years old. We don’t give up our prejudices easily and I’m no exception. Rest assured though that if Bernie Sanders were the pompous, gaseous windbag that Donald Trump is I would have been the first to run away from him. A few of Trump’s halfhearted supporters have seen the light, which is mostly figuring out what side their bread is buttered on. Establishment Republicans are working hard to shut their eyes and stop their ears until after the election. They too live in the real world and they know a political disaster of potentially Biblical proportions is about to be unleashed in November against them. They are hoping their firewall of gerrymandering will allow them to maintain some modicum of political control, at least in the House. The Senate is looking likely to flip back to the Democrats.

The late Eric Hoffer wrote a number of interesting books, including The Ordeal of Change and The True Believer. It is the latter book that I am thinking about tonight. Most of us are true believers in the sense that we have certain core beliefs that virtually nothing can change. I fall into this category too. We are not open to evidence that contravenes our predetermined positions, which is why it’s very hard to get someone to change those opinions and beliefs they are most passionate about. Sometimes it takes cataclysm. In the case of Japan, it took two nuclear bombs to get them to surrender and a benevolent overlord (the United States) to introduce rational government (democracy). Just to be on the safe side though we clipped Japan’s wings, not allowing it to develop nuclear weapons or an army capable of fighting in a foreign war. In Trump’s supporters I see a lot of people behaving a lot like the Japanese before their surrender, i.e. true believers. Trump seems to be egging them on with a recent comment that suggested that those who favor the Second Amendment might unseat a President Hillary Clinton using their guns, which most read as his sanctioning her assassination.

The most dangerous day for our democracy since the Civil War may be the day after the general election, November 9, and what comes out of Trump’s mouth when he loses. Based on his bullheadedness and lack of impulse control, I would not be surprised if he asked his followers to rise up. After all, it will be the only way to “make America great again” if we unwisely choose “Crooked Hillary”. It would probably land him in jail, but it’s unclear if this would bother him, as stoking his ego seems to be all that matters. Would his supporters actually try insurrection? And if so how can it be prevented?

I think at least some will, with or without an overt call. Trump will probably call for it using weasel words that will sound like he is not directly calling for such an action, but his supporters will know what he is signaling. I think even if he says nothing at least some of his supporters will attempt to take matters into their own hands. It may be a handful of incidents or it may turn into something much more long term: attempts at insurrection that could look indistinguishable from terrorism. After all, if your cause is just, terrorism is just another tactic.

It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for Trump supporters. If any group deserves to hit the concrete, it will be his supporters. In reality, the whole Republican establishment could stand for a tar and feathering. We Democrats though are too nonviolent to do something like this. His supporters though are full of energy and certainty about the rightness of their positions. If we know anything about energy, a pocket of energy will eventually burst its container if it grows large enough. So how does an enlightened society gently prick this Trump balloon so rather than explode violently it gently drains away? How do we lead the Tea Party and Trump supporters to a better and more productive place?

Ideally, Trump would be statesmanlike enough to do this, but that’s not a likely option here. Part of the solution would be for key Republicans to forcefully and repeatedly state that insurrection and violence are not options. It wouldn’t hurt if Republicans said that anyone advocating these things would be expelled from their party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be a good person to say this, as his loathing for all things Democratic is hardly unknown. Speaker Paul Ryan can and likely would do the same thing, but he has considerably less influence and power than McConnell. Doubtless the Bush family, Mitt Romney and most of the Republican presidential candidates would say the same. It’s important though for these people to speak up on this now, be clear and be loud throughout the general election campaign. At this point none of these people seem to be entertaining the idea that anyone in their flock needs such a lecture.

They also need a plan for the day after the election that Tea Partiers can latch onto with some measure of hope. It will be mostly more of what they did after Obama was elected: promising total obstruction, something Mitch McConnell was quite effective in doing. It won’t make a President-elect Hillary Clinton happy but it may staunch a rebellion. Hillary Clinton probably can and will speak forcefully after her election calling for calm and making it clear that she will not propose anything more than modest gun control legislation. (She is already doing the latter, but Tea Partiers aren’t listening or simply don’t believe her.)

What will prove key is how President Obama reacts to any scattered attempts at insurrection. We still have a National Guard that has controlling insurrection as part of its mission. However, when incidents are scattered and low-key, they won’t prove effective using traditional tactics. We do have police forces with plenty of armaments more suited to warfare than policing. That will help.

My suspicion is that Obama is already all over this, and this is part of his daily national security briefing. There are likely all sorts of contingency plans and all sorts of discreet surveillance going on by the NSA and FBI to nip a lot of these in the bud. But not even the NSA can be everywhere and it’s easy to acquire firearms. More lethal armaments are likely out there for those with the money and connections. All we can really do is hope they are doing their job. If they are, the bomb that are Trump supporters may mostly diffuse before Election Day.

 
The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: August 2016 (Hartford CT) edition

TGIF is what a lot of Craigslist users are thinking, which also means that many of them want to hookup. So off they go to their computers to post their most lascivious and carnal needs in hopes that someone will answer the call. Most of them (particularly the men) are going to have their hopes dashed. Some will find they get not quite what they bargained for, like a sexually transmitted disease.

For some of us whose habit is to peruse these ads for our own amusement, we’re likely to find entertainment of sorts scanning the ads. I’m back to scanning Hartford Connecticut’s casual encounters section because it’s been so good to me. I had at least 259 web page views for my Craigslist casual encounters posts in July, and fully 179 of these were for my May 2015 post on Hartford’s section. You might say it’s good for business here on Occam’s Razor, accounting for at least 18% of my traffic in July. How can I not at least take a peek?

Scanning the first page of today’s ads I find:

  • 42 men looking for a woman
  • 29 men looking for a man
  • 12 men looking for a couple
  • 2 men looking for a transgender
  • 1 man looking for two women
  • 10 women looking for a man
  • 1 woman looking for a couple
  • 2 women looking for a woman
  • 3 transgender people looking for a man
  • 1 transgender person looking for multiple men
  • 1 couple looking for a woman

Normally I put on the dark glasses before I read this stuff but it’s such a nice day I’ll see if I can handle it without them.

  • She’s 48, from Hartford and looking for a man to take her to see Suicide Squad. It’s apparently a horrible movie but if she’s looking for a slow way to kill herself, she’s already in the right place. Just date a few Craigslist casual encounters posters!
  • I don’t understand why gay men target heterosexual guys on Craigslist. Why would they bother to read the ad? If you are a woman looking for a woman on Craigslist, but the ad is actually from a man, why would you want to take him up on his oral servicing offer? This post is one fantasy this guy from Enfield won’t live out tonight.
  • If you are a married and unhappy man but unwilling to leave your marriage this “professional” is for you. While she says she’s looking for a good friend, most likely her profession requires monetary tributes: cash or credit card.
  • Women: is there safety through nakedness? If you come and visit him this 35-year-old man in blue boxer shorts will greet you in his birthday suit. Supposedly this will make you feel safe and in control from the start. I suppose it could also start fits of uncontrollable laughter too. And speaking of naked guys, Andy from Manchester is willing to let it all hang out for you in advance so check out his naked pictures and smiling face. To qualify for admittance you must sport DDDs or better. I’m betting he’ll settle for a C.
  • If you are a female transitioning to a male, before you convert that clitoris into a penis, this man from Newington wants to suck it. This is perhaps the strangest ad I’ve seen for a man looking for a woman.
  • Speaking of the transgendered, this shapely “gurl” from New Haven wants you if you are a ruthless and dominant top. Yes, she wants you to whip her into shape.
  • I’m not sure why but if you are a woman looking to fulfill a rape fantasy this 37-year-old man from East Hartford will do the honors. It goes without saying that by definition real rape is non-consensual so at best this would be pretend rape. Here’s a 39-year-old man from Windsor (perhaps the same guy) looking for a similar scenario.
  • Women: only contact him if you can squirt. He’s not the only one with particular qualifications posting today. This 35-year-old man is into sucking women’s toes.
  • He’s 32, from Hartford and doesn’t like to brag but he’s no one shot Charlie. In fact, he’s ready for another one after as little as five minutes. He claims he came four times in ninety minutes.
  • This is very weird and hard to capsulize. Go read it.
  • This makes no sense. She is 23, a virgin and wants you to be her first but it’s something she puts all her extra effort into?
  • She likes them big, construction worker size. Get your hard hats on, fellas!

More in September.

 
The Thinker

Donald Trump and Xanex time

The political conventions are over and now the general election campaign starts in earnest. Sort of. There has certainly never been an election like this is my living memory.

There have been some crazy ones. In 1964 Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, dogmatic like Donald Trump but without his innate nastiness. He went on to lose every state except his home state of Arizona, probably because he was publicly willing to proactively use our nuclear weapons. (You would think Donald Trump would take this as a lesson learned, but of course not.) It didn’t hurt that President Johnson was from Texas, so southerners had no reason not to vote for him.

The 1968 election was a pretty turbulent election too: riots outside the Democratic National Convention and literal fistfights inside the convention too. These were not helped by racial violence in our big cities and the assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The violence of that time was magnitudes worse than the mass shootings and targeted killings of police (and arguably blacks) of this and recent years. Hundreds died in these riots and whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. Richard Nixon rode a “law and order” platform to his election, in the process starting a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to handling crime still with us today.

The 1992 election was strange because independent Ross Perot effectively siphoned off Republican votes, giving Bill Clinton the presidency. George H.W. Bush would have won reelection if it had been a normal year, even with the recession. The 2000 election was weird because it was so close and was decided by the Supreme Court.

But this 2016 election tops all of these. You literally could not make this stuff up. If a year ago you’d have suggested that the Republican nominee shortly after his nomination would be criticizing the parents of a Gold Star Muslim serviceman whose son literally gave his life protecting our troops, no one would believe it. Today, political wonks and many average Americans spend their days with their jaws agape. Trump’s ego is apparently as boundless as his knowledge of current events and our constitution is full of ignorance. How is it possible that Trump would not know that the Russian surrogates invaded eastern Ukraine? The mind just boggles.

Still, after the Republican convention national polls showed Trump and Clinton virtually tied. Do people love Trump so much in spite of his racist blather that they will excuse anything? Or is it due to loathing of Hillary Clinton? The tie seems to be disappearing with Clinton’s post convention bounce, taking her back to about where she was before either convention got underway. She is still the likely winner. In 1964 Goldwater’s willingness to proactively use nuclear weapons scared virtually all Americans making Johnson the obvious if not enthusiastic choice.

Trump’s position mirrors Goldwater’s but he’s also expressed a willingness to use torture. This doesn’t seem to bother his supporters at all. If the election were held today while he wouldn’t win he’d have a nice haul of electoral votes. This begs the question: what the hell has happened to the American voter in these 52 years? Trump is far worse than Goldwater and by 1964’s measure he should not win any states, but it’s clear that he will. There apparently is nothing he can do or say that will dissuade at least the reddest states from voting for him anyhow. I hope to be proven wrong by Election Day, but I doubt I will be.

All this invites a lot of conspiracy theories. If somehow Trump wins the likelihood is that he won’t be in office long. Both Republicans and Democrats would give him the heave ho after an impeachment and trial, once he commits an impeachable offense. This shouldn’t take long. He might do it minutes after being sworn in. For Republicans, if there is any making of lemonade from this lemon, it’s that we’d get Mike Pence as president, who would be a Republican dream president. Perhaps this is the unlikely roll of the dice that Republicans are hoping for. As hard as I try though I just don’t see how Trump can get elected. So much of the election chessboard is baked in and so few seem persuadable, so the election will be determined mostly by turnout. Even those who would prefer to sit it out probably won’t be able to. The stakes are too high. Moreover, courts recently invalidated Voter ID laws in three states further pushing the odds toward Hillary Clinton’s election.

Those of us who care about our country and the rule of law though can be forgiven for holding our breath until after the election. While Trump’s election is unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. His election would be the biggest threat to our country since the Civil War. I expect prescriptions for Valium and Xanex to climb through the election. The nervous nellies out there have every right to be nervous. Should Trump win I may need one too. I’ll also probably need a backhoe for digging my fallout shelter. Silly me, I just figured if there were going to be a nuclear war, some other country would start it.

 
The Thinker

Two movies reviewed

Star Trek Beyond

If you like action movies, you will like Star Trek Beyond, the third installment of this latest franchise reboot. It moves crazily fast, so fast you might want to hold onto the arms of your seat for its 122-minute duration. It is visually dense. Director Justin Lin won’t allow your attention to linger for a second. It also looks crazily expensive.

However, because it’s an action movie, it doesn’t really take you to brave new worlds. You’ve seen variants of this plot many times and in many shows and movies. For me the best Star Trek shows, or at least its best episodes, was when I was taken to these new worlds, or at least new thoughts. Here we have a standard villain Krall (Idris Elba) who wants to destroy the Federation. He only respects warriors and wants the universe full of Spartans like himself. In other words, he’s very much a Republican and he has a problem with the whole “let’s peacefully get along” meme. So maybe his real target is the late Gene Roddenberry. Can Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest stay true to the ideals of the Federation when confronted by such a pathological killing machine?

It won’t spoil too much to let you know that the Enterprise is his first big target and Krall and his fleets of crazy Ginsu knive-shaped ships are going to do more than kick its fenders. Lin seems to be going for what worked in Star Trek’s best movie, The Wrath of Khan. Its plot is not all that dissimilar but at least Lin succeeds in making it not feel like an imitation of that movie.

As for character development, there is a bit of that. Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) get to spend too much time together in tight quarters causing Spock to sound more human than Vulcan at times. We learn about a minor tiff between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and that Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling his age a bit, as his birthday is upon him and he’s older than his father when he died. Frankly though none of these characters need more development and have had their personalities dissected many times. What we need are new characters to care about. With the untimely demise of the actor Anton Yelchin (Chekov) maybe we’ll get some in the next movie.

While not exploring any brave new worlds, you are unlikely to care. You won’t have time to analyze your feelings until sometime after the movie, but you will appreciate being taken for a hell of a roller coaster ride. Lin steps into J.J. Abrams’ big shoes to direct this movie, and he does a great job of it, giving it a fresh look … the warp effects are particularly well done. It’s clear that it cost a bundle and it’s so well done, just not particularly nourishing. Here’s hoping in the next movie we get less action and more inspiration. That would make Gene Roddenberry happy but perhaps not Paramount’s stockholders.

3.4 out of 4 stars, however.

Rating: ★★★½ 

Ghostbusters

Speaking of rebooting a franchise, 32 years after Ghostbusters we get this reboot where four women audaciously play the comedic roles played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis in 1984. And crazily enough that’s a problem for some people who think casting women in these roles is somehow to cheapen the films. Jeebus, it’s a comedy people and Democrats have just nominated the first woman to be president of the United States! Get out of 1950 already!

I think the real sin of director Paul Feig is to go with “body positive” women. It makes a change to have a few plus sized women for the lead roles in movies, including Melissa McCarthy (Abby) and Leslie Jones (Patty). It makes it harder for men to fat shame women when they are normalized on the screen. One of my complaints about movies is that actors are predominantly thin and pretty. Obviously it’s a successful formula if you are chasing profits but for a comedy the rules can be relaxed. All four women including Kristen Wiig (Erin) and Kate McKinnon (Jillian) will keep you engaged in laughing in this pointlessly silly plot about ghosts taking over Manhattan. It makes no sense whatsoever and adds little in material to the premise, but 32 years have elapsed. Many of those coming to see the movie were not even alive when the original came out.

It’s harmless good fun and if you are old enough to remember the original movie you will see some actors that look familiar, just older and greyer. These include Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver in bit parts. (Dan Aykroyd stayed behind the scenes as one of the writers.) It certainly captures the spirit of the original movie while of course not being quite the same. The four women develop quite an ensemble, and Chris Hemsworth (probably best known as Thor, but here he plays “Kevin”) proves he has comedic talent too, this time as their receptionist.

A better than average piece of comedic fluff.

3.1 out of four points.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

 
The Thinker

Debbie’s sin and Hillary’s penance: appoint Bernie Sanders the next DNC chair

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is suddenly out as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks to a WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails and likely due to the largess of the spies for the Russian Republic we have access to all sorts of interesting/trivial/nauseating emails from the staff of the DNC. It paints the not pretty picture of the staff eagerly engaging in activities long suspected: to undercut the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and to promote the candidacy of favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton instead.

Favoritism had been documented before the WikiLeaks event. Last December the Sanders campaign had its access taken away from the DNC’s voter database when the DNC didn’t like queries it was making. Access was restored a day or two later perhaps due to a court challenge from the Sanders campaign that cited “irreparable harm” as it needed to target voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. This WikiLeaks dump though paints a pretty grim portrait of DNC staffers and Chair Debbie tipping the scales toward Clinton’s campaign.

So these revelations are not a surprise, but Chair Debbie has hardly been neutral on her feelings about who she thought was the better candidate (hint: she’s a she). She of course is entitled to her opinions, but in her role as DNC chair though she is required to be strictly unbiased, which should have disqualified her from the start. Moreover, she is supposed to set the ground rules and tone for the staff to follow. It was at best a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” game of portraying neutrality. Now with the record of these various emails out there, there is no ambiguity about it and Chair Debbie has walked the plank. She is out, at least as DNC chair.

Also out is any speaking role for her at the convention that the chair would nominally open and close. With Sanders supporters rallying in Philadelphia for the convention, the timing could not have been worse. (It’s unlikely that the WikiLeaks timing was accidental.) Chair Debbie was booed today at a meeting of the Florida Democratic delegation and shortly thereafter she decided not to open and close the convention. She could do Democrats a favor by quietly returning to Florida for the duration of the convention.

You may be wondering why any of this matters. Like me you probably see the leadership of both parties rife with insider corruption. As much as I dislike Donald Trump’s nomination, at least he succeeded where Bernie didn’t, perhaps in part because Republicans don’t have superdelegates. In reality of course the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops to stop Trump, realizing the likely disaster in November. The rank and file though wouldn’t have it and Trump had the money to keep going anyhow. It’s quite clear that Trump was the people’s candidate.

The Sanders campaign was given a more complex chessboard. It’s quite clear now though that he likely could have waged a better campaign, and possibly won the nomination if the DNC had acted impartially as it should have done. By tipping the scales, the DNC hardly lived up to the “democratic” in its name. This of course is the real problem: a party based on democracy (one person, one vote) is not true to itself if it won’t act this way. This is absolutely wrong.

Believe me there are plenty of people at the DNC and institutional Democrats in general that have no problem with these events. “That’s how the game is played,” is what they will tell you: those that run the institution effectively set the rules. They have been doing it for many years, feel they have paid their dues so have few qualms about tipping the scale. Those newbies storming the gate: what do they know? Damn little whippersnappers, acting all so uppity!

No, it is not okay. Here’s why. A party needs to represent those that actually belong to it. When voices in the party that don’t align with the establishment are effectively depreciated, you get a party that is not representative of its members. And that’s important particularly in this election because people are looking for candidates with new ideas.

Of course it’s entirely possible that Clinton would have won the nomination even if the scales had not been tipped to favor her. But we’ll never know for sure. It’s hard for even a Clinton supporter to deny that there was far more energy in the Sanders campaign. Die-hard Sanders supporters were out in the streets of Philadelphia today, many saying they would never vote for Clinton. I doubt they would have been this vocal had the nomination process actually had been fair. These energized Sanders supporters, like them or not, are the future of the Democratic Party. Without them the party will lose touch with its grassroots and become moribund. More importantly the Sanders voters are entitled to the same seat at the table as any Clinton delegate. Disenfranchising Sanders voters actually sets up the Democratic Party to lose future elections. This is the worst sin of all.

It should be not just a firing offense but actually against the law for a political party to favor one candidate over another within its party. Unfortunately each party sets its own rules. Also unfortunately, candidates have to run using with the system they got. When Bernie Sanders calls for a “political revolution” he is saying in part that the way we nominate candidates is broken because it disenfranchises new voices. He tried really hard to break through that. Through bullying and using his wealth Trump made the system work for him. Sanders raised more money than Clinton but with its superdelegates and insider help the Democratic deck was stacked against him. No question. And for that Democrats should be ashamed.

I’m certainly hoping Trump loses, and loses badly in November. If Clinton wins though her victory will always feel a bit tainted. A truly democratic Democratic Party needs to clean house. If the party truly wants to make amends, it’s quite clear who the next party chair should be: Bernie Sanders.

Hillary, I’m waiting to see if you have the leadership to do what’s right here. I’m not holding my breath, but I will hope that your sense of fairness and better nature will prevail.

 
The Thinker

Republicans jump off the cliff

National party political conventions happen only every four years. This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland though makes me seriously wonder if Republicans will have one in 2020 at all. I’m not alone. No less than former President George W. Bush is wondering if he is the last Republican president.

If you managed to tune into the convention, it’s hard not to escape the feeling of doom unfolding there. The Republican Party shows every sign that they have careened right off the cliff. It’s being bungled in just about every way a convention can be bungled. In case you haven’t had your nose to the news, here’s a small slice of the craziness going on in Cleveland at their convention:

  • At the start, there was a brief but doomed floor fight when delegates from Iowa tried to call for a vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences. It appeared to have the support of enough states to actually get a vote, but the chair ignored it, thereby cementing Republicans’ reputation for not actually following a parliamentary process.
  • Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, the sort of plagiarism that if done in school would get you a failing grade. It turns out that Melania admires Michele, a major problem for any true Republican. She said she wrote the speech herself, but later we were told that a speechwriter did, who eventually took the fall.
  • Last night former candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke, told delegates to vote their consciences and never endorsed Donald Trump, which got him plenty of boos. They let him talk anyhow even though he told them he would not be endorsing Trump. Trump eventually came out to take the spotlight off Cruz and back to where it belongs: on his glorious self. This will likely be mostly what people will talk about for days, rather than Trump’s convention speech but at least it puts the focus on Cruz and 2020. However, if Trump is true to form, his acceptance speech will likely be an incoherent ramble, so maybe not.
  • Less noticed was that House Speaker Paul Ryan also refused to explicitly endorse Trump at his convention speech. Like Cruz, he seems to know the ship is sinking and he wants to be one of the first rats to jump when it is politically safe to do so on November 9.
  • Tuesday was supposed to be a day to talk about how Republicans would fix the economy. Instead it became a day of vitriol where speaker after speaker went on the attack against Hillary Clinton, many calling for her to go to prison. One woman who lost a son in the Benghazi incident held Clinton personally responsible for his death, even though she did not explicitly authorize the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi. A state legislator in West Virginia called for Hillary Clinton to be hung causing United Airlines to suspend him as a pilot.
  • Apparently Ohio governor John Kasich was sounded out to be Trump’s running mate. The offer, apparently from from Trump’s son: you will do the actual management part and my dad will do the “Making America Great Again” part. Strangely, Kasich declined. It appears Trump is bored with the whole manage the country part of the presidency, and wants to outsource it.

Oh, and so much more! Tonight is likely to be equally as memorable as the first three days. Perhaps more memorable than the convention itself is the stunning lack of coherence out of the convention and the epic mismanagement behind the stage. Trump does not know how to delegate. He has a hard time getting people to work for him because he requires non-disclosure agreements and routinely sues employees who he feels have stepped out of line. His roster of speakers is mediocre and often surreal (Scott Baio, really?) and it’s not even clear if he really chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. It appears he had second thoughts and futilely tried to change it at the last moment.

Watching the convention on TV itself is just appalling. There is no way for an impartial viewer not to get the impression that Republicans are passionate and crazy lunatics. Democrats were pretty pissed at George W. Bush at their 2004 convention, but no one suggested that he was a lawbreaker, should be put in jail and hung. It never occurred to Democrats to be this kind of lunatic crazy. But we heard it from speaker after speaker, day after day at this convention. So how can you not escape the conclusion that Republicans are dangerously unhinged?

A convention is normally scripted and carefully stage-managed, but also the organizers think carefully about how they want to present the party to the voters. No one seemed to be doing either parts of this job, bungling the most important part of their sales job prior to the election. Also not going well: fundraising. The typical RNC donors cannot seem to pull out their wallets. Few staff are being hired to go into the field and organize voters. Trump himself seems wholly unconcerned about the party and his campaign’s anemic fundraising, assuming that force of personality will be enough.

The 2012 Republican convention looked like one where Republicans were teetering on the borders of respectability. This is clearly off track, off message and has little of what can be called organization. No wonder George W. Bush is concerned he may be the last Republican president. Republicans seem to be doing everything possible not just to lose, but also to lose epically.

To Democrats, this Republican train wreck has been coming for years. With a few exceptions though today’s Republicans just don’t see what’s coming. But if you want to destroy a party, well, have a party doing so! It feels like this convention will touch all the markers for what not to do. You had best stand aside of the wreckage.

 
The Thinker

St. Louis

It’s been thirty plus years since I was in St. Louis, and that was for an unmemorable business trip. If you are to visit though, it’s hard to pick a better location than the downtown Hyatt, as it is virtually in spitting distance of the Gateway Arch. I am here because NetRoots Nation 16 is being held here in one of America’s most chocolate cities. Their choice of St. Louis is perhaps in response to last year’s conference in Phoenix. There then new Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders encountered some virulent Black Lives Matters protesters, and epically failed to respond appropriately, as did its mostly white attendees.

That’s no problem this year. These liberal but predominantly white attendees at Netroots Nation have since gotten fully educated in this Black Lives Matters thing. While attendees are predominantly white, there is plenty of evidence of more people of color, perhaps about a third altogether. Still, it’s an often awkward dance between whites and people of color here. This is not an issues with the LGBTQ community, where seeing a black transgender in high heels asking to be pointed to the men’s bathroom is wholly unremarkable. (This happened to me yesterday while volunteering at the registration desk. Up the escalators and make a U turn, I told her while noting that her high heels and gams would be the envy of many women here.)

Getting vertigo looking up at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO

Getting vertigo looking up at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO

There might be more people of color here if this convention were more affordable. The official convention hotel rooms are $200/night and a discounted registration runs more than $300. The non-subsidized rate is $800. So with airfare it’s easy to spend $1500 or so for the privilege of communing with fellow progressives for three days and perhaps seeing an important politician or two. The cost is apparently not an obstacle for the 3000 or so attendees, and wasn’t for me although I chose the Hyatt because it is considerably less expensive with my AAA discount.

A driving tour of St. Louis last night facilitated by my longtime friend Tim left me impressed. The St. Louis area reminds me a lot of Baltimore with many traditionally ethnic neighborhoods. St. Louis is a bright blue dot and the economic engine of the state, but it is still in a red state. Unsurprisingly there are quite a few issues of local concern being discussed, including a so far failed attempt to make Missouri a “Right to Work” state. But it is a surprisingly pretty place and cooler than I expected in mid July, although this may be an aberration. While known for its beer, now owned by European masters, there are lesser known foods of interest. I tried one at dinner last night with Tim: toasted ravioli. Two thumbs up. If the rest of America knew how good it was, its popularity would quickly spread.

St. Louis from the Gateway Arch

St. Louis from the Gateway Arch

St. Louis has a metro, an apparently relatively recent creation undergoing a slow expansion. The trolley lines of a hundred years ago are being put back in in places. Their metro doesn’t go that far, at least north and south, but it does go to Lambert, i.e. St Louis International Airport. I took it into the city on Wednesday and found it both convenient and affordable. You pass stadiums, hospitals and eventually are deposited downtown where walking the mostly empty streets near twilight felt a bit scary. Along Big Muddy (the Mississippi) it is appropriately touristy with amenities like a steamboat cruise and carriage rides. It is often humid at this city at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

As for NetRoots Nation 16, it seems lower key than in past years based on anecdotes I hear. As I noted last year Bernie Sanders attended. I don’t expect to see him this year, not surprisingly as his campaign is over. So far the only politician of note spotted was Rep. Alan Grayson, annoying for a liberal, who is running for Marco Rubio’s Florida senate seat. Perhaps more notable politicians will show up in time.

Speaking of confluences, NetRoots Nation is a confluence of passionate people embracing so many causes it’s hard for them to concentrate on any of them. There are plenty of well attended seminars where issues and strategies are hashed out. (For two seminars, I volunteered to monitor the stream in case there were video or audio issues.) There are training sessions in how to do non-violent protests or wage a campaign for political office. So stuff does happen here, it’s just seems amorphous at times.

I am pondering what to make of this first attempt to attend a political convention. It turns out that making change is really hard. I’ve attended a number of seminars on the Black Lives Matters movement. It’s hard for a white guy like me to feel up to speed on all their issues. As speakers detailed the staggering challenges they face, it’s hard not to feel how Herculean an endeavor this is or how I can contribute in a meaningful way. Yesterday a speaker pointed out that sixty years ago the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had approval rates of just 10%. A majority of Americans polled thought that blacks were being too aggressive in their push for civil rights and needed to be nicer and stop trying so hard. Sixty years later while there has been progress there are still staggering amounts of institutional roadblocks that contribute toward the oppression of black people. These include gentrification, those “right to work” laws Missouri is trying to enact, crime, continuous harassment by police (the riots in Ferguson occurred here), under-funded schools, poor air and water quality in their neighborhoods and general poverty. It’s a game of multi-dimensional chess that has to be played simultaneously on many levels. It’s a hard game for blacks to play because they are bearing the weight of oppression so it needs white people like me to fight with them. That is hard to do too when you have not spent your lives unfairly defined by the hue of your skin. And this is just one of the issues that are of great concern to progressives. It’s hard not to feel despair.

Unsurprisingly a lot of the attention here is on the November election and here at least there is a lot of hope. With political power comes the chance to wield it, although there are so many obstacles in trying to wield power (as President Obama can attest) that it’s not hard to feel maudlin even if Democrats win both the White House and Congress. The chances for meaningful change are chancy at best. Realistically, meaningful success is much like those of a tightrope walker without a pole, in the wind with the rope vibrating. It takes a brave progressive to take on these causes anyhow, and a lot of them are here.

The hoopla largely dies down tomorrow night. I fly home on Sunday.

 
The Thinker

Medical robbery

Apparently it’s quite legal to get away with robbery in the United States, at least if you are a health care provider.

I imagine the health care providers don’t see it this way when they send you threatening bills saying you owe tens, hundreds or thousands of dollars. Curiously most of us don’t know we are being robbed. That’s because we naively assume that being legitimate businesses they would not rob us. We assume whatever they put in the amount owed we must owe, so we better open up our wallets and pay up. Payment is always due upon receipt.

Not all health care providers try to rob you, but a lot of them do. When you press them on it, like I did today, they will say it’s a small mistake. However, if you pay their amount due which is more than you actually owe, you are unlikely to hear a thing. They consider it a bonus for services rendered. Thanks! I guess it helps pay for those large country club fees.

Just in case it isn’t clear to you, if you are insured you owe a provider exactly what your health insurer says you owe them. This is usually a copay. Particularly at the start of the year there are deductibles that you have to meet. Thus you end up paying for a lot of it out of pocket anyhow. So near the start of the year, you may owe a $30 copay, and $200 because that’s how much the agreement between your health insurance provider and your service provider specifies. So you may be out of pocket $230 and after you hit your deductible, the next visit is just for the $30 for the copay.

What a lot of health care providers do though is they bill you for the list price of the service. So if their rate for an uninsured person is $300, you will get a bill for $270, which is $300 less the $30 copay. Or maybe you hit your deductible and they will bill you for the $70 and see if you pay up.

This has happened regularly in our household but particularly this year as my wife had an expensive operation in March. Upon release she ended up in the emergency room to deal with a postoperative condition. Blizzards of bills soon arrived, and some arrived a month or two later. There is the surgeon. The hospital. The anesthetist. There were bills for Tylenol and replacing bloody gauzes that needless to say far exceeded the price for similar stuff at the local CVS. Payment was due on receipt, as if I had thousands of dollars of spare cash just lying around. Thank goodness I didn’t pay their ransom demands. In the case of one procedure they said we owed $3000 while the insurance company said we owed $0.

What you owe is what your insurance company says you owe, not a penny more or less. That’s why they send you those statement of benefits. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to play mix-and-match with these dueling statements. Doing it though is critical, unless you are happy to give health care providers gobs of extra money rather than bother to parse through all this stuff.

In our situation with all these disparate bills it was pretty challenging, not to mention frustrating. After a while I moved from frustration to anger. First, how dare they bill us for services beyond what they are legally owed! This should be medical fraud, but I’m betting it’s not simply because I’ve never heard of a case (outside of fraudulent Medicare billings) of providers doing this. It happens all the time! If we are typical, about half of our medical bills make demands for more money than they are entitled to receive.

Second, why don’t they wait until they get a response from the insurance company before sending these bills? Many do of course, but a lot don’t. They just send their ransom demand that they purport to be a set of legitimate charges. What you should do is wait to hear from your insurance company and then send any additional money they say that you owe. It’s not like these providers don’t know we are insured. Every one of them won’t even see you until they get your health insurance information into their system. They even copy my insurance card and license because, you know, I could be a deadbeat.

Third, they bill for all sorts of dubious crap. I went to see a local urologist recently because as a middle aged man I suffer from a temperamental prostate gland. It was a routine visit. I saw the PA (Physician Assistant) instead of the physician. There was no special test this time, no flow test to see how quickly I could urinate. They did test my urine then they did an ultrasound to see how much I retained. They billed not just for the ultrasound but also for “medical supplies”. That was for a dab of that jelly they massage into your skin before the ultrasound. This required me to later write a check for $6 to cover it and also a stamp to mail it. It amazes me that they have the audacity to bill for these minor things and annoys me that my health care provider considers it a valid expense. This is the cost of doing business. Moreover, I was billed as if I saw the physician, not the PA.

Fourth, they don’t like to take no for an answer. A month of so back I got a ransom demand from the physician that saw my wife in the local emergency room. I sent them back a check for what I actually owed, along with a statement from my insurance company saying what I owed. Today they sent me another statement for the difference. It took a call to their billing department (and patiently waiting on hold for a while) before they agreed I didn’t have to pay the amount which I had already documented to them!

I hope you won’t put up with it because all these billing errors/extortions just subtract from your fragile bottom line. It could mean you can’t afford that daily trip to Starbucks or you can’t add that extra principle to your next mortgage payment.

It should go without saying that our current health care system is a really crappy system. It’s great that twenty million people are now insured who weren’t, but doubtless they are going through this crap for the first time too, trying to parse through its pointless complexity. I suspect it costs all but the most vigilant families at least hundreds of dollars a year. Those who need more services are probably paying thousands of dollars unknowingly than they should.

There ought to be a law and maybe there is one. If so, I’d like to see it enforced just once. I can send local investigators plenty of leads.

 

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