Thursday, July 20, 2017

Health-X Update

The roller coaster continues, but it's on the slower part of the ride right now. Good.

It's been just about two months since my second Rituxan infusion, and so far, so good. I still get joint pains regularly, almost clockwork for early morning pains (3:00am, sometimes 4:00) but they're not as frequent as they were, and they are never as painful as they were. I call it a "3" instead of a "10" or higher. The pains last a few minutes to an hour and then they're gone. I spend most of every day almost pain free. Last time I saw my rheumatologist, I told the nurse my pain level was "0" -- almost unheard of in that office.

So, this is all very positive.

Of course the cost for the Rituxan treatment was/is breathtaking, incomprehensible. $42,000 for two 50mg infusions? (According to the prior authorization, however, I'm supposed to get 2000mg over the six months of treatment. Not sure what the deal is with that...)

When I finally got a more or less comprehensible bill, I found I was charged 10% of the approved cost of the Rituxan for each infusion, ($9,492 x 10%= $949 x 2= $1,898.) I wasn't charged for anything else connected with the treatments.

I made something of a stink because this wasn't anything like what I was told the charges would be. Because I wasn't given accurate information, I wasn't able to prepare.

I applied for financial assistance through the hospital, and after some back and forth over income documentation, it was granted: 50% reduction in all my costs associated with the hospital and my providers for the 240 days prior to my application.

Ergo, $949 for the two treatments. Somewhat more than I was prepared for, but not outrageous. I guess. Well, how can one know? Still trying to understand what I actually owe, as the charges for the Rituxan treatment have been reduced by some of the out of pocket charges I've paid for doctor visits and tests.

I am told that I will need another two infusions in October  or November, and I will have to reapply for financial assistance at that time, but it will most likely be granted. So my ultimate cost for the four infusions of Rituxan should be $1,898. More than I was anticipating, but still within a manageable amount. Much more than that, though...

Which brings me to medication costs. I've been in the notorious Part D "donut hole" since last month, My prescription for mycophenolate alone is now costing $450 a month out of pocket. Add in Spiriva, Albuterol, Plaquinil, and miscellaneous other meds, and we're  looking at about $1,000 a month out of pocket for the next four-five months. OK. How do we pay for that?

I checked online, and discovered a source for mycophenolate at $106 a month, such a deal. I don't use Spiriva or Albutertol unless I need them, and I rarely need them. Hardly ever. So I still have them from months ago. The other meds I take are relatively inexpensive, so if I can get the cost of mycophenolate down and can continue not using Spiriva or Albuterol, drug costs will be more or less manageable as well.

I'm supposed to see a pulmonologist at UNM today for an assessment of my lung condition which was becoming quite severe. Recent CT scan indicates that the condition has stabilized and has not progressed beyond the damage noted almost a year ago when I started taking mycophenolate. I still have some breathing difficulty but I don't use oxygen or inhalers any more.

And I'm able to get around and do things with far less difficulty than before.

It's the New Normal. Slower, more deliberate and careful, as if Old Age were settling in.

Ms. Ché is facing a whole raft of issues of her own, most of them consequences of diabetes and most of them more or less under control. I urge her to slow down. She won't, but still I urge her. She'll be going back to IAIA full time next month, three more semesters she says before she gets her degree in Creative Writing. Getting through it is somewhat more of a challenge than she was anticipating, but she's as determined as ever, come what may. And she has a lot of support. From the administration, from the faculty, and from fellow students. She may be an "old broad" as she calls herself, but she feels perfectly at home among the young pups. Sadly, we don't have the money to buy more of their art.

I know so many people are in much worse shape than we are, and I'm grateful for what we have and what we are able to share. Some of what's been going on, particularly since Ms Ché's wreck in January, has been a shock no doubt. But we carry on.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Image of Galisteo Basin from this real estate listing

We're lucky to be able to pass through the Galisteo Basin when we go to Santa Fe. It helps make the fifty mile or so drive an adventure, something we look forward to rather than dread.

Getting to Santa Fe from Albuquerque on I-25 might be a little quicker, but the drive is horrid and it's often a mess either due to weather or more frequently due to wild drivers causing wrecks. This is  New Mexico, after all.

The other alternative, the Turquoise Trail (Highway 14) from Tijeras north, is scenic in parts, but it also tends to be heavily trafficked, and once at Madrid, traffic slows to a crawl. It's not a pleasant drive, and it seems to take forever.

Our preferred drive is lightly trafficked Highway 41 to 285 through El Dorado and into town via Old Pecos/Old Santa Fe Trails if the destination is in town; turn off at Camino Los Abuelos in Galisteo beside the church (Highway 42) to Highway 14 and thence past the State Prison ruins to Rancho Viejo and (eventually) to IAIA.

The village of Galisteo is the midpoint of our journey; the road through the Galisteo Basin constitutes one third of the trip.

Lucy Lippard's magisterial 'Down Country" traces some of the Native Pueblo history of the region and touches a bit on the Spanish history, but it leaves out much of the contemporary history including its use as a kind of refuge from the intensely competitive artists' environment in Santa Fe.

Movies have been made there for decades -- it was once a more popular location than it is today, partly because today's locals are not so keen on the intrusion. There is a movie set just outside of town behind a ridge (so as not to interfere with the village's pristine adobe-ness.) Almost all the few hundred residents are artists of some kind (including writers like Lucy Lippard) or related to artists. A huge ranch, the Bar S Ranch, comes right up to the edges of Galisteo on the south while the Galisteo Basin Preserve and the Flywheel Ranch provide some protection from development on the north and west. The general absence of development is part of what makes the area so appealing to artists and travelers (and movie makers) alike.

If you're going to live in Galisteo, it definitely helps to have money. Lots of it. While some properties are available for less than a million dollars, many are priced well north of that. There seems to be a fairly constant churning of luxe and not-so-luxe properties in the area, partly because people die off when they're old, even if they're rich, and partly because some people move out to Galisteo--  for whatever reason -- little realizing how much work it is to live there.

Everything is more difficult than it would be in the city.

There are no services in Galisteo, for example. There used to be, but there are no longer any places to get groceries or gas or supplies.There is a historic church:
Church, Galisteo, New Mexico
From WikiMedia Commons, Tom Harrington - originally posted to Flickr as Church, Galisteo, New Mexico

and a sala -- used as a community art gallery-- and that's about it. Ruins of the past are found all over the village and in the country-side.

Though electricity and propane fuel are available through the usual means, it's wise to have your own generator because you never know when the power will go out or how long it will stay out. Better yet, have some solar panels installed, just make sure they're hidden from view and don't disturb the pre-industrial ambiance of the place.

Learn to slow down.

That's the basic lesson of places like this and throughout New Mexico if you listen. Learn to slow down. 

Some of the ricos and famosos who chase their dreams to Galisteo or other fashionable parts of New Mexico may never learn that lesson. They won't hear the call to ease up a bit. Things will (usually) work out one way or another.

The road that winds through the Galisteo Basin is an invitation to slow down. It's posted at 55 miles an hour, which is certainly fast enough to get you where you want to go. Through the village, it's 35mph, to me almost too fast. There's not a lot of traffic which is one of the pleasures of the drive through the Galisteo Basin. Nature isn't unsullied, but there is wildlife like pronghorn antelope, rabbits, scurrying voles, ravens and hawks patrolling for road-kill, buzzards afloat on the updrafts, horses, cattle of various breeds. When the monsoons come, the roadsides are awash in wildflowers, but this year, while the monsoons came early, they've been infrequent, and the wildflowers are sparse.

For months, I couldn't take the trip north through the Galisteo Basin -- too much pain, discomfort, distress. There were times I could hardly walk, could not even imagine sitting in the car for the hour it would take to drive to Santa Fe. I really missed it. When we've recently gone to Santa Fe through the Galisteo Basin I've felt rejuvenated.

It brings joy to these tired old bones and joints.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

As The Russia Thing Continues to Metastasize

This long ago got boring I know, but the Russia Thing continues to grow and flourish on the internet and throughout the media firmament; it is this summer's sharks and missing white women story on steroids.

Of course no matter its ever broadened net, no matter how many Trump or Clinton campaign advisors and staff it ensnares, ultimately it appears there will be no there there for the simple reason that it's not meant for a denouement, it's meant to keep the Rabble (and some of their Betters) entertained and distracted while the serious business of neoLibCon looting and pillage and slaughter continues relentlessly.

The Juggernaut must not be interfered with in any way.

Barring the Who-Knows-What, it won't be.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Counterculture Day (for us) in Santa Fe

We don't get up to Santa Fe (fifty some odd miles north) as much anymore, partly because school's out for another month and so and for now Ms. Ché has fewer reasons to go, and partly because my health has made it difficult/impossible for me much of the time to make the trip or to stay for very long if I got there.

You could argue it's always Counterculture Day in Santa Fe; after all, it is the City Different...  and doG knows the city is littered with reconstructed and a few unreconstructed hippies. There is art and alternative healing everywhere. On the way up we pass through Galisteo, a tiny, historic hamlet chock a block with artists and QiGong practitioners. Oh yes, the Counterculture has evolved and is present in bits and pieces or in whole throughout Northern New Mexico, where it arrived like an alien invasion some fifty years ago or more.

2017 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, though, and all this summer there have been celebrations and exhibits and lectures and so on and so forth to mark the occasion.

There's something happening here and we might have forgotten what it is.

We'd been planning for some time, Ms. Ché and I, to head up to town yesterday to check out the Counterculture exhibit at the History Museum and go see the remastered "Monterey Pop" at the Center for Contemporary Arts. She also had some business to take care of at IAIA with regard to her retreat at Idyllwild.

Counterculture was a mode of expression for some people of our generation, but not by any means for all of them. Looking back, I'd say most of my generation stayed well away from anything that smacked or smelled of hippies, peace, love, flowers and patchouli. 

Those who did partake, for the most part, did so on the margins; Counterculture was not a way of life.

It couldn't be; it was not possible for an entire generation  to tune in, turn on, and drop out (from the mainstream) and still survive.

That's what I felt was missing from the large and very intriguing exhibit at the History Museum co-curated by Jack Loeffler. There seemed to be little or no recognition that the Counterculture of the '60s really involved very few individuals at any given time and place, and by the time it got to New Mexico, in the later '60s and '70s it had become quite a different thing than it had started out to be.

Assuming it had any point of origin as such.

I thought it was interesting -- and wrong -- that Loeffler pegs the "origin" of the Counterculture on the poetry reading at 6 Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, at which Allen Ginsberg premiered his magnum opus, "Howl." Now wait. No. Just no.

But Jack was there, you see, and he remembers, and so, that's where and when it all began -- for him. And if the Counterculture began for him there and then, then it must have done so for everyone.


It didn't.

Jack is confusing influences with origins. Of course the influences -- such as "Howl" and Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, all of whom were present at the seminal poetry reading in 1955 -- were important. Loeffler mentions "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac as a moving influence, as it certainly was, but he casts it as a phenomenon of the '60s when it was published in 1957 about a road trip in 1949. Hello? What "On the Road" is describing is people and events in the immediate Post War era, and to me it harkens back to "Cannery Row" (published in 1945) which was about people and places (in California) in the 1930s.

This didn't originate any Counterculture at all. Instead, literary voice was given to part of the margin of the mainstream.

Which when you boil it down is what the Counterculture of the 1960s really was: an expression of the margins of the mainstream -- commercialized and marketed to death.

Already in 1966, "hippies" were becoming a commercial phenomenon, and some of the original hippies in San Francisco got together in October of 1967 to stage the Death of the Hippie ceremony that was supposed to put the commercial phenomenon to ultimate rest. It didn't of course, but the statement was made by some of those who were there at the beginning that the idea had climaxed and it was time for something else again.

Was I there for this ceremony? You know, I might have been, but I'm not quite sure. There was so much going on that summer and fall, it's a kaleidoscope of impressions now, and actually where I think I was on or near that date was at the Oakland Induction Center coughing on the remnants of tear gas used to clear the way for the inductees.

(Actually that was a couple of weeks after the Death of the Hippie ceremony, so maybe I was there; I don't know anymore.)

The draft and the war fueled the Counterculture for many, and there was a small corner of the exhibit that dealt with the Protests and Movements. One of my strongest impressions of the exhibit was that corner where an elder fellow (my age) sat crying while listening to first person accounts of the anti-war movement and the slaughter in Vietnam through headphones. I couldn't hear  what he was hearing, but I knew why he was crying. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears myself.

At least Loeffler acknowledged that the war and the movements had something to do with the origin and persistence of the Counterculture, but I'm not convinced he understood how critical they were to it. I think it's possible he didn't see it the way I do in part because he's ten or more years older than so many of those who were caught up in the Counterculture and he served in the armed forces when it was relatively safe to do so.

He wasn't drafted. He volunteered. Played in the band. At nuclear weapons tests in Nevada. Interestingly it was soon after that seminal reading at 6 Gallery in 1955 which he claims started the Counterculture.

All in all the exhibit was fascinating, though I have my quibbles. The Ram Das elements made me smile, though I wasn't altogether sure why. I've never been much of a fan of Ram Das, but the hand-printed posters and book box inside the geodesic dome from and based on the Lama Community  were an unexpected treat.

Sadly we only had an hour before the museum closed so we didn't get to explore the exhibit quite as much as we might have liked.

After a bite  at Santa Fe Bite, successor to Bobcat Bite, we headed out to to the Center for Contemporary Arts, one of the few local museums we don't belong to, to get ready to see "Monterey Pop" in full, in a movie theater, for the first time in many years.

"Are you here for 'Monterey Pop'? Sorry, it's sold out. But we'll have more showings Friday and Saturday."

Right. Sold out? What the actual hell? "If you'd like, we can give you a 'Queue Card' and you can wait until showtime; we'll release tickets that aren't picked up at that time, and you may get a seat."

OK. We take the "Queue Cards" and wait. Others join the Queue, some rather annoyed that they weren't told that the show was sold out, nor were they informed that there would be additional showings on the weekend (while  we waited, an additional Sunday showing was added.) Nor, in fact, did they know they could buy tickets in advance. I heard many of the same stories while we waited. Then, of course, there were the patrons with extra tickets to sell to those waiting. It became quite a scene in the lobby. Reminded me a bit of the scene outside the fairgrounds at Monterey in 1967, where people were selling -- scalping? -- tickets to get inside. We didn't have that worry then, for we had tickets to all the shows but one, and that one we chose not to attend because nobody we wanted to see was performing.

Those were the days. Not sure how much the tickets cost. Depended probably on where you sat.

We had box seats for Friday and Sunday evening. arena seats for Saturday.

So we waited in the lobby where things were getting tense until showtime yesterday, and sure enough, our Queue numbers were called and we got in just in time, so it seemed. Front row seats, too, wow.

In fact, it looked like everyone who waited got in. So.

The movie was introduced by Lisa Law, whose archive of photos provided nearly all the pictures for the exhibit at the History Museum --and who took some pictures at Monterey between setting up the trip-tipi at the fairgrounds and taking care of her puppy.

Listening to her brought back a  lot of memories.

She said she'd just come back from the 50th Anniversary Monterey Pop Festival where Michelle Phillips sang "California Dreamin'" (and it was so beautiful!) and oh... it was... well.... you'd have to be there.

And she asked how many of us had been to the original Monterey International Pop Festival. Five hands went up, two of them ours. And I was shocked. Everyone in the audience seemed old enough to have attended, but only five of us did. Which is an expression, I think, of how few of my generation actually participated in the events of the era. I say 25,000 or so attended Monterey Pop, but others suggest 50,000 or more. I don't know. But it wasn't a lot in the vast eternal scheme.

Sold out, but still...

And then there was the movie. "Hand held Pennebaker shit." Bless his heart. He captured so much, but he left out a whole lot. Lisa Law said the picture was groundbreaking, and I suppose it was. But then I'd been seeing "groundbreaking" movies at the midnight movies at the Towne Theatre for a long time, so the Pennebaker shit wasn't all that new to me. I loved watching it again for the first time in many years (I think I first saw it in 1968, and maybe once again in 1973, and I haven't seen the whole thing since.)

Brought back lots and lots of memories, but what Pennebaker left out (many of the performances, for example) and what he changed (the order of performances among other things) struck me this time whereas it really didn't seem to matter before.

There were allusions to the cold and the damp, but they were minor elements. Yes, it was cold much of the time, and yes it was damp. I wore a heavy wool army jacket, but still shivered sometimes. The arena seats (yes we had chairs to sit on) were wet with fog and dew. There is a scene in the movie where a pretty young thing is wiping off the chairs. "Just lucky I guess" she says. But they got damp again.

Airplanes are shown flying in to Monterey with the artists, but what isn't shown is that the airport was/is right next to the fairgrounds, and the planes land and take off right over the rodeo arena where the festival performances were held, and time and again, the roar of the planes drowned out the performances. That's not in the movie at all, not even hinted.

There were other interesting omissions. But there were things I flashed on, too, such as the wall of posters that I didn't remember until I saw them in the movie.

All in all, seeing the movie again was a heady experience. When we left, it was starting to rain a little bit, and that, too, was not unlike the Monterey experience.

There's much more I could say about it  -- both the movie and being there -- but it was 50 years ago.

Does any of it matter now?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Destroying the City to Save It

Celebrate! Dance to the music!

Mosul, they say, is "liberated."

Battered and bombed into rubble, its people slaughtered and left to rot in the streets, but they're Free Now, aren't they? Free from the oppression of... whomever the Enemy of the Moment might be. Free to dance in the streets, throw flowers and chocolates at their Liberators, the few wretched and wounded survivors Free to live what remains of their crippled lives in the debris of the conflict.


I heard a mention of civilian deaths in the conflict with (whomever) in the Middle East since 2014. The stated number? "Almost 600." Wow. Really? Gee golly. That's a lot, isn't it?

Of course if that's the stated number due to Our Glorious Side's operations, it's not just a lie, it's deliberate fraud and deception. Remember when Our Glorious Side refused to count any casualties except those of Our Valiant Troops? If Wogs died, so be it, but their numbers were to be uncounted and unknown.

It's been suggested (by NGOs) that as many as 2000 4000 6000 8000 and rising civilians have been killed ("by both sides") in the Liberation of Mosul. Given the apparent scale of destruction of what was once a city of well over a million population (prior to "Liberation" from Whomever) it would be no surprise if actual civilian deaths are closer to 20,000 or 30,000 and civilian casualties are in the hundreds of thousands.

They will not be counted.

They are Wogs and Wogs don't count -- they never have counted in the Imperial Liberation of Wogistan.

How many cities in the Middle East have now been destroyed in progress of its Liberation? A dozen? Two dozen? No one keeps count, do they? Falluja of course set the pattern.

Total destruction of a city, merciless slaughter of its people, Apocalypse justified by... rebellion.

One does not rebel against ones overlords without paying a heavy price, no?

And so it has gone, rebel city after rebel city leveled to the ground, depopulated, destroyed, wiped from the map and the memory of man. Or so the story goes.

The Empire shall not be defied.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Bourbon Democrats

While I have railed plenty against Trump and the gang of thieves and mountebanks who moved into the White House with him, that does not mean I am unaware of or uninterested in the continuing failure of the fucked up Democrats to offer anything other than the bitter pill of the Status Quo to the long-suffering masses.

The Democrats are no better than the Bourbons prior to the Revolution -- or maybe no better than the Bourbon Restoration après Napoleon. They neither learn nor do they forget.

It's nuts-making.

We're dealing with a Ruling Class incapable of comprehending any misery, inconvenience or discomfort apart from their own.

Even the slaughter of the innocents overseas is incomprehensible to them, despite their constant escalation of the process of murder by every means necessary.

It's insane.

The Ruling Class includes, of course, the likes of Trump. He being an avatar of the worst of the category. Though he's largely been disempowered by the Permanent Government, he hasn't been defenestrated, and that, I think, is partly due to the fact that the constraints on his power effectively produce what the neoLibCon Ruling Class would be doing anyway but at a somewhat accelerated pace. And, bonus!, the masses are endlessly entertained in the bargain. Genius!

Democrats, of course, are eager participants in this little goon show. Of course they are. They see plenty of advantages to their own sweet selves from going along with it, even pushing the narrative this way or that. Nothing really changes all that much, you see, and so long as that is the case, Dems are sitting pretty no matter what.

The Bourbon Democrats are sticking with a simple narrative: "Trump evil, Russian interference, Putin the Devil, never-you-mind about anything else. Who is Sanders again?"

It boils down to Baroness Thatcher's rubric: "There is no alternative." TINA. There ya go.

I have never doubted that the election was manipulated to produce the result it did. Trump in response to a question about Russian interference said something I think was true. Yes, there was Russian interference, but it probably wasn't just Russian interference. There was likely other interference from other countries and (importantly) from individuals. 

He didn't say, but the upshot is that the outcome in the three states that gave him the electoral college is the key to understanding what happened. But as Jill Stein's recount effort showed, in those three states, it is impossible to verify the vote. So yes, manipulation could well have taken place and there is no way to prove or disprove it.

How convenient. And note, the Bourbon Democrats are just as happy it is so. They have never questioned the outcome in those three states. Why? Isn't it obvious? They know what happened, they have been eager participants in election manipulation -- boy howdy have they ever been! -- and they see only benefits from continuing the unverifiable electoral system we have now. They will not interfere, no way, no how, even if they lose again and again.

In other words, so long as both teams can play, they don't care.

They figure the Rabble are too stupid to understand these esoteric matters, so why should they care anyway? Right?

Another part of the narrative has to do with some mythical "whiteruralworkingclass" whatever that is.

Of course I know what this is, it's a false construct -- apparently developed by Republican consultants but eagerly adopted by Democratic ones -- to "explain" the otherwise inexplicable victory of Trump over Mrs Clinton.

How could this have happened? Welllll, it was obviously because the rural white working class voted in overwhelming numbers for Trump. Don'tchasee? The out of work coal miners and the factory workers whose jobs have been shipped to Mexico and China and yadda and yadda and yadda, all these dispossessed and dishonored rural white male voters who have been ignored all these years (by that Nigrah in the WHITE House) finally got their revenge. You see?

Except that isn't what happened at all, and the consultant class and the Ruling Class they serve know that full well. It's a false narrative pushed onto the  Rabble to keep them divided and squabbling among themselves so that the looting and oppression by those at the top can continue without interruption.

It works, too.

And the Bourbon Democrats are going along with it.

Why not? They benefit from it, too. Win or lose.

I must reiterate something I've said before: the Internet has had an objective of destroying the "Democrat" Party since it was the Intranet. The dweebs online have always had a very crabbed and often ignorant notion of how politics works in this country and what needs to be done about it. The focus has almost always been on the inadequacy, fecklessness, corruption and betrayal by the Democrats, thus: Democratic Party delenda est.

Even a hint that bad as the Democrats are (and they're terrible in their Bourbon arrogance and stupidity) the Republicans are and long have been the problem is met with derision, contempt and fear.

If any party needs to be destroyed, it's the Republicans. I suggested they be RICOed out of existence long ago.

But that's like heresy deserving of burning at the stake as far as Internet political gamers are concerned. No, only the Democrats deserve destruction and salting of the earth behind them.

My observation is that if we want to preserve the political system more or less intact, then the Radical Republicans and their reactionaries must go, and the Bourbon Democrats must become -- or re-become -- the aristocratic and conservative party they so dearly want to be. A new People's Party must then arise, as it's been trying to do for generations but has always been suppressed by co-optation and other means not pleasant.

If you don't want to preserve the system, then both parties must be consigned to the ash-heap and we start anew.That's Revolution, and we aren't ready for that. Not yet, anyway.

We need have no love for the Bourbon Democrats; they are foul and stupid and arrogant (among other things) but that should never mean taking the side of the reactionary-fascists as so many have done in defending and supporting Trump and his "disruptors."

Politics is a tough and often nasty game, no doubt. On the other hand, we must be clearheaded enough to fight for what's right, not just for what's expedient and serves the Ruling Class.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Rainbow

I was in town (ie: our little hamlet in the wilderness) the other day picking up some potable water from the dispenser when this appeared in the eastern sky.

The picture's not all that good, but then I don't have the fanciest smart phone in the universe, but it was a sight to see.

Normalizing the Spectacle

Summer tends to be the media silly season dominated by sharks and missing white women. But because there is Trump and Republican dominance of government at every level, among other things, the usual summer media obsessions have to take a backseat. In fact, I haven't heard a single missing white woman story this summer, have you?

Something's different. Something's changed.

Without cable news in our house, our media landscape is somewhat different than that of many Americans, but the fact that we watch television news at all means that we're still subject to the propaganda, lies and strict gatekeeping that are big parts of the media landscape. Our preferred television news outlets are Democracy Now! and PBS NewsHour. On Sundays, we tend to watch one or another of the Sabbath Gasbag Shows, though sometimes we skip it. Why bother, right?

It's a rare thing if we watch one of the network news shows or one of the morning shows. (We watch endless repeats of "Laramie" on GRIT instead.)

Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! tends to restrict her coverage to those issues and stories she is personally interested in or invested in. She corrals her topics so strictly sometimes that "news" -- as in what's going on now -- is absent while a sort of academic consideration of potentialities and so forth dominates her hour. When you're familiar enough with her ways, this isn't too bothersome, but it can be frustrating.

NewsHour is a more general and standard-model television news program -- with a twist. They have literary pretensions, and they often feature artists and writers who have something to say. Because Ms. Ché is in a creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she's more than a little interested in that part of the NewsHour.

Both news programs must be conscious of their funders and do what they can, and sometimes what they must, not to cross them.

Amy's funding tends to be somewhat opaque, but it appears to come from Pacifica and a select group of well-off patrons and foundations which seek to ensure that a leftish perspective on the news is at least available to the public if not dominant therein.

NewsHour's funding is much more mainstream. Thus their news is, too, but with that literary/artistic twist that you generally won't find in the typical network or cable news program.

With all that said, it appears that the entire news media industry has collectively decided to normalize the spectacle of Trump-de-do this summer in place of the usual diet of sharks and missing white women.

In other words, whatever he tweets, whatever he does, wherever he goes, and whomever he chitters with will dominate all news cycles of every outlet almost as if he were a shark or missing white woman.  We're supposed to be amazed and appalled, I guess.

It's the spectacle that matters most. And making believe it's like any other summer spectacle. Keep the Rabble entertained and unable to focus on what's really going on.

So long as Trump can do that, so long will he be secure in office.

He seems to be doing that with a kind of sharp-elbowed relish that we haven't seen in presidents for a long time -- most of us alive today have never seen it which is why it's so shocking on the one hand, and so entertaining on the other. Mr. Trump has no sense of noblesse politesse. 

He's a gangster, and a lot of Americans like that.

He's an upper crust twit. Some Americans seem to like that, too.

He's a buffoon. Addled. Clearly out of his depth, but he doesn't care, nor do enough Americans to worry about.

He obviously doesn't have enough handlers to keep him in line, but so what? The presidency has been so jokified during his reign to date, all the handlers in the world wouldn't be able to restore the "dignity" to the office. That's gone. Precedent has been set. Oh well!

From now on, presidencies will have to include a lummox squiring around a surgically remodeled Stepford Wife, A boy that "ain't right." A craven group of toadies. An ultra-craven group of ideologically driven "disruptors." Incompetence and incoherence will be the standard of rule from the Oval Office. There will be no going back.

I always dread the summer silly season because it tends to shroud the important issues that can easily lead to catastrophe after Labor Day. We've been down this road before. But this is different, I think, because more of those issues are out in the open. The precipitated crisis in the Persian Gulf, for example, over Qatar's "support for terrorism" could very easily lead--  stupidly and inadvertently -- to a Guns of August scenario that could touch off the War of the Ages . Who knew that the Balkan Thing and the assassination of an Archduke nobody liked would lead to WWI for example. The Saudi royals simply  aren't very bright, but none of these anachronisms in the Gulf seem to have very much on the ball smarts-wise.

Inject something like the Trump Spectacle into the midst of it, and... whoopsy!

So it goes.

But then, taking advantage of crisis is what it's all about, isn't it? Even if you have to engineer crisis. Somebody comes out on top, no? So let it be...who?

This is all becoming normalized.

I'm such a stick in the mud, I don't like it. Doesn't get my juices flowing.

It's garbage day out here in the wilderness. Have to get m'sef in gear and get the can out to the road. At least we have garbage pick up. A lot of folks around here -- even the fancy ones -- have to shlepp their trash to the transfer station themselves. The way of the world...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Himself -- c. 1930-something
Being born later in my parents' lives means that I have a longer familial memory than most of my generation.

My father was born on July 5, 1901, for example, and he always saw himself as the model of the 20th Century American Patriot. That meant that he served his country -- whatever else he did -- gladly and enthusiastically. He was a junior officer ("2nd Looey" he called it) in WWI, drilling troops on the town square in Iowa, posing proudly in his uniform, going on expeditions into the wilds of the Thousand Islands of the Mississippi, and so on and so forth from the time war was declared in 1917 until it was over over there in 1918. It was one of the high times of his life. He loved it.

The other was his service in the Army Air Corps in WW2. He was drafted in 1943, spent a few months in basic training and then was sent to officer's candidate school, wound up at Harvard Business School at one point, was commissioned an officer (starting as a second lieutenant and moving up rapidly), and was sent around the country to oversee and report on training at air bases. Later he was responsible for contract terminations for the War Reconversion Board. He was discharged from the AAC in 1946 over the objections of his commanders -- who stated forcefully that they needed him and his work to accomplish their goals.

However, he needed to get out of the military at that time because his older brother had been charged with the murder of his wife back in Iowa, and my father was an attorney needed on his defense team.

I'd been told a bit about Vince and his wife and his trial, but not much. It happened before I was born, after all, and ultimately Vincent was acquitted, so there wasn't a whole lot to get het up about. At least so I thought. Well, come to find out, there was plenty to get het up about.

My mother was convinced of Vince's guilt; my father was convinced of his -- sort of -- innocence, It was complicated. Vince had a mistress, and his alibi was that he was with his mistress the night his wife died, apparently from a fall, and he didn't find her body till the next morning when he came home from his tryst in town.

Sounds plausible, but the County Attorney thought otherwise and charged him with second degree murder, claiming the signs were that Vince's wife had been pushed down the stairs and that Vince had then departed for his tryst with Pauline, his mistress.

I found out about some of this after my father died and I found the mimeographed copies of reports he made to his kin during the trial. But some of it I found out much later when I was researching through and I found newspaper clippings covering the trial -- or make that trials as Vincent was tried twice. The first trial ended with a hung jury, the second ended with Vince's acquittal.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that there was a witness. My (half) brother Terry.

I didn't know Terry. He was "afflicted" and lived with a (sort of) foster family who took care of him.

I was essentially not allowed to see him -- nor he me -- because it was claimed I would upset him. My understanding of his condition was that he was an "idiot savant" which of course much later would be classified as a form of autism. I only learned how severe his affliction was -- again through Ancestry and connections made there -- from a cousin I didn't know I had who had kept letters sent to her mother (my father's sister) from Vince's wife describing just how bad off Terry was.

He couldn't walk. He couldn't talk. He had seizures. He couldn't stand up. He needed constant care. He was about 8 years old when he could finally stand by holding on to a chair, and somewhat later he learned to take steps if he was held onto. He learned to talk around age ten, but it was difficult for him. The story I was told about his brilliance with statistics seems not to have been possible, but I can't say for sure.

He couldn't testify at Vince's trial, even though he was the witness, but he was interviewed in chambers at the second trial, after which -- so I was told -- the judge directed a verdict of acquittal. The newspaper report of the acquittal, however, made no mention of a directed verdict. So I don't know.

At any rate, my father was happy that his brother was acquitted, but the whole situation was so fraught that Vince and his mistress left town never to return. I thought they stayed in Iowa, but I discovered, again through Ancestry, that they moved to California where there were already lots of relations.

I had no idea.

Part of the reason why is that my parents divorced when I was 9 months old. My father stayed in Iowa partly to look after the family legacy (his father had been a prominent attorney) and partly to look after an afflicted sister (she had scoliosis but otherwise OK).

My mother and (half) sister and I hightailed it for California where my mother had been raised and my sister had been born.

So I grew up apart from my father and with only limited contact with him. Ultimately, toward the end of his life, there was no contact at all. So there is a lot I never knew and can't find out.

I did find out that he was married three times, not twice as I'd always believed. He was married for the first time on his 21st birthday to a young woman named Bernice (though she called herself Evelyn, her middle name) from Iowa City where my father was in law school at the University. So far as I could find out, he and Bernice/Evelyn were married for about 10 years, until around 1932, when something happened and she moved back to her parents' home in Iowa City where she lived the rest of her life.

She was never mentioned by my father or anyone I knew in his family. It was as if she didn't exist, and I only found out about her through Ancestry (again.)  I still don't know what happened, but I suspect that the marriage was annulled. If so, I don't know on what grounds.

My father was married a second time to a woman from Waterloo he called TED -- Thelma. I believe it was in 1934, but I'm not certain. At any rate, she was Terry's mother, and she died from complications of childbirth the same day he was born in August of 1935. My father was devastated and never got over it.

Terry's brain damage happened that day, too.

Vincent and his wife took Terry into their household and cared for him as their own son until the unpleasantness of the accident that caused Vince's wife's death. I'm convinced now it was an accident. Her eyesight was poor, she drank more than a little and she had a history of falling according to trial records and letters she sent to my aunt Catherine. The likeliest scenario is that she missed the first step at the top of the stairs, tumbled down and hit her head on a table at the bottom of the stairs, suffered a fractured skull and died.

There was nothing Terry could do. He could barely walk (he was 11 years old when this happened.) It was a tragic accident.

My father and mother met when she was working -- I believe as a civilian -- at an Air Force base in California in 1944. They were married in 1947 and divorced in 1949. The reasons were... complicated, and I won't go into them here, but several times after their divorce they attempted to get back together. The sticking point seems to have been his refusal to leave Iowa and her refusal to live there.  She especially didn't like his family. The feeling was mutual.

My father faced many difficulties and some tragedies in his life, and it affected him more and more as he grew older and retreated into isolation. Even his sister who lived down the street from him said she was unable to get through to him; when they saw one another -- which became more and more rare -- he would just ignore her. His friends couldn't get through to him. Almost nobody could.

The exception was the Christianist extremist family he'd rented the upstairs of his house to. They were the ones who finally took him to the hospital where he died. But they shared nothing of his last days with his family, and how he saw his situation and what was going on is perhaps a permanent mystery.

Part of my reflection on him on his birthday is my realization that I am older than he was when he died. While I wouldn't say I'm particularly "well" healthwise, I'm doing OK. I've faced plenty of my own share of difficulty and tragedy, but it hasn't led to the kind of withdrawal and isolation he experienced.

Perhaps because I never felt all that important...? I don't know, and I can't ask. That is one of my big disappointments. There is so much I have wanted to ask him and never had the chance.

Happy B-Day, Dad.

Monday, July 3, 2017

And Then There's This


Frustration With Trump

The Cable Guy came by our place the other day while I was out in the back tending the tomatoes. We don't have cable -- partly as a defense against cable "news" -- so I thought it was odd. Dude says he needs to get to a pole, can he come through our place. I say the pole isn't on our property, it's on the neighbor's. Wouldn't it be easier to go through their place?

"Oh no, that's all right, I can get to it just as easily from your side." OK, I said. How long is it going to take? "Ten-fifteen minutes. Just have to check something. Do you have Comcast?" Noooo, I said. Cable teevee is not allowed in our home.

"Oh. That's interesting." And he goes about his business. No doubt wondering about out sanity.

Practically everybody out here has cable or satellite teevee. Many of our friends and neighbors wouldn't dream of living without it. It's one of the basic utilities like electricity and water. Gots ta have it.

Well, we never have. Even though we're out in the wilderness, we're not that far from Albuquerque and it's a straight line from Sandia Crest where the broadcast towers are to our place, so an outside antenna works fine to bring in local broadcast stations. We have about thirty right now, and more are being added all the time. Many of them are "Christian" -- or some bizarre interpretation of it. Ranting and raving mostly. We pass those stations by.

Since we aren't exposed to cable "news" we aren't exposed to the kinds of hysterics that are apparently typical of the genre. Apparently, too, Mr. Trump drives the cable "news" hysterics into hyperdrive each and every day (almost) with his rage-tweets and attack-tweets, much of it ridiculous, which sets off yet another round of hoo and haw, and obsessive coverage of "Twitler" on both cable "news" and all over the internets.

It's frustrating to the cable "news" specifically and to the news media in general because Trump just won't shut up, and he won't behave like a "normal" president.

The Rules are out the window and news media in general, cable "news" in particular, don't know what to do.

From outside, this situation is interesting in part because it seems quite deliberate -- I'd go so far as to say staged in some respects.

Twitler's attacks on cable "news" especially seem calculated to drive traffic. He's been a godsend to the bottom lines of many a media mogul throughout his campaign and "presidency," and losing him and his tweets would  be horrendous, no? They need him, and by golly, he comes through. Doesn't he?

Remember before the election (that he was supposed to lose to Herself) how Trump was planning to set up his own cable network -- or maybe it would be a YouTube channel, or something... -- to defy the gatekeepers and speak directly to the public regarding matters mundane and important and keep his ugly mug in front of the Rabble all the live long day? He would use the platform to counter the lies and deceits of the Clintoon II Regime, but not only them. Oh, no. From his media perch, he'd take 'em allllll down. Remember? Sure you do.

Well, here we are now, 6+ months into his own regime (that wasn't supposed to happen) and sure enough, he's behaving just like he planned to if he had lost (as he was supposed to), only now he doesn't need to set up his own network, because the presidency is a media platform in its own right.

All he has to do is tweet or say something outrageous on mic or camera, and it's off to the races.

Ka-ching. Every utterance of his is money in the bank.

So it's in their interests to keep him around and twit-storming like mad, but it "diminishes the presidency" which will have repercussions anon. It's having repercussions now, of course.

The president of the United States of America (LLC.) is an international laughing stock, not just because of his idiot tweets but because he demonstrates a total lack of self control on the one hand, and complete disinterest in the issues others deem important. He doesn't care if it doesn't mean the spotlight is on him and glory surrounds him.

But that isn't how the world works, is it?

Or is it?

There were a number of opportunities during and after the election and then after the inauguration to prevent him from taking office or to remove him, but all of them were whiffed. What happened instead was that the presidency itself was progressively diminished and as I call it, "jokified." This sets precedent. We should be aware that Trump is being normalized (despite all the cries that "this is not normal!") day by day, and the normalization will become a kind of standard reference for regarding any subsequent presidential behavior. But you can't run a country or an Empire this way.

The King-Emperor must therefore become a figurehead at best, an unimportant cypher, placeholder, or entertainment figure.

I've often pointed to the fact that the neoLibCons who rule us take advantage of every crisis to consolidate their wealth and power (h/t Naomi Klein who detailed the  process a decade ago in "The Shock Doctrine.") We've seen it used over and over and over again, and it is very successful in accomplishing the goals of concentration and consolidation of wealth and power in the neoLibCon elite.

There is little doubt that the Elite saw and see Trump's election victory as an existential crisis. It was not supposed to happen. But as always we're seeing the crisis turned to the advantage of the High and the Mighty while the Rabble are being distracted and confused as always.

Trump himself appears to be a willing -- if addlepated -- participant in the game.

One may not like it, but there is little or nothing one can do about it.

So I'll continue to not watch cable "news," continue to grow my tomatoes (watching carefully the spread of the hatching hoppers) and keep monitoring my condition for improvements and deteriorations.

Alarm is warranted, as our idiot rulers are constitutionally unable to do the right thing. But that's nothing new. On the other hand, we are not entirely powerless.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 30, 2017

This Was Brilliant

Sometimes I find Amy Goodman both too careful and too compartmentalized these days. She's got an institution to protect and favorites to promote, and that can sometimes mean that Democracy Now! is less than it could be.

But yesterday, Amy spent a good deal of her show with Nancy McLean talking about what's really going on in our rancid political culture and who's behind it and I think it's a segment well worth watching and considering.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Grenfell Thing Devolves

Like every other crisis in the NeoLibCon Era, the Grenfell Tower Fire crisis is devolving before our eyes into an "opportunity" for neoLibCons to consolidate their power and profit at the expense of the victims.

It's quite something to observe from afar, but we saw something similar happen with Fukushima and Acheh, and just about every other recent calamity, with the standard of inaction/action set by the Katrina Catastrophe, though the BP Horizon explosion and oil release comes in a close second.

(I'm putting 9/11 to the side for the purposes of this discussion, but it was a masterful example in its own right, though based on a somewhat different set of circumstances.)

The first principle, of course, in handling crises of this sort is to make the victims believe they are helpless and powerless; demonstrate to them that the government will say lots of "helpful" words but will do the least possible --or less -- to ameliorate their condition; and show them that the helping professionals (such as police) will kill them if they get out of line.

Works like a charm. Every time.

The second principle -- once the Rabble are in their place -- is to ensure abundant profits flow to the top of the heap where they belong. Nothing is to be done at all on behalf of the survivors unless and until those profits are guaranteed to the top, and even then, the best procedure is to do nothing AND profit anyway. Genius.

Third is to ensure that any action or lack of action consolidates power in the Ruling Class, and specifically among those approved neoLibCons who take charge of matters. There can be no serious action -- in many cases, no action at all -- which does not directly enhance neoLibCon power.

Of course, lies and deception are fundamental to the process. Delay, obfuscate, claim not to understand the problem, announce studies, inquiries, and various forms of doing nothing, endlessly examine the Big Picture, make offers of money -- always less than needed -- rather than provide adequate relief, and whenever and however possible, get resistant Rabble and designated Others out of the subject area, in a form of cleansing, never to return.

And so it goes.

I've been watching it happen in the case of the Grenfell thing (courtesy of BBC and the Guardian) but we've seen the process again and again. It is the neoLibCon standard of handling crises.

Jeremy Corbyn is bucking the trend. ("Oh Jeremy Corbyn!")  and he can snipe from the sidelines or from the opposition bench in Parliament, but the key is he has no power. Even the hundreds of thousands chanting his name at Glastonbury have no power. He can rage all he wants, they can chant all they want, but they will get nowhere. Without power, they can do nothing. Or so they are meant to believe.

Grenfell Tower will be torn down and disposed of (along with the ashes of those consumed in the fire) but it will be several years on. The torch-tower will be left standing until then as a reminder to the Rabble of what can so very easily happen to them if they get out of line, or even if they don't. Just because.

Thousands of residents of council tower blocks have been displaced so far, and many more will be. Safety comes first, doesn't it?

What a world, what a world.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Evidently Grenfell Tower Was Unsafe for Habitation

There is a kind of panic in Britain right now due to the Grenfell Tower fire and what it has exposed about the high rise buildings (4,000 of them I'm told) used for "social housing" all across the UK.

Many have exterior cladding supplied by the same company as that which supplied cladding for the Grenfell Tower, cladding which undoubtedly contributed to the spread of the fire on the exterior of the building.

It's puzzled me why the fires burned so fiercely inside the flats, however, and why so many people were unable to escape.

Supposedly, these buildings are constructed to confine fire to individual flats. Fire shouldn't be able to spread like it did at Grenfell, even if the exterior cladding is combustible. Or so you would think.

But other factors appear to have been involved that ensured the building lit up like a torch, inside and out, within minutes of the flames first being spotted on the outside -- which was itself within minutes of extinguishing a "fridge fire" in a fourth floor apartment.  As far as I can tell, that fire was caused by a shorted out refrigerator plug, but I'm not entirely sure because I've seen no details of just what set off that fire.

Other factors include wiring within the flats that may have been "illegal." Wiring and positioning of plugs was of particular concern according to the residents' association. This may have contributed to the "fridge fire."

In addition, new-ish gas piping was exposed throughout the building, though promises had been made to box it in with fire resistant materials. Some of that boxing had been accomplished, primarily the vertical runs in the stairwell (singular) but there were exposed gas pipes running to each flat near the ceilings in the hallways on each floor. Some residents who escaped said they heard explosions and saw blue flames emitted from these pipes as they fled the building.

Finally, there was only one stairwell for escape; once the upper floors were involved in the fire, there was no way to reach it or use it. Most of those on the  upper floors were trapped with no way out.

Some died in the stairwell from smoke and fumes.

There were no fire sprinklers in the building because they were not considered necessary due to construction that was supposed to isolate and confine fires. There may not have been interior fire hoses (not entirely clear). Residents stated there were no building-wide fire alarms, and residents themselves went door to door to warn of the approaching fire.

Residents also stated that the window frames were vinyl and melted in the heat of the exterior fire which allowed the flames to enter flats from the outside.

Given all these factors, the building was manifestly unsafe for habitation, unsafe in part because of recent "improvements" -- such as the combustible cladding and the exposed gas piping. It was a torch waiting to be lit.

How many other social housing towers in Britain are like this is anyone's guess, but at this point, every building whose cladding has been tested has failed. There are said to be 600 + buildings across Britain with suspect cladding; not just housing but schools and hospitals as well. Almost all of them -- of course -- serve the less well off.

How many of them also have hazardous or "illegal" wiring? How many of them have exposed gas pipes?

How many of them have only one stairwell exit that becomes unusable in a fire?

How many of them have vinyl window frames that will melt in a fire?

How many of them have no fire alarms, no interior sprinklers, no interior fire hoses?

In other words, how many of them are as manifestly unsafe as Grenfell? Why in the name of all that's holy were people living (and then dying) in Grenfell, and what will be done about all the other unsafe buildings people are living in?

According to reports, thousands of residents have been told to leave their tower blocks while "safety repairs" are undertaken. Some are resisting as people will do under the circumstances. Reports indicate that ultimately hundreds of thousands of people may be displaced, schools and hospitals closed, and so on, as the extent of the cockup and the fire hazards become better understood.

From the beginning, though, I've suspected that there was a deliberate intent, if you will, behind the suddenly discovered fire hazard. The cladding was known to be combustible but it was used anyway because it was a little bit cheaper than comparable less combustible cladding. The exposed gas pipes were hazardous on their face, and promised to enclose them were not kept in a timely fashion. The building was designed with only one stairwell, too bad if residents couldn't make use of it to escape.

In other words, the hazards were known, the failure was built in, and in a sense the tragedy was meant to happen, an inevitability given the unwillingness of The Powers That Be to ensure the safety of the residents. Those who say it was murder have a point. At the very least it was negligent homicide.

And given the way these sorts of things have devolved in the past, nothing will be done to improve the situation for the victims. But quite a few people will see their power enhanced and their wealth improved from "trying."

What have we done to deserve this?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Bill

Yesterday I got a more comprehensive bill for Rituxan infusion treatment that makes somewhat more sense than the previous summaries and payment demands.

Yes, it is criminally expensive treatment, far more expensive than I was told it would be, more than $46,000 vs $4,600, but what's billed and what's paid are completely different things, and as far as I can tell, the $46,000+ figure billed is nonsense, a place-holder at best, a figment of imagination mostly.

The more comprehensive bill (which says "This is not a bill" just to keep me on my toes) includes all the labwork and the preliminary medications (in case I had a reaction) and the various "pushes" to get the Rituxan into me. It includes the charges for all of this and how much the "Plan" paid for various things. Interestingly, the "Plan" paid nothing for most of it, and I will have no co-pay for it either.

Well, that's a relief, right?

But all these charges add up to get to the $46,000+ figure, and it looks to be little more than bill-padding. Something that has a long and inglorious history in the practice of medicine.

Where it gets interesting is the charge for Rituxan itself.

I thought that 5mg were being administered each time I had the infusion, but according to the bill ("This is not a bill") it was actually 50mg, and each time I had the infusion, the charge for Rituxan was $21,202.

For 50mg.


However. The "Plan" allowed $9,492 for Rituxan and paid $8,543, leaving me with a 10% co-pay for the drug each time, or $949, which adds up to $1,898.

And literally, that is all I am being billed for. Everything else is covered by the "Plan."

Well, who knew?

Obviously those who tried to find out for me didn't and couldn't.

We'll see what the charge actually ends up being when all is said and done. While Ms. Ché and I have too much income to qualify for Medicaid, our income is low enough (so I understand, but who knows) to qualify for financial assistance from the hospital, and I've applied for that. According to what I've been told, if the application is approved, the co-pay/cost sharing will be cut in half.

We'll see.

Nevertheless, I'm stunned at the cost for 100mg of Rituxan. It's outrageous, beyond belief truthfully, yet I'm sure there are plenty of drugs on the market which I don't know about that cost quite a bit more.

We know PhARMA has zero social conscience, but still, my question is why do "Plans" pay these outrageous amounts? How much mutual back scratching is built in to this system? Who benefits? Who ultimately pays?

And what can we do about it?

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Economics of Chronic Illness

Our income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, but if we could, Ms. Ché and I would receive rather strictly rationed care for our conditions at no out of pocket cost -- or very little cost -- to us.

Our conditions (she with diabetes and a number of chronic conditions that come from it; me with RA and a number of complications) are rather startlingly expensive to treat, starting with medications which, if we had to pay rack rates for them would run about $4,000 a month. Her's run approximately $1,200 a month at full price, mine around $2,800.

Thankfully, we don't pay that. She gets hers at no charge from IHS, and even though I am now in the Medicare Part D donut hole, my meds are expected to cost me only $600 or $700 a month until my total drug spending for the year tops $3,700 which will then trigger catastrophic coverage (how reassuring) which I understand will mean I receive future medications at no out of pocket charges -- though I'm not entirely sure about that. Co-pays before reaching the donut hole usually ran $10 to $45 a prescription.

My most expensive medication is mycophenolate; hers is insulin. Mycophenolate is prescribed to control my ILD (interstitial lung disease, ie: pulmonary fibrosis) caused by RA -- which is not to say I don't have other lung problems thanks to years of smoking cigarettes (stopped about 20 years ago).

In the original capsule form I was taking it, mycophenolate was running about $900 a month at full price. My doctor changed to tablet form when I told her how much it cost, and that's running about $500 a month  I think (I haven't got a complete statement yet). The other medications I take for RA and other issues run another $2,300 or so a month. Wow. That's for nine other prescriptions.

Then there are the infusions which are supposed to control or even suppress the RA to the point where I go into complete remission. So far so good. I've had two infusion treatments, the last one a month ago, and since then, I have had only minor joint pain and discomfort, and as a rule, whenever the pains come on, they self-correct within minutes or an hour. It's remarkable compared to what I was going through -- days of intense pain week after week that apparently nothing would abate apart from -- on occasion -- heavy duty opioids which I'd rather not take. (Gee, ya think???)

Shall we talk about the cost of the infusion treatment? Sure, let's talk about it.

I just got the bill for the infusions in May: total is $46,583 for the two infusions (and I may have to do this again in six months.) Most of the cost -- $42,562 -- is for the Rituxan (I think I received 5mg of the specific drug in an IV drip each time.)

I'm.... stunned.

This is literally ten times what I was told the treatment would cost.

I'm flabbergasted. Who wouldn't be? My co-pay -- at this point, as adjustments are still possible -- is $1,898, whereas I was told it would be between $500 and $900 depending on how much "insurance" paid, and it was possible there would be no co-pay at all if "insurance" picked up the whole bill.

Insurance being a Medicare Advantage plan. OK then.

$46,583 for 10mg of Rituxan. It seems to be working, so I'm not complaining about that, not at all. But the cost? What the Feuk?

This is a cancer drug that is used for RA in particularly difficult cases (such as mine) that aren't responding well or at all to more conventional treatments. What happened in my case was that my rheumatologist tried a variety of "standard" treatment medications, and they all ultimately failed. For the three months leading up to the infusion treatments, I was experiencing repeated RA flares, essentially every week, each one lasting five days or more, during which I had terrible, debilitating joint pains which none of my usual medications seemed to control. I wound up in the ER due to sciatic pain which was alleviated with a muscle relaxant. But the RA issue remained, and doing something outside the usual treatment seemed to be required.

I agreed to the infusions because my rheumatologist seemed to have run out of options. My condition was clearly getting worse, and medications weren't working.

So. Infusion it was to be. I asked about cost a number of times, and it was difficult to get a straight answer. It all depended on factors that couldn't be known in advance. Ultimately, I was told that the standard rate for treatment was $4,600. How much I would be liable for would depend on how much "insurance" paid, which could vary between 90% and 100% depending. So I should be liable for no more than a $460 co-pay, and I could conceivably owe nothing.

Well, that's not even in the same ball park with what I was billed. Not even remotely.

First, of course, the treatment cost is not $4,600, it's over $46,000 which -- if it was known --  was concealed from me and apparently from the nurses and patient advocates I was trying to get information from.

Second, "insurance" has paid nothing toward the cost. Instead, there was an unexplained "adjustment" of $44,584, which is how my co-pay of $1,898 is arrived at.

What I suspect is happening here is that -- like so many other hospital billing practices -- the hospital is presenting an absurdly high initial bill for payment by "insurance." I was told the initial bill would go to Presbyterian Senior Care which would then bill Medicare for my treatment, and the amount I would be charged would depend on how much Medicare paid. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

In fact, nothing I was told seems to be the case.

At least at this point, it doesn't appear that "insurance" is involved at all, and I am being charged the "patients'" rate for treatment as if I'd come in off the street. But I don't know that that's the case because the billing practice is so opaque, and nobody seems to be able to penetrate it.

This is a very strange way to engage in economic practices, but it seems to be universal in the health care industry. It works for them. More or less. But it doesn't work for anybody else. It wasn't meant to, was it?

I'm not sure how to proceed at this point. I was talking to a friend yesterday who came over to pick up some tomato plants. The issue was, "Do I feel better?" I do, much. Pain is almost completely gone, and that counts for a LOT. Compared to where I was before I started Rituxan infusions, it's night and day.

Therefore: "whatever they charge is 'worth it', no?"

Pretty much.

Just wanted to get some of this down before I forgot.

UPDATE: I got a detailed breakdown of charges and who pays what today. I'm still going over it, but it makes somewhat more sense (well...) and I'll try to get into it in another post.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Medical Care Boondoggle Continues

It's become almost impossible to sort through the charges and countercharges being leveled over Obamacare and the efforts to "repeal and replace" it with something is "better" by making things worse for millions upon millions of Americans.

What is wrong with these people?

The fact is that Obamacare is widely disliked for its absurd complexity and -- for many users -- sky high costs for premiums and deductibles. For some users, it's been a godsend, and that should be acknowledged. The fact is, many of those people will lose coverage and access to healthcare that arguably keeps them alive should the current Trumpcare proposals be enacted. Tough luck suckers, this is making America great again, don'tchaknow.

The problem, of course, is that Trumpcare is just a crueler version of Obamacare, and given their druthers, Americans don't want either neoLiberal boondoggle.

They want universal coverage and universal access to healthcare, paid for like they do almost everywhere else, through taxes.

"Medicare for All" is one way to do that.

But our political class on both sides of the aisle avoid that obvious solution like the plague. They will not consider it.

Absolutely will not consider it.

This is yet another example of the rulers deliberately governing contrary to the public interest and the popular will in order to serve the special interests of well-connected campaign donors, lobbyists, and would-be Royals.

Voting has little or no effect on that constant condition.e

Trumpcare, the current Republican version of neoLiberal Obamacare, makes health insurance and health care matters demonstrably worse for tens of millions of Americans, and it does so consciously and deliberately while preserving the basic structure and mechanisms of Obamacare.

Bizarre? Well, no. It's what these people do. Once they have an idee fixethey stick with it till the bitter end, and even then... Look at the endless wars. Same thing.

And the electorate cannot -- generally speaking -- affect the situation in any way.

We are stuck in a loop.

No way out.

Or is there?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

OT: Another Cousin Emerges

My my.

Yesterday, I was contacted by a woman who said she was the great-grandaughter of my mother's father. I'm sure there are more than a few of those around, but this one was interesting because she was descended from the son of a young girl (she was then 16) who gave birth in an unwed mother's home in Indianapolis the same year my mother was born (1911).

My mother's biological father was listed as the father of the boy named Virgil. My mother's name was Virginia (a feminine form of Virgil.) Later on, my mother's (and Virgil's) father would sire a daughter named Helen.

Seems to me he must have been fascinated by Virgil's Aeneid for some reason. Yet something else to find out about. I could make up stories...

Meanwhile it turns out this new cousin has been to Indiana to do research on the mystery-father of her grandfather Virgil, and she says she made discoveries in the state archives she'd like to share.

That'll be fun, and no doubt it will... modify....what I thought I knew about our mutual ancestor.

My my.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Is It Getting Real Yet?

I've been pondering the Grenfell Tower fire in London as possible arson, or a deliberate "let 'em burn" incident.  Once I saw that many/most of the residents and victims were of the Muslim persuasion, I couldn't shake the idea that somehow the fire was revenge for the Manchester incident and the London Bridge incident.

I've seen Teresa May on the teevee stumbling and bumbling through her talking points, points which she repeats by rote no matter what the question is. That says to me she knows something she dare not state. She's too frightened to state it.

Or something.

The Grenfell Tower fire was awful but very evocative too. It reminded me of the World Trade Center fires after the planes hit in 2001; it reminded me, too, of the Odessa Trades Union House massacre in 2014.  Both were deliberate -- and opportunistic.

They were meant to inspire fear and terror, which they did. But they took advantage of weaknesses and unknowns to full effect as well. Did the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks know that the World Trade Center buildings would collapse causing far more damage, death and destruction than if only parts of the buildings had burned but the rest had remained standing? I doubt it. But they knew how to take full advantage of the situation.

The cause of the fire at the Union House in Odessa is pretty well understood; the mob outside was using Molotov cocktails which started a number of small fires inside and outside the building. It is said that those holed up inside also had access to and used Molotov cocktails against the mob outside.

Somehow, it's not exactly clear how, one or more cans or barrels of gasoline or other petroleum in the lobby of the building exploded sending fire up the stairwell, incinerating dozens of people.

The effect of the fire was to shut down the Odessa resistance to the Nazi coup in Kiev. Worked like a charm by taking advantage of fortuitous circumstances. I doubt the mob outside the Trades Union House in Odessa had any idea they would be able to spark such a level of death and destruction inside. But once they did, they made the most of it.

And so it goes.

Which is why I wonder about the Grenfell Tower fire in London. There had been a number of attacks, after all, against soft targets in London and Manchester, leading to several dozen deaths and injuries. These attacks were said to be the work of "ISIS" or whatever the most current iteration of Islamic Terror is. While the death toll and destruction was quite low comparatively speaking, and in each case the perpetrators were dispatched (either self-dispatched or shot by police) the incidents inspired an enormous level of shuddering terror in the British public -- which I assume they were intended to do.

It has become the custom to take revenge after a terrorist attack against targets in the West. But in the case of the recent British attacks, there was no one to take revenge against.

The pent up rage could easily lead to something like the Grenfell Tower fire or to what appears to have been an attack by van on Muslims worshiping in North London last night.

Tit for tat, don't you know?

Of course I don't know that's what's going on, but that's what it feels like.

There have been any number of relatively small scale attacks on Muslims in this country. Some of it is just silly, like the recent March Against Sharia. But some of it is deadly, too -- such as the apparent murder of a Muslim girl in Virginia.

Trump and his minions opened the Pandora's Box of violence against the Designated Others (including Muslims) during the campaign last year, and we are witness to or victims of the consequences. Random acts of violence which had been routine are becoming focused on certain targets.

Nothing quite like that had been common in Britain, though the Brexit campaign had opened a Pandora's Box of violence against the Other there as well. Thus, something like the attacks we've seen -- tit for tat in a way -- was almost inevitable, and so was something like the Grenfell Tower fire (even if it wasn't deliberate.)

This sequence of violence is far from over. I see no desire among Our Rulers to end it in any case. What they want, of course, is protection for themselves. The rest of us, as far as they're concerned, can disappear tomorrow and they wouldn't care.

Is it getting real yet?

More to come, no doubt.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Do We Need A Regent?

The Queen and Prince  William and Jeremy Corbyn all visited warmly with the Grenfell Fire survivors in London.  Teresa May went hop and skip to visit with the first responders on Thursday -- avoiding the survivors like the plague they are -- and on Friday made a non-public appearance at one of the shelters for the Grenfell evacuees which she scuttled out of promptly to the jeers and catcalls from protesters and survivors in the street. "Coward! Murderer!"


I bring this up to show the completely different approach to calamity displayed by those who hold power (such as May, Trump, et al) and those who show simple human decency in the face of calamity (Corbyn, The Queen, are there any American examples under the age of 90?)

As Trump continues to stumble badly in his role as president, he seems to revel in hurting people as much as he can with as limited powers as he has. And ignore pretty much everyone else. This appears to align well with Teresa May's conservative position in the UK. One has power, apparently, so as to cause harm to or ignore the many while protecting and defending the few.

The assertion is often made by his defenders that Trump hasn't done anything "bad" so far, so it's "too soon" to criticize him. Of course, it's horseshit and has been nothing but that since the defense was offered during the campaign.

The idea is that he doesn't have a history. Somehow he sprang from Zeus's brow apparently, with no past to point to. His gangster behavior in real estate is forgotten, just like his behavior as a tv host. The fact that he's been in the public eye for decades, and has a long and inglorious record of misbehavior was simply erased.

And nothing he's done really matters, you see, because he hasn't triggered a nuclear war with Russia -- which Mrs. Clinton still longs to do.

That millions of Americans in immigrant communities are facing greater and greater levels of terror tactics from ICE doesn't matter because it isn't nuclear war with Russia. That tens of millions of civilians are under threat in the expanding war zones overseas and tens of thousands have been killed since Himself's installation doesn't matter because it isn't nuclear war with Russia. And so on and so on and so on. That he's literally turned over military policy and strategy to the Generals should put the fear in his believers, but it doesn't because it hasn't (yet) triggered nuclear war with Russia.

To the extent there is a functioning Trump Administration, it's a mess. That's considered a bonus by his defenders because it "breaks the rice bowls" of the status quo. As long as the "Clintonites" are punished, anything goes it seems. After all, it isn't nuclear war with Russia.

Except the Empire, the American Empire, and its government can't operate like this, not for long anyway, without shattering to pieces. This too is considered a bonus by some of Trump's defenders who want more than anything for the Empire to disappear. Well, I'm not a fan of the Empire, either, but this kind of perpetual chaos is not the way to end it.

Observers of the mess have started to campaign for a Regency. A Wise Man or a Committee of Eminence to "help" Trump to govern "correctly." Or to govern in his stead should need arise. Something like, oh I don't know, Cheney was to Bush Junior.

Or GHW Bush was to Reagan. Or George IV was to his father Mad King George III. And so on.

A Regent is to the side of the Emperor (or king or president or ruler of your choice) under a regency, and is not necessarily directly in line to the Throne at all. A regent can literally be anyone who is respected and who can be counted on to exercise the powers and authorities of rule responsibly on behalf of the nation, empire or what have you.

The key term is "responsibly" -- which Trump has shown himself to be incapable of, necessitating corps of fixers to come in and clean up yet another mess he's made of things.

You can't run a government like this, let alone an empire.

Some time ago I asked whether we need an Emperor, someone above the president, to deal with the important matters that the Presidency was never intended to.

Or -- as we see under Trump -- can't.

An Emperor would be more in line with the course of devolution our government has been on for quite some time now. Much as Augustus "restored" the Republic while ruling from Above it, an Emperor might "restore" missing or abandoned elements of the American republic while effectively ruling as a benevolent autocrat.

Of course, whether regent or emperor, there is no such position in our current form of government. Regents of sorts have functioned on behalf of or in place of presidents, but never so far has there been someone in a position above the president -- at least not openly.

Is it time?

Friday, June 16, 2017

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today...

My oh my. How time flies.

Monterey International Pop Festival Poster
June 16, 17,18, 1967
I actually don't remember how we got there or exactly when we left the Central Valley for the Coast, but I do remember arriving in Monterey in the late afternoon and checking into a motel (the name of which I don't recall) a short distance from the fairgrounds where the festival would be held. There were four of us, I think: myself and soon-to-be Ms. Ché and Rick and Jackie. That's my memory, but Rick and Jackie may have had their own room. Rick (changed the spelling to Ric ) became one of the more notorious members of the Cockettes (performing as ?? Maxine??) in San Francisco. I don't know what happened with Jackie.

We had tickets for some of the performances, either afternoon or evening. Friday was evening only; Saturday and Sunday were afternoon and evening shows.

The line up was stunning.

Faulty though my memory has become, I think we had tickets for Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday evening, but we didn't go to the Saturday afternoon show, or possibly we didn't have tickets for Saturday afternoon but listened to it outside the venue.

I recall we spent quite a lot of time on the fairgrounds in the daytime enjoying the people and the booths, and the smells of incense and patchouli and marijuana, and it was probably Saturday afternoon because I don't remember seeing Country Joe and the Fish, Canned Heat, Steve Miller, Quicksilver and the other performers (including Janis and Big Brother) that afternoon. I remember hearing them, though.

Of course when the movie came out, memories got even more confused. Because I remember the movie performance of Big Brother in the afternoon, but my memory of seeing them perform was in the evening. Janis and a whole lot more.

We had box seats for some shows, seats on the flat arena floor for others. The venue was the Monterey County Fairgrounds rodeo arena, also used for the Monterey Jazz Festival and other events throughout the year.

I remember it was cold outside most of the time, and foggy much of the time. Drippy. There wasn't anywhere to escape the wet. So you just went with it.

About 25,000 attended over the three days of the festival. It was a lot of people but it wasn't too many, not even close to too many. We never felt too crowded, and everybody was mellow including the sheriff's deputies manning the fairgrounds and directing traffic and so on. In fact, they were so mellow we wondered if they were enjoying certain substances with much of the crowd.

I don't remember acid, though Rick may have had some. Marijuana, however, was pervasive, and it may have been there that I first indulged. I'm not sure. Marijuana has never agreed with me -- raging headaches and puts me to sleep -- so I rarely indulged back then, and haven't at all for decades.

Rick was tripping most of the time so I imagine he had dropped acid, but I didn't know him well, so I couldn't tell for sure, and we rarely saw him during performances. I think he was backstage for a while, but he was with us during Jimmy Hendrix and The Who. Jackie was with us pretty much the whole time, but I didn't know her well either. They were friends of Ms Ché's but I'm not sure how they and she had hooked up.

Ms. Ché had long been involved with teen bands in the Valley, so I assume that's how they and she got together.

At the time, I looked something like one of the members of a British duo, tall, thin, longish reddish hair, glasses, vaguely hippie-ish garb, mostly castoffs and thrift-store finds thrown together. I remember I had a navy pea coat and a green woolen Eisenhower jacket. Suede boots. Flowered shirt and a bright blue one. A cream-colored knitted turtleneck.

We had no money at all. How we afforded this adventure, I have no idea. At the time, we didn't have a car, so I think we must have ridden with Rick and Jackie, and it may have been Jackie's car, come to think of it. I don't think it was a GTO but it may have been a Pontiac Le Mans, 1964? Maybe. I don't remember.

But we had a motel room for all three days, and the fairgrounds were within walking distance. I think we ate at a nearby Sambo's a time or two. Again, where we got the money, I don't know. But we had enough for food and gas and lodging; we'd bought the tickets well in advance.

When we left on Monday morning, we went to San Francisco and dropped Rick off in the Haight and then headed back to the Valley. We'd go to San Francisco as often as we could and even took to flying down to Los Angeles now and then on the $19 PSA flights to see shows or visit with friends.

This pattern went on throughout the Summer of Love, and though I don't think we were hippies or wanted to be, we were definitely counterculture in that we were living far less materialistically than we'd been brought up to be, and we were living simply compared to most of those we knew and our families. Focus was on music and people and finding new answers to old problems.

Through various steps and travels it led us eventually to New Mexico -- where we might have gone long before, but we didn't -- where a remnant of the counterculture remains, much as it does in enclaves all over the country. Some of it is very stupid and stupefying. Yet some of it is deeply rooted and fundamental. There is a tendency to want to throw it all out and start over. But you know what? There always was.


[Pennebaker has blocked most of the clips from his film of Monterey Pop from YouTube and the other video sites, but a restored version of the film will be shown in Santa Fe next month. We'll probably go -- if our health permits.

Highlights  of the Festival for us included Janis Joplin with Big Brother, The Who, the Animals, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Mamas and Papas, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Hugh Masakela, and some I don't remember. Eg: I barely remember the Dead at all... so it goes...]

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

One of the Very Few Times ...

...that the High and Mighty have been targeted by the American Lone Gunman happened in Alexandria, VA, this morning at a softball practice involving congress members and staff.

Details are sketchy -- to say the least -- but apparently one congressman was wounded (Steve Scalise) as well as a couple of cops on protective duty. The suspect is said to be in custody.

Some wag said, "Well, he must be white then."

This wouldn't be the first time a congressmember was shot and wounded by the Lone Gunman, and it will be interesting to see what kind of outrage emerges from this one. Gabby Giffords was shot and critically wounded in 2011 and had to leave congress on account of her injuries, but all the outrage her shooting provoked had zero effect on her former colleagues who rather ostentatiously and arrogantly refused to consider legislation that might further restrict access to firearms for people with mental illness. As I recall -- but my memory is failing -- congress actually passed legislation easing access to guns in the wake of Gabby Giffords' shooting.

How much bigger a "Fuck you!" could they have engineered?

Shootings by these Lone Gunmen are commonplace, of course, but they almost never target people with money or power. That's why the Giffords shooting was so odd. Today's incident is also odd.

Ah, but  we've been in this chaotic matrix for some time now, and these sorts of oddities are bound to become more and more common. The question is not whether they will happen -- they will -- but rather what the response of the Powers That Be will be.

If as I suspect the shooting today can be labeled "terrorism" -- even better if the shooter is brown, black, or Muslim(!) or better still a "damn dirty librul"*-- then we will see a prompt response from Power and Authority to tighten the ratchet on all sorts of irritating people and behavior.

This isn't a Reichstag Fire type incident, but given the hysterics of Our Rulers (well, some of them) over the Terrorist Threat (to themselves, of course, they don't give a shit about the rest of us) the reaction is liable to be similar.

As if we didn't have enough of that already.

It's the world we live in.


UPDATE: * And so, here we are:
His Twitter profile shows that Hodgkinson is a left-wing supporter of Bernie Sanders who has also posted several memes on his Facebook page critical of President Donald Trump. He also called Georgia Republican congressional candidate Karen Handel a “b*tch” for saying she didn’t support a living wage during a debate with Democratic rival Jon Ossoff.