Thursday, March 25, 2010

By Request, a Beagle/Health-Care Haiku

Per Michelle Darnet-Paret's request,"Can we have Beagle-and-health-care haiku please?" I give you the wee haiku at the bottom of this post.

To be honest, I was kinda stuck for a theme until I remembered the increasingly bizarre antics of the Congressman in Katie the Beagle's home district: U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter proposes tax break for pet owners.

McCotter is looking to get out of the proverbial dog house by offering American families an annual $3,500 tax deduction to pay for pet medical care.

Really, it's true. I can't make this stuff up.

Since McCotter was near the front of the baying pack of anti-health-care-reform hounds, apparently his motto is "Not one penny for poor and destitute humans, but up to $3,500 annually from taxpayers' pockets for pets." It's an interesting position for a self-proclaimed "fiscal conservative" who obviously doesn't understand the meaning of the phrase "fiscal conservative."

Health Care Reform for Beagles?!

"Social medicine's
For beagles, not for people!"
says Thad McCotter.

BTW, if anybody wants to visit the web site of McCotter's likely opponent in the upcoming election, it's here: Natalie Mosher for Congress.

More on World War II Casualties

Okay, this is a pretty grim post, but I think it's about something important that people need to understand.

This post started as a comment on the post Book Review: "On the Natural History of Destruction" by W.G. Sebald in response to Monique's observation that, "One forgets the extent of the devastation, and I suspect that many young people may think that it was mostly the Jews who died in WWII." I thought that was an interesting observation. I think it's important that everybody understands the size of the human disaster that was World War II. It's become fashionable in recent years to bash the United Nations. As far as I'm concerned, the main purpose of the UN is to make sure that something as bad as World War II -- or worse -- never happens again. And in that regard it has been a complete success to date.

There's a pretty good table of all World War II deaths by country on Wikipedia. I know a lot of the individual statistics can be argued up or down, but it looked like a reasonable accurate tally to me:

A few appalling notes:

--Somewhere between 60 and 80 million people died in World War II.
--Estimates of the Holocaust per this Wiki article come in at around 5.1 million to 6 million Jews, about 80% of all European Jews. Elsewhere I've seen estimates as high as 7 million. It's hard to sort out despite the meticulous Nazi record-keeping because somewhere around another 8-12 million others -- Soviet citizens and POWs, Poles, Gypsies, handicapped, homosexuals, etc., also died by execution or in German concentration camps.
--Nearly 25 million residents of the Soviet Union died, about 13.5% of their total population.
--Somewhere between 10 and 20 million Chinese died, between 2% and 4% of their total population.
--Nearly 6 million Poles died, about 16%-17% of their population.
--Somewhere between 6.8 million and 8.5 million Germans died, about 8%-10% of the German population.
--About 2.7 million Japanese died, nearly 4% of their total population.
--800,000 Greeks died, more than 11% of their population.
--Other countries in Europe and Asia that probably saw 5% or more of their population die include: Hungary, French Indochina, Latvia, Lithuania, Nauru, the Phlippines, Portugese Timor, and Yugoslavia.
--449,800 residents of the United Kingdom died, nearly 1% of their population.
--418,500 Americans died, about .32% of our population at the time. A comparable percentage of deaths now would be nearly a million Americans. The only greater war toll in American history came from the US Civil War, during which more than 200,000 soldiers were killed in action and a total of more than 620,000 soldiers died.

One last note to add is that the items above are just a list of deaths. That doesn't include the larger numbers of survivors who were wounded, displaced, tortured, starved, impoverished, or otherwise harmed by the war.

Not a very cheery post, I fear. But it's an important one to keep in mind.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fiscal Analysis of the New Health Care Bill

Okay, now that that title has driven everybody away, for those of you brave enough to stick around, what I have is based on a reasonably quick message exchange that Phil Gaven and I had earlier today in which he asked a genuine question about the new bill, and in which I tried to give a genuine answer. He thought it was worth sharing with folks. I think nobody in their right mind wants to hear another word about health care, yet here it is, cluttering up the blog when I could be writing beagle haiku.

Due to the vast cloud of misinformation around the thing, I freely grant that my answer is not 100% vetted by a full reading of the bill, the sidecar, or the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)study. Mostly, it's just built out of the few pieces of information I came across in the past few days that I felt could be deemed "probably truthful."

Phil: How can a health care bill that costs $900 billion also reduce the deficit by $130 billion?

John: By presenting the CBO with a plan that includes $500 billion in cost reduction and $630 billion in new revenues. As near as I can tell there's also a bit of fiscal chicanery that shifts some revenues forward and some costs out of the ten year window, though at this point I don't really trust *anybody's* evaluation of the numbers. The CBO conducts its analysis strictly on what's in the bill, not on a guess as to what changes may happen over the next ten years.

The real question is whether or not the cost reductions and new revenues will happen. On the bright side, as near as I can tell, the cost for bringing 40 million people into the system is less than might be expected because those 40 million people have already been getting medical care, usually on a crisis basis with the costs spread to all of those who are already insured.

And even slowing the growth of health-care costs by a couple of percentage points will make a big difference ten years from now. It would be hard to overstate the growing economic disaster that has been our health care system for the last thirty years.

My best analysis is that at its heart this was a public utility reform bill. That's the best analog I can come up with for regulating a vital service that's provided through an assortment of local for-profit monopolies.

As for how the numbers will really play out in ten years? My guess is that it's anybody's guess.

Really, though, this health care hubbub was a pimple on the butt of the coming deficit disaster that's been caused by the Baby Boomers deciding to fund their approaching and ever-expanding Social Security and Medicaid benefits through a series of tax cuts. That's the thing that really needs to be fixed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Damage Report on Katie the Beagle's Friday at Home Alone

So much destruction
By just one beagle?! She must
Have had assistance.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Beagle at Home by Herself Today

Poor little beagle,
Alone with just her panic.
No Monique. No John.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: "On the Natural History of Destruction" by W.G. Sebald

I first came across the thesis of W.G. Sebald's essay "Air War and Literature" on Arsen Darnay's Ghulf Genes blog in the post Shock and Awe in 1940s Style. Sebald's essay, which forms the first half of his book of literary essays On the Natural History of Destruction, is based on a series of lectures he delivered in Zurich in Fall 1997.

In "Air War and Literature" Sebald examines the lack of substantive German literature about the terrible air bombings that devastated German cities during World War II. There are three other essays in the book: on Alfred Andersch, Jean Amery, and Peter Weiss. I read them all and found interesting bits and pieces in each. But I can't honestly say they're likely to be of much broad interest beyond those who care about Andersch, Amery, and Weiss.

But the opening essay on the air war in Germany is fascinating. How terrible were the bombings in Germany? According to the beginning of the essay:

... the Royal Air Force alone dropped a million tons of bombs on enemy territory; it is true that of the 131 towns and cities attacked ... many were entirely flattened, that 600,000 German civilians fell victim to the air raids, and that three and a half million homes were destroyed, while at the end of the war seven and a half million people were left homeless.

Sounds like a lot? It is. Here are a few points of comparison:

--The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima exploded with 13 kilotons of force, while the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki exploded with 21 kilotons of force.
--The combined explosive force of those bombs was only 1/27th the combined million tons of bombs dropped on Germany by the RAF alone.
--The United States and Britain combined are estimated to have dropped 2.75 million tons of bombs in Europe.
--About 1.6 million tons of that total was dropped on Germany.
--Strategic bombing was dangerous for the bombers, too. More than 160,000 allied airmen died in the European theater.
--The single worst air raid during the war was probably not either one of the atomic bombings, but was instead the March 9, 1945, American firebombing of Tokyo in which it is likely that more than 100,000 people perished.
--About 500,000 Japanese civilians perished during the air raids on Japan, and another five million were left homeless.

It would be easy to go on and on with a statistical roll-call of misery, but the point is that this was one of the single most terrible experiences of the Twentieth Century, and indeed in all of human history. And so Sebald asks, "Why is it that this experience has been nearly entirely ignored in German literature?"

It's a good question. On Arsen's original post I hadn't realized that Sebald was discussing German literature and mentioned several bits of American and British literature that mentioned the air war, especially the London Blitz. (Not to add to the roll-call of misery, but more than 43,000 British civilians died from air raids during the Battle of the Blitz in 1940.)

The Blitz, however, is pretty well represented in British literature. Indeed, in many ways it seems to have been the formative experience of post-World-War-II British literature, since it was the primary point of contact with the war for the vast majority of British citizens.

But what of the German devastatation, which was so many times worse? Sebald claims that German literature is silent.

In truth, I'm not quite so sure how true that is, but I'm in no position to judge because I have read very little Germany post-war literature. I will say, however, that at times Sebald seems to be at pains to exclude writings that deal with the air raids from his argument -- either by claiming they are mere popular entertainments and not worthy of inclusion, by claiming that some works by more famed German authors were inferior and didn't reach the literary heights such a devastating event merits, or by claiming that other works were commercial failures.

So as I read the essay his assertion of this void struck me as a bit of an odd deconstructionist argument. He posits that something is missing in the literature, and then spends much of the rest of his time claiming that those things that seem applicable should not be included. Still, despite that quibble I'm willing to grant his assertion that the experience of the air raids is disproportionately absent in the German literary memory.

It's his examination of some of the possible reasons for this absence that are most striking. Sebald's exploration of this void is truly thought-provoking and ranges from the sheer inability of language to convey such horror to the cumulative guilt of the German people in having brought such a terrible punishment upon themselves. That is what makes this essay well worth reading.

Before closing, I should note that at least one highly regarded English-language book came out of the German air raids, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, which was based on Vonnegut's experience as a prisoner of war during the air raid on Dresden. I'm not sure how many German translations of that book have been sold over the years, but I see in our old friend Wikipedia that a German opera based on the book made its premier in Munich in July 1996, so it can hardly be unknown. I'm sure Sebald would exclude Vonnegut from consideration in his basic thesis, since Vonnegut was an American writer, and an extremely American writer at that. But I would have thought the novel at least worthy of mention in an essay commenting on the lack of literature on the topic of the air war against Germany from the perspective of those who were beneath the bombs.

Neither Sebald nor I have much to say on Japanese literature of the air war. But the Japanese post-war film phenomenon Godzilla is a creature straight from the devastation of the nuclear blasts and the terrible destruction of the air war. Indeed, the shift in Godzilla's role from a terrible destructive force in the early movies to a protector of Japan by the 1970s is undoubtedly worthy of its own essays and lectures.

One last possible cause for this void in Germany literature wasn't examined much by Sebald, but struck me as worthy of greater examination. Many Germans simply didn't survive World War II, especially those who were beneath these air raids. Numbers and estimates vary, but somewhere around 10% of Germany's prewar population of 80 million people died in the war. The toll among the civilian population was highest in the very urban areas that tend to generate literary movements. And the toll among those at the heart of the air war against Germany was truly devastating. I can't help but wonder if the potential literary genius who might have told the epochal story of this tragedy simply died along with millions of others.

Who will tell the tale when the author and all his characters are already dead?

Blogging From the Sickbed

No, this is not a dramatic or inspirational story of disease, overcoming disability, or a miracle cure just in the nick of time. But if you're wondering why there hasn't been much blogging lately, I lay the blame at the feet of a mild and annoying cold that's given me a wee fever and generally sapped my get up and go.

I even might've had time to catch up on the blogging, since I stayed home sick yesterday and only worked a 1/2-day from home today. Alas, proper blogging with genuine thought was well outside my capabilities. Mostly I've just laid on the couch and watched some old sitcoms, a few old game shows, and a Spring Training baseball game. Much of the watching was dedicated to M*A*S*H reruns off the DVR, probably in fevered hopes that a medical show might push me to health.

In any event, look for more coherent blogging soon. I have a couple of recently finished books that need to be reviewed, and I may even have a wee postmortem on the health care bill if it manages to stumble its way through Congress, as now seems vaguely possible.

BTW, for those who have been waiting with bated breath, the final tally for the last batch of comics for the "Date Night with Monique" fund was 11 lots for a whopping $30.20. We've paid off the date-night deficit of $0.77 on the fish and chips, the $19 for last weekend's movie tickets, and have now saved up a cool $10.43 for the next big date. I shall try not to spend it all in one place!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Whew, Busy Week!

I'll spare you all the details, but now that it's almost over I can say I'm proud of the accomplishments, and I look forward to a well earned martini when I get home in another half-hour or so.

All the blogging I had time for this week was one beagle haiku and two marketing blurbs for Susan's corned beef recipe (The Best Corned Beef Recipe Ever) so I close with this bit of blatant commercialism:

Go buy some of my comics off e-Bay.

That way I can take Monique out on another date sometime this decade. Sadly, we're still trying to raise money to cover my egregious overspending on two date nights last week.

Bidding ends tomorrow afternoon, there are 25 lots up for sale, and I only have bids on four of them right now. At that rate Monique doesn't get to see another movie in the theaters until 2013, and will instead have to settle for me making hand-shadows on the wall. This may not be her first choice for weekend entertainment, much though I'm sure my hand-shadow version of "Clash of the Titans" is eagerly anticipated by one and all.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's the Gettysburg Family's Internet, And We're All Just Shilling for Them.

Ooooh, look at that. My sister Susan's corned-beef recipe (The Best Corned Beef Recipe Ever. Really.) just made the front page on Google if you search for "best corned beef recipe."

Why am I telling you this? Is it just a feeble excuse to create another link to her recipe, so as to help her drive up her Google rankings?

Well, yeah.

As for me, I'm not sure what I'm up to this year for St. Paddy's Day. It's on a Wednesday, and I'll be working. I'm pretty sure that before I moved to Michigan I never worked a single St. Paddy's Day in my life -- or for that matter a March 18, which is also known as National Irish-American Recovery Day in some circles.

Disreputable circles, I assure you. Circles which I, your gentle author, has only heard spoken of thirdhand.

My guess is that I'll wear something green to work, and eat some corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage for dinner. But that's just a guess. I do know I'll open one of the remaining Home-Hop Irish Stouts.

And perhaps this year we'll try my sister's Google-rific recipe: (The Best Corned Beef Recipe Ever. Really.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best Corned Beef Recipe Ever

Or so claims my sister: The Best Corned Beef Recipe Ever.

I think I'd like to try it out this year. In any case, I think you need to consider a woman named Magee Riordan as a pretty credible source on the topic.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And How She Sniffs It Out in the Can, We'll Never Know.

Katie the Beagle
Found a smell today beyond
Bunny rabbits.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Progress Report: The Failure to Date of the $15.23 Date

So much for sticking to a budget. As I think you all know, last week I put some comics up for sale with the plan of killing two birds by cleaning out a little room and then using the proceeds to take Monique out for a date. Sales were a bit slow, but I did manage to raise a whopping $15.23 for the date.

And I did have a genuinely good plan for a $15.23 date, the Friday Night Live! series at the Detroit Institute of Arts. We're members, so we can get in free to that. I reckoned we'd do a bit of snacking at the cafeteria, enjoy some music, and check out a bit of art. I was pretty sure we could bring that evening in under $15.23. (The accounting minded among you may note that I'm not including a prorated portion of our annual DIA membership, but I figured it as a "sunk cost" that should be exempted from the return-on-investment of a Friday night date.)

I also had a great backup plan. Admission for classic movies at the Redford Theater is just $4.00 apiece. And although I don't recall the exact cost of popcorn and soda there, but it's correspondingly cheap, less than $5. So I figured that even with popcorn, soda, and a couple of 50-50 tickets we could bring in an evening at the Redford for less than $15.23 with a dollar or two to spare. Better yet, this week they had the Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera" which would be a fun movie to watch there.

Alas, it was not to be.

Thanks to the gallant efforts of "The Real Rookie" Rob Jameson, this was also the week that a new set of flaming bowling shirts arrived for the DOGS. (For those who don't know, the Detroit Old Guys Select is the old boys rugby squad for the Detroit RFC.) Since several of the DOGS are headed down to Georgia next weekend to play in Savannah's St. Patrick's Day tournament, we needed to distribute them quickly, so as to show sufficient Savannah St. Paddy's sartorial splendor.

Because this Friday was also the women's club's night to volunteer for the Friday Night Fish Fry at the Commonwealth Club, and since the Commonwealth Club makes the best fish & chips in Detroit, we declared Friday night to be Flaming Bowling Shirt Distribution Night at the Commonwealth Club. A good time was had by all:

(Yes, Monique was there, too. She was the one who took this picture, since she was sporting a pretty sweater instead of a flaming bowling shirt.)

However, fish & chips at the Commonwealth Club runs $8 a plate. A beer and a soda ran another $5.25 plus tip, running the cost of the best fish & chips in Michigan plus beverages to $23. Worse yet, in a desperate move of sheer profligacy, we stopped at the local video store and rented District Nine afterwards, which ran the cost of our Friday evening out to a budget-busting $26.50, a whopping $11.27 over the target.

I suppose there was a chance we might've recovered on Saturday night, but we decided to go out to see Up in the Air at the eMagine theater in Novi. We ate at home and skipped the soda and popcorn, but two first-run movie admissions still ran us $19.00, overrunning the budget by $4.77.

So, the bright side is that Monique and I managed to go out twice this weekend and have a really good time for less than fifty bucks total, an average cost of just $22.75 per date. The bad thing is that means that I overspent the new date fund by about thirty bucks. Obviously, my free-spending ways need to be reigned in, but in the meantime I need to atone for my wasteful fiscal sins. How?

You can buy more comic books here: e-Bay Items for Sale by Patioboater.

Please, give generously.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wisdom overheard in the YMCA locker room

"That's the problem with the world these days. Everybody's just looking for somebody to confirm what they already think. Nobody ever goes out anymore looking for anything that challenges their opinion."

--Spoken by some dude drying off after a shower to a guy standing on the scale.

That may be the smartest thing I've ever heard in a locker room. I have no idea what those two guys were talking about, since it was really the only part of the conversation that I heard. But it really doesn't matter because it applies to seemingly everything these days.

It's an amazing thing about the Information Age that I didn't anticipate, but should have, given human nature. With all the data of all the world out there, most people don't seem to be seeking a deeper understanding of genuine facts. They're just looking for something that backs up what they think they already know.

Personally, I love when I find out that I was wrong about something. Why? Because it means that I'm learning new things and getting smarter.

Are you finding lately that your opinions are all correct. Are you proving it to yourself because your opinion is shared by some dude on TV or found in all the blogs you read? You're not learning new things. You're getting dumber.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Buy a Comic and Help Send Monique on a Date Night!

Aside from "Watch more Winter Olympics than is mathematically possible" my February to-do list also had "clean out some of the piles of comics" on the list.

As part of that effort, I decided to put several dozen of those comics up on e-Bay, so as to clean them out of the house altogether. So, I sorted out several dozen comics that I bought and enjoyed over the last year and put them up for bids in thirteen lots. I figured this would kill two birds with one stone:

1) Get some of the comics out of the house.
2) Put a bit of spending cash in my pocket. I then committed myself to using that cash to fund a date night with Monique.

Either one of those goals would make Monique happy. The two together? Nirvanna!

Alas, only two of my 13 lots have so far attracted any bids. The Monique date-night fund is only up to $7.50. This might almost fund a dinner expedition to Taco Bell, but I'm not sure we can squeeze even so much as a movie rental out of the remainder.

There's a pretty good assortment, including some Star Treks, Doctor Who Classics, Batgirl, Dan Dare, Captain America, a Spider-Girl trade paperback, X-Factor, and even some westerns. Bidding closes around 9:30 EST tonight. (Monday, March 1.)

Please, people, don't let Monique languish dateless and buried under piles of comic books. Buy now!