Shaddap shaddinap

This sanitized poster should need no further explanation.

If you need an explanation, this probably was meant for you.

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Health insurance doesn’t need fixing. Oh, really?

The health insurance industry really wants to be reformed. Begging for it, really. I mean, how else do you explain the sheer chutzpah of an insurer jacking up the group premiums for a local township’s employees by 39.1 percent?

Like this cartoon? Click on it for more from Chan Lowe.

Thirty-nine percent! Oh, excuse me, 39.1 percent. And that’s group health, where in theory the risk is spread out over an actuary-friendly group so that the law of averages helps level out costs.

In group health insurance, if Employee A has, say, a child with diabetes or a spouse with cancer, that case is going to be offset by three or four families who make few claims and represent a net plus for the insurer in a given year. That’s how it works. In theory.

Yes, health insurers can be trusted to be fair and reasonable. They want what’s best for you. And if you believe that, I have some lovely lottery tickets guaranteed to be winners. I made them myself.

Seriously, by raising rates so dramatically and so publicly, they’re trying to tell us something: The health system in our country is broken and desperately needs to be fixed. We’re making it so obvious that even Republicans can see this. Please fix us. We’re begging you. Please!

Like this cartoon? Click on it for more from Nick Anderson.*

Those fine folks parroting the talking points, “Don’t mess with my insurance,” might want to take a closer look at what they don’t want messed with. When your costs rise at three times the rate of inflation, on average (or, as in the case with Anthem, MORE THAN TEN TIMES the rate of inflation), something is seriously wrong.

Those are the lucky ones. They have health insurance subsidized in large part by their employers. But the costs are soaring at a rate that even deep-pocketed employers can’t sustain.

It’s gotten so bad that President Obama is proposing new federal restraint on insurance rate increases, as described in the New York Times.

Of course Republicans and their friends in the insurance lobby will continue braying that We don’t want no stinking guvmint messing with our insurance.


Really? Because it works so well?

Here’s a radical concept: Take a look at the plan with an open mind. Think about your needs for health care. Think about others in your family. Think about your friends, co-workers. You probably know someone, somewhere, who has endured unspeakable hardship because of health issues that were either inadequately covered or not covered at all. Think about how you would make things better, and see if at least some of the plan before you goes along with your ideas.

* Disclosure: I’ve known Nick Anderson since “back in the day” when he was a little-known but talented cartoonist at the Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper. Now he’s a talented and rather well-known cartoonist at the Houston Chronicle.  I have no personal connection to Chan Lowe. He draw pretty picture.

Them Crooked Vultures

Dave Grohl seems to have a knack for catching lightning in a bottle. He pounded the drums behind Kurt Cobaine in Nirvana in the early ’90s, moved out front with the Foo Fighters for more than a decade, and now he’s back behind the drum kit with Them Crooked Vultures.

Dave Grohl: Renaissance Man

Just as you’d never mistake Nirvana for Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures is a completely different sound. You could probably thank Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and John Paul Jones (Ahem, THAT John Paul Jones, of Led Zepp) for the unique combination of old school – what is this, Deep Purple?? – and countless influences among three guys who collectively have in the neighborhood of 75 years of rockin’ experience between them.

That’s a lotta groupies!

Them Crooked Vultures have been caught up in something of a whirlwind since coming into being in early 2009. Late to the game as usual, I heard TCV a couple of months ago and just happened to catch last night’s Austin City Limits.

It was great stuff, and I had the advantage of being familiar with most of the work since their show featured almost entirely the material from their debut album (do they even call them albums any more??). From the way Josh talked, this concert was taped before the album was released.

I see on the home site folks praising TCV as the saviors of rock. Careful where you go with that. I remember Rolling Stone gushing about bands like At the Drive-In in similar terms. That didn’t last long.

But it’s a great project, and a side project seems to be what it will remain at least for now. Grohl was interviewed in Time magazine in December, and the focus was the Foo Fighters.

Grohl told Time magazine in December: “I love being a drummer. Everyone thinks you’re dumb. What they don’t realize is that if it weren’t for you, their band would suck.”

Also in that interview, Grohl said he learned to play drums from listening to Led Zeppelin. Hmmmm. (Imagine this conversation. Grohl: Gee, Mr. Jones, what was it like to play with Bonzo? Jones: Just play the drums, dammit).

Tunes to check out: Mind Eraser, No Chaser; Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I; Interlude with Ludes; Caligulove. Well, hell, I pretty much like the whole CD.

Is this Heavy Metal?

Shake it, Shakira

Well. Seems the NBA is not the least bit concerned about any “wardrobe malfunction.” Not that there was any such mishap at the NBA All-Star halftime show. But it most definitely was a lot more daring than the safe halftime shows of the Super Bowl, post-Janet Jackson.

Definitely not Up With People

I guess it’s fair to say Grandma wasn’t glued to the tube for the NBA All-Star game. It just doesn’t have the same draw that the Super Bowl has, so the NBA no doubt feels comfortable presenting something a little spicier. So we get to see Shakira shake, shake, shake it. (Good thing my wife wasn’t watching. Good thing she has no interest in this blog!)

And maybe because it’s on cable as opposed to The Tiffany Network, the NBA All-Star halftime show felt a little less under the FCC’s Eagle Eye.

I wonder if anyone else thought, “Gee, you’d never see that at the Super Bowl halftime.”

I’m as big a fan of The Who as the next guy – probably more, actually – but let’s face it, lately we’ve been catching a lot of Super Bowl performers who are a bit past their prime.

Well, thank God they’re not bringing back Up With People. They’re not, are they? The most insipid act ever inflicted on a public audience before or after Teletubbies?

But the Super Bowl still has the edge on commercials.

Braking news

Must … stop … Can’t … stop …

Doh! The once-unstoppable Toyota is now suffering the worst side effect of runaway success: runaway cars. First there was the recall prompted by reports of certain Toyota vehicles getting stuck in GO! GO! GO!  mode — gas pedals that don’t let up on acceleration.

Well, it's no Pinto.

Now there’s a new worry that some Priuses — the Earth-loving, tree-hugging green cars brought here to save the world — are literally unstoppable, at least temporarily. But when split-second action is the difference between a sudden but otherwise uneventful stop and a deadly crash, a “temporary” problem suddenly has permanent results.

The brakes are breaking down.

NPR reports:

Toyota Motor Corp. confirmed that a design problem with the anti-lock brake system on its new-generation gas-electric Prius caused some drivers to experience a brief lag time when they hit the brakes.

Adding more fodder for Jon Stewart and other smart-alecky types (Moi? I never!), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tossed a little gasoline on the smoldering wreckage by advising Toyota owners to stop driving their cars  (implied: STOP NOW BEFORE WE ALL DIE!!) and have the accelerator assembly in question fixed.

Detroit might be watching gleefully as Toyota twists in the wind, but let us remind you that these are the nice folks who brought you the Vega, Volare and Pinto, the latter having gained great fame for its explosive tendencies. As in kablooee, a gasoline-fueled bomb on wheels.

Lots of folks (“the media,” as radio pundisites like to say) have taken Toyota and U.S. guvmint types to task for not lurching into action more quickly. Lives are at stake! But before we loose the lynch mobs again (still recovering from hunting down rogue bankers and attending tea parties), take a moment to see how serious the problem is.

NPR continues:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, which would conduct the Prius investigation, says it has received 124 complaints from owners of the vehicle, including four allegations that crashes occurred as a result of the alleged defect. NHTSA officials say the reports allege a momentary loss of braking capability while traveling over an uneven road surface, pothole or bump.

Well, auto industry types estimate that Toyota sold roughly 1.5 million Priuses between 1997 and 2009, and at least half of those were sold in the United States. Let me trot out my calculator: 750,000 divided by 250 (we’ll factor in unreported problems, it could be less, probably is more).

That comes to roughly one in 3,000 cars with bad brakes. Allegedly. Note that these cars momentarily lost braking capacity while traveling over uneven road surface, pothole or bump. Ever try to stop a car on a pothole-pocked road? Not pretty.

I have been behind the wheel during brake failure (’77 Chevette, jumped to berm on exit ramp in nick of time, downshifted to stop). Being aware of your surroundings at all times will prevent a lot of accidents. Even when your brakes fail, as long as you don’t panic.

Anyway, one defect in 3,000 might be pretty bad by Toyota standards, but I’ll bet any of the Detroit (former) Big Three would have killed to have that kind of quality control just 20 years ago. Or maybe even 10 years ago, as Ford Explorers were rolling out of control when certain tires (facetiously referred to as Shredmaster 2000) went kablooee! at inopportune moments.

So what’s a concerned Toyota driver to do?

I dunno, take it to the shop and get it fixed. Do I look like a mechanic?  (Don’t answer that!)

Let the conspiracy theorists rage

Well, now the Lancet done did it.

One of the world’s leading medical journals, the Lancet waaay back in 1998 touched off a controversy that pops up too frequently: namely that vaccines are to blame for various childhood afflictions, including autism.

This week the Lancet has finally and unequivocally  rebuked the entire article and the “deeply flawed” study that got it all started.

From NPR:

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the lead investigator, brought international attention to the paper by saying he thought the MMR vaccinations were to blame. The assertions chipped away at confidence in vaccination.

It later emerged that Wakefield had been taking money from a lawyer suing vaccine makers. The results of his study couldn’t be replicated. Most of Wakefield’s co-authors later retracted the paper’s interpretation of the data.

In the retraction today, the Lancet editors wrote that it became clear parts of the paper are “incorrect.”

NPR goes on.

What was the last straw for the Lancet? An investigation by the U.K.’s General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, found that Wakefield had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly.

What’s the big deal? Well, the report encouraged parents to refuse allowing doctors to vaccinate children against certain fully preventable diseases, in particular the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. To play into the irrational fears of parents and cloak it as bona fide “research” is unconscionable. Some of these diseases can cause permanent damage and take lives.

If you don’t know anyone who had polio as a child, you can thank the polio vaccine for that. If paranoid rantings of a few ignorant nonbelievers had been honored, there would be thousands, if not millions, of people crippled by that awful disease.

This from the World Health Organization:  “Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 1997 reported cases in 2006. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease.”

The WHO says roughly 5 percent of all polio (poliomyelitis is the infection’s term) cases result in paralysis, usually meaning loss of ability to walk. It typically affects children under age 5, although adults (I know some personally) can be affected by postpolio syndrome, even some who appear to have fully recovered from the initial infection.

Imagine if there was no smallpox vaccine. No polio vaccine. No measles or German measles vaccine.

The Lancet says it has engaged safeguard to prevent now-discredited claims from seeing the light of day, further realizing that Lancet doesn’t exist in a vacuum, if it ever did, in this era of viral (hmmm, interesting term given the subject) distribution of information.

To me, it illustrates how important real journalism is, the type that sniffs around to see if somebody’s assertion passes the BS test. It took some time, but eventually the truth came out: Dr. Wakefield was on the take from the very lawyers seeking to profit by suing the maker of the vaccine.

Vigilance.

Somebody besides the fox (and Fox) needs to be watching the henhouse.

Of course this will not silence the stubborn conspiracists who see evil plots in every storefront. They’ll whisper that the medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex pressured Lancet into retracting the original 1998 article.

They’ll shout that socialized medicine wants to control us and keep us docile (Docile? Really? Been to a “football” (soccer) match in the U.K., where this all got started?).

I used to subscribe to the “Give ’em enough rope, they’ll hang themselves” school of tolerating loudmouthed know-nothings. But they keep getting louder and shriller.

I’m starting to think duct tape might be a better choice.