Thursday, June 28, 2012

Unaffordable Care Act

They used to say that you shouldn't talk about religion or politics when in polite company. I usually try to abide by that rule. I definitely have opinions and feelings and I'm happy to share them in a more private setting, but in public I believe in being more reserved. Today, though, the Supreme Court of the US has disappointed me to the point where I feel a need to vent about it. Now, probably half a million people are doing the same thing as I write this, so what makes my opinion different? I don't know, but there are a couple of takes that I have that I don't see discussed much.

The first point I'll address has been discussed some, but I have an analogy that I think explains it. Do you remember hearing those reports about the Pentagon paying $300 for a hammer or screwdriver? The paperwork was so thick that unscrupulous people were able to pull a fast one on the government and overcharge for something that might only cost $10 so that they could pocket the profit. Well, what the 'Affordable' Care Act doesn't do is lower the prices of health care. If anything, it raises them. Instead of dealing with things like tort reform or lowering insurance rates for doctors or allowing competition or cutting out paperwork for insurance companies, the government has, in essence, just made it so all Americans can buy the hammer for $300 instead of lowering it back to its real cost. This is stupid. A system like this can only eventually fail, leaving people in worse of a health care situation than they are now.

I do believe we need health care reform. It needs to be made affordable. It needs to be made so that there is no such thing as an uninsurable person. There should be provisions for people who need medical help but can't afford it. I agree with the attempt, but not the result.

I think back to my parents. When they were young newly-weds, my dad was diagnosed with Hodgekin's Disease. At that time, it was a very fatal disease. My dad only had a high school education and worked as an auto mechanic. He ended up going to the Stanford Medical Clinic in California and had a series of tests and experimental treatments done. Of his test group, he was the only one to survive. The thing is, though, my parents paid for all of this on just my dad's income, without any insurance. They were able to pay for everything out of pocket on a mechanic's salary. That would be impossible today. Granted, there is a lot more technology available that may raise the cost some, but in my mind, health care reform should make it so that people on average incomes should be able to afford to pay regular medical bills out of pocket just like our parents and grandparents did.

Okay, here's my second point and one that I don't hear mentioned very often. What if I don't subscribe to the philosophy of Western medicine? What if I want to put my time into eating right and exercising as a way to cut down on my health costs? What if I'd rather put my health money into herbs, acupuncture, traditional Chinese or Indian methods? Those things can be expensive, but they are affordable out of pocket. That is how I'd rather spend my money.

Now, don't get me wrong, I do believe in doctors and will use them, but my philosophy on dealing with illness is to first try and solve it naturally, only using Western medicine as a last resort. But if I have to put my limited funds into an insurance that I don't want, it will limit my freedom of how I want to take care of my own health. Will the 'Affordable' Care Act cover herbs and acupuncture? Heck no. So I would be hosed.

This the course I'm pursuing to deal with the health conditions I do have: diabetes and psoriasis. I've been very successful fighting the diabetes and have managed to keep it under control with diet, exercise, and herbs. I haven't fared so well with the psoriasis and I am on the verge of seeing a doctor about it. What gripes me, though, is my current insurance will only cover regular practitioners so I can't go to a skin specialist who focuses on psoriasis unless I pay for it. I don't think the 'Affordable' Care Act will change that.

Okay, I've got that off my chest. I'll still fume about it, though. Bottom line is, I just want to have the freedom to take care of my health the way I want without the government telling me how to do it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: Clockwork Angels by Rush

I've surprised people over the years when they find out that I'm a fan of the Canadian rock band Rush. After all, I'm a hard core jazz guy with a masters in saxophone performance. 90% of everything I listen to is jazz, and 50% of that is Michael Brecker. (I suppose some time I should blog about my favorite musician in the universe, but another time)

So, there's the other 10% that I like. A lot of it is the music of my youth, stuff from the 70s and 80s, with some classical and salsa mixed in. Rush qualifies as music from my youth, but they've held a higher place in my mind mainly because all three members of the band are consummate musicians with intelligence behind their music.

This week, they released their 20th studio album, Clockwork Angels. I've had the opportunity to listen to the whole album twice now, so I'm only barely getting to know it. What I'll share here is mostly first impressions.

For the long-time Rush fan, you won't be disappointed. It is vintage Rush fine tuned with superior experience and musicianship. Sometimes while listening, I felt like it hearkened back to the old days from albums like Caress of Steel and Fly By Night. There seemed to be more of the complex time signatures that were prevalent in their earlier material. As a musician, this makes it fun for me which is why this is one of the few rock groups I still listen to. It seems most rock bands are enslaved to the tyranny of 4/4 meter.

This album also gets back into storytelling and is a concept album. In this day and age of 99 cent downloads from iTunes, people don't look at the whole album any more. To me, this is akin to only listening to one movement of a Beethoven Symphony. The artistry is in the whole work, not in a single part of it. Rush is making an effort to counteract that.

I definitely am enjoying this album. Is it one of my Rush favorites? Probably not, but I'll put it in the middle somewhere for now. Of course, Rush is one of those groups that it takes several listenings to be able to determine more accurately how much you like it. That's a sign to the depth of their music. Where pop music (I accidentally mistyped it as poop music, which is probably more accurate) makes everything obvious so that it can be evaluated in one listening; classical, jazz, and . . . well . . . Rush, have several levels of music that can take years to discern.

Here are my first impressions: too much distorted guitar. I have nothing against it, but I was hoping for a little more variety. Also, when I did a quick read-through of the lyrics, I was confused about the story line. There's a protagonist and a villain, but it didn't seem like a coherent story. Maybe I need to listen to the album while reading the lyrics for it to make more sense. Several of the songs are quite catchy and enjoyable, though. I liked "Caravan" and "Headlong Flight." I also really liked "The Garden" because of the contrast it had with the rest of the album.

The most exciting thing that I'm anticipating is the book that goes along with it. I haven't read it yet, but I got a chance to have dinner with Kevin J. Anderson, the author of it, last month. I was already a fan of his Star Wars books, but when I found out that he was writing a novel to go along with the album of my favorite rock band I have to confess, I geeked out. Kevin told me that he's been good friends with Neil Peart for over 20 years. Something that struck me as interesting was that he said that none of the US publishers wanted to touch this project. They had to go with a Canadian publisher for the book.

Anyway, the album is great. Traditional Rush fans will love it. If you like vintage Rush, you will feel like you've traveled back in time (I'm a fan of their middle-era). And here's some great advice for all artists from the song "Caravan": I can't stop thinking big.