Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sorry, but I'm Not Sorry!

Thank you, US congress. In the midst of the morass you have made of things in the last two years, you're still getting your priorities upside down. You may actually set a record: most "non-binding" resolutions in history. When the Democrats won power in both houses of congress in 2006, those who support the Left saw it as a moral victory. Surely Pelosi, Reid and company would usher in a new world order, complete with looser abortion laws, greater inroads for homosexuals, and gigantic increases in government spending, financed by more taxes on those evil rich people who seem to make money, no matter what we do.

Instead of doing any of these things, Congress has continued to play the "non-binding resolution" game. They've passed resolutions against the war, against Bush, in favor of his indictment, against Republicans, against apple pie, and against hot dogs. Well, most of those things anyway. Now, they are set for a pivotal moment in history: they are poised to offer a non-binding apology for slavery! This is the stuff that single-digit approval ratings are made of!

Please indulge me. It's not that I'm in favor of slavery or anything. I'd like to think that if I had been a wealthy Connecticut land owner in 1788, I would have opted not to have slaves. But the bottom line is, I don't owe anyone an apology. I'm not responsible for my Saxon ancestors who brutally overran the agrarian Celts before the first millennium was over. I'm not responsible for anything they did, even if they are my great X 10 grandparents.

If I had a time machine, I might try to go back and find my ggg grandparents, and tell them to let their slaves go. Maybe I could help them get to the underground railroad, and follow the Drinking Gourd into Canada. Maybe I could have been Harriet Tubman's right-hand man. But the truth of the matter is, what's done is done, and I can do nothing about it.

If it had even been closer. If my own father or grandfather had kept slaves, I might feel an obligation to apologize. I might even want to sell what I own and help pay reparations, especially if some of those slaves or their children were still alive. But that's not happened.

All slaves and slave holders have been dead for generations. There are no slaves left to apologize to, and no slave owners to make the apology. When any major group, be it social, religious, or political, seeks to make an apology on my behalf, I get a little ticked. But now, congress, which has done nothing but twiddle its thumbs, has decided to issue an apology for slavery.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry for slavery. I'm sorry for the way our forefathers ripped valuable land away from the Indians and took it for themselves. But there are differing types of "I'm sorry." Sometimes, we intentionally hurt someone. We rob from them, or do bodily harm, or spread malicious gossip about them. Or we may just lie to them. In that case, we say "I'm sorry," which can be translated as "Please forgive me." Then, there's the moment when we are getting to our seats in a crowded theater and accidentally step on someone's toe, or we momentarily block the view of "Coming Attractions." In that case, we say "I'm sorry," and what we mean is "Excuse me." Then, there is that moment when one of our friends comes to us and tells us of the discovery of an illness that will require surgery, or of the loss of a beloved pet or family member. When we hear that, we say "I'm sorry," and that could probably best be interpreted as "I sympathize with you."

I cannot figure out what level of "I'm sorry" congress seems to be trying to use. If it's "Please forgive me," I can't join in. I've never had slaves, never been in favor of slavery, and have absolutely no control over my ancestors, of whom there may not have been slave holders anyway. After all, there never were that many slave holders in America. Even in that evil, slave-owning Confederacy, over 80% of the soldiers that died fighting for states' rights had never owned a slave, and had no plans to. So I can't figure out any reason to truthfully say "Please forgive me." I did nothing wrong. And neither did you, unless you are reading this, are over 150 years old, and were in the top 10 per cent of the socioeconomic class of the US when you were young.

If it's "excuse me," I can't join in. I haven't even accidentally had slaves. I'm rather timid, and have a problem even telling my children to run an errand for me. I don't think I've stepped on too many toes, literally or figuratively, but have found that, when I do, as in these editorials I write, I really don't want to say "excuse me," because I don't want to be excused. All the toes I step on are on purpose, and none of them has had anything to do with slavery.

If it's "I sympathize with you," I can't go there either. If I found a genuine former slave, someone who had the scars of cuffs on his wrist, or of lashes on his back, I would be able to show compassion and sympathy for what he had gone through. But I think all those people are dead. In what I believe theologically, they are in a state of eternal bliss at this moment, and even if they could hear the "I'm sorry" from congress -- on YOUR behalf, by the way, it would mean nothing to them.

I think that, as long as we're in the non-binding resolution business, I would like to propose one to my own congressman, if he's listening. How about a "Let bygones be bygones" resolution? Let's realize that the past, however evil it was, cannot be changed, and that often, it is in the midst of a series of evil things that good things are brought about. As I think of how many Americans of African descent have contributed to our culture, of how pleased I am to know personally many people of African descent, I'm willing to forget the endless procession of time and circumstance that has brought about what got them here. For all I know, I myself may be a product of slavery -- some tiny event in history may have spurred the conception of a now-remote ancestor. And I know for sure that I'm a product of the taking of lands from the American Indians. I have the blood of at least two tribes coursing through my own veins. So I really didn't need Senator Brownback's apology to us, er, them recently. What's done is done.

At a time of record low approval ratings -- just in case you're interested, Bush is 3 times as popular as congress, and even Dick Cheney is twice as popular -- maybe congress is looking for any friends it can find. But remember, potential friends of congress. This resolution will be "non-binding." And it will do about as much good as it would do to dig up your great-great-great-great grandfather's grave and chew him out for maybe having slaves.

Let the healing begin.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Digital Health Care: A Parable

I didn't really need to do it. But there it was, free for the taking: a forty dollar coupon. And the government was offering it to me, no strings attached.

As you probably know, next February, TV as we have known it since the days of Uncle Miltie, will disappear. Along with it, we will bury all those mysteries we wondered about when we were kids, like "Why is there no channel 1?" or "Why did they pick 13 channels?" and the long-solved "What does the 'UF' mean that is right after the thirteen on my knob?" I remember an ad later for a TV that said, "It gets all 82 channels." I don't think there's been an 82-channel tuner for quite a while now. But I have really digressed. Those reliable old channels, whether 12 or 82 or whatever number, have one big fault in this digital world: they take up way too much bandwidth. And those tiny slivers of digital channels can hold tons of information. The only channel that really gets to my house without static has at least two other channels streamlined in the narrow-band digital signal which my TV does not get. So I really understand the win/win situation of the FCC: with digital channels mandated, antenna-fed TV will improve, and all those gigantic dinosaur channels can be sliced up into delightful digital frequencies as well, to be sold for high dollar to wireless companies, communication agencies, and public service. It's a wise business decision, and I stand in awe that someone at the FCC figured that out. It must have been outsourced.

My TV. I bought it at KMart seven years ago when it was on sale. I really can't tell you how many channels it gets, because any time I do auto channel set-up it does it differently. But I do know this: it's not a digital TV. So I came to the realization that, on a clear February morning in 2009, the TV will no longer work. But that's almost OK with me. I've got "The Andy Griffith Show" on DVD, as well as many other favorite shows. The DVD player will continue to work, along with the ancient VCR (also analog). But I will lack one thing: local news and weather, and some college football games this fall. So I needed a digital tuner; after all, why buy a new digital TV, not to mention HDTV, etc, to get one channel here in the sticks? We have no cable. I could buy a satellite dish, but why pay 30-80 dollars a month so I can watch twice as many commercials in the middle of cut-up shows?

I am a perfect candidate for a digital tuner: we have two TV's, both analog. We don't have satellite. We will never have cable -- I'm 10 miles from the nearest cable connection. So I went online and filled out the information, being totally truthful. The last part of the form, by the way, is where you have to swear you're telling the truth -- Scout's honor -- and I had the sneaky suspicion they still didn't believe me. Oh, wait. There was another thing to fill out: one of those things where you read the scrambled box with lines through it and then type in what you see so you can prove that you're a human being and not a robot like Wall-E or something.

I did all that, and crossed my heart and hoped to die as I sent it. And got back the "request denied" page. It seems that I am living in either a multi-family dwelling or a business establishment. If there's another family in here, I've never met them, but that does explain who keeps forgetting to close doors, who's not throwing away their garbage or cleaning up after themselves. It must be another family; the IRS can vouch that there's no money-making business under this roof.

They had a little link to click to appeal the decision. I clicked that link and it gave me the "I'm not a robot" test again, and kicked me out without even saying goodbye. I went back to the site, and, paraphrasing, it said, "Oh, it's you again; I told you to beat it!" So then, I went to the phone and dialed the 24/7 hotline. After talking to computers (why do they get to be computers and robots and I don't? Shouldn't I be able to give them one of those squiggly lines tests?) a very courteous voice said, "We're sorry, but your request is rejected. If you think this is in error, please e-mail us at %#*&^@*&^%">%#*&^@*&" -- at least that's what it sounded like before they hung up on me without repeating the e-mail or telling me which button of the phone to push to hear the address again -- after I retrieved the pen that was within arm's reach.

So I dialed the number again, because I've heard if you work at those automated things long enough, you'll finally reach a human. It took a few minutes, but I finally got to dial a "0," and it thanked me and told me to hold until the next available human being could answer. Then, in about ten seconds, it told me it was impossible to talk to a human right now, and hung up on me -- click -- and gave me a dial tone.

Yesterday I found an email address on the website, though I don't think it's the one that I was given over the phone. So I wrote them and told them my plight. Last night, just before bed, I was pleased to find a response from the FCC in my inbox. Finally, I thought. It said, "Thank you for contacting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This is an automated message to confirm that we have received your correspondence. We will review your information to determine how we can best serve you." Another robot.

When Dark February arrives, I will do what I should have done in the first place. I will go to a store, buy a digital receiver, and pay for it with the money I have saved in seven months, which is a drop in the bucket. Then I will come home and watch Magic TV. And I'll do it without welfare. When I think about how free the government is with our tax dollars -- they are going to send out millions of these rebates because people can't save 40 dollars in a year -- I'm ashamed I even tried. In fact, if the FCC relents and sends me a coupon, I will tear it up.

Now, what does this have to do with Health Care? I think you can guess. Big Government has shown it can't even deliver a simple product to the very people it was designed for (I'll repeat: if anyone qualified for one of those tuners, it was me). I'm glad I wasn't applying online for heart surgery or an appendectomy. Robots don't have hearts or appendices (appendexes?), and might not understand that I do. I also doubt that most politicians have the former, and know they've all removed the latter to use up the money in their excellent health insurance program that I pay for.

Why are 200 million people -- or more -- willing to trust the Federal Government to manage our health care when they can't even send you a Wal-Mart coupon? What scares me more is to realize that for every person like myself: someone with an honest request for a genuine need, who is turned down, there are probably two or three who have requested these coupons under pretense, and who are going to get them, and turn this government freebie around and take the FCC -- or whoever is doing this -- for huge sums of money.

Now you see where this is going. I will have no problem with saving for electronic equipment: it's affordable and dependable, with good guarantees. Why? Because the government, outside of this one little experiment, has not ventured into the world of electronics, and so that realm remains free to grow, unfettered, constantly improving. Can you imagine what a PC would look like today if the government had funded the research and there had not been capitalists like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? You would not be reading what I'm writing right now. It would be on a legal pad, scrawled out by a cheap Bic pen. I can't "just save up" for medical care because it's been living on government dole for several decades, and now is too fat and lazy to move, and the average American is incapable of paying medical expenses out of pocket.

Very soon, congress will again take up the issue of Socialized Medicine. They want to help us, and I'm reminded of Ronald Reagan's famous quote, "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." I hope you live long enough to enjoy your new digital converter that Uncle Sam was so nice to subsidize for you. Maybe if this works out, the next presidential candidates in 2012 can guarantee us a "computer in every room," or something like that.
But wait! I've got an even better idea. Why didn't the government send us all messages when they figured this thing out, say, three years ago? They could have said something like, "Dear citizen. In three years, your analog TV will no longer work. That gives you thirty-six months to save up for something that does. If you save $1.50 a month starting now, you will be able to buy a converter. Five dollars will get you a VCR with a digital tuner. If you start saving ten dollars a month now, you can buy a DVD recorder with the works, including a digital tuner, and probably have a little cash left over. Twenty dollars a month will get you HD in addition to the digital. This little 'heads up' is brought to you by your government, which wants you to be smart, sensible, and self-sufficient. Don't come crying to us in February of 2009."
Of course, if they did that, people would actually start getting smarter and more self-sufficient, and they might become producers instead of consumers and then more "red" people would get elected, so you see their dilemma. It might even affect the medical industry. I know it's hard. I was even temporarily "blue" this week (If this red/blue thing seems strange to you, please click here for my explanation).

I'm sorry, but are we really stupid enough to think that the US Government can be Marcus Welby?