The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. -- Robert A. Heinlein
Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
Reason posted this sweet video that covers just a facet of what's wrong with human healthcare... by comparing it to pet healthcare. Lots of good food for thought, as long as you're not a knee-jerk hater of the free market.
When it comes to health care, who gets treated better -- man or man's best friend?
Of course, it's hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison when you're comparing four-legged patients to people, and there are many ways in which human care tops pet care.
But pet owners told Reason.tv there are some ways where it would be a step up to be treated like a dog.
There's a lot of other things that aren't covered... like how easy and relatively cheap it is to get prescription meds for your dog. Or how the doctor and pet owner are partners in the dog's care, rather than being in an unbalanced relationship where one is expected to be stupid and uninformed while the other dictates treatments to them. Or how the government paternalism is by comparison largely absent from the decision-making process.
There is no such thing as zero-cost regulation. Every regulation adds to the cost, either directly or by reducing quality/availability, and this cost must be paid by someone. Economics tells us that the people who will pay the most are likely to be those who are least able to afford it. So while the Democrats and Republicans are working up their new proposals for yet another round of healthcare "reform", ask yourself this: how many regulations are they eliminating vs. how many are they creating? That will tell you whether prices will be going up or down.
I've been using DietController now for about a month and a half, with a small break for vacation. I tried tracking everything on vacation, but about halfway through it I realized -- "hey, I'm on vacation!" -- and resolved to do my best without being all anal-retentive about it.
Anyway, I'm still liking DietController. I like having detailed logs of... well, pretty much anything. And the ability to see the exercise, food, and weight graphed out just feeds the nerd in ways I can't even begin to describe...
This is the most interesting graph of the bunch. It describes where my food calorie levels have been each day. After calculating the base metabolic rate and adding in exercise calories burned, in order to lose weight you need to subtract from that total. My current plan has me trying to shave about 700 calories a day from the total allowed. This graph shows the difference between how much I'm allowed and how much I ate. The zero line means I'm standing still. Anything below is extra calories (ie, gaining weight), and anything above is saved calories (ie, losing weight). To hit my goals, I want to stay along the top edge of the orange zone, which represents that 700-calorie goal:
The interesting thing to me is that it seems every Friday and/or Saturday, something goes horribly wrong. It's not that I'm bingeing on those days, it's just that those are the days when we typically go find a "nice" restaurant to eat for lunch or dinner, and BAM! Diet plan goes out the window.
It happens with such regularity that it's a little disheartening. The first obstacle one usually encounters, as I've complained before (and here, and here), is the paucity of available nutrition information for the standard sit-down joint. They'll tell you that all information is "on their website" (it usually isn't), which is not useful to you when you're seated at the table with menu in hand, UNLESS you happen to have an iPhone handy. But then there's the fact that most restaurants, for whatever ungodly reason, do up their websites in Flash, which of course is famously not supported on the iPhone.
Let's say none of this is a problem. Let's say we/you/I are at a restaurant that provides free wifi for its customers, and we/you -- well, mostly I -- against all odds and with James Bond-like stealth, have managed to sneak a laptop in under the disapproving glare of Mrs. Curmudgeon. So now I can navigate the website full of suck, and I can find their nutrition information. Let's also assume that said nutrition information isn't one of the cop-out blurbs some are doing, where "items marked with our 'healthy choice' icon are 500 calories or less", and the nutrition information I can actually find includes calories, fat, carbs, and protein for all items on the menu. Problem solved, right?
Now I have an entire menu to digest (pun intended) to decide what I want to eat, but also need to cross-reference it against the nutrition information that tells me what I should eat. I need to do this before the waiter comes back for the third time, asking if I'm ready to order. Let's face it: your average family-style restaurant entree is most likely somewhere north of a thousand calories, and loaded with extra fat in the form of butter, cooking grease, or oil. And ultimately, this is why I think efforts to force restaurants to provide this information at the table are not really going to solve anything.
Incidentally, the market is already providing a solution to this, in the form of a new (to me, at least) website, Healthy Dining Finder. Click over, put in your ZIP code or city/state, click search, and you'll get some options for your next meal. It's pretty slick. I have corresponded with these folks, and an iPhone/iPad app is in the works. Kelly Brownell can suck it.
In Oklahoma, there is a thriving restaurant community. Bad restaurants are weeded out from time to time (holy cow I miss Black Eyed Pea), but new ones are always opening up, and it is nearly impossible to get a table for the first two months of any restaurant's existence. The good ones, like Mimi's Cafe in northern Oklahoma City, are standing room only even during off-peak times, years after they opened.
All of this is to say that I believe there is room for a new kind of restaurant in Oklahoma City. Let's call it McHealthy's. I know it's a bad name, but I'm not feeling particularly creative.
McHealthy's would be a sit-down, family-style restaurant. No item on the menu would be more than 500 calories, and most would hover in the 300 - 400 range. There would be a nice variety of dishes, all appropriately portioned, all delicious. The menu will have been prepared by a chef who knows what he's doing, knows how to get the most out of each item, and who cares about healthy eating (for some reason I keep thinking of Gordon Ramsey, but that's probably just because I've been watching a lot of Kitchen Nightmares). Failing that, the recipes could be pulled from any healthy dining cookbook, readily available at your local bookstore. I suggest Cooking Light: 5-Ingredient, 15-Minute Cookbook.
Appetizers and desserts would be carefully prepared to stay under 250 - 300 calories, and modestly portioned. Soft drinks, if served, would be in the "death on a stick" section of the menu, with appropriate suggestions for a nice glass of unsweetened iced tea instead. Fried foods would be largely absent, in favor of grilled, broiled, baked, and poached items. Anything that needed to be fried or sauteed would be done in zero-calorie cooking spray, or even water or fruit juice.
Nutrition information consisting of at least calories, fat, carbs, and protein (and hopefully sodium/cholesterol for those who want it) would be provided on the menu along with each item. Not only that, but the nutrition information would ALSO be provided on the bill, so you'd have something to take home and use for entering your data into your diet tracking log of choice. And speaking of the bill, it would be competitively priced with the rest of the options out there.
I'm not in the restaurant business, so I don't know how good an idea it would be for me to even think about opening such a place, but I certainly would eat there. A lot. Do it right, and I might not eat anywhere else.
It seems I'm constantly being asked if I saw this segment or that on some cable or radio show that purports to pass for news these days. When I'm not being asked, I'm being accused of getting all my information from same. The fact is, I haven't seen any "actual news" on TV in at least a decade, and the purpose of radio is to deliver me random samplings of popular music.
Let me be even more clear: I don't give a damn what Rush Limbaugh said. I don't care about Rachel Maddow's latest diatribe. Glenn Beck is a self-described rodeo clown. Keith Olbermann is a pompous windbag. None of these people even remotely represent my point of view, and I came to the conclusion a long time ago that it was a waste of my time to hear theirs.
So when someone asks me, "Did you see that segment on Joy Behar--" NO.
"Did you hear what Hannity--" NO.
"The other day on Oprah--" HELL NO.
This also goes for the internet. No, I did not see what Matt Drudge posted. I do not go to the Daily Kos. Well, once, but I was in college and I was curious...
I get my news from news aggregator sites, namely news.google.com and Fark. Yes, I understand that Fark is a site that intends to lambaste the news by posting all of the non-stories that "the news" wants us to see, but Fark is a much more complete picture of the world than The New York Times, for example. If I want the local news, I check NewsOK.
On the rare occasion I watch television "news", I watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which has every bit as much content (despite being a spoof of the actual news) and is far more entertaining. When I want commentary or perspective, I read Mises.org (for financial/economic analysis) or Reason.com (for everything else).
I enjoy investigative reporting -- not the vague accusation-by-insuation crap that you see on the local channels' "community advocate" segments, but actual detailed facts and rational analysis.
I remember way back in the aftermath of Columbine, when the commentary and arguments went on for months and months, but nobody ever reported what actually happened in detail, because everyone wanted to bang the drum on their own pet cause, if they thought it was in any way served by the incident. It was 6 or 8 months later when a much-maligned magazine quietly published a lengthy, detailed "after-action report" that laid out all the facts -- what weapons were used, the tactical situation including a map of the school and a discussion of the route taken by the attackers, the problems of emergency responders, and so forth. It was a completely different picture without all the hyperbole of the mainstream press (who by this time had largely forgotten about it), and after reading it I had a new respect for Soldier of Fortune magazine.
The trouble with investigative journalism, of course, is that you can't do thorough reporting and beat everyone else to press. Methodical, detailed, rational fact-gathering and analysis takes time. I've never seen a truly dedicated investigative journalism site or magazine, but Reason is close enough to call it one. Every month they'll generally have a couple of articles that are researched in depth about some topic or another, and while all writers have bias, theirs are usually rather subdued when compared to any other source.
And these aren't puff pieces, either. These are articles that examine things that the mainstream press and commentariat SHOULD be investigating and reporting on, but they don't because they've abandoned all pretense of working for the public interest. Radley Balko's various pieces on Stephen Hayne exposed criminal negligence not just on the part of the embattled forensic examiner, but also on the part of the mainstream press for completely dropping the ball on it. How is it that a reporter for a magazine that isn't even present at most newsstands got the dirt on this guy, and the mainstream press completely spaced the whole issue, not just before but after it was published?
The sad fact is that journalism is a largely dead art in America. It's been replaced by infotainment carefully focus-grouped and market-tested to appeal to a specific subcultural cross-section of the population. That's fine for the average mouth-breather who wants a ready-made opinion to spout off to their buddies and coworkers around the water cooler. I'll even allow for the idea that a Commentariat blurb or sound bite may serve as the jumping-off point for deeper personal investigation into the story or issue at hand, assuming said investigation actually occurs. But for those who want to understand the world around them and the issues it has, watching or listening to these morons-with-microphones is like asking for a steak and potatoes dinner and being served something from a vending machine. I just don't see the appeal.
Living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I'm pretty used to hearing diatribes about how we need more capital punishment, more heavy-handed prisons, and more "law and order". If the subject ever comes around to sex offenders, I tend to brace myself for the inevitable tirade about how these people need to be shot on sight, executed on TV, or made to play whatever sick game the speaker's compassionless mind can conceive.
Imagine my surprise then, when I read this article, about a man right here in Oklahoma who's trying to do something real and positive for sex offenders:
"It hurts me to see that some people don't understand what we’re doing here," Wright said. "We're trying to help these men establish a new life. Everyone deserves a second chance."
Wright is housing eight registered sex offenders on his property about two miles north of Chandler. He said he's been doing it for more than two years without a complaint from the community until he started to build a sewer lagoon that angered some of his neighbors.
During the day the men work for his company, Wright Way Homes, building houses on site to be sold and moved to another location. All proceeds go into his foundation to fund the ministry, he said.
The men don't earn a paycheck. Wright said they work for room and board, to cover any past court fines and keep up with any other expenses they may have incurred. When they graduate from the program a year later, they're given two months wages to help them get started, he said.
While there, they’re required to attend Bible study, Wright said.
Patrick Rantz, 45, said no one was willing to help him when he was released from prison for child molestation. He said he would have been homeless had Wright and his wife, Rose, not accepted him in their ministry.
"When you’re a registered sex offender, no one is willing to help you and they treat you like you’re not human," Rantz said. "I felt hopeless before I came here, but now I’m rebuilding my life."
Rantz, an Air Force veteran, said he plans to get financial aid and return to school.
Wright said he thinks residents have nothing to fear because the men in his program are better supervised than the 83 others in the community. He said he can't guarantee the safety of everyone, but he feels that as long as he's doing God’s will, positive things will happen.
It's this last part that really gets me. I've lost count of the number of Bible-thumpers (note I didn't say Christians) who engage in the what I think of as "the cruel punishment imagination game"... where the goal is to come up with something even more torturous than the previous person that "we" as a society can or should do to sex offenders (and even run-of-the-mill criminals). But it is vanishingly rare to come across someone who takes Jesus' words to heart and actually puts them into action:
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
-- Matthew 25:40
In the meantime, as a linked article describes, his neighbors are attempting to get his ministry shut down or forced to become a licensed care facility with counselors and the whole shebang, the extra cost of which would likely shut him down. In other words, what they want is for these people to receive no help whatsoever, no guidance, and be at the maximum risk for re-offending.
I don't know how to go about it, but it's suddenly become very important for me to meet Tom Wright and at the very least, shake his hand.
I remember as a kid sitting in church, any time my mother had to whisper to me (usually to tell me to settle down), the sound of her voice at that level used to stand my hair on end. I told her that it "hurt my ears" when she did it, but the fact was that I didn't know how to explain what was going on... It was as though thousands of ants were crawling all over my body, and every hair from my ankles to the top of my head would stand up.
Later, I found that certain female vocals did the same thing, but to a lesser degree. The most pronounced and memorable of these was the female backup singer in Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight", specifically at the 2:44 mark:
Recently, I saw the commercial for the Lincoln MKZ, featuring the song "Major Tom (Coming Home)", covered by Shiny Toy Guns. Eddie Money's backup singer produces a rather mild effect, but the female vocalist from STG positively lights me up on the chorus:
The weird thing to me is that the reaction is completely involuntary, happens consistently, and apparently there's no "building up a resistance" to it. "Take Me Home Tonight" has been doing this to me for 20 years, give or take, and I have no reason to expect the STG version of "Major Tom" to ever diminish in its effect. Stranger still, my wife doesn't feel it at all, and I don't recall ever talking to anyone who had the same reaction. So now I'm of course wondering... is this just a neurological curiosity, or does everyone have these reactions, just to different sounds -- a sort of personal resonant frequency?
There's no point to this post, really. These are just the sort of things that run through my mind when I'm closing in on my bedtime and not really ready to go to sleep yet.
This is quite possibly the best movie I've seen in at least a year, if not several years. I'd have to actually do research to remember the last time I felt this moved. And the fact that the story is true (and contains bonus photos of the actual people involved in the closing credits) just makes it that much better.
Cancel your plans and go see it. Mom and Dad, this means you too. If you don't like it, and we know each other, I'll pay for your tickets.
Edited to add: I think the last movie that I thought was this good was 2007's Martian Child, and for pretty much the same reasons. Of course, given the percentage of people I've recommended it to who have actually seen it, maybe I'm just not that trustworthy when it comes to movie reviews.
Our last full day in Wyoming would become my favorite day of the whole trip. Ever since I first read it 30 or so years ago, I've thought Jack London's The Call of the Wild is perhaps the finest piece of American literature ever written, 11th-grade AmLit teacher Mrs. Berry's penchant for James Fenimore Cooper notwithstanding. I've probably read it 20 times, and can clearly remember the key scenes despite the fact that I haven't read it in the past several years. My grandfather and I even share a favorite quote, and occasionally recite it to each other as an inside joke:
"One devil, dat Spitz," remarked Perrault. "Some dam day him kill dat Buck."
"Dat Buck two devils," was Francois's rejoinder. "All de time I watch dat Buck I know for sure. Lissen: some dam fine day him get mad like hell and den him chew dat Spitz all up and spit him out on de snow. Sure, I know."
But it's one thing to quote Francois, or to read about the traces and all of the parts of the sled, or to understand the basic operation of a sled dog team. It's one thing to read:
It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck wanted it. He wanted it because it was his nature, because he had been gripped tight by that nameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail and trace--that pride which holds dogs in the toil to the last gasp, which lures them to die joyfully in the harness, and breaks their hearts if they are cut out of the harness. This was the pride of Dave as wheel-dog, of Sol-leks as he pulled with all his strength; the pride that laid hold of them at break of camp, transforming them from sour and sullen brutes into straining, eager, ambitious creatures; the pride that spurred them on all day and dropped them at pitch of camp at night, letting them fall back into gloomy unrest and discontent. This was the pride that bore up Spitz and made him thrash the sled-dogs who blundered and shirked in the traces or hid away at harness-up time in the morning. Likewise it was this pride that made him fear Buck as a possible lead-dog. And this was Buck's pride, too.
It's quite another thing to experience all this, to have one's hand on the sled and foot on the brake. It's a visceral, primitive thing, the dog sled, and its engineering hasn't changed all that much in the century or so since Jack London penned his great novel. There's a creak of rawhide, a whispering sound as the sled glides over the snow, a sort of magic as the dogs raise hell wanting to go, then fall into silent contentment as their paws cover the miles. London wrote about the courage and heart of these animals, but no writing can ever quite capture it. Some things need to be experienced firsthand.
Incidentally, I found this neato page that explains the parts and workings of a dog sled.
When we first walked out to see the dogs, after the teams had largely been assembled, the dogs went absolutely nuts. They knew it was time to run, and they immediately began barking and howling with excitement. I started off in the guide's sled, and the wheeler who'd been harnessed up, Jackson, was lunging and jumping against the harness. He'd push and jump so hard he got all four feet off the ground, despite the fact that the sled was anchored in several different places:
Some of the less excitable members of the team stood there waiting, while others began barking or bracing their feet in anticipation of taking off:
The dogs get so excited and wound up that if things don't take off right away, the more energetic ones start picking fights with one another to burn off their excess energy. That's why Jackson's partner in the wheel position got hooked up last… he tends to be one of the fighters. Here's the view from the sled behind Jackson and Betty:
The wheelers are generally the biggest and strongest dogs, because they bear the lion's share of the responsibility for breaking the sled out if its runners get frozen. They also are the last to take a turn, so when the rest of the team has made the turn, the wheelers are pretty much pulling the sled by themselves. In Betty's case, she's a smaller dog than would ordinarily be in the wheeler position, but she's used because Jackson tends to get along with her better, and he's one of the largest dogs at the facility, so he can make up her share of the work.
Here's Lisa looking down from the runners while I ride in the sled:
The destination on this excursion was a hot spring that's cool enough to swim in, about 10 miles away from the dogs' home base. The water was around 110 degrees, very nice in the cold winter air:
The teams were kept in their harnesses and tied in such a way that the only dogs that could interact with one another were the partnered pairs at each position in the line. Most of them just laid down and took a nap, but this pair of lead dogs really liked playing with each other:
After we'd had our swim and eaten some lunch, we started packing things back into the sleds, and once again the dogs started going crazy. Here you can see a wheeler lunging against the harness, trying to break the sled free even though it's tied to a tree:
Meanwhile the rest of his team barks up a storm:
My team for the journey back were all straining at the harnesses, trying to get started:
The noise was deafening, with somewhere around 40 dogs all howling and barking at once. It was amazing then, that as soon as we pulled up the anchors and said "HIKE!" (apparently nobody says "mush" anymore), the dogs went completely silent and just started running, tails wagging furiously:
After a couple of miles, we stopped for team photos…
…though I kept trying to get good action shots of the team behind me:
And this led to my favorite picture from the entire vacation, one which somehow sums up the whole experience:
The last day of our snowmobile tour took us from the north gate of Yellowstone back to the south gate, where we started:
Our first encounter upon entering the park was this buffalo, standing down a small slope and only about thirty feet off the road:
It was amusing to note that he was even smart enough to cross the freezing creek on a bridge:
Later on, we passed what our guide described as the hottest point in the park, a field of steam vents over a place where three fault lines meet. Apparently, the next time the Yellowstone caldera blows, it's predicted to happen at this point:
At one rest stop, we lined up the sleds for group photos...
...before moving on to the mud volcano and neighboring Dragon's Mouth Spring:
I actually took several photos of the Dragon's Mouth, but it's mostly giant clouds of steam coming out of a somewhat mouth-shaped hole in the rock, and the pictures showed nothing but white. So we've got a real pretty sign:
Just before lunch, we stopped on the shore of Yellowstone Lake (or was it Lake Yellowstone?):
After lunch we rode hard for the south entrance, wrapping up the tour with a stop at Moose Falls on Crawfish Creek:
Back at the starting point, Lori snapped this pic of yours truly chillin' after the ride:
That's it for the snowmobile tour, but the best is yet to come...
After breakfast, we went to the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, where some stubbornly people-comfortable grizzly bears are kept, to prevent them from being killed. This big ol' boy weighs in somewhere north of a thousand pounds and was pretty active, loping around the enclosure looking for snacks:
It's also the home of a couple of small packs of wolves. We were fortunate enough to arrive just as the wolves were being fed, and it was fun to watch how they behaved. The pack alpha immediately grabbed the biggest piece of dinner and ran off with it, hiding out at the back of the enclosure, daring anyone to come near:
The alpha female initially chased the beta male away from piece she wanted...
...but ultimately she was more interested in sniffing around the enclosure, where the keepers had scent-marked (with Febreze this time, apparently they randomly pick a scent of the day) rocks and trees and snow to keep the wolves' minds active and engaged. This left the beta male to enjoy the second-biggest piece of dinner in relative quiet...
...while the omega male took the smallest of the immediately-available pieces (some had been deliberately buried in the snow) and quietly gnawed on it, for the most part unmolested by his superiors:
We left West Yellowstone and headed back into the park, going to visit Yellowstone Falls before doubling back to go out the North Entrance through Mammoth, WY, eventually arriving at our night's lodging in Gardiner, MT:
Almost as soon as we entered the park, we came upon a coyote hunting mice:
Gibbon Falls was the first "real" waterfall we saw...
...followed by the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone River...
...which drain into Yellowstone's version of the Grand Canyon:
On the way out of the park, we stopped at Roaring Mountain, which apparently has an entire hillside full of steam vents, and makes this constant rumbling sound:
And we got to see a wild buffalo herd...
...before exiting the park through "the Golden Gate":
Our first day of touring Yellowstone National Park by snowmobile started at the south entrance to the park. We'd cover about 80 miles each day. Unfortunately, due to the speed and cold, I found it basically impossible to get any shots from my snowmobile while we were traveling. It would have been quite a trick to remove a glove, fish out the camera, snap some shots, put the camera back, and pull my glove back on... all without taking my right hand from the throttle, losing the guide, or crashing. So apologies in advance for that. Next time I'll try to take a helmet-cam or something.
Anyway, here's the route:
Here's stuntwoman Lori suiting up...
...and here's the whole gang ready to go:
We stopped briefly for the traditional "shot at the sign"...
And after a short journey we arrived at Lewis Falls for some more photos:
For lunch we stopped at the park's cliche attraction, Old Faithful. What you can't see in these photos is the massive lodge and visitor's center they've built around this site. It may as well be a small town. Fortunately, they left at least a couple of camera angles unspoiled.
I had my camera rapid-shuttering throughout the eruption, and while none of the shots are "best", this one is typical:
We decided to get a couple of face shots in front of it, as the eruption started to die down:
After lunch, we traveled on to another active area, the "Fountain Paint Pot", which was basically a giant vat of boiling mud:
It was at this point that I christened Yellowstone "our smelliest national park". The smell of sulphur was pervasive in almost all of the geothermally active areas, and the smell seemed to stick to us as we traveled onward.
Nearby was this crystal-clear but boiling hot pool of water. You can't see it in the photo, but it probably went down 20 or 30 feet:
Then we stopped at Firehole Falls... most of the waterfalls were not that spectacular, especially for those of us who've been whitewater rafting, but here they are:
Some time later we came across a small herd of elk hanging out on the other side of a river (I think it was the Madison River) from us:
Finally, we pulled into West Yellowstone, Montana, got some nice warm hotel rooms, and ate dinner at Bullwinkle's restaurant: