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A matter of survival . . .

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Friday January 14, 2005 - And We Didn't Think We Could Make It!

It is the last day of work for my soul mate. Medical insurance finally a reality, the time has come to let the COBRA kick in and look for a daytime job. My soul mate arrives from work at 7:30 am. We grab a bite and settle in for a two-day sleep-and-wake-shuffling marathon. Monday we will arise at 6:00 am for the first day of the rest of our lives.

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Wednesday December 22, 2004 - Graveyard Doldrums

It has now been almost a month since the inversion of our working schedule to graveyard shift, and with some stick time now under our belts it is not surprising that we find the experience somewhat more tedious that we originally expected. We arise at 4:00 pm for the usual evening at home; then at bedtime my wife goes off to work and I settle in for a long night working at home. With no sunlight, the hours wear on interminably.

The wind chimes we recently put up have apparently been previously trained to restrict their mournful cry to daylight hours; night after night they droop in complete silence while the closest trees sway musically, their leaves shimmering in the moonlight.

Tonight I am awakened from my concentrative stupor by an audible equivalent of Chinese Water Torture, in the form of a piercing high pitched, head-rattling chirp that is more akin to a power steering bypass valve than to the smoke alarm from which it emanates. I react to the short burst conservatively at first, realizing subconsciously each time it goes off that it has already quit. In my concentration, I overlook the regularly returning torture as long as possible, then leap up, yank it apart with vengeance, and put the abusive device out of it's misery by yanking the dying battery from its cradle.

Returning to my work, concentration broken, it slowly dawns on me that I have been listening to the same NPR program, repeated over and over - five times up to now - the whole night. So much for the NPR web stream. I return to the radio and my local NPR station, and for the first time in days relax to the spunky cords of acoustic jazz.

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Friday December 17, 2004 - The Great Christmas SPAM Scam

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the FoxPaw server hums on. The FoxPaw, of course, runs NetBSD -- perhaps the most portable open-sourced, UNIX-like operating system in the industry, and certainly the most reliable5. And NetBSD supports one of the largest and most comprehensive selections of software ever assembled for a single operating system -- all open-sourced. Just type "netbsd" into your search engine, and voila! The world unfolds before you -- yours for the picking.

But SPAM knows no operating system; and the spammers have worked right on through the holiday with no let-up. For the last few weeks we have battled the largest volume of SPAM ever encountered on the FoxPaw. Among many anti-SPAM packages available for NetBSD, the FoxPaw server runs Spamassassin (Spam Assassin), a full-functioned, extensible product that is capable of learning as the content of the SPAM it encounters mutates. But trapping SPAM has become an arms race; for everything we do the spammers come up with a work-around -- and this means that anti-SPAM software is continually evolving.

Thus, it is time for a Spamassassin update on the FoxPaw. I log into root and kill the running instance, then remove it from the system. In addition, I remove the Pkgsrc product through which it was delivered. In a few minutes the new Pkgsrc is downloaded and installing. Shortly thereafter, the new Spamassassin is installed and purring like a kitten.

But there is apparently something wrong -- something drastic. Although Spamassassin is reporting the passage of an occasional message, it has not identified a single piece of bona fide SPAM. I review the installation, then watch for the next several hours and into the next day -- and the next. In over 48 hours not a single piece of SPAM has been identified. But neither has one reached a FoxPaw mailbox.

The problem is most intriguing. By now I've reviewed the system mail and message logs line by line. Although legitimate email messages, a handful of which are laced with near-SPAM characteristics, are passing flawlessly, there is no record of the system even receiving any SPAM, let alone trapping it. This, of course, cannot be true; I have to run a better test. I kill the running instance and lay low for a few hours to see what will happen. Still no SPAM. I restart Spamassassin and call in the big guns, my son and NetBSD mentor, who fires off a message of known SPAM content to a FoxPaw email address.

Behold! There be new SPAM in quarantine! The message was tidily trapped, as the corresponding log entry attests. So it's working. Now, what?

It's time for a cool toddy, and perhaps the perspective of a few more days. I reluctantly put down the problem and go on to more productive pursuits.

Then today, I review the situation again. A second message has been trapped, and no SPAM has yet been identified in any FoxPaw mailbox. SPAM transmissions have apparently dropped ninety-eight percent for the holidays. I should be ecstatic, but this after wasting some sixteen hours analyzing and re-analyzing where no problem exists? It's Christians - 0; Lions - 1, folks. Good joke, you unknown, un-named demons of the ether.

I've been scammed by spammers.

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Friday November 26, 2004 - Turned On Our Heads

In an effort to stick out her current employment until the medical insurance kicks in, my soul mate starts a new shift today. Good news: she doesn't have far to drive. Bad news: the shift is 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. To avoid the difficulties that arise from different schedules, we will both work those hours and sleep during the day.

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Wednesday November 24, 2004 - Sting of the Scorpion

I thought I was over my scorpion bite, but after nearly three months the emergency room bill has finally come, and now I'm getting the symptoms all over again: fidgety, pounding heart, trouble concentrating, irritation.

So it cost $710.00 for the following services:

Receptionist (5 minutes)
Waiting room (30 minutes)
Inner sanctum (15 minutes)
Doctor (4 minutes)
1 tongue depressor
2 Benadryl tablets
1 tetanus shot
Half glass of ice water, self serve
(no diagnostic equipment used / no lab work)

That's $460 for the ER, $250 for the doctor. It puts the doctor's hourly rate at $3750.00 with no overhead. No wonder he was looking humored.

Or maybe it's the tongue depressor. Truth is, I got more medical attention before boarding a plane in Memphis back in October of 20024. That flight cost less than $200, and it included a free rectal examination.

But the receptionist was right about one thing: it lasts for weeks -- not the scorpion bite, but the payments. It's a little like the fish that came to supper -- and stayed. It's the bite that keeps on stinging. And like the doctor said, scorpion bite definitely produces some interesting perceptive anomalies. One particularly strong anomaly is the feeling of getting fleeced. When I'm done paying for this and my medical insurance for the same period, I'll have around $2500 invested.

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Monday November 01, 2004 -  101,265 / 3000 = 33 and Change

So, here we are on the eve of presidential election 2004. Lets take a look at progress.

< 3000=Nine-Eleven death toll.
1123=U.S. military casualties in Iraq.
1265=Total coalition military casualties in Iraq.
16,352=Iraqi body count including civilians, this date
>100,000=Johns Hopkins' scientific study of deaths in Iraq from the overall effects of the war.

Riddle: All of the numbers in the above list except one have a common characteristic. Which of the above numbers doesn't belong?

We'll get back to the answer, but meanwhile, not bad - huh? It's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel! It's a good thing the war in Iraq has no end, because if it did we'd go right on into Iran and North Korea. But I forget -- what was this all about? Ohyeah, in the beginning it was Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center, but who cares about them now, right?

The number above that doesn't belong is the Nine-Eleven death toll -- because it's the only one not still growing. It was only a couple of months ago that the U.S. military casualty count in Iraq reached one-thousand; it won't be long before it exceeds the Nine-Eleven death toll.

Meanwhile the Iraqi civilian body count continues to increase, and it is patently obvious that Osama bin Laden is no longer the heavyweight in this matter. For a real eye-opener, take a look at Johns Hopkins University's latest scientific study of the civilian death toll6 from all sources except those which would have normally occurred under Saddam Hussein.

Do the math. By George, we've already beat the terrorists by over 33 times6.

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Saturday October 23, 2004 - Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk

Maureen Dowd quotes, from her interview with Michael Feldman on Whad'Ya Know?, in their discussion of her new book, Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk:

(Well, some of the longer ones have been paraphrased, but they still contain the original meaning.)

"Most people are in a bubble, but this president is in a thermos."

"The Bush presidents: One went to war with Iraq to prove that you can't invade another country unilaterally, and the other went to war with Iraq to prove that you can invade another country unilaterally."

"Bush is fighting in Iraq to separate religion from the government while he's fighting at home to merge religion into the government."

"Colin Powell is a tragic figure in all of this; he's the only one in the Bush administration that's ever gone to war. He tried to warn them that it wasn't going to be as easy as they thought, but they wouldn't listen. The Powell Doctrine is to go in with overwhelming force, but George Bush went in with under-whelming force."

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Friday October 22, 2004 - Dust Mites, Foot Fungus, and other TV Vermin

Who says TV advertising has gone too far? Watch for one hour and you can see that everything's OK, particularly on the cable channels.

Since the FCC removed restrictions on the number of advertising minutes per hour back in the Reagan Administration advertising time has grown steadily from 12 to 15, 20, 25 minutes per hour, and some channels have gone well beyond that. No matter, now I have time for a full constitutional during every break. But you gotta stay sharp, because I've timed actual program segments down to as short one minute in length.

And the subject matter is getting cleverer by the day. Testimonials are out. The preferred attention-getting devices are extreme machismo and bare skin. Extreme machismo as in spinning an RV in circles through deep mud until you can no longer tell the color of the vehicle, and bare skin as in sex -- that's capital S-E-X. Young women pulling their panties down to proudly expose a birth control patch, or a group of women discussing the pleasures and satisfaction derived from their tampons. That's the one we like best in our household. Afterward, we sit around discussing the attributes of tampons, their absorbency, and other factors any family would want their children to be up to date on.

Then we're also blessed with a wide variety of jokes derived from manufactured screen situations -- jokes that are petty at best and in poor taste at worst. And the disclaimers are getting longer than the ads themselves, strung out in high-speed monotone ad-nauseam at the end of each presentation. But what products are these? I have no idea, because I and everyone else on the planet tune them out.

Jaded? Of course I'm jaded; who isn't?

So they turn up the volume, forcing us to hit the mute button to keep our sanity. I guess TV ads work a lot better when muted, because why else would more and more advertisers force us to do that?

Ever wonder how this assault affects those among us marginalized by age or other inconvenience? We hear plenty about what's wrong with TV with respect to our kids, but what about the elderly?

Take my mother, for instance. A sharp-as-a-tack 91 year-old who lets no moss grow under her feet and has already voted via absentee ballot, she's off commuting around Sun City for several doctor appointments a week. At home she watches a certain amount of TV most evenings, particularly Dr. Phil and CNN. One evening she picked up a good "news" short on dust mites in pillows. They even had magnified pictures of the little beasts -- foul, grotesque-looking creatures as all insects are, like something right out of one of those B rated monster movies you see on TV when you ought to be sleeping. She went right out and bought a bottle of insecticide, and sprayed her pillow and bedding. I heard all about it during our drive to Mexico the other day. Quick thinking, mom; good riddance.

Now those nasty little fungus monsters are another matter. She's seen them on TV, too. Fungus gets under finger and toenails, and there's apparently only one product that controls it, or them. You know the ads. Who wants those creepy little animals running around on your skin and burrowing under your fingernails? Even if it does take a magnifying glass to see them, just knowing they're there glaring evilly up at you from their burrows under your toenails is, well, too much.

"Mom," I said, "it sounds like you believe the ads."

"Yes," she responded, "they're real, alright."

"No, mom; Fungi are plant-like organisms that lack chlorophyll. Fungus has no muscles to jump around like that. They don't have eyes, and they don't stare up at you with an evil look on their faces."

"They're real, alright; I saw them on TV, too. One of them turned around and tried to break loose when a big round thing rolled over it's tail. I saw it on TV."

"Mom. . ."

I thought better of prolonging the conversation; there's no refuting a TV ad. It's a good thing they don't go too far.

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Wednesday October 20, 2004 - Paradise Lost

Having failed to return our expiring Mexican vehicle permit as we came through Sonoita last Sunday evening, we find it necessary to make an extra trip before the end of the week. I let my wife off at work and head for the border this morning, picking up mom on the way out of town. She's interested in the scenery and hopeful that she'll spot some birds along the way.

There are few cars on the road this am, and it's a bright, cheerful day. Conversation is enjoyable, and the 160 miles seem to melt away before us. We disembark for a quick stretch in Gila Bend, pause for a few scenery pictures in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and arrive at the border at about 12:15 pm to find the Banjercito vehicle importation office once again closed.

There is a large cloth sign suspended on the wall beside the door that I ignored on our last visit due to the shear volume of Español in contains. I peer through the window and am surprised to find the room completely empty. How are we supposed to return our permits?

I head around the corner to the cashier, another Banjercito office. Unfortunately, mi Español esta muy malo, and the lady behind the counter commands no better Inglés. Giving up there, I follow the sidewalk through the gate and cross the inspection area to the immigration office. The immigración officers are usually able and willing to converse in English.

I step into the empty room, and almost immediately an officer materializes from an adjacent chamber.

"Buenos tardes." I begin; "Donde retorno mi permiso del vehículo?"

Instantly detecting my handicap, he responds in perfect English.

"The closest place is at the check point 20 miles out of Sonoita on the Caborca highway."

"Why is this office closed?" I ask, pointing across the drive.

"It is no longer needed. Caborca is in the Free Zone now; the Free Zone has been expanded."

It takes a moment for the full impact of this disclosure to sink in. My head begins to swim. Reeling, I stabilize myself against the counter.

"Free Zone? Caborca? . . .but. . .well. . .what about the check station on the Puerto Peñasco-Caborca highway?"

"That check station will for now remain, but will go away when the new instalaciones have been built south of Caborca. Meanwhile, you will require still a permit until we can control importaciones from the new instalaciones, and the only way to do that will be to first vaya a la estación de Aduana de veinte millas en la carretera de Caborca."

I take a moment to digest what he has said. My legs feel like they're going to buckle beneath me, I look around for a chair, but there is none. I grab the counter with both hands, leaning on it heavily.

"Is Salinas in the Free Zone?" my voice quivering.

"Yes, Señor."

I break into a cold sweat and clutch at my chest unable to breathe.

"What about Desemboque?" I wheeze.

"Sí, Desemboque, también."

"Puerto Lobos?"

"Sí, Señor."

Gasping for breath, I feel my legs going out from under me. In slow motion I begin to drop and then somehow bounce back just before hitting the floor.

Woah! I turn, mouthing the words "Muchas Gracias" over my shoulder, but nothing comes out. As I stagger from the room I hear the officer calling after me, "Señor, ¿hay cualquier cosa mal?" I return to the car on wobbly legs.

"What's the matter?" my mother questions.

I try to explain it to her, "It sounds like good news, but it's actually of the very worst kind."

"It can't take that long to go twenty miles," she comments in an exasperated tone.

"No, that's not it," I counter; "it's what's going to happen to our ability to get away from civilization, and primarily, people."

This means that within a very short time -- a year or two, or possibly a lot less -- visitors will no longer feel restricted to those beaches that are already overrun by gringos. Soon they'll be overrunning our quiet haunts everywhere, tearing up the beach with their macho showoff vehicles and ATV's, killing the wildlife, creating noise and human pollution. Nothing will be off-limits, like a bicentennial locust invasion. What point is there in going to the beach to camp next to the Original Ugly American, stake your tent to his fire pit, and listen to over-modulated Rock bellowing over the surf from six 900 watt sub-woofers buried in the trunk of his car?

We barrel out to the 20-mile Aduana check station, where they process our vehicle permit cancellation without our even getting out of the car. Very impressive!

Back on the road, we're headed toward home. Still shaken, I find it harder than before to make small talk on the way home, but we somehow manage to discuss dust mites, foot fungus, and other relevant delicacies.

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Tuesday October 19, 2004 - It's About Time (TV-B-Gone)

If you like solitude, take a look at TV-B-Gone. It may not carry you away to the boondocks, but if you're inexorably tied to the throngs, this is the next best thing to it.

www.tvbegone.com

And while you're there, be sure to check out their Responsible TV Watching page.

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Wednesday September 8, 2004 - Best Drunk I Ever Had

It's close to bedtime. I step onto the front porch, barefooted, to check a car interior light. Even before I stop to lean over the railing a sharp pain pierces the first knuckle of my next-to-littlest toe.

Damn! I've apparently been bitten by that bee we've noticed making a nest in a small hole under a windowsill next to the door. But it stings like nothing I've ever experienced. Cursing the bee and my own failure to exterminate it, I step back into the house and close the door.

"Damn!" I remark again, "I swear this is worse than any bite I've ever had. The whole end of my foot hurts."

I withdraw to the couch to nurse my wound and am surprised to find no evidence of a wound whatever -- no redness; no swelling. I try to rub the area but find my foot is so sensitive that just touching the skin with my finger is painful.

My soul mate digs the last capsules of Sting-Kill out of our first-aid kit. I squeeze the plastic capsule until the inner glass lining breaks and apply the contents to my toe and surrounding tissue. But the Sting-Kill 2, a product we've long used on the playa with a very high rate of success -- for insect, Man-Of-War and other unidentified stings -- does not seem to be working at all. It doesn't really surprise me because our capsules are at least 30 years old, but I am disappointed.

One thing I know for sure is that I wasn't bitten by a rattlesnake, but the pain seems to be going up my leg and I would like some relief in order to sleep. I consider driving out to an all-night drugstore for some druggist recommended product; there really is nothing else to do at such a late hour. My soul mate identifies a store and I call to see if the druggist can recommend an effective treatment. He asks me enough questions to make me realize that my whole lower leg -- in fact my whole leg -- is going to sleep with that heavy "pins and needles" feeling.

The druggist recommends I go to an emergency room, but I'm not about to waste $250 and an entire night sitting in a cold room waiting for someone to tell me the obvious. I pop a couple of aspirin and begin undressing for bed, but the lightest touch of clothing on the side of my knee produces a searing surface pain, like being cut with a knife. Both of my elbows and the base of my tongue are developing pins and needles. I change my mind. We head for the emergency room where my soul mate drops me off and goes home to get some sleep.

The waiting room appears to be empty -- it must be a slow night -- and the exercise of walking seems to mitigate the worst symptoms for a few moments. I approach the attendant.

"Classic scorpion bite;" she admonishes, "It can last for weeks."

She waves her hand toward a seating area, and I sit down, or at least try to. Scorpion bite? Weeks? I find it impossible sit still. I struggle with clothes and sitting position, jump up, sit down, shuffle about. Everything is uncomfortable. My heart is pounding. I try to record some thoughts on my handheld, but I can't concentrate enough to put them together. I pace the waiting room jerkily, my leg feeling like a hunk of raw meat dragging behind.

After a few minutes I'm escorted deep into the bowels of the emergency suite and deposited in my own examination room. I definitely feel better on my feet, but my head is spinning and my thoughts are disjointed. I stand for a while in the doorway still shuffling and fidgeting about, waiting for the doctor. Looking around the outer room I spot a drinking fountain and ice machine in one corner. I go over to get myself a cup of water. From there you can see the rest of the emergency suite where there are hundreds of people waiting in adjoining rooms. Just great.

I return to my room with my glass of ice water just as the doctor arrives.

"Tell me what happened," he prompts.

I relate my story.

"How do you feel?"

"My tongue is asleep, and my teeth itch," I reply with no acknowledgement to Shelly Berman.

"What else?"

"My elbows are asleep."

"Anything else...?"

"I can feel my tonsils swelling up...and I feel twitchy, and I can't sit still. And my eye and leg muscles don't respond entirely correctly."

"Open your mouth," the doctor instructs.

He seizes the opportunity to gag me by placing one of those super-dry wooden sticks on the back of my tongue.

"You don't have undulating tongue," he concludes out loud, "That's a positive sign; but your eyes are a little jerky."

I want to ask how long I have to live, but I manage to suppress the question.

"Undulating tongue! What's that?" The thought makes my windpipe feel like it's closing up.

"Oh, that's where your tongue looks like a washboard;" he responds abstractly, "but it's definitely scorpion bite."

I take a sip of water from my glass and am surprised to find it severely carbonated. Scribbling on his notepad, he takes no notice of the surprise on my face.

Mexican Scorpion Art - March, 2004

"Are you aware that the drinking water in your cooler tastes carbonated?" I ask. "Well, it isn't exactly like that, but a little like a mouthful of water with about half a teaspoon of sand mixed in it -- but not sinking to the bottom. I can feel it all the way to the back and down my throat."

"It's the scorpion venom," the doctor responds without looking up.

He quits writing on his notepad and stands up, looking somewhat humored.

"Scorpion bite produces some interesting perceptive anomalies, especially of taste and touch, eye and muscle twitching and involuntary temporary tightening of muscles," he explains, "It's a nerve toxin, so the standard sting remedies don't work on it; but if you're a writer you can record some great insight from the experience. We don't administer antivenin anymore unless you have undulating tongue, because it's not being manufactured anymore and we reserve it for babies and the elderly. I'm going to give you some Benedryl; you can take four a day. The pain should go away in about 24 hours, and the rest of the symptoms in around 48. And I have to give you a tetanus shot for the puncture wound, although you can't even see it."

He leaves. I sit a few more minutes regaining my composure, then the nurse returns to administer the tetanus shot and deliver the diagnosis and disclaimer paperwork.

After release I step outside and call my soul mate. I'm still pretty twitchy but definitely feeling better. While I'm waiting for my wife I think about the hundreds of times we've lived around and among scorpions over the years while camping in the Mexican boonies. We've walked on them in the dark, had them both inside and outside our tent, in our shoes and clothes; but we've never been stung or bitten. The key is that we've always kept our eyes open while camping. But I had to come all the way home just to pick up a scorpion bite.

Headed home around 1:43 am, I contemplate the experience. After you get used to the pain, it's quite a bit better than alcohol -- a cross between two expensive designer drugs. The reaction is right up there with eating poison mushrooms. It was an expensive experience, but an unusually interesting one.

I relate the story to my daughter over supper a few days later3.

"Yeah," she says, "my friend got bit by a scorpion and he says it was the best drunk he ever had."

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Sunday August 15, 2004 - A Typical August Evening in the Valley of the Sun

We leave about 6:30 pm to run some errands. As we cross town, the sun is hidden by a thick bank of storm clouds so close to the ground that it peeks through them like a weak red beacon about ten degrees off the horizon. We get to mom's house just in time for the evening dust storm to blow through. When we pull into the driveway to get out of the car, the automatic lawn sprinklers come on for the evening watering. The wind is blowing so hard that we're instantly showered from the sprinklers and then coated with a thick layer of dust. The entire walkway to the front door promises to give us another drenching, but mom comes to our rescue by opening the garage door for us to enter via the garage. It is a typical August evening in the Valley of the Sun.

Shortly we're on our way to our next stop. We park in the driveway under a tree of moderate size. While we're visiting inside there is a rushing sound at the back wall reminiscent of a freight train. It is a loud rushing sound of wind, dust and air-born particles hitting the house, and brings to mind the Memphis windstorm of July 2003. It sounds like a small twister, but is probably a microburst. It passes so fast that we think nothing more of it as the rush of rain ensues. A few minutes later the rain has diminished to a moist memory; we go out to the car to leave, get in and begin backing out of the driveway. About halfway out I become aware that the branches that overhang the driveway are conspicuously missing. The tree we parked under has gone down, its 12" diameter trunk broken off at ground level.

"You mean you didn't see that when you got into the car?" the neighbor chides.

"No," I have to confess, "I didn't."

Once we get underway it is sprinkling lightly, but as we continue the rain begins to pellet us with real attitude. By the time we're approaching 35th Avenue, the torrent is so thick we can hardly see our way. We roll the last couple of blocks to the intersection, our speed decreasing to a crawl. The wind is driving the rain in sheets so dense that we wonder if we'll have to sit here for a while, but when the light changes, visibility is better than we expected and so we continue cautiously across the intersection. In the next block the torrent recedes dramatically, and by the time we reach 33rd Avenue it does not seem to be raining anymore. From 30th Avenue on, the street is completely dry; it has not rained here. We continue across town to our house, and it is dry all the way. The storm has passed for this evening.

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Tuesday August 10, 2004 - Bait and Switch

OK, we received our medical insurance packet from underwriting today. Now this makes a lot more since:

1. Yep, the prescription deductible has increased from $500 to $1000 and $1750. Our prescriptions cost us less than $2750 without any insurance.

2. They didn't increase our rates by 50% after all; they increased them by 75%, based upon those same declared health issues which are still 100% corrected by standard maintenance medications.

3. And we have four exclusionary riders declaring that all of the items which have been used as a basis for the rate increases are excluded from coverage.

They didn't include a list of covered items -- but what the heck, it would be blank anyway.

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Monday August 9, 2004 - What Was That Again?

With the "mission" in Iraq becoming less and less "accomplished" each day, Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr vows to keep the insurgency in Najif going to the last man. With continued fear mongering on one side, the presidential campaigns are heating into a firestorm of lies fired in every direction, financed entirely by large corporation capital or wealthy private donors struggling to gain unconstitutional leverage in a one man, one vote political system. With the cost of healthcare and particularly prescription costs rising daily and new job starts dropping precipitously, we struggle to find a medical insurance plan that meets the needs of basically healthy people.

Last month we filed an application for individual health insurance, the only type of policy available to us. Today our acceptance was announced, with a few minor caveats. We'll get the paperwork tomorrow. Premiums will be increased 50% from the documented rate rather than 25% on the basis of the same maintenance drugs we previously declared. In addition, our prescription deductible will be increased from $500/year to $1000/year for one of us and $1750/year for the other.

The logic behind this gouging? Taking blood pressure pills means you're at higher risk for stroke than not taking them. That means that taking cholesterol-lowering drugs means you're at higher risk for heart attack than if you don't take them, and eliminating acid reflux via a one-a-day pill increases your risk -- of what, acid reflux never lead to anything worse in the first place? Well, you get the idea. So doesn't that mean that blood pressure pills cause hardening of the arteries? And maybe I should start smoking to reduce my chances of lung cancer.

People who have never been to a doctor in their lives despite a family history of stroke, heart attack or cancer are offered premium insurance rates, according to my agent.

This makes a certain amount of twisted sense. Our doctor tells us it's the other way around, but a hundred billion dollar insurance industry can't be wrong. They know what they're doing, as evidenced by their runaway profit margin.

Take my 91 year-old mother for example; she's been on high blood pressure medication for over 70 years, and she's going strong. Are she and the still-healthy millions of her generation an anomaly? Of course; if you don't believe me, just ask your insurance company.

Getting back to the presidential election, let's see -- on one side we have reason, moderation, hope and healing with other nations; and on the other side we have unprecedented deficit, rising medical costs, fear mongering, and runaway testosterone.

Now that I think about it, of course -- it makes complete sense to vote for the status quo, doesn't it?

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Saturday July 31, 2004 - It's Just How I Feel

From Garrison Keillor's Annual Joke Show, NPR:

She: "After you're dead, what would you like people to say about you?"

He: "I'd like them to say, 'look -- he's moving.'"

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Wednesday July 28, 2004 - Sky Harbor Blues

It doesn't sound that difficult -- pick up mom at the airport.

Flight 2465 - Burbank to Phoenix
Depart 11:35 am; arrive Phoenix 1:00 pm.

Not exactly a big order. Until I realize we don't know the airline's name. Out of time, I jump on the Internet, pull up Sky Harbor, and do a search based upon flight number, origin and time. That's easy enough. I print the itinerary and jot the name of the airline on it -- Southwest.

Good enough! As we're locking the door to leave, the phone rings. It is mom; the plane has been delayed an hour. We depart anyway, taking our time to drive to the airport. Leaving the car in the parking garage, we leisurely stroll to the security area leading to the gates and arrive at 1:50 pm. I've left the itinerary at home, but a brief look at the monitor reveals a plane has arrived from Burbank within the last four minutes. Good; we wait.

After fifteen minutes and 150 faces, mom is still nowhere in sight. I check the monitor, but the flight is no longer listed. She must have passed before we arrived, so we head to the baggage area on the first floor. No baggage on any of the carousels. While my soul mate keeps an eye on the carousels I circle in wider and wider loops through the entire first floor looking for mom. We wait another fifteen minutes, but there is still no luggage.

After checking with the man at the information booth, we decide to go back upstairs. When we arrive I check monitor again. Still nothing close to the four-digit flight number I remember. I check at the information booth again. Drat! Not bringing the exact flight number with us is hampering our ability to communicate with the information personnel. Since there's nothing happening here we head back downstairs, but there is still no baggage on the carousels. Once again I circle throughout whole area, then spend more time checking both north and south pickup lanes outside the terminal. Still no mom.

It's now 3:00 pm. The gentleman at the information booth patiently explains that there are no four-digit flights arriving this afternoon from California. Without the exact flight number it is difficult to maintain his interest, but eventually he suggests I go to the check-in lanes on Floor 2 and try to find out if she was on a flight.

"They won't give you any information," he explains, "but you should try, anyway."

By now it is 3:20, so we go to Floor 2, posthaste.

"The plane was delayed, and she's 91 years old," I tell the lady at the ticket counter breathlessly. "I need to know for her own well-being if she was on that plane."

The lady types on her keyboard, studies her screen and looks back at me.

"This is your lucky day," she says. "Flight 2465, scheduled for a 1:00 pm arrival from Burbank, was delayed further and is just arriving right now. I'll give you a pass and you can go all the way to the gate."

I appreciatively take the pass and we head up the escalator. I get in line and wait through security. I have to give up my pass to a young lady at a podium before approaching the metal detectors. At the detectors I empty my pockets, fail the metal detector, take off my belt, shoes, glasses, and try again. I must have a metal plate in my head that I don't know about. Two more passes are required to get through the metal detector, but I finally succeed. Time is running short, and so is my temper. I start cramming my stuff back into my pockets as expediently as possible, grab my belt, cell phone and shoes, and turn around to head toward the gate.

"I can't let you take this pocket knife with you," the guard says to me, holding out the tiny jackknife.

Oh, shit! It is a pocketknife designed for grooming. It has a 1.5" blade, a nail file, and a miniature scissor about an inch long.

"Can you keep it for me."

"No; tried that, and it doesn't work."

The only thing that doesn't work, I think to myself, is the mindless implementation of airport security. Neither will he give me the knife to take back to my wife; he removes the key from the knife and hands it to me, motions for me to follow, and starts walking back up the ramp. When we reach my wife he hands me the knife, to which I promptly reattach the key before handing it to her.

Then I realize that I no longer have the pass required to meet my mother at the gate. Still holding my belt, glasses and shoes, I get back in line to await my turn going through security again. Other passengers glare at me for passing them in line, or is it because they think I'm some sort of exhibitionist?

I approach the young lady at the podium and explain that I just gave her my pass two minutes ago, and must meet my 91 year-old mother at the gate. She looks up, her face totally blank. It isn't the same young lady.

"Without a pass," she says, "I cannot let you move forward."

Right. Feeling acutely harried, I step back out under the ribbon and walk back up the ramp to meet my wife. I am defeated. I didn't make it. My soul mate motions, and I turn around just in time to see mom being wheeled up the ramp by an attendant, cane at her side in the wheelchair, purse sitting in her lap. I scramble to put on my belt and shoes.

"Oh, so you did make it," she comments abstractly; "but you could have finished dressing first."

We wheel her to the first floor, pick up the luggage, and stop at a restroom on the way to the car.

It's 3:40 as we're packing mom into the car.

Wow, that was easy! Now if we can recover her cane, that will be nice, too1.

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Tuesday July 20, 2004 - Yup, I'm Back

I pull into the driveway about 9:30 pm from a two-week trip to eastern South Dakota and western Kansas. My soul mate greets me with a smile from the window, and my wounds from the stressful return trip immediately begin to heal.

When I open the car door I'm hit by a withering burst of 109&Deg; air. My soul mate explains that it was 113 in the shade earlier this afternoon. Yup, I'm back.

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1The cane was retrieved from Airport Lost & Found the next afternoon, but that's another story.

2Sting-Kill is a very good product with a great reputation. Although it is not effective for nerve toxins, we have personally used it for bee, hornet and yellow-jacket sting as well as Portuguese Man-of-War. It was, in fact, the only product we found effective in a second encounter with a Portuguese Man-of-War in the 1970's (once sensitized by a first sting, the second is usually substantially worse). Reference: www.sting-kill.com.

3By morning, water has lost it's carbonation. Two nights later, most of the other symptoms are gone and my foot is back among the living, although two of my toes are still on vacation.

4Ref. The Return Flight, Desert Rat in the Tennessee Rainforest: House Hunting.

5In all my years of exposure, I have never seen NetBSD crash or require a reboot to correct any anomaly except the installation of an OS upgrade.

6The link was updated in April, 2007 to point to a new article. This October, 2006 study now increases the death toll to 655,000 - over 218 times the number killed on Nine-Eleven. How many killings are justified by the acts of Nine-Eleven?

 
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