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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Good Friday (Critical) Mass

I so blew the opportunity to offend mightily. Critical Mass this month worked out to be on Good Friday. So much potential humor to be mined from the lighthearted affair of torturing a man to death because he ran counter to the establishment.

Probably a warning sign that part of me regretted not working in something like Christ on the cross with 'I did it for the chicks.' After spending most of my life a dyed in the wool atheist, I have waxed and waned on the whole faith thing the past decade or so. And whichever one of those is the weaker, waning, I think, that was where I was at Friday, or lately in general. But this post is not about religious beliefs.

It's about the kickass party and bike ride that is Critical Mass in Kansas City. And like I say, I made a spoke card, but it was more, uh, political than religious. I'm a heretic in the realm of politics, too.

I'm an infidel. What can I say?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the whole single payer medical thing. Because hand in hand with my lifelong atheism is my lifelong libertarianism. I'm totally comfortable with the label 'anarchist' in fact. But while I can envision a society where roads are provided by the private sector, strictly by voluntary means, paid for by user fees, etc., I don't think I can sell you on this as a model. And it's a tedious model, putting up a go-fund-me every time there's potholes to fix or a bridge to rebuild, installing toll booths at the entrance to neighborhoods, etc. If you think the arguments about complete streets in a city council meeting are tireseome and endless, try them out in a neighborhood association meeting, because that's where you'd be moving it.

So we pay taxes and the public sector hires professionals to figure this street shit out. And they get it wrong sometimes because they're human, but someone who studies streets thoroughly and is trying to provide the best compromise to all the interested parties is going to do a better job than a homeowners association committee, I'll guarantee you that. Sure, taxation is theft, but get over it, you get streets to drive on. It a social contract, it's not quite the same as the mob coming around for protection money. Sometimes feels like it, I'll grant you that, but no.

A Libertarian who will go for public roads, that's not all that heretical, Ron Paul will give you that one. His kid, too. But single payer healthcare?

This is a bit of a litmus test for anarchocapitalist types. And hey, markets kick ass at setting prices and distributing scarce resources, they do. If there was something like a free market in human medical care it would probably resemble veterinary care. You don't hear about vet bills skyrocketing out of control because the government never stepped in and said they'd pay for your cat to have a liver transplant as long as you were over 65 or poor.

But then, if your kitten doesn't get a liver transplant, so what? Not to be cold hearted, but the Human Society will fix you up with a cat for $80 and they have a surplus so you'd be doing society a favor. That's where the libertarian arguments about healthcare start to break down. Me, for example, my max out of pocket—which a rare blood disorder guarantees I hit—with pretty good insurance (my employer pays the premiums for me and my dependents, that's not universal anymore), is about 15% of my income. So the threat that, like in France, the government could take 20% of my income and pay for this shit isn't that grave a threat: on top of that 15% there's more than 5% I pay in prescription copays, so in France I'm ahead of break even. Especially if you figure that some of the burden simply shifts from insurance premiums to taxes, the economics of single payer doesn't look that bad from where I'm standing. And I'm an example of someone who's winning.

I know what libertarians say at this point because I am one. They say things like, 'You want your healthcare to be like a trip to the VA?'

Of course not, but why does the VA suck so hard? Veterans are a minority of society, and a substantial percentage of them have other options, so the VA serves people who don't have a choice. Not a recipe for responsiveness and great service. If middle and upper class people also used the VA, I bet it would change because those folks aren't having it.

Which is when the libertarian/conservative type tells you that socialized medicine equals death panels and hideous rationing. People die on waiting lists for basic treatment. Okay, I thought, there's lots of single payer countries, also lots of data collected on life expectancy, let's Google this and see what....

The World Health Organization’s 2013 list of overall life expectancy ranked the United States 34th. France, with their ‘broken’ socialized medicine? Number nine on the same list. Don’t trust WHO? How about the United Nations, their 2014 list has France seventh, United Kingdom 23rd, and the United States 40th. Or, your stolen tax dollars at work, the CIA’s 2012 rankings put us at 51st.

There's more to it than years, and the swing from 34th to 51st tells you there's a lot of wiggle room in how liars figure, but if you scan any of these lists for the countries that beat us on longevity, almost every man jack of them has single payer universal healthcare, and have had since before I was born. That system might be expensive but if it was actually killing people, how did they jump us in the life expectancy cue?

Oh, and I did pimp the Post Modern Pentathlon on the back side of my spoke card. Because it's going to be epic. I gave out, I think, 114 spoke cards, so a well attended Mass to be sure. Because this post was supposed to be about last Friday's Critical Mass. And the Critical Mass crowd is a prime recruiting ground for an event like the Post Modern Pentathlon, which is at least partially an alleycat race. I got B-Cycle to sponsor the event with the loan of bikes. Because in the Olympic Modern Pentathlon, you have to ride a horse that's not known to you. I haven't figured out the details, but I'm thinking either a sprint or obstacle course ridden on B-Cycles with bonus points to the rider who can track stand on one the longest.

It'll be like the Modern Pentathlon except not expensive (I'm hoping a zero entry fee, if I end up having to pay for some stuff I might ask for a couple dollars as an entry fee to defray the cost, but I really don't want any money to change hands), fun, and open to anyone. So kind of like a perfect opposite of the sport the Olympics as ridiculously included since 1912, when the war narrative that inspired the event was already out of date. I guess 'modern' sounded better than 'outmoded nineteenth century cavalry pentathlon.'


Ran into one of my oldest, dearest friends on my way to meet my daughter and her fiancé for dinner the other night. My first Bike MS, when I sagged on the second day, the SAG driver said, 'You should see this 18 year old kid out here doing this on a BMX.' And I was like, yeah, I've known that 18 year old kid for 20 years.

He's a bit of a hermit, but every once in a while I'll bump into him like this. I keep trying to get him to come back to Critical Mass, he did it a few times back before I did, hasn't been back since. But we need parade floats like this. He's still sporting full on Christmas decorations in March for crying out loud.

The pity was I was on my way to a dinner date with my eldest honyock and her betrothed, so I couldn't chat for long.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Marryin' Off Em

Wasn't that long ago that Em was a regular feature here in Lobster Land. By that I mean both this blog and my house. But Daddy's little girl has gone and growed up.

Back at Mo's birthday, Patrick took me aside to ask my permission to propose to her. It was a sweet gesture, but of course I really don't have a vote in this business. She's my kid, I fret about decisions she makes because I know how badly life can kick your ass when you make bad calls, but I can't expect her to listen to my advice any better than I've listened to my parents over the years. As far as my blessing, I have no problem with the lad, he'll probably make a fine husband. My only reservation is they're almost exactly the age me and Em's mother were when we got married (against the advice of family elders who thought we were too young). But when I think about what went right and wrong in my marriages, and in what I've observed in my friends and family, I don't see much correlation between age at the alter and marital success.

He offered to show me the ring when he asked me, he was so excited he forgot she was sitting in a car ten feet away. I told him to keep his powder dry, I'd see it on her finger if she said yes.

Of course she said yes. I don't think there was ever much doubt about that. So we had dinner the other night, they came up to my neighborhood and we had some excellent authentic Mex at Bonito Michoacan and they told me of the date, the venue, and so on. And I got to see the ring up close and personal.

They say they're going to pull the trigger on October 13, and I think that's a good sign. Thirteen has been a good number, it's the birthday of both of my daughters and my wife.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Nobody Rides the Bus

I always feel super lazy when I get on the bus instead of biking the whole way to or from work. I ruled the bus out as an option completely for a long time, years, because the first time I tried it the MAX threw my bike off the front rack. I may not have put the arm on right, I don’t know, but it freaked me out. And full disclosure, I had a strong anti-transit bias going into that situation. I formed a lot of political opinions working for a doomed business that aimed to combine the Pitch/Riverfront Times local tabloid with the National Review.

The result was the only publication to so thoroughly champion market forces in Kansas City was slain forces. Anyway, this winter I've found a new love/hate relationship with the bus.

I've been guilty, no doubt in the pages of this blog, of claiming transit is stupid because nobody rides the bus. There were sixteen nobodies on the bus when I boarded this morning.

It’s just so damned easy in the morning when I’m not feeling ambitious, the 101 comes a couple blocks from my house at 6:11, I can transfer to the MAX downtown, be early to work. And I can vary how much biking I do. Bare minimum: .3 miles from my house to the 101; catty-corner across the street to catch the MAX at 11th & Main, take the MAX all the way to 74th & Broadway. Right around 13 miles on the bus, 1.1 on the bike. Get to work a quarter past seven.

Or I can (and often do) hop off the 101 at 10th & Main, and ride my bike a mile (almost entirely downhill) and catch the MAX at the streetcar stop at 20th & Main. There’s a lovely museum guard who gets on at this stop, I asked her how come so early when the museum doesn’t open until 10:00, and apparently the construction workers building an exhibit start work at 7:00 and her job is to guard them. Which she described actually as ‘hanging out’ with them.

If I need some breakfast, lunch & soda type things from Price Chopper, I’ll get off at 63rd. Or sometimes at the same stop as the museum guard, in front of American Century: that way I get to bomb Main Street onto the Plaza.

So sometimes it’ll be six or seven miles on the bike and the balance on the bus. Or like this morning, when it was 38ºF and raining, I maxed out the bus options and barely rode my bike.

And aside from the occasional annoyingly crazy person and a couple of nonstop talkers who don’t really have anything to say (for the record, not Jesus Royals Superman, he's a fine bus mate: whatever his story is he doesn't go vomiting it onto anyone who happens to be nearby), the bus is pleasant enough. I can zone out on my phone and just relax, which is way better than driving. Plus, in the afternoon, I get to bike the whole way home. The bus options are there, then, too, but I hardly ever take them.

So I guess my guilt over being lazy in the morning ought to be offset by the evening miles. I’m still biking more miles than I would if I slept in and drove to work, which I guess is what I tended to do back when I ruled out the bus option. I’ve ridden in cold rain plenty of times, I have the gear, it’s not even that bad once you’re doing it. But given a cushy option…

All of which gets me back to that thing about my formative political years. I still think the left really lacks a comprehension of markets and their beauty. But I'll have to cop a Paul Ryan and admit that my black and white views weren't aligned with reality. I bought into that Cold War notion that socialism equals oppression (and socialism is certainly a handy tool for a dictator). But Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, these countries have their problems but they're not totalitarian regimes nor desperate hellholes of economic despair. Russia, on the other hand, supposedly quit the Commie thing almost 30 years ago and it's still a repressive shitbag place to live.

Could it be that ideology matters less than not being a jerk? Power hungry maniacs frequently ruin socialism, cheaters often spoil capitalism, maybe the common element is we need to get rid of the jerks first and then pick the best elements of several models. Markets rule, and sometimes a universal public good really exists and justifies a little 'we're doing this together.'

Monday, March 21, 2016

Big Max

I've always had a thing for giant breed dogs. Irish Wolfhounds, Mastifs, Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees, St. Bernards, Great Danes.

Holy cow, especially Great Danes I think. And of those, the harlequin type are an easy favorite.

So I spotted this one on the way home the other night. His name is Oliver. He reminds me a lot of our late Dalmation, Max. Except Max could have stood upright under Oliver's chest without touching, I think.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

St. Patrick's Day Commute

So I had always avoided Westport on St. Patrick's Day. I thought I wouldn't like it. Overpriced Irish Car Bombs, a lot of noise and chaos, who needs it?

So imagine my surprise as I biked through it on the way home from work, when I realized I wish I'd taken the afternoon off so I could come play. Maybe the whole day.

As I was coming up Central, I could hear the No Doubt song Spiderwebs. At first, the echoes and muddle of the alleys, I couldn't tell if it was a stero blasting the CD or a cover band, but as I got closer I could tell it wasn't the studio recording anyway. I didn't know if No Doubt had ever released a live album, but I was thinking more likely a cover band. But a really kickass cover band.

Which is what it turned out to be. A kickass coverband with great costumes, from Green Simmons on bass to sexy-blingy Dorothy to Wonder Woman, to Devo, to Slash (I don't think I got a picture of the guitarist).

I had work to do when I got home so I didn't hang out as tempting as that was. Though I did get my Irish Car Bomb going, got a bomber of Guinness, an airplane bottle of Bailey's and of Jameson. Why should I, the bicycle commuter (and thus the only one not operating a motor vehicle), be the only sober person on the road?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Portraits in Decay

I took this picture a couple years back, this old semi trailer has been sitting just off the bike trail, all tagged up, for as long as I can remember.

The enormous tire has been there for a long damn time, too. It's massive, like something off an ore truck or something. Maybe a big Caterpillar earth mover.

And then something ate the trailer. Or more precisely, someone cut it up and hauled a bunch of it off. Not the whole thing, mind you, it's got a recognizable bit of the tags and all that. I don't know how to account for it, if it was an attempt to clean up the area, it's the most half-assed cleanup since my desk.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Think Pink

I've been adding more and more pink to my bike lately. Fenders, pedals, bar tape, of course the mohawk. I thought purple was my favorite color but I've really been digging the pink.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Right Under My Nose

I'm into graffiti, so I'm kinda embarrassed that it took me so long to notice this building. It's like a hundred feet from Westport Road on Central and I pass within that hundred feet or so of it three to five times a week on my way home from work. Pretty much the whole building is wrapped, and it's wrapped by quality writers including Roast and Scribe.

For the uninitiated, Scribe is like a poet laureate of taggers, if there was a Nobel Prize for graffiti or a Pulitzer for tags, he'd win it. And really he's more a muralist than a tagger, he doesn't just stylize a word until you can't read it, he creates fantastic characters and tells elaborate stories with his pieces.

I don't mean that praise of Scribe to demean the other writers I'm sharing here. I wouldn't bother taking the picture, let alone blogging it, if I didn't consider it art worth preserving and sharing. These things are fleeting, even legit walls get painted over and knocked down too soon. They get vandalized by wannabe kids, or by people paid by the city to deface them. But they're beautiful, and they add flavor to a neighborhood, a little hot sauce for your alley, your boarded up (or sometimes fully occupied and commercially vibrant) building.