Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Unicow, accept no substitutes!

Some of you may have seen these "Free ticket" things to the Commerford Zoo sitting near the registers of your local merchants.

You may have further noted that the Unicow appears on them!

Just beware, if you go there expecting jaded political commentary, you'll be disappointed. You'll probably also see a really sickly-looking emu which will make you sad. And a lot of really fat little goats, which are also pretty depressing. Frankly, the whole thing is a drag.

Anyway, yeah that's where I got the name.

The End.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dear Electoral College, it's time for a change, electoral college, it's time we had a talk.

Now, I understand that you were created back when people had to ride around in fancy-pants horsedrawn carriages to vote, and that for most people getting to the polls would be the equivalent of me driving to Brazil with a really gassy friend.

So it sort of made sense back then to have delegates. Probably it even made sense to have "superdelegates." I don't understand what they are, but I believe they may be delegates with x-ray vision or super-long tongues or something. Either way, I'm sure they were useful back when Jesus came up with this voting thing in the 12th century.

Since I'm an expert on all matters political, let me put the whole voting process into layman's terms for everyone.
  • Step 1: Go to your polling place (look for a school with a bunch of jerks standing around outside it waving signs).
  • Step 2: Either vote with a machine that will eat your ballot or do that weird caucus square dance thing that nobody on the face of the planet understands.
  • Step 3: Wait around awhile to see who wins / watch the returns on tv / go get drunk.
  • Step 4: Cheer if your candidate got the most votes, otherwise kind of mope around.
  • Step 5: Realize that you weren't actually voting for a candidate, you were voting to tell some delegate douchebag who to vote for in some secret election you're not invited to.
  • Step 6: Ponder why the person with the most votes has fewer delegates than the person with the second-most votes. Maybe blame the Illuminati.
  • Step 7: Have some smartass tell you that America is a "constitutional republic" and not the silly "democracy" your civics teacher talked about.
  • Step 8: Say "oh to hell with this stupid country" and move to the Netherlands, where they let you smoke pot.
Sure, it's a simple process. And, as I've said repeatedly it probably made sense back in 1066.

But times have changed! The Norman invasion is over! Nowadays we have cars and velocipedes and iGoogles! Time for a new system!

So here's my proposal...

Let's get rid of all the delegates and the electoral college and all that shit. Let's just vote for who we want to win, and whoever gets the most votes can be the winner! We could even do Instant Runoff Voting so we could maybe skip the whole stupid primary system!

And let's all do it at the same time so that the news media can't bore us to tears for two fucking years ahead of time, and so that people in states that don't vote first actually can feel like they did something.

And let's not do it on a stupid Tuesday! Let's have the polls open for a whole week, 24 hours a day! That way everyone who wants to vote can do it when they want to do it. Even vampires and people with shitty jobs. Keep reporters and pollsters away with razorwire fences so they can't do entry/exit polling and ruin things for the later voters.

Also, give people cookies after they vote. This is what blood drives do, and it works for them. Voter turnout would be great! Plus it would attract hobos, and it would be fun watching the candidates compete for the cherished hobo vote.

If we could just implement those little minor changes we'd finally have the vibrant, people-driven democracy we deserve. So, get to it Electoral College!

Mr. Unicow

Monday, January 07, 2008

Once again, irrational fear hurts everyone...

There are a lot of things wrong with this country's prohibitionist "War on Drugs." Too many to go into here, really. Prisons full of nonviolent pot smokers, the creation of a highly lucrative black market, and a system that does far more harm than good to the very people it claims to be protecting are just a few examples.

A far more insidious problem, though, is the reframing of drug use/addiction as a criminal act instead of the health issue it actually is. And guess what? We have some of that right here in Fitchburg!

The Sentinel just ran an oddly-titled article called Treating local addicts? that addresses the way some city councilors are "concerned" about the possibility of a medical practice specializing in addiction treatment opening on Summer Street.

The medical practice in question is described by its founder, Dr. Punyamurtula S. Kishore, like so:
"We are an enhanced primary care facility," Kishore said. "Everything is integrated, from people who have diabetes, to patients that need a check up and others who are addicted to alcohol, we help everyone."
Wow, scary stuff! And indeed, looking over the website for his group sure is terrifying!

I mean, they offer creepy programs like "Weight control and smoking cessation programs," "Physical exams and health assessments," and a "Home Detox Program." Someone quick, hide the children!

Speaking of which:
[S]ome City Councilors are concerned about the location of the facility, being blocks away from St. Bernard's High and Elementary Schools.

"It's right next to a school," said Councilor at-large Annie DeMartino. "I'm shocked they want to put one in there."
Umm, yeah. Because a doctor's office is totally a threat to schoolchildren who may be in the general vicinity. People seeking medical care certainly can't be allowed anywhere near children!

Oh, but this isn't about people seeking medical care, is it? No, it's about "addicts."

The word "addict" (as used by the Sentinel headline) conjures the image of a junkie shooting up in an abandoned building, so they're scary. And scary people should be kept away from children, right?

You see, in this country we don't talk about people with addictions as being people with a health problem. No, they're dangerous criminals! Never mind that the vast majority of people with addictions (which is probably about 95% of the country, to one thing or another) are no danger to anyone. Never mind that "addiction" usually doesn't involve anything illegal. Never mind that the people who'd be coming to this doctor's office are people seeking help. Let's just be ignorant and freak out about all the scary addicts!

Thomas Conry goes along with DeMartino's illogical fears and expresses concern at the location, but takes it one particularly ill-informed step farther:
Thomas Conry, an at-large councilor, said he has "very serious concerns" about the facility.

"I believe that people have to be treated, however I feel Fitchburg has enough of those types of practices now," he said.
Apparently Thomas Conry is in no way familiar with the medical landscape of this area.

This is a primary care facility with a specialization in addiction medicine we're talking about. Fitchburg has a serious dearth of primary care providers (as does most of the country).

In fact, the state is currently sending questionnaires to local doctors in an attempt to assess whether Fitchburg should be categorized as a "Low Income Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA)." Generally such assessments aren't undertaken unless the people involved are pretty confident they're going to qualify. Having seen the dearth of new providers coming into the area, I'd be shocked if we don't.

Additionally, the low income population of Fitchburg (and several surrounding towns) has been categorized as a "Medically Underserved Population" since 1996. (This information is easily found at, though I can't link to it directly.)

Now, those classifications are specific to "low income" populations, but don't read that to mean those of us with a bit more money have a good situation. While it's definitely more difficult for a low-income person to find a provider, that problem is made worse by there not being enough doctors to go around.

Low-income patients mean low reimbursement for the doctors who care for them, so many doctors try to limit their numbers. The poor also tend to have more medical problems than wealthier people, which means they take up more time and resources. Yet the reimbursement (especially from Masshealth/Medicaid) is extremely low compared to people who can actually afford reasonable insurance. So from a doctor's business perspective it's unwise to let the percentage of low-income/crap insurance patients in your practice get too high.

Without enough primary care providers in the area, the low-income people get hurt first, because it's not in the doctor's best interest to see too many of them. With the ridiculously ill-conceived Massachusetts "universal" health care sham now in effect, that's going to get even worse. And unless more doctors come into the area, it's going to move up the chain until nobody can find a doctor (it's already a tough thing to do around here).

Anyway, back to the Councilors.

DeMartino seems to harbor an irrational fear. Conry shares it and heaps on a big pile of ignorance. Now we get Norman Boisvert to take it to the next level of dumb:
Ward 2 Councilor Norman Boisvert said he doesn't know the specifics of the plan, but said he doesn't think Fitchburg should be attracting addicts to the city.

"There are ample places for the addicts to go," he said. "If we bring another center in, that's more addicts into our city, what we should be doing is running them out of town."
Hey, guess what Norm? There are already plenty of people with addictions living in this area! They fucking need treatment to help them get over these addictions! We wouldn't be attracting busloads of those scary meth-heads you picture, we'd be helping people in the community to deal with their addictions without having to drive to Worcester to do so. So they'd, you know, get better!

But apparently instead of helping people in town to get better, Boisvert thinks the right thing to do is to "run them out of town." Congratulations, Norm! You're a giant idiotic asshole!

You know, Hillcrest Nursing Home is right in the same part of town. Some of the patients there suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's, and could at times be classified as a danger to themselves or others. Let's run them out of town too! And certainly let's not let them stay near the school, what if an old person gets out and does something crazy?

It seems like the only City Councilor on the record as having any understanding of medical care is Jody Joseph:
Ward 6 Councilor Jody Joseph, whose ward the facility would be located in, defended the practice.

"It's a doctor's office, that's all it is," Joseph said. "One of the things he does is treat addictions, but it's not going to be a methadone clinic."

Joseph said people are rushing to judgment on the practice.

"People have made it into a horror show, when he's really just a general practitioner for people that don't want to go to a detox center," Joseph said. "It's for the average person."
Right on, Jody!

Joseph is quite right. People have gotten this false idea of what an "addict" is from television and the Drug War propaganda campaigns. But most people with an addiction are very much "the average person."

Smoke cigarettes? Drink too much? Eat too much? Too many lottery tickets? Four cups of coffee a day? Get stuck on painkillers after an operation? Take a medication that's addictive at its normal dosage? Or yes, even have a problem with illegal drugs?

Congratulations, you have an addiction. Norman Boisvert wants to run you out of town, and others on the city council fear you.

Meanwhile, intelligent and well-respected people like Dr. Kishore want to help you improve your life. Which would improve the lives of those around you. Which would improve the city.

And of course having a new business and some more primary care providers in a city that desperately needs both wouldn't be so bad either.

Hopefully the city council will figure out at some point that their constituents are not their enemy, that they don't need to be afraid of everything, and that helping people with problems actually helps all of us.

But don't hold your breath.

[Update: January 9th]
The suckass newspaper ran an editorial opposing the practice opening. Conry, DeMartino, and Marcus DiNatale spoke against it at the ZBA hearing. And the fools at the ZBA turned down the zoning change required to open it. So it's dead.

So we've lost an opportunity for a business to open (while simultaneously costing that business $100k), lost the chance to bring some much-needed primary care doctors into the area, and showed everyone that we're an ignorant little shithole town*.

Way to go.

*In fact, Fitchburg is not an ignorant little shithole town. But is it any surprise that we get characterized that way when this is how we present ourselves?

Friday, January 04, 2008

So yeah, Obama...

Well, the nearly meaningless Iowa caucus was last night, and we're left with Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee as the winners. Whoopedy doo!

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Obama won. For that matter, I'm glad Edwards beat Clinton. But frankly, I'm not surprised by either of those outcomes.

Why not? Because the media are a bunch of fucking idiots. Hillary's entire "inevitable" status was created by them because they're stuck in an old way of thinking. We in Massachusetts, and especially in Fitchburg, should have already abandoned that way of thinking by now.

Allow me to explain...

Obama's victory was predictable if you watched the elections that gave us Deval Patrick and Lisa Wong, who both won by considerable margins. The commonalities are almost too numerous to mention, and I see no reason why the outcome should be any different.

I'm not talking about stuff like minority status here. It's insignificant as a factor in any of their victories. What I'm talking about is the two basic messages common to each of these candidates; "change" and "hope."

Most people aren't happy with the way the country (or the state, or the city) have been run of late. They want change, and they want intelligent change.

Kerry Healey didn't represent change, Tom Donnelly didn't represent change, and Hillary Clinton doesn't represent change. Patrick, Wong, and Obama did (or do). Whether that representation is accurate is an open question, but the perception is that they're at least agents of change. And not just any change, but a change that inspires people and engages them. That's perhaps the most important bit.

That's also the bit that involves "hope."

Now, hope is a tricky thing. Some (including myself) might say it's an empty word meaning nothing. You can't hope your way out of an unjust war, you can't hope your way to better healthcare, and you can't hope your way to a better government. But hope's still a powerful thing. If you don't have it, you don't get a lot done. You just sort of sit around being bummed out. So you sort of need hope.

And hope is what those three candidates give people. Which is no easy task with a populace as apathetic and jaded as ours. But it's pretty fucking powerful.

So here's what happens, and this is what the political pundits and media talking heads have yet to realize. All the elections in the coming year or so are going to have record turnout, and that turnout is going to push for the candidate who inspires hope and represents change.

Let's look at Obama vs Clinton for an example.

This is just anecdotal, but in my experience people who support Clinton are pretty lukewarm about her, and people who don't support her hate her fucking guts. So her supporters aren't necessarily passionate about going to support her, and those who don't support her are passionate about going to vote for someone else.

Obama has the opposite situation. People who support him are excited to do so. Those who don't support him don't seem to hate him, but sort of have a lukewarm (lukecold?) attitude towards him. There's not a lot of hate for Obama (unlike Clinton).

Anyway, Obama's motivated supporters definitely show up to vote for him. Clinton's haters show up to vote against her (and may well vote for Obama). Obama wins, Clinton loses.

This doesn't have a perfect analogue with the Patrick/Healey and Wong/Donnelly races, because I don't think people had the same hatred of Healey or Donnelly that they have for Clinton, they were just uninspired by them. Still, if you have one inspiring candidate and one boring milquetoast, the inspiring candidate is always going to win.

When it comes to Huckabee, it's sort of the same thing. Which is weird, but allow me to explain.

Willard "Mitt" Romney is the most boring piece of offal on the planet. Dull dull dull. He's the functional choice. The one with the nice hair and a lot of money. Seems like he'll win by the old-school thought.

But Huckabee excites people. Granted, the people he excites are batshit crazy. But it's the same deal as with the Democrats. He excites the crazy people while Willard just sort of appeals to the dullards. Hence, Huckabee won because the crazy idiots came out to vote in droves.

No idea if that win will carry over to other primaries (issues of money and so forth, plus Huck's general insanity do still matter a bit), but it should be a warning shot for Romney. Boring dudes don't win when the country wants change and vision!

Anyway, yeah. Vision is extremely important in a political leader. Hope and passion are very important to getting elected, and not so bad to have in a leader either.

And the media isn't going to get it yet again. What else is new?

I'll give my prediction, just in case you care. I've expressed this privately before the caucus, but might as well get it on the record in case I'm right...

For the Democrats, it comes down to Obama & Edwards, with Obama coming out on top. Hillary takes a couple of states, but that's it. Maybe an Obama/Edwards ticket in the general. Anyway, Obama wins president.

For the Republicans... well, I'm rooting for Huckabee just because he's so totally unelectable. It'll probably be Willard Romney though. Who will lose in the general election, just like he would have lost had he run for governor of Massachusetts again. McCain's the only Republican with a chance in hell of winning the presidency, but the guy doesn't have the money or support from the far-right base to get the nomination.

So there you have it. Feel free to make fun of me if I'm wrong.