1998 in Review

Some people I know are very down on the 1990s. I’m looking at you, Rob! They hated the 90s when they were happening, and don’t look back upon them fondly.

As for me, despite a problem I had during the mid-1990s, the 90s overall were good for me. Certainly way better than 2001 was. During the 1990s, I graduated high school, moved to a new city, fell in love, had my first time with a woman (and her husband), made some new friends and generally learned to be the person I am now (not all in that order, mind you).

The 90s also featured the start of the current golden age of TV, with shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine leading the way. The 90s also were the decade that gave us the Harry Potter books. Plus, as this video shows, 1998 had some really good movies.

So, yeah, the 1990s were a thing that wasn’t as bad as all that.

What Remains for Progressives?

Those of us on the left have won just about every fight there is. Americans are generally pro-choice, civil rights are spreading far and wide, gay marriage is more of a thing now than it was even just a few years ago, and we even have a black (more or less), president. So what’s left?

That’s what Slate asked earlier this week. With almost no effort on my part, I’ve come up with a list of ten things we on the left need to be working on. I’m sure it’s a fraction of what’s actually needed, but at least it’s a start.

1. Abolishing the death penalty nationwide. It’s useless, it’s expensive, and worse of all, there’s always the chance we might murder an innocent person. This almost certainly happened in Texas, and I’m willing to bet it’s a matter of when, rather than if, we have definitive proof someone innocent was murdered by the state. The more we learn about wrongful convictions, the more the idea of something as irrevocable as killing someone should be considered anathema.

2. Improving labor rights. Not just improving the lot of unions, though that, too, but the basic rights of the American worker. Do you know that in Australia, which has a standard of living very similar to our own, the minimum wage is nearly US $15 an hour? Imagine what it would be like in this country if we raised the minimum wage up to even just $12 an hour. Sure, businesses would scream and complain, and then they’d absorb the costs and move on. Meantime, the average worker would have more money to spend, thus helping to drive the economy.

It’s not just the minimum wage, of course. Most of the major industrialized nations have mandatory vacation time. We don’t. Most of them have mandatory sick time. We don’t. At the very least we should have mandatory sick days for any business that employees people who have to handle food. That’s just sense. Hell, it’s not even a matter of national law that employees receive break times, and oddly enough, in those states where breaks aren’t required, employees don’t usually get them. That’s not even going into the number of industries where people are specifically exempt from being paid overtime pay.

3. Gun control. Hard, heavy, gun control. It is absolutely fucking stupid that people in this country can have access to military-grade weapons. We don’t need them. As I’ve said before, I think everyone should be allowed to own one (1) each of the following: a shotgun, a pistol and a rifle. Exceptions can be made for people who work in certain fields, but for the most part, that should be all the guns you need, and that covers basically any use for a gun. I’d also want absolute mandatory background checks on all gun transfers.

4. Voting rights. Let’s secure them better than they are right now. The recent SCOTUS ruling on the Civil Rights Act was a tragedy. They said the states were basically ready to have the laws governing their behavior in elections removed, and several states instantly set out to prove them wrong. We need good, solid voting rights reform.

5. Education access and standards. Everyone should be entitled, merely by being a high school graduate, to have a full, post high school education paid for by the government, with living expenses included. This is something of a no-brainer except to those people who don’t want an educated populous. The left really needs to push this one hard.

6. Stronger separation between church and state. It’s very wrong, frankly, that any government document includes references to God. My money should not say “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance, which shouldn’t even be a thing, shouldn’t say “…under God.” Nor should our money say, “In No God Do We Trust”, and the Pledge should not say, “…under no gods.” The state must and should be completely, 100%, neutral on all religious issues. Anything else is just stupid.

7. Put an end to the growing security state. The PATRIOT Act was a travesty and remains so. The government wields way too much power in the so-called “War on Terror” and that power needs to go away. 9/11 was an aberration that was caused, at least in part, by George W and company ignoring all the signs that an attack was about to happen. What has happened since has been just awful. We’ve damaged ourselves far more than the terrorists ever did, and that needs to stop. Speaking of…

8. Charges and trials for W, Cheney and others involved in war crimes. The use of torture violates both US and international law, didn’t get us any useful information and is completely immoral. We lost the moral high ground by using it, and those involved need to pay. If we can’t give them the trials they deserve, then at the very least we need some Truth and Reconciliation committees to force us, as a nation, to face up to what was done in our name.

9. Greater action on climate change. The GOP loves, loves, fighting this one. But we’ve seen time and again that the models are correct and that global climate change is a real thing. We need to stop it from getting worse and then push on improving things. That we aren’t already doing this is a major shame.

10. True universal health care. Everyone should have access to Medicare. There. Done. That fixes every problem with employer-based health care as well as the individual mandate. I’d even be happy to pay extra in taxes to make this happen. We remain the only major country that lacks universal health care and that needs to change.

So there we go. Ten wonderful, lovely things that we on the left need to get out there and fight for.

A Right to Health Care

I’m enrolled in college, as many of you know. I’m taking a sociology class, and we are discussing health care. The teacher asked us to answer this question, “What in the Constitution guarantees that health care is a fundamental human right?” This is what I responded with:

Easy; the 9th Amendment, which says, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights should not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This was put into there in order to prevent future generations from saying, “Ah, well, it’s not in the Constitution, so you don’t have the right to do it.”

Saying “the Constitution doesn’t say you have the right to health care,” and using that as an excuse to deny it, is like saying that you can’t drive a car because the Constitution doesn’t mention that you can.

From a more pragmatic point of view, society as a whole benefits if the general population is healthy. A healthy population is more productive, and if there were some sort of communicable disease going around that people didn’t get treated because they couldn’t afford to, that could lead to it spreading even faster.

And on a more romantic level, the Declaration of Independence, which is not part of our law but is the spiritual document of our country, mentions certain inalienable rights, and that among liberty and the pursuit of happiness is also life.

Seeing to it that everyone has affordable health care is just smart, and it’s certainly compassionate. Besides, what would you rather have: a society where the general population is fit and productive or one where they’re sick and unable to work?

I’m totally acing this class. 🙂

On the HPV Vaccine

The upside of this shot? Your child might not die of fucking cancer!

Michelle Bachmann (R – Wackaloon), seems to be against the HPV vaccination, and is certainly against having it be mandatory. She seems to believe that it has all sorts of horrible side-effects and that it’s caused retardation in the child of someone she met before the recent GOP debate. You know, the one where “Let him die!” was considered by some in the audience to be a viable option when it comes to dealing with a sick person. The health concerns she raised are stupid and invalid and not even remotely supported by science (as well as being yet another example of a Republican being anti-science), so for the purposes of this article, I’m ignoring them.

The HPV vaccine, for those of you who don’t know, prevents a certain kind of STD that a great many people have. That STD is responsible for causing cervical cancer in women, which is a particularly nasty cancer. If you get this vaccine, you won’t get the disease. Seems simple and reasonable, but it has to be given to girls before they become sexually active. Thus it’s given to them around the ages of 9 – 12. Still reasonable, I think most people would agree.

The problem is that, for some reason, in some people’s mind giving little girls this vaccine is the equivalent of sexualizing them somehow. Their minds seem to believe that if you give this to their precious ten-year-old daughter, you’re focusing on her (hopefully non-existent), sex life. I don’t quite get that little leap in logic, but whatever.

Anyhow, the people who are against this also seem to believe their daughters are very stupid, and that those daughters will think getting this vaccine means they can become super sluts who sleep with every boy in school. This is one of the arguments that’s often used against giving kids access to birth control. It’s another stupid argument and, frankly, if you’ve raised your child so poorly that they believe getting a vaccine to prevent one of several STDs is a good reason to sleep around, then you’re just a crappy parent.

Then there’s the issue of this being something that’s mandated. You know, when I was a kid I had to get a series of shots before I was allowed into school and had to get other shots and boosters as I went along through my academic career. Now admittedly I was five at the time, but as far as I know, no one was going all apeshit about it back then. I don’t quite understand why they’re doing it now, except for this odd belief some people have that parents always know what’s best for their child (they don’t).

I wrote about mandatory vaccines once before, and I stand by what I said. Let me also expand it by adding this remark:


Thank you.

Look for the Warning Label

So the FDA is going to start forcing cigarette manufacturers to place graphic, nasty photos of the damage done by smoking onto their packages and advertisements. Naturally they’re pissed, and say they can’t be forced to do this. I’m sure they’ll continue to whine and do it anyway, because otherwise the government can retaliate by turning tobacco into a schedule 1 drug or somesuch.

I haven’t written about these labels before, but I’ll say now that I don’t think they’ll do anything to stop current smokers. In places where these photos already exist, lots of people buy little boxes to put their packs into and so they don’t see the photos each time they go to light up. I think there’s also the certain kind of idiot who will look at these and think, “Cool! If I smoke, I’m being all awesome and junk cause I’m courting death!”

But I think they will work to the point that it might stop a lot of people from starting to smoke. I also think that requiring these photos to appear on the advertisements for the product (where they must take up 20% of the ad space), is a grand idea, for Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man won’t look quite so fancy standing under someone’s diseased, cancer-ridden mouth.

Of course at least one person who wrote into Andrew Sullivan suggests that if we can put warning labels on cigarettes, why not everything else?

I understand that cigarettes kill more people than car accidents and all other diseases combined, but this new warning design is on many levels laughable. If we go down this road with cigarettes, why not put pictures of people killed by drunk drivers on cases of Budweiser and pictures of diseased livers on bottles of Crown Royal? How about pics of infected and dead animals from cosmetic testing on Maybeline lipstick? Rotted-out teeth on Pepsi cans? Pictures of hugely obese people on Ben & Jerry’s containers?

If tobacco products are going to be singled out now, what product category is next?

Sully didn’t provide an answer, so I will. Very few people spend all day, every day, chain-eating ice cream. They don’t usually open their bottle of beer with the cap from their previous bottle. These are things that people are quite capable of using in moderation and a great many do. There is such a beast as the social drinking, but the social smoker, while she exists, is very, very rare. Cigarettes are, notably, the only product listed up there that is fatal if you use it as the manufacturer wants you to. Hell, even beer ads these days have a little “please drink responsibly” line on them. I haven’t seen one ever for cigarette ads. Also, the comment about cosmetics is just stupid, since they must be tested on animals so we know they are safe for humans.

These ads, as I said, likely won’t make a difference for current smokers. What will make them stop? A $1 a pack national tax on cigarettes would be a good start, and it’s been proven with polls and evidence that the higher you tax smoking, the less likely people are to do it (ie: New York, where a pack, after tax, can go for $11 – $12). It certainly makes it less likely that kids are going to start. Plus that money can then be funneled into treatment programs and medical aid for smokers.

Besides, ask yourself this: What would you prefer? These ads, or cigarettes being made flat-out illegal? Given the choice, I’ll take the ads every time.

Health Care Costs in America

Ever wonder where are our health care costs come from? Check these charts, which I lifted from Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Click it to make it bigger... THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!

Same here.

Where in I Get an HIV Test

Well, today I got my first HIV test in, oh, about 15 years. Indeed. Why rush, after all? I delayed not because I was afraid of a positive result (and for the record, I am negative), but… well, I hate needles. I really hate them. I know there’s one where they swab your cheeks and I planned to do that one a few years ago, but didn’t. Since then I haven’t exactly been motivated.

But then one of my friends started asking me to get one, and I poked around for options. I found a few options for home testing (including the only one approved by the FDA), but they looked too cumbersome. I also didn’t want to have to wait any length of time for the test, as I’m cursed with a vivid imagination and a paranoid streak. Then I found out there’s a place here in Phoenix that does them for free and gives you results within just a few minutes.

So I went down there today. I filled out a paper, waited about five minutes and was ushered into a room. There they took a blood sample using a lancet that wasn’t like any I’d seen before. I was used to the ones that were basically a pointed bit of steel and you or a friend had to jab your finder hard to get it. In this case it was a small, spring-loaded device that didn’t really hurt at all. The blood was sucked up with a pipette and put into a small testing device with another bit of fluid. I chatted with the tester for less than ten minutes and got my result: negative. The whole thing was quick, mostly painless and surprisingly easy.

And there we are. I know now for the first time in many years exactly what my status is. This is reassuring. I shall get retested annually now, like I know I should. A friend of mine gets tested on his birthday each year, but I won’t do that (positive result = worst birthday present ever), but I will be more responsible and do it more.