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It's that time of year again: time for the health insurance scramble!
I haven't spent so much as a penny against my health insurance in the past year, so of course they are increasing my monthly premium by 28%. Thankfully, I only get older one year at a time. At this rate, I'll be paying $2500/mo when I turn 50. It's getting too expensive to live!
The good news is that America's Greatest President followed through on his campaign promise to make my health insurance much more affordable by allowing me to have no health insurance at all. What a great guy. He really cares!
I went on healthcare.gov to see what my options were, but the site doesn't work in Google Chrome because of Chrome's new, extra-strict security rules. Apparently, Google thinks the federal government's approach to health care for its citizens is just another scam. I'm pretty sure they're right.
I shouldn't complain too much. They tell me my current plan is pretty good, and for the first time in 3 years, it isn't being discontinued out from underneath me. So I'll probably pay the extra premium and stick with it for another year. No matter what Our Fearless Leader thinks, $200 more a month still seems a better option than letting my insides rot out.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has added a new category to the Oscars to reward movies that the general public likes. I think this is a bad idea. There's already an award for movies the general public likes. It's called money.
The new category is to be for "Outstanding Achievement in Popular Movies," which in addition to being an award dedicated to pandering, is also an insult to other, "unpopular" movies. How bad is Hollywood's current output that they can't combine "popular" and "quality"? Best Picture winners Rocky, The Godfather, Titanic, and Gladiator didn't need special treatment. Why should Ready Player One?
I get where they're coming from. The Academy views the Oscar telecast as an advertisement for movies, and last year the telecast had the lowest ratings in history. (Note to the Academy: everything on television was down year-to-year in 2017 as millennials cut every cord they could find.) They hope adding a new category specifically to feature movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom will cause more people to watch the telecast, and therefore, encourage more people to go out and watch movies. Specifically, movies they've already seen.
I don't have access to the information the Academy sees, but from where I sit, this seems an entirely unnecessary move. Why water down the value of an Oscar to promote the movies that are already making more than a billion dollars? Disney has released three billion-dollar-plus movies this year. Why not just give them a dedicated statuette? I'm sure they'll be glad to send that ice queen from Frozen to pick it up. That'll bring in the millennial audience in droves.
Essentially, what this new award comes down to is Hollywood telling you that if you like a movie, it probably isn't very good. The worst of it is, they're probably right.
Nearly half a million Georgians woke up today to discover that their Blue Cross Blue Shield healthcare plans are no longer accepted at Piedmont Healthcare locations around the greater metropolitan Atlanta area.
That's not news to the half-million Georgia residents who have individual plans (read: "Obamacare"). Piedmont hasn't accepted any of the Obamacare plans for years, meaning those of us who freelance or are poor (or both *ahem*) and live in regions dominated by Piedmont's near monopoly have gotten quite used to setting our own broken bones and buying our painkillers from street vendors.
It's hard to decide which side of this current shouting match I should be cheering for. Piedmont says it just wants fair compensation from a insurer who refuses to allow its customers to go to emergency rooms until after they have a doctor's note proving they have an emergency. For its part, BCBS says it will go bankrupt unless doctors agree to shoulder some of the burden of a state and federal government that mandate coverage they refuse to pay for. Settle down, immigrants and Hollywood actresses. In 2018 America, everybody loses!
I understand why children these days are marching in protest of an absence of common sense gun legislation, but I have to say this latest healthcare crisis demonstrates why I still support easy access to weaponry. America's (and especially Georgia's) healthcare system is so fucked up, we need all the bullets we can bite to help push past the pain of untreated ailments. You'll understand one day, kids, assuming you're lucky enough to survive next month's school shooting. (And the month after that, and the month after that....)
What's that you say, Russia? You've got a shiny, new nuclear missile that you're eager to use because no one else will let you cheat at elections or kill anyone you want to? Big deal. Go ahead and shoot. That's one way to solve America's healthcare problems. We'll see how much money Piedmont's doctors are worth when we're all glowing in the dark. Besides, I'm eager to see what excuse BCBS comes up with to disqualify radiation poisoning trips to the ER.
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As if playing for the Miami Dolphins wasn't bad enough, wide receiver Jarvis Landry — the 2017 NFL leader in receptions — has been traded to the Cleveland Browns. Ouch.
Yes, Landry has a tendency to be a diva, but not more so than other players at his position. Yes, Landry has a tendency to commit penalties, but other players on the team were much worse. Yes, Landry's yards per catch were low, but his quarterback was Jay Cutler. The team's second leading receiver, Kenny Stills, had almost twice the average yards per catch on half as many receptions, but it's not Landry's fault that every-other pass to him was thrown behind the line of scrimmage.
Landry's true sin was wanting to be paid what he was worth. That's something the Dolphins' front office won't tolerate. That's why they got rid of Jay Ajayi last year. (Poor Ajayi was booted straight to the Philadelphia Eagles who only managed to go on to win the Super Bowl. What a bust!) That's why they'll soon be unloading Ndamukong Suh. Rumor has it that Ryan Tannehill — the team's highest-paid remaining player — will soon be shown the door for a similar reason. Ye gods, it's a housecleaning!
Sadly, it looks like another rebuilding year is in the cards for the 'Fins. Current GM Chris Grier must believe that when players say they love the game so much they'd play for free, they really will play for free. He certainly wasn't willing to open his wallet for either Ajayi or Landry despite both far outperforming their rookie contracts. That sets a pretty bad precedent for future rookies.
Don't get too attached to Miami, draft class of 2018. If you play well, you'll only be asked to choose between taking a pay cut or packing your bags. If you're lucky like Ajayi, maybe you'll get traded to Super Bowl-bound teams.
Earlier this week, the Newnan City Council agreed to give away a city street to the downtown Central Baptist Church in exchange for 18 parking places. (Central offered to build a parking lot with 40 spaces, but to do so they first have to take away 12 existing places, and they're keeping another 10 for themselves.) The entire affair was resolved in typical Newnan fashion: the citizens only being told that the city would be giving away their property a week before it was a done deal.
Personally, I don't care what happens to Brown Street. If the church wants it and the city doesn't, that's their call. I can't even say that I have a problem with the underhanded way the church and the city negotiated this in a back room without public input. As I said, Newnan subscribes to the Boss Hogg school of democracy ("What's yours is mine!"). What I do have a problem with is the hypocrisy of the city councilman who was insulted that the citizens who opposed this underhanded horse trade would dare impugn his integrity.
The Newnan Times-Herald quotes Councilman Ray DuBose:
"Yes, I am a member of Central and I have been elected to serve as a Deacon on the board, which I serve with pleasure, and there is no conflict of interest in my voting for this. Furthermore, in my oath that I took as councilman, I promised to serve the community as a whole and certainly the church is a part of that whole as much as the other neighborhoods. I do my very best every time time I sit up here and find it an insult that people would call me unfair."
Well, bless his heart. As he's such a good Christian, I'll give poor, put upon Mr. DuBose the benefit of the doubt. Maybe no one ever explained to him what a "conflict of interest" is. Since he's a jeweler by trade, let me try it this way:
Imagine a jeweler who has agreed to keep a ring in his safe for a customer. The jeweler's wife sees the ring and wants it for herself. In exchange for the ring, she offers to trade the jeweler a necklace he could resell for big bucks. Ask yourself, is it ethical for the jeweler to make this trade without the consent of the owner of the ring? What would Jesus do? (Hint: He wouldn't trade away something that wasn't his.)
No matter how much that jeweler might want to keep his wife happy, no matter how much he wants to resell that necklace, his personal and professional desires present a conflict with the interest of the ring's owner who he also represents. Hence, he shouldn't be the one to make the decision whether the ring gets traded for the necklace. See? It's simple!
To put it more bluntly, if there's even a question of whether a councilman has a conflict of interest in a particular bit of city business, it's always most appropriate ethically for him to recuse himself from participating in making that decision. In this case, if Mr. DuBose had done the morally right thing and admitted that he valued the needs of his church so highly that he couldn't be bothered listening to the opinions of the general population, he still would have gotten his parking lot as the rest of the council voted 4-2 in favor of his little deal. And he wouldn't have had to hear the dirty bums who pay his salary call him such nasty names!
As I said, I don't care about the outcome. I only drive down Brown Street, like, 3 times a year, and I certainly never set foot inside Central Baptist Church. While I'm sorry that Mr. DuBose's delicate sensibilities were offended by a bunch of people who would rather drive through his filthy little town than park in it, I can't say that I much blame them.
I've had the same two University of Georgia football season tickets since 2002. For most of that time, no matter how many games UGA won or lost, those 2 tickets cost about $500 (allowing for seasonal variation based on the number of home games played).
This year, UGA played for the national title. This week, it was announced ticket prices are going up 50%.
Imagine what the school will do when they actually win a national title game.
For the record, that's just the cost of the tickets. Before you can buy tickets, you first have to make a "donation" to the Hartman Fund (which pays for student athletics scholarships). UGA increased the mandatory donation last year, and I paid it without complaint. A 10% increase after years of stability seemed reasonable at the time. Yet this latest announcement means that the same pair of tickets that cost $1,055 in 2016 will cost $1,480 in 2018. Ouch.
What does this price increase get me? The six-game 2017 home schedule was particularly terrible, with Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia Tech all out of town. Despite the jump in cost and the return of those three teams, the rest of the home schedule is filled out with Vanderbilt (whose only 2017 SEC win was against Tennessee), University of Massachusetts (who lost to 4-8 Tennessee), Middle Tennessee (who lost to Vanderbilt), and Austin Peay (who lost to undefeated UCF 33 to 73!). $1,480 is a lot to pay for only 3 worthwhile football games.
Athletic Director Greg McGarity said he needs my money so he can make "substantial adjustments to the compensation of our coaching staff" (as quoted by Dawgnation.com). (What's the matter, Coach Smart? Being the highest paid public employee in the state [$3.75 million] wasn't enough for you?) Despite my qualms at the quality of what I'd be buying with my money, if paying an extra $400 for one season would guarantee a coaching staff that could beat Nick Saban's backup quarterback for a national title, I'd pay up. Are you willing to make that promise, McGarity? If we lose again, do I get my money back?
Obviously, I like attending football games. I have imagined myself continuing to travel to Athens on Saturdays until I'm old enough to need a walker to get around. That said, I won't get there if I go broke first. Fifteen years was a good run, but if UGA is getting greedy, I think maybe it's best if I go ahead and give up my dream before it breaks me.
Can you think of a reason I should keep paying? If so, please let me know. I have until February 15 to decide if it's worth giving UGA athletics any more of my money.
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Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way.
167. (1226.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
I asked Dad what he wanted to do for his birthday yesterday, and to my horror he said "I want to see Star Wars." So I took him to see it. (A child's job is never done.) Dad may not be, but I'm getting too old for this shit.
The original Star Wars wasn't exactly Shakespeare, but neither was it insulting. By comparison, The Last Jedi begs its audience to forget everything it knows about science and society, physics and psychology. I guess that's why it's marketed as a kid's movie — a kid's movie supersaturated with graphic violence, copious death, and a PG-13 rating. Say, if you're going to remake Empire Strikes Back, can you at least keep it under 2.5 hours, please? Sorry, but I can't suspend my disbelief long enough for this level of stupidity anymore.
Ugh. Every time I think about it, I find something new to irritate me. Unjustifiably incompetent Hux. Edsel bumper Phasma. Smug cartoon Snoke. Topless emo Kylo Ren. Horny Rey. Pointless Finn. Stalker Rose. Traitorous mass murderer Po. Atmosphere in space. Gravity-assisted bombers. Belated use of indefensible hyperspace missiles. Not enough Threepio! Aargh!
Was it all bad? No. Mark Hamill steals every scene he's in as Mirror Universe Luke Skywalker. Dead Yoda is the best Yoda. And I particularly enjoyed Benicio Del Toro's parting "maybe." But then how did Del Toro's DJ know the crucial piece of information that led there? Damn it! It's impossible to even praise this movie without tripping into another of its innumerable flaws.
There were parts where I think I could see where director Rian Johnson wanted to take the movie's theme of loss and transcendence. These themes would sit much better in the third act of a trilogy than the second, so why here and now? How much of a role did Disney's executives play in distorting that vision to keep its golden goose laying? I don't know. At this point, I don't care.
The worst of it is that I'm afraid this isn't the last Star Wars film I'll have to see. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to me being in the theater for whatever dreck Disney cranks out next Christmas. Let the past die, Dad!
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In 1977, my father took me to see Star Wars after he had already seen it once. He loved it and wanted me to love it too. I don't remember anything about that experience. I was only 2. However, we did have a VCR — it was huge with faux wood paneling — and I would watch the movie over and over and over again in the years following. We also recorded and rewatched the infamous Holiday Special.
In 1981, my father took me to see Empire Strikes Back in a theater after it had been playing a few weeks. I can't tell you exactly where. All I remember was that it had red walls in the lobby. Though at the time I was disappointed by the cliffhanger ending, I wasn't disappointed enough not to love all the cool new toys. Not long afterwards, my brother accidentally decapitated my original black-vested Han Solo figure, and my parents replaced him with a Han in Hoth gear. What a downgrade. (I retaliated by running over Trey's sensorscope R2-D2 with my bicycle.)
In 1983, my friend Greg Owens saw Return of the Jedi before I did. He complained the movie had too many purple-lipped talking dogs in it. Their catchphrase, Greg said, was "Eat your momma." When I finally saw it (again with my family, again theater unknown though probably in Stone Mountain, GA), his review was borne out. By Christmas, I had all the available Ewok action figures and a Wicket doll.
In 1999, I saw The Phantom Menace at the new Hollywood 24 theater in Atlanta with friends. The movie was fine enough — in fact I think I continue to like it more than many — but I was disappointed by how many people I spoke to seemed to love it for what they put into it, not what it was. Darth Maul, like Boba Fett before him, particularly irked me. Fans decided he was cool because he looked cool. Their love was for a thing they had created in their heads, not a character that had appeared on screen. This realization that fans loved the franchise not for what it was but for what they wanted it to be was the beginning of the end of my love affair with Star Wars. I have a hard time associating with people who worship style over substance.
In 2002, I watched Attack of the Clones at the United Artists Scottsdale Pavilions theater in Arizona with my brother. We both agreed the movie was terrible. Bad acting, worse writing. Between the forced romance and that CGI Artoo video game sequence, this film is almost unwatchable. I distinctly remember saying that the only reason anyone should pay money to see such a thing was to get out of the desert sun.
In 2005, I have no memory of watching Revenge of the Sith. My friend Keith has told me he remembers my laughter at the final reveal of Darth Vader, so I assume I watched it in Atlanta, presumably back at the Hollywood 24. It was awful. How could any so-called fans of the older Star Wars films still love this franchise after old Ben Kenobi was revealed as the kind of man who turned his back on his friends and his responsibilities, "master" Yoda was an isolationist failure, or Vader himself was a tantrum-throwing idiot? Weren't these supposed to be kids movies? Yuck! If this was the Star Wars Universe, I wanted no more part of it.
In 2015, I watched The Force Awakens at some theater on the north side of Atlanta with reserved seating in recliners that kept my feet from touching the ground. I didn't want to see it, but I'd made the mistake of saying I'd watch it if they found a way to bring Han Solo back. They did. I watched. I found it an insulting exercise in nostalgia. (Hey, guys, let's forget all that prequel nonsense. Remember what you liked about Star Wars? Here it is again!) It's now the highest grossing film of all time.
In 2016, I watched Rogue One at Regal Cinemas 11 in Panama City, Florida. It was my father's birthday present. It was a bad present. The movie was yet another excuse for brand reinforcement, a short story intended to fill gaps in the original Star Wars backstory with stereotypical yet well-costumed characters that would make good action figures.
In 2017, Disney released The Last Jedi. A new one already? As if I wasn't burnt out enough. I hear it's different. I hear this one will change everything I've ever thought about Star Wars. I feel like I've heard that before. Maybe I'll see it one day when it comes on television. Maybe. I'm not in any hurry anymore.
Who wants a Walter health insurance update? No one? Well, you're getting one anyway.
As we all know, Georgia has done its best to destroy any healthcare options for poor individuals like me, and the Republicans controlling the federal government have, to their credit, only managed to make shit worse. So now, for the third year in a row, I have to scramble to figure out what my options are. Too bad no one else seems to know, either.
Blue Cross Blue Shield has withdrawn from offering individual plans where I live in Georgia, leaving me with only Kaiser Permanente (KP) HMO options available under the Affordable Care Act. The problem here is that I cannot keep my doctor, and no urgent care facility within 40 miles or hospital within 70 miles accept the Healthcare Exchange (HIX) plans. That's... not ideal. But it might still be my best choice. At least it theoretically pays for something if, say, I was hit by a bus in New York City.
Not that I have a lot of other choices. I have looked at some off-Marketplace plans, and they are really worthless. Twelve hundred dollars per year gets me a couple of urgent care visits and not much else. Compared to that, I might as well have no insurance and just pay the tax penalty ($695).
So the KP HIX HMO plan looks like the best option for me, though only so long as I make little enough to take advantage of the low-income subsidies. (Sweet spot catch-22: if I make a little more money, I'm priced out of health insurance, and as a male, I wouldn't qualify for Medicare in the state of Georgia even if I earned nothing at all.) It is my understanding that KP has to continue to offer me the subsidies discount if I qualify even though that asshole Trump has vowed not to reimburse them, essentially guaranteeing that next year I'll have no healthcare options at all.
I've been lucky so far, but I can't stay healthy forever, guys.
I just saw NBC's Chuck Todd say that the President's determination in insisting that "many sides" were culpable in the disaster that was Charlottesville this past weekend robs the Office of the President of its "moral authority."
The current president never had any moral authority. He insults people left and right, usually for nothing more than disagreeing with him. He laughed at American P.O.W.s. He bragged about sexual assault. He openly encouraged violence and intolerance. He lied constantly about everything. And that was all before he got into office.
What's he done since then to reclaim the moral high ground? He has tried to sabotage a federal investigation into a foreign government's role in his own election. He constantly attacks the integrity of his own hand-picked staff. He talks trash to Boy Scouts. He openly encourages violence and intolerance. He lies constantly about everything. Is refusing to abide by the Emoluments clause in the Constitution he swore to uphold supposed to be moral?
No, Chuck Todd. The man in the White House didn't lose any moral authority over Charlottesville. He didn't have any to lose. You can't go down from nothing.
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