Archive for December 2015

The Detectorists – An Unearthed Gem of British Comedy

While flipping through Roku’s channels last night I stopped by AcornTV, a must subscription site for Anglophiles. I came across the show The Detectorists, a 30 minute comedy (in the theatrical sense of the term) and decided to give it a go. The show centers on the lives of two friends who share the passion of metal detecting in the English countryside. It’s a very geeky show from an American perspective, but after the first two episodes I found myself hooked, and I finished the entire series in two nights. The show is written by and stars MacKenzie Crook, a British actor who will be most recognizable to American audiences as one of the pirates in The Pirates of the Caribbean. Cook plays Andy, a ne’er-do-well who lives with his long-term girlfriend Becky, played by a stunning Rachael Stirling, hasn’t completed his degree in archaeology and spends way too much time with his friend Lance, played by Toby Jones, a British actor with roles in The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Lance drives a fork lift in a produce processing plant and still pines for his ex-wife who ran off with the manager of a Pizza Hut. Together they spend as much time together as possible sweeping the British countryside with their metal detectors in a never-ending quest for the lost treasure of a buried Saxon king. The series chronicles the ups and downs of their lives as they interact with quirky and quintessentially British characters like the owner of a field who commands invisible dogs, their club members who include a terribly shy young man who collects shrapnel, and a young woman Sophie, played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards (of Luther and Peaky Blinders fame) who joins their club and turns everyone’s lives upside down for the entire 6 episodes. Throughout it all Lance and Andy struggle to maintain their heads, their friendship and their passion for the squeals and beeps of their detectors as they dig up pull tabs, lost Matchbox cars and buried barbed wire in their quest for the lost Saxon gold.

This show isn’t for everyone. I was surprised it was for me, but the characters were so interesting once you got beyond their boring superficialities. Crook’s style is simple, and the scenes were often quiet, but the writing is simply sublime. At first you laugh at the characters, then you pity them but half-way through the series you befriend them and demand to see them triumph. You want them to find that lost treasure even though you know they can’t find it because that would be the end of the show. And when they suffer you feel like you want to buy them a pint and offer them some words of hope.

The Detectorists won a 2015 BAFTA Award for best situation comedy, and has gotten rave reviews both in the UK and here in the US. I believe that TV shows and movies are alot like movies and music: they are very personal and rarely communicate to people in the same ways. But if you have an hour to waste you can do much worse than to try two episodes of this delightful show.

The Council Has Spoken: December 18, 2015

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Non-Council Winners

Cord Cutting Update

Back in August I wrote about my experience as a reluctant cord cutter. Here’s an update.

What I didn’t mention is that to avoid the high pressure sales pitch from DirecTV, I didn’t outright cancel; I suspended my service. When asked for details I said I was leaving the country (I was – but on vacation in Italy a few months later) and wouldn’t need the service. No problem. Service suspended and my  $103 bill dropped to $0.

I subscribe to the following streaming services: Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Acorn Media (for UK shows), and HBO Now (for Game Of Thrones). Even adding up all these services, some of which I subscribed to for a long time before I stopped my DirecTV service, is $38 a month. Doing the math over the 6 months of this experiment I have saved $390.

Subtract from that figure about $90 in pay-per-episode charges for Walking Dead and a few other shows and I’m still up $300.

But a fairer assessment should look at the total of what I spent on TV prior to cutting the cable. For instance before cutting the cable I subscribed to all those services except for HBO Now (which only became available in September) and Hulu. So if I add the cost of Netfilx, Acorn, and Amazon Prime (considered free because I buy just about everything through Amazon) I’ve saved an additional $78. Plus the HBO Now will allow me access to the new Game of Thrones season included in the $15 monthly price (I ended up watching the entire series through Amazon Prime paying extra) and I figure the HBO Now will pretty much pay for itself starting in April.

After cutting the cable I missed a lot of the “junk TV” shows I used to watch like Fast N Loud and Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel. Discovery guards its content carefully and only allows episodes that are several years old to stream for free, charging $3 a pop for everything else. I have no problem paying $3 for a Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy episode. I’d sooner set 3 Washingtons on fire then hand them to Discovery to watch Misfit Garage.

Then I started watching Hulu, and amazingly enough I found plenty of junk TV there. I found Difficult People entertaining in an annoying sort of way, and am now hooked on RocketJump (although its PC self-awareness is a pain).

Since my suspension was running out in a few days, I made the call I avoided back in June. “Cancel service,” I told the automated attendant and soon found myself in Shaniqa’s headset. She asked why I wanted to cancel, and I gave her a summary. She then asked if I was aware of DirecTV’s streaming options. I thought for a second; had DirecTV begun offering something like Dish Network’s Sling TV? If so, I was interested. She gave me the spiel on DirecTV’s offering, and it’s not what I consider streaming: it’s really being able to watch DirecTV content on multiple devices in your home. It has nothing to do with Dish Network’s over-the-web service.

I politely thanked Shaniqa for explaining what DirecTV offered, but refused. She said if I had an issue with the cost, and I admitted I did. I said that it was hard to justify spending $103 a month on channels that I didn’t watch. I said that I would consider keeping the service if she could get the cost down to say, $20 a month. She put me on hold several times then came back with a $70 figure. I said thanks but no thanks; send me the box for the DVR. So she got my details, read some legalese about closing the account, and I was done. I had subscribed to DirecTV for  years and spent about $7,500 with them (about $1000 of that specifically for NFL Sunday ticket). Doing the math I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I spent so much on TV, but that’s the insidious nature of monthly bills: they add up.

So 6 months on the only regret I have is that I waited as long as I did to cut the cable. DirecTV’s picture was the best, and it’s true that with streaming one does have to put up with less than perfect, occasionally pixelated video, but is putting up with the occasional issue worth the savings? It is for me. More importantly I feel that while I feel I watch less TV, the TV I do watch is better quality. Plus we have complete control over when we watch, so no worries about DVRs. And there’s always purchasing an antenna for local stations if I felt the need.

My recommendation is that if you are thinking about cutting the cord, do what I did and suspend service for a few months just to see. If it’s too difficult, negotiate a lower rate before rejoining, but if you are like me and learned to live without spend the money on something better – like a present for your significant other or a new AR-15, or better yet, a new AR-15 for your significant other.

Council Nominations: Dec 16, 2015

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Why a Libertarian Supports Socialized Medicine – Part 1

I am a libertarian.

If I am not hurting anyone else I want to be left alone. At the core of this philosophy is the belief that I do not know what is best for you, and conversely neither you nor any external entity knows what’s best for me. This trips me up with conservatives who think the military or perhaps God knows what I need. It also separates me from liberals whose collectivist urges tend to gravitate towards more and bigger government.

But there are limitations to every philosophy, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. No idea is perfect and most are works in progress. No one says “Democracy is worthless because people don’t have time to make decisions about governing while raising families and holding down jobs.” Likewise I think that libertarian ideas such as “Do unto others…” should be followed until they no longer make sense.

For most of the past 2 decades I have witnessed the American medical system from the inside as the spouse of an American primary care physician. I’m the one who makes her a coffee and waves goodbye to her every morning, and I am the one who has dinner ready when she arrives home late at night after a long day at the office. I am the one who pays her medical school loans, cutting a mortgage-sized check every month that unfortunately fails to move the principle very much. During that time I estimate my wife has treated about 40,000 patients in a variety of settings, from poor inner city communities to wealthy boutique practices. She has even treated patients volunteering in rural communities in Africa.

Anyone who tells you they have a solution to the American health care system is frankly an idiot. The system is so big, so complicated, so riven with competing interests, contradictory regulations and demands that only here in America could we build such a huge, expensive, and f***ed up system. Our healthcare is such a disaster that it is hard to imagine anyone thinking it up from scratch. It combines the worst attributes of a single payer system with the dregs of capitalism to produce to produce the monstrosity we live with daily. No, such a system can only happen over a period of decades with the involvement of millions of decisionmakers.

And it is getting worse.

In the most recent attempt at cost-savings, patients are being asked to become consumers and are being tasked with shopping for health care in order to inject market forces into the system. This takes the process of say, buying a television, through comparison shopping and seeking the lowest price and attempts to squeeze visiting your doctor or a hospital stay into the paradigm. As David Shaywitz writing for Forbes notes, it won’t work. For one thing we are asking sick people with exhausting task of making decisions that are hard for healthy people to make. Think about the mental energy you put into a recent television or car purchase, then imagine doing that while sick. It’s unrealistic even for those of us who are relatively healthy, let alone for the 20% of the population who consume 80% of our healthcare. Take my late mother. It took my retired sister and her husband all their energy to make sure she received just the care she needed during all her bouts of pneumonia, her falls, and her failing kidneys. Now some expect them to have shopped around for the cheapest care on top of all. It’s not only unrealistic, it’s cruel. My sister spent the last few months with our mother in a constant state of stress and worry about providing my mother the care she needed instead of spending that time simply being with our mother.

Part of this “consumer driven health care approach” is the reliance upon customer feedback and surveys. Over the past year I have seen multiple doctors after almost killing myself in a dirt bike accident a year ago, and several times I have received emails and even robo-calls asking me to rate my doctor. There are several assumptions underpinning these surveys. First is the assumption that I have the knowledge necessary to grade him. My orthopedic surgeon has several medical degrees. I have a BA in political science. He has been doing surgeries for over 40 years. I have been working in IT for almost 20 years. He has performed thousands of surgeries like the two he performed on me. I can’t even carve a turkey without running to YouTube for instructions. To put another way, if your daughter needed a plate installed in her shoulder after a motorcycle accident, would you rather I did it or my doctor? If you answered the latter then why would you take my review of him seriously?

Next the consumer driven approach assumes that I know what I need. Say I need a new car because my old one broke down and I can’t get to work by public transportation. That’s a reasonable need that buying a new car fills, but even that comes with caveats. Why a new car? Why not a used one? What about a motorcycle or how about a bicycle? Patients walk into my wife’s office every day presenting with colds and demanding antibiotics. My wife examines them and diagnoses them with the common cold. She advises bed rest, symptomatic treatments like Ny-Quil, and explains that not only will an antibiotic not help them, it can cause severe side effects. My wife knows all about these first hand. She was prescribed a common antibiotic for the treatment of a minor infection and lost her sense of smell for almost 2 years. But she has faced irate “clients” (the word the corporation she works for advises doctors to use when referring to their patients) who will not leave unless they get what they want.

Doctors in this position face a predicament. Do they satisfy the patient by prescribing him or her drugs they don’t need, or do they risk complaints being lodged with the companies they work for, or on websites that grade doctors? These comments and complaints have been used by health care systems to deny their doctors raises and in some cases limiting advancement and even the renewal of their contracts. This stress is one of the factors behind physician burnout that drives doctors out of clinical practice, exacerbating the physician shortage.

Going to the doctor or hospital is not like buying something at Amazon or Ebay, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it is.

(to be continued)

The Council Has Spoken: Dec 11, 2015

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

St. Louis to Start CalvinBall League

Well not yet, but here’s the idea:

St. Louis and the state of Missouri are itching to hand $400 million of their citizen’s money to Stan Kroenke, a billionaire seven times over, in order to induce him to keep his lousy underperforming football team from absconding to LA or San Diego. From a financial point of view football stadiums are lousy investments for cities. From an environmental standpoint they are monuments to man-made global warming since they consist of concrete, the making of which is one of the worst known emitters of carbon dioxide. From a utilitarian standpoint they are useless, being designed specifically for football which limits their utility at any other time than the 8 out of 365 afternoons they are used. There are clearly better ways to use the money.

So here’s my idea. Have the state, county and local governments pony up the $400 million. Then take that money and invest it with Stan Kroenke and his partners to help them mug invest in the publicly backed stadium in Los Angeles or San Diego. After all everyone knows Californians are rich, so let wealthy Californian taxpayers build Kroenke’s stadium but profit from his greed and chutzpah by backing him with $400 million. Kroenke will have no problem delivering a 10% return on the money, netting the state of Missouri and the St. Louis area $40 million a year from their investment. Figure that’s good for about 10 years until Kroenke gets cranky and decides he needs another stadium, but who knows? During that time maybe the San Diego Rams or the LA Weasels will actually become good teams, substantially boosting the value of the investment.

But in the meantime take that $40 million every year and start a new sports league. Given the nostalgia Gen-Xers have for Calvin & Hobbes, I vote for the creation of a CalvinBall league with the money. For those of you too young to know, CalvinBall is a game played between the young boy Calvin and his stuffed pet tiger Hobbes in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where pretty much anything goes. Think of it as a mashup of dodgeball, rugby, baseball, karaoke and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Well maybe not so much the Rocky Horror Picture Show but who knows? The rules of CalvinBall are there aren’t any rules – and think of what entertainment value that would bring to a Sunday afternoon. While the Rams quarterback-du-jour is getting his clock cleaned  in Southern California by the Packer’s defensive line, just imagine the fun Missourians would have watching young athletes pretty much run around, wear masks and sing. It would be refreshing and maybe even entertaining.

I figure the government could fund an entire 20 team league, each having a 10 person roster out of the $40 million it earned from investing in Kroenke (just not in St. Louis). CalvinBall does not need singularly purposed billion dollar stadiums to be played in. It can be played pretty much everywhere, but to maximize attendance I would recommend it be played in existing venues like Busch Stadium or the Scottrade Center. After all, to St. Louisans football season is just the weeks between the World Series and Spring Training.

British Calvinball legend M. Montgomery Hughes jumping into The Must Be Airborne To Enter This Zone Zone to recover a lost Calvinball.


Council Nominations: Dec 9, 2015

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Welfare for Billionaires – St. Louis and State of Missouri Offer to Fund Stadium

My hometown and home state are being suckered into ponying up 40% of the cost of a new billion dollar football stadium necessary to keep the St. Louis Rams (formerly of Cleveland, formerly of Los Angeles) from moving yet again. That’s $400 million dollars for a building that will likely house happy football fans 4 times a year (assuming an 8-8 record for the Rams which is really fantasy). Figuring it’s likely 8 years before Stan Kroenke likely agitates for another stadium. Do the math and Missourians are going to shell out over $10 million a win.


Kroenke’s personal net worth is $7.7 Billion. That’s BILLION. He could build the stadium himself with the change in his sofa cushions.

So my next question is this: Since when did my hometown get so flush with cash so that it could waste $400 million dollars for a building that will be used AT MOST 8 times a year? St. Louis and Missouri politicians are evidently ready to transfer their taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars (Missouri per capita income, $25,649) to a billionaire. Are there no better ways to spend $400 million on Missouri’s 6 million residents?

I have a suggestion: Buy every Missourian a ticket to a baseball Cardinals game. The team is one of the league’s best, isn’t going anywhere and doesn’t bully politicians into subsidizing their hobbies.

Popehat Talks Productively About Guns

Ken White, writing at Popehat, explains the difficulty gun owners have talking to gun phobes. It’s something I’ve run into myself having gone from being irrationally afraid of guns to having several in my home, and having to explain to my gun phobic friends and family why.

He writes:

It’s hard to grasp the reaction of someone who understands gun terminology to someone who doesn’t. So imagine we’re going through one of our periodic moral panics over dogs and I’m trying to persuade you that there should be restrictions on, say, Rottweilers.

Me: I don’t want to take away dog owners’ rights. But we need to do something about Rottweilers.
You: So what do you propose?
Me: I just think that there should be some sort of training or restrictions on owning an attack dog.
You: Wait. What’s an “attack dog?”
Me: You know what I mean. Like military dogs.
You: Huh? Rottweilers aren’t military dogs. In fact “military dogs” isn’t a thing. You mean like German Shepherds?
Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody’s trying to take away your German Shepherds. But civilians shouldn’t own fighting dogs.
You: I have no idea what dogs you’re talking about now.
Me: You’re being both picky and obtuse. You know I mean hounds.
You: What the fuck.
Me: OK, maybe not actually ::air quotes:: hounds ::air quotes::. Maybe I have the terminology wrong. I’m not obsessed with vicious dogs like you. But we can identify kinds of dogs that civilians just don’t need to own.
You: Can we?

Guns and dogs are an excellent analogy. Both can be your best friend but disrespect them and they can become the stuff of nightmares. I know both, and the more I am around them the more I appreciate what they can do and what they cannot. I try to never make assumptions about either one of them since doing so leads to trouble. I have learned that both make my life richer in ways that I cannot explain to people who don’t own guns or dogs. You’ve got to do it to understand it.

Anyway, White’s piece is worth the full read. I’m going to take the dogs out for “last call” before bedtime.

The Council Has Spoken: Dec 4, 2015

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Non-Council Winners

To Hell With ‘Pray for Paris’ – Arm Parisians Instead

The Failure of Gun Control in Europe

Since March 2012 there have been 7 terrorist attacks in France involving illegal guns plus 8 more attacks using knives and guns, killing a total of 162 people and injuring 414. As Adam Taylor writing for the Washington Post noted a day after the recent Paris massacres, France has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, yet “(d)espite these strict laws, France is awash in guns.” Taylor states currently the call for citizens to demand legal access to firearms for self-protection “doesn’t have much support in France,” but he doesn’t provide evidence for this so I’m left wondering whether the French feel the same after replacing Israel as the destination of choice for every jihadi with an AK-47.

Every gun control advocate bears within him or her three competing yet irreconcilable facts: Government prohibition is no guarantee of elimination – as verified by the presence of prostitutes and heroin in society. All citizens do not follow the law. The police/military cannot be everywhere in a free society. As a result of these facts people who follow the law and are made defenseless by the Law end up shot point blank at a rock concert in Paris where the attackers know they won’t face resistance.

It wasn’t always this way. Europe’s gun control frenzy only took hold after World War I, and has even been implicated as contributing to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany,  a fact which the American Left vehemently denies. Prior to World War I even European men were expected to protect themselves and their families and to provide assistance to the State when threatened, a tradition that the Swiss maintain today.

Terrorism is at its core a very logical and rational process. Terrorists will always seek out “soft targets” that are undefended because terrorists are very poor at improvisation. They need predictability in order to achieve their aims of causing the most casualties with the manpower and materials at hand. An armed victim shooting back changes the calculus of the attack, as the unarmed victims of the Aug 2015 failed train massacre proved.

France, and Europe as a whole, has now reached a point where it must decide whether it is prepared to accept the deaths of its unarmed citizens – given that protecting every soft target from every Air France flight to every Jewish deli is impossible, or provide its citizens with the means of their own self-defense.

I am realistic. I fully expect there to be more attacks, many more dead before Europe awakens to the need to arm its citizenry and reverse decades of failed gun control ideology. I wish them luck in the meantime and hope that the French are the first to awaken from their self-imposed coma, stand up and fight back.

Council Nominations: Dec 2, 2015

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Honorable Mentions

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Gun Grabbers Silence on Paris Shooters

I’ve read many viewpoints about last month’s attack in Paris by jihadis, but one viewpoint I haven’t seen is a good explanation about where they got the guns. Contrast that to the US where it seems every shooting that makes headlines always ends up with Obama making a speech with the line “we must do something” about guns in the US. The liberals then gleefully try to paint every gun owner as the shooter’s accomplice.

France has some of the strictest gun controls in the world yet these laws haven’t stopped jihadis from getting a hold of fully automatic AK-47s (a very rare item here in the USA). It’s not just last month’s attacks. The attack a few months ago thwarted on a French train by American soldiers on vacation was with a jihadi wielding an AK-47. The Charlie Hebdo massacres and the Jewish Delicatessen massacres also were done by men with full auto AK-47s.

Gun owners have said that if you take guns away from legal gun owners only criminals will have guns and France is proof of that. Meanwhile the American gun-grabbing Left has moved on and is positively giddy over the so-called “Planned Parenthood Attack” (in which oddly enough no one at PP was killed). They now can demonize legal gun owners with impunity while ignoring the inconvenient truth of the abject failure of gun control in France to protect the French people.