Friday, August 2, 2013

Health penalties

Health and wellnessI read an interesting article this morning about how Penn State is going to start penalizing employees who get health insurance through the university but don’t participate in wellness screenings—to the tune of about $100 per month.

Like many other companies, they are asking those employees to go through some rather routine tests in order to assess their health. This practice has been going on for a while now. We had similar things at the lab, and at Ken’s previous employer, those who did the screenings and made some minor improvements in exercise and diet got incentives like gift cards or a couple of hundred dollars off of their health insurance costs.

This seems like a minor thing to me, but there is one prof at Penn State who is protesting this and saying that it violates his freedom and blah di fucking blah. I hate to break it to you, Professor, but you sound like a Grade A Asshole. I’m sure I’m not the only one you’ve heard this from, though.

First, your privacy isn’t being violated. These screenings are conducted through a private company, and your results are not released to the employer. Just like any other health care information, your results are protected under HIPAA.

Second, if you are purchasing your health care through your employer, they have the right to get you to submit to basic screening. They are subsidizing your insurance, and they do have the right to try to get the best return on their investment in you. If you strongly object to such scrutiny, you can buy your health insurance elsewhere. Perhaps through the upcoming exchanges via the Affordable Care Act?

The reality is that health insurance costs employers big bucks; that is especially true in the healthcare field. I had a couple of jobs where I was paying for my insurance for just myself, and my share was less than ten dollars a month. Things have really gone up since then, and I think it is fair and reasonable for an employer to ask their employees to work on overall health and wellbeing, as well as work on better choices when it comes to exercise and diet. No one is forcing people to do these things, but incentives definitely help. Screenings also help...if someone sees that their blood sugar is seriously high, it might prompt them to make an appointment with their doctor, for example.

To me, it is a win-win situation: the employer has to pay less for insurance, and the employee might see that he or she has some health issues they need to work on in order to get healthier. I can honestly say that the incentives through Ken’s former employer got me to start working out regularly, and once it became a habit, I don’t see myself ever giving it up. If places are shifting to penalties rather than incentives, I’m not sure I see the problem with that.

What do you think? Is this a reasonable request from an employer, or is it a violation of an individual’s privacy?

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Window lickerI read an article today from Wonkblog titled “Inside the Obamacare resistance.” It tells of the various right wing and teabagger groups that are encouraging young people to not sign up for the healthcare exchanges.

Let me write that again: they are encouraging young people to not sign up for the healthcare exchanges.

In an effort to make it seem like a real protest, they are channeling Vietnam war protesters by printing up bogus “Obamacare” cards that look like draft cards and telling kids to burn them.

I cannot even begin to tell you how disgusting I find this. First of all, they are equating the healthcare exchanges with a war-time draft. These are completely different things, and trying to conflate the two is nothing more than ridiculous rhetoric and circus-style showmanship.

Second, they are getting some of these kids (apparently some real dumbass kids, but even dumbass kids deserve healthcare) to go against their best interests. Shouldn’t the goal be to get everyone to have access to affordable healthcare? Instead, these punkass window lickers are encouraging kids to go against something that will be beneficial to their health, wellbeing, and financial prospects. I think most of us know someone personally or through others who has had to declare bankruptcy because of medical bills. No one deserves that, and these groups are encouraging kids to take that risk! Assholes!

One has to wonder why they hate the Affordable Care Act so much. The only answer I can come up with is that it is because A) they have a complete lack of understanding of what it will and will not do or 2) they hate President Obama and want to see him fail in every possible way. Probably a combination of both.

Whether it’s Congress pursuing policies that don’t work (ask Europe how austerity economics is working for them) or purposefully not acting on bills designed to nudge the economy in the right direction, or these dickweeds telling kids to not sign up for affordable health insurance, I’ve just about had it with the whole damn lot of them.

[throwing a metaphorical chair across the room]

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Teabaggers gone wild!

Obama Kindle singleThis afternoon, I got an email notification from Amazon that they had a Kindle single of an interview with President Obama available, and that it is free.

Well, hey, I love to read, I love our President, and I’m a big fan of FREE, so as Michael Scott said, it was a win-win-win situation!

So I toddled right on over and nabbed that baby. While I was there, I looked at some of the reviews and just rolled my eyes. The teabaggers were out in force. I decided then and there to write a review myself after I read it...unlike the majority of the teabaggers who wrote reviews who didn’t bother reading it! More about that in a moment.

It’s a quick read, only 15 pages or so, and it was an enjoyable one. There was nothing really new there, if you’ve read both of the President’s books; it was more of a continuation of his policies and vision for the country, one that he laid out from almost the very beginning. It’s about investing in education, infrastructure, and jobs, and ensuring that the middle class has a fair shake. That’s what he’s been saying all along. But of course, the teabaggers had their typical knee-jerk reaction to Amazon publishing this.

Most of them flat-out said that they hadn’t read it, and Amazon couldn’t PAY them to read it. I think it’s a legitimate question to ask: If you haven’t read the piece in question, why the fuck are you writing a review? I mentioned in my own review that simply writing down partisan talking points does not constitute a review. The usual Kenyan, Muslim, socialist bullshit was mentioned. There was the phrase “The Butcher of Benghazi.” The usual railings against the Affordable Care Act, calling him a liar and a murderer, a Fascist Pig (with a capital P!), and so on and so forth, ad nauseam. You’d think that they could at least get some new material! Some also attacked Amazon and Jeff Bezos for publishing this, saying that they should stick to “products.” I guess they don’t get that political books and articles qualify as “products.”

I think it was John Avlon who coined the term “Obama Derangement Syndrome.” ODS was in full force on that Amazon page today, believe me. It’s one thing to disagree with a politician’s ideologies, but I’ll never comprehend the lack of intelligence and ignorance of facts and reality that results in such incoherent claptrap as I saw there today. This was my reaction as I read such nonsense:

Prince gif

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beth’s Books: A Zombie Survival Guide

Beth's BooksThis was a fun summer read, one that I read on the (undead) heels of World War Z (and by the same author).

This treats the zombie virus—dubbed Solanum in this book—as a centuries-old plague. It details survival plans in case of a "Level 3" outbreak, and includes lists of supplies and the best weapons and modes of transportation.

I enjoyed how it treats all of this in a serious way, but there is a definite tongue-in-cheek attitude here. I couldn’t help but laugh at a few things. I loved the way it encouraged survivors under siege to stay entertained by staging talent nights that include music, dance, storytelling, and comedy in order to keep up morale. When the end of the world is nigh, let’s put on a talent show, kids!

I also loved the ridicule of the Lone Wolf savior (a Rambo figure, if I had to put a name on it): "...anyone believing this should simply strip naked, holler for the undead, then lay down on a silver platter." A definite sense of humor there, and those passages made me laugh.

My favorite part was the listing of outbreaks throughout the years, some confirmed, many not. It seems that there is a big government cover-up of the zombie virus! I don't want to read more into this than was intended, but I can't help but think of conspiracy theories (especially among the right wing) that encourage survivalist tactics. I could be wrong, but I wonder if Max Brooks was parodying that a bit? The entire book seemed like a bit of a dig at militia and survivalist types.

This was a quick read and is worth it for any zombie or apocalypse scenario aficionado.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Touring Dead

013As many of you know, we usually try to take short sidetrips on our way back from Florida; one year it was Asheville, NC to see Biltmore House, one year it was Memphis, one year it was Raleigh to visit our friend Sheria. Many of you also know that this year’s sidetrip was Senoia, GA.

Why would we want to visit a small town south of Atlanta? Because they’ve filmed a lot of “The Walking Dead” there, that’s why! Senoia is the town that served as the fictional Woodbury. We stayed in Newnan, and there were a couple of places there that were also used in filming. There were other small towns in the area with buildings and places used in locations.

During the 20 or so miles from Newnan to Senoia, we listened to the Walking Dead soundtrack CD, and it was actually a pretty cool accompaniment to the drive. It was easy to imagine the two-lane road littered with abandoned vehicles, or to picture zombies wandering through the trees and fields. I’ve got a good imagination that way, and that’s part of the fun. Ken put up with me, even when I waved my hands in the air and said, “YAY!” when we saw the “Senoia City Limits” sign. Fangirl was geeking out with no apologies!

As we pulled up into downtown and onto Main Street—which was the Main Street of the town of Woodbury in the show—I was all “Agghhh!” and “Ohmahgah!” and “We’re in Woodbury, honey!” We spent a little time checking out the storefronts and just wandering down Main Street. We stopped in the Georgia Mercantile Co., and checked out what they had to offer. This was serendipitous, because they had a tour going on in about an hour and a half, and Sunday is the only day they do it! We debated whether we wanted to spend the money on this little bus tour or buy a map of locations and try to find them ourselves. We decided to take the tour (AND we bought the map) because they might have access to places we couldn’t get into, as well as maybe some “insider” information. That is exactly how it turned out, so I’m glad we decided to go for it!

025We had a little time to kill before the tour, so we checked out Maguire’s Pub right around the corner. Great beer selection, and we enjoyed the place so much we had lunch there the following day. Good food and good beverages...a nice place to hang out!

Anyway, the tour was well worth it. A couple of the places we got to see are private property, but they got us in there. The main guide, Dan, has been a zombie extra in all three seasons, seventeen times in all. He hasn’t been called yet for Season 4, but hopes he will be. He had lots of interesting information for us, although certainly no spoilers for S4. One of the things he said was that they have increasingly locked down security and potential sources of leaks. The extras used to be able to bring cell phones in, but they have to relinquish them before they get to the set now; they used to be told where the filming was happening and be able to drive themselves there, but now they get an email the night before and meet at a place where they are bused in. All very hush-hush as they try to keep any leaks from happening. Any extra who leaks information and is found out is permanently blacklisted from the show (and probably doesn’t do themselves any favors for any other gigs they might try to get).

As for zombie extras, they’re all required to be quite small. Dan himself was unusually tall for a zombie extra, he said, but he’s also skinny as a rail. I wondered why, and he said, “Because we’re supposed to look dead and emaciated.” Makes sense! But if you want to be a zombie extra, you have a better chance if you’re small and skinny.

034I’m including a few pictures in this entry, but if you want to see all of them, you can check out my Facebook album of Walking Dead Locations. I made it public, so even if we aren’t friends on Facebook, you will be able to see it. Probably one of the coolest locations was the factory (still in operation) that contains the courtyard that served as Woodbury’s “zombie arena.” That was just such an awful scenario, and made even worse when Daryl and Merle were supposed to fight to the death there.

When we were there, I was talking to Dan, and although I can’t recall exactly what my question was, it turned into a little talk about how they film things. I said that I’m almost always able to suspend disbelief, so I still enjoy entertainment. He said that that’s one bad thing about working in it and seeing how it’s filmed: it almost spoils it for you when watching it. To the group, he talked about how so much of it has to do with angles and camera shots, making things look bigger than they really are. When they were clearing the prison, they used the same couple of short hallways and just filmed it from different angles, so it looked like they were rushing through this large maze of prison hallways, but it was just a couple of corners shot from different directions! He said that Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl Grimes, is going through puberty right now, so he’s getting to be a big kid. They keep making Rick’s sheriff hat bigger and bigger, so it still looks small on Carl. (For some reason, that one just made me chuckle.)

A few other tidbits he had for us:
  • Zombie teeth look black and gross due to a mixture of chocolate syrup and mouthwash. You swirl that stuff around in your mouth and spit...instant zombie teeth!
  • The longest day he’s had, no matter what show or movie he was working in, was on “The Walking Dead.” I believe he said it was during the filming of when Hershel’s farm gets overrun and the barn burns down. The temperature was down in the 20s, and he said he worked over 20 hours that day. They were all freezing, and the zombie extras were huddling together for warmth between takes, zipped up in Snuggies. There’s a mental image for you!
  • Speaking of Hershel’s farm, it is a private residence near Atlanta, and fans are constantly trying to jump the fence and get pictures of it. Don’t do that, people. Not only is it rude and creepy, they are prosecuting people to the fullest extent of the law. You will be thrown in jail and prosecuted (same goes for trying to crash the studio set). The owners of the farm are extremely religious and had two rules for the cast and crew there: No cussing, and No zombies can touch the house. If you watch that episode again, you’ll see that the zombies never get into the house, although they apparently overran the house in the graphic novel. It was such a hard and fast rule that the owners’ daughter, who played a zombie, had to get out of makeup and get cleaned up before entering the house at the end of filming.
  • He talked about Merle a bit, and we all kind of mourned Merle. It was a sad ending for him, and somewhat noble. He tried to do the right thing. Dan said that other than Dale, all of the characters who die seem to do something out of character before their demise. I’ll have to ponder that a bit as we watch it again, but that was certainly true with Merle. Milton went against the Governor, and Andrea was trying to bring the Prison Gang and the Woodbury Gang together...something to think about.
  • Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) and David Morrissey (the Governor) stay in character throughout the entire day of filming. They are both British, and once they get into the Southern accent, they don’t want to get out of it. Although many of the cast has input into their characters and somewhat into the storyline, Andrew Lincoln does a lot to direct some of the where the zombies should approach, how they should die, and so forth.
  • The initial cast signed up for five years. Obviously, not all of them have made it that far, and I suspect there may be a couple of hard deaths in Season 4. One of the first rules of horror films is “anyone can die at anytime,” and “The Walking Dead” has held true to that rule. No one is safe.
  • Even more ominously, during a “death discussion” about the survivors, Dan said, “Oh, they all die. Robert Kirkman [the creator of the comic book] has said exactly that. They all die.”
So there you have it. They’re going to make you love these great characters (even the bad guys are fascinating) and then they’re going to kill them all. Even Daryl Dixon isn’t safe in the Zombie Apocalypse.

I enjoyed this experience completely, and would recommend it to any fan of the show, if you get the opportunity. I can honestly say that I have never been into a show as much as this one...and this is coming from a “Star Trek” fan!

Walking Dead tour group

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty

Cornerstone2Well, no cruelty was involved...but perhaps a wee bit o’ drunkenness! (That’s a line from one of my favorite Kinks songs, “Sunny Afternoon.” Isn’t that a great line?)

We did indeed have a blast last night! We had fun chatting at dinner, then headed over to Martha’s for some great music with Cornerstone Blues Band. This was a really fun group of people, and we all love to laugh and have a good time, and that’s exactly what we did! I guess I was primed for a night out like that, because I was in full-blown dance I really got my groove on! I had not one, but THREE dance partners, too: Ken, my brother-in-law Tom, and our friend Tom. We all hit the dance floor and had a lot of fun! (Jamie—that’s her in the picture down below—and Ryan aren’t quite old enough yet to not care about looking undignified...the rest of us are long past that point! haha)

I wrote to Jim today to tell him what a great time we had, and I said that I loved their new setlist. I said it’s kind of wild, because I don’t recognize a lot of the songs (I really don’t buy that many blues CDs—I prefer to hear the blues live.), but they’re really great songs and fun to dance to!

Beth and Ken2I’m not kidding, these guys are really talented. If any local peeps ever get a chance to see them, do so. They play about one gig a month. I know I’m biased, but they rival any blues band I’ve heard in Chicago, New Orleans, or Memphis. Jim on guitar, Brad on vocals and guitar, Rob on bass, and their new drummer is Adam.

They really do mesh well, they’re fantastic players, and like all really great bands, you can tell they’re having a good time up there! It goes back to what I’ve written about before...bands and audience members feed off of each other. They play great, we dance and yell and show we’re lovin’ it, and they love it and want to play even better and give us a great show. It’s synergy, man, and it’s a beautiful thing.

I was happy to give ‘em all hugs when we arrived (they hadn’t taken the stage yet), except for Adam, who I don’t know from...ADAM. hahaha Get it? I crack myself up sometimes. He did a great job, so props to the new guy!

Jamie and BethI also got to see Mary from the lab and her husband John, Connie (who I didn’t realize was still there...she seemed genuinely happy to see me, and it’s always nice to be remembered fondly), and very briefly, Aubrey, who showed up towards the end of the evening. I don’t miss working, but I honestly miss so many of the people there, and it is always a pleasure to see them. Love you guys!

It was a really great time, and thanks to the guys in Cornerstone for rocking most awesomely, and thanks to our friends and family who shared the evening with us.

Rock on, Citizens!