Fourth Of July Fireworks Displays Are Not Woke

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In America, extremists claim the flag, fireworks, and country music. It used to be mom and apple pie, and eagles have always played a part.

As any new trope emerges in public discourse in America, it is sorted out in relation to extremists and progressives. Folks who benightedly think they exist in the “independent” space between those two categories will sustain confusion temporarily, but eventually fall into one camp or another. (By count, most people are progressive, if you based the determination by checking off the issues they support or oppose. “Independent thinkers” are just citizens who have not actually thought about it much.)

But what about dog or cat owners? Are dogs or cats or their owners extremist or progressive? I’m thinking as a whole, neither, though I suppose certain breeds may trend one way or another. What about autism spectrum or neuro-divergent individuals, are they extremist or progressive? Well, everybody I personally know in that broad category is a progressive, but that is a biased sample. I would like to think that neuro-divergent folks would ultimately lean progressive, once exposed to the hate heaped upon them by the extremist right. So there may be some bias there, but not 100%. What about veterans? There is a strong association between conservative politics and the military, but most veterans are not part of the actual Military-Industrial Complex, and tend to be highly diverse in their politics. It is not possible for the extreme right to claim veterans. Veterans are everywhere and of every kind, politically. Who loves fireworks? Who hates the, or at least, is annoyed or bothered by them?

  • Dogs, cats, and dog or cat owners that pay attention to and care about their pets are not super keen on fireworks.
  • Vets are often bothered by fireworks.
  • Folks with sensory processing issues, or noise sensitivity, are not super happy about fireworks.

So, I would say that the politics of liking or not liking fireworks, the question of whether firework displays are a good thing or a bad thing, should not match closely with the standard American political binary. People who like them may be across the political range of thought, and people who don’t like them should be as well. But, the principle I referred to above, that all new tropes will be shoved into one of the other of our two actual political silos, is true. And this is causing some interesting friction. If you don’t believe me, just check in on your local NextDoor community. People are staring to question whether or not we should have fireworks, including large displays by municipalities, neighborhood fireworks displays, and individual use, which tend to be small scale, but that also tend to be carried out over several weeks time centered on the Fourth of July. And others are lining up to fight on behalf of this Great American Tradition.

It turns out that loving fireworks is an extremist position. Caring about kids, vets, our pets and pet owners, others, who don’t like the noise and the smell, and in some cases, are really bothered by them, is a progressive position. Mostly. The bifurcation of viewpoints around the loud smelly bang-toys is not complete, but it is happening as we speak, and it is happening rapidly. Why, just his year, a city that can be counted as one of the most progressive cities in the US cancelled its fireworks display, and will have a laser light show instead. I speak of Minneapolis. Saint Paul has cancelled fireworks in the past, I’m not sure if they are doing it this year or not. At least one city in California has cancelled fireworks. Canadian cities have cancelled fireworks.

The reasons are not strictly political. In the case of California and Canada, a concern over air quality is the reason. But if the politics were hard right in those communities, those fireworks displays would not be cancelled. Extremists don’t believe that pollution exists. Some cancellations over the last few years have been Covid-concern. But Covid-concern is at least as political as the rockets’ red glare. Extremists don’t believe in viruses.

Fireworks are offensive, polluting, and jingoistic, not to mention dangerous in some settings. If you think so too, this is a good time to write an LTE to your local paper, to start the process of normalizing the idea that we might do something other than setting off smoke and noise polluting explosions to express our patriotism, and patriotism is not, despite what the extremists say, a right wing franchise. It belongs to all of us.

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Getting a New Flag: Minnesotans, remember South Africa

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If the current flag of the State of Minnesota is problematic due to its treatment of our Native people (and it is), one might assume the Apartheid-era flag of South Africa was worse. Actually, that would be an incorrect assumption. The architects of apartheid didn’t think to make their flag a tool of that particular form of repression, though it was full-on colonial, and needed to be replaced when the New South Africa emerged in April 1994.

After Apartheid was lifted, I began to work in South Africa, doing archaeology and helping with some development projects. It was then that I heard the story of the new flag, from the white liberal citizens with whom I worked in the Limpopo province.

One thing you need to know about South African culture (and this permeates all subcultures) is that if there are four South Africans having a conversation about something, there will be five opinions about that topic. Or at least, this bit of self-deprecating humor is about the third or fourth thing you’ll hear about South African culture from any host, and South African hosts are both warmly embracing and funny. So when the idea of a flag for the New South Africa came along, the only way to move forward was with an infusion of wisdom, and who among the citizens of South Africa was most wise and able to make this happen with minimal stress? Nelson Mandela, of course.

I was told that Mandela’s idea was this: Have a contest of sorts, or otherwise, get some flags in competition to use as the new symbol. Then, pick one but with the proviso that it would only be the new flag for a year or two, during which time, a diligent effort would be made to come up with the actual new flag.

Another expression describing South African culture may have been, according to my friends, “If you’ve already done something, why do it again.” That is not only sensible, but probably universal. In any event, once the temporary flag emerged, and yes, it was hated and complained about by many, it went into use, people became accustomed to it, and in a very short amount of time, fell in love with it. The idea of replacing it was forgotten, and at some point (1996 to be exact) the new flag was made official in the final draft of New South Africa’s rather amazing constitution. (Give that constitution a look when you have a chance you will be amazed.)

One important point about the design of the flag: there is no official description, and no two people agree on what it means. The flag is unique, I believe, in that it has more colors than any other nation’s flag, and that certainly means something. I think it means: we have a lot more colors available for use these days for flags than they did in the 17th or 18th century.

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How we went from “It’s the economy stupid” to the modern landscape of identity politics

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Warning. Large sample size ahead!

Dr. Lynn Vavreck, Professor of Political Science at UCLA, and contributing columnist to The Upshot at The New York Times, sits down with Jon Favreau to talk about 2022 midterms. After 2020, Lynn and her colleagues interviewed over 500,000 voters, leading them to conclude that our politics aren’t just polarized, but calcified. She argues that calcification has placed our politics on a knife’s edge, raising the stakes of every election, and that 2022 was the biggest case of calcification we’ve seen yet.

From Crooked Media

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Arduino for Arduinians: New and higher level than the rest

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Let’s be real. Most books (and web sites) providing instructions for building projects with an Adruino assume the reader is just starting out in this arena of Maker-World. That is probably a reasonable assumption, but it also means that those of us who seek an Arduino guide that provides more advanced work are out of luck. Arduino for Arduinians fills that void. I highly recommend this rich, detailed, and extensive treatment of Arduino makery.

Arduino for Arduinians is suitably named, as it provides guidance and a beyond-the-basics level, for folks who have already been bitten by the Arduino bug, and can already tell the difference between a CAN Bus and an RS232, or Charlieplexing and ATtiny microcontrollers. In fact, one of my favorite applications laid out in this book is using the CAN bus interface to diagnose why the dashboard “transmission fault” light won’t go off on my friend’s Land Rover.

Arduino for Arduinians covers I2C bus devices, interfacing with or emulating the action of keyboards and similar devicese, some inexpensive but advanced Bluetooth mojo, and working with higher than novice-level voltages and currents. Be careful though.

You should know the basics of how Arduinos work (I recommend Arduino Workshop to get that if you don’t have it already). You should be able to read standard circuit diagrams. You should be familiar with Sketch and the Arduino IDE. Also, you will need parts. Helpfully, Arduino for Arduinians has a web site (see the inside of the book) with the Sketch related software, and yu can find in the intro a suggestion as to where to get parts (but you can get these parts lots of places, including Amazon.

The Author, John Boxall,is a master projecteer, and author of several Maker-supportive books in multiple languages.

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This time of year, who is running for president? (Now and historically)

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I was getting the impression that the media have settled on a Trump-Biden match up in over 500 days from now, and wondered what the list of potential candidates looked like at this time (plus or minus a few weeks) during previous election cycles at this time. So I made some lists.

Barack Obama; Hillary Clilnton; Mitt Romney; Jim Gilmore; Tommyh Thompson; John McCain; Sam Brownback; Bill Richardson; Duncan Hunter; Ron Paul; Chris Dodd; Tom Tancredo’ Mike Gravel; Joe Biden; Mike Huckabee

Jon Huntsman; Michel Bachmann; Herman Cain; Tim Pawlenty; Mitt Romney; Garyh Johnson; Ron Paul;

Vermin Supreme; Pogo Mochello Allen-Reese; Hillary Clinton; Rick Perryh; John Kasich; Marco Rubio; Donald Trump;

Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Marianne Williamson, Pete Buttigieg, Donald Trump, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker; Steve Bullock; Julian Castro; Bill De Blasio; John Delaney; Mike Gravel; John Kickenlooper; Jay Inslee; Seth Moulton; Beto O’Rourke; Tim Ryhan; Eric Salwell;

Donald Trump; Ron DeSantis; Nikki Haley; Mike Pence; Ryan Binkley; Larry Elder; Asa Hutchinson; Perry Johnson; Vivek Ramaswamy; Tim Scott; Kristi Noem; Mike Rogers; Chris Sununu; Greg Abbott; Chris Christie; Joe Biden; Robert Kennedy

I’ll leave it to you to search for meaning in this.

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Linux Context Menu Image Manipulation (KDE)

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Having recently revived and updated my KDE Linux install, I went looking for the context menu to manipulate images. This tool makes life easier. Like when you want to toss an image into your blog post, but WordPress complains it is too large, it is nice to be able to simply right click on the image and in a click or two resize it (or rotate it, or maybe do other things to it). Historically there was a tool called KIM (KDE Image Management) that did this, but this seems to be no longer maintained and is not that easy to install. Instead, install “ReImage” from KDE Services Menu. Look for the “deb” link on that page if deb is your preferred install method. There is also a tar file there for other architectures.

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The Taken Ones, New Novel by Jess Lourey

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Evangeline Reed was a woman with some seriously disturbing secrets, at least one of which threatened to sideline her in a quest to put to rest a decades old and still ongoing crime. Jess Lourey, the author who created Reed and put her in the new novel “The Taken Ones,” continues in her own ongoing and highly successful quest to lure various facies of her readers’ limbic systems into a dark room and her her way with them.

Jess Lourey winning the Minnesota Book Award for The Quarry Girls.
Evangeline’s childhood was a horror, a horror that seems to have given her a gift, and a drive, that she would eventually put to use as a Minneapolis homicide cop to save lives, and to help snatch others from their own horrors. Known in adulthood as Van, detective Reed required the trust and goodwill of her partner to literally turn her nightmares into evidence, and procure extremely unlikely legal convictions. But that partner was now gone, and Van Reed was now barely holding on to her job as a cold case investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, her drive and her apparently preternatural evil detector now untethered.

There is an abyss, and Jess Lourey knows where it is. The Taken Ones, a complex mystery-adventure with a terrifying antagonist, a really annoying boss, a close-in set of very sympathetic compatriots, and a real jerk-face of a rival, implores the reader to visit multiple abysses, which may or may not (no spoilers) be linked in interesting ways.

Agent Harry Steinbeck, straight laced, well bred, and very put together forensic scientist is now the closest thing to a partner to Van. He seems to know more than he lets on. The years 1980 and 2022 bookend the activities of a spooky, demented, and highly unusual taker-killer. The four decade gap in time allows Lourey to create complex and interesting then-and-now type characters that seem to appear in many of her books.

You should read several of Lourey’s books, many of which are organized in series. The Taken Ones sports the subtitle “A Reed and Steinbeck Thriller.” We can rightfully assume that this is the first in a series, and it looks like it is going to be an excellent ride. I strongly recommend you pick up The Taken Ones as soon as it is available (pre-order here), then wait impatiently with the rest of us for the second Reed and Steinbeck to come out. In the meantime, read Lourey’s breakthrough book “Unspeakable Things,” her latest and highly acclaimed “The Quarry Girls,” and one of my favorites “Bloodline.”

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What kills our children?

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Help me fill in and expand these data. Put additions or corrections in comments. Thanks.

Table 1
Time Period Chief cause of death for our kids
 Colonial America Epidemic contagious diseases
 19th Century and Early 20th Century Chronic and endemic contagious diseases 
 Lat 20th Century through early 21st Century  Accidents
 Recent Years  Gun Nuts, Republican Legislators, MAGA Judges, and the NRA 

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On the record: Tucker Carlson will run for President

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The more I think about it the more I’m sure. Here’s the argument.

  • Tucker Carlson has an ego the size of the universe.
  • There is no pattern of people key in a network leaving the network and doing better. (I get his from the current “Pod Save America” discussion).
  • So, the next thing Carlson does has got to be an upward move, and that can’t happen in a news or entertainment network.
  • Despite the potential strength of his position, starting his own network is probably not on the table. Therefore….
  • He runs for President.

Chance of winning the Republican nomination if he runs? 80%

Chance of becoming president if he gets the Republcian nomination? 50-50.

Sorry if I just ruined your day.

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The Quarry Girls: Your next literary thriller

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The Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey* is a literary thriller set in late 1970s Paynesville, Minnesota. To cut to the quick: I’m strongly recommending that you read this book.

Minnesota has an interesting relationship with “caves” and tunnels. Our downtowns have flying tunnels connecting the upper floors (third or fourth, usually) of skyscrapers. There are “caves” going under Saint Paul along the Mississippi river, some converted into tourist destinations, others sealed off because they are dangerous. Most or all of those are mines, not caves, but somehow our news media and other spokes-entities of our local culture have decided that a major human-made landscape feature that kills children will be dubbed natural. If you want more detail on that, put a note on a post-it to remind yourself to look it up at a later time. Closer to Minneapolis, and, really, beneath Minneapolis, is a network of natural caves. Actually, these natural caves are in many parts of the state. They would be better known were it not for the last glaciation, which covered much of our landscape with a very thick layer of till, temporarily (in geological time) obliviating the sinkholes that make up much of our karstic terrain. This is why we have very few home-swallong sink holes, even though we should have many.

Among all the tunnels and caves, some of the most interesting are to be found in Panville, Minnesota, which happens to be near where Jess Lourey lived as a kid. Panville, a neighborhood of Saint Cloud, was founded by a guy who seems to have been the Elon Musk of his day, sort of, by the name of Samuel Pandolfo. Pandolfo build an automotive factory, and an adjoining factory town with several dozen diverse homes. Pandolfo came up from Mississippi to Minnesota, so naturally, when he got a look at the climate, he freaked, and built tunnels connecting the factory town’s homes to the factory, in order to keep his workers at work and alive. He probably dind’t need to, they would have walked, but he was from a much warmer clime, so what did he know? Anyway, the Pan Motor Company’s cars never made much of a splash, and Pandolfo ended up in Leavenworth which at least is in warmer Kansas. But the tunnels, and the homes, remained. And the whole thing is a little spooky.

Enough about tunnels Let’s talk about serial killers. See the chart.

We’ve had a lot of serial killers in the US (check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me) but there seems to have been an extra large number in the 1960s and 1970s. Note that the rapid fall off on this chart probably reflects the fact that serial killers tend to remain active for decades before they are discovered and popped into the Table of Known Serial Killers in Wikipedia. But the 1980s looks like a real drop off, and I think it is safe to say that the American Serial Killer had a bloody golden age in the 1960s and 1970s. And, a few of them, at least, were operating in the general vicinity of Jess Payne’s childhood, both in time and in space.

So, what do you get when you add together a creepy old factory town with creepy tunnels, a plethora of mad men who abduct, rape, and kill, some nearby quarries, and a highly talented and experienced writer who is, by the way, actively and successfully experimenting with using writing to heal and understand childhood fear and adult angst about, well, serial killers and tunnels and stuff?

You get Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey.

Quarry Girls hase one of the best ever opening sentences at one end of the book, and a tear jerking final chapter. It is filled in between with a tightly structured story with characters that grab you by the limbic system, draw you in, and keep you there until you finish the story and order another one by the same author. In my fiction reviews, I rarely discuss the story itself. Let’s face it. If you are reading this, you are one of my trusted and trusting readers. Just go read the book.

I should tell you right now that I was drawn into the Lourey sphere of literature when I came across an earlier book, “Bloodline” This is a story set in a similar environment, central Minnesota (for reference, dead in the middle of Michele Bachmann’s old Congressional District, so you know it is going to be a little creepy). Also, in a similar older period. I sense that Lourey sets her stories in an earlier decade in part because the things that make Minnesota Minnesota were less adulterated by the outside world in those earlier times. (There are other reasons as well, having to do with her personal history, as stated by the author herself.) Bloodline is a creepy story about some creepy people, and a lovable but still a little creepy protagonist. I loved it, and it made me look for more, and that is how I eventually came across the author’s most recent book, Quarry Girls. Meanwhile there is another book that I’ve not read, and frankly I’m a little scared to. I have some of my own emotional baggage that is threatened with exposure from the story presented in Jess Lourey’s breakthrough novel, Unspeakable Things. I am going to read it, though. Fortunately on-line therapy has become readily available an doesn’t cost that much.

(OK, OK, I admit: I’m teasing the author here a little. I’ve got an unspeakable story, but it isn’t really that debilitating. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy the book. I’ll tell you about it after I read it.)

So, go start reading Jess Loury’s books, and report back!

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Titus Alone and Cheap

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Titus Alone* by Mervyn Peake, is the third in the Gormenghast series.**

This is one of the most highly regarded of fantasy world constructions, while at the same time one of the least appreciated. Personally, I think this is because most, possibly all, of the printed version of the books are big and heavy with tiny type. And, there’s not been a movie. Regarding the first problem, that is solved by there being a Kindle version, and now is your chance to stock up the third of the three for super cheap, two bucks, but only for a day or two.

  • see associates note below
    ** Not a trilogy, though there are three of them. Peake died while writing the fourth in the series, leaving only three, and thus leading many to believe that this is a trilogy.

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Do not fail to get Zero Fail by Carol Leonnig

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If you like this sort of thing, and you like Leonnig as a journalist, you will want to act instantly on this, since I think this price is good for a matter of hours. Zero Fail is about the US Secret Service, longer and more recent history, changes, and controversy. I heard an interview with Leonnig recently and wanted the book, figured I’d wait a year until it got cheap. But suddenly, way ahead of schedule, Zero Fail is now available for less than two bucks in Kindle form

Regular price is way more, since this is new.

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There oughta (not) be a law! Why legislators should not require specific topics to be covered in K-12 classrooms

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Subtitle: Before you fix the problem, correctly identify the victim and the perpetrator.

I was just watching testimony in the House Education Committee, Minnesota Legislature, supporting a bill that would require some sort of financial literacy in schools. A long list of benefits was suggested, including fewer individuals succumbing to the effects of bad decisions about personal finance, and a healthier economy. This initiative was even touted as a life and death matter, since suicide is known to be linked at times to financial disasters that may have been avoided or lessened when a person is better able to handle their own finances and avoid depressing, troubling, personal disaster.

All these points are true and I do think that things would be better if students came out of high school with better financial literacy under their graduation caps than they might otherwise.

However, I don’t support this bill for several reasons. This bill is one in a continuous stream of bills our legislature introduces, one or two a year, in which a societal ill is linked in the minds of a few legislators to an inadequacy in our school system, which of course, we can fix by simply telling the teachers to get on the ball and make these newly molded citizens to be less flawed than they obviously are. These bills do not take into account several important facts, which almost always apply, regardless of the issue being addressed, such as financial literacy, critical thinking, civics and so on.

1) Chances are we already do what the bill is asking for. In this case, testimony demonstrated that FACS classes exist, and include financial literacy. So, the net improvement in all the things proposed by the legislation would be much less than suggested, because we have already done 80% or more of what can be done.

2) Schools sometimes ignore legislation of this type, because they simply can’t do what is required, and there is no mechanism for enforcement. Nobody is going to close a school down because some students graduated without civics.

3) (To integrate numbers 1 and 2 above) the schools least likely to actually implement the proposed changes are also the ones that are not doing this if this bill becomes a law. Basically, schools already want to teach financial literacy (or civics or what have you), but there is a reason a given school can’t, usually having to do with being underfunded. A law of this type will not close the above hinted 20% gap. The effect of the bill will be virtually nothing.

4) The plate effect. This is a plate:

This is a teacher’s plate:

So, where you gonna put this extra new thing you think teachers were not doing?

5) Teaching something in school does not guarantee that the specific thing that was learned is now a functional arrow in each student’s respective quiver. We teach kids how to learn, how to approach problems, how to think, by teaching teaching them a bunch of stuff to know. Then, over time, the stuff they know (at the time of the test) fades away, leaving a better person, but not necessarily a person who can recall that specific knowledge. Every one of those legislators would fail almost every one of the High School (or College) tests they took way back when, were they given the test right now. But we still regard them as educated individuals.

6) This other thing that makes this so unfair: Financial troubles are not the fault of the students (or the teachers). They are the fault of the corporations that control the finances. Fix that, legislators.

And now it is time for an instructive parable.

I was in financial trouble just now. I was suddenly knocked back on my financial heels by a $500 bill that came out of nowhere. Here’s what happened, in temporal order:

1) I had emergency eye surgery. It was covered by a health insurance plan.

2) Following an unfortunate divorce, I continued to have the same exact insurance. Same company, same primary payer, same exact level of coverage. Every single thing about this insurance was identical. IDENTICAL I TELL YOU! Except for one tiny little ting thing. The policy number changed.

3) I had a required follow-up appointment following this surgery. That appointment cost $500. Eye doctors are expensive.

4) The insurance company refused to pay the bill.

5) The insurance company sent me a notice that they figured out that I was being covered by a different insurance company, so that other company should pay the bill. It included a form that I could fill out saying either who that company was, or I could check a box indicating that I did not have another insurance policy. I did not have another insurance policy. I checked the box and mailed it back to them.

6) The insurance company sent me a notice that they figured out that I was being covered by a different insurance company, so that other company should pay the bill. It included a form that I could fill out saying either who that company was, or I could check a box indicating that I did not have another insurance policy. I did not have another insurance policy. I checked the box and mailed it back to them.

(Note: Yes, 5 and 6 are the same thing. They did it twice! I think each of these two letters originated from each of the two policy numbers. In other words, Company A, my insurance company, thought Company A, itself, was the other insurance company.)

7) Meanwhile, the health care provider had been me increasingly wrought notices that I must pay the bill or else.

8) Finally, my heath care provider sent me a note suggesting that I call my insurance company at the number on the insurance company’s insurance coverage card.

8b) The card has no number on it, but since I took a “business machines” class in high school last century, I knew how to get a phone number and was able to call them anyway.

9) I called. They looked up my account. The person on the phone intoned a paragraph of words no one would ever understand, not even a lawyer in the insurance industry. Eventually she translated for me: The problem was solved internally and I had no reason to call after all. The bill would be covered.

HOLY MOTHERFUCKNIG CHRIST PEOPLE !!!!!! The insurance company and health care providers probably spent a couple of hundred bucks on these useless paperwork shenanigans. I spent close to an hour messing around, which is below the average amount of hapless consumer time spent on this sort of thing. So, nearly HALF OF THE COST OF MY FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENT can be attributed to the inability of a huge insurance company to handle a change in an account number.

All insurance companies should be forced to take a financial literacy in high school.

People don’t have financial woes because they did not learn about interest rates in high school. They have financial woes because usury interest rates are allowed by our representative government. People don’t get ripped off by charlatans or sold bad mortgages because they did not take a financial literacy class in high school. These things happen to them because of regulatory creep, allowed by our elected representatives. People don’t live hand to mouth, barely, and have their finances fall apart over the littlest thing because they did not take financial literacy in high school. These thing happen because our minimum wage standard is laughable, our tax burden is unfairly distributed, and there is very little done in our society to develop job security. These are all failures of our legislative bodies. People don’t have health care related financial disaster because they did not take a financial literacy class in high school. This happens to them because our legislative bodies can’t modernize our health delivery system

Stop blaming the teachers, stop blaming the schools, stop blaming the kids. They are the victims, not the perpetrators of all that cause personal financial disaster.

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