A Rant-Why Even Try?

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I’ve probably mentioned that I like to write. I’d like to make a living at it. Hopefully by telling crazy stories about vampires and zombies and space aliens. But every once in a while, I get really discouraged and I ask myself: Why even try?

Seriously though. I ask myself that every day. The odds are crazy. The amount of competition is insane. Readers are fickle. Publishers go out of business every week. The roadsides are littered with the flaming wrecks of would-be writers. You’d have to be delusional to believe that you’ll ever be anything more than one of a million hacks on the Kindle store, selling four copies a month while your co-workers at Pizza Hut chuckle about your sad ambition. You’d be better off buying lottery tickets.

But it seems to me that in this day and age, if you have any kind of goals greater than working as a fry cook at McDonalds, you’re still facing insane odds. There are no longer any magic bullets. There’s no career path or degree or certificate or qualification that guarantees that things are going to be easy for you. For every real grownup job there are hundreds of applicants. I’ve got friends who graduated with sensible degrees, solid blue-chip career degrees like accounting, and it literally took them years to find a job. Years of sending out hundreds of resumes, living at their parents houses and servicing their massive American student loan debts. I know someone who graduated with a good professional degree, found an awesome suit-and-tie job, and got laid off three different times in a year. I know teachers who get blamed for everything that’s wrong with our broken school system, who buy their kids school supplies out of their own pockets, who sweat bullets every year when the layoffs come around.

If there’s a good, safe job out there, I haven’t seen it.

I’ve seen people with bachelor’s in biology making twelve dollars an hour working as lab assistants. I’ve had teachers, PhDs, working as adjunct professors, making less money than the guy outside the window mowing the lawn. Your barista at Starbucks or your cashier at Barnes and Noble probably have English degrees. And take a look at the statistics for law school graduates sometime. Wasn’t that what our parents told us? “Get a good job, be a lawyer and get rich.” Good luck with that.

And in addition to that, some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met got where they are by chasing the money. Dentists and pharmacists and lawyers who spent years and years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get where they are, and they hate it and they hate their lives. It makes you ask yourself: How much money is happiness really worth?

And anyway, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow.

So, given all that, given that for my generation it seems like a good, secure career might as well be in the same category as unicorns and Bigfoot, why the hell not try to pursue your passion? Why not try and do what you really want to do?

Because hell, there just aren’t any safe bets.

I hate engines-a rant

Warning: The following is a bitter, rambling, disjointed rant. I really can’t suggest that you read it.

I hate engines. I hate ’em. They’re loud, obnoxious, cantankerous, smelly, foul, smoke belching little assholes. They eat fossilized hydrocarbons and they spit out greenhouse gasses and carcinogenic particulate matter. They’re literally killing us. I look forward to the near future, when we’ve switched over to electric cars, and the thought of a gasoline powered car is looked at with mild disgust and horror. How did people ever live like that? our children will say, as they step out of their self-driving electric car to go to the museum of motor vehicles, where they’ll probably stand inside some kind of special pollution chamber in order to smell what the early twenty-first century smelled like.

All of this occurred to me as I was trying to drink a cup of coffee and read a book (a trashy paperback) at a table outside a coffee shop. A shop that was right next to a minor side street. There I was, trying to settle into my book, when a diesel truck drove by, brrrrruuuuuummmmmmmm….. kachunk! clank! kch-bruuuuuuuuummmmmm…. spitting out a great, filthy cloud of black smoke as it went. I looked around, as this cancer cloud wafted over me, and saw that I was apparently the only one bothered by this. We’ve become so used to this that we don’t even notice how awful it is.

And then, a Tesla drove by. Absolutely silent. Zero emissions. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that this is the future. Soon, the internal combustion engine will be a barbaric relic of the past, and we’ll wonder how we ever put up with it.

Another thing I hate about engines: They break. They break a lot. It’s amazing they don’t break more often. It’s basically a little bomb going off six times per second inside of a little tube, and the explosion lifts a piston that powers your car. That, in and of itself, is pretty simple. But then everything else about an engine, probably two thirds of the mechanisms in the engine compartment, are simply designed to prevent the engine from ripping itself apart, which is what it really wants to do.

It’s a giant, insanely complicated Rube-Goldberg contraption to manage the craziness going on, from the split-second choreography of valves and cams that prevent the cylinder from turning into a pipe-bomb, to the coolant system constantly shunting away excess heat to prevent the whole mess from melting down, to the lubrication system that keeps it all from fusing solid…and then it’s all strapped to a big tank full of the explosive liquid it needs in order to live…well, you get the point. The point is, I hate engines.

Now let’s compare this insanely complicated contraption (an amazing feat of engineering, don’t get me wrong) to an electric motor. Even the most simple gas engine is a miniaturized version of the above-mentioned shit-show. A chainsaw, for example. It’s a bitch to start. It needs coaxing and tweaking and constant maintenance. It’s loud and cranky and smelly. It breaks down a lot. And then let’s look at, say, an electric blender. When was the last time you had to change the oil on your blender, or adjust the valve clearance or change your spark plug wires? How many moving parts does a blender motor have? One. There’s a stator (it’s static) and a rotor. (it rotates.) That’s about it. I’ve had the same blender for ten years.  I bought it at a thrift shop, and it’s never given me any trouble at all.

This is really what excites me most about the prospect of an electric car. I mean, sure, saving the planet is cool. Paying a fraction of what gas costs to charge your battery is pretty sweet. But I’m mostly excited about cars that are simpler, quieter, and cleaner. Granted, a Tesla is a bit more complicated than a blender, but still.

With an electric engine you don’t need a coolant system. You don’t need a lubrication system. You don’t need a transmission or an exhaust system or a catalytic converter or a muffler. You don’t need to rattle the fillings out of somebody’s damned head with your engine braking and choke them with your fumes while they’re trying to enjoy a nice goddamned cup of coffee al fresco. An electric car, more or less, is just a big battery hooked to a big electric motor. Just a bunch of electrons silently shuffling around.

Of course, what would excite me even more is not needing a car at all. I love the freedom, I do. It’s great being able to go wherever, whenever, in my private motor-driven coach. It’s the god-damned American Dream. But I hate, I bitterly resent the fact that I need one.

In most places in America, it’s almost impossible to live without a car. And that sucks. Cars are ridiculously expensive. The maintenance is a pain in the ass. Insurance is a drag. They’re dangerous. They get stolen. They crash. They break at the worst possible time. And yet, living as I do in a country designed for cars, with pedestrians as a distant afterthought, in most places they are an absolute necessity of life. They’re such an absolute given, that most people never even consider that there might be a better way. I swear to god, it’s like we’re all in abusive relationships with our cars.

Growing up in a rural area, (where it was a thirty minute drive to the nearest grocery store) I’ve always had a bit of a city-phobia. It hasn’t been until very recently that I’ve spent enough time in a real city to appreciate the advantages (besides the advantage of actually having something to do). Being able to walk places. Available, affordable public transportation. Sidewalks. Taxi cabs. The possibility of being able to do without a car entirely.

Someday, that will be the case everywhere in America. Someday we’ll have actual public transportation. Someday we’ll stop designing new cities like cars are the primary residents. Someday our passenger rail system won’t be an overpriced joke. Someday we’ll be able to use our smartphones to summon a self-driving Uber to take us where we want to go. Someday there will be no reason to spend six months pay on a giant, overcomplicated money-pit of a contraption just so we can haul our groceries home.

But until then, oops, I’m about due for a new set of tires.

Our healthcare system is evil, and that isn’t hyperbole—a rant

There’s been a lot of debate about how to fix the healthcare system here in America, but most of our political establishment seems to be blind to this obvious fact: It doesn’t need to be fixed. It needs to be destroyed. We need to take America’s healthcare system out into a field, tell it about the rabbits, and lovingly shoot it in the head. Then dismember it’s bloated corpse, burn it, tie rocks to it, and dump it in the ocean.

That’s because America’s healthcare system isn’t a healthcare system. It has been completely infiltrated and subverted by corporate greed. Our system is immoral to its core.

Here in America, you have to purchase “health insurance” and pay a monthly premium, (usually a large premium) then when you get sick, theoretically, the insurer pays your ridiculous bills. Except that they don’t, whenever they can possibly weasel out of it. Which is quite often.

And so, even for well-to-do Americans with great insurance, if you get hit by a bus, the first thing you’re going to be thinking is, “Oh god, how much is this going to cost?” Just for one example, an acquaintance of mine, a nurse, recently was hit by a car after stopping to assist in an accident. The bill? $350,000 dollars. How much of that will she be responsible for? Nobody fucking knows. You just have to sit and bite your nails for a few months until the insurance company makes up its mind how much of that they feel like they should have to pay. And then you have to call the insurance company and complain, and maybe they’ll lower it a little, and maybe they won’t. This system is deeply, deeply fucked.

And see, here’s the thing. Let’s look at Every. Single. Other. Thing. that you can have insured. A car. A boat. A watch. A house. A diamond ring. How are these all different from a human life? You can a) put a finite monetary value on them, and b) If you can’t afford to insure them, you can live without them.

That’s the heart of the problem, the dirty little secret that nobody seems to notice. You cannot put a monetary value on a human life, and you cannot ask people to do without. The end. Period. And yet, this is exactly what our healthcare system does. It doesn’t “Take care of the sick,” it “takes care of the sick until such time as our profit margins are threatened.”

That’s the thing. This concept is broken at its very core. There is no way to apply a for-profit insurance industry framework to healthcare, without being willing to shut the door on desperate people in their greatest hour of need. Talking about reforming this system is like, I don’t know, deciding to murder kittens with a meat hammer instead of murdering them with a steak knife. It’s like nobody has even considered just not murdering the kittens. Just creating a system where kittens don’t need to be murdered.

I’ve heard all the arguments: It’s too expensive. It’ll never happen. It will put people out of work. It will damage the economy. This is bullshit. It’s all bullshit. Nearly every other first world country has some form of public healthcare. It can work and it does work. What kind of monsters are we, that we won’t even try? Our own fear of socialism and our outdated notions of self-reliancepropped up by billions in advertising and political influence from the Skeksis that profit so handsomely from this broken systemare the only thing preventing it from working.

See, we Americans are big fans of rugged individualism, the concept that we just need to take care of ourselves and nobody else, and we’ll just carve a life out of the wilderness with an axe and a flintlock musket, and if we are Randian supermen, everything will be great. Except it isn’t 1778 anymore. That philosophy worked wonderfully when there weren’t any police, when roads were dirt paths, and when the most a doctor could do for you is saw off a limb or apply leeches.

Today, things are different. There are dozens of things we take for granted that the government provides. Police, fire departments, roads, the military. These are all vital things that nobody could afford by themselves, but if we all just chip in a little, we can afford them, and everyone benefits. When an emergency surgery can run $350,000, it stands to reason that maybe healthcare should be on that list. But oh no. Not here in the U-S-of-A. If that homeless guy breaks his arm, fuck him. If that college kid needs an emergency appendectomy, he’d better just declare bankruptcy.

Maybe I’m a bit radical in my opinion here, but I’d like to see the government nationalize every single health insurer and health management organization. Just switch out the letterheads, and make it into the American National Health Service. The boardroom vultures in charge of these places can have a choice: either walk away, or be charged with murder or attempted murder for every single instance where their company has denied health coverage to someone in need.

And, as an added bonus, all of our conservative television pundits would simultaneously drop dead from brain hemorrhages.

Whew. Felt good to get that one out. /rant.

Afterword: There is only one candidate who, in my opinion, seems willing to do something about this mess, and that’s Bernie Sanders. If this rant strikes a chord with you and you live in one of the twelve states holding primary elections tomorrow, please, please, please, go vote.