Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This Is What You're Arguing Against

Before I moved to the US seven years ago, I really didn’t have much experience with the health care system here in the UK. In my entire life, I’d only needed to see a Doctor a handful of times…once for a bad case of the flu when I was about ten, and once more for a bad chest infection shortly before I left for the US.

Well, shortly after getting back, I went to the Pharmacy with my parents so my dad could get some cough medicine. While I was there I noticed a sign on the wall, it said:

Medications not covered by the NHS are subject to a charge of 7.50

My eyes just about popped out of my head.

“Dad?” I said. “Does that mean all medications, no matter what they are, cost 7.50?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking at me like I’d grown an extra head.

“I know,” said my Mum. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s just gone up again.”

Ridiculous is right…ridiculous that everyone thinks it’s expensive. My diabetes meds cost nearly a hundred bucks a month, and just one of Sunny’s medications, despite the fact she had decent insurance, cost nearly $500 a month.

This was when my mum pointed out that you can also get a special deal, purchasing NHS vouchers that half the price…and that a lot of medications are completely free anyway.

Thinking about this, I remembered the broadcasts by the big pharmaceutical companies back in the States that held up the NHS as a ‘horror story’ of how bad things will be if ‘Obamacare’ came into being.

Yeah, it’s a real fucking nightmare. If I get sick over here, I can go see a Doctor for free. If I break a leg, I can go to the ER for free. If I need to be taken there by ambulance, it’s free. If I need to be airlifted to a hospital on a fucking helicopter, it’s free. Any medication is either going to be free or cost me a whole seven-fifty.

Are you noticing a pattern here?

Oh, and I guarantee that the taxes we pay to fund the NHS don’t even come close to the insurance premiums the average American citizen pays for healthcare . Why? Because healthcare over here is a service and not a business. It’s about healing sick people…not making a profit. My taxes pay for materials and expertise…not to pay for some insurance executive’s third yacht.

Of course, this is when people point out that you’re doing away with ‘choice’ and you have to put up with waiting lists etc…and I’ll concede the point that waiting lists are a pain in the ass. For example, I went to register Sunny and myself with the local Doctor and we’re having to wait two weeks before we can go for our medical checkup to get registered… but on the other hand, if I got really sick tomorrow, the Doctor would see me anyway.

As for choice…well, you’re right, your choice in the UK is a little different from the choice offered in the US. For example, if I need minor surgery for a non-life threatening condition in the UK, I can go on one of the dreaded waiting lists and wait a few weeks and get it totally for free…or I can choose to pay for private insurance and go see a private doctor immediately.

That’s my choice. Pay for now or wait and get it free. Oh, and if it’s a life-threatening condition, I get seen immediately…private insurance or not.

Isn’t that just horrendous? Can you think of a worse example of commie, socialist bullshit than treating the sickest people with the most urgent need first? The American system of treating whoever has the most money first is so much better. For example, when I discovered I had diabetes and woke up three quarters blind, I had the far more reasonable choice of coming up with $800 to see a doctor or… well… I could do nothing and die.

I mean, come on…what’s really more important? A person’s life? or making a fuck-ton of cash? It’s not like the Doctors don’t earn that fee.

I mean, the ER Doctor that saw me when I had strep throat spent at least 45 seconds in the room with me and the batteries for that flashlight she shone down my throat don’t come cheap. That’s worth $450, don’t you think?... and I know the wear and tear my ass caused on the waiting room chair for an hour and the electricity they used to light the room I sat in for two hours cost at least $870…so the $1400 bill I got was more than fair.

Oh, and I completely understand why they charged me $250 for the $1.50 pill they gave me. The nurse clearly walked at least a hundred yards to bring it to me.

Sarcasm aside….this is what you’re protecting when you argue against health care reform. Cheap, affordable healthcare for everyone. After all, why should you care that 50,000 people die every year from easily treatable diseases. If they got the healthcare they needed, literally hundreds of insurance execs might have to make do with six figure salaries or smaller bonuses… and only bad people are unemployed, right? Just like the entire population of Detroit.

Some issues are too complex to fit the “Capitalism Good, Socialism Bad” mindset. Capitalism is great…but not in all cases. Things like healthcare should be about healing the sick first and profits second.

Let me end with a question. If you were at a restaurant and someone started choking, would you demand they pay you a few hundred dollars before you’d consider performing the Heimlich maneuver on them?

Of course not…but that’s exactly how your healthcare system works.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

To Everyone Who's Been Complaining That I've
Hardly Updated Since Returning to the UK:

I'm Holding a Buzzard Named 'Brian'
Your Argument is Invalid.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Well, I’ve been under a bit of a blogging black out since I arrived back in the UK, and it’s not because of a lack of things to write about, in fact, the exact opposite is true. There’s so much to write about that it’s been pretty hard to know where to start.

The main thing that’s struck me is just how surreal it is to be back. I’ve been away for roughly seven years and…well… it feels a lot like I’m stuck in a Twilight Zone episode.

You see, it feels like someone’s built a replica of my childhood home, but has got a lot of the details wrong. I walk down a street that I’ve walked down a million times…but now the post office is on the wrong side of the street, there’s a carpet store where the video rental place used to be, the busses are the wrong color and there’s a young family living next door instead of the old lady who lived there for as long as I can remember.

It’s really strange, it’s my home town, but the same time, it isn’t…it’s more like a version of my home town. I keep expecting a fa├žade to fall down and to find people with clip-boards behind it taking notes about how I’m reacting.

What makes it infinitely weirder is Sunny’s presence. Not only is it a major case of worlds colliding, a lot of things are completely new to her… and seeing everything through her eyes is just plain strange. You grow up accepting certain things as completely normal and you only notice how weird things are when someone from outside points them out to you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back in the UK

Well, we've been back in the UK for a few days now and we're starting to settle in.

I've been meaning to write a blog post about the move, but there's just been so much going on and it's been so overwhelming, that it's been difficult even to know when to start.

The flight was a little bit of adventure. Our first flight from Greenville to Philly was about 30 minutes late taking off, and with only a 90 minute layover, I was bricking it as to whether we'd make our connecting flight.

As it was, I thought we'd timed it perfectly. We arrived at the gate just as they announced boarding. I thought it was awesome... no waiting around, just straight off one plane and only to the other.

... we ended up stuck on the tarmac for nearly an hour and a half. The plane backed away from the gate, turned towards the runway...then went right back to the gate. 15 minutes later the door opens and two TSA agents get on and escort some guy off...then we had to wait the better part of two hours for them to find the guy's luggage and take it off the plane.

Worst part? They wouldn't tell us who the guy was or why he'd been kicked off the flight (although knowing the TSA, he probably just had the word 'gun' in his name somewhere.)

Anyway, I'll probably write more later when we get properly settled and I stop feeling like I'm going to wake up any minute and find myself back in the states.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

This Old House...

If you had asked me a month ago if I was going to miss our house when we moved to England, I would have laughed in your face. It’s been a running joke since we’ve lived here that what it really needs to set it right is about ten gallons of gasoline and a match.

This place is essentially Sunny’s parents’ Guest House. Over the past few decades it’s served as a ‘stop-gap’ home for various family members when they found themselves in ‘transitional’ periods of their lives.

That’s a bad thing for a house, because no-one who’s ever lived here (ourselves included) has planned to stay for more than six months…and with that mentality, the upkeep and maintenance was always performed on a ‘that’ll do’ basis.

If you’re only planning on staying for six months and money is tight, when the roof starts to leak, do you spend five grand on getting it professionally replaced? Or do you patch the hole with a twenty dollar bucket of sealant? If a pipe bursts, do you call a plumber to solder in some new copper pipe? Or do you just fix it yourself with a bit of PVC that will last until you move out?

In our case, this was especially bad because, from the day we moved in, we knew the place was going to be demolished when we moved out because Sunny’s mom wanted to build something else back here. There was just no point in sinking any real money into a house that was going to be torn down…especially when we were only going to be here ‘six months’.

In short, I really hated this house. It was a wreck and it felt like a constant reminder and a monument to my inability to find a job. For the seven years I’ve lived here, it’s caused me nothing but stress and I’ve daydreamed every day about the day I’d finally get to move out.

However, with today being the last full day I’ll ever spend under this roof…it suddenly struck me how much I’m going to miss the place.

Sure, I remember freaking out the third time the bedroom roof started to leak directly above the bed. I remember staring in disbelief at the brass shrapnel posing as valve heads I took off the kitchen faucets. I remember the all too common sinking feeling when I got into the crawlspace and discovered the 70’s era water heater had been leaking water for what looked like months…completely destroying the flooring underneath it…or when I discovered the pipe feeding the shower sprung a leak because someone in the past had tried to mate PVC pipe to copper.

But…and this is a big but, this place may be a wreck…but it’s also filled to the brim with happy memories.

It was my first place away from my parents’ home. The first place where I got to set my own rules. It’s the place I spent my first day as a married man.

The thing is, now that I’m leaving, I look at this place and I don’t remember the leaking roof and the bad plumbing…I remember all the good times we’ve had here; the number of times Sunny and I have talked and laughed in this living room. Having the entire family around the big dining room table at my first ever Thanksgiving. Unwrapping presents on our first Christmas together… or setting off fireworks in the yard on the 4th of July.

When we decided to move, I told Sunny that my only regret about leaving and going back to England was that I wouldn’t be here to see this place torn down… now, when I think of this place standing empty and the idea that after Wednesday, I’ll never step foot in this house again…it honestly makes me sad.

This house is a wreck…but some of the best times in my life have taken place under this roof.

Yeah, I hated it….but I’m really going to miss it.


41 hours, 4 minutes and 27 seconds....


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Farce sale

Two weeks ago, when Sunny left her job and we started working on the house, we realized just how much work we had to do to get ready for the move… so we had to change our plans regarding selling our stuff.

The original plan was to have a yard sale last weekend, and take whatever we didn’t manage to sell to the local flea-market this weekend.

Instead, realizing we’d never get everything packed up and ready in time, we decided to push back the yard sale until today, and forgo the flea-market all together, deciding instead to just hold a two-day yard sale if needed.

Did I mention we fly this coming Wednesday? It was make or break time.

Well, a few days ago we saw the weather forecast and it wasn’t too bad. Today was supposed to be cloudy with a ten percent chance of rain, and tomorrow was a sixty percent chance of rain, but it was supposed to be scattered showers.

Things did not go according to plan.

First of all, for some ungodly reason, Sunny decided to advertise the yard sale as starting at 8am. This is way too early, at least for me… but especially when you consider the fact that we were up working on getting everything boxed up until 2.30am. Given that I actually got to sleep at about five this morning, getting out of bed at seven wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done.

It was even more unpleasant when I opened the front door at 7am and saw that it was absolutely pissing it down.

At first we thought we had it handled. My step daughter and her boyfriend were coming over to help out, and knowing there was a possibility of rain, they brought two large screen rooms…basically large 8x8 tents with screen mesh walls that an adult can easily stand up in.

So we set it up so the smaller things were in the screen rooms set up in front of the house and we took pictures of the large pieces of furniture so we didn’t have to bring them outside in the rain. The idea was that we could show the pictures and if anyone was interested we could bring them into the actual house to show the items.

Great, right?

Well, we quickly discovered that while the screen rooms are great for providing shade on a hot day, they weren’t quite as good at keeping the rain off. They just weren’t waterproof. Everything was quickly getting soaked to the point where we had to cover everything with trash bags to stop everything from getting soaked.

Given the weather I was amazed when the first person showed up.

He had a quick skim through the things we had out and asked about furniture. I pulled out the pictures and he looked at me like I’d just grown an extra head. It became apparent quickly that he thought we were running some sort of scam.

Of course I explained that if he saw anything he was interested in, I’d take him straight in the house, show him the actual item and help him load it on his truck right then and there. Somehow this still didn’t convince him and he left in a huff.

Basically, we spent five hours standing in the rain watching everything get soaked and by the time it was over, we’d had the grand total of five customers, only two of which bought anything, and we made the grand total of sixty-five dollars.

The best part is that one of the items sold was Sunny’s China Hutch, and because the people who bought it couldn’t fit it into their car, after two hours sleep, we can’t even take a nap because we have to wait for them to come pick it up.

Oh…and our house it at the bottom of a hill down a dirt road at the back of the property…a dirt road that turns into mud and gets slick as hell when it rains heavily.

Whatever vehicle they arrive in the pick up the hutch…I hope it’s four wheel drive.

One last thing: Checking the forecast today, tomorrow we’re meant to get between four and six inches of rain. Our two day yard sale? Yeah…not happening.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Today, I overheard someone point out that Elvis Presley only got a ‘C’ in high school music class.

I hate these so called ‘facts’. For one, the vast majority of them just aren’t true. For example the popular belief that Einstein failed high school math simply isn’t true.

But, for me, the worst thing is that the people who like to spout these things are really saying “Everyone says I suck at (activity), but everyone said (famous successful person) sucked at it too…so I’m just like them and the reason everyone says I suck is because they’re either jealous or just don’t ‘get’ me.”

They forget one thing. The people these facts are usually about are legends who were way ahead of their time. For example, people like Elvis or The Beatles or Einstein were geniuses. They broke new ground and did things no one had ever done before. They were one-in-a-million people. They also sucked when they were starting out.

Chances are, if someone tells you your guitar playing sounds like a cat with a sewn up asshole, or your painting looks like a clown vomited on the canvas... you probably suck. It’s not that you’re ahead of your time, or that people don’t ‘get’ you…it’s that you suck at whatever you’re trying.

Now, I know that this all sounds very cynical, and I’m not sure who this post is actually for because everyone who thinks they’re ‘too awesome to be understood’ will probably agree with everything I’m saying, but also believe that none of what I’m saying actually applies to them: Their friend who sucks at drawing, but tells everyone that they just don’t get ‘his style’ actually sucks…but the stuff they create is genius work that’s just way ahead of its time.

Let me give everyone a bit of advice:

Accept that you suck.

Here’s the thing. Once you accept that you suck, once you understand your work in any field could do with a lot improvement…you’ll actually start to get better.

For example, a few years ago I started sketching on a regular basis. I thought I was really, really good. In fact, I thought I was so good that I posted some work online in an art forum.

Nearly everyone in that forum told me I sucked. Maybe not in those exact words (although some absolutely did), but a good few people told me why my work sucked, pointed out errors, gave me links to examples and tutorials.

I accepted that I sucked at drawing and set out to get better. A few years on, my artwork still sucks…but it sucks a lot less. In fact, it sucked so much less that, last year, someone on eBay was willing to pay me $75 for one of my ink drawings.

But I know, that in the grand scheme of things, my work still sucks, that when held up next to the work of the artists I admire, it’s not good enough.

…and because I accept it’s not good enough, because I accept that I’m a novice artist, because I accept that I suck… I know that by this time next year, my artwork will suck even less.

Now let me give you another example.

I went all the way through school with a kid who I won’t name to protect the ignorant. At age 10, he was pretty good at cartooning, and decided then and there that he was the greatest artist who ever lived. If anyone, including art teachers, critiqued his work with anything less than abject praise, he would flip out. He’d tell them that they didn’t understand his ‘style’, that they didn’t ‘get it’…and point out that people said that Picasso’s work was crap or that no-one liked Van Gogh’s paintings either.

So by the time he left high school at 16, his artwork looked exactly the same as it did when he was 10. He was also outraged when he couldn’t get into Art School because he didn’t have the grades and no colleges thought his work was high enough standard to accept him.

Let me put it another way:

Stop using excuses, accept that you suck and there’s a very good chance that you’ll eventually improve enough to where you don’t suck.

Or, keep telling yourself that people don’t understand you, don’t get you or don’t understand your style and suck for the rest of your life, getting bitter because no-one understands your genius.

Here’s the truth:

The first time you try anything you’re going to suck at it. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Accept it, improve and move on.

The day you decide your work is flawless is the day you stop getting any better.