Wow. Misspeak, DoubleSpeak!

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Just when I thought i knew my astrological Sign

It ends up I didn’t.

I was watching a show with Darren that mentioned the thirteenth house of the zodiac (which is rarely counted in Western Astrology). It’s called Ophiuchus, and I was actually born under it. After a bit of scouring, this is what I found on the web about it. Do you think it sounds like me?

What is The 13th Sign?
Mystery behind the forgotten zodiac sign
by Jen Tartaglione

You were born a Taurus, but you exhibit more of the flightiness of an Aries than an obstinate bull. Maybe you’re supposed to be a chatty Sagittarius, but boy do you brood like a scorpion. Not everyone identifies entirely with their Sun sign – and one of the reasons why is already written in the stars. It’s a 13th sign!

Number 13
For the sake of simplicity and neat mathematics, 2300 years ago, astrologers divided the Sun’s path into 12 neat slices affording each constellation 30° of the heavens. That’s all well and good, but some constellations are far larger than others, and they left someone out! Ophiuchus (funny name, we’ll get to that later) is the forgotten sign of the zodiac. We know that astrologers (all the way back to the days of Ptolemy) knew about Ophiuchus, however, due to the ever changing heavens, the sky we see today isn’t the same as the skies of yesteryear.

Enter Ophiuchus
Taking up 18° of the Sun’s path, and sitting comfortably between Scorpio and Sagittarius is Ophiuchus (O-fee-Yoo-cuss). According to Greek tradition, Ophiuchus or “snake holder” was Asclepius, the half mortal son of Apollo. After killing Asclepius’ mother in a vengeful rage, Apollo sent the boy to be raised by Chiron. Chiron taught Asclepius the secrets of healing and medicine. Worried that Asclepius’ knowledge would lead to the immortality of humans, Zeus killed Asclepius and gave him a place in the heavens as thanks for his noble deeds.

True empathy
Those born between November 29 and December 17 may see in themselves a natural empathy toward others and are particularly drawn to the healing of the mind, body and soul. They are kind to the point of naïveté and are blessed with dramatic powers – this however can be to their detriment if they allow themselves to empathize too much with the pain of others.

Star power
Some notables born under Ophiuchus: Winston Churchill, Woody Allen, Jim Morrison, Walt Disney, Jane Austen, Bette Midler, Ludwig van Beethoven and Emily Dickinson.

Now that the myth of the 13th sign has been dispelled, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t the same person that you were before. It’s important to remember that while our Sun sign tells us something about our ego, we were born with all of the planets in our charts – we have a little bit of everything all at once!

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My Knee — The Status. (Or, Why I hate Kaiser)

So, as some of you know, I’ve had a reinjury to my bad ACL. It’s a tough one this time, I haven’t had pain like this from my knee since the second surgery on it (the third made it all feel so much better). It hasn’t swollen like this since the first surgery.

It’s also my first time on an HMO — and I wouldn’t have gotten one if it weren’t for the fact that it’s not so expensive as other healthcare programs. Oh, I rue this choice. Very much.

My healthcare provider is Kaiser Permanente — yes, that bastion of Health Maintenance organizations. Yes, yes — German efficiency. My ass.

So I injured the knee again three weeks ago. It was a long, slow buildup, but I’ve put more miles on my knee since my last surgery than I did in the years between ’92 and ’02, so I suspected it might just start to deteriorate after a while (a lot of this has to do with my bones, and the way they react, as well as the fact I’m hyperextensive in ALLLLL of my joints, which lends itself to loose ligaments). I understand this. But this also kind of screws me — I’m very active, but I have soft bones and ligaments that just want to pull out of place.

Well, it’s screwed me once again.

Harner did a fabulous job of surgery in Pittsburgh. Absolutely flawless. He was a wonderful doctor, and I can’t thank him enough for the work he did to repair damage done when I had the first surgery so many many years ago. He did a fantastic job. I have put on weight, and have been walking more and more, which just puts stress on the bones, and the knees in particular. I think it’s one pound gained to 3 pounds of pressure on the knee, so I’ve put A LOT more pressure on my knee. But the mileage I’ve put on the knee can’t be ignored.

And I understand all that. I understand how difficult my knee is. Harner enjoyed my case because it was challenging. And I totally understand that maybe this doctor isn’t up to the challenge. But they didn’t even give me an MRI at the office! No, I have to schedule that separately, and spend the weeks in between on crutches.

And let me tell you, I’ve seen a lot of x-rays in my day. An awful lot. And this thing didn’t have the resolution to show the hair line fractures that were in my bones the last time.

To boot, the radiologist went and asked me, as I was across the room from my crutches and out of the immobilizer (so I was pretty much unable to walk away) if my husband and I had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. All I could say is that I made my peace with God. WTF!

And, just for one more kick in the ass, they gave me shit about my blood pressure. I wonder why my blood pressure was high — I was crutching all over the place, and it was a hot day, and I was nervous about this guy taking a look at my knee. Lucky me, I get to trade in one of the best knee surgeons in the world for a nincompoop who likes to create addicts. Just wunnerful.

So, it’s more waiting, and I don’t know anymore than I did Sunday. What’s worse, is they are looking to treat this as a “pain management” case. So they would rather have me addicted to Vicodin than actually fix the problem.

Unbelievable. I’ve worked almost my entire career in health care, and this is what I get.

I has can Cheezburger — I saw this coming.

I really did call this one. I’m a subscriber to gizmodo and spluch both, and when I have a few minutes of downtime, and Darren isn’t around to bug, I’ll go on there and glance over the headlines between database queries.

A while back, I recall seeing both spluch and gizmodo cover the following product:

Now, of course I looked at this thing and said “There is no way in hell that cheeseburger looks like that coming out of a can.”

From there I was distracted by life, and I went about leading it. I didn’t run into the cheeseburger in a can concept again until I was looking at some of the voting on Icanhascheezburger (damn that site for being so addictive) and stumbled upon this — and yeah, I kind of knew that a lolcat fan was going to get some action shots of this thing:


see more crazy cat pics

While that’s REALLY funny, I’ve just recaptioned it with how I thought it was going to be captioned when I first heard about the thing

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

The initial reactions to the thing were HILARIOUS — and ranged from “This is it, I am turning in my humanity card, I’m off this ride.” to “I want to eat a cheeseburger from a can more than I’ve wanted to eat anything in my life ever.”  It is at once hailed as the signal of a society in downfall, and man’s ultimate achievement (those who put it with the latter hope that this product displaces Spam).

Now, I was wondering something.  Even though I’m allergic and all, I really wanted to know what this cheeseburger tasted like.  I’ve been on plenty of long long hikes, and I could see where the company that created it (they also created liquid food for extreme adventurers, and powdered red wine) would market the cheeseburger in a can a bit differently than having a cat play with it.

So, being curious,  I just had to know — what does it REALLY look like, and what does it taste like.

Thank God for the internet, for within minutes, my questions were answered.

It really looks like this:

As for the taste of this lovely morsel, I’ll let them describe it:

True Journalists Brave Enough to Put That in Their Mouths

The Sum of Their Reaction?

Funny Pictures
see more crazy cat pics

As a side note, in case you’ve wondered where I am . . .

I’ve been really busy at work working on another client, and generally coming home, relaxing, and then getting up to do it all again. My time with Darren is always treasured, and honestly, I haven’t had much to blog about.

Then, on top of it all, the middle of it all, I had that AT&T thing happen. Then, and this is a kicker, my knee went out. So I’ve been laid up on crutches and dealing with the SUCK of trying to get in to see an orthopedic surgeon. Kaiser has me scheduled — for NEXT MONDAY. I hurt my leg almost two damn weeks ago! It’s going to take them 18 days to see me!

I’ve worked almost my whole career in healthcare — and now that I need it, it fails me.

An Article that Changed my View on the American Political Process

Along with the book “Democracy in America” by deTocqueville and varioius texts by John Locke and, of course, Marx, I headed to college pretty well armed with information about the way our system ran.  OF course there, I found that most of my assumptions were wrong. 

I’m listening to the speech by Barack Obama, and he reminded me of an article I read and adored in college for a political science class.  It was written by Johnathan Rauch, and I believe that despite all the other challenges that our candidates have to face in this election — that the challenges Mr. Rauch outlines in this article are also, very real.

So, for your enjoyment, I present the text of Johnathon Rauch’s article here, courtesy of his website.

Demosclerosis

National Journal | September 5, 1992

ON APRIL 10, a group of kamikaze Senators marched to the chamber floor with an alternative budget. What they got back was a stark demonstration of the forces that are petrifying postwar democracy.

“We do not seek to end entitlements, or even to reduce them,” Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va., told the Senate that day. “We do, however, believe that it is necessary to restrain their growth. That is, first and foremost, what this amendment does.”

Entitlement programs are check-writing machines whose subsidies are mandatory under law: social security, medicare, farm supports, welfare, countless more. Today they account for a staggering three-fourths of all federal domestic spending. And so Sen. Peter V. Domenici, R-N.M., was doing nothing more than acknowledging reality when he told the Senate, “If we do not do anything to control the mandatory expenditures, the deficit will continue skyrocketing.”

The bipartisan group — Domenici and Robb, Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H. — proposed phasing in a cap on over-all entitlement growth. To avoid bringing the roof down on their heads, they exempted social security. The other entitlement programs would collectively grow to account for inflation and demographic changes, but no more.

Within two hours of the four Senators’ first detailed discussion of their proposal, they were receiving telegrams, Domenici told the Senate, “from all over the country, saying that this is going to hurt a veterans’ group, this is going to hurt people on welfare, this is going to hurt seniors on medicare.”

“We were inundated,” G. William Hoagland, the Senate Budget Committee’s Republican staff director, recalled during a recent interview. “Just about every interest group you can think of was strongly opposed. It was very dramatic how quickly they all came to the defense.”

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) called the proposal a “direct attack”; the National Council of Senior Citizens “outrageous”; the Children’s Defense Fund, “unacceptable”; the Committee for Education Funding, “unconscionable”; the Food Research and Action Center, “devastating”; the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, “unfair and unconscionable”; the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, “totally unjust”; the Disabled American Veterans, “unconscionable”; the American Legion, “incredible”; the Paralyzed Veterans of America, “inherently unfair”; the National Cotton Council of America, the U.S. Rice Producers’ Group and the National Farmers Organization, “unfair”; the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, “irresponsible, simple-minded,” and so on.

On the floor of the Senate, the amendment’s opponents moved to exempt disabled veterans from the entitlement cap. The exemption passed, 66-28. “We were going to exclude every Tom, Dick and Harry organization out there before we were finished,” Hoagland said. Rather than face death by amendment, Domenici and the others withdrew their plan. That ended it.

The Domenici group’s effort fell victim to demosclerosis — postwar democratic government’s progressive loss of the ability to adapt. Demosclerosis is the most important governmental phenomenon of our time. No surprise, then, that it is also the most explained.

Liberals blame conservatives. “Government has stopped addressing accumulated public problems,” wrote the liberal journalist Robert Kuttner in The New Republic recently: “a deliberate strategy of laissez-faire Republicans, who don’t believe in government.”

Conservatives blame liberals, alleging that left-wing ideology drives liberals to cling brainlessly to every program ever adopted. “Reactionary liberalism,” the conservatives call it.

Populists and business-bashers, such as the liberal journalist William Greider, blame moneyed elites and corporate lobbying. Political analysts blame the current state of the political system: divided control of the government, the early-1970s reforms that dispersed power in Congress, the breakdown of strong political parties, the rise of a professional political class and so forth.

The public blames, above all, “leadership,” of the lack of it. A strong leader (runs the theory), uncorrupted by politics as usual, could shake the barnacles from the system. Thus the wave of support for Ross Perot.

Many of the explainers’ standard explanations are partly right. Yet there are grounds to believe that none of the above fully comprehends what is going on.

People used to fear that democracy would dither fatally while dictators and totalitarians swept the field. That fear turned out to be mistaken. Now it appears that the vulnerabilities of democracy — at any rate, of the postwar style of democracy, with its professional activists and its large and fairly powerful government — are mundane and close to home.

One such vulnerability is the tendency to rob the future to pay for consumption today — but that’s another story. The other vulnerability is creeping special-interest gridlock: that is, progressive sclerosis.

Here in Washington, people like to think that sclerosis is temporary, or at least is treatable with political reforms. Maybe not. If postwar government is petrifying, the causes may be deep rather than superficial and fundamental rather than merely partisan. In other words, demosclerosis may be inherent and irreversible.

GETTING ORGANIZED

IN 1982, a University of Maryland economist published a scholarly book called The Rise and Decline of Nations (Yale University Press). Mancur Olson set out to explain, or partially explain, why societies tend to ossify and stagnate as they age. Few people outside of academia took much note of Olson and his ideas. To return to his book today, however, is an eerie experience, for the theory of 1982 foreshadows 1992’s politics of frustration.

In every society, Olson said, there are two ways for people to improve their lot and grow rich. One is to produce more; the other is to capture more of what others produce. Doing the latter is possible, but requires political pull or marketplace power; attaining either of those requires that people band together to form either interest groups or cartels.

Interest groups can make their members better off by seeking subsidies, tax breaks, monopolies, favorable regulations and so on. Postal workers seek a monopoly on first-class mail; dairy farmers seek production controls to jack up prices; and so on. Private cartels can make their members better off by raising prices and barring newcomers from the market. Olson called such beggar-thy-neighbor groups “distributional coalitions.”

So far, so obvious. Then Olson went on to the less obvious. Despite what you might think, to organize an interest group or cartel is difficult. The organizer will bear most of the start-up costs, and yet can expect only a fraction of the benefits, which must be shared among the members. Members, in turn, will be reluctant to join until they see that the group is successful. Even then, they may stay out and let others do the work.

As a result, Olson wrote, “organization for collective action takes a good deal of time to emerge.” Trade unions did not appear, for instance, until almost a century after the Industrial Revolution. Farmers’ groups didn’t appear in America until after World War I. Social security dates back to 1935, but the AARP didn’t appear until 1958.

Once groups organize, however, they almost never disappear. Instead, Olson wrote, “they usually survive until there is a social upheaval or other form of violence or instability.” Furthermore, over time the interest groups of professionalize. This makes them still less likely to go away: Amateur activists can always drop the cause and go home, but for professionals, the cause pays the mortgage.

The result, Olson concluded, is this rule: “Stable societies with unchanged boundaries tend to accumulate more collusions and organizations for collective action over time.” Look at the AARP’s membership curve (see chart, p. 2001), multiply it by countless interest groups, and you get the idea.

Cartels have not proved to be the problem that Americans once expected, thanks mainly to foreign completion. If cartels organize the domestic market, as some say the Big Three automakers did informally through the 1970s, fat profits lure in imports to bust the trust.

But political pressure groups have the added power of the law, and are not so easily undermined. These groups’ effects are of two kinds, economic and governmental.

Economically speaking, entrenched interest groups slow the adoption of new technology and ideas by clinging to the status quo. They distort the economy, and so reduce its efficiency, by locking out competition and locking in subsidies. As they grow, they suck more of society’s top talent into the redistribution industry. All in all, the economic costs can be very large. (For a report on the “parasite economy” and its costs, see NJ, 4/25/92, p. 980.)

The other kind of effect is on government. The accretion of interest groups, and the rise of bickering over scarce resources, Olson feared, can “make societies ungovernable.”

Now the theory’s darker implications come into view. “The logic of the argument implies that countries that have had democratic freedom of organization without upheaval or invasion the longest will suffer the most from growth-repressing organizations and combinations,” Olson wrote. If he is right, then the piling up of entrenched interest groups, each clinging to some favorable deal or subsidy, is an inevitable process as democracies age.

However, occasionally some cataclysmic event — war, perhaps, or revolution — may sweep away an existing government and, with it, the countless cozy arrangements that are protected by interest groups.

If his theory is right, Olson concludes, “it follows that countries whose distributional coalitions have been emasculated or abolished by totalitarian government or foreign occupation should grow relatively quickly after a free and stable legal order is established.”

Look at Japan and West Germany, where authoritarian regimes and then foreign occupations swept away entrenched interest groups and anticompetitive deals. “Economic miracles” followed in both countries as resources were freed from groups that had captured and monopolized them. (Catch-up growth, Olson says, can explain only a part of Japan’s and Germany’s success.) By contrast, “Great Britain, the major nation with the longest immunity from dictatorship, invasion and revolution, has had in this century a lower rate of growth than other large, developed democracies.”

Even in the United States, Olson said, the pattern applies. Statistical tests comparing the 50 states showed that “the longer a state has been settled and the longer the time it has had toaccumulate special-interest groups, the slower its rate of growth.”

His hypothesis suggested a social cycle:

A country emerges from a period of political repression or upheaval into a period of stability and freedom. If other conditions are favorable, rapid growth ensues. (South Korea and Taiwan, both emerging from dictatorship and both showing rapid growth, would be in this stage today; China might be next.) Gradually, interest groups organize and secure anticompetitive deals. These deals accumulate, each being jealously defended. Over time, growth slows and paralysis sets in.

Although Olson was concerned mainly with the sapping of economic vigor, his theory also has profound implications for the sapping of governmental vigor. To see why, look at Washington in 1992.

PARALYSIS

LOOK, for instance, at what happened to the entitlement-cap proposal. Anyone who doubts that today’s professional interest groups can mobilize almost instantly to defend their favorable deals need only consider the fate of the move by Robb, Domenici and the others.

Another case in point, one of many, is banking reform. The law that regulates the U.S. banking system goes back 50 years or more and is largely archaic. Banks are barred from a variety of money-making activities (underwriting securities or mutual funds, selling insurance, branching across state lines) that their modern competitors perform with impunity. Thus hobbled, banks have difficulty finding profits. Weak banks, in turn, weaken the whole financial system.

In 1991, the Bush Administration sent Congress a banking reform package. It was shot to pieces in what the New York Times called “a frenzied attack by lobbyists. . . . Small bankers, fearing comptition, tore away interstate banking. Insurance firms, fearing competition, tore away insurance underwriting. Securities firms, fearing competition, tore away the proposal to let banks sell stocks and bonds.”

In the end, National Journal reported, “every Administration proposal for permitting banks to widen their business horizons — every single one — was picked off in the carnage.” (See NJ, 12/14/91, p. 3008.) The result is surely one of the most bizarre policies of our time: As the 21st century approaches, the country limps along with New Deal banking laws.

What happens when you try to attack an anticompetitive arrangement? A classic example of such an arrangement protects public school employees, who enjoy a monopoly claim on tax dollars for education. Recently, two provisions of the Bush Administration’s water education reform package attempted to nibble at this monopoly.

Bush wanted to finance 535 new “break-the-mold” schools, both public and private, to be chosen competitively in Washington; he also proposed incentives for localities to try voucher plans, which let parents spend public money at private schools. The idea in both cases was to stimulate innovation by bypassing the entrenched establishment of public school employees.

On Capitol Hill, the voucher measure was demolished under ferocious opposition from groups representing public school teachers and administrators. Under pressure from the National School Boards Association and others, the “break-the-mold” schools turned mostly into block grants for state education agencies and local school districts: in other words, more money for the existing system and its officials.

Whichever way you feel about the Bush proposals, their fate is indicative. “In the politics of education, what you have to recognize right from the start is that the [public school] educational establishment has tremendously more resources than anybody else,” said Stanford University political scientists Terry M. Moe, who advocates vouchers and other reforms. “And that’s not unique to education. You can’t get anything past these groups.”

If there is a single sad symptom of demosclerosis, however, it is bogus national poverty.

People often talk as though the country has become too poor to afford federal initiatives. In fact, the United States is now wealthier than any other country in human history, including its prior self. In 1990, real per capita disposable income was twice as high as in 1960, when the federal government could “afford” almost anything; real wealth per capita was 62 per cent higher than in 1960 and real output was 80 per cent higher. “Poor” is the one thing America is not.

Is the government poor? It collects and spends more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than at any time in history, far more even than at the peak of World War II. Its tax base, measured as a share of the economy, is at the high end of the post-war norm, and above the level of the “wealthy” 1950s and 1960s.

If government is “poor,” it is only because of its inability to reallocate resources for new needs. In other words, government is not poor, it is paralyzed.

TRIAL AND ERROR

WHAT is going on here? Why has government become so ossified and immobile?

In large, complex systems, the key to successful adaptation is the method of trial and error. In the large, complex system of biological evolution, species undergo mutations, the vast majority of which fail. A few, however, succeed brilliantly, and those proliferate by out-competing the others. That is how life adapts to changing environments.

Similarly with a capitalist economy: The key to its adaptability is that it makes many mistakes but corrects them quickly. Entrepreneurs open businesses; many fail, but every so often someone hits on a brilliant innovation. The more-successful strategies will proliferate by out-competing the others. Capitalism adapts through trial and error.

Similarly with science: It tries out countless hypotheses every day and abandons most of them. The knowledge base adapts through trial and error.

Government is another big, complex social system. The way for governments to learn what works in a changing world is to try various approaches and quickly abandon or adjust the failures: trial and error. However, something has gone badly wrong.

For fiscal 1993 alone, the Bush Administration proposed ending 246 federal programs and 4,192 federal projects. How many of those will die? Approximately none. The Reagan Administration made a fetish of trying to eliminate federal programs. Despite President Reagan’s high popularity and his effective control of Congress in 1981-82, during his eight years in office a grand total of two major programs — general revenue sharing and urban development action grants — actually got killed. (See NJ, 3/28/92, p. 755.)

One reason is that people disagree about which programs failed, and even about what “failing” means. Another reason is that as soon as a program is set up, the people who depend on it — both the direct beneficiaries and the program’s employees and administrators — organize to defend it ferociously. These groups are, of course, none other than Olson’s “distributional coalitions” — what others have for years described as part of an “iron triangle.” They have money, votes and passion. They can be defied, but only at serious political risk.

In the period beginning with the New Deal and peaking with President Johnson’s Great Society, Washington seemed one of society’s most adaptive and progressive forces — which, at the time, it was. What Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and LBJ’s visionary policy makers did not foresee was that every program generates an entrenched lobby that never goes away. The result is that virtually every program last forever.

And so, although no one disputes that the Rural Electrification Administration has largely fulfilled its New Deal mission of bringing power and telephones to rural America, the program keeps right on going. The rural electric cooperatives’ 65,000 employees and 10,000 local directors vigorously defend it, with the help of their interest group, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, whose budget for programs and administration runs to $ 11 million a year.

In 1955, Congress set up a program to subsidize the production of wool, which in those days was a vital military commodity. Along came synthetics, which by 1960 knocked wool off the Pentagon’s strategic commodities list. But in 1992, more than three decades later, the wool program will spend $ 180 million. It is ably defended by the small but devoted group of people who benefit from it, in some cases richly (in 1989, more than 60 farmers got subsidy checks for more than $ 100,000). (See NJ, 5/18/91, p. 1168.)

Not only are policies hard to kill, they are also hard to change. Every wrinkle in the law produces a winner who will resist reform. that is why the United States operates under an anachronistic banking law from the early 20th century. Years ago, scholars understood that some provisions of the program of aid to families with dependent children, a mainstay of the welfare system, encourage fathers to leave home. Yet key corrections have still not been made. (See NJ, 6/20/92, p. 1454.)

And so programs are impossible to kill and very difficult to correct. The implications of this are profound.

Imagine an economy in which every important business enterprise is kept alive by an interest group with political clout. Over time, the world would change, but the businesses wouldn’t. Obsolescent companies would gobble up resources, crowding out new companies. The economy would cease to adapt.

That is what happened to the Soviet economy. Which imploded.

In principle, the U.S. government’s situation is like the Soviet economy’s. In both, the method of trial and error has collapsed.

In Washington, every program is quasi-permanent, every mistake is written into a law that some vested interest will defend furiously. The result is that as the old clutter accumulates, government cannot adapt.

First, old programs and policies cannot be gotten rid of, and yet continue to suck up money and energy. And so there is little money or energy for new programs and policies. The old crowds out the new.

Second, and at least as important: When every program is permanent, the price of failure becomes extravagant. The key to experimenting successfully is knowing that you can correct your mistakes and try again. But what if you are stuck with your mistakes forever, or at least for decades? Then experimentation becomes extremely risky.

Everyone agrees that the nation’s current health care system makes no sense. Yet any reform will produce vested winners (hospitals? doctors? drug companies? left-handed dentists?) who will fight further change. A Canadian-style system or a voucher system, once adopted, would be hard to adjust and almost impossible to get rid of. Policy makers, fearful of making a mess they cannot clean up, become rightly reluctant to innovate.

Underlying the breakdown of the method of trial and error is an ironic cycle, based on the fact that every new program creates a permanent interest group. The same programs that made government a progressive force from the 1930s through the 1960s also created swarms of dependent special interests whose defensive lobbying made government rigid and brittle in the 1990s. In effect, the rise of government activism immobilized activist government. Yesterday’s innovations became today’s prisons.

No one starting anew today would think to subsidize wool farmers, banish banks from the mutual fund business, forbid United Parcel Service to deliver letters, grant massive tax breaks for borrowing. Countless policies are on the books not because they make sense in 1992, but merely because they cannot be gotten rid of. They are dinosaurs that will not die. In a Darwinian sense, the universe of federal policies is ceasing to evolve.

HAPPY ENDING?

MAYBE the message is: Cheer up, things are getting worse,” Olson said.

In person, Olson is more optimistic than his theory. Ten years ago, he ended his book with a sentence carefully crafted to leave room for optimism. Is it reasonable to expect, he wondered, that awareness of the damage done by special interests “will spread to larger and larger proportions of the population? And that this wider awareness will greatly limit the losses from special interests? That is what I expect, at least when I am searching for a happy ending.”

He is still searching for that happy ending, and he reports being optimistic three days out of five. If the public becomes angry enough, politicians may risk the wrath of the special interests. Thus, if things get worse, action might be taken.

“We do see growing recognition of the problem,” he said, “and history does show examples of thoroughgoing reform.” Mexico, for instance, which has long been hogtied by cozy deals between special interests and the ruling party, is opening its economy. Even the obstinate government of India is opening up. In America, the 1986 Tax Reform Act demonstrated that an anti-special-interest package can succeed if the political leadership pushes hard enough and the payoff is big enough.

However, hope can be matched stride for stride by doubt. Tax reform was remarkable precisely because it was so rare and so difficult, and the steady accumulation of interest groups implies that such reform will become harder, not easier. Moreover, India, Mexico and, for that matter, the old Soviet Union turned to reform only after approaching, or actually crossing, the brink of calamity, a fact that gives little comfort.

Short of calamity, suppose American voters do get angry. So what? Generalized voter anger against “the system” does not translate into votes against particular programs or groups; no one gets reelected to Congress for voting against maritime subsidies or wool farmers. “In Congress, we don’t get to vote on the Minn., told Time magazine in June. “We have to vote for or against actual programs.”

What about reforms of the political process? Limits on politicans’ terms and on campaign contributions, for example? Process reforms might make some difference, but probably not much. In a free society, groups will always find ways to defend their interests, as is their right.

At intervals, windows may open for reform. If the 1992 elections shake up both Congress and the White House, 1993 might provide such a window. However, the processes that Olson described are fundamental. They are in the system, not the people; new politicians will face the same pressures that their predecessors faced. Weber implied as much when he told Time, “I don’t know what comes next after we have this tremendous cleaning-out election and then the Congress gets together next year and people find we still are not going to reduce the deficit, we still are not going to reform health care.”

Weber added: “I’m not by nature a pessimist. I like to think that our system works and is going to right itself. But I see it decaying.”

In any case, reforms’ effects are likely to be temporary. Special-interest groups will always tend to accumulate over time; if shaken off, they will re-accumulate. “The termites are always there,” Olson said, “The clock keeps ticking.”

If government tends to calcify, this does not necessarily mean the country will also calcify. It depends on how other institutions compensate. Corporations, for instance, are delivering education that the public schools are not.

Nor does calcification mean that the federal government is, or will be, wholly unable to pass laws, adopt policies and expand programs. It means, rather, that new reforms and policies and programs will tend to be piled on top of old ones, so that the whole accumulated mass becomes steadily less rational and less flexible — as though you had to build every new house on top of its predecessor.

What demosclerosis means for conservatives is that there is no significant hope of scraping away outmoded or unneeded or counterproductive liberal policies, because nothing old can be jettisoned. What it means for liberals is that there is no significant hope of using government as a progressive tool, because the method of trial and error has broken down.

For Washington and for the broad public, demosclerosis quite possibly means that the federal government is rusting solid and, in the medium and long term, nothing can be done about it. The disease of democratic government is not heart failure but hardening of the arteries.

My Phone Bill is HOW Much? Or, The AT&T Saga.

Ok.  So I’m pretty sure that a lot of people right now are pissed off at a little company called AT&T.  I know I sure am. 

First off, let me establish some things.

I’m not a cell phone professional or anything, but I have had a very very long experience with them, and I’m a heavy user of them, dependent even.  I’m the person in my little circle who ALWAYS gets people to text message.  There’s nothing quite like a text message to me — they rock.  I normally despise talking on the phone, but often my job pretty much requires I have one (and certainly my job does now).

I’ve had a cell phone for so long I don’t remember when I first got the thing.  In a prior life, I ran around a lot, and it was generally handy.  It also made me feel safer — if anything happened I had a variety of services at my fingertips.

When I worked for UPMC, I was basically attached to one.  I literally had three cell phones and a pager in those days.  When I went to Scotland, the first full day I was there, I bought a cell phone.  (I later lost that one in a train station in Edinburgh, and bought a different one the very next day).

Here’s some of the companies I’ve worked with:

TMobile
Verizon
Orange
Tracfone
Sprint
Cingular

And, then, sadly, Cingular was bought by AT&T.

Normally I don’t give a shit who the company is.  But now I do.  And AT&T?  SHAME ON YOU.

At first, I didn’t really notice anything extraordinary about my bill.  This is most likely because AT&T didn’t bother to send me shit.  Then it all hit the fan.

That’s the day I got a $550 phone bill.  That’s right.  $550.

I don’t make a secret, when purchasing a phone how much I USE a cell phone.  So, when I got the plan from Cingular, it was a good fit and it never topped $200.  So yeah, I was a bit fucking infuriated over the $550.  I managed to talk it down, but only some, and since the plan AT&T put me on was simply not a good fit, a lot of this was in overage charges, which they would do NOTHING about.  So, I had to pay it.  And yeah, I know that’s where I made my first mistake.

I had to do SOMETHING, because, as I said, I need a cell phone for work. 

The woman ASSURED me that it was fixed, that she had given me a plan that fit my use, and that all would be well the next month.

Ok, so last week it was the next month.  How much was my bill?  $699.  That’s right.  Then, in a beautiful little twist of the knife, when Darren asked them about it, the service was shut off.  I don’t know if it was related, or what was going on with them, but they shut it off.

What the fuck?

This happened to hit at the worst possible time.  Really.  I simply didn’t have the money to switch carriers, and I’m in the middle of a big project at work.  A couple of them, to boot.

So, last week, in addition to continuing my scarcity online (I’ve been stupidly busy at work), I was off the cell grid for the first time in a long, long time.  And, while for work I felt a bit crippled, in general it was nice.  No calls in the sanctuary of my home, etc. etc.

After the absolute shenanigans, it was no surprise that I decided to switch cell phone providers.  I did a bunch of research online, and figured I’d go with Verizon — I had managed to get a Verizon signal in rad onc departments, and trust me, that’s impressive.  Once in the vault, but I think that was a fluke.  Anyway, I researched the plans and all that. 

I was very keen to keep my phone number.  But, since I’m the queen of weird shit happening to me, I figured weird shit would pop up and prevent that. 

I’ll say this — going into the Verizon store was a breath of fresh air.  I was finally able to rant to someone (besides my coworkers) about the phone.  And, I finally got real with myself (while I’ll admit I use my phone a ton, I was reluctant to admit one, final thing) and bought myself a Blackberry.  It’s a cool toy, and gives me the web while I commute, which is kind of important.  Since I’ve been working in IT, it’s been silly and remiss of me not to have one.  The keyboard is small, but I’ll get used to it.

I have some suggestions for anyone else who has recently been screwed over by AT&T:

1.  Switch providers.
    Yeah, it’s expensive, but I’m hoping the FCC and PUC will pave the way at them dropping a bunch of charges.  I actually hope they rot in hell for the amount of money I’ve overpaid on that phone.  It’ll ultimately save you money.  Rock.  Just switch.  Nothing says fuck you to these people like taking your money elsewhere.  This isn’t something exclusive — it’s happening to a lot of people.

2.  Want to keep your phone number?  Don’t cancel until you get a new phone.
    I know you want to call up and scream at them.  I know.  I know it sucks they make you pay to talk to them.  I know you want to pay just to get it all out.  But, let it go until you get a new phone.

3.  Contact the FCC and the PUC
    Everyone bitches that they get no gain from taxes.  Well, there then.  I know you hate the FCC for other reasons, but they are consumer advocates.  So is the PUC for your state.  Go online, find them, and register a complaint.  If you aren’t in California, complain to the PUC in your state.  But really, get them involved.  It’s the biggest cover your ass of all.

Other than that, try to stay calm, and know that there are a lot of other people out there going through the same thing.

As I write this, I’m still infuriated over it.  I have to thank Darren, because it was a rough week, but we always had FreezeeeeeeeeePops, yummy dinner and . .. .