Re-enrolling in Obamacare/ACA/BCBSTX

We re-enrolled in our current health insurance plan through the Obamacare/ACA market place on Saturday. No, there were no website problems. We have BCBSTX Multi-State Solution 3 (a silver PPO). It’s been good so far.

They added a $75 copay for urgent care and more mental health and substance abuse benefits. Our overall cost, including monthly premiums (around $330), will remain the same as (or less than) last year, even though the premiums went up $100 overall. It’s been a good plan so far. Most mental health professionals only take BCBS, if they take insurance at all. That’s important to us.

Now, also note this: because we are freelancers, we pay ALL our taxes at the end of the year. No one deducts them from our paychecks for us during the year. So we’re currently on a payment plan for last year’s taxes. The monthly payment I make? $300. The monthly subsidy the insurance company receives from the government for my health insurance? Around $400. Interesting, that. It’s almost like I’m getting my own tax dollars back (except I couldn’t afford the insurance if they just gave me that money straight).

My most sincere question to those who want to repeal Obamacare/ACA: Why do you want to take my family’s health insurance away?

(There are cheaper plans out there. I didn’t shop around a lot because I like my deal on this plan and it wasn’t significantly enough changed for me to bother looking at others. If $300 is high for you, there are much lower plans available. No matter how little you pay for however little coverage, if you end up in the hospital for any amount of time, you’ll likely hit your out-of-pocket max and at least not have to foot the entire bill. Some insurance is better than none.)

Relationship Fact: There Are No Leagues

24 OCT 2014 – Blog Music by William Pate on Grooveshark

I’ve elsewhere and earlier noted the lack of a ban on bestiality in Texas and the empirically proven benefits of sleeping with friends. But if there’s one thing I want people to truly understand about dating, it’s this: There are no such things as “leagues.” That girl or guy you’re interested in? There’s no “league” — no artificial barrier — preventing you from talking to — or even befriending and/or dating and/or marrying — him or her.

This is especially important for those dorky high school boys — the ones like me — who are ugly and cute at the same time. (I assume girls have this same problem.)

This notion of “leagues” is total and utter bullshit. I’m just telling you — as a 34-year old man who suffered a near-dateless high school experience and made up for it with drunken shenanigans later — that no one is “out of your league.” You can never rule yourself out, especially when it comes to dealing with another person, because you never know what they’re looking for in a friend or mate. It may be you.

Plus, everyone is screwed up in their own special way. You don’t know what’s going on (if anything) with the beauty in the corner until you’ve actually spoken with her.

Seriously. Going up to a girl and saying, “Hi, my name is . . .” Simple, huh? Worst that can happen? She says no thanks. You’re thinking, “Or worse — she makes a scene.” So what? That’s not on you (unless you were doing something untoward — which you wouldn’t be). And that isn’t going to happen anyway. It’s just an excuse to get out of talking to the girl or guy of your current dreams.

Remember this the next time you’re at your most pissy and standing around with your friends watching couples walk by and you say, “How the hell did that fat fuck get that hot chick?”

He talked to her.

He may have had a couple of drinks for liquid courage, but he spoke to her. Plenty of prettiest-girls-in-school out there with no dates to prom because everyone assumed they already had one.

All that said, be even more careful who you consider “below” you.

If this rings untrue or not applicable because of your current situation (in high school, especially), it does get better. Push through. Keep trying.

There are no leagues. There is, “Hello.” Just enough confidence for “hello.”

This is the same advice I give my little brother. So I’m serious.

On Sleeping With Friends

Here’s one from the past that I just recently noticed wasn’t online any more. Written back in ’01 and/or ’02 and later published in St. Edward’s University’s undergraduate peer-reviewed journal, Arete. People seem to get a kick out of the piece. The version submitted for publication is below.

A true Throwback Thursday (#tbt):

On Sleeping With Friends

“What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

When Harry Met Sally

A recent story in New York magazine caught my eye.  Entitled “The New Position on Casual Sex,” it aimed to inform the reader of the new sexual openness brought about by the rise of Internet dating services.  In it, Vanessa Grigoriadis, the author, recounted the experiences of numerous New York City women who utilized various online dating services as means of acquiring quick dates and quick sex.  In the passage most disturbing to me, a young woman said, “I don’t want to give men that I might want to date the wrong idea by having sex with them, but I don’t want to live without sex.”  She went on to add, “Now, isn’t that the most bizarre twenty-first-century quandary?”  (Grigoriadis).

I’ll concede that it is a quandary, but not in the way she intended.  Rather, what struck me as odd was this woman’s unwillingness to sleep with the guys she already knew and in which she was interested.   Lost in my 1950s-style ideas of courtship, I thought people were supposed to sleep with those they’re interested in – friends, dating partners, not just random folks they thought looked good in grainy online photographs.  So I did what any young male does who feels that he is soon-to-be marginalized in the dating and sex scenes; I complained to my female friends and begged them for clarification.

Why, I asked them, would you sleep with a random guy instead of a friend or a guy you are interested in?  “Easy,” they replied after calming me down and forcing me to speak more slowly.  “We don’t want to have sex with someone we’re really interested in too early because it takes the relationship to a level it isn’t ready for.”  I mulled this over and decided:  I can understand that logically and still think it’s completely ridiculous, can’t I?

The struggle here is not to come off sounding like just another angry guy who’s tired of having loads of friends that are girls but never any girlfriends.  While in the abstract seeking sexual gratification from people you don’t know and reserving friends for emotional gratification seems fine, looking at the conundrum more closely forces one to wonder, “Why can’t friendships encompass both?”  I do indeed believe friendships can and should be used to the full extent of emotional and sexual gratification, especially if someone is so desperate that he or she must call up random people from Internet personal ads for sex.  However, there are those who disagree.

Talk to almost anyone, especially a girl, and the person will tell you how friends shouldn’t have sex with friends.  Almost in an ironic play on the anti-drinking and driving motto, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk,” society’s conventional wisdom seems to be that “Friends Don’t Sleep With Friends.”  Or, at least, they shouldn’t sleep with friends.  More often it seems an ideal of which we regularly fall short.  But why does this limitation exist?  Why the strict distinction between friendship and romance?   Why the almost automatic rejection of a dual-use friendship?

Invariably, the predictions of many lay persons focus on the passionate desperation which follows a failure to achieve the ideal of a clear separation between one’s friendships and romantic relationships.  These predictions often include the belief that there will be an expectation of one member of the friendship desiring more intimacy with the other, an increasing amount of awkwardness stemming from the beloved’s not sharing the lover’s feelings, and, ultimately, the end of the friendship.

It might be proper to begin by noting that only in conversations with women have I found the “no sex with friends” stance prevalent.  While I do not intend this to reflect a scientific study conducted on my part, the random sampling of individuals around the St. Edward’s University campus and city of Austin that I have spoken to regarding this issue have been divided along gender lines as to their views in regards to sleeping with friends.  No male respondent agreed with the distinction between relationship and physical intimacy roles and few females crossed over from the “no sex with friends” camp to agree with the male viewpoint.  This may be because, as Dr. Lillian B. Rubin, a researcher, writer, and counselor on relationship issues, reports, “For a woman, there’s no satisfactory sex without an emotional connection; for a man, the two are more easily separated” (101).  Indeed, if, as Rubin goes on to state, “women depend on the emotional attachment to call up the sexual, men rely on the sexual to spark the emotional,” the reasons for this division become clearer (104).  This extends into the gay and lesbian world where homosexual men derive pleasure from anonymous sexual encounters more often than do homosexual females (105).  Reasons for this stem from males’ and females’ differing attachments and identifications in early childhood.  On the other hand, more scientific research has found that a majority of men also believe that sex inside a platonic relationship leads to negative outcomes (Afifi and Faulkner 208).  Either way, this should not be construed as meaning that women are less sexual than men or that all members of either sex fall into these proscribed categories.  There are always exceptions.  Indeed, the New Yorkmagazinearticle quoted above quickly bears this out.

On the contrary, I believe having sex with a friend does not necessarily lead to the end of the friendship.  While some researchers, and many lay persons, have argued that having sex with a friend moves the relationship from the platonic to the romantic level, little quantitative data exist to verify this (Afifi and Faulkner 206).  Much more evidence is available that links the sexual attraction of one friend to the other as being a prevalent factor of cross-sex friendships (friendships comprised of two people of opposite sex) (205).   Indeed, to the possible revulsion of some of my female friends, I often find that quite a lot of our friendship, especially in the beginning stages, is/was based on my own sexual attraction to them.  A recent study conducted by Dr. Walid A. Afifi, a speech communications professor, and Sandra L. Faulkner, a researcher at East Carolina University, found that 51% of platonic (‘people who [respondents] were not dating at the time and had no intentions of dating at the time [of the sexual event]’) friends had engaged in sexual activity, and 34% claimed to have engaged in sexual activity with an opposite sex friend on multiple occasions (whether that be with more than one friend or the same friend numerous times) (217).  Their study also produced findings that challenge the usual assertion that sleeping with friends inevitably hurts the friendship.  Sixty-seven percent of the participants reported an increase in the quality of the relationship after the sexual encounter with the majority of these not evolving into romantic relationships (218).  Another study conducted at the University of Michigan found “no difference in the quality of friendship between men and women that involved sexual relationships and those that did not”  (Elkins and Peterson).  As the first argument always trotted out by believers in the sanctity of friendships, the corrupting effect sex has upon that hallowed interpersonal territory does not quite wash when viewed through the lens of science.  Increasingly, the support for abstaining from sleeping with friends appears to derive from specific individuals’ experiences rather than the existence of a general causal relation.  Thus begging the question, “Why, if a majority of platonic sexual encounters end in relationship-enhancement, do some others end so horribly?”

My own experiences in sleeping with friends corroborate this data.  As a matter of fact, few people I discussed this topic with would admit to sex having a detrimental effect on their friendships.  There are even those who regularly engage in “no-strings” sexual activity with friends and others as a way around dealing with the responsibility and large consumption of time a full-blown relationship entails.  One might think that with so much empirical data floating around the world, sexual friendships would be more well-respected and popular.  But, still, the cliché persists:  Having sex with friends is bad because it leads to awkwardness, those afflicted with the negative effects of sex between friends vaguely repeat. One might ask, then, “Why does sex cause this awkwardness?” If, as shown above, sex does not always cause awkwardness, it may be more appropriate to ask, “What is this awkwardness?”  Possibly a cause can be found in the definition.

Much of the awkwardness seems to arise from an uncertainty about the relationship – the direction it is taking, agreements between parties, reciprocal responsibilities of the parties, jealousy, et cetera.  It may be because we are so used to seeing or assuming romantic relationships evolve from platonic friendships that cross-sex friends are afraid to hold State of the Union discussions, an important aspect of healthy interpersonal interaction (Afifi and Burgoon).  There is a great body of literature discussing topic avoidance, the shrinking from broaching certain subjects which might bring discomfort to one or both participants, in cross-sex friend’s conversations.  This paper avoids this topic.  It is important to recognize, though, the significant positive impact communication between friends can have both before and after a sexual encounter.  Indeed, many researchers have found that self-disclosure, the discussion with a friend of relationship issues, negative life experiences, dating and sexual experiences, and other things, is considered the most important aspect of intimacy in friendships (Afifi and Guerrero).

Friendships should be redefined to describe what they include; not what they exclude.  The facts show that a more clear definition of friendship includes the emotional intimacy bound up with self-disclosure more than a lack of sexual intimacy.  Indeed, sexual intimacy among friends, it appears, can have a positive effect on friendships, too, especially if they are already communicating openly with one another about their relationship.  Writing off sex as harmful is a poor excuse for refusing to understand the underlying issues that make sleeping with a friend a detrimental experience.  Sleeping with friends is not a black-and-white endeavor.  Depending on the individuals involved and their willingness to openly discuss their relationship, the challenge of sexual intimacy can have either a positive or negative effect on the relationship (Monsour 145).  The oft-spoken cliché that friendships can’t survive sexual encounters without becoming romantically involved just isn’t true.

In my experience, the most harmful aspect of sleeping with friends is the fact that, thanks to the societal paradigm we operate under which denies us this free expression of our sexual appetites, it often takes place under the influence of heavy amounts of alcohol or other drugs.  This leads, inevitably, to a sexual experience that is embarrassing to the participants – who may or may not have bragged about their sexual prowess to one another at other times.  In my opinion, we need “pre-emptive sexual strikes” meant to improve the experience of sleeping with friends by having it while sober, when the act isn’t just a release of hormonal urges, but, rather, an expression of physical intimacy intended to match the emotional intimacy we desire in our friendships.  Otherwise, we might as well all be strangers.

 

Works Cited

Afifi, Walid and Burgoon, J. K.  (1998).  “We never talk about that:  A comparison of      cross-sex friendships and dating relationships on uncertainty and topic avoidance.”  Personal Relationships, 5, 255-272.

Afifi, Walid and Faulkner, Sandra L.  (2000).  “On being ‘just friends’:  The frequency     and impact of sexual activity in cross-sex friendships.”  Journal of Social and        Personal Relationships.  Vol. 17, No. 2, Apr. 2000.  205-222

Afifi, Walid and Guerrero, Laura K.  (1998).  “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid II:    Topic Avoidance in Friendships.”  Communication Quarterly, 46, No. 3, Summer           1998.  231-249

Elkins, Leigh E., and Peterson, Christopher.  (1993).  “Gender Differences in Best             Friendships.”  Sex Roles 29.  497-508

Grigoriadis, Vanessa.  (2003).  “The New Position on Casual Sex.”  New York Magazine. Jan. 13, 2003.  <http://www.metronewyork.com/nymetro/news/features/n_8227/>

Monsour, Michael.  (2002).  Women and Men as Friends:  Relationships Across the Life     Span in the 21st Century.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reiner, Rob.  (Director).  Nora Ephron.  (Writer).  (1989).  When Harry Met Sally

[Film].  Burbank, CA:  Warner Bros.

Rubin, Lillian B.  (1984).  Intimate Strangers:  Men and Women Together.  Philadelphia:  Harper & Row.

Taxing is Crowdfunding (Sorta)

I have to stop by the library to drop off books on my way to pick up Misty from the train station tonight. Unless you’re a student, it’s unlikely you hear that statement very often nowadays. I mentioned getting my library card a couple of weeks ago. I’ve checked out a number of books since then — this will be my third trip, at least — and returned them. The library building is quite new, and it is well-enough-used. My mom sometimes tutors there. I’ve seen others studying there. They don’t seem to lack in patrons (or “customers,” if you like).

I also mentioned at the time that the library was small and mostly devoted to kids’ books and a hefty large-print edition collection. I’m not finding much to quench my thirst for tech and design and economic works — or even fiction. They have a couple of copies of Bradbury, but not his entire works. No autobiography of Andrew Jackson. Their new-to-us section can be more interesting than their recently released shelf. Libraries like these make me want to donate my collection to them. (Though I’m afraid it would just be locked away in a storage unit gathering dust until a remainder sale, if lucky.)

We’ve allowed our libraries to fall into disrepair. They may be housed in new buildings, but their collections are being degraded and depleted.

Astra Taylor notes in her recent book The People’s Platform that taxes are a form of crowdfunding. So true! I hadn’t thought of taxes that way — neither had the technolibertarians, I’ll bet. They’ll argue that because it’s coerced, it isn’t the same thing. That may be so (and I don’t intend to get into an argument about it here), but it can also be put to good use, including funding libraries where they can find Hayek and von Mises.

Brian Chesky explains the sharing economy to Stephen Colbert. [At the end of the interview, Misty immediately turned to me for my opinion. Ha!] Continue reading

Executive Immigration

I’m going to make this short because my opinion on the issue is quite easy to understand.

Yes, there are a lot of children crossing the border, especially here in Texas. We’ve spent the past while arguing on the state and national level over what to do about it. Unfortunately, members of Congress decided it would be better to go home and work on their reelections than accomplish something on the issue (aside from put out inflammatory press statements). Something still must be done, though, while they hang out at diners meeting voters. President Obama has offered to do that — via executive order.

I’m in agreement with Ross Douthat (it scares me a little, too) that the executive should not usurp the legislative branch’s role in government. Continue reading

Facebook & International Aid

Evgeny Morozov had a column in yesterday’s Sunday Review of The New York Times that was immediately responded to by Tim Worstall over at Forbes. Morozov is criticizing the supposedly altruistic efforts of Facebook and other technology companies (under the auspices of Internet.org) to offer mobile Internet service throughout the unconnected world. At heart, Morozov complains that maybe — just maybe — profit-seeking companies shouldn’t be the ones we rely upon to provide such services. Mainly because of, well, the profit motive. Worstall is in favor of market forces determining when/how/if those without Internet access obtain it (that is, if no company wants to run high-speed Internet cable out to your house, you’re screwed).

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Government’s Innovation & Tech Problems

I spend a lot of time knocking tech companies and those who think technology will solve the world’s problems, but government doesn’t lack for my ire (see my post on Texas’ online job portals).

I’ve also spent a lot of my career in the nonprofit, political and governmental worlds. If there is one commonality among them when it comes to tech and change, it would be that they are slow to adopt and — sometimes — go backward more often than they make significant progress. I’ve worked in offices where people uninstalled the newest version of Word and replaced it with an older version — until they couldn’t anymore — because they wouldn’t adapt to a changed user interface. The Texas judicial system was still using WordPerfect until not all that long ago. Seriously.

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Design & Tech Overthrow U.S. Government [Updated]

APOLOGIA: 1 AUG 14 @ 0338 hrs:

I don’t know Dominic Campbell. I didn’t research him prior to writing and publishing this post.  I should have or I wouldn’t have made basic mistakes, like intimating he has no experience with policymaking. I also undermined my argument by being as strident or more as I claim he is in his piece. My reaction to his post was, to a degree, knee-jerk because I find parts of it similar to others I see elsewhere — by those with less (or, worse, no) experience in government — professing tech’s ability to automatically solve public policy issues. As I hope is otherwise clear, I only seek to add nuance to discussions I think veer toward “technological solutionism/determinism” or “algorithmic regulation” and their like. Not clutter it with misinformation. His piece is far more nuanced than most. His politics? I have no idea. So, if my last lines are bothersome, they are my (American) interpretation of his policy prescriptions, or, at least, the words he uses to describe them (austerity?). Aside from his successes, Dominic Campbell and I seem to share similar backgrounds (a foot in politics/policy and the other in tech and design). Over coffee or in letters, we’d probably have much to agree and disagree upon — civilly.

The reason I responded to his article is because I find it thought-provoking.

Dominic (and readers),

My sincere apologies.

My unedited original post from  30 JUL 14 @ 16:07:

On FutureGov, Dominic Campbell writes about design and tech taking over government:

For the nervous and the newly initiated, there is a role for design as ‘risk management’ in creating a future that is yet to exist, using prototyping and small steps to avoid high risk moves and big mistakes. We need to provide replicable guidance to open innovation; to see design as a source of great creativity; to focus on outcomes not process. We need to build a government that truly orbits around us, rather than expect us, your citizens, to do all the hard graft and understand our way around you.

I agree with him that design thinking needs to go into improving government, but it’s just this sort of strident attitude that gets us nowhere. There will always be entrenched interests. What do you think Google is? Are they going to disrupt the energy industry that provides the power to run their iProducts? Continue reading

Tech Fails At Lobbying

Mark Albertson notes in a new column that in a tech industry “that’s always been about ‘getting results,'” not a single of their trade groups can point to “any specific, enacted legislation that was successfully passed in support of their cause” this year. He wonders if this is because Silicon Valley isn’t lobbying enough or just isn’t lobbying effectively.

He makes a good case that quantity isn’t the problem. Tech companies have hundreds (thousands?) of lawyers and lobbyists, and that’s not to mention other organizations they use to influence politics. And, within that cohort, there’s likely some quality talent. So maybe it isn’t necessarily that they aren’t lobbying enough or effectively. Maybe the core people in tech — not the lobbyists and lawyers but the owners and supposed visionaries — aren’t engaged enough to achieve their goals. Continue reading

(Robot) Technology and Policy

We’re used to hearing about bioethics panels and other organizations looking at the implications of robots, artificial intelligence, cloning and other areas of technological advancement. These are obviously areas with which humans must be concerned as we move forward. But, as I’ve argued here for a while now, I think it’s important that we not save that reflection only for The Big Things — the ones that nearly make us look like gods — and apply it to new technologies that come into our lives everyday.

Lacking much of that (though it definitely exists, and I spend much of my time teasing out those pieces among all the tech/design/culture writing in print and on the Web), I did find a good report, How Humans Respond to Robots: Building Public Policy Through Good Design out today by Heather Knight from the Brookings Institution, looking at the policy implications of robotics. It’s a good read. I just want to pull out a couple of quotes that I think reinforce what I’m trying to do by writing about technological solutionism and keeping our skepticism frosty. I’m no Luddite (said every tech critic ever), I just want us to think and consider our technology before we make it a part of ourselves, our daily lives and our ecosystems. Continue reading