Monday, August 3, 2009

If Other Government Services Were Run Like Private Health Care

What those who equate "government-run health care" with "socialism" seem to forget is that socialism already exists in America, and has for a long time. The government already runs all kinds of important services that people need every day.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at how these other "socialist," "government-run" services we depend on would operate under a pure, free-market system similar to American health care.

THE WATER DEPARTMENT
Without a job, you probably won't even have access to water. More and more companies can't afford to provide their employees with water. If you can afford it, you can buy water on your own. But you'll pay a much higher price than most people. However, that water can't be used for a lot of things, like showers or washing the dishes. And if you ever need "too much" water, the Water Department can cut off your supply.

EDUCATION
The more children you have, the more you'll pay to send them to school. If one ever has trouble in a subject, like math or reading, their case will go before the school board, which is staffed by a bunch of twenty-somethings who follow a strict set of rules. They'll look at your child's report cards and decide whether his or her teacher can spend more time with them on that subject, or even get tutoring. If the school board can refuse extra help or tutoring for enough kids, they'll get a big bonus at the end of the year! Which you'll pay for!

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS
The Department of Transportation would charge you a monthly fee to use your car, but do everything in its power to make driving inconvenient. After all, the more people who pay for streets and highways but don't use them, the more money the Department of Transportation has on hand to pay its executives and shareholders.
And if you do manage to take your car somewhere, the Department of Transportation will charge you more to use the streets next time.

THE POLICE
If you've ever called the police before, you could never call them again for the same reason. That means if your neighbor is playing music so loud your bedroom walls are shaking at four in the morning, you'd better think long and hard before calling the police about it. Because the next time your neighbor plays music too loud, the police won't respond. They'll consider it a "pre-existing condition" and you'll be out of luck.

GARBAGE COLLECTION
In order to have your trash collected, you'd have to fill out an application listing all the times your trash had already been collected, and all the things you threw away. If you ever needed to get rid of something you forgot to list, the Department Sanitation could refuse to pick it up. Even if you had listed it, they might refuse to pick it up anyway. See "The Police," above.

THE FIRE DEPARTMENT
After calling the Fire Department, you'll begin receiving bills from the Water Department, the Police, the Fire Chief, the Sheriff, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Sanitation. They'll charge you for using the streets that lead to your house, and turning on the fire hydrant, and cleaning up the mess afterward, and for whoever else decided to show up and get paid for doing it. These are all things the Fire Department doesn't cover.

YOUR GOVERNMENT
Without access to a lot of money, you won't be able to communicate with the people who've been elected to represent you in state and federal legislatures. Sure, they might set aside a night to meet you and a lot of other people for an hour in a church basement or high school gymnasium. They might even pretend to listen to what you say. But afterward, they'll be having a nice dinner and drinks with someone who's willing to pick up the bill. They'll listen to everything that person has to say, and probably do whatever they want.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unknown

Author and editor Vince Liaguno turned me on to this video.



What is it? The explanation on the video's YouTube page claims that it's an unknown life form found in the sewers of North Carolina.

Among those less gullible, word is that it's part of a viral marketing campaign for a soon-to-be-released horror film.

Me? I think it's the video from someone's colonoscopy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Bad

If one of this blog's main functions is to serve as a source of promotion for my (fledgling? off-and-on?) writing career, I have really fallen down on the job.

And for that, I blame my real job, which, as you might know, really believes in the idea of quantity over quality.

So cast your minds back to a few months ago, when I should have (enthusiastically? with false modesty?) written about the two anthologies to which I sold stories last year -- Unspeakable Horror, edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder, and Horror Library, Vol. 3, edited by R. J. Cavendar -- being nominated for Stoker awards.

The Stokers are the highest awards in the horror genre -- the Oscars of literary blood and gore. To be part of even one nominee for Best Achievement in an Anthology would have been cause for any new writer to shout from the mountaintops. To be part of two is good fortune that will probably never be equaled. At least by the likes of me.

But, because I was busy busting my hump for The Man, I let it go, thinking that I'd get around to posting about it some evening or weekend that I'm willing to bet was, instead, consumed by a Powerpoint presentation of some kind.

Worse yet, I didn't even attend the Stokers. I thought about it. I hemmed and hawed and even looked into making arrangements, but something inside me -- perhaps that small but powerful kernal of self-doubt that loves failure and prevents me from living a full and happy life -- kept me from pulling the trigger. It's a regret I'll no doubt take to my grave, and beyond, with good reason.

And so, to learn this past weekend, that Unspeakable Horror won the Stoker for Best Achievement in an Anthology, was a bittersweet occurrence. Mostly sweet, because I think Vince and Chad have put together a terrific collection of stories, and they deserve it, and I was a small part of it. But bitter, too, because R.J. put together an equally impressive collection. And also, of course, because I wasn't there to enjoy it and bask -- even if just a little bit -- in the reflected glow of their success.

We new authors -- time allowing -- will soak up all the limelight we can get.

So congratulations to Vince and Chad. Their queer horror anthology shattered a "pink ceiling" in the genre that will forever after be wide open thanks to their vision and faith. And congratulations to R.J. and all the other nominees, too, who also put their heart and soul into projects that deserve all the success in the world.

And me? I'm going to keep writing -- on morning buses downtown and evening buses headed back, during early mornings and late nights, whenever and however I can -- and submitting when I feel the end product has reached a level that doesn't make me cringe. As it turns out, I'm a dreadfully, painfully slow writer. But, at least this time around, I've got to believe in the power of quality over quantity.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Neighborhood Mystery, Solved

A few days ago something purple appeared high up in the trees overhanging Birchwood Street.

At first, it was easy enough to dismiss as a shopping bag that had been lifted by the breeze and been tangled in the branches. But today, on closer inspection, it revealed itself to be something more.

It appears to be made out of corrugated plastic. I'm not sure if it's a purple box, or a some sort of lampshade, or something much more odd and strange.

Whatever it is, you can see that it didn't get there by any kind of accident. It's been attached to the branch with a twisted length of wire, by someone who obviously went to great trouble to do so. It has to be at least 20 feet above the ground.

Stand beneath it and you can see some kind of metal frame inside, and a few pieces of paper that have writing on them.

The whole thing is a bit bizarre, to say the least. I'd love to know who put it up there and why. But I can't exactly go door to door and ask. The purple thing in the trees is weird, but doing that would be interpreted as downright crazy.

So instead, I'll have to make up my own explanation. It goes like this: The purple thing is a talisman of some kind, installed late at night by a practicing witch living in one of the buildings close by. She -- or he, no point in being sexist, after all -- put it up there to trap a malevolent spirit that has been creating trouble for some time now. The spirit is now caught inside, swirling around, growing more and more enraged with each passing night. Soon, the spirit will break loose, and wreak havoc on us all as revenge.

Or maybe I'll just call the alderman and ask to have it removed.

----------------

UPDATE -- I wrote the following email to the alderman's office:

Hello,

I'm a resident of the 49th ward, living at XXXX N.
Sheridan, Unit D.

The other day I found a strange object attached to
one of the branches of a tree overhanging
Birchwood Avenue, at approximately XXXX W.
Birchwood. A photo is attached.

The object is purple and appears to be an open-
ended box of some sort made of corrugated plastic.
It has a metal frame inside, and several pieces of
paper or cardstock with writing on them hanging
from that. It's been purposefully attached to the
tree branch with a length of twisted wire.

I'm curious whether the object was put there by
the city or a utility, and if so, what its purpose
might be.

I'd really appreciate a response with some kind of
answer if at all possible. Frankly, the mystery of
it really has me wondering. I have some additional
photos if you'd like them, but this is the best.

Thanks for any information or help you can provide.
This evening, they replied:
These are traps for the emerald ash borer, which
is preying on ash trees in certain Midwest and
Atlantic Seaboard states. I beleive it is to test
whether or not there is a problem in our area.
There was a sighting of them in West Rogers Park.
So. I was right about the purple things being a trap of some kind, but for evil bugs, not evil spirits. Too bad.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but a lot of times it isn't.


Previously on "C Michael Cook"

Back in March I made what was to be my last blog post for two and a half months. If someone had told me this at the time -- if they had gently taken me aside and whispered that things were going to change pretty radically for the foreseeable future -- I might have written something a bit more eloquent than bitching about how greedy AIG is and the screwed up state of America.

Casual readers may have wondered if I was assassinated by a shadowy cabal of angry corporate and political interests, so sudden and unexplained was my departure. This is not the case.

The truth is much more boring. Simply put, time flies when your life is being chewed up and swallowed by a new job. First they lure you in with promises of a steady paycheck and health insurance, then they tear you away from everything you hold dear.

Fortunately, the workaday world seems to have calmed down -- so much so that I've gone from feeling like I'm going to quit to fearing that I'm going to be laid off. It seems that the happy middle is only a point I pass on my way to one of the extremes at either end.

So. I'm back. And the picture above came from the middle of the second page of results when I searched for "two and a half months" on Google Images. How've you been?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Further Tales of Corporate Irresponsibility

News today that corporate welfare queen American Insurance Group has just paid out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives.

The self-destructive insurance conglomerate has received more than $170 billion dollars over several rounds of corporate bailouts since September of 2007. Last quarter, it posted an astonishing $61.7 billion loss -- the largest in corporate history.

And yet, the very executives who surely bear some responsibility for that loss and AIG's current financial state are being rewarded with more money than many taxpayers -- who are now footing the bill -- may make in a lifetime.

AIG claims the bonus payments are contractually obligated, which makes me marvel at what must be some pretty remarkable contract terms dictating generous bonuses even in the face of catastrophic losses.

One wonders what kind of gravy these executives would be taking home if the company was actually making money.

AIG Chairman Edward Liddy -- that's his smugly satisfied face on the left -- defended the bonus payments in a snipply worded letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses, which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers - if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury."

To which I say, if this mess is what your "best and brightest" is capable of, I'm willing to fire them all and let the night-time security staff take a crack at this thing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Don't Ever Push the Red Button

Last week Hillary Clinton went to Geneva, Switzerland to make nice with the Russians after eight years of George W. Bush making double-plus un-nice.

During her meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary Clinton presented him with a "reset button" to symbolize a new beginning with the United States.

Much was made of our translation of "reset." During dinner Clinton said, "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?"

Mr. Lavrov, apparently not one to overly worry about hurting others' feelings, replied, "You got it wrong. 'Peregruzka' means 'overload'."

(As an aside, they worked hard at this? Isn't the U.S. government supposed to have some people who speak really good Russian on staff? And they still got it wrong?)

To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, neither Lavrov or Clinton made any mention of -- or even gave much thought to -- the button's appearance, which looks to me like the sort of thing you might push when you want to blow something up.

Or overload it.