Thursday, May 31, 2012

Karl Rove's Latest

I guess if I wanted to get more hits on the site I should have called this post "Karl Rove is a Lying Sack of Excrement" or something even less family-friendly.  But I couldn't let Rove's Crossroads GPS super-pac's latest go by without making some comment about the depths to which this Bunson Honeydew look-alike will stoop.  Apparently they have no bottom to hit.

Here in Pennsylvania -- almost certainly a battleground state in November -- Rove has been running an ad featuring a middle-aged woman looking worried and doing the narration.  She talks about how she used to love watching her boys play basketball out in the driveway back in the good days, but now that they're home and jobless, why, it just breaks her heart.  Just like Barack Obama did.

"He spoke so beautifully," she mourns, before going off on how dreadful the nation has become under his watch.  How his socialist spending will continue to make our great nation circle the drain in its Democratic downward spiral.  How she deeply regrets supporting him, but can't continue to do so.  The ad was made before Romney sewed up the Republican nomination, so it ends with a plea to "tell President Obama" to essentially cut his own manhood off and do whatever it is John Behner tells him to do this week.  And to stop his Marxist, anti-American, tax-and-spend policies, please God, before it's too late.

What a load of crap.  What an INCREDIBLE load of crap.  No wonder the actress playing this forlorn mom is doing it in such a crappy wig.  I wouldn't want to be recognized either.

I am almost as sick of the conservative lies as I am of the Democrats and liberals taking the bloody high road and never fighting back or challenging this nonsense.

On the claim that things are worse, in terms of jobs and this poor woman's sons being unable to find any work:

That's George W. Bush in red and Barack Obama in blue.  Are things as good as we would like them to be?  No.  But since March of 2010, the Obama administration has been creating jobs every month, not losing them.  It would be great if we could break 300,000 some month, and if Obama is allowed to continue in office, we probably will.  But the simple fact remains that this administration is creating jobs, not killing them.

It never fails to amaze me how the Republicans and conservatives go after the very people they ultimately hurt the most, and these people love them for it.  Pennsylvania is usually a blue state, yes, but only because of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  In between, where I am, in the central part of the state, politics and religion are very, very conservative.  I'm talking a cross between Utah and Mississippi here.  I have been sitting in the locker room in my gym and heard two men my age bemoaning the fact that they "have lived to see a [n-word] in the White House.  I have heard people talking about the perils of Obamacare and bemoaning the fact that they cannot find a decent specialist here in PA without months of waiting for an appointment during the same conversation.  Because making private insurance companies take on just about everybody for health coverage and pooling their resources to still make a profit is clearly socialist.  If it's Marxist, it's Groucho Marx they're talking about, not Karl.

And yet the good blue collar folks here seem to have no idea that the real class warfare is not Obama versus The Rich, but the rich against the middle class.  As the old saying goes, folks, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.  And it's the middle class that's taking it right up their collective wazoo:

There is no doubt in my mind that Karl Rove and Roger Ailes and the rest of the billionaires who are trying to make Mitt Romney seem like our savior and avenger do not represent my best interests.  Granted, I'm an old hippie.  I have seen how government-sponsored health care functions in other countries, like Italy and France and Canada, and I believe it could work here.  I'm also a chronically ill person who has had to fight with insurance companies on and off over the years for everything from pre-existing conditions to getting the tests that are actually right for me.  And I can say that when I got sick in Italy?  They just took care of me.  Can the United States honestly not do something better than Italy?  I refuse to believe it.

Rove knows that Obama is popular with women, and this ad is blatantly aimed at women.  If I were a woman I would find that line in the ad about how Obama "spoke so beautifully" to be incredibly offensive.  Oh, hell; I'm a man, and I STILL find it incredibly offensive.

I hope it blows up in his fat face.  I hope every person with a voice speaks up and plugs away over and over with truth whenever a lie is told or a fact is misrepresented or twisted.  I'm middle class.  And I refuse to go quietly.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Another Shot --

–right in the 'nads.  Woke up last week to a pool of water on the kitchen floor.  The water line that feeds the fridge icemaker had ruptured.  When I went down to the basement to cut off the water I found that it had leaked downstairs as well.  Boy, had it leaked.  That part of the basement is carpeted.  Well, it was carpeted.  And several tubs of items in basement storage (the kind of tubs with the hinged lids that you get at Costco or Sam's. with the seam down the middle) had been stored under the spot in the floor where the leak occurred (of course) and had several inches of water in them.  It had also spattered and splashed all over.  Much soggy cardboard, some wet old stuffed animals from my daughter's childhood -- you wouldn't have thought the pipe could spew this much water in one night.  Called the plumber, and he came out to fix it all, and at the end of the day I was $400 poorer.  Then he tells me that he noticed that the main shutoff to the house is oozing water from a slow leak.  So this Wednesday the water company has to come out — for a fee — to shut off the water at the street so that the plumber can put in a new main valve.  To get to said valve, said plumber has to knock out some of the wall because as the house has settled over the years, apparently it has sucked the pipe into the wall to where the shutoff valve is firmly pressed against it.  When he is done, assuming he finds no other complications, the water company has to come back out — for an additional fee — and turn me back on.  (Although, in fairness, the plumber said that he could probably turn me back on; it's turning the water OFF that apparently causes fits here in PA.)  Barring complications, another $600 out of my wallet.
Hell, this doesn't just kill my budget; it turns our vacation into a stay-cation this year.  Just not something I needed to happen this year (or ever, really, but this has been a specially rough year for me.)
Thanks for letting me rant, gang.  It always makes me feel a little better when I vent about crap like this here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Voice Acting

It's no secret among those who know me that I always wanted to be a voice actor for animation.

Then I see the amazing job Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker from "Star Wars") does when he portrays the Batman character of The Joker -- a role he's played for over 20 years now, starting back with Paul Dini's and Bruce Timm's groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series.

I sometimes flatter myself that I have a little bit of voice talent.  Then I see something like this, and it puts me right in my place.  It's a video including footage from the recording sessions for an amazing video game, Batman: Arkham City.  Even if you don't care about comics, videogames or cartoons, this is worth a look simply to see a craftsman at the absolute top of his game:

For what it's worth, if you are interested in playing this -- one of the best games, ever, period -- the release date at the end of the video is in error.  The Game Of The Year Edition will be released on this coming Tuesday, May 29th, and NOT in September.  Enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ridiculousness III

Just a short update this time.  The Pill Camera test is off.  Indefinitely.  I decided for once to be a difficult patient and refuse the test.  I can not endure another big abdominal surgery, and the risk for the pill camera getting stuck is simply too high.

You might remember me saying that the radiologist who performed my recent upper GI series said that "it was a great test.  For 1972."  It was good enough to warn me about my diverticulum being a possible danger, but not good enough to definitely make the decision of whether or not to have the test.  The best it could do was warn me of the risk.  If I had been allowed to have the proper state-of-the-art imaging test that the radiologist preferred to give me, we might have been able to make a better decision.  Perhaps now that we have it on the record that there is a risk of the pill camera getting stuck, the insurance company may allow better imaging.  This testing may even be good enough to determine whether or not I'm bleeding internally.  Or we might be able to just pass "Go" now and get me directly to the hematologist before my blood expires.  Or I do.

I should find out more after the Memorial Day holiday weekend.  In the meantime, we've been dealing with a broken pipe in the basement, the repair of which broke the house's main water shutoff.  I have a drip pan underneath the leaking main valve right now until next Wednesday when the water company turns off the water out at the street and the plumber knocks out the basement wall in order to expose enough pipe to replace the shutoff.  (Whether from the house settling or incompetence when it was built, the shutoff has for whatever reason been sucked up to right against the cinder block wall.  It could only be turned with a wrench...which is what damaged it.)  The Universe keeps trying to kill my comic book collection....

Ahh, the heck with all of it.  I'm going to play Skyrim.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


If my mother had lived -- she died thirty years ago, from ovarian cancer -- today would have been her and my father's 63rd wedding anniversary.

I still miss you, Ma.  Every single day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Health Insurance Ridiculousness, Part II

On Monday I had my barium upper GI series.  The first words the radiologist said to me?  "Don't worry.  This is a great test.  In 1972."  He went on to say that they had much better tests, that did not involve any radiation at all, over in the MRI wing of the diagnostic center, but that no insurance will pay for them -- and no ordinary person can afford them without insurance.

So we went ahead and did the barium milkshakes.

He did find a problem.  Next to where one of my previous abdominal surgeries was performed, at the area where the two pieces of small intestine were rejoined after the diseased section was removed (hereafter referred to as the "anastomosis") he found a large balloon-like swelling with a narrow opening (hereafter referred to as the "diverticulum.")  Diverticuli are formed when the inflamed intestine won't allow food to pass through...but the muscular action of the intestine keeps trying anyway (hereafter referred to as "peristaltic action.")  The pressure causes the walls of the tunnel to balloon out much like Dizzy Gillespie's cheeks when he played trumpet.  (YouTube him, kids.)  The radiologist is of the opinion that the diverticulum is a prime spot for the pill camera to get stuck.

This, as the Ghostbusters would say, would be bad.  Crossing the streams bad.

The only way to remove the stuck pill camera is via surgery, and because of the nature of the surgery, it cannot be performed laparoscopically, i.e., with a small incision.  It's another big old honkin' belly operation.

I have informed my gastroenterologist that I am having serious second thoughts about the pill camera, and I am waiting to hear back from him.  It's still scheduled for next Tuesday, but I don't think I will be showing up for it unless he has some dramatic new perspectives with which to change my mind.

I don't want to be cut open again.  Ever.

On an interesting side note, the radiologist -- who was great, by the way; funny and knowledgeable and a big Game of Thrones fan -- had some ideas about what might be causing my blood iron to fall.  He thinks I need a liver study.  He thinks that my liver has actually been overloaded with iron because it has started acting like a sponge for all the iron they've been pouring into me and now my liver has become conditioned to grab up ALL the iron it can.  He thinks I need chelation to get the extra iron out of my liver, which will not be a picnic, by any means.  The drugs for chelation -- removing heavy metals from your system -- work great, but have horrific side effects, especially in the nausea/vomiting department.

Still gotta be better than being filleted like a trout, though.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Health Insurance Ridiculousness

I might have mentioned a while ago that, for some strange reason, perhaps related to my Crohn's Disease but perhaps not, my blood iron levels have dropped from a near-normal 18% to an all-time low of 4% in a matter of about six months.  There was nothing in a recent colonoscopy or endoscopy to indicate blood loss as a possible explanation.  The explanation is probably something else, something more serious, and I need to be examined by a hematologist/oncologist as soon as possible.

But not according to my health insurance, Pinnacle Capital Blue Cross of Pennsylvania.

Before referring me to the specialist, they want me to have a "pill cam" exam.  Fine.  Annoying, and inconvenient, but fine.  It might actually be fun to swallow the camera and download the images of my insides, even though I have to wear the receiver and hang around the medical office for six hours or so.  But that's why iPhone games were invented.  And if it spots a leak, great.


I received a phone call yesterday letting me know that before I can take the pill camera, I have to have a barium upper GI X-ray exam with small bowel follow-through.  This is a high-contrast radiologic study where you swallow a dense liquid and pictures are taken showing in silhouette your GI tract.  IT IS ABSOLUTELY USELESS FOR DETERMINING WHAT IS CAUSING MY IRON ANEMIA.

I told them so, and THEY FREAKING AGREED WITH ME!!!  But after two hours and four layers of supervisors, I still have to have this stupid, unnecessary test on Monday because it's on Their Checklist.  I will waste several hours of my life, waste the time of a radiologist and at least one radiology technician, and be exposed to a series of bursts of radiation which I do not need and which are absolutely, completely, and totally well as being useless in determining if I am bleeding internally somewhere.  The test is on their checklist because they, like so many health insurers in the United States of America, operate in Cover Their Asses mode one hundred percent of the time.  It keeps medical costs high but lawsuits low, I guess.

To add insult to injury, the pill camera then has to be delayed for a couple of weeks because I will need to make sure the barium is all out of my system.  They can't take decent pictures until the barium is all gone.  So now there's that much more additional time added to my wait to see a hematologist.

And finally, as I mentioned above, I live in Pennsylvania, one of the worst states in which to practice medicine.  Specialists not only left here in droves, but no new ones are coming in to the state.  Even primary care is starting to be in crisis in Pennsylvania, largely because of archaic and punishing malpractice and torts laws.  I am friends with a neurologic surgeon -- a "brain surgeon" if you will -- who retired early a couple of years ago because his malpractice insurance rates reached 50 percent of his gross income.  FIFTY PERCENT.

I'd have quit, too.

If it wasn't for our teaching hospitals, we'd be hard-pressed to have state of the art medicine here at all.  Doctors simply do not come to Pennsylvania unless they have no choice.

As for the few brave souls who do stay here in practice, they are swamped with patients and it takes months to get an appointment.  Now, I'm married to a doctor.  You would think I would have an "in" when it comes to getting an appointment.  No such luck.  Last year I needed a dermatologist after my family doctor was unable to clear up a skin condition that persisted all summer.  I called in September to set up an appointment with a doctor to whom my wife refers regularly and often, so you could say that she is in part responsible for a nice chunk of his income.  In September they were able to squeeze me in for the FOLLOWING JANUARY.  And they were doing me a favor.

Harrisburg still has three or four dermatologists.  I can only imagine how long it's going to take to get an appointment with the one hematologist/oncologist here.

A more cynical guy might think that the insurance company is hoping that my lousy blood just kills me first and saves everybody the trouble.  Either that, or that I collapse in crisis somewhere so it becomes some hospital's problem.

I can't say I'm going to be happy with either of those outcomes, though.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


...for a blog called "Citizen of Oa," a title which only a comic book geek would even get, it gets pretty serious in here sometimes.  There are serious family issues, serious health issues, serious marriage issues, hell, there are even serious pet issues discussed.  (No, I have not killed our dog.  Yes, I still want to.)  But for this post, at least, I want to get back to comics.  Even if you've never read a comic book, even if you just don't get it, even if you think that all comic shops and their owners and clientele are really like what you see on The Simpsons or The Big Bang yourself a favor.  Plunk down eight bucks at your local cinema and go see The Avengers.

Marvel Comics and Marvel Productions have been years setting up for this movie, beginning way back with the second Hulk movie, and continuing on through both Iron Man films as well as last summer's Thor and Captain America.

You do not have to have seen any of those movies to enjoy The Avengers.

If you have even the most basic knowledge of pop culture gleaned from TV (or even hearsay) you will seriously enjoy this movie.  You don't need to know anything about Marvel Comics characters, really, because Joss Whedon, the director and co-writer, brilliantly explains who they are without unnecessary (or boring!) exposition.  Briefly, Iron Man is a billionaire playboy inventor who created a suit of armor for himself so as to prevent a piece of shrapnel from getting to his heart.  Thor is...Thor, the Norse god of thunder and brother to Loki, the Norse god of mischief.  Captain America was the first -- and last -- recipient of an experimental Super Soldier formula back in WWII, who fought Nazis but was accidentally thrown into suspended animation during the War, only to be revived today, 70 years later.  Hawkeye and Black Widow are master spies and assassins.  And the Hulk is that same big green guy who pops up when Dr. Banner gets angry ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!") that we all probably remember from the old TV show.

Frankly, I didn't even need to tell you even that much.  You don't need it.

What you need, is to go see this movie.  It is most definitely a summer action popcorn movie, not an art film.  But the action is absolutely breathtaking.  The characterizations are wonderful, the acting quite good (especially Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk's alter ego, Bruce Banner) and the action sequences are without equal.

It is, and I do not say this lightly, the best superhero movie I have ever seen.  Up until now that spot was reserved for the first Iron Man movie, which I still love.  But Avengers blows it out of the water.

In fact, it is probably one of the best movies I have ever seen, period.  I rank it up there with the first Star Wars (the really first one, Episode IV, not the execrable Episode I) and Forbidden Planet and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's that good.

Oh, and if you are a comic book fan?  Well, you've probably already been to see it, even if you're a DC fan like I am...but if not, you are in for the treat of your life.  There are so many Easter Eggs and little treats and tips of the hat for dedicated fans that I could spend three columns just exploring all of them.  They really made the move so much more special for me...but I was with complete comics noobs who knew nothing at all about the Avengers, and they had a blast.

If you're a fan of the little "button" scenes that some movies tag on after the credits run -- like in Young Sherlock Holmes when Sherlock's math professor turns out to have survived and signs the hotel register as "Professor James Moriarty."  As you may have heard, this movie has TWO of them.  Be sure to stay for both of them!  The first one only long time Marvel fans will fully appreciate, but it sets everybody up for the sequel, no matter how much you know (or don't know) about the Avengers' roster of villains.  And it's really good.  The second one is a treat for everybody and is well worth staying until the bitter end to see.

Just saying.

Now get out of here and go to the movies already!

Saturday, May 5, 2012


It may be Cinco de Mayo or the Kentucky Derby Day for most folks today, but for me, it's the first Saturday in May and that means Free Comic Book Day.  For several years now, the independent owners of comic book stores all across America have taken the first Saturday in May to give out free comics to anybody who comes through their doors.  Other industries have jumped on the bandwagon, some more surreptitiously than others, but if you look back, you will notice that there has been a big superhero comic book movie opening that same weekend.  This year it's Marvel's "The Avengers" (which is getting rave reviews pretty universally, by the way.  Hey, Scarlett Johansson in a black catsuit?  I'm in.)  Contrary to once-popular belief, comic books are a Good Thing.  ANYTHING that gets kids interested in reading -- that gets ANYBODY reading -- is a Good Thing, and comics today are made for all ages and all interests, everything from Stephen King adaptations to Archie, or a dozen versions of Batman, some for ten-year-old boys and some for thirty-year-old lifelong fans.

My comic store, Comix Connection in Mechanicsburg, PA, does Free Comic Book Day especially well.  Most stores give you a choice of one free comic.  CC gives you three.  Unless you bring in a food donation for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.  Then you get another one.  Bring in two cans?  You get two extras.  Bring in forty?  You get forty extra.  Bill Wahl, the co-owner, always makes sure that he has enough books on hand to accommodate a truckload of food donations -- books that he pays for out of his own pocket, they ain't free to him.  Also, for several years Bill has booked the services of the local chapter of the 501st Legion, Garrison Carida -- these are the guys who make their own screen-accurate Star Wars costumes and props and visit sick children to whom they give brand new Star Wars toys.  You can meet and greet Darth Vader at Bill's store, and bring a toy donation for them.  We brought a bunch of both food and toys, not for the free books per se, but for the good work that is being done.  Charity, to me, is feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, not necessarily donating to the opera or a museum or a church (apologies to Bill Maher, who says it better, but I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment nonetheless.)  If Bill Wahl ever figures out how to include Habitat for Humanity in Free Comic Book Day, he'll have the trifecta of sheltering the homeless, too.  I wouldn't put it past him.

So today we donated a case of food, a half dozen toys, and had great fun in the process.  I also took advantage of Bill's sale to pick up one of my Holy Grail comics, a beautiful copy of Green Lantern #4:

It was the first comic book I ever read.  When I was a little kid in the early 1960's, my mother used to go to a "Beauty Parlor" that was actually in a neighbor woman's parlor.  It was a home business where the woman had converted her living room into the salon, with three chairs and sinks and the giant helmet hair dryers that look like R2-D2 sitting on your head.  She had a basket full of comics so kids would have something to do while their moms were under the dryer.  The first time Mom brought me, I found that basket, and this Green Lantern comic book was my first.  It started a life-long love affair with the character, and with the medium of comics.  It got me to read, and reading has been of the few true great joys of my life.  I can't tell you enough how important this has been to me, and for me.

So if you're reading this on Saturday, May 5th, it's not too late to find a comic store and have yourself a little fun.  And if you're a little too late, well, save the date for next year.

Free Comic Book Day.  It's always the first Saturday in May.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rough Week....

It's been a rough and discouraging week....

• Last Friday I picked up my daughter from her university, the University of Pittsburgh, since her finals were over and she was done with her spring term.  I found her a mess.  If you follow the news, you may have noted that the University of Pittsburgh has been plagued with multiple daily bomb threats since mid-February.  There have been as many as 16 threats in a single day.  The FBI is apparently no closer to solving the case than they were months ago.  My daughter was rousted in the small hours of the morning at least half a dozen times so her building could be evacuated and searched for explosives, and she had both classes and examinations disrupted.  She had indicated to us that she was dealing with it rather well, but that was not quite true.  It had a toll on her, and on her grades, and she did not do as well academically as we were led to believe this last spring.  (Don't misunderstand me; she's not flunking out of school or anything, but her grades in a couple of classes directly related to her major will almost certainly need to be repeated.)  And adding the bomb stress to the breakup of her first really serious relationship, it's no wonder that I found her in a state of deep depression.  We are coping with this together and getting her the help she needs, both academic and emotional, but it was a blow nonetheless to realize that she was in such a state.  I feel quite the failure as a father.

• I had the first in the latest set of physical exams and tests yesterday that will supposedly help determine why my blood iron is falling faster than one of Wile E. Coyote's anvils.  I had an endoscopy, which found no sign of illness in my esophagus, stomach or duodenum.  Certainly no cause of bleeding, which is not the good news that it first might seem to be.  It means that if the problem is in my small intestine, well, that organ has been shrunken by repeated surgeries and resections to where it can no longer have further surgery.  So the problem, if it's there, will be difficult to fix.  Or worse, if the problem is not there, then I have something far more serious going on in terms of blood disease than anyone is willing to discuss or even entertain right now.  The next step is the Pill Cam, a self-contained camera and light source the size of a large vitamin, which is swallowed and sends out beamed photographs which are captured and monitored by a belt pack over the course of about ten hours.  Frankly I do not expect anything extraordinary to be found by the Pill Cam, but it's a medical insurance hoop I have to jump through before they will allow a visit to a hematologist/oncologist.  So there's that.

• Of far less consequence, but annoying nonetheless, is the fact that -- thanks to the neuropathy which often tells me bad information about where my hands and feet actually are -- I managed to stub the living hell out of right foot yesterday, and broke two toes.  Today they are the swollen purple color that only a broken finger or toe can turn,  And they hurt like hell.  And because they are the two smallest toes, they really can't be set or splinted, just taped.  I can't wait until I have to mow the lawn later this week,  It's going to Hurt.  Like.  Hell.

• Of even less consequence, but perhaps even more annoying, for no reason that we can determine, the dog has started peeing in the house again, starting a few days before I left for Pittsburgh.  The vet found no medical reasons for this.  So having to watch him like a hawk for episodes of incontinence is an extra hassle I really don't need right now.

• The stomach problems I have been attributing to my month-long bout of viral bronchitis turned out to have nothing to do with that virus, but with yet another flare up of Crohn's Disease.  I have to put out the fire with Prednisone, a corticosteroid drug I absolutely HATE for its side effects...but it's either that or put up with episodes of, shall we say, jet propulsion of the nastiest sort.

A quiet week in Lake Woebegone it most certainly was not.  But we sure got the "woebegone" part right....