In defense of socialized medicine

Socialized or government run healthcare is often derided by its capitalist critics here in America. But does it really deserve all of the hate and mistrust that it gets from us? So many times I’ve heard people claim that such systems are inefficient, even tyrannical because they limit choices. More recently, I’ve heard and read many people talking about how even people in the Scandinavian countries are turning their backs on socialist principles.

However, much of these claims remain to be proven. Strangely, nobody ever offers evidence that increased choice leads to better health outcomes. As for inefficiency, most people who demonize socialized medicine cry about increased wait times for procedures. And what about citizens themselves turning their backs on socialized medicine? I’m willing to bet that the majority of the people who make this claim have never been to any of these other countries and have never bothered to ask its citizens what they actually think–they’re simply parroting economic and political rhetoric and propaganda.

In reality, it’s actually pretty easy to take a magnifying glass to socialized medicine and hold it up to scrutiny. There are a lot of data one can analyze and compare to determine whether socialized medicine is really the evil and inefficient scourge that people claim. There’s even a way to find out what the people in places like Sweden actually think about their healthcare: by–shockingly–asking them point blank and not relying on American politicians and conservative economists to spoon feed you their own biases.

There are two primary resources that we’re going to be looking at in this post. The first is here. That link will take you to the complete 2014 International Profiles of Health Care Systems released by The Commonwealth Fund. The majority of the information I will be providing comes directly from the report. It’s an excellent read, albeit a long one. The report compares the healthcare systems of Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US. That’s a pretty broad base to compare, and I feel it’s an adequate sample to really show genuine reflections in outcomes and costs.

First, it’s worth noting exactly how all of these systems work in terms of how they cover healthcare. Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Sweden all have national health systems that cover all citizens, run by the government, and funded through taxpayers. France, Germany, and Switzerland have a statutory insurance mandate, similar to Obamacare, wherein all citizens are required to purchase insurance; funding largely comes from employee/employer contributions. And finally the US, where 56% of people have private insurance, 13% are uninsured, and the remaining 31% are covered under government run programs (Medicare, Medicaid).

Now, the first thing we can do is look at cost, since that’s currently what we are bemoaning here in the US. Per capita, here is what healthcare spending looks like in each of those countries. I will highlight the highest and lowest numbers.

  • Australia: $3,997
  • Canada: $4,602
  • Denmark: $4,698
  • France: $4,288
  • Germany: $4,811
  • Italy: $3,209
  • Japan: $3,649
  • Netherlands: $5,219
  • New Zealand: $3,172
  • Norway: $6,140
  • Singapore: $2,881
  • Sweden:$4,106
  • Switzerland: $6,080
  • UK: $3,289
  • US:$8,745

The US pays the most, almost double the average of $4592. Now, what about spending as a part of GDP?

  • Australia: 9.1%
  • Canada: 10.90%
  • Denmark: 11.00%
  • France: 11.60%
  • Germany: 11.30%
  • Italy: 9.2%
  • Japan: 10.30%
  • Netherlands: 12.1%
  • New Zealand: 10.00%
  • Norway: 9.30%
  • Singapore: 4.7%
  • Sweden: 9.6%
  • Switzerland: 11.40%
  • UK: 9.3%
  • US: 16.90%

Again, the US spends the most. We get an average here of around 11%, and the US is a good 50% higher than that.

So we spend the most of all of those countries. Surely, then, we get better outcomes for that, right? Well, let’s look at some healthcare quality indicators listed in the survey. The first one is: “Diabetes lower extremity amputation rates per 100,000.”

  • Australia: 4.6
  • Canada: 10
  • France: 7.1
  • Germany: 18.4
  • Netherlands: 13.5
  • New Zealand: 6.7
  • Norway: 8.7
  • Sweden: 3.3
  • Switzerland: 7.1
  • UK: 5.1
  • US: 17.1

Hey, look! The US wasn’t #1! That honor goes to Germany. But just barely, we’re a close second. It’s still worth pointing out that we’re still nearly double the average rate (9.2). So I don’t really know if I would qualify that as a victory.

What about lifespan?

  • Australia: 82.8
  • Canada: 82.2
  • Denmark: 80.6
  • France: 82.4
  • Germany: 81.0
  • Italy: 82.7
  • Japan: 83.7
  • Netherlands: 81.9
  • New Zealand: 81.6
  • Norway: 81.8
  • Singapore: 83.1
  • Sweden: 82.4
  • Switzerland: 83.4
  • UK: 81.2
  • US: 79.3

(Data from the WHO).

We don’t seem to live the longest, which is odd considering how much we pay compared to everyone else. Okay, well what about deaths due to the healthcare system? In other words, how many avoidable deaths in the healthcare system were there (per 100,000)?

  • Australia: 57
  • Canada: n/a
  • France: 55
  • Germany: 76
  • Netherlands: 66
  • New Zealand:79
  • Norway: 64
  • Sweden:61
  • Switzerland: n/a
  • UK: 83
  • US: 96

Yikes. Looks like our healthcare system kills more people.

Now it wasn’t all bad news for the US. We had the highest 5 year breast cancer survival rate (barely) and we were somewhere in the middle of the pack when it came to mortality after admission to a hospital for a heart attack. And that seemed to be the general trend, that the US was either the worst offender or somewhere in the middle.

Okay, what about the long waits and rationing? There were several markers here. The first was “Able to get same or next day appointment when sick.”

  • Australia: 58%
  • Canada:41%
  • France: 57%
  • Germany: 76%
  • Netherlands: 63%
  • New Zealand: 72%
  • Norway: 52%
  • Sweden: 58%
  • Switzerland:n/a
  • UK: 52%
  • US: 48%

Everywhere else but Canada it’s easier to get a same/next day appointment. The next measure was “Very or somewhat easy getting care after hours.”

  • Australia: 46%
  • Canada: 38%
  • France: 36%
  • Germany: 56%
  • Netherlands: 56%
  • New Zealand: 54%
  • Norway: 58%
  • Sweden: 35%
  • Switzerland: 49%
  • UK: 69%
  • US: 39%

Again, the US isn’t the worst, but it’s far below the average (48.7%). Okay, now the one I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: “Waited 2 months or more for a specialist appointment.”

  • Australia: 18%
  • Canada: 29%
  • France: 18%
  • Germany: 10%
  • Netherlands: 3%
  • New Zealand: 19%
  • Norway: 26%
  • Sweden: 17%
  • Switzerland: 3%
  • UK: 7%
  • US: 6%

Well, well, well. While it’s true that other people have to wait longer to see a specialist, we weren’t necessarily the fastest. And it isn’t as if people those other countries are dying in the streets because they can’t see a doctor. Indeed, it would seem as if this whole issue is really a nonissue–clearly it doesn’t affect mortality, as every other country on the list had a higher average lifespan than America. Also, “waiting” depends on what we’re talking about: we might get people into specialists faster, but other countries do primary care faster than we do. However, there’s one more piece of this issue to look at: “Experienced access barrier because of cost in the past year.”

  • Australia: 16%
  • Canada: 13%
  • France: 18%
  • Germany: 15%
  • Netherlands: 22%
  • New Zealand: 21%
  • Norway: 10%
  • Sweden:6%
  • Switzerland: 13%
  • UK:4%
  • US: 37%

While it’s true we do get people seen faster in some instances, we certainly make them pay through the nose for it. So much so that some people can’t or don’t access healthcare at all. I wrote awhile back about stress in America and the role that Americans said money played: 20% said they put off medical appoints because of cost. That’s worth noting.

Also worth noting before we move on is how much people pay for drugs per capita in each country:

  • Australia: $588
  • Canada: $771
  • Denmark: $295
  • France: $651
  • Germany: $668
  • Italy: $514
  • Japan: $718
  • Netherlands: $450
  • New Zealand: $297
  • Norway: $414
  • Singapore: n/a
  • Sweden: $478
  • Switzerland: $562
  • UK: n/a
  • US: $1,010

Look at that, ours is the only number with a comma in it.

Okay. So we’ve looked at efficiency and outcomes. But what about popularity? You often hear that criticism. “Well yeah, it’s cheaper in Sweden, but the people over there hate it!” Is that really true? Well, luckily for us, we have some sources.

Public views of the health system: “Works well, minor changes needed.”

  • Australia: 48%
  • Canada: 42%
  • France:  40%
  • Germany:42%
  • Netherlands: 51%
  • New Zealand: 47%
  • Norway: 46%
  • Sweden: 44%
  • Switzerland: 54%
  • UK: 63%
  • US: 25%

You can ask the converse, too: “Needs to be completely rebuilt.”

  • Australia: 9%
  • Canada: 8%
  • France: 11%
  • Germany: 10%
  • Netherlands: 5%
  • New Zealand: 8%
  • Norway: 12%
  • Sweden: 10%
  • Switzerland: 7%
  • UK: 4%
  • US: 27%

Well it looks to me like socialized medicine is pretty popular. Meanwhile, a much higher percentage of people don’t like the American healthcare system. In fact, very few people in countries with socialized medicine feel it needs to be completely abandoned. That’s not exactly a stinging rebuke of socialism. As an example, I find it interesting that Canada, the nation with the worst scores when it came to access, had numbers in the single digits with regard to completely scrapping their system. And we can look at other sources, as well.

Eurobarometer conducts public polling in the EU. When asked about the overall safety and quality of their healthcare, almost 3/4 of EU citizens responded that it’s good (71%).

While it’s true that in many other countries people can purchase private or supplemental insurance, those numbers are generally low, with some exceptions. In England, only 11% of people buy supplemental coverage. That number plummets to 7% and 5% in Norway and Sweden. Again, hardly a shunning or abandonment of socialist principles. And where those numbers are much higher (between 50-70% of people) that coverage mostly allows for things like private hospital rooms, elective surgery, optometry, etc–it doesn’t necessarily buy access to better basic care (although in some cases it certainly can buy you access to faster private hospitals and doctors).

Alright, so what can we conclude from all of this? Well, for one, we can say that when politicians call US healthcare the greatest on earth, they’re talking out their asses. It’s not. The data clearly demonstrate that it isn’t. It doesn’t manage to make us live longer, and it puts us in the middle of the pack when it comes to industrialized nations as far as most other health outcomes. We pay the highest prices for mediocre results, basically.

At this point, I don’t really know how anyone can completely bash socialized medicine. It produces better outcomes for less money. That isn’t up for debate, that’s what the numbers indicate. There are some aspects that don’t measure up to the needs of some Americans, like the amount of time one waits to see a specialist. Although, that might be one reason why they pay so much less than we do: they don’t refer people to specialists at the drop of a hat. That probably saves a lot of money in the long run.

These data also seem to speak against the idea that “When the government gets involved everything goes wrong.” On the contrary, we see that the countries where the government is most involved have the lowest costs, the best outcomes, and the highest rate of approval among their citizens.

And as far as the “they’re all fleeing socialism to embrace the free market” lines go, that’s a bunch of baloney. By and large, people are satisfied with socialized medicine, and people are turning to private industry mostly for niche care. And even if more people are embracing some aspects of the free market, they aren’t doing so while abandoning socialism: it seems most countries agree that basic healthcare is a human right, and all citizens should have access to it.

I suspect that the American fear and hatred of socialized medicine is due to several factors. One, for many generations we’ve simply been taught by our government that socialism and communism are dire enemies. Two, here in American we’re used to a corrupt and inefficient government, so we naturally don’t see how centrally planned healthcare can work. But just because our government is inept doesn’t mean that all others are; indeed, it would seem that every other government has found a way to produce better outcomes with less money, which doesn’t exactly prove the “government is inept” theory. Admittedly, socialized medicine wouldn’t work in the current American government. Mostly because the government is bought and paid for in America, where overseas that isn’t the case (or at least not to the same extent as here). Which brings us to three: healthcare, to most of the world, is a human right, while in the United States it remains mostly a privilege.

Most countries see the health of their citizens as something that shouldn’t be considered a for profit venture. We can’t really say the same for the US. We provide healthcare for the elderly, but even that’s questionable now that republicans control all three branches of the government here. There’s a very real possibility that Medicare will be dismantled and replaced with a voucher system where our seniors will purchase private insurance. The problem with that is that insurance companies are in it to make money, and if a senior can’t afford what the insurance companies are charging, tough luck. I guess grandma doesn’t get healthcare.

In reality, having the government run everything allows them to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies (where applicable) and set price ceilings and negotiate. In our American system, we pretty much let private companies write the laws, literally. And now we have a group of people in power who want less government involved, because for some reason the same people who were going to drop you like a brick when you got sick are magically going to have a change of heart once Uncle Sam isn’t looking.

In summation: socialized medicine works. It’s cheaper and it’s more effective. It’s nothing to be afraid of, unless you own stock in an insurance or pharmaceutical company. Anyone who tells you different just isn’t living in a world of facts (or ethics, if you ask me).

I leave you with a meme.

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Actions, morality, and defining people

Fidel Castro died last week at the ripe old age of 90, and the world reacted in very different ways. Many people condemned Castro and his regime, while others, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had kinder words for the former world leader. Specifically, Mr. Trudeau said:

Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

This obviously upset a great deal of people who saw Castro as a cruel tyrant. Indeed, it seems like the country of Cuba itself was divided by the death of their former leader. Many people celebrated his death, while it seems many also mourned it. And that brings me to a very interesting area I’d like to discuss today.

Human beings in general have a capacity for good and for bad. When it comes to morality, most of us live somewhere on a spectrum. That is to say, not all of us are 100% good, and conversely not all of us are 100% bad. In fact, I’d be willing to say that in my opinion, there have been very few people in history who have lived exclusively on one side of the spectrum or the other.

World leaders are even more heavily scrutinized because of their positions, and as such tend to be demonized or lionized to a much higher degree. Let’s look at Castro to begin with.

Castro did indeed do some truly horrible things, like killing and jailing his political opponents, interning gay people for “re-education,” forced labor camps, and censoring freedom of speech.

I’m not going to try to argue that Castro was some misunderstood saint.

But even so, he did do some good things for Cuba. Healthcare is free for the Cuban people, and the Cuban medical system even produced a vaccine for lung cancer. Education at all levels is also free. In fact, Cuba has a higher literacy rate than the United States (99% to 86%). In the US, women hold ~20% of the seats in congress; in Cuba, 48% of the seats in parliament are held by women. The caveat here is that this came at a high price for many people.

This begs an interesting question, though, and it’s the central one I would like to pose with this post:

Was Fidel Castro a bad man who did good things, or a good man who did bad things?

Many people are quick to write off Casto as “an evil and immoral communist,” but it seems to me like such black and white thinking completely whitewashes a lot of history here. Indeed, world leaders often get remembered in polarizing ways, written into the annals of history as being either exclusively evil or exclusively good.

But there seems to be a tinge of hypocrisy to this. People in the US tend to generally think of communists as evil people, and Castro certainly fits that mold. Again, I’m not trying to argue that Castro didn’t do horrible things to many people.

But I’d be willing to bet that the same people in America who hold Castro in such disdain probably hold Thomas Jefferson in great esteem, being a founding father and former president…despite the fact that the man owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson participated in and promoted a system wherein human beings could actually become property based on their skin color.

The US has a pretty checkered history when it comes to human rights, beyond even slavery, which seems to be the most egregious.

We’re the only country that’s ever dropped a nuclear bomb on another country. That decision killed upward of 250,000 civilians.

Then there was the time we spent 40 YEARS studying the effects of untreated syphilis in black soldiers. We didn’t tell them they were infected and we withheld treatment just to see what would happen. Because again, America has a little problem with racism.

Oh, and that reminds me of that time we tried to infect Native Americans with smallpox. Our treatment of Native Americans has been appalling from the start. We invaded their land, butchered them, and then forced them onto reservations. Oh, and speaking of, forcing people onto reservations…

The Japanese internment during WWII. That was also a pretty horrible thing to do to American citizens.

I think one could argue that the United States has committed its fair share of war crimes and violations of human rights. But the same people who refuse to acknowledge that Castro may have actually done some measure of good for his people also tend to conveniently forget all of the awful things that “the greatest nation on earth” has done.

Which brings me back around to trying to separate people from their actions. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but he also helped write our constitution, which now affords many freedoms to people. So was he a good guy who happened to own slaves, or was a he bad guy who helped frame the constitution?

Was Castro a man who did bad things to ensure what he thought was a greater good? That is, after all, the logic that  Truman used when he dropped the atomic bombs: sure, it would hurt innocent people, but it would also save innocent people as well.

Right now, we still hold people without due process in Gitmo, and we tortured suspected terrorists after 9/11. We did so under the pretense that it would keep millions of people safe, but a lot of people at home and abroad think that Bush and Cheney are war criminals.

I don’t really know if anyone is truly good, or if doing bad things to protect a greater good is acceptable. It’s the same old question we’ve been wrestling with for ages: do the ends justify the means? Whatever the answer to that question is, I think it means the legacies of all heroes and villains deserve closer scrutiny.

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It’s all bullshit, folks

I’ve seen the following meme making the rounds on social media:

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I find stuff like this somewhat amusing. While most people are arguing about which religious headgear is the least sexist, I’m just standing off in the corner, laughing at how stupid the entire concept is in general.

To me, the concept of hijab itself is stupid, no matter which religion is practicing it. As an atheist, they’re all equally offensive to me because they’re all equally oppressive. You can argue all you want about how the patriarchy in each religion uses head covers and whether or not it’s sexist, but they all represent regressive, superstitious ritual to me. They’ll all symbols of belief in a magical sky being who, for whatever reason, seems to give a shit what you wear on your head.

So to recap: anyone who wears special clothing to “devote themselves to god” is oppressed in my view, because they’re signalling to me and everyone else a surrendering to blind belief in a deity, and subjecting themselves to a life guided by the traditions taken from archaic books written by ignorant desert-dwellers.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a bit by the late, great George Carlin about religion and hats. And so, for your viewing pleasure, George’s thoughts:

As George concludes: “It’s all make believe!”

The marijuana condundrum

Well, election night wasn’t all bad news. More states legalized either recreational or medicinal marijuana! Woo-hoo! Take a look at the map now:

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However, no sooner than all this new legislation was passed did I read an article on Medscape about the dangers of marijuana use by a Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley. The article is here if you’d like to read it, but I’ll be pulling out bits and pieces for the remainder of this post.

The crux of the article is this: there is some evidence that links marijuana to increased risk of certain cardiovascular diseases. The doctor who wrote the article cites a presentation that, “described an association between cannabis use and a twofold increase in the diagnosis of takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”

First of all, association isn’t causation. Walton-Shirley goes on to say,

“Seeing this uptick in apical ballooning in the young (and males to boot) is proof that manipulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is probably not a good thing for any age or gender unless those systems are producing pathology. Surely it’s predictable that inhaling substances never meant for human consumption doesn’t bode well for us, but it’s not the first time we’ve heard of pot’s potentially deleterious cardiovascular effects.”

There are a lot of things wrong here. First of all, a trend is not proof of anything. Second of all, and more importantly, the sample sizes of some of these studies are atrocious. Walton-Shirley even says in the article, “This article was lampooned due to its small sample size, but one must admit, where there is smoke, there can be fire (pun intended).” Hardy har, but you can’t just ignore the flaws and limitations of research to make a point or a pun.

I also find it very suspect that we’re never really given solid numbers about this “uptick.” Dr. Walton-Shirley gives some clues about it, saying that the rate of this cardiomyopathy is increased twofold by smoking pot. Well that’s all well and fine, but what does that mean in terms of naturally occurring cases? In other words, how many people are we talking about if we double the rate?

Well, we’ll have to do some detective work. Surfing the internet, I found an article from Circulation that states: “On the basis of recent analyses reported from several countries, this condition probably accounts for ≈1% to 2% of all cases of suspected acute myocardial infarction.” I think it’s also worth noting that the subtitle of the article is A New Form of Acute, Reversible Heart Failure. Turns out most people make a COMPLETE recovery. Anyway, the math.

 According to the American College of Cardiology, about 785,000 Americans have an MI every year. So we can say that in an average year, about 7,850-15,700 people suffer from TCM. But we also know what the prognosis for someone with TCM is: very good.  According to another Medscape article: “The prognosis in takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TCM) is typically excellent, with nearly 95% of patients experiencing complete recovery within 4-8 weeks.”

Well, let’s take those figures an apply them to our math above. We’re looking at a baseline mortality rate of 78.5-502.4 people per year. That’s it, folks. So let’s go with the worst case scenario, and say that smoking pot really does double the number of people who develop this. We’re talking about 1004 deaths per year due to marijuana. 

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Alcohol use kills 88,000 people per year.

Tobacco products kill 480,000 people per year.

Both perfectly legal. But heaven forbid we legalize pot, or 1000 people might get a rare form of cardiomyopathy. Do the people who make these arguments against pot not realize how insanely inconsistent their logic is? I mean, are we going to put people in jail because they use tobacco? Consumption of sugary drinks leads to diabetes, which affects 29 MILLION people in America. Should we jail anyone who drinks a big gulp?

And really, that’s what I think pisses me off the most about all this uproar over legalization. It’s not about health. Health is important, but legalizing pot isn’t a referendum on whether or not it’s bad for you, or whether or not you should use it. legalizing pot is about one thing:

NOT SENDING PEOPLE TO JAIL FOR USING IT.

That’s what decriminalization is about. It’s saying hey, maybe you shouldn’t go to jail for using a substance that’s less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, two perfectly legal products. 8.2 million people are arrested every year for pot-related offenses. Sure seems like we’re ruining more lives than we’re saving with anti-pot laws and policy. And we’re disproportionately ruining the lives of minorities, too, considering that white people use pot at the same rates of blacks and Latinos, yet are far less likely to be arrested for it. Not to mention the billions of dollars wasted every year enforcing these stupid laws:

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There’s no sensible reason to keep marijuana use illegal. There’s very poor evidence that it adversely affects health, at least compared to other perfectly legal substances. Anti-pot laws just waste everyone’s time and money. And people like Dr. Walton-Shirley are cherry picking data with very poor sample sizes to paint marijuana as some health menace, when there’s really no compelling body of evidence to support the stance.

Just make it legal everywhere and put those resources to better use.

Things I hate about shopping

This is going to be a rant about things that really piss me off about the shopping experience. So without further ado, here we go…

People who block the aisle

This shit infuriates me. People who stand in the middle of the goddamned aisle just looking at everything. Or talking with someone on their cell phone. The store isn’t a social club, let me get my shit and get the fuck out. And for fuck’s sake, can’t we have just a little bit of order? Does all shopping have to be some Mad Max style free for all?

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People who take forever to make up their mind

You know these assholes, the ones who stare at the wall of soup for twenty minutes trying to make up their mind, as if choosing between tomato and chicken noodle were some kind of fucking Sophie’s choice. IT’S JUST SOUP, PICK ONE.

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Receipts

It’s 2016, no I don’t want my receipt. I bet 90% of people just end up throwing the receipt away. So fuck that. It’s a waste of paper. This is the 21st fucking century, just email me my receipt. Or text it to me. If I paid with a card, you don’t need to give me a printed receipt at all–if I want to return something just look up the card number. For those weirdos who still pay in cash, you can offer them a printed a receipt I guess, but it seems an email or text would work just as well for these folks. But all in all, your stupid receipt is just going to end up like this:

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Bags

No, I don’t need a bag for my gum, you fucking twat. If I only bought one or two things, I don’t want a damn bag. I’m more than capable of carrying my toothpaste without a plastic bag, thanks. Stop wasting plastic and paper on one or two item transactions.

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FUCK PLASTIC BAGS

Slow walkers

Look, I know that shopping isn’t a race. But come on. Pick your fucking feet up and move. There’s nothing more annoying than getting stuck behind someone whose walking speed is half yours. And again, usually these people have strategically positioned themselves in the middle of the flow, making it impossible to go around them.

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Using the self-checkout for a cart full of crap

Self-check out is a form of an express lane. If you have a few items but don’t want to wait in a giant line, that’s what the self-checkout is for. It’s not for some asshole with 200 things in his cart to clog up the line for everyone else who just popped in for a carton of milk. And who doesn’t even know how to use the damned self-checkout machine. If you have a full cart, go to the regular checkout line and let someone faster than you do it all, you fucking twat.

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So that’s it, the things about shopping that really make my blood boil. Did I miss anything? What do you guys hate about shopping?

A tale of two Americas

Like many people, I’m still reeling from the fact that Tuesday night, Donald Trump was elected our 45th president. I’m saddened, dismayed, fearful, distraught even. But one thing I can’t say that I am is shocked. And that’s because there really are two Americas.

Politicians use that line on the campaign trail frequently. So do pundits. There’s Main St. vs Wall St. There’s red vs blue. There’s rural vs urban. Whites vs minorities. In the post-Trump victory, people were scrambling to figure out which group of voters was responsible. But the division between the two Americas isn’t a demographic one, it isn’t a geographic one. What this election unequivocally demonstrated for me is that the difference between the two Americas is this:

Intellectualism vs anti-intellectualism.

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote against reason, pure and simple. It’s not just a vote to smash the establishment, it’s a vote against everything that science and progress has led us to. And it really highlights the division between Americans:

America A

In this America, people value science and evidence. They allow it to guide policy. They believe in a secular society. They believe that they’re responsible for their fellow man. They believe that things like healthcare and education are rights and an investment. They believe in diversity, that we’re stronger when we’re more inclusive and tolerant. They seek enlightenment and progress. They believe that the height of being human is to learn and explore, and that those are the endeavors that lift everyone up.

America B

In this America, people value the Christian bible over all else. They think that every law and the constitution itself should be interpreted through a biblical lens. They think that expecting one to help everyone succeed is tyranny. They think the individual is stronger than the community, and that a hand up and a hand out are harmful to their fellow man. They think that a cluster of cells is the same thing as a person. They don’t value science and evidence, and don’t see a point in exploration and inclusiveness. They think that business and commerce is the highest thing human beings can aspire to. They think that the planet is something to use rather than safeguard.

Those two Americas can’t coexist. They’re diametrically and thematically opposed to each other. Asking us to unite and act like one country is a waste of time because we really aren’t one country, we aren’t one people. We’re two distinct groups who are trying to share one space and one government. I don’t feel kinship with half this country, or at least with 60 million people in it. And I don’t apologize for that. I shouldn’t have to try and force some sort of positive feeling about someone who’s every action and belief is harmful to my way of life. I shouldn’t be asked to unite with a racist or a bigot. At this point, I feel more kinship with people living in places like Iceland and Denmark than I do with half the people in my own country, because those places reflect the values and ideals that I hold. Asking me to come together with people in rural Pennsylvania is like asking me to feel a special bond with North Korea at this point.

A poignant and symbolic example of this from the past is the Carter/Reagan transition in 1980. During his time in office, Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House. It was during an energy crisis, and it showed that he represented a group of people that were willing to try to innovate and use science to solve their problems, to move forward and seek out alternatives.

When Reagan took office, the first thing he did was rip the solar panels off. It’s an incredibly symbolic act to me. It showed that he represented a group of people who wanted to take two steps back instead of going forward. People who wanted to double down on a solution that didn’t work. People who were either unwilling or unable to exhibit any critical thinking or creativity, and who couldn’t or wouldn’t seek out alternative solutions to problems.

And let me be clear, this is not a liberal vs conservative thing. There are atheist conservatives. There are conservatives who believe in climate change. And there are liberals who are anti-science (vaccines, GMOs). This is simply science vs anti-science. Reason vs anti-reason.

And it becomes clearer and clearer to me as time goes on that this isn’t a sustainable situation. I don’t want to live in America B, and those people don’t want to live in America A. I don’t think anything will ever get better until we finally cut those string and separate. In the aftermath of Trump’s win, many people are talking about petitions for referendums on seceding from the US. I’d gladly sign that and I’d gladly vote yes. I’m sick and tired of having some Hillbilly in Oklahoma decide which policies and people affect my life, just as I’m sure that Hillbilly is tired people from places like California doing the same.

It’s abundantly clear that we don’t want to live together, so it’s time for a divorce.

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Stupid political memes

As much as I hate to say it, internet memes are important now. They’re as much a source for news and information as any other social media outlet now. Indeed, memes are not only a way to transmit information, they’re also representations of ideas and beliefs held by people. There are literally entire generations and groups of people who get all of their news and information and ideas from social media and memes. So it’s important to call out bad memes that represent bad ideas, because they’re a very common way that misinformation and bad ideas spread. So without further ado, here are some popular political memes and my refutation of them.

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I’ve seen this one on Twitter and Instagram a lot lately, and it’s very disappointing. Right off the bat, anyone who paid attention in 8th grade history class should know something that casts suspicion upon this meme. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Now, does anyone know when the Federal Reserve was created? 1913! A whole 48 years after Lincoln was assassinated. I guess old Honest Abe had a time machine that he didn’t tell anyone about.

Really, what we’re talking about with this meme is the idea of conspiracy. Because if there’s ever turmoil in this country, it has to be a conspiracy, right? And if it’s conspiracy we’re talking about, then obviously it’s the Federal Reserve’s fault, because why not. After all, everyone’s favorite crazy grandpa, Ron Paul, is always screaming about the Fed and how it’s the cause of all of the world’s problems. Except that it isn’t, clearly.

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I saw this one just today and got into a bit of an exchange with someone about it. First of all, let’s take the two sentences at the top. “Never arrested. Never convicted.” Well fucking duh, because again, history. Obviously Hitler was never arrested and convicted of any of his war crimes because he fucking shot himself before we could capture him. Now, let’s take the last sentence. “Just as innocent as Hillary.”

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Clinton isn’t some angelic figure. But Hitler? Come on. There’s no comparison. Nothing Hillary Clinton has ever done even remotely compares to straight up genocide and literally trying to take over the world. This is false equivalency or dichotomy at its absolute finest. By the way, the person I debated about this meme kept calling Clinton a despot, which is what makes her as guilty as Hitler, apparently. Her despotism according to this individual? Voting for the war in Iraq and the no-fly zone in Syria. Because obviously those are just as bad as the holocaust, guys.

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This was pretty popular when Bernie was still in the race, but I still occasionally see it making the rounds, or other memes that are similar to it. The only problem with it is that it’s total and absolute crap. Taxes are not collected at gunpoint. Similarly, nobody is going to shoot you if you don’t pay your taxes. And do you know why? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T COLLECT TAXES FROM A DEAD PERSON. And despite all that, your economic value is still greater even if you don’t pay taxes than if you were dead. So knock this bullshit off, the government doesn’t go door to door with soldiers to collect taxes.

At the very worst, tax evasion will land you in jail. But most likely it’ll result in a garnishment or lien of some kind.

But let’s take this moment to look at countries who do practice socialist principles. People in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, etc. gladly and proudly pay taxes. Their systems are sources of national pride. Some of the very things that Paul and his ilk believe are privileges are considered human rights over in parts of Europe. And while we’re on the topic…

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No, taxation is not theft, goddamnit. For anyone who believes this drivel, please kindly give me an example of one modern society that functions without taxation of some kind. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I’ve been waiting, because nobody that I’ve ever posed that question to has ever been able to provide an answer, because the whole premise that taxation is tantamount to theft is absolute horse shit.

And comparing the government to the mafia is also horse shit. The mafia doesn’t produce anything. The government, on the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, DOES produce things with your taxes.

Taxation is roads. It’s bridges. It’s schools. It’s the fire department. It’s the police department. It’s the trash collectors. It’s the military that defends us. It’s drinking water. It’s all of the things that are promised to us by the social contract. But if you really think that taxation is theft and you shouldn’t ever have to pay any taxes, then go right the fuck ahead and leave society. You’ll see real fast how far no taxes and no social contract gets you, you twats. I also find it hypocritical that these same assholes probably use all of the public goods that the taxes they hate so much paid for.

And before anyone says it, saying that you’re being taxed too much or that your tax dollars are being used inefficiently is not the same thing as saying that all taxation is armed theft. So don’t even try making the argument that it’s all really the same thing.

What all these memes have in common is that they show a breathtaking ignorance of history and fact. And yet there are millions of people out there who see stuff like this and just accept it as fact. And they all vote. Every last ignorant one of them.