Archive for January, 2008

The Road

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I have been reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and it has put me in a disturbingly apocalyptic mood. To be fair, it is an excellent book, very powerful…but be prepared. Soon, you’ll be seeing signs of the coming apocalypse everywhere.

Case in point: between McCarthy’s vision of a post-apocalyptic America, my own personal health insurance fiasco, the miserable prevalence of SUVs in our neighborhood alone, the burgeoning worldwide human population, and American stores stuffed to the rafters with pleather easy chairs, Sno-Globes, and underpants made out of petrochemicals, I have spent the last few days pretty thoroughly convinced that the human species will be extinct within a few generations.

And when have I ever been wrong? That’s right. Never.
Um, I can think of a couple of times. Like when you wouldn’t let me eat that groundhog I killed. You were WAY wrong that time. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Right or wrong, though, it’s been a dangerous frame of mind, not only because it has been very demoralizing, but also because I’m really just a hair’s breath away from spending my afternoons standing on the street in Harvard Square ranting about socialism.

See? Dangerous.

Like any good American, however, I’ve been distracted a bit from my role as “Prophet of Doom” by consumer goods, although I have eschewed the pleather and, heaven knows, the SUVs.
As far as I am concerned, this is the sock yarn dye-job to end all sock yarn dye jobs. I just love this yarn and I can’t wait to knit with it. And after all, when the apocalypse comes, we’re going to need warm wool socks, aren’t we? Preferably in attractive colors.

And who do we have to thank for this exquisite stuff?
Madeline Tosh. Yarn shown here in colorway Peony.

And of course, I have continued to knit my second Ice Queen, which I want to finish even if we are all going to go extinct. Because, look, even long term extinction does not relieve us of our immediate mandate to “look good, kick ass, and take names.”

Which, now that I think of it, would be hard to do while ranting about socialism on a street corner.

And then there’s Shelley. Nothing keeps you honest, grounded, and fully in the present like a dog. The other night, we were watching Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man together and Shelley was sleeping at my feet, as is her wont during home film screenings.

Those of you who have seen the film will certainly remember the scene of the two male grizzly bears fighting quite violently over a female. As soon as the fight commenced, Shelley sat bolt upright, ears at full mast, and stared intently at the television screen. She cocked her head to the left, then the right. Left again. Right again.

Then she looked at me as if to say, “Well, I’ll be—if you’ll pardon the expression—doggoned. How’d you get them miniature bears in that box?”

I said, “Shelley, Miss Puppy, the same species that got those miniature bears in that box are the authors of the coming apocalypse. And that’s just the awful truth.”

She looked at me quizzically and gave my hand an affectionate lick. Then she yawned and went back to sleep.

In which Sarah comes out of hiding

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to begin blogging again, to the tune of twice a week.  Considering it is now the end of January and this is my first post of the month, we can all see how well that’s been working out for me. 

However, in my own defense, I do have to point out that here in northwest Missouri we have been having one hell of a winter.  Some uncharitable persons might think that unfriendly weather conditions could lead one to do more, rather than less, blogging, since one is effectively house-bound for days on end, but such persons have clearly never experienced a tough winter.  In point of fact, one spends a large proportion of time huddled on the couch (or in bed) in woolen garments and blankets, simply trying to keep warm and keep one’s spirits up:  no small task.  Unrelenting ice, snow, and bitter cold can be very lowering.

Because I live alone and can basically do whatever I want to with my living space, the area around my spot on the couch has been gradually filling up with yarn, fiber, pillows, napkins, remote controls, books, and other sundries, creating a sort of bulwark against the cold dark.  I fear that someday soon I will simply disappear into my nest and will have to be pulled out sometime in April, pasty-faced and blinking. 

But I digress.

I have been knitting (in my nest), and have been hard at work on Rumpelstiltskin, among other things.

Rumpelstiltskin 1-29-08                            (The observant among you will note evidence of the nest at the bottom of this picture.)

I am now close to the end of the second long side, about to turn the third corner with the edging.  Let me tell you, knitting on this edging has been a b****, like Ellen’s picot bind-off, only worse.  Cause there’s so much more of it, you see.  The only thing I can do is to attempt a Zen-like state of calm and acceptance while knitting on this thing.  Zen-like calm and acceptance do not come naturally to me.  I have more of a “flail around wildly while complaining and whining” approach to life.  It’s a gift.  Kind of a Protestant thing.

Rumpelstiltskin 1-29-08

When I’m not practicing Zen-like calm and acceptance, I’m wondering whether I will ever, ever finish this damn thing, and whether, after all, it is really worth the candle. 

But I have a vision:  myself, in my winter nest, wrapped up in a lovely lace-weight mohair shawl, fortified against the cold, snow, and wind by the lovely work of my own hands.

Somebody come pull me out in April, would you?

Full of an interesting thing

Monday, January 28th, 2008

From the Department of Superb Packaging:

My friend Andrew brought this back for us from Japan, where he spent two weeks over the academic break. I think it is brilliant, especially considering that the contents were Steam Cakes—a kind of Japanese Twinkies—and the English-language product copy on the wrapper gives you…absolutely no clue that you have just received a box of delicious Steam Cakes.

How refreshing that somewhere in this world there is still a commitment to preserving a sense of wonder and mystery! At least for English speakers.

On a more linguistic-philosophical note, I like to think that “Osaka is a town full of an interesting thing,” is not really a mistake, but rather a change of heart. I imagine the copy writer sitting at his desk, thinking about how many interesting things there are in Osaka, how the city is fairly bursting with interesting things. Bursting! He begins to write, “Osaka is a town full!

Then he comes thudding back down to earth. He can actually only think of one interesting thing in Osaka. Crap.

“…of an interesting thing.”

I empathize. I have had the same experience with my dissertation chapters. “I have written a chapter full!

Oh, crap.

“…of an interesting thing.”

In which I encounter a lovely, but never-ending bind off

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Okay, I lied a little yesterday. I didn’t contact all the Democratic presidential candidates about my availability to work on the health care issue.

Only Hillary Clinton.

When I told Alex I had done this, he said, “You didn’t!”

“Oh yes I did,” I said.

He is now absolutely certain that a “Wacko Alert” has been placed on my FBI file. The FBI file I almost certainly have because of my romantic intrigue with a known Communist agitator during the waning years of the Cold War. Ah, those were good times, weren’t they? When we had just one big, monolithic enemy? How I long for those halcyon days again, those simple, happy times when we knew who to hate and why.

But I digress.

While I’ve been waiting for Hillary’s call, I have been busying myself with my dissertation and with Romi’s Ice Queen, a pattern with which I am obsessed.
This is my first Ice Queen, Kidsilk Haze and seed beads. I think it makes me look a great deal like Jackie O, don’t you? Just without the money. (Photo courtesy of SPR-Boston Photography Studio)

A side view:

I love the pattern, although that gorgeous picot bind-off is truly the bind-off that never ends.
There’s a song about that, isn’t there? Okay, all together now!

This is the bind-off that never ends,
It just goes on and on, my friends,
Some people started binding off
not knowing what it was,
Now they’ll continue binding off forever just because
This is the bind-off that never ends…

Oh, we could go on all night, couldn’t we?

My one slight regret is that the beads on this first one were such a close match with the yarn that they produced a—how shall we say?—well, subtle effect.

But I had a lot of beads left. So I started on a second Ice Queen:
A little higher contrast. Same materials, different yarn color.

Thanks for the great pattern, Romi! You definitely brightened up my bleak midwinter with your gorgeous design. And while Ice Queen is beautiful, it is also surprisingly practical; I’ve worn mine nearly every day since I finished it.

Patterns like this make me especially glad that I can knit.

Minimizing losses

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Happy New Year everyone! A bit belatedly, I know, but you are now talking to someone with two completed dissertation chapters and a third in gestation, but who is now, I’m afraid, officially a “fallen-away blogger.”

Better blogging times are coming, Lord, we just don’t know quite when…

Meanwhile, my university welcomed me to 2008 with some warm, fuzzy, and deeply American news: they would be cutting off my health insurance, in spite of the fact that I am now, and have been for the past five and a half years, a graduate student in good standing at Berkeley who has always been judged by my department to be making what they call “good progress” (towards what exactly is a larger philosophical question that shall not be addressed here).

The precise details of this health insurance debacle are, as all things with this “industry,” byzantine, maddening, and very difficult to convey. I shall attempt, nonetheless, to summarize: in order to finish a Ph.D. at Berkeley in any field that requires research away from campus (and that would be, ahem, many), a student will—for bureaucratic purposes and to save her department big, big cashola—be placed on what is called “withdrawn” status for two semesters while she is away. During this time, she has to buy her health insurance through the university as a separate fee, which costs her approximately $3000 for the year.

Since her stipend is somewhere between $15,000 and $18,000 per year (pre-tax), this poses a serious financial “challenge,” but one that can be surmounted by eating nails for a couple of months and never turning the heat above 50 degrees.

So far, so good!

You with me? Now, right before the student gets her Ph.D., she spends ANOTHER semester on what is called “filing fee” status, another bureaucratic category into which she is placed, like it or not. Under this status, she is also required to buy her own health insurance.

Here’s where things go off the rails. The insurance company that “serves” the university has made a rule that a student may only buy into health insurance through the university for two semesters. But this is in the extremely fine print, of course.

Those of you keeping score at home may have already realized that to finish the program the student has to buy health insurance for three semesters.

Folks, with “service” like this, who needs enemies?

I noticed this rule on January 14th, one day before my health insurance from last semester ran out. So I gave the folks out in California a friendly call to investigate.

Me: So I read this rule about the two semesters on your website and I’m calling because I wondered if I was reading that right.

Insurance Elf: Yes, you are.

Me: Well, that’s funny because my program—and I’m guessing many others—puts a girl on this kind of status for THREE semesters, not two.

Insurance Elf: Well, I’m sorry, but we have been enforcing the two semester rule.

Me: May I ask why?

Insurance Elf: We did a study and we discovered that the group of students who buy insurance while they are on withdrawn or filing fee status is small, but it is a high claims group. We needed to minimize our losses.

Me: (Pause to take in the wildly inhumane magnitude of this statement and to tear out a chunk of my own hair) So what do you suggest I do for health insurance then, Insurance Elf?

Insurance Elf: There are plenty of outside plans you can buy as an individual.

Me: Dude, I have researched those “plans” in the past. They have terms like, say, $2000 deductibles. You take a financially marginal person and give her insurance with a $2000 deductible and you have given her nothing but disaster insurance. There isn’t any “health care” about it. That’s just insurance so that you won’t have to eat mealworms and live in a refrigerator box for the rest of your life if you fall on the ice and break your arm. You can’t go to the doctor unless it is clearly a matter of your imminent death. You got mild asthma? Go home and f*cking gasp, little friend.

Insurance Elf: Well, we do enforce the two semester rule.

Me: I think you’ll burn in hell for this.

Actually, I didn’t tell the Insurance Elf she’d burn in hell. But I think she will.

So at the moment I have the disaster-only insurance. There is a chance that the insurance elves will make an exception in my case, but while they deliberate, I have to have some kind of coverage. (Revisit specter of a lifelong diet of mealworms and a refrigerator box home.) And the coverage can’t lapse or the health “care” industry will shaft me on the old pre-existing condition clause.

Now, without boring you with all the ins-and-outs of this matter, I can assure you that one way or another this will be resolved by February 15th such that I can have usable health insurance. But only because I am married. That is, either Berkeley will relent, or I can get onto Alex’s insurance.

So this isn’t really about me, even though my situation is all, all, all wrong.

This is about a broken, inhumane, indecent health “care” system that has been turned over to rapacious businessmen who prey on people who need medical attention and take decisions about health, healing, and well-being out of the hands of doctors and nurses and place it into the hands of people who only want to make a buck.

This is wrong. It’s wrong that companies are “minimizing losses” by making it impossible in practice for people to go to the doctor when they are sick or to get their medical care covered if they do. It’s wrong that we have so many people who are completely uninsured and so many who are underinsured and therefore in constant danger of financial ruin.

It’s wrong in a country where we have so much money and so many resources that we would allow this to go on. If ever a thing were immoral, this is.

I’ve been in such a toot about this that I have contacted all the major Democratic presidential candidates to offer my services to help them sort out this health care nightmare. I have told them that I will get my Ph.D. in December and will be available—just in time!—in January.

Unaccountably, none of them have had their people get back to me.

Everybody must be at lunch.

Or on the phone. Arguing with their insurance companies.