My Blog

Whatever rings Mel's bells

Songwriter’s block

I blog when I can’t write a song
‘Cause the words are all coming out wrong
The rhythm and rhyme
All end up out of time
And the meter in one line always seems to end up way too long for the rest of it, but I can’t seem to cut it shorter because I really want to say what’s already in there, you know? And I can never find a good way to restate it more concisely while retaining the meaning I tried to get at in the first place. So it really screws up the whole intent and the – um… Yeah.

Putting out fires at work

Usually when I use that phrase, I’m referring to urgent problems that I have to solve quickly.  Yesterday… not so much.

Yup!  Real fire!

Not a big one, mind you, but still, fire.  Open flame in a place where no open flame belongs.

Brent and I were pulling string into conduits in the north grade level, and Dave was up on a scaffold with Kim, showing her how to cad weld.  He decides to shield everything below from sparks – but he chooses to use a piece of cardboard.  I’d say that was his first mistake, but actually it was his second.  See, Kim was supposed to be his fire watch.  Which means she should have been down below him where the sparks would fall – and (incidentally) where the fire extinguisher was.

So the flammable-object-as-fire-protection was actually his second mistake.  It lit, of course, so he put it out.  Sort of…

Yup!  Third mistake was not making sure it was completely extinguished, which he compounded by then dropping the cardboard off the scaffold.  Needless to say, it flared back up and next thing you know, there’s flaming cardboard landing a foot away from me.

It was easily fixed, of course.  Grab cardboard (by non-burning end), stomp on cardboard, double check that it’s really out.  Problem solved.

But still, it was the talk of the crew for the rest of the day.  And probably will be when I get in today, as well!

Pin ceremony

Tonight I’m at a union meeting, in particular what promises to be a very long union meeting.  They’re never precisely short, but tonight promises to take a little more of my time than usual, because they are awarding service pins to the folks who have been around for a while.

Half a dozen names were read for gentlemen who have been in the union for 65 years.  65 YEARS, people!!  These guys have been working members of the Brotherhood for 30 years longer than I’ve been alive!  It’s kind of crazy, in fact, for me to consider what these folks have seen over the years.  The changes in the industry, in the area, in the world as a whole…  It’s mind-boggling.

It makes me wonder what I’ll see when I’ve been around as long as they have.  It makes me wonder about the things that will change over the years, and how.  It makes me wonder what I’ll see, and how I’ll change as the years pass.

The first 30 years of service had only men, and there have only been a handful of people of color so far; it makes me wonder if those numbers were similar last year, or will be again next year.  As I look around at work and at school, I think they’re probably close.  Most of the folks in the hall are white males.  How much of that is due to like attracting like, how much to active discrimination, and how much to lack of interest on the part of minorities around here?

I guess I’m the reflective type; always thinking and wondering and deducting.  Trying to figure things out.  Attempting to make sense of things, despite the fact that they often don’t.  Glutton for punishment?  Perhaps.

All I know is that sitting here tonight, I feel like I’m part of something greater; something that will be here for the rest of my life; something that I can invest in and that will, in time, pay back strong dividends based on my investment.  It’s an organization that builds the community, that drives the economy, and that raises the bar for worker treatment and for the industry as a whole.

I’m proud to be a union member.  I can’t wait to be up there myself, getting a 65 year pin.  You know, if I live that long!

Taking a break

Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is around the corner, and I’m at home.  Why is that?  Because I got laid off.  :-(  Good news is, it’s temporary.  Being a member of the IBEW (da UNION), and especially being an apprentice, I’ll get sent back to work within a couple weeks any time I get laid off.  And in this case, I’ll be back at the same site by Christmas because as soon as the last concrete pour is ready they’ll need me (and several other people) back again.

This leaves me with a couple weeks of having extra time on my hands.  What am I doing with it?  EVERYTHING.  I’m catching up on sleep, housework, paperwork, correspondence…  And also I’m creating for the first time in months!  It feels GREAT by the way.  My schedule has been so ridiculous (13 hours gone every day for work and commute) and I’ve been so far behind for so long.  I’m not happy with the financial picture this is painting, but I definitely need the break.

All in all, it’s good timing.  Now I’ll have time to make Christmas gifts as planned.  :-D  And I’ll try to update this a few times while I’m not so frantically busy!

No NaNo

Not this year.  Nope, I’m skipping NaNoWriMo this year.  I turned in my ML card and threw in the towel.

It feels strange, but not bad.  I mean, it turns out that noveling is just not my thing.  And that’s good information to know – that it’s not my strength.  I learned a lot about myself from trying NaNo 3 years in a row, and I’m glad I did it.  But I’m not gonna do it again.

Instead, watch for FAWM – February is Album Writing Month!  Yep, the shortest month of 2014 will spawn enough material for an album.  (Not that I expect it all to be good enough to publish!)  The goal is to write 14 songs in 28 days.  I did it this year and I got 9, which falls short of the goal but is 9 more songs that I would have otherwise.  And it gets me writing, even collaborating with other writers!  So it’s really a great thing.  Like NaNo, there are no prizes, and their website connects you with other songwriters all over the world.  I haven’t been writing much lately, but I have been collecting ideas to work on in Feb.  In fact, I’m having to remind myself that I’m allowed to write the other 11 months too, not just save everything up for Feb!  LOL

So when that rolls around, I may (if I’m feeling bold) share a link or two here for you to enjoy.

Or maybe not.

Time to be moving on

I have some unpleasant news folks; due to some recent policy changes, I’m going to shut down my Etsy shop.  A few days ago I got an email sent out by the CEO of Etsy discussing these new “clarified” policies, and frankly I was appalled.  Etsy bills itself as a marketplace for handmade goods, but over the past years the “handmade” section has been taken over by mass producers pretending to be crafters.  By checking sites like CraftCount that track the top sellers, this becomes obvious.  The top several sellers are from Far East countries well known for large numbers of sweatshops, and with average daily sales in the hundreds for each of these shops it’s obvious these aren’t individual sellers.

Well, as of January 1st, the rules allow these sellers to hire employees, use fulfillment services, and even involve outside manufacturers – as long as they’ve designed the product.  By redefining the term “handmade” to include work that CLEARLY is not handmade, it puts the nail in the coffin of small, indie sellers like myself who not only design but also create all our own goods with our own hands.

So I’m leaving.  This is not a decision I’m making lightly; I’ve spent nearly five years on Etsy.  This change will affect every aspect of my business.  But I can’t compete with that demographic and I don’t want to.  That’s why I went to Etsy in the first place – because I want to be part of a community of small sellers like myself.

To make a long story short, I’ve started migrating my listings over to as of this week.  To where, you say?  I know, I hadn’t heard of them before either.  But they have the potential to compete very strongly with Etsy in time.  The costs are lower to start up, they actively police listings and flag (and even remove!) shops that are out of compliance, and they have a firm reputation for fast and personal responses.

I hope you’ll come visit me at my new web home which will be (slowly) filling up with all the same goodies from my Etsy site, as well as a bunch of new stuff you haven’t even seen yet!  Thanks for all your support, as always.  I’m trusting that this change, though frustrating for me, will lead me to a better community that I’ll truly fit into.

Why health care is so expensive in America

Why hello blogosphere, it’s been some time.  Sorry to have neglected you so, I’ve been trying to survive and all that.  But I’m at home sick today and have thus had a little time to internet (yes I used it as a verb) and OF COURSE posted something political that caused a friend to respond which caused me to want to respond back which led me to learn more about the subject with all the copious spare time I had this afternoon.  (That would be a couple of hours.)  So.  Here is the product of said interneting (Mommmmmm, she did it again!) and I hope not only that you will enjoy it but that you will in fact respond.  Because as it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) the end is a great big question mark.

With no further ado, I present “Several Reasons Why Health Care is So Expensive in America.”


1.  We’re living longer.

Not only do you pay for the statins that delay your heart attack, and the angioplasty that deals with it when it does happen, but then you also pay for the cancer and the knee replacement and the Alzheimer’s that you wouldn’t have lived long enough to get in an earlier age.  None of these treatments existed in the past; you often got ineffective care and then died.  D’oh!  Modern medicine can do wonderful, nearly magical things – gene therapies, transplants, and more – which simply didn’t exist twenty or fifty or a hundred (or two!) years ago.  So of course with more options for treatment available, there’s more spending going on.  And the older we get, the more spending goes on per person.

What do we do about it?  Well nothing directly – living longer is a good thing!  We don’t want to stop that, it’s the entire point of medicine, right?  But we wouldn’t get some of those diseases if we lived better (ate healthy food and stayed active) in the first place.  Unfortunately overcoming this will take a herculean effort to change the entire food system – a system that has convinced people that just because a company’s food isn’t fried, it must be healthy.  (I’m looking at you and your processed meats, Subway.  Eat fresh, my ass.)  So even an indirect solution seems unlikely in the immediate future.  Incremental improvement?  Possible.  But self-driven for the most part, and therefore entirely unpredictable IMHO.


2.  Medical administration is inherently inefficient.

Self-insured companies pay a percentage of their fees, not a flat rate, to the companies that process their employees’ claims.  Just as in any other cost-plus system (like NASA) this leads to the generation of artificial costs that do nothing but drive up costs and therefore profit.  Who cares if you’re spending twice the payroll to administer costs, if you’re getting paid three times what it actually costs you?  Cutting your payroll at that point will actually cut your profit, because if your costs go down so does your pay!

That’s right, the more they spend, the more they waste, and the more they ultimately make.  Ain’t nobody gonna change that from the inside.  Efficiency expert, thy name is Mudd.


3.  We pretend that we have a free market, but we really don’t.

A free market presupposes that the buyer is able to make judicious and rational decisions based on the costs and benefits of various options.  By balancing the cost you’re paying with the benefit you get, you can choose the product that’s right for you.  Seems legit.  But wait, when was the last time you were told the cost of a medical procedure before you decided to have it done?  When was the last time you found out how much of that particular procedure your insurer would cover?  The doctor tells us, “You need this done,” and we generally say, “Okay.”  Some few people ask, “Is that expensive?  Is there a less costly – or less invasive – option?” but these folks are few and far between.  And in most cases, the doctor’s office doesn’t even know how much the procedure is going to cost.

Try it.  Next time you go to the doctor, ask him or her point-blank how much the procedure is going to cost you out of pocket.  Ask the desk attendant how much the visit will cost you before you go in.  If you have an insurer that they work with a great deal, they’ll probably give you a number for the visit itself, but they’ll qualify it.  “It should be around $XXX or so.”  Don’t want to be too sure and end up wrong, do we?  If you want anything more than that, they’re likely going to say they don’t know, and heaven help you if you have an insurance they aren’t familiar with.  If you’re lucky the staff is very friendly and will be willing to do some research for you to find out, and hopefully you’ll get an answer in a few days.  You know, after you already spent the money.

Why are we so eager to write blank checks for our medical care?  Maybe because this is a place the free market *shouldn’t* rule?  Maybe because our medical decisions are too fraught with emotional impact to make logical decisions and live by caveat emptor?  Maybe because it’s ridiculous to think a patient’s family can make sensible financial decisions and negotiate prices when their parent is dying of cancer, or their child is injured in an accident, or their wife has an emergency in the middle of labor?  Hmm…


4.  We get care we don’t really need.

By “we” I mean people with excellent medical coverage who have doctors more concerned with malpractice suits than patient care; doctors who order tests that are unnecessarily expensive, or effectively duplicate results, so that they can “prove” that they did their very best by the patient.  How about you spend more time with the patient instead?  How about you more carefully review their personal history for possible causal factors?  How about you “doc up” and tell them that they’re sick because they eat terribly and don’t exercise?  (No, they’d probably find another doctor who sugarcoats them lies.  ”It’s not your fault, you have a glandular problem.”  For every person who really does have a genuine problem in that area – and there are plenty – I have no doubt that there are three who use it as an excuse.)  Nope, the only thing that impresses some people is dollar signs.  And with all the medical advertising that goes on (“Ask your doctor if XXXX is right for you!”) and the kickbacks doctors are getting from the drug companies (Notice those branded pens around your doctor’s office?  They don’t appear magically, you know!) I guarantee the care you get is strongly influenced by factors OTHER than your best interest as an individual.

I won’t even get into the fallout from false positives and rabbit-track diagnostic distractions, but they add significantly to the problem as well.


5.  We don’t get the care we do need.

In this case “we” refers to people with substandard or no medical coverage; people for whom a visit to the doctor for a minor sickness or injury gets put off because of the high cost, leading to a more severe, or even chronic health issue.  Head cold turns into pneumonia; puncture wound goes septic; etc.  When people have to decide between paying the power bill and going to the doctor, or between eating and going to the doctor (which is a rising problem among seniors), they buy another bottle of aspirin every time.  Then, when they finally get desperate enough to seek medical care, they end up in the ER – and after filling out financial aid forms they learn that they still owe several thousand dollars.  (See #3 above.)


6.  We pay more for procedures than anyone else does.

I don’t even have anything more to say about this; just check out the link and see what I mean.


So what do we have then?  A system where the people with no coverage get no care, where people with average coverage get too little care, and where people with good coverage get too much care that often is of the wrong kind and costs too much anyway.  The extra costs generated in the system are magnified by the inefficiencies inherent, and we are treated as children rather than informed consumers able to make our own decisions.  In fact, we’re indoctrinated to not make our own medical decisions by the mystery that shrouds the entire profession!  “Well are YOU a medical professional?  Then why are you telling me which procedure is better for you?  Trust me, I’m a doctor!”

The system is broken.  It’s really, really broken, busted beyond repair as far as I’m concerned.  The Affordable Care Act does seem to be having an impact as of February, but IMHO it’s too little too late.  If we wanted to fix the real problem, we’d have to overhaul every level of it from top to bottom and rework the way every bit of it is done.  From “Ambulatory Surgical Centers” that step people up from office procedures by telling them it’s cheaper than a hospital stay, to those stupid commercials with lists of side effects that sound worse than the condition being treated, everything would have to change.  Complete overhaul of a multi-billion – oh, I’m sorry, did I say billion?  I meant TRILLION – dollar economic juggernaut?  I don’t think so.

Not to mention the fear-mongering.  Oh yes, any proposed change gets branded as BAD FOR US.  Terrible, in fact, and to be avoided at all costs.  Death panels!  Socialized medicine!  Waiting lines!  Malpractice!  God help us if anything changes – and by “us” I mean the corporations whose controlling officers paid over 5 billion dollars to lobby Congress between 1998 and 2010.  By comparison, THE DEFENSE LOBBY spent less than a third of that during the same time period.  How on earth do we dislodge an industry that makes so much money, and that has us so thoroughly under their thumb?


That wasn’t a rhetorical question.

Happy birthday, apprentice!

I got the most wickedly awesome birthday present today – a new career!

Last fall I got into the electrical trade, applying for an apprenticeship as an Inside Wireman and getting a  job as a low-voltage Sound & Communications Installer.  The installer job wasn’t meant to last forever, just till I got into my apprenticeship.  However, that can take a really long time – six months or even several years if you don’t get in the first time.  So I was just happy to be working at all, let alone in my chosen field.

Guess what?  I got into the program on my first try!  And today I went to my employer’s office and got dispatched out to my FIRST SITE AS AN APPRENTICE.  And it’s my birthday.  How about them apples?!?  Kiss it, retail, I told you I’m never coming back!

Gotta say, things got pretty hairy last fall, and I was worried I’d have to go back to the hateful retail world.  But I got the install job, and now I’m taking the first step on the five-year path to my Journeyman ticket.


Election Night Message

I’ve kept (mostly) quiet about my political preferences this year.  Not because I’m ashamed, and not because I don’t want to discuss them or the issues at hand.

The reason I haven’t put them out there is that most of the people who do want to (I shall put this politely) “engage me in discussion” on political matters are actually only interested in two things: 1. beating other people over the head with their beliefs, and 2. hearing the sound of their own voices.

I have a handful of friends who I’m sure would have loved to actually discuss these matters rationally and calmly, with respect and appreciation for each other’s views, and with an openness of heart that would allow the possibility that not only could I be wrong, but they just might be wrong themselves.  These are unfortunately not generally the people who respond to my Facebook posts on religion, politics, or any other subject that might possibly engender disagreement.  The people who generally respond to such posts do so with personal insults against me or the person I support, ignorant statements that demonstrate a complete unwillingness to find the truth, thinly veiled talking points regurgitated straight from the source without any personal analysis, and lousy jokes on the level of, “That’s what SHE said!”

In short, I keep quiet ’cause I don’t want to feed the trolls.

That said, I do have something to say to those who supported Governor Romney this election season, and I figured I’d go ahead and say it.  In fact, this specifically goes out to the angry and frightened people, some few of whom are now expecting Armageddon to descend upon all of our heads in the form of hordes of undocumented illegal immigrants and flaming, tutu-wearing, glittery ‘mos who will steal their guns in the middle of the night and force their daughters to have abortions.  (Most of you are not that extreme, but some of you – please admit it to yourself if not to me – are actually afraid of the next four years.)

Okay, I’ll allow that you’re worried.  In fact, if you feel that your candidate was the best choice for the country, and the guy who won does not have the right answers, and therefore you are concerned with where the country is headed, then I actually applaud you.  People who think that way are concerned with the state of our nation because they want to see America succeed.  They want to not only be proud of our past, and proud of many things we have done and are doing, but to also be proud of our present.  They want to stand up and say, “We’re doing things right.  We have our shit together.  We take care of ourselves and each other, and we make this world a better place.”

Guess what?  I am 100% with you on that.  I want America to be a great and powerful and strong and well-run country too!  I want our citizens to be healthy and have the opportunity to succeed too!  I want a nation that is both safe and respected around the world too!

We won’t always agree on how that can happen or what we need to do to improve things.  We may not even agree on what “improved” means!  But I want you to know that, just like you, I want a strong and safe and healthy and successful America.  I also think that we have a great foundation and we do a lot of things right.  And I also think that we face a lot of challenges because we do a lot of other things wrong.  So we should be able to sit together over a drink or some coffee or a meal and talk about it like civilized humans.

Now let’s deal with this fear issue.  In 2004 I was afraid that Bush would be re-elected.  I didn’t like what he’d done with his first four years (I voted for him the first time!) and I was really worried about what a second term would do to the country.  Well, we found out.  It screwed us up, big time.  It left us with a huge national debt and no way to get out of it, bad blood with other nations, regulations that are friendly to corporate entities and the richest of the rich, and policies that drain the average worker of their life’s blood.

I don’t like these parts of our nation.  I don’t like the callous way our poorest and neediest people are treated.  I don’t like the way money can buy you damned near anything while the have-nots suffer indignity and privation.  I don’t like the way our elections go to the people who spend the most or the way our ballots themselves aren’t protected at the most basic levels.  (I’m looking at you, states with unverified electronic machines, and at you, Wisconsin that doesn’t let the military have their absentee ballots in time.)  I don’t like the attacks on women’s rights or the way a certain religious tradition has (since the ’50s) been legitimized.

Several of my friends and family members have talked about leaving the country if Obama lost.  Several different friends are now talking about moving because he won.

Don’t run away, people!  Stay here and work to make the country a better place!

Don’t like the way your Congresscritter voted?  By god, pick up the phone!  Take two minutes of your life and tell them why you thought they should have voted differently.  Or better yet, call them before they vote and tell them the following:  ”As your constituent, I expect you to represent me.  I expect myself and my fellow constituents to be your highest priority and your most important so-called interest group.  I expect you to do what is right for the people of this district.  And I expect you to vote for/against this issue.  I and my neighbors are watching you, and we’re watching who contributes to your campaign, and we’re going to know if you throw us under the bus in favor of deep pockets.  We’re watching.”

Yes, people, I am telling you to get involved.  Once a month, sit down and look up a pet project or cause or idea.  Are you from a military background?  Do you ride a motorcycle?  Do you have kids?  Are you worried about the number of homeless you see on the streets?  Did you hear about a methadone clinic going in down the street from your favorite store?  What is on your mind?  What is bothering you today?

Look it up.  The entire internet lays before you – LOOK IT UP!!  Find two articles that support your position and two that oppose it.  Read all four of them.  Think about them.  If they spark any questions, look those up too.  Get yourself some answers.  And then – you guessed it – make that call!  Call your Congresscritter, call the President, call the Mayor, call your City Councilperson, call your County Commissioner, call the Governor.  Call whomever is in a position to do something about the problem – and tell them you want them to do something about the problem!

Or you can write a letter.

Or you can send an email.

Or you can show up on their doorstep (perhaps on Lobby Day with a bunch of your like-minded friends?) and tell them to their face.

Or you can wait till they do a town hall meeting in your area and tell them to their face then.

Are you catching on to my theme?  Find some issue that pushes your buttons, learn about it, and do something!  Voting is an important part of our civic duty, but if all we ever do is vote and then bitch about the results, we are not doing enough.

We.  Can.  Do.  More.

Please, don’t be afraid of what the next four years may bring.  Don’t focus on getting away from America, don’t focus on what might go wrong or what might happen later.  Focus on what’s happening now.  Focus on what you can fight for, or fight against, or change.

Six years ago, when the REAL ID Act was being discussed, I was able to go to Olympia for a Lobby Day.  I was able to meet with Rep. Eickmeyer and sit in his office discussing the bill with him.  We talked in particular about the technology used and the security problems it poses.  I will always remember the satisfaction I felt when I was able to teach him more than he already knew about it, and I will always be proud that I influenced his vote by talking to him that day.  That’s right, my visit changed the way my representative voted.  It’s an incredible feeling.  It’s powerful, and it’s humbling at the same time.  Because you feel like you’re part of the process, part of something bigger.  You start to own your government.  You don’t feel so much that the government owns you.

That’s a feeling every American should have.  In my personal opinion, the apathy and low voter turnout and acceptance of crappy results or poorly written legislation and its unintended consequences and all of that garbage would disappear if we got involved in the process.

So write a frikkin letter already!  Make a bloody phone call!  If you’re upset by the result, now is not the time to grab a beer and bitch with your friends about how bad it’s going to get.  Now is not the time to go to church and pray for the country to miraculously be saved.  Now is not the time to put all your life savings into gold bars and hide them in your custom bomb shelter with forty years’ worth of canned foods and bottled water.

Now is the time to roll up your sleeves and go talk to the people in power.  Now is the time for you, my Joe the Plumber Republican friends who work for everything you have and worry about the future your children will inherit, to step up and get involved.  Now is the time for you to tell your elected officials that you are paying attention to them.   Now is the time to learn more about the people on the other side of the aisle, to figure out what they want, and to push forward in those areas where your interests coincide.

Now is the time to make a better America.

Because people, we are all being played against each other.  And those who sit on the sidelines are exacerbating the problem, letting the people who pull the strings keep doing what they do.  So get on the field and start playing the game.

The return of NaNoWriMo

That’s right, it’s time again for thirty days of literary insanity!  This year’s project will be titled “Ferry Tales” and it will follow The Redhead through her regular ferry commute between Bremerton and Seattle.  Quite a reach, don’t you think?  ;-)

One of the things I’ve decided to try this year is that I’m not going to name any of my characters.  The protagonist is The Redhead.  On her morning commute she sits near Woman With a Million Stories and the Voyeuristic Grandmother who eggs her on.  She will get hit on at some point by a Tall Biker With a Mustache.  You get the idea!

Hopefully by removing my need to invent backstories and names the action will flow a little better.  And since most of my characters like to sit on their rumps and talk too much rather than getting things done (gee I can’t see why they would!) this tactic might play to my strengths as a writer and make the month easier to get through.  I hope.

So forgive me if I don’t post much (or at all) for the next month.  I’ll probably be so tired of writing that I start getting the urge to throw Ubu across the room.  Or not…  But maybe!  At any rate, the third try is supposed to be the charm, and I’m hoping to win again this year.  Wish me luck; we start in about two hours and fifteen minutes!