Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More About This Lutheran to Buddhist Thing. Part II.

(In which Jen hangs around with pagans, casts a few spells, makes a big mess, and possibly makes a cat immortal.)

You guys, my favorite restaurant,Afrah just won a pretty considerable contest--the Dallas Morning News's "Final Fork." After a citywide online poll, Afrah beat out the last restaurant standing 56% to 44%.  So if you haven't already booked your trip to the Metroplex for the sole purpose of eating at this restaurant, it's time. Let's go.  Let's go.  No pushing.  No shoving.  Plenty of shwawarma for everybody.

Where was I? Oh yes.  So after my foray into Christianity, I ended up in Texas hanging around with a group of pagans.  They were actually organized, sort of, into a church-like structure.  Nice folks, mostly, with a few glaring exceptions that I probably shouldn't talk about.  We hung around with them for a while, though, and finally left over a squabble as to whether or not people should be allowed to carry concealed weapons into the building.  (Texas has some interesting laws about firearms.  One of them says that firearms are fine-a-roo inside a church, unless the church decides to ban them.  So if the sermon gets overlong, you can--never mind.) Mind you, I never carried a concealed firearm in my life, unless you count sticking my car keys in my pocket (they could, after all, make nifty brass knuckles).  But the whole thing wasn't so much about firearms as it was about getting rid of one particular person who always carried concealed, and that was, well, kind of uncool for a body of supposedly religious folks.  Though not, as I learned later, uncommon at all.

After that I stumbled uponst a group of women, a coven of sorts I guess, that got together around eight times a year and did celebratory stuff.  It's telling that my first question, uponst being invited, was whether or not pants stayed on at this event.  (Answer: Yes.)  Good folks, good times, but deucedly weird.  And there was all the stuff to memorize, the lists of important days, and again the moon phases.  I can't for the life of me calculate moon phases.  If there isn't a calendar with little symbols on it for the full moon and the new moon, I'm completely clueless.  So I didn't make a very good pagan, all in all.  You gotta know what the moon is up to, and as far as I was concerned, the moon was up to what the moon's always been up to; circling the Earth, dodging space rocks and continually moving a little farther away.

And then there was the whole wacky notion of casting spells, which owes a lot to particle physics and is pretty hard to distinguish from prayer, in my opinion.  But, I did cast a few spells.  Here's how they turned out.

Spell:  That 5-year-old Caesar the Cat, who had just been diagnosed with cancer, might live a normal span of years and die of something else.
Success ratio: 100% successful. He's 15 now and may never die.

Spell: Asked Mars, the god of new jobs, for a new job.
Success ratio: 100% successful.  I got new jobs in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2014...

Spell: That nobody would burglarize our house.
Success ratio: 100% successful to date, although the fact that we don't have any flashy toys, like a boat or ATVs, and that our TV is 20 years old and doesn't have a game console hooked to it, might be more of an explanation.

Spell: That the new car would not get plowed into by anything.
Success ratio: 50% successful.  The car's been backed into and hit twice on the freeway. Still, no one got hurt, and the car repairs were pretty minor.  So it worked a little.

Spell: That I might learn to read Tarot cards effectively.
Success ratio: 100% successful, and I read Tarot cards so effectively that I scared the bejabbers out of myself and several other people.  The moral of the story here, kids, is don't ask questions to which you really don't want answers.

Anyway, I really didn't make a very good pagan.  That whole modern science thing kept getting in the way.  But then, that might have been my problem with Christianity, too.  Science. Any kind of religion requires faith, or belief in things that can't be proven.  Science, on the other hand, keeps proving things over and over again, including its own reason for its continued existence.  Furthermore, you don't have to believe in science for it to work.  It just does.

So it's kind of cool that there's some scientific proof that parts of Buddhism work.  Obviously not the part about all the arhats and bodhisattvas floating around in the sky granting favors and so on -- that came about as Buddhism, like Christianity, overlaid traditional religions and absorbed all their gods--but the part about meditating, which is a big part of Buddhism.  Scientists have tracked people who became regular meditators and found that within a month, their blood pressure went down, their heart rates stabilized, parts of their brains that they weren't using became active for the first time and they generally reported being happier, calmer and better-rested.  Furthermore, you can prove this to yourself.  Start meditating an hour a day.  By the end of the year you will be a different person, and your life will be unrecognizable from what it was before.  I also happen to know this because I tried it and it worked. Whatta concept.

So anyway, that was my foray into paganism.  Sorry it wasn't more exciting.  Paganism, like most things that sound deliriously naughty, is actually kind of mundane once you get to know it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mini-Post: Blocked by LifeSite News!!

You guys, I'm pleased to announce that I have been blocked by LifeSite News!!  This is a milestone in blog history; I don't think I've ever been blocked by anybody before.  Nor can I think of anything particular I might have done to piss them off lately, besides breathing. Imagine, a pro-life Buddhist blocked by a Christian anti-abortion site.  Oh, wait, it's probably that whole passing-laws-against-abortion-would-only-make-things-worse thing that I have.  Yeah, that must be it.

Being blocked by LifeSite News is sort of like being picketed by the Westboro Babtist Church:  You gotta do something really good to get their attention.  Here was the post I was going to make before I found out about my status as a blockee.

The Justina Pelletier case may be a rare opportunity for people from both sides of the political fence to come together to work for a good outcome.  I don't know anybody in my left-leaning wing who thinks that the state of Massachusetts was at all justified in seizing Justina.  If you locked up your child, ignored her when she said she was in pain and denied her medical treatment, you'd go to jail for child abuse.  The state of Massachusetts, on the other hand, keeps getting favorable court rulings.  This should horrify any feeling person.  I predict that there will soon be a "Justina's Law" to keep cases like this from happening again, and I hope both Republican and Democratic lawmakers will come together to make that happen.  

Pretty inflammatory, huh?  You can see why they blocked me.  Whoo hoo!!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More About This Lutheran to Buddhist Thing. Part 1.

You may be surprised to hear this, but most people don't wake up one morning, say, "Hey, I'm the wrong religion," and go out and join another one.  If you're going from one kind of Protestant church to another -- Methodist to Presbyterian, let us say -- it might be that easy, but usually there's a little more to it than that. For yours truly, anyway, there was a long period of being uncomfortable standing under that particular banner, followed by an even longer period of wandering around wondering which banner would be better.  And finally deciding that none of them were perfect, but that the people most like me, tended to be Buddhists.  Coincidence? Nah.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, which for Protestant Christianity generally, isn't a bad way to grow up at all.  Lutherans are pretty tolerant of people's differences (they're Scandinavian, natch) and don't get into a lot of discussions about literal translations of the Bible.  One Bible study I went to, we talked about space aliens for 45 minutes.  There were plenty of things about church I didn't like -- flat-out waste of a decent morning to sleep late, in my humble opinion, among other things -- but the philosophy wasn't the problem.  The problem was that I just couldn't swallow it all.  Jesus showed up 2000 years ago to take on the sin of the world and save everybody? Okay, that was cool.  Everybody since then is saved by the grace of God?  Not a problem. Be nice to people, help the poor, advocate for justice for the downtrodden?  Uh, isn't that what a Christian is supposed to do? But then we got to this business about none come to the Father but through me, and that was the piece of pot roast that just wouldn't go down.  

I mean, Jesus was cool.  Don't get me wrong.  I kinda like the guy.  But whether Jesus actually said it, or St. Paul (who never knew Jesus in the first place) just said that he said it, that whole "only this elite group of people, whoever they are, will make it into heaven" was a complete contradiction with the whole "God's grace" concept (see above). Look, either we're saved by the grace of God or we're not, and if we are, that applies to EVERYBODY.  Jew, Muslim, Hindu, guy on the other side of the planet who's lived in a rain forest all his life and has never met a missionary. No exceptions.  I mean, He's God, right?  He's either all-powerful and can save everybody, or He's nothing and doesn't exist. And if He's not gonna save everybody because of some arbitrary designation that human beings made up, then who needs Him? 

Frankly, the only reason I hung around with the Lutherans as long as I did was that the particular gang I hung with -- First Lutheran Church in San Diego, California--were such brilliant examples of the genre.  I mean they served meals to the homeless, had a doctor come in and treat the poor for free, an acupuncturist to help out folks who were in pain, a lawyer to help homeless vets get the benefits they were entitled to--oh, and they had this church over here, too, and if you wanted to come by on a Sunday, you'd hear some pretty good music and maybe learn something.  The church was almost beside the point; the main reason it existed was to cobble all these people together right in the middle of downtown San Diego, where, let's face it, they were desperately needed.

But there were cracks in the foundation.  Not at First Lutheran but in the Lutheran Church generally.  Gay people had always been welcome, and First Lutheran was a "reconciled in Christ" congregation, which meant they were super welcome, but there was a big kerfuffle in synod politics over whether gay people could be pastors (which was not unlike an earlier kerfuffle about whether women could be pastors.)  The uneasy compromise they came up with when I was still hanging around was that gay people could be pastors as long as they were celibate.  (Which was not unlike the earlier decision that women could be pastors if there weren't any male pastors available.)  Ironically, around this time the Fred Phelps group came and protested First Lutheran, calling us "fag lovers" for not chasing away gay people.  You're nobody until you've pissed off Fred Phelps, long may he rot.

And there was some other stuff. The big things were the God's grace thing and the gay pastors thing.  That was what finally suggested to me that I find another gang to hang around with.  But try extricating yourself from a church when you're one of the church ladies with the big breasts and the clipboard. (I admit it.) I mean I sang in the choir, I was on this committee and that committee, I was In Charge Of Stuff.  I had to move to Texas to finally get out of there.  Even if you know how to make paper flowers, they're probably not gonna insist you attend their church if you live 2,000 miles away.  

I didn't go directly from Lutheran to Buddhist, do not pass go or collect $200, though.  I tried being a pagan first.  Why not; all inclusive religion, no membership requirements (since they made it all up as they went along), invite any god you want to hang with you and oh, yeah, cast spells and stuff. Trouble with paganism is, though, that most of the people who practice it are pretty warped.  I expect they were that way before they started practicing, but still.  Besides, it's hard work.  There's stuff to read, things to memorize.  Homework.  Calculations.  Moon phases.  

Buddhism, on the other hand?  Do nothing.  Just sit there.  I could handle that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book o'the Decade: Savor, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung

I don't wanna talk about it.

Yeah, I know it's bad.  It's really bad.  Here's another article if you wanna read about what the state of Massachusetts just did to Justina Pelletier. And here's the court decision, which somebody leaked to the media (twas not I); juvenile court rulings are typically not available to the public, so go read it before it disappears. I think she'll be dead in six months, seeing as they won't get her medical treatment she clearly needs.  And I worry even more about her state of mind ("Hey, fifteen-year-old kid, guess what, you can't ever go home until you turn eighteen, if you make it that long.")  But I don't wanna talk about it.  Can't, really. I gotta let other people handle this one.  I'm not even supposed to be watching the news, much less following gut-wrenching custody battles.  My doc tells me there's nothing on the news that won't upset me, worry me or anger me and I don't need that degree of angst in my life, or, to put it more specifically, "Don't. Watch. The. News." Still, I'd probably wave him off if Thich Nhat Hanh didn't say the same thing.  

In fact I'm reading a Thich Nhat Hanh book right now, called Savor.  It's about "mindful eating."  You'd think just the eating of food wouldn't be a big deal, never mind a Buddhist concern, but it is, Blanche, it is.  The way we eat food in the modern world is completely messed up as far as what we actually need.  It's not only that everything is full of sugar, fat and salt (and I've been off sugar for a week now, so I can say that it's damned difficult to find foods that are less than 15g of sugar per serving and are therefore edible by Jen), but it's the way we eat stuff.  Like in the car, pouring it from a cup into our mouths without taking our eyes off the road.  Or at a buffet, scrambling to pack away as much food as possible so as to get our money's worth.  Not only have we lost track of the whole point of food, but we've lost our ability to--get this--enjoy eating.  Our ability to enjoy things is part of what makes us human, so I'm recommending Savor as my new Book o' the Decade, which will stand until I get another one.

And it's not just the eating of food that's a problem, it's the taking-in of all kinds of stuff.  A lot of what we read, hear about, decide to do and think about is toxic to us.  Ferexample, I've always been a big fan of horror movies, horror fiction, things generally scary. I think I read my first Stephen King book when I was about twelve. However, in the last couple of years, I've become very choosy about my horror fiction.  I only read/watch supernatural, ghost story type things, both Western and Asian (best possible example: Shutter, the original Hong Kong version.  Holy cow was that ever creepy--and when you get to the end you suddenly realize that you don't know if there was really a ghost there or not.  It might have all been his guilty conscience.  Seriously, see this movie.)  I don't do serial killer/slasher stuff anymore.  I don't do people being mean to other people.  The book Horns, by Big Steve's son Joe Hill, had a scene in it that upset me so much I talked about it in therapy (!).  And my therapist was a bit nonplussed; as he pointed out, if you read a lot of horror fiction, sooner or later you're going to find something that horrifies you.  Or, as we say outside the therapeutic world, "Well, duh."

So there's stuff you eat, and there's stuff you read, look at and hear about. Then there's the stuff you decide to do, and most important of all, the stuff you think about. (Or, to put it in Proper Buddhist Language, the Four Nutriments; edible food, sensory impressions, intention/volition and consciousness.) If you think about it (and did you know we humans are the only animals, as far as we know, that can think about thinking?), what you think about is everything.  The thoughts you have in your head make up your current mood, your beliefs about various issues, your ability to be there for your fellow human beings and the way you feel about yourself and other humans. 

If you spend much of the day thinking about what you need to do next, how you're going to get everything done, what might next go disastrously wrong and how to prevent it, and what to do if it goes wrong anyway, you're probably not going to be in a very good mood. What's more, you won't be there to do the things you are doing, never mind all the other stuff you have to do.  I mean, are you really there for your friends and family members? Or are you just squeezing them in between appointments? Do you actually spend time with them or do you spend the time you're with them worrying about how to get out of here in time to do the next thing?  This sort of stuff is out of control in our culture. We eat, listen to, read, think about and decide to do more toxic stuff than ever before in history, and it's not surprising that it might be affecting our health. 

I've had bronchitis for the past two weeks.  The doc never figured out if it was bacterial or viral, but it sure did hit me like a truck.  Besides all the cold-y symptoms, I couldn't effing breathe, which is sort of a problem if you, you know, want to do anything.  I missed two days of work, spent the entire weekend lying in bed resting, I haven't been to the pool for over a week and I'm still popping an array of exciting meds (including my least favorite, prednisone, which does horrible things to you but also helps you breathe when you can't).

Now, I caught the germ for this thing somewhere, but if you think about it, I'm coming off about a six-month period of walking around with a monkey on my back. This particular monkey had a gun to my head and kept saying, "Well, maybe I'll pull the trigger in December.  Or maybe in February.  Or maybe I won't pull it at all.  Or maybe..." I mean, you can learn to live with that, sort of. You can't be afraid of something at a high, insistent pitch full-time.  But that's a lot of stress to be under for a very long time, folks.  So it's not surprising, to me anyway, that I caught this thing. I was, as they say, ripe for it. 

Luckily, I am on the mend. I'm still hauling my nebulizer back and forth to work, but I think the day is coming when I won't have to do that anymore.  And I'm thinking about trying to go back to the pool on Friday or Saturday. One of the four nutriments ought to be chlorine, because I certainly don't feel well when I don't have enough of it in my system. Yes, I know it's toxic.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I'm Ba--ack...

I'm blaming everything on the fact that I've had bronchitis for a week.  Even all the stuff that didn't happen two weeks before I caught bronchitis.  Seriously, though, I have been very sick, just lying in bed and sleeping and not doing much trying to get this thing to go away. I've been to the doc three times.  Antibiotics, steroid shots, breathing treatments, oh my.  One night I was wheezing so much that Joan wanted to take me to the emergency room.  I haven't been in the pool for eight days and my chlorine content is dangerously low.

And there was all that other stuff, the starting the new job, the getting Obamacare, the sister coming to visit soon, the cat's little health crisis (well, it's not that much of a crisis, just that he keeps losing weight and we don't know why). And then came the hot dry winds from the west of Texas, which are enough like the Santa Anas in California that they threw me into the same funk. And thus begat the spring cold, which became the spring bronchitis.  The last time I was this sick, it was 2006 and I had pneumonia. Missed two weeks of work (!).  Luckily I worked for the Feds at the time, and they have pretty strict rules about firing people that seem not to apply to the rest o' the human race.  Not so now, and it's just that, you know, it's kinda embarrassing when you're in your third week of a new job and you have to call in sick two days.  My first job out of college, I ended up in the hospital (!) on my third day of work, with abscessed tonsils (don't ask, it was gross).  Missed two weeks there, too.  But I kept the job. Stayed there for four years, in fact. So I've been lucky, I guess.

I've also been lucky in that the world's as fucked up as ever, so it's not like I lack for source material here.  Now we've managed to lose an entire airliner. Yes, I know the Navy sometimes loses aircraft carriers, but that's usually just on paper.  Although, considering how big the world is and how small airplanes are, it's really kind of odd that this doesn't happen all the time.  Flying's pretty safe, you guys.  Speaking as a kid who rode around in a four-seater Piper Apache with Captain Dad at the wheel (yes, once in a while he let me drive), in which everything that could have gone wrong did and yet I'm still here, big airliners are really safe.  What's not so safe are cargo ships.  Did you know, that for every WEEK that goes by on this planet, we lose two cargo ships?  Two ships. A week.  Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now.  That's over 25,000 tons of freight, on average, just gone.  To say nothing of the crews, which I guess are considered expendable because most of them are from that other part of the world that we don't care much about and anyway, their skin isn't white.  But seriously. Two ships. A week.  If that were two airliners a week, do you think we'd be paying attention?

In other news, despite a bunch of State legislators jumping all over it and the Right To Life getting involved, Justina Pelletier is still in State custody in Massachusetts.  She's been very sick, has been to the ER twice in the last two weeks, and one commenter wondered if the State wasn't just waiting for her to die, since if she's still in custody then, the State can order no autopsy and say, "Oh, well, she died of pneumonia, too bad."  It's a grim but possible theory. A decision was expected last Monday.  Then Friday. Now Tuesday.  Boy, if I was waiting to hear if I got to go home with my parents I'd sure want the Judge to keep not issuing a ruling.  (Recap: She's 15. She's been in State custody for fourteen months. She's seen her parents less than once a week, hasn't seen her sisters or friends at all and spent most of that time on a locked psych ward with no cell phone, no Internet, no TV. So she couldn't communicate anything that was happening to her?  Or for her supposed personal safety?  Anyway, it all started when her parents disagreed with her doctors.)

Ironically, I think there are going to be changes in the law coming out of this case.  I'd like one of them to be that parents have the absolute right to choose medical care for their children absent obvious, malicious harm, that second opinions should be legally required if they're asked for, and that every hospital has to convene its ethics committee (they all have them, and you can ask for one) any time something like this happens, before anybody can call the authorities or make any final decisions about treatment. What's even more ironic is that while all these resources are being poured into this one case, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of children in Massachusetts who legitimately need to be separated from their abusive families as soon as possible.  But, as usual, there aren't enough beds in foster care, the evidence is sketchy, the social workers are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position and foster care isn't necessarily going to be any better, considering these statistics. Kids in foster care are almost always appointed a guardian by the Court, but either none of them are doing their jobs or the civil rights of their clients are simply not a priority.  I promise you, if you tried to put an adult in a psych ward for over a year, insurance would pull out, there'd be Federal lawsuits and Glenn Beck would even raise his voice.  Oh, wait, he did.  Never mind.

People, be nice to each other. It's been a rough week.  Signing off.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mini-Post: Justina Pelletier and Bret Bohn

You guys, it's working.

It took a while for the media to pick up on the case of Justina Pelletier, a 15-year-old girl who was removed from her parents' custody by the state of Massachusetts last year because her parents were found "unfit" to monitor her medical care and were also accused of "medical child abuse."  Justina then spent most of last year in a locked psychiatric ward.  People, you don't spend a year in a locked psychiatric ward.  It's expensive, for one thing, and it's only an appropriate placement for people who are actively suicidal (or homicidal).  Once you stabilize, they send you to what's called the "least restrictive" placement, which is usually a day program, or home. If you take an entire year to stabilize from either of those states of mind, you are being treated by incompetent idiots.  Or else they've decided to throw you away because you're too much trouble.

Either way, an appropriate setting for a 15-year-old girl who's very physically ill?  For a year? Um, kinda NOT. So a bunch of bloggers like me, and lots of people on Twitter and Facebook,started sending angry letters and e-mails and stirred up enough interest in the case that the Boston Globe and other major media entities (empires?) started covering it.  Lately some conservative Christian organizations have gotten involved because of what they see as the State trampling on parental rights to choose medical care.  (Yeah, not my favorite people, but they have a lot of pull, and they can get a lot of protesters to show up, make phone calls, send angry letters, etc.  As Swearingen from Deadwood would say, "I don't want to talk to these c*cksuckers, but you have to.") And letters were sent. Protests were mounted outside the courthouse on hearing days. A couple of Massachusetts state assemblypeople are sponsoring a "Free Justina" resolution.  Glenn Beck even raised his voice.   When the Judge, who had finally ordered Justina moved out of the psych ward and into a residential care center, then decided to place her in a foster care facility even farther away from her home in Connecticut, protesters showed up at the new facility, waving signs and making noise.  And the facility, much to its credit, panicked and said it wouldn't take her.  Which is what I mean by "You guys, it's working."

Well.  Today, in its first official statement on the case, the state of Massachusetts announced that it is actively working to transfer Justina back to the state of Connecticut, and that the hospital of Justina's parents' choice, Tufts University Medical Center, will be in charge of her medical care from here on. Justina's not home yet, but I think we can take a victory lap anyway.  Because this is good stuff.  She's out of the psych ward, closer to home and there's some hope that she'll end up home full time, and soon.  So thanks, everybody who sent a letter or an outraged email or made a phone call or sent ten bucks to Justina's parents or even posted about it on Twitter or Facebook.  That's what it seems to take to fix problems like this.  Noise. Lots of it.

But too much noise can be a bad thing, so I hesitate to suggest lots of noise every time something like this happens.  (And, um, it happens a lot more than you'd like to think.)  So for a story I'm kind of on the fence about, let's go up to the great state of Alaska, where another kid--though he's 27, which by definition would make him a fully autonomous adult--is in a similar situation.  Bret Bohn, a hunter and mountain guide for other hunters, was taken to the hospital after suffering insomnia for over a week.  At the hospital, his condition deteriorated and he became delirious.  This is where things get interesting.  His parents have durable power of attorney over his medical care.  At the point where he became unable to make his own decisions, the hospital should have abided by their wishes, which were, among other things, that they cease treating him with high-test antipsychotics and come up with a diagnosis before they messed with his brain.  Instead the hospital tosses them out, says they're a danger to his survival, calls Adult Protective Services and has the "kid" declared a ward of the state. The parents haven't been able to see him for months.  Nobody knows how he's doing, though we can probably assume he's still alive.

A fifteen-year-old girl who might be a victim of child abuse, you can sort of see why the state might intervene, but a grown man and a professional mountain guide?  A graduate from the U. of Alaska's Aviation and Technology Program? And the hospital thinks his parents are trying to kill him?  This is just a weird story. I'd love to see some more noise, but I think we need some more FACTS first.  Why is this "kid" still in the hospital, if it's not his choice to remain there?  If it is, is he the one who doesn't want to see his parents, or did someone else make that call?  It's generally illegal to medicate a person without his consent.  If he's not consenting, who is, and why? Get on this, my friends in the frozen North.  I can only do so much with Google, ya know. However, this has me concerned:  “I think one of the takeaways is, this can really happen to anyone and people’s rights are regularly ignored when this sort of thing happens,” Jim Gottstein, a lawyer with the psychiatric rights law project Psych Rights, said. ”It’s kind of like their rights are ignored legally, like when the U.S. stole the land from the Indians fair and square."

Ouch. Seriously, Alaska: What's going on up there?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The ACAs of Obamacare

During the whole national hoo ha about whether or not poor people, sick people, young people and unemployed people should be able to buy health insurance, I was firmly on the side of the poor, sick, young and unemployed, but in an abstract kind of way. It didn't really apply to me. ( It didn't apply to President Obama, either, as he has a doctor following him around 24/7.)  I got insurance from my employer, had for a long time, couldn't imagine getting it any other way and certainly couldn't imagine buying it on the open market, a concept more foreign than e-bay.

Well, guess what. I'm buying insurance on the open market.  I went to the library yesterday, where a trained facilitator walked me through the Web site, (Dallas Public Library, every Tuesday, 1-5.)  There are a dizzying array of options, but we found one that's very similar to what I have now.  It's a "silver" plan with a $3500 deductible, which is more than I'd like. But, if you're me, it's pay now or pay later.  I can see my Regular Doc for $20, my specialist for $55 (which is going to suck if I go through another crisis like I did six months ago, but let's just assume that's not going to happen) and generic prescription drugs, which are by far the biggest expense component of my whole health care mess, are only $4. Or maybe free.  I can't recall.  I have to go back to the Web site and stare at it some more.

Should you be one of those about to make the leap into buying insurance on the open market, please be aware that they HAVE TO SELL IT TO YOU.  They can't not let you buy it.  This is important; in the not so distant past, you had to be young, healthy, not pregnant, not afflicted with a chronic condition of any kind, and in other words not likely to cost the insurance company any money whatsoever before they would cover you.  This is no longer true.  So anybody can get on the Web site and look for insurance coverage.  Please note that it's really not as easy as that; you have to sign up for an account first, and have your identity verified (which was a bit creepy; how did you guys know I worked for the County of San Diego in the 1990s?) That took about 15 minutes.  Please also note that your state may have its own Web site that's different than the Federal web site mentioned above.  But if it doesn't, you're in good company.  About 34 states, including Texas, are referring people to the Federal site.

Some other stuff you might want to know: It helps to know what you made last year, and it really helps if you've already filed your taxes because they'll just go get that information when calculating your eligibility for subsidies.  If you're buying coverage for more than one person, have the other person's Social Security number handy.  But you don't need a whole lot more information. You don't need to have your health history handy, or your doctors' names, or a list of medications you've taken.  This Web site isn't as easy as buying something on e-bay, but it's nowhere near as complicated as, say, filing your taxes online.  In about 25 minutes, we found a plan I was comfortable with. There were other, cheaper plans, but I wanted to stay with Blue Cross if possible and I wanted a PPO, not an HMO, so as to be able to keep the doctors I currently have.  That was not a problem. Blue Cross had a number of available plans.  Some of them in the "gold" range were really nice, but again, pay now or pay later.  Am trying to balance that out as much as possible.

I should add, this is all new to me.  I have left jobs before, and I always went straight onto COBRA to continue my health insurance.  Well, this coverage beats COBRA by about $100 a month, which is not surprising actually; COBRA costs more to the consumer than it does to the company that was paying for it in the first place. (I did not know that until yesterday.)  Still, three times now I've gone onto COBRA.  Leave job, go on COBRA. Leave job, go on COBRA. So not going on COBRA - signing that piece of paper rejecting COBRA and putting it in the mail--felt like walking off a cliff.

Still, we live in a brave new world.  Something I wrote about and argued in favor of and got in people's faces about is now available to, of all persons, me.  God helps those who helps themselves, or something like that.  So, back to finding a job.  If you know anybody who needs a good paralegal, tell them I'm available.