Page count in the age of Obamacare

Some years ago, I prepared a computer programming book for a demanding IT manager. The manager insisted that the book must not exceed 500 pages. For an entire weekend I toiled over the electronic copy, squeezing, tweaking, compressing, rearranging – using every trick that I knew of to get that book cut down to a size that my client would accept. When I left the office late on Sunday afternoon, I was frustrated and exhausted, but I had managed to hammer the animal into what I had hoped would be an acceptable 502 pages. On Monday, the manager came to work early and had already performed his review before I arrived. I found the draft manuscript on my desk with a yellow sticky note attached: “This is looking great! Cut 3 more pages and ship.” That is how much of a stickler he was about page count.

As a technical writer I think a lot about page count, usually in the context of “are there too many”. Overly written technical documentation is often as useless to an end user as inadequate or erroneous documentation. Over explain a topic and valuable information may be lost in text. Under explain a topic and the product user may not be able to perform his or her task. In either case, poorly written documentation will always result in the inaccurate depiction of a product, a product that might in all other ways be perfectly wonderful. In extreme cases, erroneous technical documentation has contributed to the injury, or even death of a user (a technical writer’s absolute worst nightmare).

Unfortunately, clear, concise, tightly written, documentation is not the province of legal and legislative documents, which tend to suppose an audience comprised primarily of ivory tower law professors, and the occasional political science PhD. Perhaps used as a tool to control the masses by the educated few, legislative documents are always a chore to read – especially by we laypeople to whom the phrase, ‘passing the bar’, means missing the entrance to O’Grady’s Pub.

All of which brings me to the subject of the Affordable Care Act, or if you prefer, Obamacare. The number of pages in this famed document has been bantered about for the past two years, by the network talking heads, radio talk show hosts (and their callers), in the halls of Congress, and on the Presidential campaign trail. Once purported to exceed 20,000 pages, or a stack of paper 7 feet tall, the document today is nowhere close to that size, but it is still a hefty piece of work. And why not. It covers a lot of ground.

But the frantic hand wringing over the size of the Affordable Care Act document is, I believe, somewhat exaggerated. The point of such hand wringing being:

A.  The document is so long that it is probably filled with all kinds of legal double-speak that is designed to bamboozle us into thinking that it is something that it isn’t, and…

B. Who the  hell could ever slosh through that many pages, and…

C. Short and simple always trumps long and complex. When it comes down to what is good for the common man or woman on the street, Dr. Seuss is always better than Marcel Proust…right? Or so it seems.

Curious as to the size of the Affordable Healthcare Act document, I went looking for it, and I found it quickly. A quick Google search followed by two mouse clicks was all that was required to call up this important piece of legislation that is impacting us all. For your convenience, I shall post a link to the document here.

Officially known as Public Law 111-148, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is available to anyone with a computer, and I urge everyone (well, at least those of us here in the U.S. where the crap is really hitting the fan right now), to bookmark the document and peruse parts of it at your leisure.

Should you be endowed with an endless supply of printer ink, paper, and time, the printed version of the Affordable Care Act will run a printer-over-heating, 906 pages. A big document to be sure, but far short of a 2000 page document that one hears mentioned on TV and radio all the time, and not even close to the 20,000 page behemoth it was touted to be a year and a half ago.

Over the past several days, I have made several visits to the online version of the Affordable Healthcare Act document. No, I have not read it all, not even close. But I do have two initial impressions that I will pass on here.

First, it would not be impossible to read this thing in its entirety, and I assure you that it has been read by many. The legalese language makes for a difficult slosh, but it could be done. Comprehension of the material it contains is another matter, but I feel I might have a better chance with this document than perhaps the U.S. tax code document which I understand exceeds 13,000 pages.

Second, understanding the contents of this document is not as exceedingly difficult as we have been led to believe, and some parts are downright interesting.

So, if your copy of Infinite Jest, or Atlas Shrugged is waiting for you on your nightstand, and you are planning on starting one of these doorstop tomes this evening so as to be able to remove them from your extreme-reading list, I urge you to lay such copies aside for a few days so that you may focus on the Affordable Healthcare Act document. There is no time like now.

In so doing you will not only become a more informed consumer (and voter), but you will come away with a feeling of great accomplishment.

In any case, think of how you will feel at the next cocktail party, or backyard Bar-B-Q when that loudmouth from Purchasing denounces the Obamacare legislation as being overly complex, and put together at the behest of a far-left, Nazi, Communist, Moslem, President who cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he is a U.S. citizen…yes that President. You will want to say something, but don’t…not yet…wait for it. Wait until he gets to the part where he asks with that smug look on his face, “well…have YOU read it?”

At which time you may step boldly forth, perhaps quoting from section  6114, titled: “National demonstration projects on culture change and use of information technology in nursing homes.”

Then you may watch his jaw drop…

Tight lines…

–Ed

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Boots on the ground

A cranky old friend of mine told me the other day, that the older he became, the more certain phrases annoyed him. He told me that one expression that he was tired of, was the overused expression, “back in the day”.

“That expression really rankles me,” he said.

“That expression rankles you?” I said fumbling through my mental dictionary for a definition of ‘rankles’.

“Yeah,” he went on, “like back in WHAT day. Why can’t people just say something like, you know, in 1967 we didn’t have any frigging internet so we had to get all of our news from Walter Cronkite on the black and white Philco at 7PM sharp! There…saying something like that should make you sound old, and curmudgeonly enough, without saying, back in the day all we had was Walter f___ing Cronkite to tell us what was going on in the world!”

This somewhat bizarre exchange occurred in the break room at the office where I work, and I took a quick step backward as my crotchety coworker brushed past me to thrust his dry Florida Panther’s mug beneath the water cooler spigot. Never get between a hard-core hockey fan and a water cooler.

I walked away shaking my head, hoping that a cool mug of Zephyrhills would return my friend’s blood pressure to at least the high side of normal, and planning a blog-post about the small annoyances that we humans choose to clutter up our lives. Such annoyances cause us to waste precious time on this planet, which could be better spent on more productive pursuits. I was planning on kind of a Zen blog about how we are all killing ourselves by focusing on the minutiae – the trivial. Then I heard President Obama (a President that I have voted for twice by the way), say the following, right there on my old Philco (okay, my 42 inch flat screen), regarding proposed and almost certainly upcoming military action in Syria:

“We’re not considering any open commitment. We’re not considering a boots on the ground approach.”

And there it was: “boots on the ground”. I was suddenly rankled. Since rankled is not a word that one uses, or even sees every day, I shall post the definition here:

to continue to cause keen irritation or bitter resentment within the mind; fester; be painful.

That describes my feeling toward “boots on the ground”, a catch phrase which, of course, refers to launching a real, full-fledged, military operation on foreign soil by sending in soldiers (who usually wear boots), and usually indicates that we, as a Nation, are ready to make a long-term commitment to a country or region, based upon real, though often fabricated evidence. Evidence that is more times than not spoon fed through the media to the general public. In order to keep the boots off of the ground we often instead, launch an air strike.  An airborne attack has the advantage of inflicting massive damage  (shock and awe), while making certain that NO boots touch the ground – supposedly.

Boots on WHAT ground, I always want to say when I hear that tired expression circa. 2002. We have boots on the ground in the desert outside of Las Vegas launching drone attacks in Afghanistan, while we have had boots on the ground for the past decade in the desert in Iraq – fighting in a war that was started on some very shaky, if not downright underhanded pretenses.

So don’t get my meaning wrong  here. I am not saying that there is never a time for “boots on the ground”, and I certainly mean no disrespect to those wearing the boots (anyone who reads my work knows that I am committed to the cause of better treatment for our veterans), but I fear that this Syrian mess is not one of those times, or so it seems to me, and unless I have been inhaling too much Florida swamp gas, it will soon prove itself to be just that.

bootsThis is a debacle in sheep’s clothing and I hope that we discover that before the first boots hit the ground.

Mahalo,

–Ed

All in the family

This summer, the Emmy Award winning daytime drama (soap opera) General Hospital has been airing a subplot in which young Michael Corinthos Jr. (played by Chad Duell),  the son of local mob boss Sonny Corinthos, falls in love with his half-brother’s girlfriend, Kiki Jerome (played by Kristen Alderson). In typical soap fashion, happiness and joy will not last long for these two young lovers. Michael and Kiki’s romance soon sours when it is discovered that they are, in fact, first cousins.

Since I seem to recall that real life mob-boss, Carlo Gambino, was married to his first cousin, I wondered why in fictitious Port Charles, New York, such a taboo existed. If such a relationship didn’t stop the Boss of Bosses from achieving matrimonial bliss with a not-too-distant relative, then why should it short circuit young Michael and Kiki’s plans? I mean, there are lots of other notable first cousin unions, notably Edgar Allan Poe who married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, H.G. Wells who married cousin Isabelle, and Jesse James (the frontier outlaw, not the biker-reality-tv-star), who married first cousin Zerelda Mimms.

The list of cousin couplings goes on and on, and includes none other than Albert Einstein who married first cousin Elsa and of course, Jerry Lee Lewis who married first cousin, once removed, Myra Gayle Brown. Perhaps the most fascinating union, to me anyway, is the that of Charles Darwin who married first cousin Emma Wedgewood. Darwin it seems, was not too keen on the idea of marriage to anyone, and apparently weighed his options carefully before finally taking a walk down the aisle back in 1839. The Darwins went on to have ten children, three of which died in infancy. His other children went on to live out perfectly normal lives with three being knighted by Queen Victoria.

With a little further research into the topic of first cousin marriage, I was able to unearth the fact that while first cousin unions are allowed in 26 of our 50 U.S. states (some with restrictions), such marriages are legal in all European nations, Canada and Mexico. Here in the U.S., about 1 in every 1000 marriages is a first cousin marriage, while in Japan the ration is about 4 in every 1000.

These figures become more shocking when one considers that by some estimates, 80 percent of all marriages throughout history have been cousin marriages! And more shocking yet when one considers that all of us on planet earth are no more distantly related than 50th cousins.

So that’s it. We are just one big, largely dysfunctional family, here on this rock riding around the sun. I will remember that the next time someone – a stranger – cuts me off, rips me off, or in some other way pisses me off. I shall do my best to remember that he/she is just a wayward relative behaving badly, like Cousin Jake who has a way of offending nearly everyone at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, but gets invited back year after year because – he’s family.

I am thinking of family now, as I hear the war drums pounding, way off in the distance. Members of this human family are at it again, killing other family members in very inhumane ways in a country halfway around the world. Here in the U.S. political leaders seem to be trying their best to rally support for an attack – an attack on something, or someone. Support for an attack is slow to gather among the populace. A poll in today’s Washington Post indicates that six in ten Americans want no part of another military action in the Middle East – probably because we have been lied to about the reasons for past military interventions.

We can  hope that this one isn’t another in a long line.

 

Mahalo,

-Ed

Thoughts on Government surveillance

“If this government ever became a tyranny … the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government … is within the reach of the government to know.” – Senator Frank Church

If you are not wondering what the hell is going on with our government these days, or what the hell the government is doing to us, or where the hell all of this is going to lead, then you haven’t been paying attention. But make no mistake about it, this Big Brother, Big Government, Snoop/Spying/Prying into our lives started a long time before a 29 year old Booz Allen Hamilton hacker copied off a stack of his employer’s classified documents and flew west, leaving both his clandestine job and glamorous girlfriend in the jet vapors.

Citizens are now blogging, commenting, tweeting, and using all forms of media to express their shock and disdain for the apparent intrusion of the United States government into their personal lives. The scandal rages. Techie type analysts scramble to educate the masses about the nuances of government eavesdropping, hoping that perhaps a better understanding of ‘metadata’ will help assuage the concerns of The Public. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the aforementioned hacker, remains ensconced in a luxury Hong Kong hotel room, sitting high atop his stack of stolen documents as he lashes out at  the Obama Administration for its failings:

“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge…”

So how could such a condition come about? What of those great ‘checks and balances’ that we learned about in our tenth grade American Government classes? Aren’t those supposed to save us from tyranny? Or, perhaps it was the Bush Administration that set us upon this road to Orwellian doom.

Perhaps a good place to begin to understand our recent condition is by reading “The Puzzle Palace”, by James Bamford, an amazingly insightful and well researched book about the National Security Agency (NSA). This book takes the reader inside the NSA’s Ft. Meade, Maryland facility and documents in detail, the NSA’s intrusive, albeit effective, role in monitoring, if not influencing, international events, including the Iran-Contra affair, the downing of KAL flight 007 over the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Soviets, and the first Gulf War. It is important to note that this book was published in 1983.

Have our God-given rights been taken from us, in one fell swoop. Did the erosion start with a Republican President riding a nationwide ‘save-us-at-all-costs’ attitude that came about as a result of  the worst terrorist attack on our soil in history? Were those same policies given a wink and a nod by our current POTUS?

I think that the march of the government into our personal lives has not happened suddenly. It is just that are many more opportunities today for governmental abuse of power. In 1983, the internet was, for the average citizen, non-existent. Today we have cellular phones that revel our whereabouts, Facebook pages that record the minutia of our daily lives, and Linkedin pages that document business associates, and organizations. Mysterious magnetic strips on credit cards, and driver’s licenses, hold facts about us that sometimes even spouses do not know about. Our medical histories, where we spend our money, and where we travel to from the assumed anonymity of our computers, is all meticulously recorded and available for tracking should the ends justify the means.

This did not happen overnight. Many of us have remained silent for decades, not taking the opportunity to lash out when we could. Perhaps requiring urine testing as a condition of employment for even the most low-level, non-governmental position, was an intrusion we could have stopped had the outrage been great enough. But as a friend of mine smugly told me after submitting to such a test in order to get a relatively mundane clerical position, “I have nothing to hide. They can test me all they want.”

Meanwhile, in a report that I read today, Mr. Snowden still remains in hiding in his Hong Kong hotel, doing what he believes to be right and waiting for the fallout. Interesting, in a brief description of his days in hiding, it is reported that when he logs into his laptop, he does so under a hood, so as not to give the prying eyes of the NSA the opportunity to discern his password. And so the paranoia shall grow.

Mahalo

–Ed

Brief encounter with Donald Trump on the Garden State Parkway…

I have never rubbed shoulders with celebs, or the rich and famous, and often when I see their pictures in the tabloids, I have to say that I would not know them if they walked into my house.

Two exceptions stand out: David Spade and Donald Trump.

David Spade is unique.  I spotted him immediately getting off of the elevator at the Super Bowl in Miami in 2010. Right away, you say “hey, that’s David Spade”.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, that’s who he is.

The other guy I could pick out of any lineup is Donald Trump.

My wife and I came face to face with Trump back in the early 90’s. In case anyone forgets, Donald Trump, was in deep financial trouble. His casinos were in bankruptcy, and he was in the middle of a messy divorce from his wife Ivana. He was living with Marla Maples, and the courts had limited him to a 300K per month budget.

Around that time, my wife and I visited his Atlantic City casino for the weekend. I don’t recall a lot about the weekend, but I do recall the Sunday morning that we left town.

We’d gone down to retrieve our car from the valet lot, and had handed over our claim ticket to the attendant. We waited for a minute or so, then a phone rang on the valet podium and we were suddenly forgotten and one of the valet attendants said to the other:

“Marla just called…he’s on his way down.”

My wife and I looked at each other. No way, we said. It can’t be “That Marla.”

An instant later, and I do mean an instant, a black Lexus with black windows slid to the curb, and in an almost perfectly choreographed move, an attendant opened the driver’s door, and a second later, Donald Trump, as if on queue, emerged from the hotel, still buttoning his jacket and dove into the driver’s seat and in a peel of rubber raced toward the parking garage exit.

Our car came up next.

“Let’s follow him,” said my wife.

“Follow him?” I said.

“Yes, let’s follow him,” she said, “it’s Donald Trump, I want to at least wave to the guy.”

So we did. Follow him that is. Actually, we were chasing him.

We almost lost him on the crowded streets of AC, but somehow we managed to catch up with him and we hung with him until he hit the Garden State Parkway. Once on the GSP, Donald dropped the hammer and I remember watching the black Lexus pull steadily away from us on the flat plains of South Jersey, dropping easily over a small rise in the Parkway, and when we reached the crest of the rise, we thought he’d be long gone…Donald Trump…but there he was…still within reach, travelling fast but still within our grasp.

“The guy’s gotta be going a hundred,” I remember saying to my wife.

“No, not a hundred,” she said.

Then I told her I was doing damn near ninety five and he was pulling away.

Then we lost him. He was gone…gone like a drunk’s last twenty in one of his casinos, and we forgot all about Donald Trump until we got stuck in traffic as we approached the Raritan Toll Plaza. My wife spotted him first, creeping along in traffic like the rest of us, just to toss his quarter in the basket…one of the great equalizers, toll plazas. We hurried to get alongside, and finally we caught up with him.

Side by side at the toll booths, our car was adjacent to Trump’s. We held our quarter for a half second waiting…then it happened…the blackened window in the Lexus dropped and my wife cranked down the window of our car, and for a moment we were face to face. It was definitely him, the hair – the pursed lips, Donald Trump himself, and our eyes met. My wife lifted an empty plastic quarter bucket that we’d brought home as a souvenir from Trump’s Casino and pointed at it. Trump (of course) didn’t crack a smile…how could he. I saw his hand dart out of the open window and a quarter hit the basket, and we did the same.

We pulled away from the toll plaza. When I glanced to my right, the black window of the Lexus was raised, the man inside obscured. Then we were neck and neck…our Toyota and Trump’s Lexus, and we both hit the gas and we pulled away from the Raritan Toll Plaza under full power. A few seconds after, we split company, my wife and I heading for western New Jersey, and the black Lexus disappearing into the early evening twilight bearing down hard at full speed upon Manhattan.

So that is my one and only encounter with Donald Trump.

Since then, I have followed his career only marginally. Although I confess to watching the Apprentice television series for awhile, I rarely have given him serious thought. But his recent relentless insistence that Barak Obama is not a citizen of the United States is beyond bizarre. Think what you might of Obama, the theory that he isn’t a U.S. citizen has been debunked so many times that only the truly half-baked are clinging to the idea that the President was born in Kenya. But that doesn’t keep Trump from ‘trumpeting’ myth after lie from his very high bully pulpit.

Me, I will always remember him as the guy we chased up the Garden State Parkway,  ultimately to witness  the great Trump sitting in traffic to pay a twenty five cent toll, just like all the rest of us.