Crit Group

Last night was the first meeting of the Eagle River (Alaska) Critique Group, which I’ll personally call Jitter’s Critters. We meet at a coffee shop called Jitters, and I don’t think any of my fellow writers are reading this, so I’ll continue to think of it as JC until somebody comes out with a better name than ER Critique Group.

Eight of us showed, and five of us are writing speculative fiction. Seven of us have already written a book length manuscript, tho one writes mysteries and another is working the great American novel of philosophy and naval gazing, uh, self-reflection. There is real hope in my heart.

I guess I started it, but my friend Mary has the more important role of secretary. She’ll probably run the thing until somebody else falls for her line of… I mean, until somebody interested in building their CV by running a functional writer’s group steps into the position.

This will be the first live crit group I’ve been in where the other writers are working at long fiction, and most are in my genre. I hope everybody finds value in this and comes back week after week, but I’d be satisfied if I could get four or five speculative fiction writers to bounce ideas off of, drink coffee with. I’m really hoping that this thing lasts, so worry that I’ll be the only one sitting at the table next Monday.


rolling rapture

If the world ends tonight at 6:00 PM, my family will be swept in the rapture.  We’re taking our pets with us and going on a long vacation, because that’s the way we’ll want it to be.

As happy as that thought might be, somehow I refrained from calling my boss an old meanie, or giving up my work-plans for Monday.  I’ve just got this gut feeling that the only people who will disappear this weekend are Harold Camping and his friends, who will need to figure out where their math went wrong – this time.

A medal for not dying?

I’ve promised, in several places at one time or another, to tell my story about the time the Army gave me a medal for not dying. It’s time to get on with it. On April 17th, 1985, I was flying my first mission as Pilot In Command (PIC), when I flew my entirely Visual Flight Rules (VFR) scout helicopter and nonflying Lieutenant Colonel passenger into the clouds. It happened in Germany, near Neurnberg, when I was a young warrant officer. I lived through the experience and landed at the American training base in Grafenwoehr with an undamaged aircraft.

In very compressed order, I was flying in a shallow but steep sided valley away from Grafenwoehr and toward Goeppingen, through an area with a forecast of patchy fog, but three kilometers of visibility. The banks of the valley grew increasingly foggy as we headed west, and near the Poppberg intersection the autobahn we were flying above suddenly started to disappear in front of me. I started a turn and entered thick clouds at fifty-knots indicated airspeed, a forty-five degree bank angle, fifty-feet above the ground. When he world went gray, I leveled out, pulled all the pitch I had power for, and climbed at max angle of climb airspeed (essentially the slowest speed you can go and still get maximum efficiency from the rotor system. If memory serves, that was about fifty knots indicated, and was a little slower than the Kiowa helicopter was fully stable. I was more interested in putting ridge-lines and hilltops beneath me than in flying smoothly at that moment.

I’d been having some difficulty with my VHF/aviation radio, and so I turned on my emergency transponder code, then continued to follow the inadvertent IMC procedure as set forth in the USAREUR Supplement I to the Army’s flight regulations. It never rains but it pours: I discovered that I could not communicate on any emergency frequency. (This communications failure was due to poor equipment. The aircraft was returned to Coleman Barracks for avionics work after return to home base) About 5 minutes later, I regained contact with Grafenwoehr tower on my tactical FM radio. Because I no longer trusted my radios. I continued on the “copter only” nondirectional beacon approach I had planned while flying without communication. After 35 minutes flying on instruments only, we broke out of the clouds on final approach into Grafenwoehr.

After landing, I forgot to drop my passenger at the VIP pad. He didn’t seem to mind. Later, he claimed not to have been aware that we had survived an emergency that day, and that the only indication he had of anything unusual was the altimeter needle going around and around during the climb. That is a polite fiction, as few colonels are accustomed to obeying orders snapped at them by overstressed WO1 pilots. Without the colonel’s calm support and professional manner, this young WO1 might not have landed safely that day. As it was, we both spent thirty-five minutes pretending everything was business as usual.

I had probably pushed too hard, but that was the job, and given the circumstances of visibility in that valley of twice what we required for single pilot operations, I’m not sure that anybody I knew would have backed down. I know that thirty army helicopters spent that night parked in fields across southern Germany, when the forecast patchy fog turned turned out to be overly optimistic.

Had I pushed too hard? European weather is often poor, and we become accustomed to flying at minimums. It is possible that I was simply overconfident and blundered into a fogbank. But the picture of that Autobahn fading away haunted me. It did not look as if I flew into the clouds. It seemed as if the fog suddenly closed in around me. I eventually wrote an article in Aviation Digest, the Army’s flight safety journal (September/October 1989), discussing what I think happened that caused me to fly into the fog. In a nutshell, the valley had wind blowing directly up it from lower altitudes, and I think that Venturi effect caused winds in that valley to keep the surrounding fog pushed up and away, and the local windspeed high enough to delay fog formation. Then the winds shifted by about ninety degrees, and a million tons of fog fell on the autobahn from the side of the valley. The visual effect was as if a curtain dropped on the path in front of me.

So, why did I get a medal? I can only theorize about that. The European Army aviation people were very interested in my story, and spent a few days digging around to see if I was a bad-boy. My boss at that time was an experience older Warrant Officer, and I’ve always suspected that he knew something major had to happen. The way of the Army is, if you do something unusual, you’re either a hero or a goat, and my boss decided I wasn’t a goat. He also knew that we worked directly for an Infantry unit, and were always at least a little suspect in their eyes. I suspect more to prevent a witch hunt than because he really thought I deserved it, my boss recommended me for an Air Medal. After a couple weeks of confusion, we got a call from headquarters telling us that they don’t give air medals for going into the clouds. This pleased me no end, because I wasn’t feeling heroic, I was feeling like a lucky survivor, and emotionally still felt that going into the clouds was entirely my fault. My unit compromised by giving me an Army Commendation Medal.

In later years I decided that, for my then level of expertise and knowledge, I’d done alright. I hadn’t been any dumber than any other WO1 pilot trying to prove himself, and a lot of other pilots got caught by that wrong forecast. Also, I did some research into inadvertent IMC in the Army, and discovered that, between 1 January 1980 and 5 April 1988, 38 reported rotary-wing aviation mishaps involved inadvertent IFR/IMC in forecast VFR conditions Ten of those were Class A mishaps, which meant back then that they either destroyed the aircraft or killed somebody (for those who were around, a class A either killed someone, or caused more than $100K. If you were flying a Huey or an OH-58, that meant you destroyed the plane. If you were flying an Apache attack helicopter, it meant that you accidentally shattered the NVS helmet hookup when you jumped out of the helicopter to take piss during a long training flight (Okay, I’ve done some odd stuff that led to good story. How do you tell somebody in a bar that you had a Class A incident because you forgot to unhook a cable with a sending unit from your helmet, jumped out of the helicopter to pee in the woods, and had the $100K sending unit shatter when it snapped off your helmet and slapped against the side of the helicopter? More to the point, how do you tell that one without just sounding goofy?)

Moments come back to haunt you, sometimes. Suppose I had been in a deeper valley when I started that turn and the world went gray?

Batshit Crazy, or The Odd Things People Want to Believe.

OK, the climatologist conspiracy theory is as batshit crazy as the one about Elvis and JFK languishing in a cell in area 51. To begin with, there would be more money available to resolve the controversy than there is to support a commonly accepted scenario. The problem is that only a very few real climatologists have found valid reason to disagree with the common theory that AGW is occurring. Anthony Watts has certainly found a way to turn the “controversy” to a profit. All he has to do is throw out smoke bombs and ignore all the evidence that makes his site look silly. Watts up with the climategate note that he leaves posted about Michael Mann being investigated by Penn State? Michael Mann was cleared when his numbers turned out to be valid, and his email scandal turned out to be a case of malicious misquoting. I’m not going to go on, because there are very intelligent people who want to swallow Watt’s tripe – but it’s still raw, green, and very old, tripe.

But it goes on. I recently spoke with a real live scientist who is convinced that Janet Reno and some ATF officers held the FBI at gunpoint while they allowed the Branch Davidian compound to burn to the ground, murdering 76 people. Think about this. Janet Reno was a political appointee who wasn’t well liked. Almost all law enforcement people are Republican, and have been for a while. What are the odds that a bunch of people who didn’t like an appointee would stand around and let her burn women and children alive, to cover up some supposed bad investigative work? They’d have happily thrown her to the ground and hand-cuffed her while they rescued those kids, then taken her off to file charges. That’s what people like that do when faced with criminal conspiracy. Further, It would have been a huge black-eye for the Democratic administration, and an equally huge coup for the justice community. More to the point, we’re talking about a really large group of people who’ve spent their lives pushing back the darkness. The suggestion that you could get a group of heroes like that to throw away their morals to please one horsefaced old political appointee just pisses me off.

Both of these situations, especially the Branch Davidian fiasco, were exhaustively investigated, and it turned out that people of good heart and conscience had acted correctly. Watts up with That?

Elvis’s cell in Area 51 next to JFK, Marilyn Monroe, or Paul the alien? Inquiring minds want to know.

I’m published…

In German. Still haven’t gotten a bite from an American publisher. Dirk Van Den Boom, my German translator and a small-press superstar, e-mailed me day before yesterday to say that Zookland is now in print. I’m a published author! Because I had promised myself that I’d thank the men who saved my life a few years ago, I let go of the opportunity to acknowledge the people who made this book possible (as opposed to the guys who made everything I do today possible). First and foremost, of course, is Dirk, who had so much faith in the book that he spent a year translating it, at his own risk., I got an advance (a very small advance), but Dirk doesn’t make a Euro until the publisher does. Now that’s faith.

Guido Latz agreed to publish an unknown American author based on a sample chapter and a bio (and, I suspect, Dirk’s good name). I truly hope that the decision pays off so that he’ll want me back!

Before either of those people got involved, Nicky Browne, Brian Pickrell, Gray Woodland, Julie Pascal, Morgaine Finch, David Mitchell, Mary Ann Stout, Ric Locke, David Freidman, David Goldfarb , Melanie Hosmun, Jeanine Berry, and Rick Roots, Stan Jones and the whole gang at Chugiak Writer’s guild, and two or three others read and commented at length on one or more versions of Seraglio/Zook Country. Some of you have read more than one version, both with and without dragons. I think that for Morgaine, there came a point when she was spending most of her leisure reading hours reading new versions of my book. There was also a large collection of commentators on rec.arts.sf.composition.

I’m going to keep a contributor’s list with the next manuscript, for equity’s sake. In the meantime, I owe all of you a great debt of gratitude. It’s a far, far better book because of you. There will be a next adventure for Jake and Gary — they’re already running down an underground corridor watching somebody else’s plan go to pieces around them.

Sarah, it’s time to come home

Please. Just move into your gated and reinforced compound, hide there for thirty years or so, and fade away. You’re just too damn polarizing to even consider as a public servant anymore. You’re beautiful, but you’re scary, and you’re too mean to take seriously anymore. Come home to Alaska. Hide. Please. For the good of the nation.

Air Rage: Short term memories, long term profits.

When I was a kid flying around the world in cabin class, I can remember climbing into a BOAC VC-10 and being appalled that the seats were so narrow. I don’t think that I’d be appalled by that today. I think that the US airlines picked up the habit of shrinking seats sometime in the last thirty years, and that the Airline Rage that everybody blames on rude passengers is largely what I’ll call caged rat syndrome. Put enough rats in a small enough box, they’ll go nuts and start eating each other. I think it can happen to people, as well.

When I was a kid, six-foot tall men could sit upright in passenger class on most US airliners without their knees pressing into the back of the seat in front of them. I’m lucky, I’m only 5’7″, and I still don’t have my knees pressed into the seat in front of me. But 6 feet isn’t an unruly height for an average European American, and six footers spend entire flights feeling their knee-caps being slowly misshapen by the seat in front of them.

My most recent several flights have been aboard the aircraft construction monopoly’s 737-800, and they’ve been very uncomfortable flights. The construction monopoly has solved the problem of passengers reclining their seats too far by the simple expedient of limiting that recline to about three or four inches. It isn’t quite far enough to allow me to lay my head back in the seat to take a nap. When I relax, my head lolls forward, so if I do get a nap, I wake up with a desperately stiff neck.

I’m reaching back into memory, since documentation isn’t hanging out in the internet, but my memory tells me that the average Boeing 747 that sold on the US market in the 1970s seated about 435 passengers. Today that same airframe seats at least a hundred more people. The airlines complain that Americans are suffering greater girth to height ratios than they did a couple generations ago, and that is no doubt true. But those airlines cleverly ignore the fact that they’re crowding more bodies into the same airframes and expecting us to be just as comfortable. Add ineffective hypersecurity at the gates, and extra charges for meals, luggage and movies that come in boxes for a relatively small percentage of passengers. Then add in the fact that the authorities blame the passengers for air rage, which means that a pissed off cabin attendant can pour a cold coke in somebody’s lap, then have the passenger escorted from the plane if he barks or airs a grievance.

Air rage may be unacceptable, dangerous to other passengers, and childish. Still, given the 100% full red-eye flights that I’ve taken the last several times I’ve flown out of Alaska, with short me suffering far less physical aggravation than most of the Alaskans on those planes, I have to suggest that Airline Rage is also absolutely predictable, unavoidable, and fully preventable.

On the Verge, Again

On the Verge, Again

I’ll start a new job later this month as a technical writer and editor for a federal government agency. I understand I’ll be editing technical and scientific reports, providing web-site content, possibly visiting Alaskan villages, and using desktop publishing tools to lay-out a very large periodic report for the Alaska branch of the Bureau.

I’m not at all sure I’ll have time to write the things I love.

By the other token, when I wrote my last completed book, I was working full time on my Masters degree, working part-time for money, and teaching two classes in order to learn that trade/stay occupied. It’s possible that I need to be overworked in order to be really productive as a writer.

I hope that is so.

I said goodbye to a very successful agent not long ago. He seems to like me, and he likes my writing, but he just doesn’t understand this whole business about zooks, ghasten, and the sort of people who will put their lives on the line to save the world, but won’t answer to a strong central authority. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked for a somewhat schizophrenic strong central authority for most of my professional life, lived with the idea that I have to follow orders without question, except for the illegal ones which I must recognize and refuse, supported bosses I didn’t trust, even when they were transparently about to get themselves fired and tar my reputation, worked cheek by jowl with the mysterious powers that be, even when it was painfully obvious that they were as warty and human as I am – but I have no trouble at all seeing that some types of people just can’t work within a controlling system, yet will still live and die to protect the civilization that puts food on the table and movies in the theaters.

The downside of losing an agent in today’s market is that my odds of successful mass market publication appear to go down significantly. The upside is that now I can write my next story without having to wade through a barrage of off-target criticism by a committee of agents who make it clear every time they put pen to paper that they just don’t understand the story and want to pigeonhole the author. I have to keep faith that eventually, I’ll find a U.S. agent that loves my stories, and not the unwritten ones in his head that mine remind him of. I’ll have to believe that, because my odds of being published through the services of an agency that was never going to actually market a story they wouldn’t understand, were actually nil. Odds can’t go down from zero.

In going to work for the Bureau, I’m most likely saying goodbye to a career in academia. I’ve enjoyed working in a university setting for the last several years far more than I ever thought I might. I’ve always been a campus junkie, always loved open lawns with kids throwing Frisbee between classes. Here in Alaska, that campus isn’t exactly a rolling garden, but a lot of people bring their dogs, who seem quite welcome, which for me is a great benefit. I’ll still teach the occasional class, I think. I seem to be a popular teacher, as long as I stay carefully in the adjunct professor box.

My family said goodbye to our last puppy this week. She’s happy in her new home in Canada, and I’m exceedingly pleased with how well she’s fitting in. Over the next several months, we’ll need to decide if we breed Danika the dog again, or look for a new female to breed Danika’s twenty-two month old son Sirocco with. Or, perhaps we’ll give up on the stress of selling rare breed dogs from Alaska. Letting a dog go after four months tears at the soul and leaves the children moping around the house.

I’m fifty this year. Looking back, it seems as though we’ve always been on the verge of something. I hope it really is the journey that’s important.

An Unholy Alliance: The insurance and litigation industries

A friend of mine recently commented that health insurance is a weird model for the insurance industry to follow, and I very much agree. His comment was a comparison between doctor visits and automotive maintenance, and the fact that you wouldn’t file an insurance claim for bringing your car in for scheduled maintenance.

My first response to that would be to note that some consumers can never afford general maintenance on their cars, so end up paying very big bills for things that wear out catastrophically, while other consumers either perform the maintenance, or pay somebody else to do so (I’m a chronic purchaser of maintenance), and don’t spend a lot on major maintenance. I think that the health insurance industry notices that it spends less on catastrophic care if customers get routine care. Since it is paid enough to support the risk of short term catastrophic care among the client base, any money saved by reducing cost of that care is money in the pocket. Simple economics, complicated by the uncomfortable fact that Blue Cross doesn’t really want to get out of the business of catastrophic care, because it’s a hugely profitable business – they want to get paid for covering and administering every catastrophic medical situation in the country.  My second response would be that my Toyota RAV4, no matter what damage has been done to it, isn’t going to cost $200K to fix. Repairing me is in an entirely different economic stratus.

The insurance industry as a whole has the risk of each medical transaction covered both ways, just like the neighborhood bookie (for those neighborhoods that have bookies. Mine doesn’t have a bookie – just an insurance broker). I pay an insurance company to cover my costs if I break my leg, or develop cancer; my doctor pays an insurance company to cover his costs if he either screws up my care, or if nature takes its course and I die, then some ambulance chaser convinces my wife in her grief that I shouldn’t have died; and I pay an insurance company to cover my costs if a moose wanders into my car on the road; the body shop which repairs my car pays an insurance company in case one of their guys forgets to replace a bolt, the bumper falls off, and takes out my exhaust system.

I’ve wanted to talk about the unholy alliance of the insurance industry and the Personal Injury lawsuit industry for some time. It’s become clear to me, though, that Insurance is an across-the-board contributor to escalating costs in virtually any market that it invades.

One secret that the insurance industry holds is pretty simple. Charge people a reasonable amount per year for whatever they want to be protected from, then, when disaster strikes, pay whatever the provider wants to charge. In a short time, years or decades, the provider will be charging far more for its service than a normal person can afford. THEN, everybody must buy insurance to use that service. Once providers are no longer subject to any market forces, it’s safe to crank up the premiums, because consumers can no longer pay for the service directly. I’m reasonably convinced that this isn’t done by any sort of conspiracy, but the insurance industry has a habit of destroying market forces.

Another secret: Lawyers add fun and profit to both sides of the insurance game. A friend got into a moderate to severe, no-fault, traffic accident. His major automotive insurance company was aware that he had military medical, so low-balled him on handling his care, as well as totaling his car out for about half the blue-book value. He paid a lawyer a few hundred dollars to draft a letter from a law office. The insurance company woke up. Lawyers had become involved, and they wanted to settle this amicably (read, for about thirteen thousand more than they would have paid my friend for the claim, otherwise). It’s awe inspiring the way purses open once the real blood-suckers have become involved. I say this not in disapproval, but in admiration. Once I get past the fact that J.Q public gets low-balled by default, by many major insurance companies, I admire the way they clean up their acts fast once they start to see shark-fins in the water. When it really becomes fun to read about is when the claim becomes large enough that both sides muscle up and get the lawyers aworkin’ the case.

A drunk carrying passengers runs a red-light in downtown Atlantic City, circa 1993. His car gets hit in the side by some commuter who has the nerve to actually go through a green light without stopping to look for crazy drunks in the middle of the afternoon. The uninsured drunk is effectively penniless, and his passengers have been injured (no fatalities.) A Personal Injury law-firm takes on the case, and starts looking for deep pockets, meanwhile sending the passengers, and the drunk, out to specialists to determine how much care will be required. Injuries, bad dreams, damage to goods. The PI firm (my wife was working for them at the time) settles on the municipality as the only available deep pockets. The city does a rough calculation, based on effectiveness of the particular PI firm, and various other factors, and settles the case for about $32K in cash, and rehab for the drunk. I say about because the final take was sealed, but that was about the amount the PI firm needed to take a third of in order to turn a profit, and they did turn a profit, but not a drinking champagne profit. The PI firm’s claim was that the light had turned red too quickly (yellow light too short in duration) and that the drunk wouldn’t have had time to stop if he’d been sober. The fact that the intersection didn’t generally produce an unusual amount of accidents just never weighed into the equation. The factor to consider was court cost to defend the city, verses immediate layout to make the case go away. It was cheaper to pay out than it would have been to spend a couple days in court while the PI company rolled out its display of expert witnesses and crying victims. That PI company had a very good record of success, so the municipality folded before a single witness was heard, or even a jury empanelled. I can’t say for sure, but the odds are pretty good that the fully insured driver of the other car got less recompense for the incident than did the drunk who jumped out in front of him.

At that time, NJ was the most litigious state in the country, so that sort of consideration probably came into play more often there than in other places, but the concept is pragmatic reality in modern litigation. But where does that leave me? As a member of the general public, I need to be insured against being hit by uninsured drivers, because that is a separate insurance from liability, wherein the other guy gets paid for accidents that are my fault, or comprehensive, where the insurance company will pay for my damage if I screw up. It’s that middle ground, where I’m not at fault, but somebody else is. Lots of insurance companies demand that I file the claim for those against the other driver, and if the other driver hasn’t got a  sou, I’m SOL unless I’m paying for that special “underinsured driver” rider. If I have got the uninsured driver rider, then my insurance company becomes one of the deep pockets in the litigation dance.

If I ever end up in the cross-hairs of a PI firm, I’m all in. A 30K finding against me would probably bankrupt me and put me into foreclosure anyway, so I’m gonna be loading up for bear (hiring a lawyer), and engaging in the fight – regardless who is at fault. Those legal fees mount up fast as all get-out, but if I can get the thing laid to rest in the opening movements, I’m better off paying a few thousand dollars for that service than if I try to handle it myself. As my friend from the no-fault accident learned, even the people on my side of the argument are more forthcoming if I prove to have a pet shark on call.

So, without really believing there is a conspiracy, I have to note that the insurance companies and the litigation industry prop each other up. Insurance always has deep pockets, PI litigators can always find somebody who’s either been hard done by, or is simply pitiable and will look good in court. It’s cheaper to pay off the litigant and his lawyer than it is to fight the case in court, and take a chance that the poor drunk of the people will fare better with a jury of his peers than will the insurance company with it’s three piece suits and expert witnesses.

Here’s a bit from the National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers:

Personal Injury Settlements

Settlements occur before, during or after any lawsuit is filed. Experienced personal injury lawyers almost always seek this course first as it the fastest and easiest way to reach an acceptable conclusion for both parties. Negotiations will take place between personal injury lawyers who will then present the proposed settlement terms to both parties.

Now, here’s a bit from Monohan Law Practice, showing that personal injury cases are way down:

Payouts in Personal Injury Cases are way down too. The median payout for all personal injury cases dropped 56% between 1992 and 2001. The median inflation adjusted payout in all personal injury cases dropped by 56.3% in those same years to $28,000, according to the Bush Administration’s own study.

Oops.  Lawsuits are “way down” and payouts are only $28K, at median. Actually, formally filed lawsuits are way down. My phone book is still chockablock with yellow pages adds for lawyers who’ll take PI cases on spec. They ain’t going broke. I have no way to determine how many PI/insurance settlements are reached each year, because Google isn’t playing nice on those two questions, but I’m betting that the numbers are real healthy. A 28K PI settlement would pretty much put me out of my house, but I guess I’ll have to live with that risk.

The thing to notice though, is that whether it’s an insurance payoff or liability law-suit, the amount of money that changes hands, even when the defendant is completely innocent, would generally bankrupt me. If PI lawyers only had people like me to go up against, they would go broke. But insurance companies settle even questionable cases out of hand for amounts that would bankrupt me, and consider it cost savings.

Health care reform – my second rant.

Health care is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to see, even when they’re generally happy to see elephants in the room. President Obama is probably a one term president because he insisted on recognizing that fact, and the odds are very good that the next administration will float in on promises to ignore that fact. They’ll promise to cancel the Obama health care plan, and to bring things back to status quo, and people will vote for them in droves, with nothing but vague assurances to look into the issue sometime in the future – just like 1993. But health care is so expensive now that it crushes median income families.

I just looked up a large sampling of health care plans available to private citizens in Alaska. As non-smokers, my family of four could plan on paying out a minimum of $6.000 per year, plus copays, with a family cap of about $50,000 out of pocket for medical care. Hey, that’s more money than my family makes! That’s right. If somebody in my family were to come down with cancer, I could look forward to spending more money than I make, on medical care, before my plan would take up the rest of my medical costs. Of course, I have to keep up payments on the plan, even during that medical emergency that might go on for a couple years.

That’s assuming that I could get that plan. Since I have hardware holding my back together, and have had high blood pressure and cholesterol since the accident that caused me to go bionic, a lot of those plans would either not let me join, or specifically exclude orthopedic and coronary care from my coverage.

So, if I didn’t already have a plan provided through my military retirement, the health care that I could afford would cost $6k per year, and I’d go bankrupt if anybody in my family suffered a catastrophic illness …

A better plan, which would have a lower deductible, and a much lower maximum payout for my family, would cost us $12,000 per year up front, and would still have substantial copays, deductibles, and individual care caps in the thousands per year. How many families of four in the Anchorage area can pay out $12,000 per year on medical insurance, plus an out of pocket limit of $4500? This is one of the best plans to have if you actually come down with a catastrophic illness, but my actual take home pay right now, from two jobs and my military retirement, comes out to … Well, let’s just say that $12K per year would bite right into the feeding the kids budget, even though we’re doing a lot better than several of the families in my neighborhood.

The median household income in Alaska for 2009 was supposedly $63,505 After a fashion, I accept that. I actually know a few people who make that amount or more. My family falls slightly below the median. 11.3% of Alaskans live below the poverty line, even though we have lower unemployment than most states. Supposedly, median family income describes that point where half of families earn more than that amount, and half of families earn less. But, I don’t actually know very many families who will acknowledge earning the median, and health insurance isn’t based on household income. If we were buying our own health care plan today, and my family were at the median, we’d be paying almost 19% of our total before tax income into our health care prepay. Dental care not included. Not including extra costs for my preexisting conditions.

I’d joke that only death, taxes, and health care costs are sure things, but I don’t have to pay $1 for health care. I can choose to die of my next major illness.

What is becoming increasingly clear, and increasingly true, is that only rich people get to have reliable health care plans. The status quo cost of medical care, before Obamacare, was taking up a larger percentage of our incomes every year, excluded a larger percentage of Americans from access every year, and grew faster than household income or any other aspect of the American cost of living. Returning to status quo will renew that cycle.