Friday, June 29, 2007


Grocery store cashier: Do you have a twin sister?

me: Huh?

cashier: It's not often that we get such beautiful customers... [observing my wedding band] ...and I see you're already taken.

me: Sorry, I'm an only child.

cashier: It was worth a shot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

You, too, will be assimilated

I have now lived amongst Bay Area Californians for two years and three weeks. I have striven so hard to maintain my small-town, East Coast sensibility in this land of "greener than thou," "size matters," and (my personal favorite) "I was first before you were first." And I'd thought I was doing a darn good job of it.

There is sort of an unspoken rule at BART stations that passengers should form the closest possible thing to a line while waiting for their trains. At the edge of the platform, black tiles mark where the doors of each car will (or ought) to be. Rarely is there a single-file line behind any of these tiles; two or three deep seems to be the norm. And, for the most part, the First Commandment of the Playground is observed--i.e., Thou shalt not butt in front of thy neighbor.

Owing to my bizarre work hours, the trains are hardly ever full when I head into work. If there's a Giants game, coming home is another story, although even then the problem is more the fine odor of the drunk fans than their multitude. But sometimes, especially weekend mornings, there are a lot of people trying to go to San Francisco all at once.

BART playbookSome people will still line up almost patiently at the edge of the platform. Others, however, will mill about aimlessly while waiting for the train--and then swoop in sideways once the train arrives, displacing the people in line. Often this results in glares, disgusted sighs, and not-so-subtle comments to traveling companions of "oh my God, what a bitch!"

Butters have always bothered me because of their blatant disregard for the social order of the line. Most of the time I don't care where I am in a line, as long as the line keeps moving and no one is stealing anyone else's place. But witness my evolution--or de-evolution--on this issue:

June, 2005. I'm at the head of the line while waiting for BART. Someone butts in front of me. "Jeez!" I think. "That person has no manners!"

June, 2007. I'm at the head of the line while waiting for BART. Someone butts in front of me. "WTF?" I think. "Can't he see I was here first?"

Locutus of BorgAs much as I hate to admit it, I've become Nobuttus of BART.

With only about half of my small-town circuitry remaining, I'm now part of the swarm.

Resistance is futile.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Inservice, part 2

I should preface this by admitting that I am a spelling champion. By this I mean I won the school spelling bee when I was in the fourth grade (and still have the trophy somewhere to prove it).

And now, with the aforegoing disclaimer: Please do not write "parody" when you mean "parity." For, honey, this makes my teeth hurt.

A parody pokes fun at something by imitating and exaggerating its style.

Parity, on the other hand, refers to identical coverage of mental and physical conditions under an individual's insurance policy. In my humble opinion, this ought to be more of a standard than it actually is.

Sometimes parity only applies to specific disorders, often referred to as serious mental illness (SMI) or biologically based mental illness (BBMI). Parity diagnoses may include major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and developmental disorders; as well as emotional disturbances in childhood.

Parody diagnoses, on the other hand, include Intermittent Hook-Up Disorder.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


If you've ever tried to do anything remotely related to health care of any sort in the United States, you've hopefully heard of HIPAA. (For the record, that's one P and two A's--as in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.)

The gist of HIPAA is that (except in very specific cases) personal health information cannot be released without consent. This is a good idea in theory. However, in practice, it can get messy. Even if you pay for the medical care for your 18-year-old daughter, her doctor is not permitted to tell you about her treatment without her consent.

Or let's say your husband, who has never been in therapy of any kind, attempts suicide, and he's admitted to the hospital. You (back at home) want to make sure the hospital has called your insurance company for prior authorization. Unless your husband has already signed a release of information with the insurance company--not a common thing for people to do prior to attempting suicide--you're out of luck.

(And let's not even talk of situations in which an adult is not able to give consent--for example, he or she is severely psychotic, drunk, or in a coma. Or when a non-custodial parent is required to provide health insurance as part of child support--in which case the custodial parent must do the consenting, and I don't want to be a fly on the wall for that kind of conversation.)

Like I said, HIPAA gets messy.

But listen well, for here comes my point:

You cannot assert HIPAA against yourself.

As your provider, I cannot release your personal health information to another provider without your consent (except, again, as permitted or required by law). But HIPAA does not apply if you haven't yet told me anything about yourself.

I kid you not--people have said to me, "You can't ask me to give you my own personal information. That's prohibited by HIPAA."

Um, no. Not quite.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The nanny state, redux

Add to the list of brilliant legislation being considered by the Golden State a bill which would require all pets to be spayed or neutered. If this becomes law (and it's already passed the state Assembly), mutt owners will be fined for not altering their pets, and owners of registered purebreds will be eligible for an exemption--for a price, of course.

Yes, this bill has good intentions. Overpopulation, abuse and neglect, and lack of appropriate housing are serious problems in these parts, and not just for H. sapiens. If everyone would just prevent their pets from breeding, maybe we wouldn't have such problems.

There oughta be a law, right?

Be careful what you wish for. In the words of Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale (Butte County):

"This is a prime example of why this Legislature becomes a laughingstock, when we want to reach into that personal aspect of peoples' lives telling them this is how you need to handle your animals' reproductive capacity. We ought to be tackling other issues."

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree with a California Republican.

Let's imagine that this bill becomes law, and it is fully enforced. As only registered purebreds will be allowed to keep their 'nads, after a certain number of generations the only animals available for sale or adoption will be either purebreds themselves (and thus allowed to reproduce) or a cross between two different breeds (and thus prohibited from reproducing). Mutts, lacking the necessary equipment to pass along their variegated legacies, would become artificially selected out of the population.

Hypothetical as this situation may be, it sounds an awful lot like a really scary thing that begins with an E and ends with a UGENICS.

I made a comment to this effect to Mrs. Gerbil this morning. She reminded me that just because a law is on the books doesn't mean that everyone is going to obey it. This is true. However, why bother to pass a law which you don't want everyone to follow? Why incorporate penalties (like a $500 fine), if not to deter lawbreaking?

I have a better idea. Instead of giving the state the power to determine who's worthy of breeding, why not fund sliding-scale (or even free) spay/neuter clinics? There's nothing inherently wrong with mutts that their owners shouldn't have a choice about whether to have them altered--just as there's nothing inherently wrong with purebreds.

And, if you think about it, mutts are pretty darn consistent with the (often over-hyped) Californian ideals of diversity and multiculturalism.

PS. For the record, our furry bundle of joy was spayed twice before we adopted her. The shelter mistook a post-op Josie for another calico and (somehow failing to notice her shaven, stitched-up underparts) opened her up again before realizing their error.

Friday, June 01, 2007

WTF International

Mrs. Gerbil and I were standing at a street corner in Union Square, waiting for the light to change, when a young man approached us. He was toting a black binder, the sort that activist street team members carry.

(I dread being approached by people with binders, for I do not sign petitions or fill out postcards or sign up for membership or anything of the sort. It doesn't matter what the cause is; it's just that such things require giving out one's mailing address, and I am extremely protective of our contact information. But back to our story...)

"Hi," he said. "How are you girls doing tonight?"

"Fine," I said.

"Where are you going?" he said.

"We're meeting some friends," I said. (Indeed, we were en route to a double date with R and her boyfriend.)

The young fellow did not say anything for a moment. Then he said, "Well, you could make a difference, but I guess you don't want to." And with that, he stormed off.

This, I swear, is the entirety of our conversation.

So, Mr. Binder-Toting Dude, if you are reading this: Let give you a little lesson in activism. Before you get all passive-aggressive at people who aren't interested in supporting your cause, you need to tell them what your cause is.