Friday, December 24, 2010

Arizonacare and a Cry in the Wilderness

I don't read a whole lot of Sarah Palin's writings. But I was just looking at this one. What mainly caught my eye was this passage:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

We do have government healthcare already, of course, and lots of it. We have the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), through which private insurers deliver health benefits to federal employees and retirees under contracts with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). We have the military's TRICARE system. We have a network of government-run VA hospitals. We have the Medicare system for the elderly and we have Medicaid for low-income people, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that insures children of families with incomes that are low, but too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Medicaid is funded partly by the states and partly by the federal government. The states administer their respective programs and decide what services will be offered and who will be eligible for those services. Medicaid services are offered under various names. In Arizona, the Medicaid program is called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS, pronounced "access"). From what I have read, AHCCCS is considered to be one of the more generous incarnations of Medicaid.

The reason I've been reading up a little on government healthcare in general and AHCCCS in particular is because of a radio program I listened to a couple of days ago. The program discussed how Arizona is cutting back on AHCCCS as part of a more general budget-cutting effort. Specifically, the Arizona legislature voted in March to rescind approval of certain kinds of organ transplants. The bill in question was signed into law by governor Jan Brewer and took effect in October. The legislature and the governor supposedly based their decision on scientific data indicating that the specific transplant types in question are ineffective (a justification that has been rejected by the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS)). Eliminating AHCCCS coverage of the transplants in question will save an estimated $4.5 million, or about 0.3% of the projected $1.5 billion deficit.

This unfortunately comes at the expense of 98 Arizonans whose organ transplants had been approved by AHCCCS, but have now been cancelled under the terms of the legislation. The aforementioned radio program spent a large part of its hour looking at the plight of one of those people, a guy named Randy Shepherd. At 36, Randy has a wife, a young daughter and a case of cardiomyopathy that has been slowly destroying his heart muscle since he was a teenager, for which reason he was (formerly) approved by AHCCCS for a heart transplant. Randy is an AHCCCS recipient because his inability to work means he has no income, and due to restrictions on pre-existing conditions, it's apparently the only insurance he could get anyway. 

The Arizona legislature is controlled by Republicans (40 of 60 seats in the House, 21 of 30 seats in the Senate). All Democrats in both the House and Senate voted against the bill that cut the transplant funding (HB 2010). All but two Senate Republicans and one House Republican voted for the bill (details here). Republican Governor Brewer signed it into law. While I'm at it, I might as well also note that both US senators and five of eight US representatives from Arizona are Republicans. Not unlike Sarah Palin. The one who warned us about "death panels". The one who predicted that "government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost." The one who asked, "And who will suffer the most when they ration care?" and answered, "The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course." The one who asserted, "Such a system is downright evil." Welcome to Arizona, Sarah.

How's that dyin' of heart failure thing workin' out for ya?

While I'm at it, I might as well mention that one of those Republican US senators from Arizona is John Kyl. You may be aware (as reported here, for example) that Kyl recently complained about Senate majority leader Reid keeping the Senate in session so close to Christmas to debate the New START treaty by saying this was "disrespecting… one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate, not just the senators themselves but all of the staff". I could spin this tangent a little further by noting that by this logic, we should probably close all hospitals, police stations and fire departments on two days out of every year. But I really just wanted to observe this as one more example of how quick conservative Republicans always seem to be to play the "Christian nation" card when it suits them. Yet I don't see that card being played as the Arizona state government moves to resolve a tiny fraction of its budget problem by withdrawing life-saving treatment from 98 Arizonans. I would think that committed Christians would at some point have stumbled across Matthew 25:31-46 and would want to act accordingly; my mistake.

The Democrats are killing Christmas!

I could stop here and bask in Schadenfreude over such blatant examples of Republican hypocrisy (you will have no doubt divined my own political orientation by now). But that's really not the point I want to make. The point I really want to make is this: When are we, as a nation, finally going to stop acting like a bunch of nine-year-olds shouting "I know you are, but what am I?" (or worse) at each other and have a discussion like grown-ups about healthcare and any number of other pressing issues facing the country (the national debt, crumbling infrastructure, energy issues and spiraling higher education costs, to name a few of those)? When are we going to realize that name-calling is not the same as a program?

Let's go back to healthcare in general and the AHCCCS situation in particular. If I step back from polemics for a minute, I have to ask this question: "It's horrible that 98 people were taken off the transplant program; so what should we cut instead? School lunch programs? Education? Infrastructure maintenance?" I'm sure there are a lot of non-essential and downright frivolous things that could be eliminated, but let's be realistic and recognize that even that can only be taken so far, and that what may sound like a frivolous waste as a soundbite on CNN may actually be pretty important. For instance, I read a suggestion somewhere that nearly half of the $4.5 million for the eliminated transplant program could be restored by instead cutting a $2 million program to "study algae". When you paint it in those terms, it seems like a no-brainer to get rid of something as dumb-sounding as that. But when I looked a little more closely, I learned that this funding is for R&D on algae as a source of biofuel, which could spawn programs that will help address the country's energy problems and also bring a lot of revenue to Arizona, which doesn't sound so dumb. Maybe that really is more important than the lives of 98 Arizonans; maybe it's not. Maybe both things are needed and the solution is to collect the additional taxes needed to pay for them. This is a critical policy decision that needs to be debated by looking at the substance of the issues involved and not by seeing who can generate the cleverest slogans.

I'm pretty happy about the healthcare reforms that were signed into law this year. They are going to help millions of Americans. But let's also concede that they come at a cost. For instance, getting rid of coverage denials for pre-existing conditions is a very humane thing to do, but I don't think you have to be an actuary to conclude that adding people who by definition are high-risk individuals to the insurance pool has to raise the overall cost of covering that pool—that's basic statistics (an expected value calculation, to be specific). In the medium to long term some of that cost will be offset by savings through things like administering affordable preventive treatment through regular doctors to those individuals who are currently uncovered and therefore wait until they have a really serious condition and then show up for really expensive treatment given "for free" in the emergency room (with the real cost absorbed by the hospital and then indirectly passed on to you and me anyway). But at least in the short to medium term I expect to see my own premium costs go up for a given level of care as a result of these changes.

But my bigger concern is this: All we are really doing with this recent reform is tinkering with an existing system that is phenomenally inefficient. A few minutes of Google searching on terms such as "US healthcare per capita spending" will turn up lots of studies and reports showing that compared to the other industrialized countries, we have the highest per-person spending on healthcare but get significantly poorer results. Extending coverage to people who couldn't previously qualify for it is laudable but it's not going to address such fundamental flaws in the system as the crazy patchwork of different health insurance plans that drives up doctors' administrative costs, or provider compensation schemes that reward volume more than outcomes. We have not had a serious discussion about actually replacing the system with something better, and we have not had a serious discussion about alternatives that are practiced elsewhere in the industrialized world.

We don't have to choose between the current US model and something like the Canadian or British systems that conservative Republicans love to bash. In between the extremes of national single-payer systems (e.g. Canada or Great Britain) and completely unregulated, market-driven systems there is a whole range of possible solutions to consider, e.g. the German system, my personal favorite after having lived there for many years and having had only positive experiences, even though I know that it, too, has its imperfections. For a more in-depth discussion of healthcare systems in other countries, and their respective upsides and downsides, than I can offer here, I would suggest the book The Healing of America by T. R. Reid; for now, here is a short article in which Reid discusses some of the key ideas presented in his book.

The closest that we have come to a discussion about real change in healthcare is with the brief dust-up over the "public option". But we did not have a serious debate about that. And we most certainly did not have an adult discussion about the fundamental issue of whether healthcare is a fundamental human right to be guaranteed by the government, or a service that will be sold in whatever manner generates the most profits for those who provide it, or something in between. The broad American middle did not say to the right, "I want to hear what your program is; I don't want to hear a bunch of blather about about death panels and socialism," and to the left, "I want a credible accounting of how much this will cost and how it will be paid for." Nor did it say to itself, "I accept that I may have to change my whole way of looking at this problem and that in any case I can't get something for nothing." We just settled for people yelling at each other on TV "news" shows. We also didn't demand that anyone who said "no" to the proposals on the table propose an alternative, or at least publicly acknowledge that the benefits to those who would be helped by those proposals are, in his or her opinion, simply not worth the money.

In summary: we need solutions, but we seem to be satisfied to settle for slogans. Wake up, America. But more importantly, grow up.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The problem is, is that it's not English.

For the past year or more—I haven't exactly been keeping track—I have become increasingly aware of a new construction that seems to have crept into American English. I am referring to the "double is", as in
"The thing is, is that…"
"The problem is, is that…"
"What I mean is, is that…"

Where did this come from? It makes no sense at all, but I hear it on a regular basis coming from all kinds of people. It seems like just one more little erosion of the language in the direction of being vague and imprecise. This isn't a blog about grammar (actually, I'm not entirely sure what this blog is about; for random rants about grammar and spelling, you could try this one) but I needed to bring it to your attention. So please stop saying this. You know who you are. There, I feel better now.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cybercrime and Punishment

My email provider does a decent enough job of filtering out spam, but occasionally one does slip through. Recently I got this one, allegedly sent by someone named "guido rub" (perhaps a protege of e. e. cummings):

I visited the company original products . such as the European version, American version, and the Asian version and so on. . I suggest you should have a look in this website w w w , e l e t e t , c o m,
If it is suitable for you you can contact them :
Email: poLoao2009 @ 188 . com


These spam messages completely mystify me. How, and why, would anyone take this seriously, let alone get hoodwinked by one of these spam-based scams? It seems to me that if one is going to go to the trouble to commit some kind of Internet fraud, one should not lead off with a message as weird-looking as this one.

There's the "333" in the first line. What does that mean? Is the alleged guido addressing me as "333"? Is it some kind of reference code? Is it one half of the mark of The Beast and if so, what does that signify? Apparently some sort of "original products" are being recommended here, but there are no clues as to what they might be. There's fractured English and random punctuation. There's a web site address that has commas where periods (or "dots") belong, and it's full of spaces, so if you click on it, it won't link to anything. The email address is similarly invalid. And what are the mysterious symbols at the end of the message trying to tell me? This hardly seems like a promising ruse for establishing a trusted commercial relationship.

Against my better judgment, I decided to have a look at just to satisfy my curiosity. I know this is not exactly good computer hygiene, but I decided to trust the antivirus software on my computer to protect me. I do not recommend that you visit this or any other site advertised in an email that comes from someone you've never heard of, so if you want to visit this site, do so at your own risk; you didn't hear about it from me. I'll tell you what I found so you don't have to go there yourself. I'm doing this all in the name of science.

Basically, I found a reasonably-done web site offering mostly electronics along with some motorcycles and other small motor vehicles. And what deals!

There's a Honda CBR 1000RR motorcycle priced at $2,284. According to, MSRP for the 2010 model year is $13,399.

I can get an Apple MacBook Pro MC226LL for $1,246. says the list price was (since this model has been discontinued) $2,199.

If I knew how to play the bass, I'm sure I'd be excited to find this Fender Deluxe Active Jazz Bass for only $208J&R Music World wants around $699.

Funny thing though—that picture above is from the site. But J&R thinks the Fender Deluxe Active Jazz Bass looks like this:
Hmm… typical Fender bass body shape? Trademark Fender headstock shape (with "Fender" logo decal)? Nah, those J&R guys probably don't know what they're talking about.

I compared a few other prices on the site with, er, more mainstream sites and found pretty much what you'd expect on all of them, i.e., they're way below what everyone else is charging for the same item. This comparison shopping was made somewhat tedious by the fact that most of the merchandise for which I was doing price comparisons seemed to consist of discontinued models. If I wanted to be charitable I might speculate that this site has somehow found a way to buy up discontinued merchandise really cheaply and can therefore offer it at terrific prices. But I'm not feeling charitable today. The fact that you have to pay for all of this stuff by bank transfer rather than with a credit card should also be a gigantic red flag for anyone who's ever bought anything online. I guess that somehow there are still people out there who fall for these scams, so there's enough of a potential payoff to make it worthwhile to create this moderately elaborate hoax web site and then arrange to spam mailboxes to advertise for it.

Looking at this I was reminded of an episode of one of my favorite radio shows, This American Life. You can find said episode in the TAL archive at Skip over the five-minute intro story if you want and go straight to "Act One: Hanging in Chad". It's a sordid tale of some guys who turn the tables to scam a scammer who's trying to perpetrate one of those frauds that begins with an email from Nigeria promising vast wealth with the catch that you have to put up some money of your own first. They send the scammer on a fairly elaborate wild goose chase; he patiently jumps through all of the increasingly absurd—and increasingly dangerous—hoops they put in his way in the expectation that there'll be a big payoff at the end.

The perpetrators of this "anti-scam" have a scambaiting web site where you can read more about this story and many more. A Google search on "scambaiting" will also turn up tons more material on this interesting hobby.

The TAL story also mentions a "scambaiting" action in which an Internet scammer is induced to reenact the entire Monty Python dead parrot sketch, and as it turns out, he and his partner do a fairly creditable job, so I think I will leave you with that. The original Monty Python sketch, if you want to do a comparison, is also somewhere on YouTube but I will leave searching for that as an exercise for the reader.

Parrot Sketch, Nigerian style

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Monkey Clock Conundrum

I saw this cartoon recently in the pages of The New Yorker (I'm posting a link to it rather than the cartoon itself to avoid copyright infringement):

I thought it was pretty funny, but I've shown or described it to a number of people and the response is invariably, "I don't get it", usually said with that sort of furled-brow, cocked-head expression that silently says, "but we all already know that you're a little peculiar."

Does this cartoon make any sense to any of my (two or three) loyal readers? Do I need to see a therapist?

Friday, December 10, 2010

La Maldición de Santiago

A few days ago I happened to be standing in the kitchen, talking to My Favorite Wife as she was removing a large pot from the bottom rack of the dishwasher. "What's that thing sitting on the bottom of the dishwasher?" I asked. By removing the pot she had revealed a small bristly object, around an inch in length, that had been obscured from view while the pot was still in the rack. She glanced into the dishwasher and emitted a small shriek. "It's a Santiago!!!"


I looked more closely and saw that the small bristly object was some sort of insect, a make and model that I had never seen before. What looked like a couple dozen spindly little legs radiated out from the elongated body, at the front of which were two prominently visible eyes. I thought it looked pretty interesting, actually. I particularly liked the stripe down its back that gave it kind of a sporty look.

From her demeanor it was clear that MFW did not think it looked interesting, but rather dangerous and threatening. She does not particularly care for small crawly things with lots of legs. Up to six legs, OK; plain ol' bugs are not such a big deal, unless they're unusually large. Eight or more legs: we have a problem. Spiders of any size immediately push us up to threat level "red". Any eight-legged intruders in our home must be dispatched immediately while MFW temporarily removes herself to an undisclosed secure location.

MFW's reaction to spiders goes a little overboard, which she will freely admit, but she says she can't help herself. She claims that as a small child she was traumatized by her two brothers, who, when they learned that she didn't like spiders, began breeding them and forced her to watch while they fed them flies. The effects of the PTSD (post-traumatic spider disorder) remain evident in unexpected ways decades later, such as when I walk up to her holding a small gift or other nice surprise behind my back, saying, "I have a something for you," and her spontaneous reaction is always to jump back and ask, with a ring of apprehension in her voice, "Is it a spider?!"

I've never really understood this mortal fear of small arthropods that a lot of people have. I will not claim that I particularly like insects, spiders and such. I am not tremendously interested in having them crawling around in my house or finding them in my food. Once, while living in a cheap student rental in northern California, one of the very large (around 2" long, no exaggeration) cockroaches that made occasional appearances in dark corners of the house startled me awake in the middle of the night by crawling over my arm, and I found that fairly upsetting and searched every inch of my room the next morning to minimize the likelihood of a repeat. As a small child I was a little freaked out by the huge potato bugs (read lies about them here, or click here for the horrible truth) that would very occasionally turn up around our house in the San Francisco Bay Area. But as a general rule, the sight of a little bug does not induce in me the kind of hysterical meltdown that it does in more than a few otherwise stable adults.

This thing in our dishwasher had a lot more than eight legs, qualifying it as extremely menacing on the MFW scale. I learned later that it was a house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. I initially guessed that it was some sort of centipede and did a Google search for pictures of centipedes and yes, that's what it was. It turns out that house centipedes are predators that eat ants, termites, silverfish, bedbugs, cockroaches and many other crawly things that you would rather not find in your home. They sting their prey with a venom that is passed through their two frontmost legs, which have evolved to serve this purpose. In theory they could sting humans but in practice this apparently doesn't really happen and I didn't find any reference to actual reported stings in humans. So in other words, S. coleoptrata is friend, not foe. It probably wouldn't be a bad thing to have a whole army of them patrolling the dark recesses of inaccessible crawlspaces under the house and such. Not that most people would probably agree with me on that, though. I found lots of web pages explaining how to get rid of them, with plenty of reader comments about how much people fear and hate and wish nothing but harm on them. It's just a little bug, fer crissakes!

We come in peace.

My daughter once recounted a story about how some sort of weird looking bug—a certain Mr. S. coleoptrata, as we now know—had been crawling across the floor of her classroom at school. When one of the other girls spotted it, she screamed and jumped up on her desk, inciting a small riot that took twenty minutes or so for the teacher to bring under control. After order had been restored, they captured it and attempted to keep it as a class pet, and out of a field of many proposed names chose to call it "Santiago" (this wasn't a Spanish class, but for some reason most of the names suggested were Spanish ones). It died fairly soon because the teacher attempted to keep it alive by feeding it oranges or some such thing, when it would have preferred a nice fat bug, or maybe its new habitat was just too dry, things the teacher could have found out in about three minutes on the Internet. Foolish teacher. Now he has the curse of Santiago hanging over his head.

This dishwasher appearance was now the second confirmed Santiago sighting in our own home. The first Santiago had shown up in the kids' bathroom sink, and my daughter identified it as the same kind of creature she had seen at school. Our latest specimen was an average-sized one (based on what I had later read) that must have crawled into the warm dishwasher overnight—I had left the door of it standing open after the wash cycle finished so that everything would be dry in the morning. "That's a small one," MFW told me from the other side of the kitchen, where she was maintaining a safe distance in case it suddenly attacked. "The one in the bathroom sink was this big!" she said, motioning with her hands to indicate an object about the size of a toaster.

"Be careful!" she admonished. "When you hit them they explode!" I suppose that whacking just about any small, soft thing with the heel of a shoe using massive force, as, judging from past experience, MFW had probably done to defend her family from the raging monster in the bathroom sink, could cause this effect. I explained that rather than sending the tiny menace on a footwear-induced journey to meet its maker, I would instead risk life and limb to capture this one alive for release into the wild, due, no doubt, to the latent influence of a steady diet of Wild Kingdom in my increasingly distant youth. Ignoring the peril and without weapons or protective clothing of any kind, I put a glass over it and slid a 3x5 card underneath.

Its venom is lethal, Jim, second only to that of the house centipede.

I noticed that it seemed to be making no effort to escape, so I put the glass down and just held it clinging to the end of the card. According to my several minutes of extensive research, they can scurry fairly quickly for cover on all those legs. I don't know if this one was tired or unwell or just fatalistic, but it made no moves to escape. At any rate, I carried it to the edge of the back yard and flicked it off the end of the card into the bushes, while MFW watched the operation from the kitchen window to verify that I had carried it a safe distance from the house. Bless me, Santiago, for I have spared thee, that thou mayest once again partake freely of ant and cockroach.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Bear Facts

This is just so wonderfully weird that I couldn't leave it uncommented, and thereby also miss the opportunity to use a really lame pun as a headline. These are two researchers at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong National Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province, China. They're performing an examination on a panda cub that is to be reintroduced to the wild. According to the story I saw about this, they're wearing panda costumes while working with the animal in order to "ensure that the cub's environment is devoid of human influence".

Relax, I'm a doctor.

Yeah, right. I have never been a panda, but I'm sure that if the shoe were on the other foot, and a panda walked up to me wearing, say, an overcoat and a Hulk Hogan mask, I'd figure out pretty quickly that someone or something was trying to put one over on me, even if it was a really lifelike mask. So I'd guess that even a young and inexperienced panda might notice something amiss in this scenario. Or maybe it will spend its adult life maladjusted and unable to fit into panda society, having grown up with the belief that all other pandas are supposed to walk upright, smell funny and carry scientific instruments around with them.

On the other hand, it's so crazy, it just might work!

In related scientific news, here are some penguins in Korea who are running a research project in which they are planning to reintroduce Santa Claus to the wild.

All in the Name of Science

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This Just In: Democracy Saved!

The following headline just caught my eye on an online news site:

To summarize, the US House of Representatives has just passed a bill which was already recently passed by the Senate and is now on its way to the President for his signature. What, you may ask, has our gridlocked Congress actually been able to agree on? Well, it seems that they have agreed that the FCC must establish and enforce regulations that will control the volume of TV commercials.

So let's see: the Congress can't agree on whether the Bush tax cuts will be extended and if so, for whom. They can't act to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. The Senate doesn't feel that the New START treaty needs to be ratified just now even though a whole gang of former (Republican) Secretaries of State have urged them to do so without delay. But they are able to find the time to ensure that couch potatoes across the nation will soon see their lives enormously improved. Democracy lives!

Back to the Roots

I believe in eating local foods. For me, that means really local, i.e., something out of the vegetable garden in my family's back yard. I more or less sympathize with the "local foods" movement, but mostly I just like the way our own home-grown food tastes. And besides, it's cheap.

During the summer, there are all kinds of nice fresh things to be had, since we grow a pretty big variety of stuff. What can't be eaten when it gets ripe, just because there's so much getting ripe all at the same time, gets processed for later consumption. I pickle, I can, I freeze. I would have made a good rural Nebraska housewife in 1952.

This time of year we're in a kind of transition mode. The first hard frost has killed off what little there was remaining of the hardier above-ground things like a little bit of celery and broccoli. But there are still a few fresh things to be had before we have to break out the items that were preserved in various ways: Root vegetables! In our case this means potatoes, carrots and parsnips (I'm not sure whether potatoes officially count as root vegetables but since they grow underground I'll consider them to be at least honorary root vegetables).

My kids do not like root vegetables. They don't like fish, either. But the rule is that our house is not a restaurant and we eat what's on the table. So last night for dinner we had fish with roasted carrots and parsnips, sending them through the entire Kübler-Ross cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

As the season progresses, and as we eat our way through the various items of our own that were processed during the summer, I'll head to the grocery store for things like turnips that we don't grow ourselves, and which even My Favorite Wife is a little suspicious of. My family always looks a little apprehensive when I announce that I will do the shopping for tonight's evening meal because God only knows what weird stuff I might bring home to foist upon them. My daughter would actually prefer that I completely refrain from cooking dinner because "you never make anything normal."

I suppose I do cook some things that most people consider a little out of the ordinary. But it's part of my decades-long crusade to save the forgotten vegetables. The forgotten vegetables are those items that you yourself have seen in the produce section but had no idea what to do with. I know you've walked past those rutabagas, the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables, sitting there in the produce section and thought to yourself, "What are those ugly things? And what's with the weird name? Who in his right mind would eat such a thing?" And okra? Kohlrabi? Does anyone actually eat this stuff? I sure do. I grow some of it in our garden, too.
Consigned To Oblivion No More!

My forgotten vegetable crusade started when I was a college student shopping for my own food for the first time and began noticing this stuff at the local grocery store. There were lots of things I had never eaten, and that I couldn't recall ever seeing anyone else eat. Out of curiousity, I started bringing things home to see what could be done with them. College is traditionally the time for new vegetable experiences, right?

I am happy to see that I am less and less alone in my crusade. I did a Google search on "forgotten vegetables" and found that the term, which I thought I had invented, is in fairly widespread use to describe exactly the sort of thing I discussed above. (Try googling it yourself; I promise I'll wait right here while you do.) I guess I should have trademarked the expression when I started using it some 25+ years ago. Another opportunity missed!

Many of my friends and neighbors are getting introduced to the forgotten vegetables through community supported agriculture (CSA). In case you're not familiar with it, the idea behind CSA is that you buy a share of a small farm's produce, helping to guarantee the farmer's livelihood, and in exchange you get a mixed box of whatever is currently being harvested delivered to you direct from the farm every week. Typically it's organically or semi-organically produced food, so you get something that's good for you and at a good price to boot. The only caveat is that there is a good chance that at least sometimes your box is going to include an item that you've never seen in your leafy suburban life. Especially now, at the extreme tail end of the season, there's a good chance that you'll be getting a root vegetable that will leave you scratching your head about exactly what to do with it.

But tonight I'll be eating my own root vegetables again. Okay, potatoes, which we concluded might not be root vegetables per se, but we'll let them pretend that they are because they want to belong and self esteem is important. It is the season in which my tribe lights candles and consumes potato pancakes fried in oil in commemoration of the miraculous victory in the guerilla insurgency against the foreign invaders. I'll bet that makes those potatoes feel really special.