Friday, August 28, 2009

Ask Militant Ginger

It's that time again! When I trawl through the 'keyword analysis' to answer the questions that somehow drove search engines into recommending this blog:

Why are so many Americans against the NHS?

Lies, damn lies and statistics. Depending on who you go to, you'll find that the majority of Americans want to keep the health care system exactly as it is, or adopt a single-payer system like they have in most industrialized countries. In February, polls put that figure as high as 59%.

Recently, the National Health Service of Great Britain has received a lot of flak, being held up by conservatives as an example of how 'terrible' a single-payer system would be if it was implemented here in the United States. Admittedly, there are some horror stories about the NHS, many of which I've perpetuated right here on Militant Ginger!

But conservatives neatly side-step the fact that the British health care system is ranked considerably higher than Americas - and the UK has a lower infant mortality rate and higher life expectancy. While American health care at it's best is undoubtedly superior to that of Britain - at it's most mediocre, it's arguably worse.

Sadly, there will always be a compromise between quality of care and breadth of coverage. In many ways, the NHS and the American system are the two most polarized examples of each philosophy - and many Americans will rail against 'nationalized health care' simply because of that reason.

How does the American private health care system work?

Very, very confusingly.

In America, health care is 'private.' That means, unlike in the UK, the government don't own and operate hospitals, ambulances, doctor's offices or laboratories. They're all independent businesses out there to make a profit.

When you visit a doctor, or get a test done, you get billed for it personally. As these medical bills can add up incredibly quickly, most people buy 'health insurance' to pick up some or all of the costs. For example, health insurance will generally cover as much as 90% of the cost of an operation, with the private individual paying the 10% difference.

The problem is that health insurance itself is quite expensive, since the bills are so high. It can easily cost $300 or $400 a month to cover a small family. Therefore, employers often offset the salary they give their employees by offering health care coverage instead. They can get group discounts for using the same company to insure all of their employees - and that means the individual gets a keener rate.

Companies cover either the entire cost of health insurance, or a portion of it.

If you're self-employed you can buy your own health insurance, although you have to pick up the entire cost, instead of a company covering all or part of it. Also, because you don't get the 'group discount' you tend to pay a higher rate.

Finally, health insurance is like car insurance - it costs more or less depending on your coverage. For example, you can get cheap insurance that only covers emergencies, or more expensive coverage that covers the bulk of medical costs. Likewise, you can adjust the percentage of the medical bills you're expected to cover 'out-of-pocket' with higher or lower premiums.

The problem with this system is that health care costs are continuing to rise. In the last decade, health insurance premiums have doubled. That means more and more of a percentage of people's salaries are going towards covering their families.

Even worse, more and more coverage is being dropped by the health insurance companies to keep their costs down. This means the consumer is paying more and getting less - and it's a generally accepted fact that there's not enough competition between health insurance companies to keep prices keen.

It's a system that has both major advantages and serious flaws. The problem with 90% of the people who argue about how to improve the current setup, however, is that they're not fully cognizant of both.

What is a derogatory term for a life-long politician?

A 'Democrat'*.

America's longest standing Senator - and former Ku Klux Klan member - Robert Byrd

*Nod to Tom - Editorial Bear

How do you start writing erotica for money?

Let me get one thing straight- nobody got rich writing erotica.

The opportunities for making money writing sauce, smut, erotica and pornography are increasingly elusive, as more and more people attempt to get in on the act. There's a misunderstanding going on that writing erotica is somehow easier than writing anything else. That's really far from being true.

I have made my fair share of money writing smut - but it quickly lost it's novelty value. The pay is low, the competition is high and it's a fairly thankless task.

But the opportunities are out there. A good place to start is with Hustler Fantasies, who publish about twelve or fourteen stories every month (and pay $25 for each one.) You can find out more here.

Alternatively, you can aim for a higher-brow audience, by submitting something to the queen of Erotic fiction, Alison Tyler, or a high-class magazine like Jacques. Just be aware that they have excruciatingly high standards and you'll either be expected to submit your first few works for free, or share royalties with dozens of other writers.

If I haven't talked you out of it, though, I still recommend writing commercial erotica simply to become a better writer. Why? Because it's surprisingly good training for 'real' writing.
  1. Magazines like Hustler have a specific style - and getting a story accepted involves developing incredibly self-discipline to keep within the expected guidelines.
  2. Erotic teaches a writer brevity. Exposition isn't foreplay. Word limits can be brutal. Keeping your writing focused, curt and efficient is an excellent habit to get into.
  3. Most readers are looking for a specific genre - sometimes a specific sex-act - so writers need to learn to cater to their audience. This is the single most important lesson a writer can learn.
It's also excellent training for the simple habits of writing commercially - letters to editors, keeping track of submissions. If you take up writing erotic for money, I can promise you two things. Firstly, if you sell even one story, you will have become a better writer. Secondly, by the time you've sold that story, you'll probably have grown utterly, utterly jaded about how 'easy' and 'fun' writing erotica really is!

Why do women die their hair red?

Because unlike in the UK, where red hair is seen almost as birth defect, most civilized countries consider red hair to be attractive and distinctive, especially on a woman.

In France especially, many women dye their hair red (or some close approximation thereof) and 'the redhead' is a staple of film noir and hard-boiled fiction over in America. A redheaded woman, like the one Bruce Springsteen wailed about, is seen as passionate, sexy, emotional and just a little bit dangerous.

The only problem? You really can't fake it. Because red hair is normally accompanied by pale skin and beautiful green or blue eyes, most women who attempt to mimic a natural Titian end up failing. It can look pretty, but it never looks natural.

And, as I've found out by going both black and blond, that is true the other way around, too!

(This beautiful redhead is Kristen Carter, whose profile on Model Mayhem can be found here.)

What’s the connection between Erica Henderson and Pete Abrams?

Pete Abrams is the incredible brain behind Sluggy Freelance, my favorite webcomic and my first port-of-call when I do the Internet rounds each morning.

Erica Henderson is the sublimely talented cartoonist, artist and all-round everything from I Fail At Life, who I just think is the Bee's Knees.

For a short time, Erica stood in as 'Saturday girl' for Pete's webcomic - allowing him to take a day off from Sluggy to concentrate on his family.

The result was some wonderful artwork that took the wonderful creations of Pete's comic and put Erica's unique spin on them.

Sadly, she's not doing the Saturday art any more - but those filler strips certainly stand out as some of my favorite of all time.


Tom said...

The infant mortality rate in the US is higher than that of the UK because the US uses a more strict definition of infant mortality.

The US counts a birth as a live birth if it shows any sign of life, regardless of gestational age or birth weight. The UK defines it as: "a child which has issued forth from its mother after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy and which did not at any time after being completely expelled from its mother breathe or show any other signs of life."

So, the US would count as infant mortality a child born at 23 weeks, while the UK would not. So that accounts for a big difference.

So, while the US has a higher infant mortality rate than the UK, that's largely because we're conditioned not to give up on premature children.

Although the raw US life expectancy is lower than the UK, there's a couple of reasons for that. The first is that the infant mortality number makes a big difference, due to the way averages work.

The remaining difference is largely racial... I hate to say it, but statistics show that race makes a big difference in life expectancy.

Interestingly, for these reasons the US starts off behind the UK in life expectancy, but by the time someone turns 65, they can expect to live about a third of a year longer.

Tom said...

Ask Tom

Does waterboarding work?


M. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

Roland Hulme said...

Tom - LOL!

I don't think the question is whether or not waterboarding works - it's whether it's RIGHT or not.

Arguably, torture is VERY effective. That's why it's been used for thousands of years to encourage people to disclose their information.

Waterboarding is even more efficient because apart from the accidental drownings, it doesn't physically harm or mark the victim.

But is it right? Is America a nation that proudly and apologetically performs torture? What would Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin thought about that?

Roland Hulme said...

Tom - you're absolutely right about the infant mortality rates!

But the longevity thing... It's all very well to argue that once you reach 65, you're more likely to live longer than in any other developed country. The problem and paradox is that you're LESS likely to reach 65 in the first place!

Some paradoxical logic from Mark Steyn there.

Susanne said...

Ohhhh, I have pale skin, but not sure my eyes are a lovely enough shade of blue. Maybe I could still pull off red hair if I decided to go that route. Several red heads in my family. :)

I met two young men from England this summer and BOTH of them had reddish hair. I loved it. I said, "Do all Brits have hair this color?"

Anonymous said...

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