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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: January 17-January 28, 2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006:

Does anyone actually like Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee? Bev and I have caught quite a bit of it lately because Sandra is on right before our beloved Rachael Ray, and it's one of the most baffling cooking shows I've seen since The Urban Peasant. Sandra's meals rarely seem edible, let alone appetizing (a chili omelette?!). Bev commented that Sandra has no personality, but I don't think that's quite right. I think her TV persona is one of quiet desperation. She clearly wants to be Martha Stewart, from her focus on theme-based "tablescapes" to the soft-focus camerawork, but whereas Martha's (debatable) appeal is that she effortlessly puts forth a facade of unflappable elegance, Sandra is too keyed-up to even present a half-assed approximation of that. Where Martha's artificially soothing voice convincingly covers her clear tendencies toward micromanaging perfectionism, Sandra simply yammers breathlessly, the verbal equivalent of flop sweat, as she hauls out overreaching dish after overreaching dish, her Celine Dion-ish face a pop-eyed rictus of strain for attention. I've heard Sandra referred to as "Wal-Martha," which I thought was a pretty funny, accurate summary.

At one point, Sandra employed some sort of marshmallow fluff goo in one of her recipes, referring to that particular chemical product as "grand," and that immediately made me think of the Paul F. Tompkins routine about a store he saw called "Elegant Balloons." A routine which, for this situation, might be paraphrased thusly: "I can't count the number of times I've been in a five-star restaurant and heard assorted foreign dignitaries and heads of state asking their waiter for a side order of marshmallow fluff. And when the waiter replies, 'Well, we don't have any marshmallow fluff per se, but we, er, do have some marshmallows that I suppose I could ask the chef to melt into a sort of fluffy paste for you...' that's when the fur flies and the customer shouts, 'Dammit, man! I'm not at a restaurant for hill people who eat off the floor with their hands! Where is your grand marshmallow fluff?'"

Another odd phenomenon I've been curious about is whether any studies have been done about the possible subliminal effects of ill-timed switches between local and national feeds during commercial breaks of cable programs. Do you know what I mean? You'll be watching some nationwide cable show- say, the awesomeness that is Project Runway- and during the commercial breaks, there will be a few spots that are clearly being beamed coast-to-coast, like promos for Queer Eye, those idiotic ads with the Travelocity gnome or those smarmy Welch's grape juice kids whose teeth you just want to kick out one by one, but then your local cable company will cut over to some poorly-made local commercial for, like, Peddlin' Pete's Lumberyard (likely employing pre-Fraggle Rock green screen technology to make it look like Pete's flying) or a local steakhouse that burned down earlier in the week but they've already paid for the ads so they want them to run, etc. At any rate, these local ads aren't always the precise length they should be, or some trigger-happy program director at the cable company will flick back to the national feed a split second too early, and you'll catch a blip of the tail end of some national commercial. Just four or five frames displaying a picture of a product: a Dawn bottle, a box of Ziploc bags, a Hot Pocket. Does that sort of mistake have any effect on consumers? I mean, I know the usefulness of subliminal advertising has been largely debunked, but it would be interesting to know whether anyone has specifically focused on unintentionally subliminal no-see-um ads like that. I wouldn't even know where to start researching this.

Of course it's important to investigate! Okay- what would you say is more important?


And oh.


CURRENT MUSIC: Tiny Cities by Sun Kil Moon.
Drink every time poor, naive Rachael says something that could double as a scatological or sexual euphemism. The other day, she made something called "garlic and cheese floaters" (which admittedly looked delicious), and I was plastered by 6:30.
2:02 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Isn't there a semi-popular liberal college-kid T-shirt slogan attributed to some philosopher that says something to the effect of "If you want to judge the merit of a society, you need only look at how they treat their animals and their elderly"? No? It's possible that I've cobbled together that aphorism from assorted bumper stickers (including the "Stop KFC Cruelty" ones that make me laugh with irreverence every time I see them plastered on STOP signs, though you really should boycott the Yum! Group due to its horribly brutal practices), but regardless, it would make a fine epitath for America following the Medicare D mess.

I spent about a month and a half temping at the Eastern Agency on Aging, and although I was just doing data entry, I picked up on a lot of facts about Maine's rollout of the Medicare D program by eavesdropping on Kelley, the most patient (and hilarious- she's a really good friend) administrative assistant in the world. And this is the unreliable way I've recalled said facts (I'm pretty sure of its accuracy, but, like, don't tell your litigious grandma in case I have some things wrong): First of all, in the beginning of December, the state sent out letters to every senior eligible for Medicare D, stating that the state had automatically enrolled them in one of the forty-odd plans available to them, and if they wanted to opt out of the plan the state had chosen, they should contact the state with the alternative plan of their choice by December 9, and by the way, the state's final contracts with the plans wouldn't be final until December 15, so if you choose one that turns out not to be covered, it's Tethered Swimming for you!

By the way, the state chose many individuals' plans because the Medicare D plans to which the federal (Bush) government had assigned them generally did not cover the prescriptions they were currently taking. So even though Maine's plans resembled the pot of macaroni cooked by Corky on Life Goes On, that was still a major improvement over the "nobody wins!" plan the feds had installed.

(It was around this time that Saturday Night Live aired a pretty funny commercial for Medicare D, in which seniors were told that they could download their choices of the 44 Med D options via an RSS feed into their MP3 player. The studio audience at the time didn't seem to get it, but EAA staffers passed it around like the "Boom Goes the Dynamite" kid was among my brother's friends.)

So the state's prescription coverage hotline took in about 14,000 calls on the first day seniors had received these letters. (Which, incidentally, the state had not informed the statewide non-profit agencies on aging that the seniors would be receiving, so it took a few hours before the EAA was even able to piece together what had happened.) It was a total clusterfuck: some seniors went to the Social Security agency to see what could be done, the SSA told them to visit the EAA, and the EAA was told to call the SSA for answers. Stuff like that. Anyway, well-meaning-but-ineffectual governor John Baldacci assured the seniors that anyone who'd signed up for a Medicare D plan by December 30 would be in the federal system by January 1, when the new system took hold of everyone's prescription coverage like some multi-tentacled H.P. Lovecraft critter.

Well, January 1 rolled around, and pharmacies started noticing that most of the senior citizens who'd come in to fill prescriptions that were supposed to be covered under Medicare D were not in the federal Med D system. Those pharmacies called the EAA for help as the EAA was calling the pharmacies for help, because this was exactly the opposite of what everyone was told would happen two days ago. Pharmacies were told to call a state agency to confirm elderly customers' eligibility for Med D, only that state line had a hold time of upwards of three hours. So if you needed your insulin, like, now, you'd have to wait a few hours. We'll call you. Go home. Don't worry. The government has it well in hand.

Thankfully, the state of Maine decided to eat the costs and wound up paying roughly $2.5 million per week (according to The Camden Herald) to get the oldies their drugs. Since the seniors weren't in the federal system when they should've been, the state made the honorable decision to, er, honor previous coverage like DEL and MaineCare... only the feds have claimed that it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to pay the Maine state government back for expenses incurred in this mishegoss. Of course. Eat a dick, states!

So basically, this is a big life change for people who weren't ready for it, and the efficacy of the change seems to be based more on luck than logic. Oh, and hey- guess what? As if that confusion weren't enough, the legislators in charge of Med D forgot to add a provision stating that, even though assorted Medicaid and Drugs for the Elderly recipients would be signed up for most plans free of charge, it would be illegal for other companies (e.g., Wal-Mart) to sell these plans to the elderly in the same manner that scam artists in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold useless charms that supposedly protected one against the Death Eaters. So the EAA has been getting plenty of calls from seniors asking whether a come-on from the whores on Wal-Mart Avenue is legit (it's not), confusing it with the free coverage they'll hypothetically be getting if the government can bounce its way down the Q-Bert pyramid it's created for itself without going bung.

Oh- and hey? You're being spied on!

CURRENT MUSIC: The Commercial Album by The Residents.
CURRENT CINEMATIC HILARITY: Murderball uses Ween's "The Fucked Jam" in a montage about the Canadian coach for the Paralympics Rugby team. "The Fucked Jam"! Ha!
5:11 PM.

Doot? | |

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