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San Francisco is a beautiful city, and by far the most exciting place I’ve ever lived. It’s relatively small for its population at only 46 square miles, making it the most densely populated city in the US behind New York City at 17,000 people per square mile, totaling 825,000 people in 2013. Much like New York City, rent costs are extremely high, with the average studio apartment costing $1500 a month, depending on location. It’s an expensive place to live, as it’s suggested that people hoping to live alone make $73,000+ annually in order to maintain a comfortable, single lifestyle, though many opt for roommates.

The more you know!

Many are becoming familiar with Drunk History, a series created by FunnyOrDie’s Derek Waters. Though many will know Drunk History as a Comedy Central TV series, it actually started as a YouTube series. The idea is that Derek Waters allows locals to speak to historical events while severely intoxicated. It’s extremely amusing yet interestingly informative. I was shown a few episodes by a friends a while back, and it was fantastic.

I thought I’d share my favorite episode by my favorite Drunk History presenter, Jen Kirkman. In this installment, Kirkman speaks about Oney Judge, George Washington’s favorite slave, as she flees for freedom in the north and remains in exile for many years. It’s quite funny and, overall, a brilliant concept of delivery. I’m not entirely sure how accurate the series is as a whole, and I have seen people claiming to be historians speaking against the series and its inaccuracies, but judging Kirkman’s passion, this story seems legitimate and proves to be with further research. 

Enjoy!

IGN’s Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty have their own, unaffiliated YouTube series called A Conversation with Colin. It’s quite entertaining — especially when the discussions are topical. In a newer episode of the series, Greg and Colin discuss gun control.

Colin’s main point is that American citizens have the right to bear arms, according to the Second Amendment. It reads:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Colin states that many don’t understand the context of the Second Amendment, and he’s right. The amendment was written with the idea that citizens should be able to protect themselves from a tyrannical government — an ideal that follows the birth of the nation. Bearing arms, the revolution was won against the British, ensuring our freedom from a government that didn’t best represent and serve us.

So, to boil it down, we have the right to bear arms so that if our government betrays our founding rights, we can protect our interests and, in theory, revolt. Being that the notion of bearing arms is integral to the founding of our nation, Colin makes the point that the Second Amendment is just as integral to our nation today. He goes on to say that while he’s not concerned about a government worth overthrowing now, it could be in the future.

I agree with all these points. However, he also says that the Second Amendment may be antiquated, and I fully believe that to be true. Many people who argue for the right to bear arms cite their right to protect themselves and their family, and Colin recognizes that this is not the intended point of the amendment. 

Though omitted and irrelevant from Colin’s opinion, it’s worth discussing the idea that many perpetuate in their rhetoric to protect gun rights; people believe they have the right to protect themselves and their families by bearing firearms. I think this is absolute malarkey. The truth is that over 30,000 deaths occur every year at the hand of firearms. And while it would be difficult to say how many people are ultimately protected by guns, I have a reasonable suspicion that 30,001 people weren’t saved by civilian’s bearing arms.

I once had a roommate who expressed his interest in protecting his future family. I argued tirelessly against his ideals, but we both carefully acknowledged our opposing ideals and were able to have a meaningful, respectful discussion. I posed a hypothetical in which a seer could tell us that I would pass a bill in the future that would ban guns and save 30,000 lives while sparing 5000 for the cause. He agreed that the numbers spoke for themselves. But then I took it a step further and said that the seer would say one of the 5000 lives lost was my roommate’s future wife. I then asked that if given the opportunity to block my bill from becoming a fact of the future, would he do so to save his wife at the cost of 30,000 others? He said yes, and I respected him greatly for his honesty and admitted that I, too, would have extremely conflicting reservations put in that position.

Returning to the idea of opposing tyranny, I believe people have lost touch of the truth here, but more importantly, the truth of our future. I believe that if and when we oppose a tyrannical government, guns will not win our freedom back. Imagine today that in some extreme future, our president acts more as a dictator. We can’t now and we will not be able to then exact a coup of any sort of effectiveness with the power of guns. Our government is powerful, pervasive and so much more empowered than governments were during the revolution.

Take the NSA’s Prism efforts into account. The Constitution explicitly protects against unreasonable search and seizure, yet those who have foreign correspondence can be monitored without a warrant. This is constitutionally inept, and arguably tyrannical behavior, as the government is acting according to its own interests and laws. As Colin states, we are governed by consent, but our people would not have consented this, if given the choice. But if I want to take a gun and hold it to Capital Hill and demand my rights, it would not go anywhere in our current climate, and I’d end up in jail and forgotten about.

Colin goes on to speak about “reasonable gun control”, stating that he’s okay with the idea of background checks and psych profiles. Yet as he delves further into the idea, he states that this would not have prevented Sandy Hook, as the killer’s mother would have been deemed legal to own a gun. While I do agree that this would not have been prevented that way, I don’t think that warrants discounting the idea as a whole. Colin doesn’t necessarily do this, but I feel like minimizing an opportunity to save even one life is unfair and tragic. 

But either way, I’m going to be honest, as Colin suggests that many aren’t: I want a ban on guns. No civilian needs one in the world we live in today, nor the world we will be in tomorrow. Even the Second Amendment states that guns are meant for a well-regulated militia (which is up to interpretation but reads pretty clear to me). It’s a complicated issue made much simpler by removing guns altogether.

Looking at other countries, deaths by guns are extremely low. And a lot of these countries are better than ours in many ways, including crime rates, education, employment rates, poverty, etc. That may seem like a disgusting betrayal of our patriotism, but I believe by seeing the superiority of other countries, we can learn to expect more and make more of our own. 

Tragedies like Sandy Hook, Columbine and Rocorri High School, miles away from my hometown, should never be repeated again. Look into Australia’s gun reform in the 90s, and you’ll see that viewed as an analog for what can be, we stand a lot to gain from banning guns. True, when you outlaw guns, only outlaws have them. Equally true, as Colin states, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, but that’s left to police, as far as I see it (and I think Colin would agree). 

So, that’s how I feel — guns, though a right of US citizens, don’t have a place in today’s society. They will not save us from criminals, and they will not save us from criminals (the ones in the government, I mean). Though I disagree with Colin on this and many other ideas, I respect his opinions and insights. He’s very brilliant and well-educated, well-read. This YouTube series is fantastic, made even more interesting if you’re familiar with their personalities at IGN and on Podcast Beyond! Please to enjoy.

  • Track Name

    Pay Till It Hurts

  • Album

    Fresh Air with Terry Gross

  • Artist

    NPR

On the latest Fresh Air feature, brought to us by NPR’s Terry Gross, Gross discussed the price of health care in the US with Elisabeth Rosenthal, a New York Times correspondent. Rosenthal is writing a yearlong series on health care around the world and how it compares to the US, titled Pay Till It Hurts. What I heard on Fresh Air was truly shocking. A man in the US flew out to Belgium to get a hip replacement, because it was cheaper to do so out of country. In the end, travel included, he paid $13,600, where he would have paid $100,000 or more in the US.

As sick as irony can be, the hip replacement he received was actually an American made joint. The $13,000 he paid in all would have barely covered joint itself, let alone the whole cost of the ordeal. How does it make any sense that the same joint costs less when shipped to another country?

The answer is simple: because it can. Or more so, because they can, as Rosenthal states — “they” being the half dozen pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these joints. The same five or so companies rule the market and treat their pharmaceuticals as a product yielding high profit margins. In a capitalist society, that is certainly their right to do so, but their approach is pervasive and infectious to health care.

Rosenthal continues to explain that American companies marking up their joints creates a feeding frenzy in which everyone involved is looking for their cut of the profit. Where the man’s hospital in Belgium was looking to simply provide effective healthcare, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, doctors and even consultants are looking to more than make up for their costs. 

Now, where does a consultant come into play?  Well, hospitals aren’t allowed to openly discuss the price they pay for pharmaceuticals, so they often seek out brokers and consultants to make sure they’re getting the best prices possible for their supplies. But really, it ends up being a whole other cost, where hospitals have to charge patients to make up for consulting and brokerage fees. And when all is said and done, the hospital figures they should make some extra money, too.

We’ve all heard stories about the $10 per pill Tylenol fees you see on hospital bills. In fact, maybe you’ve seen it on your own bill. Hospitals in the US nickel and dime everything, overcharging for every little piece of their care. In fact, it’s typical for someone having a surgery to be charged a fee for the use of the OR room on top of the fee for surgery. Interesting enough, when Rosenthal asked hospitals overseas about these types of cost, it seemed to confuse them. They made the perfectly logical point that to have surgery, you need an OR room. So, why charge extra for something that’s inherently necessary?

I found myself asking how overseas healthcare can cost less than more than 90% less than it does in the US. The answer is simple yet complicated. Overseas, a lot of governments impose regulations and limitations on the prices of these pharmaceuticals and services. To take it a step further, a lot of nations even negotiate the buying of pharmaceuticals for their entire country, giving them an edge in their bartering.

The US has a vastly different approach. The United States government largely stays out of these types of matters and lets the industry self-regulate, from a fiscal perspective. While it wasn’t mentioned in the interview, I largely suspect this is a byproduct heavy lobbying by pharmaceutical companies. They have a stronghold that is downright sickening.

Rosenthal discussed that surgeons are often accompanied by “representatives” and “technicians” in the OR room, planted by these pharmaceutical companies. They design products that are proprietary and require special knowledge and tools. If a hospital finds joints cheaper elsewhere, surgeons will likely resist, citing that they’re most familiar with the joints they have on-hand. 

The man seeking out hip replacement in another country is just one example of the problem. Rosenthal also looked into childbirth, finding that the average cost to birth a child in the US is $20,000+, where in other countries, it’s closer to $5000. She discusses a couple who did their best to shop around to find a cost effective plan for their child’s birth, but they found it to be a near impossible task. Not only did they find that this was likely to be a costly affair, but they were hardly given any concrete ideas on what to plan for.

Rosenthal states that when this couple would ask a hospital about their costs, they would often give a price range as vast as 5- to $45,000 dollars. With a play of $40,000 dollars, the couple found it difficult to make solid plans. When asked why these numbers were so loosely given, it was explained that even the approach of healthcare is very different in the US, describing it to be more involved but not necessarily more effective.

Rosenthal states that it is typical for couples to be persuaded into doing multiple tests that often proved unnecessary, where other countries would often make the distinction between ‘why not do it’ to ‘why do it’. The idea that other countries don’t typically take as many precautions may be unsettling soon-to-be parents, but the truth is that mortality rates among mothers and their children during pregnancy and birth is lower in many other countries.

Sadly, health insurance doesn’t provide much more comfort in the US. For example, many insurers don’t cover pregnancy and childbirth costs. And those that do may charge deductibles twice if the pregnancy spans from one calendar year to the other.

These high costs in health care are damaging the nation in many ways. States paying for health care can’t afford the high price, and private insurers are not affording many people the peace of mind they hope to receive. Worse of all, it’s not any one problem — every piece of this institution is rotting, damaged and ineffective, and we’re all paying for it. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that something needs to change soon.

This special is fantastic, and I highly recommend a listen. I discussed most of what was spoken about, but there’s more to be heard. More so, there’s tons to be read. The running piece by Rosenthal in the New York Times, Paying Till It Hurts, exploring issues like the hip replacement and childbirth, is a stimulating series of informative reads. 

Thanks for reading. I plan to explore this issue further, and more to come. All the best!