Welcome back to "Ask Alex", where I answer all of your stupid questions with even dumber answers. Have a question you need answered? Tweet it, email it or submit it here and I will get to it (maybe) next week.
When we last left Alex, she was descending into an emotional spiral at her desk as a result of drinking too many beers at lunch and listening to Tori Amos. She’s back from that little meltdown, though, and tackling all of the stuff that she didn’t get to. Like CANDY! And British TV and math.
And in case you missed it, she really hates old people.
Submitted by: Jimmy’s Incorrigible (3 Questions, continued from last week)
2) Foyles War was an exceptional series. It was also the first British series (other than Monty Python or Bennie Hill) that didn't put me to sleep. With the exception of Foyles War, Benny Hill, and Monty Python, why does British TV have to be such a bore, and are American's that like them simply guilty for blowing off British heads during the Revolution because they increased the tax on our breakfast beverage?
OK, I have never watched Foyle’s War, so I had to do a little bit of research here. Most interesting? The second most important character is played by a woman named Honeysuckle Weeks (with, it seems, an unverified Twitter Account..?), which is quite simply the best name I have heard all week, and is in fact her real name. Honeysuckle seems to be a bit of an odd character, but I’m willing to let that slide on account of her insanely fantastic handle.
I am, however, going to take issue with your criticism of British TV. Yea, it tends to be a little more subdued than its American cousin, but then again...doesn’t Britain seem to be a little more subdued than America? It stands that our TV would follow suit. But haven’t you ever watched The Office, Downton Abbey, Coupling, or Dr. Who? Brideshead Revistited, Top Gear, Extras? There is a ton of good British TV. And Benny Hill?!?!? C’mon, you’re dating yourself…
We can, however, stop to acknowledge that, in the opinion of this scribe, Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail is the funniest movie ever made. There are certainly plenty of other worthy candidates for that title, but if I have to pick one, that’s it. Yes, I am aware that it isn’t even really a movie so much as a handful of loosely-related scenes, and it doesn’t have an actual plot, but I don’t care...each of those scenes is independently hilarious. In fact, maybe you should all take a couple of minutes to reacquaint yourselves with Dennis the Peasant and then come back for your history lesson.
I’m also going to take issue with reducing the American Revolution to the destruction of a couple of crates of Earl Grey! This is the greatest moment in human history, when the forces of liberty threw off, once and for all, the outdated idea of divinely-anointed sovereigns and hereditary aristocracy in favor of meritocratic government only by consent of the governed! When strange women, lying in ponds and distributing swords was finally acknowledged to be no basis for a system of government. Where free men declared that we are subject not to some distant prince, but are in fact endowed by the creator himself with certain inalienable rights. INALIENABLE!!!
Of course, 240 years later we’re begging an obnoxious billionaire to make someone else pay for our cholesterol drugs so we can be fat in peace, so maybe we have kinda lost our way on those ideals...
3) Why are people not more ashamed at their innumeracy? People would never tell a group of people "Reading just isn't my thing, I'm so bad at it!" or that "I always struggled in reading in school" - yet they will willingly inform people they're bad at math, had a hard time in school, etc. Also, why has nobody blamed the current state of our politics (not just the Presidential Election, but all of it) on innumeracy?
That’s a good question, and I have a theory that I just thought of this week that is not at all supported by anything other than my own intuition. I think that at least a part of the problem lies in the math that we teach in school, which focuses too much on rather esoteric ideas (Algebra II, Trigonometry) that a graduate can safely ignore for the rest of their life without really suffering. The same if not true of reading, which any working person does virtually every day, and which remains largely identical to the act of reading that we learn in elementary school and continue to develop through high school. This leads to a general feeling that math is weird and unimportant while reading is...wait for it...fundamental.
Also, reading is a form of entertainment, math really isn’t. Unless you are SUPER weird!!!
The two math-related things that I feel like we should teach more of at the high school level are basic statistics and practical personal finance. Neither would take up much curriculum time, and they would both make us better adults and citizens. A general foundation in statistics is basically a bullshit detector that allows a person to filter out automatically stupid things on sight and naturally ask better questions. We’d be substantially better voters if we had a higher general understanding of averages, ratios, rates of change, etc.
I teach basic personal finance on a volunteer basis to adult residents of Public Housing as a part of a program that encourages asset building. The curriculum (which I am terrible at sticking to...I am a digresser) includes a lot of information about specific financial products and strategies, but the very core of the program is budgeting. The idea that you can afford almost anything that you want, but you can’t afford everything that you want. (True story...the guy who told me that is a literal billionaire, which is kind of like rich, famous, married-to-four-Supermodels Mick Jagger telling us that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. It’s still good advice.)
It’s about understanding what you spend money on, and what your decisions on spending mean to your overall goals. Eventually, it is about figuring out how to spend less than you earn and translating that into actual behaviors. It’s pretty easy, it is extraordinarily useful, and we do a terrible job of teaching it to ourselves. It is far and away the most important thing that the attendees learn in these classes, and it is a really underrated part of breaking the cycle of poverty. It should be taught in high schools across America.
4) Am I asking questions or telling stories?
The British TV one was kind of a story, I guess, but mostly you’re doing pretty well with the questions. I, on the other hand, am all over the place...
Submitted by: Anonymous
You seem to love candy. And ranking things. Please rank candy.
Anonymous is right...I do love candy, and I do love rankings. Which makes this the single best question of the year so far!!!
First of all, you will find here a bias towards chocolate candy instead of sugary candy. That’s just how I roll...I like chocolate. A lot.
Second, let’s go right ahead and list a whole bunch of candy that is just straight trash. None should be eaten by anyone, ever, outside of the threat of imminent starvation. This includes Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Gummy Bears (and their derivatives), Rock Candy, Candy Corns, Nerds, Bit o’ Honey/Mary Janes, Lollipops, Mike & Ikes, Runts, Peeps, most gum, Star Burst, Gum Drops, Necco Wafers, Airheads, Jolly Ranchers, Jelly Beans, Spree, Sweet Tarts, Gobstoppers, Whoppers, Chuckles and the two most vile creations of the American Candy Industry: Almond Joy and Mounds.
Oh, and dark chocolate. Which is really fucking gross, no matter how much you try to convince yourself that it’s a more sophisticated flavor than Milk Chocolate.
Then we have a category of candy that is all varying degrees of delicious, but couldn’t crack my top ten. But make no mistake, I’ll eat any one of these and be happy about it. Three Musketeers, Heath Bars, Nestle Crunch, Baby Ruth, Payday, Take Five, plain Hershey Bars (bonus if you use them to scoop peanut butter out of the jar), Mr. Goodbar, Krackel, Milky Way, Oh Henry! (they’d be in the first category if not for their Sue Ellen Mischke connection), Caramel Bulls Eyes, Mentos, Salt Water Taffy, and a subcategory that I will call “Old People Candy”: Andes Mints and Werthers. I had trouble placing Cadbury Creme eggs, which could have gone really high on the list, but I feel like they have a rapidly diminishing marginal rate of return...the first one is fantastic, but they get gross really quickly.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the Top Ten Candies (and don’t bother arguing. You’re wrong.)
10) York Peppermint Patties/Junior Mints - I group these two together for obvious reasons. Junior Mints join Oh Henry! bars In having a Seinfeld connection, but they also have the benefit of not tasting like trash water, so they comfortably slot into the list here. Best part of these candies? You can eat them after lunch and kinda feel like you brushed your teeth! They’re far and away the best palate-cleansing candies
9) Snickers - an old standby that makes up in simple brilliance for what it lacks in excitement. I’m going to admit that I have no idea what the fuck nougat is, or is supposed to be, so I am just going to assume that it is basically the nutritional equivalent of a smoothie made of salmon, kale, multivitamins and chia seeds. Nothing that delicious can be any less than a superfood. You know what else is really great about Snickers? It holds up to its slogan...it really does satisfy. The peanuts give it a little heartier, more substantial texture than straight sugar and chocolate would.
8) Swedish Fish - I’m only going with two non-chocolate candies in this list (three if you count the Peppermint Patties), which should tell you how highly I think of Swedish Fish. The texture is better, and the fruitiness toned down enough as compared to other sugary candies, and that makes them infinitely more palatable. Gummi Bears are good for nothing better than plugging small plumbing leaks, but Swedish Fish are worth of being the centerpiece of a gourmet dinner.
7) Twix - That campaign where they sell packages that advertise two left Twix or two right Twix? Genius. Well, OK, less “genius” than “my friend Jimmy bought two of them to see if there really was a difference.” Jimmy is about as smart as a Twix Bar, but he is adorable, so it’s fine.
Confession: I can be a little compulsive about my food, and I have a special way to eat Twix. First I bite all of the caramel off the top, then I nibble the chocolate off of the sides, and finally eat the cookie. Don’t @ me, I have a problem.
6) 100 Grand - It’s so simple, really, just take a roll of caramel, wrap it in Rice Krispies and then coat it in chocolate. Sometimes, though, there is no need to put 22 inch Chrome rims on a wheel...the plain one will roll just fine! And that’s the 100 Grand Bar. It’s incredibly unexciting, but Bobdamnit if it isn’t just really delicious.
5) Butterfinger - I have a feeling that I am a little bit out on a limb here...I don’t get the impression that this is a super popular candy. It is a really unique flavor and it sports a texture that feels suspiciously like it was developed by the American Dental Association to sell more root canals. But I can live with all of that, because I am on #TeamBartSimpson here, I am strongly pro-Butterfinger.
4) M&M’s - The world’s highest selling candy holds that distinction for a reason: sheer confectionary brilliance. I was going to break out each kind of M&M as its own candy and proceed from there, but doing so just highlighted to me the brilliance of the format: it is a remarkably versatile candy. But, if I had to rank them (sub-candy rankings), I would do so thusly: Peanut Butter, Peanut, Crispy, Plain, Pretzel, Mini, Dark Mint, Dark Peanut, Dark, Almond, Mega, Coconut.
M&M’s are not without their flaws, though. The last four or five entries in that list are pretty terrible, and that doesn’t even include the one-off special flavors. In their quest to experiment with new and interesting flavors, the Mars company has suffered some pretty serious flavor misses, including Raspberry, Chili Nut, Cinnamon, Coffee, Dulce de Leche, Caramel, Cherry, Birthday Cake, Mocha and Orange. Have you ever wondered what the past tense of Strawberry is? Well, wonder no further, because M&M’s figured it out, and put it into a flavor called “Strawberried Peanut Butter”. They may have scored higher otherwise.
3) Kit Kats - In addition to having the best jingle of any candy bar, Kit Kats are a remarkably good candy. They’re light and crispy and chocolatey and easy to share. (Do you like how I just implied that I would ever share a candy bar with anyone? I wouldn’t...certainly not a Kit Kat...I am a terribly selfish person and go buy your own candy bar, you scrub, they’re not that expensive. And really, should you be eating that much candy anyway? *makes veiled waistline motion*)
2) Twizzlers - I expect to take some shit for this choice, too, but before you send me your nonsense, let me fill you in on some truth. You’re wrong. Twizzlers are the bomb and you should be eating a whole lot more of them. Chewy and fruity but not too sweet, AND they can serve as a straw in a pinch! They are my single favorite beach candy, and I am not at all above eating an entire bag at my desk some days. Like I said above, I have a problem.
1) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups - I feel almost silly writing this, as if there could possibly be another candy that sits atop this list. I probably should have just moved everything else up one spot, picked a new #10 (which would have been Baby Ruth) and assumed that you all just agreed that Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are the best candy. It’s so far from a debate that I intentionally eliminated all other Reese’s products from this list rather than swamp the whole top ten with Fast Break, Nutrageous and the various sizes of Peanut Butter Cups (confession: I don’t love Pieces).
Really, other than their low melting point, these are the perfect candy. Nay, the perfect food product. They’re one of America’s great inventions and one of mankind’s greatest technological advancements (others: the electric light, combustion engine, silicon chip, wheel, printing press and Sam Adams Summer Ale). They’re sweet and salty and just as sweet as they need to be without being any sweeter.
This is the part of the rendering of opinions where I usually say something like “Come at me, bro” or, if I have no interest in swatting away your stupid criticisms “Don’t @ me, bro”. But honestly, I can’t even see the point in that...who could possibly disagree with me on this? This is about as controversial as “Ringo is the worst Beatle”, “Ginger was the hottest Spice Girl” or “Jennifer Aniston was the best Friend.”
I won’t even be angry if you disagree, as much as I will just be so very, very sad for you.
Obamacare, Trumpcare, Ryancare, Medicare, Medicaid. So many names for healthcare, each an attempt on their own to “solve healthcare.”
None of them solves healthcare, rather each is a shuffling of the decks in managing how healthcare is paid for. The main problem of course is that virtually every healthcare-related good or service has a price attached to it that is set not by the market, but by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. How? CMS has a code for every single good or service that is consumed within the realm of healthcare, these codes are called HCPCS (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System) codes. And there are literally thousands of them. Each of these codes comes along with a price, known to all of us as “allowables.” Every single insurance company follows CMS’s lead on allowables. If CMS says that the allowable for, say, an x-ray is $100, then that’s what every insurance company reimburses for an x-ray. A healthcare provider may bill whatever they want for that x-ray, but $100 is all they’ll ever get, and there is no incentive for them to charge less when every insurance company will pay that price.
Yes, we have an entirely government price-controlled healthcare system. By attempting to bring order to the marketplace with a common coding system, the government has shattered the market it intended to simplify. Every few months, after being lobbied by various healthcare groups (doctors, hospitals, big pharma, etc.) the head of CMS rolls out updates to the allowables schedule, which always go up. It’s an impossibly complicated issue, and these codes and the automatic increases in price that come every year are the heart of the problem, and thereby the home of the solution. Reforming the allowables system, the pharma patent system, tort reform…they all take time, but no one’s working on those because they’re too busy trying to “fix healthcare” by shifting around who is going to pay the premiums.
Until that happens, until something is done to reform the actual cost of healthcare, insurance is the only answer. Until the day comes that a patient can shop for goods and services on the healthcare market and afford to pay cash for it, insurance is the only answer.
I have type 1 diabetes. My daughter has type 1 diabetes. 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes. This is not your grandmother’s diabetes. We can’t scrape by with testing our blood sugar once per day and take one shot of insulin or anti-hyperglycemic drugs. It’s an impossibly, ghastly expensive disease to treat. And we are not alone; millions more suffer from chronic illnesses for which there is no cure but there is an expensive treatment regimen. Without insurance, we would be bankrupt and on Medicaid within months.
The battle cry among conservatives right now is to repeal Obamacare in full and then start over, delivering on campaign promise after campaign promise to repeal it. I am not in that camp, and my views on the issue are colored by something more than my political beliefs. They are colored by my experience. Many of you reading this know about my political activism, but few know of my activism in the world of type 1 diabetes. I have been there in hospital rooms with parents whose small children were just diagnosed with this dreadful disease. I have seen the genuine, very real fear that my self-employed friends with type 1 are experiencing at the thought of losing the only decent private health insurance plan they’ve ever had access to. The chronically ill are literally enslaved by insurance.
I don’t love Obamacare. I don’t love Trump/Ryancare. I don’t love government being involved in healthcare at all. But until reforms are enacted that drop the price on a vial of insulin from $300 to $20, insurance is the only answer for people who face challenging chronic illnesses.
Reform the patent system that allows big pharma to tweak a patent every few years and extend it for another 20. Reform the never-ending, irrational increases in allowables. Reform the ambulance chasers. Reform the rebate system paid to pharmacy benefit managers.
Until such time that pricing in healthcare becomes full market-driven, transparent and truly affordable, put the pitchforks down and help people find a way to pay for the only option they have, insurance.
Long live The Republic.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.