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Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton

As soon as I acquire certain required technical skills, with luck by the year 2027, I hope to begin posting occasional video blog musings on the world of competitive swimming as it is being experienced by a specimen now aged 56 (and 75 in 2027).

For the foreseeable future, these vlogs are likely to be 2-D. But as soon as holographic film technology becomes available, subscribers will be able to watch me swim, put on difficult body suits with the help of ointments, swallow an increasingly multitudinous number of cardiovascular and psychiatric medications, and demonstrate the various other essential skills of the ripening male masters swimmer.

I will, if space and interest allows, also post vlogs about my fellow swimmers that I meet and stalk at various meets. An example of this can be found here, which I posted previously on the regular forum. It is about the magnificent Leslie Livingston and was made with the help of my twin brother John.


I invite you to enjoy!

  1. Hate Jim, Love Leslie

    by , March 24th, 2010 at 04:17 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    USMS members in good standing in 2009, who also had the good fortune to receive the November/December edition of Swimmer magazine, may recall the following "Both Sides of the Lane Line" *** for tat column penned by Leslie "the Fortress" Livingston and Dr. Jim "Fake Doctor" Thornton, MD (f), Ph.D. in exercise physiology (f), M.A. in journalism (r), fiction writing (r), zoology (r), and all around great guy (r).

    Note: Please do not strain your eyes trying to read the attached .jpg image! I subjected the thing to Optical Character Recognition and will paste the entire text in below.

    Now, take a second to familiarize yourselves with yesteryear's arguments before proceeding to the NEARLY UNBELIEVABLE LEVEL OF UNDESERVED HATE MAIL ONE OF US JUST RECEIVED IN THE MOST RECENT ISSUE OF SWIMMER'S LETTERS TO THE EDITOR SECTION!

    As promised, here is the text of the above in a more readable format:

    Leslie Livingston, 48, is a lawyer and mother of three.

    She has numerous USMS and FINA Top 10 rankings and recently set a NR in the 50 back. She is a member Patriot Masters in Fairfax, Va.


    Im 48 and getting faster. Eschewing conventional wisdom that swimming faster requires more pool time, I've embarked on an intense strength-training regimen. This regimen has ed to increased propulsive force in the water and significant time drops. None of this is terribly surprising. Lifting creates explosive power, increases sprint speed and improves muscular endurance. It can also improve agility, stability and balance. Lifting, in effect, produces "free speed" you apply the same swimming technique with stronger muscles, generating faster times. Free speed can't be achieved by swimming alone because swimming simply does not provide sufficient resistance
    Weight lifting is perfect cross training for Masters swimmers. Performing several compound functional lifts for the upper and lower body two to three times per week will suffice. Studies confirm that lifting has an immediate impact for relatively untrained under trained athletes or those who have reached plateaus. These studies are much more probative for Masters swimmers than the short-lived Costill study of elite swimmers that Mr. Thornton is wont to cite.

    Unlike aerobic conditioning, strength does not desert us if work or life temporarily thwarts our quest for endorphins. And, unlike swimming alone, lifting combats the aging process by reversing or stymieing the body's natural loss of bone and muscle mass. This should improve flagging times or training slumps. In sum, all swimmers should exploit this powerful potential for improvement. As a former skeptic, I acknowledge that it's easy to avoid the weight room. But, if speed and health are your goal, why wait?

    Jim Thornton has 30 individual Top 10 times "a dozen less than the lovely Leslie, but at least I can still beat my age in the 100 freestyle, and she can't."

    BY JIM

    I don't like weight lifting. Why pick up something when you don't have to, only to put it down again?

    Maybe I'd think differently if dumbbells actually improved swimming performance. Clearly, many muscle-headed Masters and Olympians alike long ago accepted this myth as gospel. Free weights, Nautilus machines, Pilates with Swiss balls, the whole shooting match of self-torture: The buff have snookered themselves into believing these are critical to speed in the water.

    I don't believe it because science doesn't support it, a conclusion reached by legendary exercise physiologist and Masters swimmer, David Costill, Ph.D., emeritus professor from Ball State University. "General weight lifting probably has no carry-over to swimming performance," Dr. Costill told me recently. "There's never been a study that supports a benefit, though there have been studies that show it doesn't help."

    Still skeptical? Check Medline for additional citations.

    As for diehard iron-pumpers who prefer anecdotal evidence to well-designed studies, let me conclude with anecdotal proof of my own.

    At LCM nationals in Indy last August, the charming speed demon/debater/ignoramus, Leslie Livingston, swam the 50M butterfly in a PR of 29.74. My own time: 29.55 two-tenths of a second faster, I think we can all agree, is a pretty decisive beat-down.

    Leslie will no doubt argue it's only because I'm 6' 1" and, well, male; whereas she is 5' 4" and all girl. Nonsense! I reply. No need to evoke sexism or heightism here. I triumphed for one simple reason: She lifts weights, and I don't.

    __________________________________________________ ___

    Alrighty then! Here now is the reaction to our respective views, reaction that just hit this month's sizzling edition of Swimmer. Again, no eye straining please! I will reprint the letters' text (with names left out) to show you how three things in our sport are now incontrovertible:

    1. Leslie good, Jim bad

    2. It is not just Tea Baggers who are easily hoodwinked and unable to understand even the slightest of ironic tones! It appears that more than a few of our swimming ranks suffer "wet brain" syndrome, as well.

    3. I do agree with the very final letter about who should be named Time Magazine's Athlete of the Year. I had to read the final paragraph several times to convince myself it was not just some glitch in the OCR software that came bundled with my Brother ALL-in-One printer-copier-fax-scanner-and-time-to-change-my-Depends-diaper-reminding Device!

    Thanks, whoever you are, for the vote of confidence!

    Weighing In

    Usually, I like SWIMMER and look forward to reading it. But, seriously Jim Thornton's article in "Both Sides of the Lane Line" was not only un-progressive, but 110 percent naive. I suggest running an article next month on Dara Torres's strength routine. Do you think Jim Thornton would want to pony up his un-weight-trained body and go up against Dara? Looking forward to something a little less antiquated in Both Sides of the Lane Line.


    I found it ironic that your policy "SWIMMER will not accept submissions that include inappropriate language or constitute personal attacks" was listed in "Both Sides of the Lane Line," and "No Weigh," by Jim Thornton, in which he writes "At the LCM nationals in Indy last August, the charming speed demon/debater/ignoramus, Leslie Livingston ..." was an example of a (failure at being humorous?) personal attack (ignoramus) on Leslie Livingston. I enjoy your magazine.

    Keep the beautiful glossy covers, as I display them at work, to catch the eye of coworkers who pick it up. Thanks.


    I enjoyed the "No Weigh" half of Both Sides of the Lane Line in your November-December issue by Jim Thornton, ostensibly rebutting Leslie Livingston's cogent arguments in favor of focused weight training for swimmers. Its tongue-in-cheek (fin-in-mouth?) flavor provided just the right amount of cleverly disguised but strong support for Leslie's argument, while purporting to argue the opposite - a wonderful Dickensian touch! I particularly liked his "I think we can all agree..." challenge that 0.2 seconds better in the 50M fly is a "decisive beat-down" for weight training. Imagine the scene: big strong man (6'1" male) and little bitty lady (5'4" and "all girl," in Thornton's words) on the starting blocks (you can guess who is stretching and preening). The gun goes off, it's over in a flash, and look! The big strong man only beats the little bitty lady by 0.2 seconds (0.7% of elapsed time)! I'm starting to up my weight training right now - well actually, right after Thanksgiving...


    I was hoping to clarify a point made by Jim Thornton in his article "No Weigh!" The comment made about "general weight lifting probably has no carry over to swimming performance" is likely true to a point. General weight training typically involves a circuit of weight machines that in essence were designed for form, not function. A standard circuit workout will isolate a muscle group and make it bigger and/or stronger. These machines are not necessarily going to improve function because the motion of the exercise does not actually replicate any real life activity ... or in this case, swimming movement.

    More importantly, Mr. Thornton failed to mention that there was a second group involved in that particular study. The second group involved in the study performed only two exercises: pull-ups and dips using the weight-assisted dip and pull-up machine. These exercises more closely replicate actions used in the swimming movement.

    Here are the findings: "However, the weight-assisted dip and pull-up swimmers fared slightly better, compared to the traditional strength trainers. For one thing, they improved their 22.9 metre front crawl sprint time by .3 seconds, from 11.2 to 10.9 seconds, while the traditional people failed to improve."


    Joe Nagi (Masters swimmer of English Channel success) once asked me if he should lift weights. He knew the answer when I asked him a few questions:

    "Can an old man (or woman) be in as good of shape as a young man?"

    "Yes," he said.

    "Can an old man have as good of technique?" "Yes," he said.

    "So what is the difference between an old man and a young man?"

    "Strength," he said.

    Why not answer the question about weight training once and for all. Leslie trains with weights throughout the year. Jim only swims At the 2010 LCM Nationals, they go head to head in the 50M fly. Who knows, maybe Dr. Costill can add the results to his study.

    People should do Medline or Pubmed (the free version) searches when they have questions about exercise or health. They will find there is scientific evidence that weight training improves swimming speed. In 2007, Girold and friends showed a positive effect of 12 weeks of weight training, swimming and running on swimming speed compared to controls who biked (to keep the dry land training time equal), swam and ran.

    In 1993, Tanaka, Costill and friends showed no positive effect on swimming speed compared to controls, but only had the swimmers lift for eight weeks. The evidence I've seen is mixed but implies that weight training needs to be done for longer than eight weeks if it is going to have a transferable effect. Anybody can find full citations and summaries of the articles referred to by going to pubmed/ and searching on the author names I provide and the word "swimming."


    Tiger vs. Val vs. Jim

    I was surprised to see that Tiger Woods was named TIME magazine's Athlete of the Decade. Wouldn't it be nice if one of our outstanding Masters swimmers was so named. I would choose Laura Val. She has set U.S. and world records for the last decade. Best of all she is a nice person, and is true to herself and family.

    Even better, what about making Jim Thornton Athlete of the Decade? He is not the nicest person in the world but a demonstrably less dedicated philander than Tiger, and he can beat Laura Val every once in a blue moon in certain events. Plus, like Tiger, he has the advantage of being male!

  2. Allegory for Eternal Swimming

    by , March 21st, 2010 at 02:40 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    I realize that many of us here in the greater USMS swimming community enjoy swimming, swimming practices, open water swimming, swimming meets, swimming suits, swimming discussions, paraphernalia connected to the sport of swimming, and so forth, at least to a certain extent.

    I moreover sense that it could be construed as blasphemy to hint that lives spent in endless fixated pursuit of swimming-related activities might be, well, a tad unbalanced.

    We swimmers, like every other band of fervent human primates, can become very defensive about our passions.

    Thus, it is undoubtedly more politic to approach this subject indirectly.

    My twin brother John has just made a brilliant movie about obsessive swimming's dark side, a movie I believe could provoke even diehard evangelists for our sport to reexamine their notions.

    Because John did not want to offend swimmers by confronting them directly about their pathology, he has made a film allegory. He purposely chose a much, much less controversial subject--religious views of the after life--to stand in as a proxy for the pursuit of eternity in pools of water.

    But make no mistake.

    This is one of the most brilliant movies/savage indictments about life spent in perpetual pursuit of swimming that you will ever see.

    Normally, I do not rate movies for my vlog audience before they have a chance to view the film themselves. But this time I must make an exception.

    Five stars!
    Big ones, too. Not red dwarfs!

    This preview rating will not, I am confident, bias your own love of this film, if for no other reason than the fact that five stars are not nearly enough.

    Brief digression: As I was writing the above, a message from SKYPE just popped up on my screen, demanding an immediate shift if my attention:

    You don't have to change your life around just to get time to meet someone. There are over 7 million members on sexywebdating's online community. Hell in my state alone there are close to 200 THOUSAND active members meeting their perfect match 24 hours 7 days a week inside this tight knit match making heaven.

    There are hundreds of lonely women in your local area that want to be satisfied now. Don't let the chance pass you bye like a wink of the eye.

    Meet that special someone today. It costs you nothing to check it out. All you have to do is press this web link and you'll be chatting with someone in no time.



    Why must the world's succubi constantly be searching for new ways to extract freeze-dried seed from my dessicated loins?

    Do not they know you cannot successfully tap a dry well?

    Begone, harpies! Begone! Do not tempt the righteous man!

    'The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides with the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil (wo)men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon those with great vengeance and with furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know that my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.'

    Thus spaketh Ezekiel, more or less

    As much hated as Tiger Woods, John Edwards, most Republican "family values" politicians, and their ilk have been, their abilities to suction more than their fair share of voracious harridans from polite society is perhaps a service that we newly minted righteous men shall all miss-- missed by us even more so than by the now unslated slatterns whose needs are being stymied by sex addiction clinics nationwide!
    **** your ear to the wind and you can hear their girlish keening! It as if Holy Water has been poured upon their Disease!

    From every nook and cranny the succubi loiter and lurk

    But enough about this. I have, you will be glad to know, just blocked my new Skype "friend"--sexy_dating--from all further attempts to contact me, and can now return to the righteous job at hand--saving my friends from swimming obsession's imbalances of the wetted soul:


    [ame=""]YouTube- Why Heaven Can Wait: The Problem with Eternal Life[/ame]
  3. Hodge Podge of a Sick Boy

    by , March 14th, 2010 at 02:19 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    I know why the caged slug leaks.

    Observant readers of this vlog over the past several years might have noted that I have the immune system of someone with a bad immune system.

    While most of you can count on your innate armies of internal lymphocytes and Natural Killer Cells, immunoglobulins and macrophages, I appear to have none of these things. Thus I must fight the good fight against contagion by hiring outside forces: the Hessian mercenaries of medicine.

    Chief among these is Colonel Nyquil, with whose assistance I woke on Saturday morning still alive at 10 ish, drove to the accountant, drove back, slept from 1 ish to 5 ish, rallied for about 4 hours, then slept from 9 ish to 10 ish this morning, though it wasn't as long as you might think because we lost an hour.

    Not long after awakening, I began to suckle:

    The current state of nasal blockage is so severe that the wind pipe and pie hole must serve double duty. I cannot swallow and breathe at the same time, thus to imbibe my medicine and victuals requires a never ending compromise between hypoxia and anorexia.

    Things got so bad a couple nights ago that I googled "home made ventilators to allow breathing during periods of intense sinus blockage" but got no hits.

    When I narrowed the search to "home made ventilators" I was able to find many Popular Mechanics-style gizmos that armchair inventors have rigged up in their garages. However, the combination of oxygen deprivation and Nyquil overdosing made the complicated directions beyond my capacities to follow.

    Thus I continue to suffer like a coelacanth mouth-breathing during a prolonged drought in the mudhole, my icthyological lips and mouth flaking in dessication!

    I cannot sustain thoughts, hence today's hodge podge of cognitive flotsam and jetsam from the past week of swimming, toil, news headlines, and reverie.

    1. Liam update. The lad has joined me in realizing the health benefits of nature. Here he is doing his homework and reviewing the scientific literature in the jungle.

    2. Swimming update: the effect of trying vs. the Glenn Battle Strategy for the 500.

    There are a variety of ways to swim the 500. If you want to get your best time, you need to train hard, get into peak shape, then swim the whole thing intelligently but essentially in pain--or as my teammate/coach Bill White (father of Liam) once told me when I said, "Bill, if I go fast the whole time, it's going to hurt"--"It's supposed to hurt."

    If, on the other hand, you want to avoid too much suffering and get a "good enough" time, our friend Glenn Battle suggests the following strategy.

    • 150 in the comfort zone*
    • 50 a bit faster
    • 150 in comfort zone
    • 50 a bit faster
    • 50 in the comfort zone
    • 50 as fast as possible

    {* Glenn added a further complication that the very first 50 should probably be just a wee bit faster than total comfort, otherwise you risk setting the comfort bar too low. This codicil is for advanced loafers since it is very easy to get screwed up on the count if you use it.)

    Here are two of my Amish Mudhole 500 meet results.

    The Hard Way

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 5:27.62


    The Glenn Battle Strategy Less Hard Way

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 5:32.85


    Make of this whatever you want.

    3. Roethlisberger update. If you have not yet done so, and you think there is a CHANCE IN HELL that Ben Roethlisberger is the innocent victim of a 20-year-old money-grubbing College of Georgia floosy, please read the entire civil complaint from last summer's inaugural scrape with the legal system. One of my teammates here is Sewickley has a company that does sports-food promotions. His biggest product success to date was "Flutie Flakes"--a breakfast cereal with Doug Flutie on the box. It sold something like 2 million boxes worth. One of my teammate's current products, manufactured before the recent sexual assault allegations, is called "Roethlisberger Jerky". He's stuck with quite a few bags of this stuff, which is proving difficult to unload on the public.

    I suggested reversing the two words on the packaging and selling it to Fraternities nationwide, along with a new companion product: Roethlisberger Rapist Mayonnaise--Tag line: Add a little squirt on your jerky (TM)

    Anyhow, here is the link. Note: just as I am not a "real" doctor with "real" prescribing privileges, I am also not a "real" lawyer, or a "real" district attorney with "real" prosecutorial powers in the "real" legal system. Hence, I have no choice but to try my cases in the court of public opinion. Ladies and gentleman of the non-impaneled jury, I ask that you now admit Exhibit A into evidence:

    Little Devil Ben with Cop Buddy Entourage

    4. Health Insurance Reform Update. I am saving this for the end here because I know that many of my fellow swimmers disagree with me on the need for you all to dip into your wallets and contribute taxes that will help me get health insurance.

    It looks like this might happen. I do not in anyway mean to sing, Na na na na na naaa, for such would be hubris and surely jinx the final push for reform. Instead, let me just re-post something I wrote on another web site about the need for reform. This precipitated yet more advice from the well-heeled on what I need to do. I shall post this advice first, followed by my post that triggered the giving of such advice.


    Ive been reading your madder than hell and not going to take it anymore posts here for some time, and it seems quite clear that you really dont like living in the US. I strongly doubt that many will agree with you that we need to change to socialized form of government in order to rid the country of all of all of the leeches who add nothing to the public weal save for angry ideology that the answer to laissez faires obvious failings is to laissez faire even harder till the free market fixes everything.

    It also seems clear that the most angry person posting on these issues, is yourself. I realize that youre in a real pinch. However, it is quite apparent that living in a socialized system is your desire, so with that thought in mind, think about moving to Canada. It is close, would be inexpensive relative to other socialized countries to which you may prefer moving and living, and I think would offer you a real possibility for happiness, or something close.

    Your gain would be clear. The gain to all of the leeches who add nothing to the public weal save for angry ideology that the answer to laissez faires obvious failings who believe in a Free market is that you wont need to throw and we wont need to respond to the eloquent, articulate, slap-in-the-face insults those with whom you disagree, those of us who post on this blog along with you.

    And now my original post that precipitated the "go to psychiatrist then move to Canada" recommendations above:

    The decision to bundle college aid in with health care reform is strange, perhaps, but not in my opinion a bad thing. One could argue, with some rationality, that a college education not only significantly ups the odds of higher life time earnings, but with this, better health (as data shows again and again that those who can afford high quality medical care fare much better than those who cant.)

    Here is a metaphor for a bunch of dysfunctional systems in the US today: the QWERTYUIOP keyboard. As I am sure you know, Alan, the arrangement of keys on the typewriter keyboard was originally designed to prevent typing speeds from getting too high, thus jamming the mechanics of early type writers.

    Today, with computers, there is no jamming risk whatsoever, and many arrangments of the alphabet have been shown to be much faster and easier to type with. Alas, the status quo is so entrenched (almost like our inches and feet and lb measurements which are clearly nonsensical compared to the metric system) that few, if any, people want to change. It becomes a vicious circle. Keyboard manufacturers wont change things without a significant demand for the better product; without a better product widely available, kids learning to type use the current QWERTYUIOP configuration; the status quo continues with no relief in sight.

    Ditto with our current system of employment-based health insurance, begun as a way of circumventing price controls in the olden days, and around which a huge entrenched bureaucracy of vested interests has grown like strangler figs anxious to suck every unguarded penny from the doctor-patient transaction.

    Many hospitals todaytheir actual architectureseem to follow this same inefficient pattern. They began as somewhat rational buildings, but grew with new wings and skyways and jury-rigged annexes to the point where you need a GPS to find your way from the lobby to the doctors office. I have seen gerbil tube extravanganzas laid out more rationally than this mess that evolves over time.

    The Congress has reached a similar point of spectacular ineptitude: many good people, I am sure, but penned in by archaic rules and party rules and the corruption of special interest moneyall of which has lead to a virtual paralysis.

    I say why on earth should private banks be allowed to suck money out of student loan moneys, where the need to educate our people is clearly a public good? Ditto, I believe, for private insurers and all the other fatted-tics that have appended their rasper organs on the national health.

    To me, its always boiled down to a clear notion: throw out the QWERTYUIOP keyboards and non-metric system; raze hospital mazes that bewilder all visitors; take Occams razor to the Gordian Knot of congressional archania; make access to health care an American right, and cut costs and ration via a single payer system; get rid of all of the leeches who add nothing to the public weal save for angry ideology that the answer to laissez faires obvious failings is to laissez faire even harder till the free market fixes everything.

    One way or the other, those blood-engorged leech-ticks someday will explode.

    My dream of AHIP CEOs' fates: last moment before the squooshing!
  4. Oscar Pickin' Time

    by , March 5th, 2010 at 01:07 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    People wonder sometimes why we have two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two forks on our tongues, two adenoids, two lungs, two pituitary glands, two kidneys, two testicles, and in my case, too much time on my hands.

    The answer is fail-safe redundancy: if one ball fails, the other can do its designated job. Just ask Lance. Though you might want to avoid asking Cheryl Crow until she's less fragile.

    Tonight, after a long day's journey into the most spectacular day of time-wasting I have had in years, I took my ambien tablet and now just ain't no damn ****ing good at all, to tell the truth.

    But unlike 87 out of 88 humans, I have more than just a bunch of paired redundant backup organs, should one malfunction, get sick, or become temporarily incapacitated by drugs and self disgust.

    I have a back-up me, that is to say, the Good Twin, John, who is more than a back-up really, he is an idealized version of what I could have been if I had not been so overwhelmed with pettiness and (unusually) petty character flaws, chief amongst which are laziness, greed, spendthifty nature, inability to plan ahead, and the kind of easy distractibility you usually see in pre-school children force fed great goblets of liquid Ritalin by men in white with gloves passed their elbows.

    Please enjoy tonight's blog, Oscar Pickin' Time, a film conceived, produced, and starring the one person in the world who is as close to me as anyone could ever hope to come, though so much better than me that the gap between us can never be closed.

    Be alert to the later stages of the film, where a fully luxurious pencil thin makes its appearance. Historians, I daresay, some day will note that with this image, the flood gates will be lifted, spilling cascades wannabe swooshing raffish little men in every direction across the streets of America.

    [ame=""]YouTube- Oscar Pickin' Showdown!!![/ame]

    Updated March 5th, 2010 at 01:12 AM by jim thornton

  5. Raffish Badboy in Dishabille

    by , March 3rd, 2010 at 11:43 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Entry Word: raffish*
    Function: adjective
    Meaning: lacking in refinement or good taste <the dowager cringed at the thought of raffish
    peasants in rough boots tromping all over her Persian rugs

    Entry Word: badboy*
    Function: noun
    Meaning: A young man who has many characteristics of a naughty boy: he's independent and willful; he does what he wants when he wants; he doesn't follow trends, they follow him; he often looks scruffy, but hip; he's not looking for trouble, but there's a sense of danger about him. For these reasons and more, he's irresistible to women. He's a heartbreaker with five o'clock shadow.

    Last week, as the Winter Olympic Games were waning, my identical twin brother--the raffish badboy John Thornton, AKA, Rusty Scupperton, AKA, Jimmy Bougar, AKA, Libby Ellen Spooner, and countless other aliases--texted me.

    The gist of John's message was that he had found the perfect look for us, and that I would never guess what it was.

    I immediately texted him back with a "guess" that I was virtually certain was correct: "The Apollo Ohno soul patch?"

    Singletons often think twins have E.S.P., but in my case, it's simply remarkable perception and intuitive intelligence bordering on the uncanny. In our childhood, for instance, I was able to routinely ruin the TV show
    Mannix for anybody watching it with me because of my ability to identify the villain within a second of his initial appearance.

    But I am getting off the subject.

    Anyhow, John immediately texted me back with what I assumed would be congratulations for my perspicacity. Instead, he said that the Apollo Ohno soul patch was
    not the look he was pioneering for us, but that I was on the right track.

    This is when I knew, with 100 percent confidence this time, that John was growing a pencil-thin mustache.

    I also knew, with 100 percent confidence, that I was the identical twin brother of a fashion-sense spooky genius.

    The pencil thin mustache was absolutely the look that we Thornton twins were born to sport. Sometimes, it seems, the best ideas lie hidden for years right under one's nose.

    At this point in my "flowery, florid" commentary, let me intersperse a little "eye candy" pictorial for the ladies to keep interest from flagging:

    Despite his album title, I don't think Mr. Buffet has really captured the thinness that is necessary for this particular mustache. And why is he resting his arm on a nuclear reactor cooling tower?

    Sometimes a chick-magnetizing look must go out of style for several generations before it can be brought back to magnetize the great great granddaughters of the originally mesmerized chicks.

    This appears to be the case with the pencil thin mustache.

    I dare say that every American woman alive today had female ancestors who occasionally drifted off to sleep with the assistance of fantasies about Errol Flynn. Has his pencil thin time come again?

    As the years passed, the pencil thin mustache's popularity waned to the point where you needed either a British accent...

    or roles like Dr. Phibes to pull off the look.

    The inimitable John Waters is arguably the most famous modern day proponent of the look, and by his own admission, he is not trying to attract actual women.

    At the 2006 National Magazine Awards ceremony, John consoles me about my loss and shows me how to add a little panache to the monkey suit look by tilting my clip on bow-tie
    just so. Amazingly, it did not occur to me to ask him for pencil thin mustache advice because the thought that I would be sporting this look in less than four years had not yet entered my foolish little head!

    A few notes before presenting tonight's final eye candy images.

    1. At
    tonight's practice, our teammate Mark "Water Rat" Cox was swimming right behind me on a set of 4 x 200s on 3:00 descending. The reason Mark was behind me was he was doing I.M.'s and I was swimming freestyle. Anyhow, the aquatic staff had removed the backstroke flags on the far end of the pool, and Mark crashed into the wall, breaking his nose. So very sorry, Mark! But there is a silver lining here that would dramatically reduce the amount of shaving trauma to the nasal region, practically cutting this in half...

    2. To wit, I am very much hoping to cajole Mark along with all the men on our team, and as many of the women who would agree to a short purely reversible course of anabolic steroids, into joining me in the growth, trimming, and general bonzai-tree tending your own pencil thin mustaches in time for this year's regional AMYMSA championships at Clarion University. The Sewickley team, quite frankly, has always scared the bejesus out of the other teams in our Young Men's Christian Association league. Imagine the terror at seeing a dozen people of all genders sporting the same raffishly menacing badboy upper lip hair?

    3. Which brings me to a small poll here. Which name do you think would be better for the Sewickley Y masters team?

    The Pencil Thin Mustached Sewickley Sea Dragons


    The Errol Fins

    Here is what my own mustache looks like so far. As you can see, it's a little unruly and unkempt at this stage, and I will probably need to be a lot more ruthless in trimming it in the future. But I thought that until my teammate Ben Mayhew makes good on his promise to buy me some mascara and/or Grecian Formula/Just for Men blackening dye, I thought I'd let my freak flag fly at little bit longer.

    Speaking of flags flying, after the last few practices, I have found myself exiting the Y in such a state of total exhaustion that were it not for the absolutely frigid air's infiltration, I would surely spend the rest of the night in unwitting and possibly criminal dishabille.*

    Entry Word: dishabille*
    Function: noun

    1. (Clothing & Fashion) the state of being partly or carelessly dressed
    2. (Clothing & Fashion) Archaic clothes worn in such a state [from French dshabill undressed, from ds- dis-1habiller to dress; see habiliment]

    The pencil thin mustache, it appears, might just keep this raffish badboy dshabill out of legal jeopardy.


    * if you have read down to this point wondering what all the asterisks were for, congratulations! You have just successfully completed the first in an occasional series of Words Are Important vocabulary building exercises courtesy of Vlog the Inhaler Pedantry

  6. Sunday Jeopardy

    by , March 1st, 2010 at 12:21 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Jim Thornton: I'd like the category Random Numbers for 500, Alex.

    Alex Trebeck: Random Numbers for 500 it is! 6:00, 19:34.18, 84, 117/72, and 1783.37.

    Jim Thornton: What is...the time I woke up this morning to go swim the 1650 at CMU?

    Ding Ding Ding Ding!

    Alex Trebeck: Correct. 6:00 a.m. is the time you woke up this morning!

    Jim Thornton: Okay...What is my time in the 1650?

    Ding Ding Ding Ding!

    Alex Trebeck: Correct, again! And a fine time for you it is, if I am not mistaken?

    Jim Thornton: Correct to you this time, Alex! (Canned laughter to supplement the few mild snickers from the live audience.) This was actually my best 1650 in several years, though I took it out too fast and suffered horrible hog-whimpering pain for much of the race.

    Alex Trebeck: Moving on to the next number...

    Jim Thornton: Okay, ah, what is the total quantity in minutes of my nap after the 1650 and while trying to watch the "USA, USA, USA" hockey loss against Canada, but unable to stay awake given that this is the most boring spectator sport in the history of the known string theory universe?

    Ding Ding Ding Ding!

    Alex Trebeck: Three down, and three to go!

    Jim Thornton: Okay, hmmm, I am trying to remember...Oh, I know! What was my blood pressure reading after I woke up from the nap?

    Ding Ding Ding Ding!

    Jim Thornton (fist pumping): Alex, I think I just figured out the answer to America's health care crisis! Make people watch hockey--they won't ever need to buy Ambien or blood pressure pills again! Imagine the savings! (Genuine laughter from the audience mixed with a few choking sobs.)

    Alex Trebeck: Just think! If you get one more right,you'll be able to buy at least three or four day's worth of Rx pills! (Riotous applause.)

    Jim Thornton: Gosh, Alex. Can I get you to repeat that last number? You did say 1783.37, right?

    Alex Trebeck: Yes, that is the number.

    Jim Thornton: (perplexed look becomes ever more exaggerated as nerve-wracking Jeopardy Muzak song begins to play:
    dum dum DUM dum dum dum dum! Dum dum dum dum DUM de dumdum...dum..dum...dum) Ah...

    Alex Trebeck: Sorry, but I do need your response now.

    Jim Thornton: (looking agonized in indecision) Er, ah, what...what is the amount in dollars that will be automatically deducted from my bank account each month for the next year to pay for my family's piss poor health insurance premium?


    Alex Trebeck: Oh, so close! 1783.37 is actually the number of dollars that will be automatically deducted from your bank bank account
    next month. March is only the transition month. After that, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota will be automatically deducting $1865.50 from your bank account each month, that is, till the company jacks up the rates again in 2011, or you run out, which ever happens first!

    Jim Thornton: (clutching his left arm as his carotid arteries begin to flex and writhe like electrocuted night crawlers) Alex, I need to go Stat! (riotous laughter from studio audience, followed by cut to an advertisement for
    LATISSE solution is a prescription treatment for hypotrichosis used to grow eyelashes, making them longer, thicker and darker. Eyelash hypotrichosis is another name for having inadequate or not enough eyelashes.)

    Event 1 Men 55-59 1650 Yard Freestyle
    ================================================== =============================
    Name Age Team Seed Finals Points
    ================================================== =============================
    1 1-5 Thorton, Jim 57 TPIT-AM 19:50.00 19:34.18

    30.96 1:05.54 (34.58) 1:40.03 (34.49) 2:14.52 (34.49)
    2:49.55 (35.03) 3:24.78 (35.23) 3:59.96 (35.18) 4:34.94 (34.98)
    5:10.07 (35.13) 5:45.07 (35.00) 6:20.07 (35.00) 6:55.36 (35.29)
    7:30.52 (35.16) 8:06.58 (36.06) 8:42.46 (35.88) 9:18.37 (35.91)
    9:54.37 (36.00) 10:30.72 (36.35) 11:07.09 (36.37) 11:43.09 (36.00)
    12:20.04 (36.95) 12:57.12 (37.08) 13:33.82 (36.70) 14:10.80 (36.98)
    14:47.27 (36.47) 15:24.20 (36.93) 16:00.74 (36.54) 16:37.19 (36.45)
    17:13.84 (36.65) 17:50.36 (36.52) 18:26.61 (36.25) 19:02.29 (35.68)
    19:34.18 (31.89)

    Note 1: They spelled my name wrong. It's actually Thornton. All my life, people have been thinking my last name in Thorton. Whenever I go to distant cities, I check the telephone books. Never have I ever seen a Thorton listed.

    Note 2: Normally, I like to let my Friday vlog simmer over the weekend and continue to stew on Monday before posting another, believing that some readers turn off their computers during the weekend and only get back to full-throttle time wasting once they are back at the office.

    For those of you in this boat, who might have missed Friday's entry "Fry, Willy! Jim's Week in Review", I heartily encourage you to take a look and leave comments there (and here) as you see fit!

    Fry, Willy! -- Jim's Week in Review
  7. Fry, Willy! -- Jim's Week in Review

    by , February 26th, 2010 at 05:48 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)

  8. Intimations of ISH Morbidity

    by , February 25th, 2010 at 12:48 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    I ask-no! I beg!-- that the physicians in our ranks, the Dr. Tom Jaegermeisters, the Dr. Kurt Dicksons, the Dr. Laughing Gulls, the (fake) Dr. Jim Thorntons, take a few minutes to view this film with every iota of heightened attention they can muster.

    Rarely has a man of medicine, fake medicine, but medicine nonetheless, expressed in the film medium such "laughing in the face of death" terror at learning through K-Mart and the Internet that he suffers ISH.

    Please, really, leave comments if you know about, have, can recommend courses of action for, or just want to gloat about my likely case of ISH.

    Honestly, please, please, please tell me what to do.

    [ame=""]YouTube- ISH: First He Weeps[/ame]
  9. Lindsay Vonn's Swimming Tips to Me in 5 Panels

    by , February 23rd, 2010 at 01:39 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)

  10. Tiger's Face is Burning Bright

    by , February 20th, 2010 at 02:21 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    The Aphrodisiac Efficacy
    Tiger boners;
    Ruminations on
    the lure
    of allure

    from an evolutionary


    Some 10 percent of the population of China today are direct descendants of Genghis Khan and his brothers. You don't hear Genghis et al going on national TV and apologizing for taking advantage of what life provided him.

    As a below average beta minus schmuck myself, I am jealous of the Alpha males who can get all this distaff attention. Part of me wants to be able to dismiss their lothario charms as a disease of morality or deficit of character or something else that's bad bad bad.

    But I don't think medicalizing or demonizing Tiger's behavior--or the behavior of the 14+ super vixen wide-eyed types evidently experienced in fluffing, and who found him and his fame and his money so attractive.

    Neither side, in my opinion, ever acted outside an accordance with their true natures. A guy who is attracted to buxom-ly and calipygean-ly seductive tartettes and appears to be able to get them as easily as I can turn on Youporn at night is likely to take advantage of his seductive powers during the priapismic, conscienceless state and hope for the best that his family does not find out about it and the whole thing turns catastrophic.

    The concupiscent slatterns with their dreams of status and money and a superbly trained athletic body to manipulate around to their erotic bidding, all within a shared Ambien daze that imparts to the intimacy the feel of a wet dream--well, the skanksters knew he was married, knew he had children, and still off they went for what they wanted.

    Lies all around; wickedness or the rutting beasts, makes no never mind if you want this love. It is what gets done under such circumstances.

    He is driven by visions of a soft wet lubricious harbor surrounded by the rolling landscape of desire, the Tetons and the fertile rift valley.

    She wants to touch the muscles that make the moolah by driving the long ball and to feel the touch that sinks the putt so perfectly, even the rimmed cups that drop in with such delicious satisfaction and triumph. She wants the probe and whatever else it is that women seem to derive from the physical part of the act, when they aren't faking; but beyond this, she wants his lucre, lubricious in a different way, a sacrament for the extravagant life of the most famous athlete in the world (with the possible short-lived exception of the Flying Tomato on Thursday night--he'll be forgotten when next in Augusta the azaleas bloom).

    I am sure they could have found more monogamously inclined, if less celebrated, guys to adore them. The propagation of DNA is a moral-less form of game theory, where the winners are just better players than the losers.

    We all have some successful player in us because that's the definition of ancestor.

    On some level the acquisitive slattern must think she is good enough to take her objet d'amore away from the woman he's married to. How surprising that other slatterns feel they have the right to make their play as well. And so it goes--

    Avaricious in complementary ways, both genders try to extract for themselves what it is they want to gain, without giving away too much to get it.

    There is very little wiggle room for seeing such transactions as anything but what they are. *** for tat. We know what *** means.

    Tat, I am pretty sure, is the name for some currency in Asia where street merchants are frequently heard screaming in the night, "*** for tat, yes?? "No two **** for a tat, not a single tat more!" "You crazy man. I should charge you 7 tats for 1 ***."

    And so it goes on through the night till some accommodation is finally brokered, both sides pouting.

    We are designed for this.

    Here is an excerpt from an article of mine written a year or so ago on my package. It was supposed to be a lengthy, penetrating, probing, in-depth, hands-on kind of thing. I began to refer to it as my Package Package.

    The excerpt:

    Why, for example, do men produce an average of 4 million sperm cells per hour, 24 hours a day, from puberty till their deathbeds, whereas women ovulate only one egg a month from early teens to menopause? After all, it only takes one sperm to impregnate one egg. Why such overkill?

    Multimillion man march
    . The answer, biologists have discovered, is a phenomenon called sperm competition, and it exists in all species where males compete with each other to inseminate females. Simply put, if two males inseminate the same female at roughly the same time, the guy with more sperm has proportionately greater odds of becoming the father. His sons, in turn, inherit genes for higher sperm count, which gives them an advantage of their rivals. Over enough generations, it becomes a kind of nuclear arms race where the winners have the optimal sperm counts for the breeding system of that particular species.

    To see how this plays out in the natural world, consider how average
    human sperm production compares to that of our two closest primate relatives: the gorilla and the chimp.

    An adult silver back male gorilla weighs in at 600 lb. A male chimpanzee tips the scales at around 100. American men today average about 190 lb.

    You might imagine testicle size in our respective species would roughly parallel these difference in overall body weight.

    In actuality, it's not even close. Male gorillas have tiny testicles, much smaller than ours. Chimps, on the other hand, boast testes the size of grapefruits. At an average of 1 cubic inch per testicle, human testicles fall somewhere in the middle.

    Now compare this with the degree of male-to-male competition for mates. In gorillas, females couple exclusively with the troop's silver back leader. Barring his injury or infirmity, there's very little chance he'll find himself cuckolded by another male.

    With chimps, on the other hand, the females are highly promiscuous, coupling with almost every male in the troop (and thus winning for her offspring at least a small portion of parental care from each male.)

    Human mating behavior falls somewhere in the middle. For females and males alike, Christian
    Judeo monogamy may be what many of us profess to aspire to--but practicing this over the eons has evidently proved another story. Not that cuckoldry is just some theoretical threat today.

    As part of a large-scale study on the genetics of breast cancer, a researcher surveying family trees via DNA fingerprinting recently made an accidental discovery sure to put a chill into men everywhere. From 9 to 15 percent of the US population at large, it turns out, are the direct result of cuckoldry. This finding, alas, is no fluke.

    Other studies have found similar percentages hovering around the 10 percent mark.

    This is an enormous number, says evolutionary psychologist, Dr. David Buss, author of
    The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex. What it means is that when I give a lecture to 200 college students, 20 or more of them have fathers different from the guy they think is their father.

    It may seem counter-romantic, but the average of 40-80 million sperm cells per cc of ejaculate we produce today is testimony to our forefather's struggle to overwhelm their rivals in the race to the egg. They have beget to us their ability to beget.

    Both hose and plunger. The length, thickness, and shape of the penis is further testimony to this ancient competition. As a 2004 study in Evolutionary Psychology suggests, the human penis evolved not just as a device for depositing our own sperm but also as a means for suctioning out the sperm of a recent rival.

    This phenomenon, known as semen displacement, is well documented in many species that have evolved penile barbs, hooks, combs, and other mechanisms for removing copulatory plugs and/or sperm left in a female's reproductive tract by other males.

    As MRI studies have shown, the human penis during intercourse swells up and expands the vaginal walls, with the head frequently bumping up against a woman's cervix at maximum thrusting. Unlike other primates, we also sport an over-sized glans, or penile head, along with a pronounced coronal ridge.

    In a 2003 study, researchers simulated sexual intercourse with a variety of artificial phallus models and found that the shape we guys actually have is uniquely suited to "scooping out" the semen of others.

    So why don't we inadvertently scoop out our own seed? For one thing, most of us stop thrusting soon after, if not immediately upon, climaxing. Another factor is the nature of semen itself, which coagulates into a viscous goop within seconds of ejaculation and remains this way before liquefying 15 minutes to a half hour later.

    It turns out that viscous semen is much more difficult to displace, and it may, in fact, bar the progress of another guy's sperm, much like the copulatory plugs seen in other animals.

    Women's privates, to be sure, have evolved their own clandestine adaptations, from the production of so-called hostile mucous to the ability to keep favored sperm alive for up to a week post-insemination.

    In light of all this, the private parts of both genders can seem less like agents of romance than the dueling technologies of Spy vs. Spy.

    Is there no hope, then, for True Love? Of course there is, says Buss, who suggests a guy's greatest adaptation of all may be his capacity to give love and receive love in return. One of the best predictors of female infidelity is the males lack of emotional closeness, he says. Keep your woman emotionally satisfied and fulfill her desires.

    If you don't try your best here, who can blame her when she begins the search for a guy who will?

    Tiger's confession today left me very moved; I am sniveling sucker for these kind's of public displays of remorse and beseeching of absolution, if not now, then sometime in the indefinite future, oh please, just don't rule it out entirely, I beg you, please don't say no, never, the night bell rung in error in the night can never be undone! Not that!

    How can we not identify with his sufferings! How not find ourselves stretching every elastic fiber of imagination in an effort to share his horror at sudden excommunication from the jolly throngs of aspirants!

    But there is a way of un-ringing the bell, there is a way to find redemption: an ancient religion with a modern twist, suggested by none other than Secular Jewish Humanist Scholar, Eye Doctor, and Swimmer Extraordinaire, Dr. Dan Nadler.

    Updated February 20th, 2010 at 11:06 AM by jim thornton

  11. Speedo and A.H.I.P.

    by , February 13th, 2010 at 01:39 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Yesterday, when I went to K-Mart to pick up some drugs, my chest felt weird in a painy kind of way, and people were asking me if I was all right. It is possible that various pressures of late have been escalating the graying of Jim. When I look in a mirror lately, something I try to avoid, it's hard for even me to ignore a certain corpse-like quality that is accelerating its hold on my features.

    While awaiting the prescription re-fill for what is, in effect, a legal form of speed without which perambulation itself would go from excruciating to impossible, I decided to check my blood pressure.

    I was hoping for either low/normal readings, which might preminisce a few more good months; or astronomically high readings, which might indicate more immediate relief of some species is at hand.

    The results were equivocal.

    158/78 with a pulse of 40.

    Since I am not close to meeting my deductible, going to a doctor for an informed opinion was, of course, out of the question.

    I made the diagnosis myself:

    Systolic blood pressure: high.
    Will to live: low.


    I think one of the factors that set off yesterday's red hydraulic pressure spike (which strangely enough managed to add no color whatsoever to my skin, which has remained uniformly crepey and cadaverous) was an AP story on the WellPoint health insurance company's decision to raise the rates on some of its individual customers in California by 39 percent.

    California, according to our esteemed free marketeer and fiscal austerity booster, J.L., has much better regulations and protections for individual consumers than my own state of Pennsylvania. I intuited that whatever species of buggery is allowed in California is thus likely to transform itself into an even more rapacious form of rectal rape in less progressive states.

    Today, I woke to find that California is not alone in this massive increase in rates for those of us caught in a death spiral.

    Please consider checking out today's AP story at

    A few sample quotes:

    • "We frankly have been very frustrated by the size of these increases," Pingree told The Associated Press. "Obviously, they are attempting to price certain people out of the market."

    • "Premiums are far more volatile for individual policies than for those bought by employers and other large groups, which have bargaining clout and a sizable pool of people among which to spread risk. As more people have lost jobs, many who are healthy have decided to go without health insurance or get a bare-bones, high-deductible policy, reducing the amount of premiums insurers receive."


    As regular readers of this vlog might have realized by now, this topic of health insurance is one that has been bugging the Holy Living Bejesus out of me for the past several years.

    One of things that has proven particularly onerous to me is the "advice" I have received from the J.L.'s of the world, advice that is usually offered in both a condescending and bamboozingly uninformed way. It boils down to this: there is a Magic Solution out there for you, but you are not looking hard enough for it.

    Check out this high-deductible plan from AARP.

    Join an association.

    Do something.

    And if none of these things work, move.

    Mr. J.L., I do hope you have access to good proctological care, because it appears to this layman that you have a severe pre-existing condition here.


    Like blind men examining an elephant, I know that my perspective on the health insurance situation in our country is parochial at best.
    For most of my life, I have been by most reasonable definitions a middle class person.
    This is starting to slip away with increasing alacrity, and it has not made me into what, by most reasonable definitions, could be called a better person.

    I feel for the first time in my life a very strong sense of prejudice and discrimination-feel free to laugh if you want, J.L., but there you have it.

    When I decided to pursue my career as a magazine writer in the early 1980s, I knew that it would not be the easiest route to a secure life. I knew that I would have no employer to match my social security contributions, and hence have been paying 15 percent off the top of everything Ive earned.

    I knew, as well, that I would have to pay for my familys health insurance premiums.

    What I didnt know then, and I am not sure anyone would have been able to predict this, is that:

    * two of the most commonly treated conditions in the U.S.-depression and high cholesterol-would render both my wife and me uninsurable if we ever tried to change policies after going on treatment for these

    * that the policy we bought at the time, and found quite affordable when we were 31 and 27 respectively, now takes up 40 percent of our pre-tax income.

    This is the part of the elephant I am looking at, and I assure you, it is a very disgusting part indeed.

    You may want to write this off as a political rant, Mr. J.L. and your Ayn Rand love-slave ilk, but I am telling you, I have spent the last year looking at options to get out of this trap, and the only possibilities I can find are to give up insurance altogether, or to try to lower my income to the point where we will qualify for a state-aided policy that is basically a welfare kind of thing.

    J.L., you may have the luxury of getting all huffy about this in a political sense, but I am certain it does not effect you in a personal way. You sound like you are old enough to be retired; chances are you are sucking the socialist teat of Medicare already, the kind of socialism I suspect you independents with the little is rant against when its offered to anybody else.

    Again, I am slipping into ad hominem territory here, and I apologize. Its just so damnably frustrating to have no way out and the responsibility of your family on your shoulders and a sense that the system is rigged against you.


    All of which circles me back to the title of today's vlog: Speedo and A.H.I.P.

    As most of us suspect, Speedo's decision to add a rubber-like flotation material to the LSR suit, which soon lead to competitors, from B70 to Jaked, adding even more rubber-like flotation materials to their racing suits, appears to have been the final straw that forced FINA's hand.

    This overreaching on Speedo's part, in my opinion, was what killed the golden goose. If they had stuck with pure textiles, and world records had continued to fall on some reasonable schedule--as opposed to an explosion of them--I suspect that FINA would have never had to ban tech suits.

    Speedo would still be selling $400 FastPros and the like.

    I, for one, will never spend more than $25 on a swimming suit again in my life.

    My prediction: America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the lobby "representing nearly 1300 member companies providing health insurance coverage to more than 200 million Americans," should have learned from Speedo's mistake.

    Go ahead and raise rates by 10-39 percent per year till virtually all people in my boat are uninsured, leaving only the best actuarial "risks" with private insurance.

    At some point, this is going to come back to bite you.

    I only hope I live to see the day.

    American Private Health Insurance
  12. Liam White, Boy Genius

    by , February 10th, 2010 at 11:10 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Since Sunday, my friend and swimming coach Bill White and his family have been staying at our house due to a power outage.

    It has been a wonderful experience for me, and I am hoping that this vlog will not bring me to the attention of the authorities vested with child labor law violations.

    Liam and his sister Ciara, Bill and Colleen's adorable progeny/spawn, have made this house come alive! Liam has figured out, among other things, how to broadcast the Internet on our High Definition TV set; how to get free replacement Nintendo Wii remote's wrist straps and and Nintendo Wii remote jacket; how to melt snow without causing icing problems via electrolysis and/or evaporative technlogies not yet fully pioneered; etc. He has also been shoveling.

    But more than anything else, he has been showing me how to revolutionize my personal computing experience.

    Liam White, the 9 ⅝- year-old, fourth grade boy genius (who showed me how to use run "charmap" to get the ⅝ symbol) showing me how to use Adobe Photoshop Elements.

    Regular readers of this vlog will remember the pithy genius of Liam, back when he was in Ms. Lanza's third grade class at Cornell Elementary (nominated for a PA Blue Ribbon School Award). This is his homework assignment on idioms. I do not personally believe that any paper turned in that day was more deserving of an A+.

    Other than the vast amount of time that I wasted on Facebook and other Internet time sucks, I worked on my next article assignment, which is on the health benefits of exposure to Nature. I do not believe that my editors, when assigning the topic, had in mind Snowmageddon I and Snowmageddon II. That is neither here nor there. In any event, after reading a scientific journal article on how houseplants in the office setting can improve the mood of males, vis a vis reduction of stress and state anger, I decided to move my office to the jungle. Liam helped me execute this dream by making it a reality.

    And on this note, it is time (arguably high time) that Liam goes to bed and I shut my pie hole.

    Thanks, Liam! Thanks Bill for animating Liam, and Colleen for serving as the Vessel for this animation, and Ciara for not bothering Liam while he showed me how to use the computer(which I had no idea how to do before the power outage brought the boy genius into my home).
  13. Floricalizona Hot House Flowers: A Gift

    by , February 8th, 2010 at 06:06 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Many photographs and videos have been taken of this weekend's Snowmageddon; many words have been written for newspapers and spoken with grim authority over the radio and television airwaves.

    But here, in the work of one toiling-in-anonymity filmmaker, gifted with genes that only exist one other place in the universe, which have therein have been squandered, from this hearty intellectual creative stock, comes the definitive work on the Snowpocalpyse yet done, or ever will be done.

    For all of you who have had the great pleasure of visiting the salt-water-taffy-dappled Jersey Shore in high summer, or watched tattooed beefheads and their siliconated chesty la'rue cocubines on the popular MTV show, please turn your attentions now to the Jersey Shore in a season beyond your reckoning.

    This off-putting preamble notwithstanding, please do watch this film; you will be glad you did.

    It is magnificent.

    Afterwards, please return to tonight's vlog for my calling-an-audible workout, which I am writing with Bill's blessing.

    He still doesn't have power, and his family is bivouacing in our humble quarters for the foreseeable future.

    I am still sickly weak. The workout will represent Jimcentricity in all its effete glory.

    [ame=""]YouTube- Snowpocalypse Now![/ame]

    I shall give you a few moments now to compose yourself and stop weeping.

    Here is tonight's Jimcentric workout (sorry, it looks like some bugs remain to be worked out here, but squint):

  14. Powerless

    by , February 7th, 2010 at 12:20 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    It started snowing here in western PA on Friday afternoon. When I got dropped off at practice, there was about 3-4 inches. Bill couldn't make it to the Y, so I called an audible. All in all, an easy practice, the only semi-hard thing being 10 x 100 on 2:00, swimming easy, medium, hard, easy, medium, hard, easy, medium, hard, easy.

    Jeremy agreed to give me a ride home in his Canyonero, which made it up our driveway once he put it in four wheel drive.

    My son Jack was at home, going slightly crazy already from cabin fever. We talked for a while about his legal troubles.

    Then I started working on this article that was technically due on Friday--hoping to send it out by 11:59 p.m.

    Five minutes later, i.e., approximate 8:22 p.m., the power went off. The computer crashed. One minute later, the power came back on for 20 seconds. Then it went off again.

    I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by headlamp under several layers of blankets. The next morning, the house was 53 degrees, there was two feet of snow outside, and my cell phone was dead. Jack put on some boots and hiked through the snow cover to a friends house a couple miles away.

    I stayed in bed as long as I could stand it, then got up, fed the pugs, and shoveled a path out to the garage. The snow was so deep I had to remove three Eskimo blocks of it just to reach the ground--three scoops, rest, three scoops, rest, and so forth, all the while gauging chest discomfiture for signs of imminent catastrophe.

    It took a half hour to reach the garage. I plugged in the charger apparatus to the cigarette lighter, then turned the ignition. Nothing. Battery absolutely dead.

    Back in the house, I remembered I could turn on the gas stove and light it manually. I turned on all the burners to get a little heat in the kitchen, then tried to fill the kettle with water for tea. We have a well, and the pump runs on electicity, so no water.

    I found a small bottle of water in the fridge and used it to make a cup of tea. Then I read a day old newspaper and went back to sleep.

    When I got up, I made a fire in this wood burning stove insert in our fireplace. It's usually quite efficient heat-wise, but this depends on a blower that requires electrical power to operate. Without the blower, I wasn't sure if the fire would help much or not, but I hoped it would prolong the time it takes for pipes to freeze.

    I shoveled another path that took me far enough to a semi-plowed portion of the neighbor's driveway, then hiked over there. They let me use one of their cars to charge my cell phone.

    Then I walked down to Sewickley with my swimming suit, a towel, a razor, and some shaving cream.

    Walking down Blackburn Road was like being a pedestrian in a bobsled run.

    The Y was closed.

    I went to the village of Sewickley to find something to eat. Most places were closed, but I managed to get a Quiznos $5 footlong, then called up 40yrold and asked if I could stop by to charge my phone, which had already lost almost all its juice. He said sure.

    On the way over, I bought his three adorable daughter's a little Valentine's Day heart-shaped cupcake. When I arrived, two of the daughters had friends over, so my heart was divided into five pieces: Caroline, Sascha, Leila, Georgia, and (my mind is blanking) Harriet?--anyhow, all five consumed some.

    I hiked back home. Jack left a message he was staying at a friend's house. I fed the dogs, put some more wood on the fire, and went to our Bed & Breakfast in Ambridge to spend the night. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo executed an extremely enjoyable form of revenge on her legal guardian. I slept for a while, then my mind went on worry-rotisserie mode for the rest of the night.

    This morning, I came back to feed the pugs and possibly defrost them. I didn't have to do the latter. Linus the guinea pig was also still warm-blooded.

    The power had come back on!

    Judging from the inside temperature--up to 56 degrees and still climbing--the electric company must have restored service sometime earlier in the morning.

    Who knows how long it will last?

    We are supposed to get another 10 inches on Wednesday.

    Clara! The other little friend was not Harriet but Clara! The mind blank passes.

  15. Low Fat Jimmies

    by , February 3rd, 2010 at 11:37 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Forced myself to go to practice tonight despite ongoing queasiness. Did 3,300 desultory yards of freestyle (while my lanes mates swam I.M.s) and managed to keep the stomach contents on the right side of all sphincters, which I suppose is a blessing of some sort, if not for me, at least for my lane mates.

    My last cartoon entry,
    Non-alcoholic digestif for a queasy mind, took quite a while to accumulate the 100 views I am holding myself to as a minimum before I post the next entry. This interlude, again, is probably a blessing, if not for me, at least for my viewers.

    We have one of our Amish Mudhole meets this weekend, and I am signed up for the 200. My goal was to break two minutes, but since the descent of this queasiness, I have changed the goal to breaking three minutes.

    My teammate Mark, AKA, 40yrold, who is, in fact, about to turn 42, suggested that in another day or so, my goal will be to just finish the 200. He may be right. Then again, his abilities to project into the future appear a bit suspect, as his choice of user names two years ago hints at.

    Tonight's cartoon is presented via a new technology that I accidentally discovered was lying around on my computer: Adobe Photoshop Elements. Evidently, I got a low-tech version of this when I bought my scanner.

    I mentioned it to my brother, who said he could show me how to use it. Until he had time to do so in detail, he said to just open two photos at the same time, then use the "lasso tool" and the "black cursor" to move stuff from A to B.

    I tried it.

    This, plus my nausea and ongoing financial problems, is how I came to invent Low Fat Jimmies a revolutionary new snack delicacy for active swimmers.

    I am hoping to interest Leslie into trying some. They are gluten-free and guaranteed not to upset my stomach (though I can make not claims regarding your stomach.)

    The germ of the idea for
    Low Fat Jimmies originated many years ago, when I was a young boy with a fascination with ichthyology.

    At one point, I had 17 different aquariums in our basement, all teeming with gravid live bearers.

    Unfortunately for my cold-blooded wards, my interest in fish waned over the years. I became less and less reliable about traveling down to the basement to feed them.

    I remember waking up one morning from uneasy dreams and a horrible sense of residual guilt.

    It had been almost one month, I realized, since last I'd sprinkled any flakes upon the foul and diminishing waters.

    Stung by pangs, I raced to basement in hopes of rescuing whatever few had survived starvation.

    All of them--at least all of them large enough to see with the naked eye--were robustly, comically, even corpulently alive!

    This is when I first realized that the Second Law of Thermodynamics, though inviolable over the long run, is nevertheless circumnavigable in the short run.

    The cold-blooded live bearers had prospered by doing what they do best: cold-blooded breeding and birth giving.

    Then they ate their young.

    Low Fat Jimmies are my variation on this quasi-autocannibalistic theme.

    Granted, we will have to await some further refinements in genetic engineering, stem cell manipulations, cloning, and the like for this dream to become reality.

    But I am convinced that it's only a matter of time before Modern Science will be able to mass produce miniaturized versions of my head ready for snacking purposes.

    The exact size of the little Jimmy heads will, of course, need to be worked out--we want, for example, for the skull to offer just the right levels of crunchiness (not too much, not too little) which will
    , with a single bite, release the delicious bounty of Omega-3 fatty acids (the only fat is good fat in Low Fat Jimmies )

    There are also virtually no carbs to worry about, nor any seriously dangerous and/or proven toxins to concern yourself with.

    So enjoy!

    I know that I shall enjoy a very long sabbatical before this particular entry garners100 views!

    Until then, I just ask that you snack responsibly.

    Oh--and brush your teeth more often than I do.

    Jimmie snacks on an early prototype for
    Low Fat Jimmies

    Updated February 3rd, 2010 at 11:49 PM by jim thornton

  16. Non-alcoholic digestif for a queasy mind

    by , February 2nd, 2010 at 12:25 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    In contrast to an apritif, i.e., a bump (as they say in Minnesota) of spirited beverages designed to boost ones appetite before a meal, a digestif is consumed post-prandially. Such drinks often contain contain bitter or [ame=""]carminative[/ame] herbs that some (the writers of Wikipedia, for example) believe will aid digestion. In my drinking days, there was nothing better than a pitcher or two of digestifs to both soothe, and create a subsequent even worse case of, queasiness.

    I have been a teetotaler for 4 years plus now, though the thought of rejoining the world of such elixirs, with their french names and air of refinement and promise of short-lived euphoria, well the thought has been with me a lot of late, intensifying, turning over and over in my head like the tequila worm itself, awakening from his own pickled coma.

    In any event, for now at least, my digestifs still remain metaphorical.

    After writing Manifesto of Rattus Jimicus the other day, I decided I needed to take a break from all tumult and travail. From Saturday night till this Monday morning, I refused to turn on the computer or watch any kind of news-related opinion television programming that might poke or prod at our inflamed social rancor.

    I think this Internet-and-Punditry Sabbath has done me good, and I hope to institute it on a regular basis. But even with a day off, I am not fully recovered from the effect recent obsessions have had on my sense of well-being.

    Some of the effects are palpable. I feel, for instance, strange sensations in my chest, as if an aorta might consider exploding at the most minor of provocations. I am dizzy, too, and fear that the cranial gaskets themselves have reached their elastic limits. My gag reflex is triggered by the slightest adverse stimulus, and it seems only a matter of time before I cannot help but vomit on people that I don't like.

    I don't mean or want to do this! But the peristalsis of the esophagus can sometimes have a mind of its own. There is only so much queasiness a wretch can take before it causes him to, well, retch.

    So, to calm myself down, my psyche and my digestion, in the absence of a true digestif and its healing carminative compounds, I have done for me what has often proven to be the next best thing: make light of my upsets through the crafting of a child-like cartoon.

    This one presents a recurrent fantasy of mine--that all my infirmities, my writers block that seems to be fast making me unemployable in my chosen profession; my chronic dysthymias about this thing or that; my corporal weakness bordering on such physical transubstantiation that it calls to mind some sort of wraith, phantasm, haunt, or kelpie inhabiting the House of Usher.

    to combine all these things, acknowledge how very much they enervate me down to the last anemic corpuscle, but then--and here's the fantasy that is at the root of my hypochondria--to imagine some superb diagnostician somewhere will test me for all of these things, and fine me so lacking in the wherewithal to accomplish anything, that he or she publishes in a Reputable Scientific Journal my case, adding that it is nothing short of heroism that such as I can do the merest trifle.

    Here, then, is such a cartoon digestif for the dyspeptic dry drunk Jimi, wishing for the stronger stuff.

    If you feel the same way as I do--and I suspect there is a legion of us out in the world with exactly these same feelings!--I grant you my absolute permission to download this cartoon, substitute your own head where mine now sits, scotch-tape the whole thing to your refrigerator, or bathroom mirror, or the top of the case where you keep your burglar tools--any place, in short, where you are most likely to see it upon first awakening--and use it to cheer yourself up.
  17. Manifesto of Rattus Jimicus

    by , January 30th, 2010 at 12:54 AM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    I spent an hour and a half today summarizing my recent attempts to find some health insurance option that will not cause us to lose our house.

    The result is 4,280 words on the rat trap in which I find myself--4,280 words that I don't think I could have even cajoled my mother into reading, let alone people with no blood bonds. Nevertheless, there was a bit of catharsis in getting my attempts for extrication down on the page.

    Those of you who have been following the healthcare insurance poll that I started on the non-swimming related forum might have a sense of where I come down on this. [ame=""]Poll on Health Insurance Cost - U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums[/ame]

    I know I cannot persuade anybody to change his or her mind one way or the other on what I see as a profoundly undemocratic cruelty that comes from pinning health insurance status to the vagaries of employment. Those who already think it is unjust will not think it any more unjust because of what is happening to our family; those who think it's reasonable the way things are now are not going to be moved to change their opinion because of our suffering; and the vast majority, I suspect, don't want to think about it one way or the other.

    In any event, I am posting today's summary, all 4,280 words of it, albeit in the tiniest type size the blogging software will allow.

    If you have any interest in reading it, I recommend you select the whole passage, copy it, and paste it into your word processor, and then increase the font size into something you can actually see.

    But I have no delusions that anyone will, in fact, be interested in reading it!

    If I were not going broke from paying so much for premiums--and having nothing fundamentally wrong with anybody in our family, healthwise--I doubt I would read it.

    But the option, at least, is there.

    Here, in cartoon form, is the condensed version:

    At this point, I shall paste in this year's summary:


    Health care update, Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

    Preamble to most recent chronology

    Every year or two, when the headache from the previous year's healthcare investigations has abated, I once again look for some sort of exit from the rat trap of American Health Insurance for Self-Employed People Who Have Made the Mistake of ever taking any kind of prescription medication or ever receiving treatment for any kind of condition.

    Very quickly, I find myself ensnared in the mind-numbing "head's I win; tail's you lose" bureaucratic minutiae rigged for the endless benefit of those who profit from our system.

    Writing about this, I know, is a lost cause--in large part because it is hard to conceive of a more boring topic, nor one less likely to attract the attention let alone empathy of the vast majority of my fellow citizens who are not yet being so overtly screwed.

    Nevertheless, I cannot help myself from jotting down this year's exercise in head-bashing. The rat trap, alas, for the most part holds; I have found some possible crannies that represent possible exit points, provided I gnaw away feverishly and indefatigably enough. However, even if I do manage to get out, it is almost impossible to spy from inside what lies on the other side.

    I am expiring slowly within the trap, but are these possible exits--if they are, indeed, real and not an illusion--booby-trapped with guillotines? The question from the start remains the same: which is better--death by the installment plan, or a more sudden and catastrophic demise?

    1. BCBS of Minnesota

    On Monday, I decided to look for other options because we are running out of money with the status quo. Insurance premiums last year: $20,500, add in out of pocket costs and it goes up to nearly $24,000. My gross writing income was less than $65,000 before expenses. We also pay $25,000 on property taxes. Bottom line: unsustainable.

    My first step was to call BC/BS of MN to find out what we have and if any of the terms can be altered in any way to make it more affordable. For $1711.50 a month, the four of us have $500 deductible each, with a total family deductible of $1500 after which the company pays 80 percent up to $5000, then a lifetime cap of $5 million, no annual cap.

    Ben and Jack can stay on the plan till they are 25 unless they get married.

    At the outset, I was told that I was on a recorded line. I told the customer service rep I was recording the call, too; she said that was okay.

    She said that because we no longer live in MN, we can't change anything, but that we can do an interplan transfer to Western PA's BCBS affiliate, Highmark, and get something vaguely similar to what we have now, and then change the terms once we are in with the new company.

    She said they could initiate the interplan transfer from MN.
    To do this, we would need to send a request in writing with our address, id #, date when the new policy is effective, and our request to cancel the MN plan; sign and date and mail to BCBS of MN PO Box 64024, attn: Interplan Transfer, St. Paul, MN 55164. Or we could fax the letter to 651 662 6606.

    At this point, I asked if BCBS of MN has any kind of in-house charitable foundation that might be able to help us. No.

    At this point, I asked how they calculate our $1711.50 monthly payment. On insurance wallet cards the company sends out yearly, we do have a "group" number, but it turns out this is not the same kind of "group" enjoyed by those receiving "group insurance" and its manifold legal protections. The lady rep was not able to articulate in a way I could understand answers to my questions about the nature of this odd non-group "group" we are in, or whether we are, in fact, caught in a death spiral.

    I then asked her about something I'd read someplace that insurance companies are regulated by law to give out in benefits some fixed minimum percentage of what they take in in premiums. I thought that for our plan, this percentage was somewhere around 74 percent. She maintained it was closer to 92 percent. I said that we paid $20,500 in premiums last year, and I was certain we did not get back 92 percent of this in benefits ($18,860) or even 74 percent ($15,170). She said that this is not how insurance works, that our risk is spread out over a bunch of people.

    This, of course, made me return to my earlier question about who my fellow "group" members are, that is to say, who else is sharing this risk with me.

    She didn't know and offered to give me the number of the State of Minnesota Insurance Commissioner: 651 296 6025.

    I was, at this point, becoming testy.

    I asked to speak to her supervisor.

    She said no. I reminded her again that just as they were taping me, I was taping her. I reiterated my question more forcefully. "You are saying that I am legally prohibited from talking to your supervisor?"

    She said that's not how it works, that the supervisor would not know the answers to my questions either, and that she wouldn't switch me to the supervisor to just ask the same questions.

    I told her that I paid her company $20,500 last year and that I felt I had a right to know where the money went. I reiterated my point--"So you are saying I have no legal right to talk to your supervisor? You don't know what I am going to ask her. I might ask her different questions than I have asked you."

    The customer service lady, who by now had been on the phone with me for 27 minutes, was getting testy herself. She put me on hold.

    The supervisor answered several minutes later and was actually very kind. It crossed my mind that perhaps the company has hired soothing female psychologists with affable voices to calm down irascible hot heads like me. It crossed my mind that I am becoming increasingly paranoid about the machinations of AHIP. The supervisor reiterated that she did not know how my family's individual rate was calculated, but that it was true that I could not change any of the terms of the policy, that it was, indeed, a "take it or leave it" proposition because we are no longer residents of MN.

    Note: I took out the policy in 1984 in St. Paul, where we lived for the next 11 years. Then we moved to PA in 1995, where a Highmark employee told us, in error in retrospect, that we could not do an interplan transfer and would have to apply for the prohibitively expensive high risk pool. We kept our MN insurance because, thanks to this false advice, we thought we had no other option.

    I told the supervisor now that if we had to let our BCBS of MN policy lapse, we would not be able to be medically underwritten for a new policy because of preexisting conditions, i.e., the use of statin drugs and antidepressants by both my wife and me. She expressed her sympathy and thought that interplan transfer might at least provide some more options. In her soothing voice, she wished me well. Then gently slammed the rat trap shut.

    2. Dan Williams, Minnesota Health Insurance Broker

    My next call was to a Minneapolis-based broker recommended by my Minnesota friends, Eric Hanson and Faith Adams. They are both self-employed--he's an artist, she's a writer--and have two children. Both Eric and his son have a pernicious form of genetic arthritis that makes it impossible for them to get coverage through private insurance. Faith and their daughter have no such preexisting black marks on their health resumes. Their broker, Dan Williams, was able to get the males covered by an affordable (though far from ideal) state-subsidized program; and the females an affordable policy through BCBS of MN.

    Dan answered my call on the first ring. I identified myself, outlined my predicament, and he immediately said that he thought that we could, in fact, alter the terms of our plan, even though we were out of state. He offered to call BCBS of MN for me, using a special broker line, and get back to me. Five minutes later, he called back with the bad news: I was right--we can't change the terms.

    Then he suggested that what we could do is take our sons off the policy. Neither has any pre-existing conditions and thus could qualify for their own much cheaper policies. He then suggested that my wife and I consider whether either or both of us should make the interplan transfer. I told him that I didn't think we were allowed to change who was on the policy, that BCBS of MN had made it clear over the years that no changes whatsoever are allowed. Dan said that he was sure we could drop individuals from the policy and said he would call back on the agent line to make sure.

    Five minutes later, he called to say that we could, indeed, remove any of us from the policy and that whoever remained on it would still get his or her current coverage for their share of the premium amount. This is the first time anyone had ever explained that the $1711.50 per month is actually being broken down into individual amounts per person. Dan said that we are currently paying this:

    Jim, age 57, nonsmoker: $689 per month
    Debbie, age 52, nonsmoker: $548.50 per month
    Ben, age 21, nonsmoker: $237 per month
    Jack, age 21, nonsmoker: $237 per month
    Total: $1711.50 a month

    Just learning this fact, which no one at BCBS of MN had even hinted at over the years, was highly eye-opening. My kids almost never go to the doctor except for sports physicals, and have been this way for years. I almost never go the doctor either unless a visit is required to get a prescription refill (I went nine years getting refills by phone till my doctor finally insisted I have to come in and see him). Debbie goes to doctors more often, but usually just for Pap smears, mammograms, and the like that are so often recommended. Our coverage, of course, doesn't include dental or vision. So we have been paying $5,688 a year for our sons, who basically don't use any of it.

    Dan recommended looking at our interplan transfer options in PA and see if the entire family should switch, or that we might be better off with some sort of mix-and-match strategy of some of us transferring and some of us not. He said that since both sons are healthy with no preexisting conditions, we should at the very least get them their own policies.

    Again, I can't tell you how irksome it is to discover that we have always had the legal right to peel the boys off our family policy and save money this way. After being on the phone earlier with BCBS of MN for nearly an hour, neither the first customer service rep nor her supervisor every mentioned this possibility. It was only through a recommended broker's assistance that I know of this option now.

    I thanked Dan and asked him if he could become our "agent of record." He said he would do this to help with the interplan transfer, should we elect to do this, but once transferred, he would not be able to represent us in the PA.

    3. Miscellaneous advice gleaned from miscellaneous parties

    I started a poll/thread on health insurance costs at the United States Masters Swimming web site. No doubt in large part because of my own frustrations, this eventually devolved into a bit of a political shouting match, with the Ayn Rand free marketeers taking the Republican "kill this abomination" approach to Obama's reform, and those who have been injured by the system siding with me--i.e., the system has to be fixed.

    Based on 65 or so respondents to my poll, less than 5 percent of us pay over $1500 a month. About 86 percent pay less than $1,000; 70 percent pay less than $500; and 19 percent pay less than $100. Very few of my swimming peers, in other words, are getting screwed in the kind of obvious way that imperils their ability to, say, hold onto their house. I can definitely understand how some of those in a better position might feel some lip service sympathy for my plight, perhaps even genuine compassion for those much worse off (i.e., unable to get insurance at all), but would rather not spend as much time on the subject as I have been spending of late!

    Some of the more obnoxious bits of advice I have received are: to move to another state with better insurance laws; get a job at Starbuck or similar corporate setting that provides health insurance benefits (this in the middle of the worst recession in our lifetimes, when there is one job opening for every six people looking); and to try to get an association policy--as if this latter had never occurred to me. (What most people don't seem to understand is that associations are not companies.

    The way our system is based, group coverage is dependent on working for a company that chooses to provide insurance to its workforce. It is illegal to form any other kind of group "for the purposes of obtaining group health insurance." What associations usually offer are HSA plans with huge deductibles, but which nevertheless still require medical underwriting. Because of the huge deductible, the underwriting requirements may be looser, but they are still there. And even with this, you still pay huge amounts for, at best, uncertain coverage.

    When I talked to one company, for instance, that insures free lance writers, I learned that for $864 a month, my family might qualify for a $10,000 deductible policy with all sorts of limitations. It's a big might, however, because my wife and I both take statin drugs and antidepressants prophylactically--that is to say, to reduce the risk of heart problems and to keep emotional problems at bay.

    Why preventive medicine should be held against us, I can't pretend to understand. And even though this association policy seemed to me far from ideal (and far from certain we could qualify), I was set to apply anyhow. This is when yet another broker told me she stopped recommending this company after they approved one of her clients and then rescinded him a year later when he got cancer.

    Sometimes you just want to scream to people who have not had to do this: There is no simple solution to this mess. If there was, people would know about it, and everyone in this boat would not have to spend half their lives researching options.

    My swimming friend Loren H. has an insurance agency in Hollidaysburg, PA, which is in a different BCBS zone of Pennsylvania from us (it is like the Balkan states here). Nevertheless, at a recent meet he told me a couple things of note. First, as long as you pay $10 a month towards a hospital bill, no matter how gargantuan this may be, they are legally barred from siccing the credit agencies and debt collectors on you. Once you die, the debt goes away. They cannot go after your house, and they cannot go after you retirement money. He didn't know if they could go after other assets such as other rental or commercial real estate. I will have to look into incorporation to protect this. To be honest, Jim Thornton the "person" is pretty much at the end of his useful life. Jim Thornton, Inc., on the other hand, can't wait to begin enjoying whatever new advantages our Supreme Court has decreed we deserve.

    Loren also advised adding a $1 million hospitalization rider on our auto insurance. This would help pay in the event we were injured in a car wreck. This sounds like health insurance, but it's actually a form of accident insurance. One of the most likely ways any of us are to suffer catastrophic health problems, he says, is through vehicular misadventure of one sort or another.

    So I called up my car insurance agent, and she told me that to add this would cost $140 extra a year for all four of us. She was pretty sure it also would cover us in the event that we were injured as pedestrians. I said, "What if I am driving along and have a heart attack that causes me to crash?" She said she didn't know. I suggested that I could try to claim later that I had the heart attack as a result of crashing, not vice versa. It would be hard to disprove, I'd imagine. Then again, that's why insurance companies have young lawyers that can delay things till you're dead.

    (It turns out, alas, that my trips on my beloved Honda Metropolitan gas-sipping motor scooter are not covered. I will have to drive more carefully in the future. Risk homeostasis: factor this newly discovered factoid into long term memory.)

    I next emailed Alan Katz, a health insurance broker in California and author of the Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog: Reform From One Agent's Perspective. I made Alan's acquaintance while researching an article on health insurance for the self-employed and quickly became a great fan of his blog. Many if not most of his readers are fellow brokers who appear rabidly against any form of reform that reduce their own professional role as Cumaen Sybils who understand how to navigate through our broken system. I have nothing but respect for these navigators; on the other hand, I find their generally anti-reform stance at times self-serving. If the system were fixed, their navigational prowess will not be so useful anymore. This doesn't seem to me, at least, a good reason to keep the system broken. I am sure the Buggy Whip Manufacturers Guild was not all that eager to see cars invented. But enough. Here is the recent correspondence with Alan:

    Hi, Alan,

    Jim Thornton here, your great admirer who happens to be also a victim of the current healthcare insurance status quo.

    First of all, I apologize if some of my recent postings on your always excellent blog have been a bit heated lately. I just find myself so steamed by the slavish allegiance of certain right wingers to the market can do no wrong ideology. Many of your readers, I suspect, are Republican brokers who face a double whammy if any meaningful reform ever passes. I suspect they fear the potential for losing income if the current system ever becomes understandable by the average person.

    I have two masters degrees, and I have spent much of the past three days doing little more than researching my options. I know my situation is complicated, but it seems odd that you have to be on the phone for 45 minutes with a health insurance representative before they tell you info that is actually usable.

    I could go on ad nauseam regarding the details here, but with the held of a broker in MN, I began to discover some of my options that my current insurer never mentioned, let alone explained.

    Anyhow, we are looking to do an interplan transfer to PA, where we now live. Alas, the very helpful MN broker cant help us in PA. I am wondering if you know anybody who you trust in the Pittsburgh area that would be able to help us weigh our bewilderingly complex array of options.

    Thanks so much, and keep up the great, great blog. You might not enjoy this comparison, but your unflappability in discussing this topic does remind me a little of President Obama, who seems to be able to keep a cool head despite whatever criticism is heaped upon him. Some Democrats dont like this. I think that civility is the only chance we have, even if I am unable to muster it myself.



    First, I enjoy your posts to the blog, even when theyre heated. You bring a refreshing honesty and passion to the blog along with an absolutely critical perspective: someone who is getting screwed by the status quo. So thank you.

    Second, thanks for the kind words about the blog and Im delighted it reminds you of the presidents style. I think he blundered, but Im still a supporter and glad that hes there. So I take your words as high praise.

    Third, I unfortunately dont know any brokers in Pittsburg (sic) very well. My advice is to check out the NAHU membership list and search for a member in your area (I dont even know the names of the suburbs of Pittsburg (sic), so I cant narrow the search down below the Pennsylvania level. Youll have an easy time of it).

    Then check their web sites and see how you feel about them.

    The other way to find an agent is to ask friends if they know a broker they trust.

    A third way is to call eHealth they have brokers who should know both MN and PA. The operative word being should.

    Local, independent brokers are usually far superior than those in a call center.

    Sorry I cant be of more help with this one. Now, if it was someone in California .

    Good luck, and again, thanks,


    4. Highmark BCBS of Western PA

    At this point, I would like to find a reputable broker in our area to provide advice on what to do. The MN plan is set to change rates in April. It is possible our rates won't go up; it is even possible they will go down. However, neither such scenario has occurred since I first bought that policy in 1984. From the beginning of 2006 to today, it has gone up from about $950 per month to over $1,700. I would not be surprised if the next rate increase takes it to $1,800 per month or more by April. If not this year, soon, we absolutely will not be able to pay.

    I called up Highmark to see my options through the guaranteed interplan transfer, where we would not be subject to underwriting. The choices are bewildering, but the bottom line here is something called PPO Blue. For $1200 deductible, Debbie and I could get this for $582.15 each per month. (Note: this is less than the $689 I currently pay MN, but more than the $548.50 Debbie currently pays MN. The new deductible goes up from $500 to $1200--a terrible deal for Debbie, and a debatable deal for me. Our kids would probably be able to qualify for their own separate high deductible policies at around $68 each, much better than their current $237 if they don't need to use it--which, so far, they haven't.) Debbie and I could further reduce our monthly rate by increasing the deductible to a maximum of $3500 per person. This would cut our monthly premiums to $494.45 per person. (Note: our current policy lets each individual exhaust his or her own deductible, then the 80/20 coverage kicks in for that person up to $5,000, at which point the insurer pays for everything. Looking at the fine print of the "comparable" Highmark plan, however, I see that the whole family deductible must be met before any individual starts getting the 80/20 coverage. This is one of the many hard-to-understand and not-immediately-obvious fine print aspects that make an apples-to-apples comparison very difficult for us laymen to undertake. Moreover, it just seems sneaky and underhanded to bury this significant difference in the fine print.)

    On the positive side, the above Highmark plans are HSA-eligible, which allows you to contribute pre-tax dollars. The problem with this is there is only so much blood you can squeeze from a turnip. We are living, in part, off a home equity loan now; to borrow more money to contribute to an HSA seems of dubious value somehow. Moreover, we can deduct our premiums now; reducing the premiums (albeit slightly) would mean less deductions, since we cannot deduct out of pocket costs. All this seems of marginal benefit to someone who is not terribly well-heeled at this stage of life, and trying to put two kids through college and save for retirement.

    The Highmark agent then mentioned a state-subsidized plan based on income and called AdultBasic. The problems with this are: you must be without health insurance for 90 days (I was imagining myself spending the next three months in bubble wrap); your income has to pretty low; the waiting list is over two years long. However, if you qualify, you can pay the full cost of this insurance while on the waiting list. For a family of 3 (my older son is now 21 and can't qualify), the cost is about $380 or so per month. If you ever actually get on it, it's $37 per month. I asked how much income we could make and still qualify. He said for a family of three, the limit is now $36,620. I asked how they determine income--is it gross adjusted, or something else? He didn't know.

    I called the state office for AdultBasic in Harrisburg, PA and learned that income is what appears on line 37 of your tax statement.

    I called my accountant to find out what our line 37 was last year: $41,463. This year, my gross writing income is down by a little over $30,000, so it looks almost certain we will qualify. However, even if we didn't, it is clearly in my self interest to earn less to qualify for state assistance.

    I called back Highmark and they told me about another state-assisted plan through Highmark itself. This one is called SpecialCare. The new rep told me that he thought we would be able to qualify for it, and that he thought (but was not absolutely certain) we would neither need to be uninsured for 90 days first, nor have a year where no preexisting conditions would be covered (despite the fact that Highmark's promotional literature lists both these as likely.) The rep explained that we would have to do the interplan transfer first, then switch to SpecialCare once underneath the Highmark umbrella.

    The good news here is that my wife, younger son, and I would have to pay only $368.50 a month (I think this is for the three of us; Jack might be more). Our other son, who is over 19, would not qualify, so we'd still have to get him his own policy. Once Jack turns 19, he too would have to get his own policy.

    The bad news is the policy doesn't cover very much. We get 4 doctor visits a year max, but only if we are injured or sick. We can go to the ER. Debbie gets a pap smear and mammogram once a year. We get a vision exam once every two years. No other preventive visits are included. We get up to $1000 for diagnostic services per year. We get 21 days of hospital coverage. After 90 days, this resets and we can go in for another 21 days. Nothing else is covered, so we would have to go on all generics and/or make occasional trips to Canada.

    As of now, this seems like the best of a bad situation. I do, however, have a number of questions, and the Highmark reps and their literature seem to be saying different things. Do we have to go 90 days without coverage to qualify? If we get on SpecialCare and later our income goes up above the maximum allowed, can we switch to some plan within Highmark that does not require underwriting? Could we, in other words, go to the PPO Blue described above? If one of us did need to be hospitalized, say because of a coma, what happens after 21 days? Can the hospital administrators legally force us to stay in till we have been bled dry financially? Or could I put in writing somewhere right now that the nanosecond my 21 days are up, I demand to be taken to the curb and deposited thereupon to die with dignity and not one more cent being siphoned out of my brain-dead (though still arguably animated) corpus?

    Ah, American healthcare! Legal to charge your estate for $10 aspirin; illegal to commit suicide (or have someone aid you in this direction if you are no longer able to accomplish it on your own)!

    Assuming we do qualify for SpecialCare, as spotty as the coverage may be, and assuming the hospital and doctors of the world cannot keep us incarcerated once coverage runs out, what should we do?

    Updated February 3rd, 2010 at 12:44 AM by jim thornton

  18. Swimming the River Styx

    by , January 28th, 2010 at 11:44 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
  19. Cheating Suit Maximus vs. Cheating Suit Lite: A case study

    by , January 25th, 2010 at 02:25 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    Our little region of the earth is not all that big on USMS participation, but we are very big on YMCA masters swimming. From September to April, there are meets held almost every other week. The pools are not always ideal, and those accustomed to plenty of rest between events would definitely be disappointed. A typical time line is warm up from 11-12; Star Spangled Banner; meet starts around 12:07, and is over by 3:00 or 3:30 at the latest.

    You can swim 4 events, plus relays, for $7. It's actually a great way to practice racing different events. I have come to think of these meets as high quality sprint-and-strategy practices.

    During the last two of these meets, held the Grove City Y on Jan. 10, and the Allegheny Valley Y yesterday, Jan. 24, I swam the exact same events but used different suits.

    (In between, on Jan. 17, there was the 1-hour postal swim held at Carnegie Mellon University.)

    The Grove City meet, I used my B70.

    The Allegheny Valley meet, I used a somewhat old Tyr Aquapel, which I had purchased last year for less than $60.

    I had planned to swim in jammers yesterday to better compare the old world as we knew it (where B70s were legal) with the new world that we must get accustomed to soon enough (where only jammers will be allowed.) However, in between meets, USMS ruled that body suits will be legal for the rest of this year's yards season, so I figured I might as well use up all my old suits.

    Leslie recommended saving my B70 for a bigger meet than the ones held in our Amish mudholes.

    But I wasn't yet psychologically ready to give up the crutch altogether that I have become so used to.

    So I decided to compare the B70 times against the non-flotation-style body suit that doesn't cost very much. Both suits, it should be noted, are kneeskins and provide the same amount of body coverage.

    The B70 feels pretty much as tight and compressing as it ever did.

    (I wore suit on right)

    The Tyr, on the other hand, is noticeably stretched out (though not yet sagging) from its original couple swims.

    (I wore a different color)

    Hypothesis: The B70 would prove significantly faster in all four events--the 100 free, 50 free, 25 fly, and 500 free.

    Results: B70 times in blue; Tyr Aquapel times in brown.

    I will also bold the better swims of each comparison pair.


    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 53.35
    25.74 27.61

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 54.35
    26.06 28.29


    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 25.16

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 24.80


    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 12.92

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 11.87

    EV #12 M/F 500YD FREESTYLE

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 5:34.13
    29.29 33.64 34.73 34.65 32.75 35.19 34.93 34.76 33.58 30.61

    AGE GROUP: 55-59
    1 JIM THORNTON 57 M SEWY 5:27.62
    28.95 32.50 33.56 32.96 34.78 33.85 33.79 33.61 34.03 29.59


    My hypothesis held up in only one of the four events, albeit the marquee event in many swimmer's eyes: the 100 free.

    After swimming a full second slower in the Tyr than I had two weeks earlier in the B70, I felt sure that the remainder of my times would be proportionately slower as well. Thus, I was, if anything, entering these races with a "nocebo effect" mindset, which--had I done worse--might have been an alternative explanation for why I did worse.

    My 50, however, was .36 faster in the textile suit. The 25 fly, which was hand-timed (as opposed to the other swims), probably doesn't count too much, because it's always a crap shoot how the hand timers are going to do.

    But the 500 represented a significant drop--6.5 seconds--in the textile suit vs. the B70.

    Both the 100 and 500 discrepancies might be explained, at least a little, by strategic differences. When I swam the 53.35, for instance, I felt more controlled and less "thrashy" than I did when I swam the 54.35. And I probably tried somewhat harder in the 5:27.62 500 than I did in the 5:34.13 one.

    Moreover, the sample group of one person and two meets is not statistically significant in any way, shape, or form.

    Nonetheless, the fact that in 3 out of 4 events, my hypothesis did not hold up makes me think that it is possible that something other than suit composition (neoprene-like vs. textile) can occasionally make a difference in my swimming performances.

    Leslie used to argue this quite a bit. Who knows? Perhaps the dear girl was partly correct after all?

  20. Reform Haiku Illustrated

    by , January 22nd, 2010 at 04:28 PM (Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton)
    I've set myself a little unofficial rule for my vlog here, which is to not post anything new till the last thing I posted has gleaned at least 100 views.

    My last posting, Indentured Servant Available for Immediate Joblock ( ), took seemingly forever to reach this level.

    The reasons for such laggardliness in viewing, I suspect, are:

    • It was too long
    • It didn't have anything to look at
    • Nobody wants to read about my misery

    What I think people really want to do is to look at my misery. If there must be verbal commentary, this should be kept mercifully short.

    Today's vlog is an attempt to re-do the last one in much more reader-friendly terms.

    Reform Haiku

    Driving club men force

    the G.O.P.'s health care jig--

    Dance, monkey man, dance!

    Indentured Servant Health Care Monkey Jim
    Being Shown Off at the Club*

    --If by any chance this peaks your interest and you have not already taken a look, I invite the more readerly viewers to visit the original rant at:Indentured Servant Available for Immediate Joblock ( )

    * Thanks to my beloved twin brother Johnny Boy for actualizing and improving upon my nightmarish visions of myself. I wonder if the caddy has noticed the advertisement for Countrywide Mortgage?

    Updated January 22nd, 2010 at 05:54 PM by jim thornton

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