McDonald’s 2013 employee benefits program

Anyone who’s enjoyed medical treatment in the U.S. will see McDonald’s healthcare program for what it is: largely symbolic.

Take a look at this, their benefits brochure.

If you consider that their employees earn around $7.50 per hour, a $30% co-pay for emergency treatment is almost prohibitive. Emergency rooms can cost $1000 just for walking (or, Asclepius forbid, rolling) through the door… and after that, the costs really start mounting.

Just the “green fee” for an emergency room will cost our burger-flipper a little over a week’s pay (before taxes).

Hot Dogs

Gene’s & Jude’s is one of Chicago’s hidden cultural icons. It’s too far off the beaten track for most tourists to visit, but real hot-dog connoisseurs actually do travel to Chicago and then make their way West to Grand Ave & River Road just to eat one of Gene’s & Jude’s “depression style” hot-dogs.

Here’s one. It’s lurking beneath the fries.

The Gene’s & Jude’s hot dog was recently elected “Best Hot Dog in America” by subject matter experts who compared more than fifty candidates across the continent.

The award is instructive; it tells me I need look no further. That’s comforting.

If I had to select a “Best Hot Dog of Chicago”, the crisp G&J would be top of the list, followed at a distance by Portillo’s and then by Superdawg. But none of the three would be my first choice for dinner: I haven’t developed a taste for hot dogs. It’s not just the American kind I’m lukewarm about, either. I feel the same way about German Frankfurter and Swedish Korv.

The thing I find striking about hot dogs and other forms of Wurst served at fast food stands is this: out of all available choices, they are the food with the lowest value added by the vendor. I say vendor because “cook” is always the wrong word to describe what they are doing. They unpack portions of processed and preserved foods and assemble them into an end product which is warmed up and sold.

Not that hamburgers or döner kebabs are healthy, or require years of culinary training to prepare. But relative to a hot dog they almost look like they’re cooked to order with fresh produce.

But it’s never just about the food, is it. In the US in particular, I think, for many the hot dog has a special meaning which transcends the relish. Almost no-one who’s talked to me about hot dogs so far has done so without mentioning childhood memories. Regular Sunday outings to a hot dog stand close by the Sunday School, or that promised visit to Soldier Field in Boston which finally came true… that sort of thing.

I don’t think I have a “memory food” like that, so I can’t really empathize. But I do understand the value of history. Some of those iconic fast food places have been around for a while. G&J’s has an interesting history (see the Wikipedia entry). It seems the owners lost the original, centrally-located store “in a card game” in the late 40s. Which goes a way to explaining why their new store is far out West and is not much more than an improvised wooden shack with linoleum floors. Cool place.

Systemic Paranoia

I think the concepts and vocabulary of “Homeland Security” are emotionally loaded, and it’s likely this is by design of the stakeholders. The core concept has led to the creation of staffed and funded organizations which can’t possibly be in a good position to justify their levels of staffing and funding. I’ll bet this situation leads to the routine over-deployment of resources (usually: armed and armoured civil servants) at the slightest hint of a marginally justifiable cause.

I recently had an odd experience in a commercial plane, which soon after landing was boarded by a CDC official, inexplicably accompanied by a swarm of armed goons, to investigate a cranky child.

Here’s a similar case, where the sighting of a glider near a nuclear power plant led to the deployment of apparently over-excited local law enforcement officials acting on behalf of FBI and DHS. I’d ask “what are these people thinking”, but they probably just aren’t. They just follow orders, or their manual, and are more than likely delighted about the expanded authority which has been bestowed upon them out of the blue.

Go ahead and follow the link. The AOPA’s using the case to sell their legal assistance, but nonetheless it’s an interesting case. It’s disturbing to see the police, and worse: the DHS trying to exert power where they have no jurisdiction (here: aviation regulations). Threatening to shoot down an unpowered aircraft which is too light to be a threat to a nuclear power plant (evident just by looking at it)? It’s disgusting.

When air travelers feel uncomfortable…

…it’s not always due to the leg room or the obese passenger in the aisle seat (see “Arijit Vs. Delta”).

I have the greatest disdain for the security theatre at airports. Sadly, it’s taken to extremes at US airports. I’ve never understood why the majority of passengers not only endure the humiliation of being herded around like kindergarten children, but many become quite defensive when someone (not necessarily me) has a bit of harmless fun with checkpoint procedures or etiquette.