Sunday, July 26, 2009

Depression humor

At the wonderful, but lamentably very wet, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, I visited a porta-potty. On the wall was a printed message: "You can rent this unit by the day, week, month."

Just underneath someone had written in felt tip pen: "I HAVE A HOME"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

At Obama's press conference last Wednesday, the main headline concerned an ugly racial incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts involving the false arrest of noted Harvard historian, Henry Louis Gates. But within the larger politics of another issue – health care reform, the very one Obama wanted to feature – there was a far more significant racial conflict brewing. The primary barrier to progress in writing the final healthcare bill comes less from obstructionist Republicans than from their fellow travelers, the "Blue Dog" Democrats who are blocking important policy changes, especially ones that would produce a "public option" in the "reform." In today's NYT it becomes clear that the obstructionist "Blue Dogs" are notably white and "nondiverse."

* * * * * * * * * * *

[Henry Waxman, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee:]

"We have to take up the legislation next week or acknowledge the fact that Democrats do not control the committee any longer," Mr. Waxman said. "I will not allow Blue Dogs to turn over control of the committee to Republicans, which they have threatened to do. I am troubled that some Democrats would rather align themselves with Republicans than work out their problems with fellow Democrats."

Representative Charlie Melancon, a Blue Dog Democrat from Louisiana, said passions were running high because "Mr. Waxman decided to sever discussion with Blue Dogs who are trying to get a bill that works for America." ….

The intraparty dispute had racial overtones. One African-American Democrat, Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, pointed out that the seven Blue Dog Democrats holding up the health care bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee were "a nondiverse group" of white men.

"They should be more concerned about people who are dying than about their basic philosophy, which involves simply money," Mr. Johnson said. "Which is more important, money or live human beings with flesh and blood running through their veins, who cannot get health care?"

* * * * * * * * *

Of course, the real source blocking genuine reform in healthcare is big money: the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and other "medical industry" companies that buy votes with campaign funds to the Blue Dogs and others. I regret to say that among the Blue/Cross/White Dogs is my own congressman, Scott Murphy from upstate New York. I worked to get him elected, a terrible mistake in retrospect.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Healthcare in sane countries

An interesting post in Daily Kos, "WORDS YOU'LL NEVER HEAR IN THE CANADIAN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM," describes understandings and practices that many American would find utopian. But Canada is not the only example.

Over the years I've lived in Europe and Scandinavia for extended periods.  Each time my family and I were covered by health insurance provided by universities in the U.S.  What was notable, however, was the way in which extracting payment was not part of the drill over there.  When I'd say "We're covered by ..." they'd often say not to worry, that the charge was nominal anyway, and it was.  During a stay in Norway sixteen years ago we took our three young boys to clinics with a variety of minor illnesses.  When we'd ask, "How much do we owe you?" the doctor or person at the desk would say most emphatically, "Children don't pay!"  They were offended by our asking.

The difference comes in defining health care as a public good, equally available to all as a basic right, in contrast to the American understanding that has crept in over the past several decades that health is a profit center for the sellers, a consumer good for those able to pay.  I rank this "industry" second only to our military-industrial complex as a fount of deranged priorities and policies.

- Langdon

The wisdom of Confusedius

Insurance companies are to today's health, as leeches were to medieval medicine.

Just one example.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Apollo 11 Moon landing: a hollow anniversary

It’s fully predictable that the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission would be cause for widespread celebration, especially in the U.S.A. The basic accomplishment – flying a rocket ship 238, 800 miles to let the first human to set foot on the Moon – still ranks as a fascinating milestone in human history, something to place on the list with the first visit to the North Pole or the running of the first four minute mile. But while in July 1969 just about everyone agreed with Neil Armstrong’s proud proclamation that he’d made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” today we’re entitled to ask: Exactly what great leap was that? And what wonderful consequences for humanity followed?

It strikes me that the passage of time has revealed how hollow and unfulfilling the moon landing turned out to be. While media pundits and politicians wax eloquent about a great turning point, no one moves on to list any specifics. The sad fact is that the Apollo mission was predicated on Cold War competition with the U.S.S.R. and embodied some highly suspect underlying obsessions -- nationalism, militarism, technological triumphalism, and the goal of conquering nature. Along with the three astronauts, this was the ponderous cargo the space capsule carried on its journey. But once the basic entry in the record book had been written, the promise of manned space flight faded rapidly.

Yes, the Hubble and other orbiting telescopes, along with robot journeys to Mars and to distant parts of the solar system, have made valuable contributions to scientific knowledge and provided new images and perspectives for human imagination. And yes, the Space Shuttle and Space Station have logged in some noteworthy achievements. But the part of the story that involved sending living astronauts on missions of “exploration” and “conquest” to the Moon or beyond seems increasingly vain, costly and (given notable problems on Earth) unreasonable. Perhaps that is why political support for NASA dwindled when the Apollo program ended, why the agency’s funding has been steadily cut. Although not a topic for polite company, a silent question about space travel hovers in the strosphere: What good is it really?

In his recent NY Times essay, Tom Wolfe laments the fact that America never produced a philosopher to define a better understanding of space travel beyond its tawdry Cold War narrative. The only plausible candidate he mentions is ex-Nazi rocket scientist and U.S. space program guru, the late Wernher von Braun.

“The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher, Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program was really all about.

“It’s been a long time, but I remember him saying something like this: Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of.”

A bridge to the what? How appropriate on the occasion of the anniversary of Apollo landing to be offered a philosophy for space travel that is literally sheer lunacy – a grotesque intellectual moonbeam that envisions options for humanity in a disaster scenario millions of years in the future. It’s lucky we Earthlings don’t have any serious worries for the shorter term.

There’s a perfectly obvious reason why no respectable philosopher has stepped forward to chart a new vision of space as a destination for human aspirations. It’s a total vacuum out there.

- Langdon

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Orwellian Tweets

It's high time. The North Korean government is using Twitter to get its message out. Short URLs take you to longer stories with some hilarious observations and announcements, For example: "S. Korean Puppet Army's Plan for War Exercise Announced"

What a planet we live on!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sarah Palin and Reactionary Politics

While Sarah Palin's resignation may a way to dodge personal and
political scandals, it seems likely that she's positioning herself as an
eventual presidential candidate. Her political strategy fits the “let’s
hope Obama fails” message of Rush Limbaugh and Republican politicians. This posture openly welcomes and may even seek to realize a massive economic collapse and social upheaval for America, seen as a grand opportunity to gain power.

The apparent lack of rational, policy content in right wing rhetoric at
present is, in my view, exactly what the game is about. Republican
demagogues along with radio and TV talk show hosts blather on about
“socialism” and other inflammatory themes, preparing the populace for disaster. If Obama’s policies fail to produce a steady, expeditious
recovery, if the economy continues to sink in ways people find
frightening, if public dissatisfaction swells, then a loose cannon like
Palin could well attract considerable support, precisely because her way of being unhinged matches the gut sense of her heartland audience and the prevailing sentiments of America’s “conservative” corporate media.

There are many examples from the past century in which strategies of
this kind worked supremely well for political extremists. Driven to
desperation, societies sometimes turn to sociopathic leaders able to
focus popular distress, rage and thirst for revenge.

It can’t happen here? Don’t count on it. If the U.S. economy continues
to tank, things could get extremely ugly.