Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bill Kristol exposes his hypocrisy

Monday night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart coaxed hyper-conservative wingnut Bill Kristol into admitting that the US government runs the "best health care system in the country." He meant the health care that the US military provides our folks in uniform.

Perhaps more disturbingly, Kristol also insisted, despite the best Stewart could do to back him away from it, that other US citizens do not "deserve" to have such a fine health care system from their government. They have to pay for it.

Watch the whole interview:

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Presumably, Kristol's not imaginative enough to think that not only soldiers, sailors, and Marines, but also teachers, emergency workers, law enforcement personnel, bus drivers, librarians, public utility folks, and everyone else whose labor keeps the country humming along might "deserve" the best health care they can get.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Maher: "Not everything in America has to make a profit"

Last night on his HBO program Real Time, Bill Maher made a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit.

When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Only the most marginalized proposals for health care, like HR-676, seek to take the health "insurance industry" out of the equation. And yet, this is the only way we can get to substantive, rather than mere cosmetic, reform. And, given the apparent unholy alliance between the Rethuglicans on the one hand and some "conservative" Demoncrats on the other, it doesn't look like we'll get anything much.

It's interesting to note that conservatives, for all their talk about morals and values, have no problem obstructing the reform of a system that denies millions of people health care.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cranky about health care

Just seconds ago I watched as CNN's Wolf Blitzer questioned former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani about the struggle to get real health care reform here in the US. And this is what makes me cranky: Guliani repeats the lies that Canadian, British, and other national health care services "don't work"; that people from these countries routinely come to the US for health care; and that somehow "competition" among corporate for-profit health care providers is the key to making health care accessible and affordable for the greatest number of people.

And of course, from Wolf there's no "what is your evidence for these assertions?"

In essence, the assertion that "competition" in a "free market" is the best way to distribute an essential service like health care is a religious statement. As with Noah's Ark or the six days of Creation, no evidence is required, you're just supposed to have faith. And, as with the Creationists, no matter how much contrary evidence is offered, it makes no difference. You say the US spends more money per capita on health care than any other country, and yet doesn't even make a list of the top 25 countries in terms of overall quality of health care? No problem, even though in 2000 WHO ranked the US 37th, sandwiched between Coast Rica and Slovenia, and just ahead of Cuba.

And as I write, an anti-reform commercial is running that features the frightening prospect that if we have national health care, a "government beaurocrat" may come between us and our doctors. Oh, horrors! That just has to be worse than the corporate beaurocrats working for Blue Cross, AvMed, UnitedHeathcare, etc. that already work to ration our health care.

The fact is, eliminating the health insurance extortion industry and moving everyone in the country into an expanded Medicare would, I read somewhere, pay for itself. We could still have home and car insurance, and things like that. Health care should not be allocated through the capitalist market system. Same for higher education, but that's another post.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A little more on Honduras

The more I learn about what's going down in Honduras, and the way in which the US is implicated, the less optimistic I am that anything good is going to come out of this. And by "anything good" I mean progressive policies that might potentially benefit regular Hondurans, as opposed to the maintenance of a neo-colonial power structure that favors members of the oligarchy and the military elite.

Honduras is a classic example of what anthropologists sometimes call internal colonialism: one segment of a society treats the rest of the society in much the same way that the former colonial powers (in this case, Spain) treated their colonies, as places and people to exploit and extract as much wealth from as possible. It is this internal colonialism that the "new leftist" leaders in Latin America, from Cuba to Bolivia, have tried to address, always with overwhelming support from the people targeted to benefit, always with resistance from the people fearful of losing their ill-gotten wealth and power who, in turn, are nearly always supported by the US.

Anyway, Nikolas Kozloff has an article posted today that does a disturblingly good job of focusing on the US role in Honduras. We learn of the involvement of US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, a hold-over from the Bush regime and ideological, if not actual, member of the anti-Castro Miami Mafia. We also learn of the tangled web that connects the Honduran right-fascist elite to the US; I reproduce the concluding paragraphs here:
What is the connection between U.S. interests and [Honduran] constitutional reform? If you had any doubt about Washington's true intentions in Honduras consider the following AP Report for July 8 about diplomatic negotiations between the coup regime and ousted president Zelaya: "Clinton would not discuss specifics of the mediation process, which she said would begin soon, but a senior U.S. official said one option being considered would be to forge a compromise under which Zelaya would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited powers [italics added]. Zelaya, in return, would pledge to drop his aspirations for a constitutional change."

It's the State Department then under Hillary Clinton, allied in spirit to figures from the old Bush establishment, which is seeking to cut off constitutional reform in Honduras --- reform which could lead to popular mobilization as we've seen in Ecuador and Venezuela. Obama meanwhile has condemned the coup but his failure to rein in either Llorens or Clinton suggests that he too believes that Zelaya's proposal for a constitutional reform is dangerous and needs to be halted.
Read the whole article.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Catching up, again

As previously reported, I had rotator cuff surgery on July 7 and have been wallowing in pain medication and general aimlessness since then. But now it's time to pull myself out of my funk, since my Trophy Wife (apologies to PZ Myers) is off to visit relatives on Monday, leaving me to fend for myself for the following three weeks. Just in time, it seems, I can now bathe and dress myself, do some simple things in the kitchen, and even drive.

Meanwhile, lots of interesting things have been happening out in the world, responses to which have been swimming in my head. And now that I can type two-handed on my laptop, I get to catch up a little. The goal is to call attention, and maybe save depth for a little later.

Honduras. The evidence seems to be accumulating that the US prefers the leaders of the coup against President Zelaya over Zelaya himself. Too bad, but not that surprising, given that it also appears that the golpistas (coupsters) have strong ties to well-placed crypto-fascists here in the US, and of course the Honduran military is virtually a branch of the US military. There's a brief article here, and a more detailed one here.

Judge Sotomayor and the Rethuglicans. I watched some of her confirmation hearings, mostly snippets on the news. I must say I was astounded by the blatant, over-the-top sexism and racism displayed by the Rethuglican neo-confederates Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). The ongoing and apparently indestructible meme that White Males can't possibly be biased, since they have no ethnic identity that might provide a basis for such bias, is understandable, of course. From a linguistic/anthropological perspective, we say that White Male is the unmarked category; its very real biases are thus rendered invisible. But still, can't we climb out of the of 19th century sometime, please?

"Race" and ethnicity. Pundick Pat "why on Earth does this troll still have a job?" Buchanan keeps calling Judge Sotomayor a "racist" for siding with the Hispanics in a recent discrimination case. When will he (and most of the rest of the US) learn that "Hispanic" is no more a "race" than "English-speaking" is? See my photo of Spanish-speaking Cuban schoolchildren in an earlier post.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t. Speaking of the aforementioned pundick, on July 14 HumanEvents.com published an article by Buchanan titled "How to Handle Sonia." "Sonia?" Is this really the proper way to refer to someone with a 17-year record on the bench? Of course, for him it is, because she's a Hispanic Female.

Affirmative action. Buchanan, again, this time claiming, in the same HumanEvents article, that Sotomayor's (or should I say "Sonia's?") entire career is the result of her taking advantage of affirmative action to gain benefits that she was never really qualified for. Oh, the irony: PB is naturally unaware (because he belongs to the unmarked category) that White Males like himself have been the exclusive beneficiaries of affirmative action since the founding of the Republic. He may even be unaware that, without this White Male targeted affirmative action, nobody would be paying him to pundickificate...

There must be more but my right arm is getting tired and I need to put it back in its sling. Perhaps more on some of these topics later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Explaining the quiet...

Here's why you haven't seen any new posts from me for a few days:

On Tuesday, July 7, I had surgery to repair the rotator cuff on my right shoulder, which I injured by tripping and falling in the woods. Deja vu: about 5 years ago, I had the same thing happen to my left shoulder. I should be able to type with both hands in another week or so; and I have several posts incubating and just about ready for delivery.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Honduras and the US

Recent happenings in Honduras present the US, or rather the US managerial elite, with a problem.

In Honduras on Sunday, June 28, in the middle of the night, left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya was taken into custody by the Honduran military and spirited off to Coast Rica. The complaint was that he wanted to conduct a referendum to determine whether or not the Honduran people would like to have the opportunity, in the future, to vote on whether to change Honduras's constitution to allow a president to serve more than one term.

Here's the problem: Zelaya was a democratically elected president who was developing ties to other leftist leaders in Latin America. The people who got fed up and removed him are, to put it mildly, right-leaning members of the old oligarchical class, some of whom it would be fair to call fascists. And then there are the military leaders, some of whom were trained by the US at the School of the Americas in tactics specifically designed to squash exactly the kind of popular unrest we see in the wake of Zelaya's ouster.

So, which will it be: leftist democracy, or rightist dictatorship? Historically, the US has been more at ease with right-wing dictators like Batista (Cuba), Duvalier (Haiti), Pinochet (Chile), Somoza (Nicaragua), and others. Right next door to Honduras, in neighboring Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, from the 1950s through the 1980s, the US supported some of the worst human rights abusers in the history of humankind. And, for some time in the 1980s, the US essentially used Honduras as a base of operations for its war of terror against Nicaragua.

Conversely, the US has never been comfortable with leftist leaders such as Allende (Chile), Aristide (Haiti), Bishop (Grenada), Chávez (Venezuela), Morales (Bolivia), or Ortega (Nicaragua). Socialism, even in the relatively mild forms usually espoused in Latin America, makes us nervous: Give people health care? Give people free education through university? Give poor rural people land to work? Ensure workers the freedom to unionize and bargain for better working conditions? Limit the abuses of corporations like United Fruit? These kinds of goals don't mesh well with our national ideology of hyper-capitalism, hyper-individualism, and hyper-consumerism.

So what, if anything, will the Obama adminstration do about Honduras? So far, it's hard to tell. At this point I only hope that, for once, he can put the US on the side of right, rather than might.

New meaning for "hiking the Appalachian Trail"

A post by Mark Peters on Visual Thesaurus ("Hiking the Euphemistic Trail") discusses the linguistic consequences of Mark Sanford's recent absence from his duties as governor of the state of South Carolina. As a cover for his time spent in Argentina with a woman other than his wife, he was initially reported to be "hiking the Appalachian Trail." So now, we can look forward to hearing "I was just hiking the Appalachian Trail" whenever someone is up to something they shouldn't be up to.

What's at work here is the creative feature of language; there simply is no definable limit to what humans can do with words, although what we do has to conform to the grammar of our language. In this case, a new idiom has appeared; an idiom is a phrase whose meaning cannot be interpreted using the ordinary meanings of its constituents. Some familiar English idioms include kick the bucket, jump the shark, doggy bag, piece of cake, cut the mustard, and talk turkey.

My question: What do I now tell my wife, family, and friends when I really am off hiking the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail, near Hagerstown, MD, August 2006.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Creationism is not a theory!

An otherwise ok article posted on Alternet recounts a visit to The Creation Museum by a group of paleontologists, biologists, anatomists, and so on: you know, scientists. The museum is a theme park constructed by and for fundamentalist believers in Biblical literalism. It's located in Kentucky (of course- they also gave us Senator Mitch McConnell) west of the greater Cincinnati area.

The theme of the museum is captured in this paragraph from their home page:

Prepare to Believe

The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings.

Children and dinosaurs romping together? Yes, these folks believe that the Earth was created sometime before midnight on Oct 22, 4004 BC, as calculated by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656). In other words, they are loons who have not yet entered the 21st; no wait, the 20th; er, the 19th; yikes, not even the 18th century. But enough of that; my attention was grabbed by this:
Creationism is a theory not supported by most mainstream Christian churches.
True enough, I suppose, but there's a problem. Creationism is not a theory, not in the scientific sense of the word. For scientists, a theory is a set of interconnected hypotheses that describe and/or explain some aspect of the world. The hypotheses must be logical, falsifiable, and above all constructed from the analysis of data collected by way of systematic, objective investigation of the empirical world.

Creationism is what some of us call a folk model or even, in our more charitable moments, a folk theory. Most all cultures have one or more; for summaries of some, see here. The Judaeo-Christian version was made up by the more creative members of a tribe of pastoral nomads some thousands of years ago, perhaps assisted by heat, thirst, hunger, or any number of other imagination-enhancing elements. It's fantasy, not scientific theory. There is no empirical evidence for it, and no, the Bible does not count as empirical evidence for anything except the existence of the Bible.

Strictly speaking, even evolution is not really "a theory." Evolution, the change over time observed in Earth's living organisms, is the fact that Darwin's theory of natural selection was developed to explain.

It's very difficult to get this idea of what it means to be a scientific, as opposed to a folk, theory across to people. This past summer semester I had one student who got all the way through an introduction to cultural anthropology only to write, in his final essay:
The Big Bang Theory, evolution, and many other theories are just that, theories.
He retained the folk definition of theory to the end, despite the time spent explaining that theory in science does not refer to a casual, unsupported guess. I'm not prepared to state categorically that religion makes you stupid, but there is some empirical evidence for that hypothesis, and it is falsifiable.