Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking backward and forward

Another year approaching its conclusion and another year older (it's convenient having one's birthday fall just one day before the end of the calendar year).

I won't bore you all with a run-down of the events of the year... yet. Maybe some day soon. For now, as I sit here sipping a glass of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, I'll just drop some teasers (these will also serve to remind me of the points that I plan to address later):

the night sessions
health care
environmental health
red mars
climate change
forged steel
skull splitter
the cloud atlas

Now it is time for me to go celebrate the day with some food, wine and family. Cheers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In the interest of the persecuted...

My attention was drawn to this story by a friend and fellow science fiction reader.

Regardless of a few fuzzy areas in the story, it seems pretty clear that at the very least, this represents use of excessive force by US border patrol at a US-Canadian border crossing. And when one considers the sources of information and the apparent possible motivations, it looks more like a case of hideously needless brutality and gross injustice. Take a look at the article, keep your ears open, and be concerned about what's happening at our borders. If really inspired, consider contributing to Dr. Watts' defense fund. A good defense and a victory in this case will be an important part of exposing the injustices meted out by fascistoids at our borders.

Though never subjected to actual physical violence, a good friend of mine who is a scientist and a German citizen has been repeatedly harassed and impeded without ANY cause or provocation when crossing from Canada into the United States (he has since solved the problem by moving to the UK). I don't know Dr. Watts, but I do know my friend and I trust his accounts of border crossing injustice entirely. I find many US border policies and procedures repugnant in general, but when they become downright irrational, arbitrary, and unjust, I get sick with anger, sorrow, and apprehension. Just another sign of the ongoing atrophy, fibrosis, and decay of my country.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The meter's running...

...but who's running it?

Here's a superb bit of writing from Areophany at Martian Utopia Cafe about the atrocity that corporate villainy and corruptible politicians have committed in Chicago. Enjoy (or just cringe).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Some points to ponder regarding space travel -- from Charlie Stross

Charlie Stross is one of many current science fiction authors whose works I have yet to explore.

Thanks to a link from Ken Macleod's site, however, I've been greatly enjoying Stross's blog. Here is a particularly interesting post, in which he dissects and debunks the myth of space travel as it has been traditionally envisioned.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Where is the hero who shook my hand?

Interestingly enough, I wrote the title of this post over a month ago. I was disheartened by something or other that our dear president had done or had failed to do, and I got as far as typing the title before I was interrupted by some work-related demand. Today, however, it seems appropriate to return to the topic.

I once heard Nobel Laureate Edmond H. Fischer speak (I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really know who he was at the time) and I met winner of the Kyoto and Albert Lasker prizes, Leroy Hood in a Seattle bakery once -- and shook his hand. As of today though, I can say that I shook the hand of a soon-to-be Nobel Laureate.

When Obama came to New Mexico the second-to-the-last time before the election, my wife and I drove up to Santa Fe to hear him speak. The line to get into the auditorium was over a quarter of a mile long and by the time we got to the gate the venue had reached maximum capacity and we were turned away. Then he came outside and talked to the crowd. I employed all of my crowd maneuvering skills (and abandoned my wife) to get to the front of the crowd, and I was rewarded with a moment of eye contact and a firm clasp of hands, and for few moments I was able to set aside my skepticism and truly believe, with all my heart, that this man would lead our nation -- our world even -- to true change.

Time has passed. He has proved himself to be human. He compromises. He panders. He protects. He gives undeserved preference. He even obscures the truth. I'm still glad that I voted for him and I am happier with him than I've been with any president that I can remember. But he's not the one. I wanted the Kwizatz Haderach and he is merely another Duke Leto I; a good man and a mighty relief from the Harkonen oppression that came before, but a politician none the less, and ultimately ineffectual.

Today he has been crowned by the world. I'm pleased for him and I'm pleased by the humility with which he announced his intention to accept the prize, but it makes me wish all the more that he'd done more to deserve it. If he had withdrawn our troops from pointless conflicts, if he had demanded absolute transparency regarding the tortures at Guantanimo Bay and the existence of secret detention centers, if he had sacrificed bipartisanism for the sake of a healthcare system that might really make a difference for the health of our nation, if he had shown himself to be the hero that I wanted him to be... then I would be cheering for him today, on his day.

Instead... well instead he is just a man who shook my hand. But men can become heroes and so my hope is not yet dead.

Facebook: Fuel for the Flames

My post on Facebook sparked some fun debate today. I am privileged enough to have friends of all walks and persuasions (including some very conservative folks), and this makes for very lively and stimulating debates. Not the ideal blog post, I know, but it makes for entertaining reading, and I did put a little work into my responses. Oh... and if I end up posting a bunch of responses to Glen Beck transcripts, at least you'll know why.

[Micaiah] thinks that Obama could become the greatest president ever, but that he doesn't deserve a Nobel yet. Maybe winning it will inspire him to earn it.

Friend 1:
I completely agree that Obama hasn't really done much to earn the nobel. But it tickles me absolutely silly that he did! Can you imagine the wailing and teeth-gnashing on the part of the Limbaughs and Becks of the world? Infuriating the wingnut lunatics makes it all so completely worth it.

Friend 2:
I admire Glenn Beck tremendously. So does that make me a wingnut lunatic? I try hard not to call liberals names. It makes me sound condescending and arrogant. What do you think?

I haven't actually consumed enough of Mr. Beck's product to comment on him specifically, but whether or not the term "wingnut lunatic" is entirely fair, I do question the judgement (and possibly even the mental processes) of those who attribute any value to the unreliable propaganda that is continuously generated by the conservative talking heads of Mr. Beck's ilk.

Friend 2:
I challenge you to watch him for a week, then investigate his claims on the internet, and come back to your sight and give a "knowlegable" evaluation. And while you're at it, maybe you could actually keep your mind open to the possibility, no matter how impossible it may seem, that there could be an element of truth in what he has to say. After all, it is you liberals who claim we conservatives are the close minded ones, even though I could probably tell you what the liberal media is saying about any given political idea, better than most liberals I converse with can tell me the conservative point of view. Questioning my intelligence or "mind processes" sounds to me like if we were in Germany in the Nazi era, I would probably be put in an institution to rehabilitate my brainwashed mind. So would you say it requires genious intelligence in order to know truth when you hear it? I believe we've had some very intelligent evil men in history. I'll take integrity, honesty, diligence and many other signs of morality over extremely high intelligence any day! In fact I remember reading some years ago that geniuses lie more than those with average intelligence. Let's just work together, both sides of the aisle to discover what the truth is about the merits, or lack thereof, of the bills we are passing so quickly without our representatives even reading them and laughing about it as though that were the most absurd of ideas. I really admire your intelligence, but it is not my gift. But I do believe I have enough character to suspect when things just don't make good old common sense. And I believe you do, too. Please, let's stop spewing platitudes. Our country's future is too important for this blind loyalty to either party. If you can't see how corrupt both sides of the aisle are in our government and try to be open to joining with those who love their country, just as you do, then I guess I'm wasting my words. But I beg you to stop and listen to those you now ridicule long enough to give them a honest chance to convince you. And Glenn Beck is the one I believe you might actually find yourself surprised about the most. Please. It's important.

Friend 3:
Has anyone on the liberal left side stopped to think that possibly the more conservative people on the right consider things we hear and see and disagree with propaganda also? And that we, too, feel just as strongly for our beliefs as you do. I too, will take integrity, honesty and morality over high intelligence. However, I feel that it is 1) not our place to judge where anyone is at since God alone knows the hearts of men, 2) you can't believe every thing you see and hear in either the Republican or Democratic arena, so we need to be doing our own research and not relying just on what a news anchor has to say, and 3) most importantly, start simply respecting each other. This "war" between the sides is never going to end ... but each of us can start with being kind and respectful to other people's opinions and beliefs. Micaiah, you are someone that I both love and respect very much and I would never, ever stoop to calling you a name just because of our political differences. So ... please everyone, a little kindness and respect goes a long way.

(To Friend 3)
Thank you for reminding me of the importance of kindness and respect (coming from one such as you, who epitomizes both of these qualities, a rebuke, even a kind and respectful one, goes a long way -- I mean than with absolute sincerity). Furthermore, I agree 100% that you can't believe anything you see or hear in either the republican or democratic arena (I was absolutely appalled to hear on NPR [generally considered a fairly liberal source] that liberal politicians have received more in campaign contributions in recent years from the military industry than have conservative politicians) and that we cannot rely on what a news anchor has to say. That is why I do not rely on any one source of information, but rather scour the internet for as much information on a topic of interest as I possibly can. Yes, many of the items that start me searching originate from my early morning sessions with NPR, but as is evident from the above mentioned revelation of horribly suspect behavior on the part of liberal politicians, NPR is not entirely the slave of any liberal agenda. In any case, what I find, over and over again is that the conservative news sites (I refer to internet sites here, as I do rarely watch television and only listen to the radio in the early morning and late afternoon) only ever pursue stories that undermine liberal viewpoints, whereas the more "liberal" sources honestly explore all angles, even when it is liable to hurt the probable liberal agendas. Sure integrity, honesty, and morality outweigh intelligence in an absolute sense, but part of being truly honest and moral, and part of approaching an issue with true integrity is looking at the whole picture with an open mind. This is something that I do not see even attempted by the bulk of the conservative media pundits.

All that being said... thank you very much for weighing in, and please continue to do so. I am a very opinionated person, but I also lay great stock in dissent and am not easily offended. I learn more by being whittled down to size by my opponents than I possibly can by being shored up by my allies. So keep it coming, and the more specific examples and arguments, the better. People are pendulums, pushed to and fro by whatever wind is blowing the hardest. Equilibrium is the truth and it will only be reached when all of the angry squalls have blown themselves out and only the prevailing wind is left.

(to Friend 2)
I'll come back to your challenge in a minute.

First, however, regarding Mr. Beck (or Rush Limbaugh or any of the other right-wing pundits), I have no doubt that there's an element of truth in what he has to say. Incorporating an element of truth into propaganda is an age-old technique, going back to the "father of lies." The serpent said something to the effect of, "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," and of course the part about "knowing good and evil" was all too true (in the context). Similar strategies have been used throughout history. It's a heck of a lot easier to get a croud to swallow a lie if it's coated in truth. "Just a spoon full of sugar helps the..."

As for the Nazis (who were quite adept at incorporating partial truths into their propaganda), I think we should probably leave them out of this debate. A more than cursory analysis of their political agendas will reveal that they shared far more ideology and policy with conservative right-wing elements of this country (especially as led by GW) than they do with the liberal left.

Yes, there have been some very intelligent evil men. Evil men who are also intelligent tend to go far and make a big splash in history because of their ability to effectively impose their will on a large number of people. There have been a great many very intelligent good men (and women) too... and they often are not remembered quite so well, as they don't hurt as many people (one of the basic rules of classical conditioning is that pain is a far more potent [and memorable] motivator of behavior than pleasure). And it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that very intelligent people lie more than those of average intelligence (I guess that's an argument for GW being far more intelligent than his speeches made him appear).

Unfortunately I can see just how corrupt the politicians are on BOTH sides of the aisle (see above response to Friend 3). In fact when it comes to evaluating any given proposed policy, I automatically ASSUME that any proponents of said policy are as corrupt as the day is long. It's ugly way to think, but over and over again it proves itself to be the case that there are no disinterested parties. Approaching an issue with this assumption does level the playing field though. It allows one to look past the sponsoring politician and/or party to see who is likely to actually benefit from the proposal. If the beneficiaries are the corporations and their executives then I smell something rotten and I'm opposed; if a proposal benefits the workers, the children, the poor, or the otherwise marginalized, however, then even if it means lining the pockets or polishing the egos of a few corrupt politicians (as sick as that makes me feel), count me in. The fact is, I have pretty much no loyalty to either of our (far too few in number) political parties. I side with the democrats more often than with the republicans because more often than not the democrats' proposals are based on better evidence and stand to benefit a greater number of people than those of the republicans. That's not always the case though. When it came to the fate of the automobile giants, it seems that more republicans were for leaving it to survival of the fittest while the democrats wanted to bail them out. I was with the republicans on that one.

OK... so back to your challenge. Unfortunately you have me at a bit of a disadvantage, as I have relatively little control over my work schedule and cannot commit to watching Mr. Beck's show for a week straight. I do have a counter offer for you though: Send me the transcripts (or links to the transcripts) of any of his shows that you consider to be especially worth reading (as many as you like) and I will read them with an open mind and respond to them here on Facebook, as well as on my blog. This method has the added benefit of eliminating any bias (positive or negative) produced by his style of presentation.

And please, keep up the discourse. I've already had my opinion on one major issue turned on its head in the past six months, so I know it's possible. Teach me, disprove me, convert me, sharpen me... "as iron sharpens iron..." and all that. Turn me into a frickin' razor already!

Friend 1:
Ah me oh little funny sure did set off a firestorm! I'll respond more coherently over the weekend as it is late and I'm a-drinkin' some beers. For now: I can certainly adapt to debate mode rather than cheap shot mode; but, I would point out that my chortling at the discomfort of conservatives is certainly *not* inappropriate given theunbelievable invective against liberals generally, and Obama specifically, that they have injected into the public sphere. One need only consider the absolute glee of conservative pundits when Obama failed in getting the Olympics in Chicago; or the horrific name calling (Nazi!!) of the Sept. 12th protestors; or the absurd claims of the so-called birthers.

Okay, so maybe we liberals shouldn't stoop to "their level" but sometimes I think that it's just that sort of namby-pamby thinking that has resulted in the complete erosion of a truly progressive wing in this country. Clinton? End-of-wealfare-as-we-know-it-guy? Nafta-guy?? De-regulate-banks-guy??? Yeah, that's real left wing...NOT. And, so far Obama is demonstrating a warmed over Clintonism. In the last 30 years Democrats have capitulated time and again. I'm sick of it. So...I'm willing to be a bit snarky at conservatives' expense. Sometimes, it seems, fire must be fought with fire. I'm more than willing to debate without snark; but I'm going to stand up for a robust progressive agenda. Hopefully Obama will one day as well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Future of Literature: Emergence of Two Cultures

In a recent post on his blog, author Ken MacLeod, draws attention to an article by Kim Stanley Robinson (author of the Mars trilogy) about the failure of the modern literary elite to recognize the genre of science fiction as a source of some truly great works. Also highlighted is the article in the Guardian in which Booker Prize judge John Mullan makes a sad attempt at rebuttal.

Follow the links above, then move on to my comments below (also left at Ken MacLeod's site).

I'm reminded of C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures (many thanks to posts and discussions here for introducing me to the work). The natural sciences were dismissed by traditional academic elite of the day as being less important to the essence of human existence than the great works of literature that had (for centuries in many cases) served as the pillars of culture. Regardless of their role in the maintenance of our species' humanity, the Humanities cannot claim much credit for the technological progress that allows (the luckier segments of) the world to live largely free of the plagues, famines, and myriad daily inconveniences so pervasive in times past. (And as a side note, I would suggest that Humanities are at least as responsible as the Natural Sciences for all of disastrous abuses of technology that have followed its development).

I am, I'll admit, a relative new comer to SF, but it seems to me that SF is the experimentally investigative science of literature. I mean this in the sense that in SF, the author is allowed to create controlled experiments, as though he/she were working in a laboratory. The parameters can be set and altered as necessary to optimize the conditions, and then the author can follow scenario to its natural conclusion, free of many of the constraints of the outside world. Then, as the themes emerge, more and more of the outside conditions can be re-introduced, in a systematic way, until the controlled environment resembles the outside world enough to allow reasonable extrapolations based on the investigator's (author's) observations. I would think that the writing of historical novels, or most other genres of fiction, would be more akin to field observations, in which the author can follow events in great detail as they proceed, but has far less freedom to alter or shape their courses, and can therefore only ever report associations and correlations, rather than the causative relationships sought by the experimental investigator.

Perhaps this is all a bit of a stretch, but building upon the (partially implied) argument that the Natural Sciences are the vehicle by which a civilization, as a whole, may potentially progress (or destroy itself), and upon the observation that regardless of the attitudes of the literary elite about the Natural Sciences, science and technology have continued to prosper, I propose that SF is the future of literature. It will continue to grow, and regardless of whether it is recognized by the Booker Prize judges and other such experts along the way, it will become to traditional literary genres what the Natural Sciences have to the Humanities -- not a replacement, and (I hope) not a direct antagonist, but rather a separate (and ever growing) culture whose power for understanding and shaping the world forces it to be recognized, acknowledged, and embraced... even if it is never fully respected by the elitists who are left to maintain their arts in the dusty halls and paper-strewn offices of an age that has past.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Inglourious Basterds: a valuable reminder

I just saw it last night. It's everything that I'd expected and more. Here's my recent FaceBook post about it:

Loved it! At least my 3rd favorite Tarantino film -- maybe even 2nd. Some of the best performances ever and no trace of fear, shame, or hesitation. A thoroughly enjoyable movie that did what it needed to do without pandering to the delicate sensibilities of the opiated masses.

War is f#*%ing ugly -- always. And nobody remains clean or innocent. Were the Nazis perpetrating horrendous crimes against humanity? Did they need to be stopped? Of course. Do I think for one minute that the righteous allied forces always kept their hands clean and fought honorably? Hah!

Also, the film did a great job of emphasizing that no matter how important you think your life might be to the grand scheme of things (or how much time and energy the director invests in developing your character), when you die, you die. That's it. End of bloody story -- for you. The frequency with which such stories reach their untimely conclusions is just dramatically increased in Tarantino films -- and in war.

I'll warn you that if you're easily offended by gruesome and violent acts, you're going to be offended. But that's all the more reason to see it. Go be horrified by it. Go feel sick and uncomfortable. Go and then wonder if you should have gone, as you try to get that icky, dirty, tainted feeling out of your mind. Go and be reminded of just how appallingly perverse humans can be when motivated by greed, lust, or power, or when forced to it by injustice, deprivation, war, and genocide.

I have performed 40 autopsies, and have seen at least five times that many more dead bodies. A fair number of them were intact and would not be likely to shock the average viewer (except perhaps for the drainage of glistening nasal fluid that is pretty much ubiquitous among corpses). Many more, however, were grotesquely mutilated -- some torn and smashed in car crashes, some riddled with bullets, some with their heads blown off by a slug from a 12-gauge shotgun, some with their throats or abdomens slit open, and some burned to a crisp (most frequently in automobile accidents). I even did autopsies on one of three people crushed by a single boulder and on a man whose head was quite literally flattened by being run over by a garbage truck.

But my point? My point is that violence and violent deaths are disgusting. Humans have, along with the capacity to commit violence, developed a wonderful distaste for witnessing the mutilation (and the consequent grisly remains) of their own kind. That visceral response that we feel, the nausea and creeping shivers up the spine when we see someone in agony or when we're faced with a mutilated corpse -- that's a highly evolved survival mechanism. We're hard-wired to react to it. The reactions vary. We might hide or fight or run away or rush to help, but react we must. It is natural and right to be offended by violence and carnage. I applaud those who feel ill or vomit during scenes of torture, rape, or execution, and my hat is off to that medical student who faints in the autopsy suite the first time he sees a scalp incised and reflected back from a shiny white scull. This is how a human should respond.

The problem with violence in movies isn't that there's too much of it. It's that there is too much casual, palatable violence. I think that the PG-13 rating is one of the worst inventions of the 20th century. To allow a violent act to be portrayed on film without portraying it in all its grisly detail is a crime of censorship. Should a child or teenager be allowed to see explicitly gruesome movies? Maybe not. But should he or she be allowed to see movies in which tens to hundreds of people are killed and hardly a drop of blood is shown? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is such polite portayals of violence that allow us to hear daily of scores of deaths of civilians and soldiers without batting an eyelash, much less shedding a tear or vomiting our guts out in horror. It is the scenes in which the hero is tortured only to then get up again and fight another day that allows us to forget that such crimes against humanity destroy lives and leave people both physically and psychologically crippled for the rest of their lives.

Every time we see a car chase in which an innocent bystander vehicle is launched into the air, instead of getting to follow our dashing hero as he expertly maneuvers his vehicle, relatively unscathed through narrow alleys and off unfinished overpasses, we should be forced to watch that other nameless, always ignored driver as his seatbelt snaps (it does happen) and he is ejected through the windshield, nose and ears being sheered off and clavicles snapped in the process, only to be smeared across a hundred feet of pavement, leaving a trail of internal organs, blood, and fat.

Every time Jack Bower slips the blade of his $495 Microtech HALO OTF knife between some dirty terrorist's ribs, and then runs off to save his SO of the day, we should have to sit with that dirty terrorist and watch as he gasps for breath, blood pooling around him almost as quickly as it floods his pleural space, collapsing his lung. He can't get enough of a breath to scream in agony, but his eyes are wide with terror, his face streaked with tears, and he thrashes about as suffocation and exsanguination vie for those final moments of life.

And every time that same honorable and admirable Mr. Bower punches a similar (but this time captive) dirty terrorist in the face repeatedly, in an attempt to extract vital information, rather than getting to see how that information saves the day, we should get a good close look at the face of that dirty terrorist, as it has become unrecognizably distorted by bleeding lacerations, echymoses, and soft tissue swelling. We should count the broken and dislodged teeth and feel the excruciating headache-like pain that envelopes one's whole body when one sustains blunt trauma to the head. And we should stay with him over the next few hours as the subdural hematoma (from when Jack kicked his legs out from under him and slammed him to the floor) continues to grow, compressing his brain, causing loss of neural function and ultimately death.

But no, we get all the addictive adrenaline high of the action, that rush of excitement, that other highly evolved reaction (this time to threats and danger), without having to live the whole experience -- without having to also feel the nausea and anguish that is an integral part of violence. Yes, fights, car chases, epic battles, and even righteously motivated high-stress interrogation scenes are exciting, even exhilerating. Yes, I enjoy watching them too. But they are only part of the story. They're like sex without STDs or unwanted pregnancy. They're like cheeseburgers and milkshakes without obesity. They're the shot of heroin without the injection site abscess. They're the rich without the poor.

When someone says that a movie is too violent, they usually mean that it made them feel uncomfortable because it portrayed violence too explicitly, and when I hear it, it makes angry, because they are asking for censorship. They want to deny themselves the only truly valuable depiction of violence on film: the reminder of exactly what it is that we do to each other every day, through wars, crimes, and stupid, preventable car accidents!

So go see the movie already. Be sick. Vomit, if you must. Cry. Get mad. But don't you dare hide your eyes or get up and leave. If you're uncomfortable, good. Revel in the discomfort. Be grateful for it. It's part of what makes you human.

And really, Inglourious Basterds is a tremendously fun and entertaining movie. It's not all just violence and gore, but that is what you're likely to hear about from those who disparage the film.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Into the Wild(erness -- sort of)

Heading out for a week plus away from civilization. When I return, I'd like the U.S. health care system to be fully reformed (including an appropriate primary emphasis on health rather than health care), the economy to have recovered, the troops to have returned from Afganistan, the globe to have stopped warming, U.S. import of McEwan's Scotch Ale to have been restored, and my dog's tail to be wagging. I am optimistic about one of those desires. Cheers y'all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The bed or the couch

The savvy parent gives a child a limited number of options that provide the illusion of power. "You can take your nap on the bed or on the couch". The kid happily chooses the more exciting option of taking a nap on the couch, forgetting for the moment that either way, he'll still be sleeping away his afternoon instead of playing outside in the back yard.

I feel a bit like that kid when looking at the current healthcare debate. It's become this polarized monster of a debate that wants to force us to either support it or oppose it with every ounce of fury (and even violence) that we can muster. Either you're an Obama-loving socialist democrat who will support anything Obama wants (regardless of how unrecognizably mutilated it's become along the way) or you're yelling "Keep your grubby hands off my healthcare! I'm an American and I like it just the way it is." The way the debate is presented by the media you're either in one camp or the other. You're with us or you're against us.

Like hell I am.

We're being fed a pile of (to use a FarScape-ism) dren. The "Obama" healthcare plan has no punch and would do little more than extend the current failed system to more people and plunge the nation further into debt (not that I think being in debt due to paying for healthcare is nearly as objectionable as being in debt due to war). At least in its early forms it was going to put some pressure on the big for-profit health insurance companies to actually get competitive and provide a quality product for a decent price (not that such improvements would address the underlying problems), but now that the plan has been castrated, it's just another expensive band-aid with an assortment of health insurance company logos blazoned across it.

And as for the current system? If you actually thinks that it's functioning well and should be left to continue serving us as is... well... you're probably not reading this blog.

So what else is there? Everyone rolls their eyes and takes a deep breath in anticipation of my long-winded sermon on the glories of government-run universal healthcare coverage. But wait, I'm NOT going to propose (yet again) that the government take over and institute a universal plan such as has been so successful in various European countries. Although I do think that such a plan is a feasible and potentially very successful option in some countries, I've given up on the idea that the US will ever achieve the degree of socialism necessary to make it fly. And I've (only very recently) begun to think that that's not such a bad thing, thanks primarily to an article from the September issue of The Atlantic. In it, the author, who is not a health professional, examines and discusses the underlying problems of the current US healthcare system more clearly and thoroughly than anyone I've previously encountered. He also proposes a solution that seems more reasonable and potentially compatible with the ideals and values of a large chunk of the population than any other that I've heard to date. I'd love to tell you all about it, but then that would spoil it, right?

So give it a read. It's well worth your time, could teach you something, might make you question previous positions, might confirm what you've known all along, and might even make you want to stomp your feet, shake your head, refuse to go to sleep on the couch or the bed, and run outside to play in the sunshine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Congratulations George!

A fellow enthusiast of science fiction, healthcare reform, and libertarian left politics, philosopher and online friend George Berger has posted an account (in English) of his experiences with the all-too-disappointing Dutch healthcare system on a Dutch news site here. His piece is embedded in the 6th comment, so scroll down to read it. Although I probably won't be able to read a word of the debate that it sparks (likely to be in Dutch), I hope that it's a lively one. His story is also available on the University of Washington's Population Health Forum here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Predicting the weather... storms brewing.

Please go read Areophany's post on Martian Utopia Cafe. I wish I could say that I don't share his apparent sense of impending doom.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gang of 6: dirty insurance money

I did not write the following, but I agree with every word of it and add my voice in urging you to take action.

Dear Friends,

Have you heard about the six senators who are out to kill health care reform? Of course, that's not how they'd phrase it. Sens. Baucus, Bingaman, Conrad, Enzi, Grassley and Snowe say they're striving for "bi-partisan compromise." But what they're actually doing is working to make sure reform won't include a public option or mandatory employer-based insurance - two key policies needed for effective reform.

My personal view is that best patient outcomes at lowest cost is logically incompatible with for-profit service delivery and for-profit health insurance. Without a strong public option to begin eroding the advantages of private health insurance, no meaningful change will occur.(PMG)

There are 100 members of the Senate, but these six, inexplicably, seem to be holding all the cards when it comes to health care. So you probably won't be surprised to learn that all six have taken a huge amount of money from the health insurance industry and pharma - more than $3 million between them.

These six senators -- who, by the way, represent only 2.74% of Americans between them -- are writing bad policy, and they're doing it while they take money from the very companies who stand to benefit the most.

I just signed a petition to tell the "Gang of 6" to give back every dime of their dirty insurance money. I hope you will, too. Please have a look and take action.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Our Nation's Feet of Iron and Clay

I'm overwhelmed with a mixture of nausea, pity, and horror when I read things like this (link below). The religious right -- the people who believe and distribute this kind of excrement -- is the faulty foundational substance that is poised to result in the collapse of our nation. The obstinate perseverence with which this segment of our population refuses to use their minds appalls me, as does their willingness to consume, unquestioned, the decaying refuse that is fed to them by their so-called spiritual leaders. If someone wants to argue against the currently proposed healthcare reform bill, there are plenty of reasonable, rational angles from which to attack it. It's so much easier, however, to be told that something is an absolute evil than to have to recognize and accept shades of grey. Absolutes are simple, elegant, easy... dilusions.


Here is the response that I posted on Facebook (I reigned myself in a bit and directed it towards the likely target audience. Maybe tomorrow I'll add more... without reserve):

I have nothing but respect for [the person that posted this link], but it would be irresponsible of me as a physician to hold my tongue. This article is an example of the worst kind of destructive and misleading rhetoric. It attempts to prey on the emotions and spiritual sensitivities of its target audience while ignoring the truly important facts of the matter. It talks of putting healthcare decisions in the hands of bureaucrats while ignoring the fact that in the current system, decisions regarding your medical care are made by private insurance companies. In the current system, physicians are NOT at liberty to treat you as they see fit, primarily due to the evils of the private health insurance companies. And I assure you, that if you're concerned that the government doesn't have your best interests at heart, the for-profit insurance are even less interested in your health; they are interested in your money and in NOT paying that money out when you're sick. Please DO NOT trust articles such as this just because they are coming from a pastor. If history has taught us anything about the church and its shepherds, it is that they are human and that they are as corruptible as any other human. Examine the facts. Look at the numbers. Look at the millions (46.6 million, approximately) of uninsuredAmericans who are suffering every day. If you have never lived in a poor city, such as New Orleans or Albuquerque (I've now lived in both) and seen the horrors wrought on the health and lives of the uninsured poor, do some research before you let a pastor's article on a website make up your minds about what is or isn't best for the country as a whole. Consider the amount of time Jesus spent promoting health for the poor and the words that he had for those who preyed upon them (think of today's insurance companies as vaguely equivalent to Judea's corrupt tax collectors). I know I can't convince anyone of anything. however, I do hope to remind people to use their minds... the minds that God gave them. Think critically. Look at the evidence. Our minds are equipped to examine issues in detail and it would be a slap in the face of the creator of these minds to just accept ANYTHING that is handed to us on a plate. Use that organ of consciousness andcreativity to dig deep, think hard, and make sure that what you're reading (regardless of where you're reading it -- including right here), jives with the common sense and skills of logic that are part of your legacy as members of the human race.

On a side note, I am personally very upset at Mr. Joyner's (mis)use of Tolkien's character Gandalf. Examination of Tolkien's writings make it clear that he did not want his works to be seen as spiritual allegories, and that the evil powers in his books are, if anything, representative of the military-industrial complex and the way in which it destroys the environment and oppresses the poor.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Listening to Lolita in Pittsburgh

Every morning I make my way from the little sub-leased apartment in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh to the Shadyside campus of the UPMC hospital system. There is a shuttle that stops in front of the UPMC medical school building (just a few blocks from my apartment) and after weaving a circuitous route through the streets of Oakland and Shadyside, leaves me within a few hundred feet of my temporary workplace. The shuttle is supposed to make the run (round-trip) once every thirty minutes. It is not entirely reliable. I often find myself waiting at one end of the route or the other for more than the theoretical maximum wait time of 30 minutes. This has led me, on numerous occasions, to forsake the hope of free transport and either take the city bus (at a cost of $2.00 per trip) or walk. The bus takes ten minutes and requires a seven-minute walk on the apartment end of the route. To walk from apartment to work (or vice versa) takes approximately thirty-two minutes (slightly longer when apartment-bound than when work-bound, as the route home is predominantly up-hill).

Regardless of the means by which I achieve my destination, however, I have taken to spending the transit time listening to recorded books on my mp3 player -- or rather (thus far), to one particular book: Vladimr Nabokov's Lolita. I had been listening to it at home before leaving Albuquerque, typically while cleaning the kitchen, cooking dinner, or preparing for work in the morning. When I arrived in Pittsburgh I had made it about half-way through the book.

On my first morning in Pittsburgh I rode the shuttle to Shadyside and did not have my mp3 player along. The radio in the shuttle was tuned to a conservative right-wing AM radio talk show of the Limbaugh type and the volume was set to a very high level, such that it was almost impossible to ignore the nauseating inanities that were being broadcast. I suppose that it is good for me to be reminded, once in a while, that such horrific varieties of baseless propaganda are infecting the airwaves and being eagerly swallowed by a large number of people; it inspires a little more sympathy for the misguided listeners and a greater disgust for the promoters and propogators.

Subsequent to that unpleasant exposure to one of the darker facets of American media, I was careful to carry my mp3 player and with the help of noise-isolating earbuds I am able to replace the amplitude modulated distribution of the worst of republican sentiments (forgive me Mr. Lincoln; I think that you, were you here now, would be quick to disown your grand old party) with a completely different strain of shocking spoken words: Professor Humbert Humbert's eloquent account of his own pedarastic misadventures and sincere, though ever so perverted, obsessive affections for the titular character.

I have been aware of the general story of Lolita for probably at least fifteen years, and it was about ten years ago that I first saw the Kubrick's film of the story. Two years or so ago my mother suggested that I read Reading Lolita in Tehran. I told her that I didn't think I should do so without first reading Lolita, and she replied that she had not read Lolita and really had no interest in doing so, and that Azar Nafisi's book could be read and thoroughly appreciated independent of Nabokov's infamous novel. Still, I had my doubts and decided to postpone Reading Lolita in Tehran (perhaps I will do so some time soon).

Knowing the story of Lolita in advance has eliminated any elements of surprise at the components of the story, and though I'm not surprised by the quality of the writing either, I am certainly impressed. I have seldom felt so entirely immersed in a character's psyche. To be able to feel incite so much sympathy--and even empathy--for a character whose appetites are so socially unacceptable and whose actions to fulfill those appetites are so abusive is, in my opinion, a mark of mastery in an author. The first time I can remember encountering such a well-crafted dispicable character was when I found myself contriving and manipulating along with Claude Frollo, the archdeacon in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. There have been many characters with whom I've felt bonds of similar strength, but it is rare that a character is so perfectly formed as to take possession of my mind in spite of overt idealogical or psychological traits that are in clear opposition to my own (or at least to those that I am able to recognize in myself).

I still have a few chapters left to Lolita. When I have finished it I have another recorded book queued up and ready to help me pleasantly pass the travel time between apartment and work. It's another similarly light-hearted frolic, I expect: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Google's Crome browser is a beautiful thing. How appropriate that adoption of a new web browser should be the event that inspires me to actually post to my blog after who knows how many weeks of silence. Anyway, if you haven't tried it, you really ought. And for those of you who have tried it... well, you know what I'm talkin' about. And on the topic of web browsers, IE8 sucks. I had to uninstall it and reinstall IE7 because IE8 kept crashing my machine... even after installing every upgrade, patch, and fix I could find for it. Oh well, who needs MS anyway, eh? Nice dream. Someday the golden-headed statue with the feet of iron and clay will topple leaving FOSS to take its rightful place as the universal norm in software generation and distribution. But I guess that will be about the same time that the US starts investing in preventative health care and multinational corporations are required to treat all humans as equals regardless of where they happen to live. Okay... I guess I rambled a long way from my starting point at chrome, but that's what a blog is for. Good night.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Setting up Email Blog

So this nifty new BlackBerry is limited by a backward carrier, so I can't use mobile blogger.  As an alternative, I've set up email blogging, so that I can post from my BB anywhere, anytime, via email.  Not quite as smooth or convenient, but I guess I'll have to be satisfied for now.  Not like I've added many entries for quite a while anyway.