Archive for March 2017

About This Afternoon

March 24, 2017

These messages, encountered on a foggy morning on the Venice (CA) boardwalk last week, seem on point:

Sorry for the soft focus — I had only time to grab a quick phone shot; these bearers of wisdom disappeared before I could unlimber some more sophisticated camera action.  But the point is made, I think.

I had a ten-day Flagyl imposed alcohol break, but that ended last night.  I plan to raise a cocktail tonight flavored with sweet, sweet wingnut tears.  La lucha continua, certainly.  But that doesn’t mean triumphs along the way can’t be savored. In fact the reverse.

Why I Hate The NY Times, Part [n]*

March 24, 2017

This paragraph:

There is most likely a middle way. Republican lawmakers might be comfortable with a system that shifts more of the costs of care onto people who are sick, if it makes the average insurance plan less costly for the healthy. But making those choices would mean engaging in very real trade-offs, less simple than their talking point.

“Republican lawmakers might be comfortable…”  Think of the assuptions not in evidence required to write that phrase.  Think also of the cluelessness in what comes next:  those who buy insurance are seen here in the Republican frame, as two binary populations, the healthy and the sick.

That would be  the “virtuous”  healthy paid less than the molly-coddled, feckless sick.  That the same people might occupy both identities at different points of their lives seems not to have occured to this Times writer, Margot Sanger-Katz — whom I’ve noted before has an odd willingness to couch her Upshot explainers in weighted and coded language.

As seems to be hers and several Times-folk’s penchant, much of the story from which I extracted above is perfectly fine, an actual explainer of what Essential Health Benefits do and why they’re important. She even notes that in a system without a required benefit package–

…the meaning of “health insurance” can start to become a little murky.

Well, yeah, as it doesn’t actually insure against unanticipated risks.  I’d take issue with the meekness of her critique here, that is, but at least she suggests to the fragile sensibilities of her tender readers that perhaps a minor problem might result here.

Which makes the passage I quoted up top both weird and revealing: cheap insurance for the healthy and soak-the-sick policies for those with the misfortune to suffer the ails that impinge on just about every human being, sometime or other is a pretty damn good example of a murky notion of health insurance.

That is: the habit of mind, the reflexive and seemingly unconscious acceptance of a right wing tropes that lead both to conclusions unsupported by the evidence and an inability to grasp what one has actually just said.  This happens a lot at The New York Times. Happened a lot there too, over the crucial months of 2016.  Which goes a long way, IMHO, to accounting for the predicament we’re in now.

*Where [n] is an arbitrarily large number.x

Image:  Codex Aureus Epternacensis, Christ Cleansing Ten Lepers, c. 1035-1040.

The Common Inheritance, The Common Defense

March 5, 2017

A bit of self promotion here, but I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that might be of interest to some here.

It’s a look at what the idea of the commons — not just the abstract, model commons of Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, but the historical commons as actually lived and used — can tell us about current problems.  The TL:DR is that commons are not inherently prone to tragedy, but that the preservation of communal goods requires…wait for it…communal action: regulation, self-regulation.

This is, of course, exactly what the Republican Party denies — more, loathes and condemns.  With Trump, they’re getting their way, but its vital to remember that the consequences that will flow from these decisions are not down to him, or simply so: the entire Republican power structure is eager to do this, and when we pay the price, we must remember who ran up the bill.

Anyway, here’s a taste from my piece.  Head on over to the Globe’s site if you want more.

The idea of the commons is deeply woven through the history of the English countryside. Shakespeare captured this idyllic approach to nature’s wealth in “As You Like It,” when the shepherd Corin explains to the cynic Touchstone the joys of his life. “I earn that I eat, get that I wear,” he says, adding that “the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” — in the unowned, readily shared Forest of Arden.

There can be trouble in such an Eden, as Hardin pointed out in an influential 1968 paper. Hardin asked what would happen if access to a commons were truly unfettered — if Corin and every other villager ran as many sheep as they could there. In such cases, Hardin argued, the endgame is obvious: Too many animals would eat too much fodder, leaving the ground bare, unable to support any livestock at all.

The evolution of resistance to antibiotics fits that story perfectly. The first modern bacteria-killing drug, penicillin, came into widespread use in 1944, as American laboratories raced to produce millions of doses in time for D-Day. The next year, its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, used his Nobel Prize lecture to describe precisely how this wonder drug could lose its power, telling the sad tale of a man who came down with a strep infection. In his tale, Mr. X didn’t finish his course of penicillin, and his surviving microbes, now “educated” (Fleming’s term), infected his wife. When her course of penicillin failed to eradicate these now-resistant microbes, Mrs. X died — killed, Fleming said, by her husband’s carelessness. It took just one more year for this fable to turn into fact: In 1946, four American soldiers came down with drug-resistant gonorrhea, the first such resistance on record.

Go on — check it out.  You want to hear about the great Charnwood Forest rabbit riot.  You know you do…

Image: Jacopo da Ponte, Sheep and Lambc. 1650.

Unlimber That Gas Mask

March 4, 2017

Amidst all the attention grabbing stuff — you know, just a president accusing his predecessor of high crimes — the Trump administration proceeds with impressive consistency with moves designed to make the world worse, Americans sicker/poorer, and their inner circle enriched.

Next week, it’ll be the air-we-breathe’s turn:

The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

I don’t want to go all-apocalyptic on this news, in part because I want to sleep more than four hours tonight, and more because there are some secular processes underway that reduce the impact of Trump’s and Republican willingness to destroy the climate and give Americans respiratory diseases — think the long-term losing market battle coal is waging against everything else, and the advances in transportation tech that will help mitigate the license to ill being granted the domestic auto industry. (I’d note that those car companies based in countries that do impose efficiency rules will now get an advantage over the big three that could very likely hit the domestic industry hard in a decade or less…rather like the way Japanese car companies were poised to take advantage of the oil shocks of the 70s, to great wailing and gnashing of teeth in Detroit.)

But even with that rather meagre reed of hope, there’s no way to spin this as anything but craptastic news for both the global and every local environment.

Every act this administration takes; every law this congress takes is the fruit of a poisoned tree: an election manipulated by foreigners, and undermined by domestic law enforcement.  There’s no room for negotiation here.  Step one: 2018.

Image: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Gas masks for man and horse demonstrated by American soldierc. 1917-18