Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Parable for the United States

Once upon a time there was a land of sheep.  These sheep were divided into two large flocks, one of which was owned by an elephant while the other flock was owned by a donkey.
Most of the time, the two flocks were satisfied and relatively happy with their lot.  Occasionally, however, changes would occur and one or another of the flocks would become restless and unhappy. 
Perhaps they were sheared of their fleece too closely, or too often.  Perhaps inadequate food or shelter or veterinary care was provided.  When this happened, the sheep from that flock would move to the other flock because conditions seemed better over there.  After a time, this increase in size would cause the flock they had sought for a better life to develop problems as well, and then the sheep would move to the other flock again.
No sheep, it seems, was really happy with either the elephant or the donkey.  But, being sheep, they weren't able to do much about it.
One day a black sheep appeared and advised the unhappy flocks that their life could be better if they took control of their lives.  He offered to show them how and to help anyway he could.
This kind of talk made the sheep nervous.  Many wondered how the black sheep could be sure that life would improve.  And others wondered who would be their leader, 
But you don't need a leader, the black sheep, told them.  You can do whatever you need to do all by yourselves.
Leaderless?, one cried out.  No one to tell us what to do?, another bellowed.  The flocks were very unhappy.
Finally, they told the black sheep to go away.  You're weird, they said, and you are a black sheep with crazy ideas. You are too different.  Go away, and leave us alone.
So the black sheep went away.  The sheep accepted their lives.  The elephant and the donkey looked amusingly at their flocks, watching them switch sides as if it might make a difference.  They laughed together.  They knew that all the sheep were theirs.  They had nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quotation Nabokov

"What he really wanted to do was tear a hole in his world and escape."

Vladimir Nabokov

Friday, October 23, 2009

Medicine: where it went wrong

If one reads a great deal, and reads widely, it becomes clear that every serious social problem that confronts us, either sooner or later, has been described and forseen in the cultural works of the nation.
For example:
Teacher In America by Jacques Barzun, published in 1945, contains these lines in the first chapter: "Meanwhile I dwell on the necessity of teaching, that is to say on the need for teachers....The "call" (to teach) cannot be strong if a teacher will leave the classroom to floorwalk in a department store. Doctors are poor too, but they stick to their rounds and their patients." (Italics mine.)

"Are These Our Doctors?" by Ellen Barkins, published in 1952, contains these lines: "This is the time, therefore, for the public to take stock. This is the time to realize that Specialist Medicine, these past years, has been a sociological flop. Without rendering adequate scientific gain, it has done great harm. It has distorted the role of the general practitioner and the specialist in lay minds, thus causing both economic and professional waste.
It has reduced the human element and dignity in treating patients; and without gaining for them even half a world, it has forfeited the public's soul. It has gravely weakened the relationship between the two groups concerned..."

"The Last Angry Man", by Gerald Green, published in 1957, was a best selling novel that revealed the life of Dr. Samuel Abelman at work in New York City as a GP. The novel is a compelling story of his work for the poor and underclass, of his arguments with his patients for their inability to care for themselves, of his arguments with fellow doctors who became specialists for the money and status involved, and his arguments with himself for not doing more for himself and his wife. As one of the main characteers puts it: "There aren't enough people left who get mad, plain mad. Mad at all the bitchery and fraud. We take fraud for granted. We like it. We want to be had. That's where Abelman was different. He knew he was being cheated and he didn't like it one tiny bit. He was the last angry man."

"Coming Of Age" by Studs Terkel, published in 1995, contains an interview with Quentin Young, M.D. who was director of medicine at the Cook County Hospital, Chicago, from 1972 to 1983. Dr. Young says this: The darkest development in our troubled health care system is the advent of corporate medicine. The AMA had all sorts of laws - they still exist - against corporate medicine being practiced, yet these laws have been ignored. Large conglomerates came in.
Public hospitals, which were improving until about fifteen years ago, have become the absolute dumping pit. The system has always dumped on the public sector everything that had no profits in it. Today, it has become the specific behavior called 'prudent management.'"
The last sentence of Dr. Young's interview is the expression of a frightening vision: "An industrialized system, controlled by five or six monopolies, care allocated, excision of the unworthy or unfit, as we move toward a euthanasic society."

Enough said. Read it and weep.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More on the Economy

Yesterday I finished reading an article by an economist wherein he stated that the consumer represents 70% of the nation's economy, that without the consumer spending again the recovery will never happen.
Normally when one hears this bromide repeated again and again one comes to believe it is the truth. 
I am a little odd, I guess, because I ask myself what makes the other 30% and why don't they do more?
So I visited the internet in search of what constitutes percentages of the economy or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
There are three important sides to the GDP figure.  They are:
household  which is called consumption
government which is called public expenditure
business expenditure which is called investment
Sure enough, as of September 2009, the consumer represents 71% of the GDP.  (Here, I digress, because this is what I don't understand.  If the recovery isn't happening, why are consumers spending at a higher rate than last year?  Because everyone agrees that is what the figures show.)
To continue, the consumer represents 71%,  government spending (or public expenditure) represents 41%, and Investment represents 15%.  Call me stupid, but don't those percentages add up to 127%?
There is something wrong somewhere.  This economy is sick and getting sicker and I don't read or hear anyone who seems to know what will happen next, or what to do about it.
And they call Economics a science?  And they give Nobel prizes for it?  Puh-leeze!

Elugelab and Operation Ivy - A Factoid

In late 1952, under the program name of Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb caused the Pacific island of Elugelab to vanish. The explosion was 700 times more powerful than the blast that destroyed Hiroshima.

How green was my Ivy?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Security Takes A Hit for The Economy

CBS News reported tonight that Social Security recipients will not receive an increase in their benefits this year, the first time ever.  CBS also reported that the COLA increase given last year was a record 5.8%.
I knew that the statements were incorrect, as proven by this chart.
Why can't CBS do a better job of fact checking?

The reason given for no COLA increase this year is due to the steep fall in the price of oil compared to last year.  Oil (or energy) must play a HUGE part in the calculations for the COLA because everything else we buy increased in price.
I note also, after studying the chart in the link above, that three changes have been made to the time of year that the calculations are used.  The chart shows a sharp decline in the COLA increase since those changes.  I'm certain these changes were not made for the benefit of Social Security recipients.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons Learned (cont'd)

People are as selective about their future as much as their past.  Their predictions are no more or less honest than their memories.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NASA shoots the moon !

Last night NASA fired a rocket at the moon with a follow-up space lab to read the results of the debris thrown up by the rocket. All this to find if there is water on the moon.
We were urged to rise early this morning to watch the event in the skies.
Well, excuse me, NASA and Main Stream Media, I stayed in bed.
Once or twice annually we are urged to stay up late and enjoy the meteor showers that occasionally take place. I have learned to stay in bed for that too.
When I was a boy, there was a beautiful sight to be seen in the skies every night it wasn't cloudy. The name for this was the Milky Way.
If it should ever appear anywhere along the east coast again, call me. I will get up for that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

John Keats, To Autumn

October always signaled the season of Autumn to me.  Officially, of course, September 21 is the start of Fall but the leaves that color the landscape are the true guide.  That and the quality of light and the musk of dying plants and the Harvest Moon and the change in air temperature confirm that October is the month of change.

John Keats wrote an ode To Autumn in 1819, two years before he died at the age of 26.  The poem consists of three stanzas of eleven lines each.  I am presenting only the last stanza here because it is my favorite of the three.

"Where are the songs of Spring?  Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Medea, meet Ed Ricketts

"Adults, in their dealings with children, are insane.  And children know it too.  Adults lay down rules they would not think of following, speak truths they do not believe.  And yet they expect children to obey the rules, believe the truths, and admire and respect their parents for this nonsense.  Children must be very wise and secret to tolerate adults at all."  Ed Ricketts

I was reminded of the Ricketts statement as I watched a News Hour reporter interview Annette Bening about her latest theater role, the lead in the Greek tragedy Medea, by Euripides.
Briefly, this is a play about a woman who falls in love with Jason and aids him in his quest for the Golden Fleece by, among other acts, killing her brother.  True love, indeed!
This is followed by some travel, bad luck, and another atrocity until we reach the 'heart of the matter' as the romantics are fond of saying.  Jason cannot marry Medea because she is a foreigner.  Worse yet, her intensity turns him away and he seeks to marry another woman.  This causes deep powerful anger in the heart and mind and soul of Medea.  She feels herself wronged and seeks revenge.
Revenge is what she gets and the audience is suitably shocked.  What is her revenge?  Among other deaths, she murders the two sons she had with Jason.
For me, this play reeks of misogyny. But why would Euripides gives these words to Medea to speak?

"Of all things upon earth that bleed and grow,
a herb most bruised is woman. We must pay
our store of gold, hoarded for that one day,
to buy us some man's love; and lo, they bring
a master of our flesh! There comes the sting
of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy,
for good or ill, what shall that master be....
home never taught her that - how best to guide
toward peace the thing that sleepeth at her side.
And she who, laboring long, shall find some way
whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray
his yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath
that woman draws! Else let her pray for death .
Her lord, if he be wearied of her face
within doors, gets him forth; some merrier place
will ease his heart; but she waits on, her whole
vision enchained on a single soul.
And then they say 'tis they that face the call
of war, while we sit sheltered, hid from all
peril! False mocking! Sooner would I stand
three times to face their battles, shield in hand,
than bear one child."

And probably, these words are part of the reason that actresses love this role.  This mother, Medea, is, as Bening says, "more interesting than a good mother".  'Interesting' is not the word I would have chosen.  But then, what do I know?  I'm a man.  But so was Euripides.
For me, the most remarkable thing about this play is that the children have no names.  The boys are little more than props for the playing out of a white trash relationship.

Footnote:  for those who aren't familiar with Ed Ricketts, he was a marine biologist (1897-1948) and a close friend of John Steinbeck.  They collaborated on the book The Log Of The Sea Of Cortez.