Thursday, September 09, 2010

Burning Books

Burning books of any sort is a crime against free inquiry.  Burning the holy text of any religious group, no matter the reason, is in addition an act of cowardly bigotry and hypocrisy.  Thus the case of the Right Righteous Reverend Terry Jones and his acolytes in Gainesville, Florida, who prepare to burn Qur'ans on September 11, presumably to show how tough they are.

From all appearances, the Right Righteous Reverend Jones is on a rather large ego trip what with virtually the whole world, including his fellow evangelicals telling him 500 ways this burning  is dumb and bad, as William Barnigin and Michelle Boorstein make clear in the Washington Post.

If religious groups and churches want to make a statement beyond verbal chastisement and arm twisting, why do they not pledge to donate to schools and libraries around the country, starting in Gainesville, 100 copies of the Qur'ans for every one copy that the Right Righteous Reverend--or any one else--burns?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

back to It

My hiatus is temporarily over, now that one book is complete.  That is Made for Each Other: How Wolf Became Dog for Overlook Press.  It's been an eventful year for people interested in the origins of the dog, not least because of the battle between geneticists allied with Robert K Wayne at UCLA and those in the camp of Pier Savolainen in Sweden.  Wayne favors Middle Eastern wolves as the most likely progenitor, while Savolainen argues alternately for Southeastern and Eastern China.  For now, I'll just say that what I propose closes the geographic gap between them and accommodates nearly the entire range of dates proposed for the "split" between dogs and wolves. I put "split" in quotes because genetically, there is less difference between dog and wolf than between races of human.   The differences that do exist are cultural and environmental. More than a few were captured by human breeders when other animals were domesticated in an effort to distinguish dog from wolf, or new domesticates from their wild cousins.  Some, like the black coat for big home guard dogs, were sought in order to intimidate unwanted visitors.  Still, others represent the animal's adaptation to its changed circumstances and diet--e.g., its new found sexual freedom and a more omnivorous diet.  More on that later.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why We Love Insurance Companies, or Why the Public Mandate is Bad Policy

Florida has an insurance "regulator," who is about as good to the insurance industry as the the Bureau of Mines and Minerals is to the extractive industries--and we have proof of their virtue blackening the Gulf of Mexico. In Florida, home owners insurance companies have been steadily dumping people since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, forcing them into Citizens, the state program.  It is less a public option than it is the insurer of last resort.  It is dismal, but this short blog is devoted to Liberty Mutual.  Following is a card that arrived yesterday addressed to Gina, with her handwritten commentary.  She's sending it back the CEO of Liberty Mutual, once a fine company, but now.....[you may have to zoom a bit]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Passes

After spending the better part of the year negotiating with absent Republicans while antediluvian senators of his own party wrote a Republican bill that should make insurers ecstatic and richer than they already are, Obama won passage of his "historic" healthcare reform.  Obama himself is an historic figure; it is too bad that his policies are more in keeping with his rhetoric than with his essence.  That is to say that the man who challenged history and the deep biases of American society was exceptional for his courage, his presence and drive.  It turns out that whatever substance his words possess came from his being--the way they do from any solid writer or speaker--not from his policies, which are cautious, bland, and half-assed.  If the man wants an historic presidency, he needs to develop policies that are based on fundamental principles that are not conveniently betrayed at every turn, so that the end product, if there is an end product, has all the appeal and value of a spam on twinkie sandwich.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Simple It Should Be

Over the past year, I have talked to a fairly large range of people perched on various rungs of the socioeconomic ladder and of different ethnicity, and I must say that when it comes to health care, they are largely confused.  They want absolutely to have access to medical care when they need it without worry or hassle.  They want absolutely not to pay more than they now are unless it is for something demonstrably better--and that includes the people not paying now because they are young and invulnerable or can't afford insurance.  They reflexively proclaim, because that's what they've been taught to say, that they don't want government more involved in their health care for fear it will limit their ability to choose their own doctors, but asked whether they can choose their own doctors now and whether they know of an insurance program that allows them to do so without paying large sums, they invariably answer, "No!" and "Medicare."

In short, the Obamans had to propose a health reform bill that would guarantee that everyone has access to the doctor and treatment they need when they need them. That's all.  There are other reforms that make those two goals possible--reform of the ways doctors are paid, medical malpractice reforms, progressive tax rates to pay for the expanded Medicare program--or whatever the national health insurance program is named.

Politicians and pundits claim it is impossible to enact such a program because it is too socialistic, or liberal--many of them don't seem to know the difference--for Americans who don't want Government interfering in their lives.  In making that argument, they throw out phrases that are red meat to large swatches of an American public conditioned to salivate at the mere sound of the words.  But it doesn't take long to realize that the Pavlovian frothing hardly represents a deeply held or carefully thought out position, that it can be overcome with relative ease--with the proper program--and desire--a desire the Obamans never had.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Short, Not Sweet

The Obama released his edited version of the Senate health reform bill and from early descriptions and a quick look through, it is the abomination his worst enemies wished he would produce.  He leaves out the only thing in this whole reform drive people care about,  according to all polls--a robust public option--and he leaves in the one thing that drives everyone to distraction, if not actual paroxysms of rage--a legal mandate that everyone purchase insurance from one of the private insurance companies that continue to rip them off.  And it remains obscenely complicated.  If this thing passes, we will all be subjected to the fruits of a monumental failure of our collective political leadership--Democratic and Republican.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

X is better than W[hat]

Without repeating myself, I'll call attention to the comment on my last blog from Retrieverman on the Massachusetts special senatorial election.  He's right--people are pissed at the banks; they're pissed that there are no jobs or that their job is gone next week or that people are walking away from mortgages and houses with impunity or that "too-good-to-be-true" offers from big banks to lower the interest rate on their mortgage are more of a hassle than they are worth; and they're pissed because their guts tell them that Obamacare is a fiasco wrapped in a monumental giveaway to insurance companies.  They are right.  They know that no matter how you justify it, insurance that costs them more than $5,000 a year for a family of 4 and then covers only 60 percent of costs, which the Senate bill deems affordable, is not advantageous to them.   It's amazing really, Rahm Emanuel has been so busy working to get anything passed in order to ensure the Obamacare is not Bubbacare that he has made something far worse. Now all the Obamans can do is whine that the cost of inaction on healthcare will be their ruination.  Then so be it.  

The Obamans decided at the start what they could not do--expand Medicare to cover everyone.  Indeed, they never wanted or intended to do that.  Nonetheless, many people bought the spiel called "hope," and sent the Obama to Washington.  What the Obamans didn't take into a account but the Republicans sensed intuitively--and doubtless through polling--is that it is far better to keep people hopeless and despairing, than to first raise and then dash their hopes and expectations.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health Care X Massachusetts

The political classes most heard have declared that yesterday's election of Scott Brown to fill out the departed Edward M. Kennedy's seat in the Senate is, among other things, a repudiation of the health care bill now slouching toward denouement that would not pertain to Massachusetts in any event.   That means as nearly as I can tell that the good citizens of a state founded by religious intolerants fleeing religious persecution have voted into office a man who voted for a health care bill in Massachusetts authored by Republicans that served as a template for the Congressional bills that same senator-elect has sworn he will vote against once he assumes his seat, even though it will not affect his own state. Right.  No one will ever accuse these Republicans of consistency or intellectual integrity.

Brown's election is significant only because it cuts the Democratic majority to 59 votes, meaning they can no longer vote in a block to kill Republican filibusters. Given the sorts of vile deals the Democrats stuck to gain and hold those 60 votes, I'm not sure that losing that majority was such a bad deal.  Any time you pass a bill that satisfies no one, that doesn't meet its primary objective and that is inherently punitive, simply because you've convinced yourself that anything is better than what is, you have major problems, including ignorance.

Yet that's exactly what the Democrats were.  Now they might have to revert to a better strategy, which is to develop a simple, clean efficient bill that expands Medicare over time to include everyone and includes necessary tort and compensation reform and sufficient funding, much of it gained by taxation of the wealthy, especially the bonus babies of finance.  The Republicans, including Brown, who have declared themselves friends and defenders of Medicare, would then have to put up or shut up.    In either case, the Democrats would have something to run on that was  easy to understand.  The key for the Democrats and this means the Communicator in Chief would be to cast the expansion in a positive light--not hard.  It would shore up Medicare; it would provide health care for all without rationing or limits; it would remove a major source of stress, financial distress and early death from Americans; it would guarantee a fundamental human right.

Taking this step would take political courage of a sort not manifest in the Obama Administration, which seems intent on riding its slouching beast of a bill into the dustbin of history.