Commonplace Book of Readings, July 2009

“There are some people with a vested interest in the world as it is, because that’s the world they have power over.” -- Alan Moore
“People who read Empire of the Sun have often said to me, ‘What a strange life, how unusual,’ and I say to them, actually, the life I led in Shanghai before and during the Second World War was not strange; it wasn’t unusual. The majority of the people on this planet today and for most of this century and previous centuries have always lived lives much closer to the way I lived than to, say, the comfortable suburbs of Western Europe and North America. It is here where I live today that is very strange by the world’s standards. Civil war, famine, flood, drought, poverty, disease are the norms of human experience.” -- J.G. Ballard in a BBC interview.
“Conservatives are only funny when they don’t mean to be. How many fucking times do we have to say this?”
-- Comment by “Aquannissiwamissoo” on Wonkette

“This reflection on another girl’s morality is interesting, because however much our heroine revels in her naughtiness—and she does revel—she is at pains to tell us that she is not promiscuous like the other girls. Even in this genre, which is almost explicitly about how we shouldn’t judge the naked girl on the stage, we find the same judgment, the same innate, catty, female dividing of the world into sluts and non-sluts, that takes place in the rest of the world.” – Katie Roiphe on stripper’s memoirs in Double-X
“Popular artists, then faced with the corporate control of the popular media, have a choice: like Harvey Pekar, they can say exactly what they think about the times in which we live and thus remain at the margins of culture, at best only a cult figure, or, like Letterman, they can swallow their reservations and move to the spot-lit center of the culture, while remaining at the margins of the discourse about what is really going on.”
-- James Hynes, In These Times
“I had, by then, abandoned all pretence of work… I could not write or even, by that time, read. Words made no sense to me. I made no sense to me so how could I make sense to anyone else? If journalism is about anything, it is about making sense of the world in which we live. Words, sense, the very reason that kept me moored and anchored to the world had abandoned me. I was lost and that loss was catastrophic. Who are you when you are no longer who you are? What do you do with a self that is no longer your self? If you don’t know who you are, how do you go on living? If you cannot live as yourself, who and what is it that you are living for?” -- Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog
“You bid me rouse myself. Go, bid a man paralytic in both arms rub them briskly together, and that will cure him. Alas! That I cannot move my arms is my complaint.” – Coleridge, in a letter on writer’s block, 1804.
“Just how bad will August be, because of the Republicans and various anti-reform special interest groups? Imagine the Brooks Brothers Riot, but happening every day, across the country, for the entire month. Just health insurance employees being dispatched in plainclothes to town halls, so as to shout nonsense at congressmen and senators trying to inform their constituents about health care reform. CALLING IT NOW: Most obnoxious month in American history! Maybe.” – Wonkette, week of August 1st, 2009
“The experience of the poor… comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.” – Barbara Ehrenreich
“It’s the sinking sensation that the American game is rigged — that, as the president typically put it a month after his inauguration, the system is in hock to “the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few” who have “run Washington far too long.” …. What disturbs Americans of all ideological persuasions is the fear that almost everything, not just government, is fixed or manipulated by some powerful hidden hand, from commercial transactions as trivial as the sales of prime concert tickets to cultural forces as pervasive as the news media. It’s a cynicism confirmed almost daily by events.” -- Frank Rich, The New York Times
“A growing body of research shows that people with red hair need larger doses of anesthesia and often are resistant to local pain blockers like Novocaine…. Researchers believe redheads are more sensitive to pain because of a mutation in a gene that affects hair color. In people with brown, black and blond hair, the gene, for the melanocortin-1 receptor, produces melanin. But a mutation in the MC1R gene results in the production of a substance called pheomelanin that results in red hair and fair skin. The MC1R gene belongs to a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, and as a result, a mutation in the gene appears to influence the body’s sensitivity to pain. A 2004 study showed that redheads require, on average, about 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark hair or blond coloring. And in 2005, researchers found that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anesthesia, such as the numbing drugs used by dentists. In the latest study, the researchers tested for the MC1R gene variant, finding it in 65 of 67 redheads and in 20 of 77 people with brown or black hair.” – Tara Parker Pope, The New York Times
In the political jargon of those days, the word ‘intellectual’ was an insult. It indicated someone who did not understand life and was cut off from the people…. The invasion of Bohemia by the Russian army, whose occupation of the country had affected everything, had been for her a signal of a new life, out of the ordinary. She saw that people who ranked above her (and everyone ranked above her) were being deprived, on the slightest allegation, of their powers, their positions, their jobs, and their bread, and that excited her; she started to denounce people herself.
"So why is she still a gatekeeper? Why wasn't she promoted?"
The mechanic smiled. "She can't count to ten. They can't find another job for her. All they can do is let her go on denouncing people. For her, that's a promotion!" ….
The mechanic leaned over the engine again and said: "In Wenceslaus Square, in Prague, a guy is throwing up. Another guy comes up to him, pulls a long face, shakes his head, and says: 'I know just what you mean.'”
-- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

How To Talk to an Ann Coulter Fan About Health Care, If You Must

Kalamazoo Single Payer Across the Nation is hosting an informational meeting at the Kalamazoo Library this evening to give our local crazies a chance to shriek about health care. Don Cooney and others are asking the relatively sane among us to show up early and keep things civil. I can barely speak in a coherent sentence these days, so eloquence and precision are out of the question, and I'm open to correction, but here are a few reality checks I’m taking along, adapted from panels on Rachel Maddow and the Diane Rheum, I mean Rehm, show:

There is no “Obama Health Plan”— President Obama has left the creation of legislation to the Congress, which is making a hash of things. Congress receives $millions$ in contributions from health insurers and the results are as you see.

[Inside baseball: the Clinton administration presented Congress with a fait accompli health care proposal, and it died. Obama’s team made the call to let the House and Senate write what they wanted, so long as it gets “done” within the year. This may have been a strategic mistake, though I, wearing my hat of barroom expertise, am hoping that Obama is letting the extremists hang themselves with their own rope, and will show up at the eleventh hour with a “compromise” health care plan that is close to what we wanted all along. I’m wearing my Blue Lantern “Hope” t-shirt as we speak.]

AARP has not yet chimed in to endorse any plan; neither has big pharmaceutical, at least not overtly. The radical right and the insurance lobbies, of course, started honking and bleating before anyone had actually proposed anything.

Why the rush? Obama might have spent two years traveling the Chautauqua circuit, educating and explaining—or that might have cost him capital and momentum, and it never gets done. The interest groups are already at the table and brought their own appetite—that is, they are interested in “reform” that will benefit their own interests.

The “Hitler” calumny: There’s an innocuous provision (from Christopher Dodd, I think?) about helping people design a living will/power of attorney in the event of terminal illness (90% of Americans say they want to die at home, but 80% of us die in institutions, usually because of not having put our wishes in writing). Entirely voluntary, with no more legislative force than a pamphlet about exercise and diet, but this is the item that was distorted by the loony right into warnings about “death panels”, Hitler, etc. from Caribou Barbie.

Small businesses (under a certain number of employees) will be given access to the government run option for health insurance, a shared pool that will lower costs by force of volume, a national insurance co-op, so to speak. Small businesses and farmers are already used to the idea of co-ops when buying supplies in bulk; the talking heads inability to sell this idea is a wonder of obfuscation.

There is NOTHING in any of the plans before Congress that would create anything
like the British or Canadian systems, where old people and retards are apparently left on ice floes to die. Talking point: no one in the world is completely happy with their health care system (not even the French), but the US ranks in the 30s compared with other countries, so any direction other than down can be seen as progress.

Kalamazoo Single Payer Across the Nation events planned for this week and next week:

Tuesday: 7 to 9 p.m. public information meeting at the Kalamazoo Public Library, 315 S. Rose St.

Friday: 4 p.m. rally that will begin in Bronson Park and continue with a march to the nearby office of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph. Upton opposes the current House health-care bill.

Aug. 18: 4 p.m.
rally at Upton's office in St. Joseph.

Discovered after this post was written, a better-informed checklist from Rep. John Dingell:

This bill would:

• End the practice of denying insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

• Not allow termination of insurance if you become seriously ill.

• Preclude exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pays.

• End annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

• Provide guaranteed oral, hearing and vision care for kids.

• Allow people to keep their doctor and their plan if they wish, while also creating more choices of insurance plans.

• Eliminate lifetime limits on health insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, the fiction about this bill is getting more attention that the facts. This bill will not do the following:

• Will not lead to employers discontinuing health care coverage in favor of government coverage. Based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, H.R. 3200 will actually increase the number of people who get health insurance coverage through an employer compared with current law.

• Will not create an undue burden for small businesses. According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, 96 percent of small businesses will pay no additional fees under the bill. In fact, small businesses will benefit from tax credits to empower them to provide health insurance for their employees. Small businesses are now paying 18 percent more than big businesses for the same policy; we will stop this unfair practice.

• Will not exempt members of Congress. Our health care plan will be subject to the same rules as all other employer-sponsored plans.

• Will not cover illegal immigrants, leaving American citizens to pay for it. Section 246 of H.R. 3200 specifically prohibits federal funds from being spent to cover illegal immigrants.

• Will not lead to government-sponsored euthanasia. This bill provides an option for individuals to discuss life-extending measures under various scenarios and for Medicare to cover the cost. It is entirely the individual's choice; it does not require anyone to use the benefit and it does not penalize those who don't. Patients and their families would consult with health professionals, not government officials, if they choose to use the benefit.

• Will not lead to government-sponsored abortions. An amendment was added in the Energy and Commerce Committee that explicitly states no public money can be used to fund abortions.

Oracle's Creator Runs Afoul of Our Glorious Health Care System

While corporate charity continues unabated, writer John Ostrander is going blind because the health insurance he bought isn't going to be there when he needs it. Ostrander, godfather of Barbara Gordon's re-invention as Oracle, still needs several surgeries with extended stays in Boston to save his eye sight.
Friends in the industry organized an auction to raise money for Ostrander at the Chicago Comic Con, with original art like that shown by Art Adams, Paul Chadwick and others along with autographed books and memorabilia. Their website at has current information. Direct contributions (made out to John Ostrander) can also be sent to:
Mike Gold and Adriane Nash
304 Main Avenue, #194
Norwalk, CT 06851