Friday, April 8, 2011

The Republican War on Everyone Else

The following comment appeared in the New York Times in response to a Paul Krugman column criticizing Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal:

Congressman Ryan is from one of the wealthiest Wisconsin districts, just across border from Illinois and a favored bedroom area for wealthy commuters from Chicago. He's representing the wealthy voters to whom everyone not one of them is invisible. 

Congressman Ryan proposed earlier budgets in which he would have eliminated the health care for children (CHIPS.) His constituents didn't protest. As far as they're concerned, Americans working for a living are lucky to be employed and should have worked harder and studied harder. 
His constituents pay to keep him in office because he'll carry their water: make it possible for the strong to prey on those who lack their wealth and connections. It's something the working people in this nation fiercely fought to overcome in the 1930s, 1940s, and even into the 1950s. 
I still recall when my father was a petroleum company executive during a refinery strike during my younger years and him telling how he had to low-crawl to his car after his month of working to keep the refinery operating. I remember the wives of the workers in that strike coming to our rural home with their children, and asking for food and toilet paper. I recall my mother answering the door with a revolver in one hand hidden behind her back. I recall us setting up a a pantry in the garage and my mother telling them she couldn't feed them all but would help in emergencies. I recall my father expressing amazement that after low-crawling to the car, the union workers opened the gate and waved him out. I remember his consternation when my mother showed him the garage pantry and explained why they'd waved him out. She said the strike was between the men, and union or not, she'd always share her food with mothers and children. I remember our house being shot at and seeing the bullet holes in the living room window. 
I recall one of my father's friends over one evening talking to him about a railroad strike. He told of how union workers had been found along the rail bed beaten black and blue. About that moment he looked up and remarked to my father that "little ears were nearby" and he'd better stop or there'd be nightmares. I was sent to bed. 
I recall the news stories on WGN radio about acid being thrown into truckers' faces during trucking strikes. 
I recall the death threats sent to my parents about kidnapping and killing me. I recall at age 7 people in Halloween masks attacking the windows on my bedroom and I then recall being taken to St. Louis where a large black German Shepherd named Windy and I were trained together for my protection. I recall the annual re-training through my eleventh year. That probably had a lot to do with my father regularly took me overseas with him. 
That is the era back to which Congressman Ryan and his bought, phony, grass-root supporters want to take us: the era of real class warfare. It's sick. They're morally corrupt. 
From President Truman forward, every Democratic President has reduced the national debt as a percentage of the nation's GDP. Since Truman forward, ONLY TWO Republican Presidents have reduced the nation's debt as a percentage of GDP: President Eisenhower in both terms and President Nixon in his first term. That's it. Since then, Republican Presidents have always increased the national debt as a percentage of GDP. 
Congressman Ryan's budget isn't the least bit serious. It's not a budget to build a great nation. It's a delusion concocted by his vanity egged on by the thought of accolades and personal riches from this nation's wealthiest. Congressman Ryan's budget has all the scope, insight, and foresight one might find in the Christmas wish list of a sheltered, spoiled child.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


after night

I walk

the smouldering
dark streets




is many

places then
as now

all lie
in ruins

it is

as much
as I can do

to save
even one

from oblivion

-Ciaran Carson, 2003

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Juan Cole's Open Letter to the Left on Libya

Juan Cole was an early, articulate, and prescient opponent of the Iraq War. His blog, Informed Comment, became the go-to place for those of us seeking to construct a knowledgeable case against the war. Professor Cole supports the intervention in Libya, and explains why here.

Cole analyzes differences in the left over the intervention as a matter of cognitive dissonance: On the one, the left supports the efforts of ordinary people to free themselves from tyranny; on the other, it opposes as imperialism military intervention in their lives. In the case of Libya, Cole believes that the opportunity to rid the Libyan people (and the world, for that matter) of the sociopathic predations of Muammar Qaddafi is paramount and must be exploited.

The responses opposing Cole's position are depressingly predictable, illustrating a doctrinaire intellectual vacuity that substitutes sloganeering for critical thinking. To be fair, the left is hardly alone on that score...

Friday, March 25, 2011

In Defense of Dithering

Where Citizen K. rants, the New York Times' Timothy Egan -- who lives here in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood -- offers a cool defense of President Obama's style. I have wondered that the same "progressives" who rightly despised President Bush's strutting and preening continuously gripe that Obama doesn't act in the same way. (The Nation doesn't publish an issue without someone blasting the president for not rearing up on his hind legs and blaring like a rogue elephant.) Apparently, bluster and certitude are just fine so long as it is the bluster and certitude of the left.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

R.I.P., Elizabeth Taylor

The New York Times calls her "the last movie star," and they're probably right. Born in 1932 in London to American parents, Elizabeth Taylor became an international star at age 12 with her winning turn in 1944's, National Velvet. As seemed to happen often, Taylor's presence inspired her leading man -- in this case, Mickey Rooney -- to do some of his best work. Rock Hudson was never better than as Bick Benedict in Giant, and Montgomery Clift was at his considerable best in A Place in the Sun.

The tabloid headlines and legendary marital brawls obscured Taylor's impressive range: She played and played well characters created by Tennessee Williams, John O'Hara, Edward Albee, Dylan Thomas, and William Shakespeare. She made her mark in family movies and smoldered in sprawling epics and soap operas. She played it for laughs in Father of the Bride as naturally as she evoked pity and disgust in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. 

To me, though, Elizabeth Taylor is first and foremost Leslie Benedict, the brash Maryland debutante who over the course of 201 minutes becomes the seasoned partner of a Texas rancher. (I grew up a mile from the main gate of the King Ranch, upon which Giant is based.) Over the course of the movie, the outsider becomes an insider while her principles and wit remain intact, a combination that causes her husband Bick Benedict (Hudson) to conclude that he won't understand her if he lives to be 90 (or a 100 or 150, one suspects). Taylor takes advantage of Giant's to show her character as arch, sardonic, wondering, overwhelmed, determined, warm, sympathetic, feminine, and maternal. She shifts moods as easily and naturally as you or I might change shirts. It's a bravura performance, all the more so as their isn't a trace forced or self-conscious.

Whatever the misfortunes of your personal life, Liz, you were not only one of the greats, you just may be the last of them...

Don't miss this 1949 Times profile of 16-year old "soft-spoken, rather quiet, almost shy" Elizabeth Taylor...

The savage fight scene from Giant, followed by the closing:

Friday, March 18, 2011

All Over

At 6'8", Gene Conley was big enough to be that rare athlete to play two professional sports. From 1952-63, the three-time All Star took the mound for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Red Sox. For good measure, he put in six years with the Knicks and Celtics of the NBA (spaced out between 1952 and 1964), where he was a capable rebounder off the bench.

By 1964, Conley's strong right arm had given out. As he stared bleakly at the end of his sports career, he determineded to give it one more shot. Conley called Cleveland Indians executive Gabe Paul, who agreed to let Conley pitch for an Indians minor league club in order to see if there was anything left.

There wasn't.

In this memorable passage from Donald Honig's Baseball Between the Lines, Conley recounts his final realization that he was through:
So I started a game. We were playing Greensboro, North Carolina. Those kids came up to the plate and started knocking line drives all over the place. I tried flooring a few of them but they weren't impressed; I didn't have enough on the ball to scare anybody. After four or five innings they had to take me out.
I called Gabe Paul the next day.
"Gabe," I said, "I tried but I can't do it."
"I thought that might be the case," he said. "I guess you just had to get it out of your system."
"Well," I said, "It's out."
When I walked away from that telephone I was really shocked. There was no more fooling myself. It was all over and I knew it. Not only that, I didn't have a job, nothing to go back to. The basketball was about over, too. So I was pretty depressed.
I wandered around for a while, a lost soul on the streets of this town in North Carolina. Then I walked into a church and sat down in the back, all by myself. There was a service going on. After the singing this Baptist minister started preaching. All of a sudden it hit me real hard and I caved in and started crying. I just sat there in that last row and cried and cried, trying to keep my head down so as not to upset anybody. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up. An elderly Southern gentleman was standing there gazing down at me.
"What's the matter, son?" he asked. "Did you lose your mother?"
I shook my head, the tears still running. "No sir," I said. "I lost my fastball."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What is Preventive Heath Care?

These before and after pictures of the tsunami will stun you. Don't miss them (scroll down)...

Paul Krugman writes that GOP staffers recently jeered at the part of a Kaiser Permanente presentation that discussed the importance of preventive health care. (It's a "slush fund," apparently.) Claiming that there is no such thing as preventive health care is the medical equivalent of saying that the world is flat, yet I've seen this showing up more and more in the comments that I monitor. There are even cherry-picked references to a CBO study. (Funny how conservatives like the CBO just fine when they can distort it to in their own interests.)

The thing is, Americans have relatively ineffective preventive health because we practice it in the context of our commitment to heroic medicine. There's much more to the concept than a yearly physical and PSA (which may not do that much good, anyway). We don't really practice what is known as population health, which includes outcomes, determinants, interventions, and policies that impact the health of a group. A group can be as small as the total number of patients in a given practice and as large as the entire population of a country, and be based on condition, locale, demographics, or some combination of the three.

At the end of the first quarter of school, my team made a presentation based on steps that could be taken to reduce the number of pediatric asthma admissions to a rural emergency department in an area with a heavy migrant worker population. We set a goal (50% reduction, based on research) and designed a program based on ED clinical staff training, patient education, check-in and check-out procedures (wherein, for example, no one left without what's called an Asthma Action Plan), home mitigation strategies, and primary care followup. We minimized other possibilities because of budget limitations and likely behavioral restrictions on the families. This is the idea behind preventive care based on population, although it doesn't address public policies that might improve outcomes even further (such as improving air quality eroded by a high concentration of pesticides).

So, if someone tells you that preventive health care doesn't work, the chances are that they don't know what it is and that they're unaware that we really don't practice it here.