I try not to pay too much attention to the outside world as it just makes me foam at the mouth with righteous indignation. I don’t know what possessed me to start reading the NYT on a regular basis again, but here I am, keeping up with the world and occasionally wanting to kick it in the nuts.

Like this. This article embodies everything that is wrong with privatized health care.

#1: People can, and do, take a “D.I.Y.” approach to their own health.  This makes me nuts. Every time I see a prescription drug advertised on television, I want to defenestrate myself. If the drug is something you should be considering, your doctor will tell you so since they spent upwards of eight years studying medicine and are well-informed about your condition and your treatment options. If you don’t think your doctor knows what s/he’s talking about, go see a different one! It’s that easy! Even with an HMO, you can do it! Telling your doctor what drugs you should be taking is as asnine as telling your mechanic that you know what parts he should use to fix your car. No one does the latter, why do people do the former? Why does our society lead people to believe that they know more about medicine than doctors do?

I’d like to wag some fingers in the general direction of the television news industry and the constant state of fear that it serves to instill. Every freaking night there’s some story about “your health may be at risk!” and it’s all crap like “Don’t let your doctor not give you a flu shot.” “They tell you that you don’t really need an extra kidney, but it’s all lies!” “Have your drinking water tested for magic blueberry disease!”

So. People are filled with this crackpot idea that they know what they’re doing. They ask for prescription drugs by name. Some people even have enough hubris to go and diagnose others. I have epilepsy and I’ve had total strangers ask me “Have you tried Keppra?” No. No I effin haven’t because my DOCTOR did not think that it would be the right drug to effectively treat me. I don’t care if your sister is on it and she loves it. I don’t care if your dog recommends it. Until my DOCTOR asks me if I want to try a new drug, nothin’ doing.

In this article, the main culprit is at-home testing. So you can test yourself at home for conditions that, if you have them, require medical treatment. Right. Because it’s best to do this without any sort of medical fall-back plan for when you find out that you really do have magic blueberry disease and that you need to get raspberry pills to treat it.  Then you end up in the position where you’re desperately trying to find raspberry pills and have to, egads, tell your doctor about it because YOU are not authorized to write prescriptions.

#2: The insurance companies’ policy that pre-existing conditions are not covered serves to re-inforce #1 and drive people to total insanity.  Even worse is what happens when you don’t have any insurance to begin with.  This situation from the NYT article is exactly the situation that I find myself in:

 Now largely recovered, her primary concern is whether she will be viewed as a health insurance liability for the future.
“I don’t want to have to work for a big business just to get insurance,” she said. “This could be determining what I can do for my whole life.”

My disease has already determined my life for me. I have the options of selling-out and getting insurance (and even then, I worked for a big business and was told that epilepsy related expenses would not be covered 100%) or shelling out hundreds upon hundreds of dollars every month for medication, and at least a grand a year in doctors’ bills.This is the reality of what it means to have a pre-existing condition. Even when I do get insurance, there is no guarantee that it will cover all (or even any) of these expenses. And that really, really sucks.

Cost should not be the primary consideration when deciding on a course of treatment, or whether or not to be screened for a potentially serious illness. I’m not saying that cost is irrelevant – I’ve certainly declined non-essential treatment based on cost – but that it should not be the first and foremost decider of one’s options as a patient. The decision should come down to what the patient and hir doctor believe is going to be the most effective, and not what’s going to be the most cost effective. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and order some treatment online for my magic blueberry disease. 

Hear Ye! Heare Ye!

February 6, 2008

I may as well tell you now, so you don’t hear this from some ill-reputed source. I am strongly considering applying to grad school.  I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. I had sincerely wished to go my whole life without having to get a Masters, but I can see no other viable options wherein I may receive health insurance and maintain a small shred of my dignity.  And oh yeah, get a job that pays well enough so that I can pay back the loans I still have from my undergrad degree. Turns out you need a Masters for that.

 I can only hope when I’m eventually done with this, I will be the prettiest wench of them all.  Thank you, Married to the Sea. You said it better than I ever could.

 

Breaking out of Foucault.

February 5, 2008

I spent the month of January moving and taking care of some unfinished legal business, which meant that I tried my hardest not to think. About anything. It was, in some ways, a glorious month. However, to make up for it, I have embarked on a quest of intellectual ridiculousness.  You probably could see it coming. I have started reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish while Netflixing Season 2 of Prison Break.  

While the issues of the commodification of the body in the prison system are more applicable to Season 1, I don’t care, Michael Scofield is totally my secret boyfriend and I consider all of his be-tattooed activities to be important research.  Also: reading philosophy is sexy as hell. I want someone to dominate the micro-physics of my power economy, oh boy, do I ever.Moving on! Some thoughts thus far!

Chapter 1, The body of the condemned, discusses mostly the pre-Enlightenment policies of public execution.  This, clearly, does not relate to our beloved Fox River crew directly. However, it is interesting to note the change in societal ideals that our executions are now held in the utmost secrecy. What used to be a public display, serving to unite the populace in condemnation for the criminal, is now hidden away from public viewing entirely. The only witnesses invited to an execution are the press and those chosen, not by the state, but by the condemned man himself. (1) It is now considered the highest punishment that the condemned be completely removed from society, rather than having to face its judgement head-on. (2) 

The state has also been removed from the process. Instead of an identifiable executioner, the process is now completely mechanized and sterile. The actual procedure for a lethal injectionis as medically simple as a blood transfusion, except of course, for the end result. Of course, in the case of Lincoln Burrows, it was to be the electric chair – which is a step more gruesome, but still a far cry from the drawing and quartering that was favored for regicide (3) in seventeenth centruy France.  On this move towards sterility in capital punishment: 

 Today a doctor must watch over those condemned to death, right up to the last moment – thus juxtaposing himself as the agent of welfare, as the alleviator, within the official whose task it is to end life.  This is worth thinking about.  When the moment of execution approaches, the patients are injected with tranquilizers. A utopia of judicial reticence: take away life, but prevent the patient from feeling it; deprive the prisoner of all rights, but do not inflict pain; impose penalties free of all pain.  

It is a paradoxical situation that our legal system has created: to avoid becoming murderers by association (for what is capital punishment, really, but legalized murder in the old “eye for an eye” system?), we’ve set up a situation so filled with ritual that it is not unlike any other medical “procedure.” We’ve even got doctors! How bizarre is that!  One of the first things a doctor must pledge is to do no harm, and here they are setting up the system that allows a “patient” (note that the condemned is no longer referred to here as a prisoner, but as a patient, again, as if this were a simple medical procedure) to be put to death. It should be noted that the doctor is not the one who pushes the button to finally kill the prisoner, but that seems like an arbitrary detail in the whole setup.

And, as we know from Lincoln Burrows, a doctor must give a patient a physical before an execution may be performed because the prisoner must be healthy before the state can kill him. A relevant detail in Season 1, where Michael feeds him a pill to induce the stomach flu so that Dr. Tancredi has no choice but to delay the execution for 24 hours, thus giving Michael an extra day to complete the escape plan.

The morality involved is very complicated: it wouldn’t be “humane” to execute someone who was already suffering, since the point of this is to distance the prison system from actual suffering as much as possible. A prisoner can only be executed if he is in good health and not already suffering from any kind of pain – besides, of course, from the mental anguish of his impending death. And that will have to be saved for another post, because it’s time for me to go load up another episode!

1) Yes, I know that women are also capable of crimes that are punished by the death penalty, and that women are sentenced to death, blah blah blah. Until I start analyzing Monster, I am, to my own chagrin, sticking with masculine pronouns.  
2) Or head-off, in the case of the guillotine.
 
3) Ok, so the President’s brother isn’t exactly regicide, but I think it’s analogously close. Celebrities are the closest we’ve got to aristocracy these days.  Even though the u-SOFA lacks a monarchy proper, our current President is the son of a previous President and one of the leading Democratic candidates this year is the wife of a previous President. C’mon! If that’s not royalty, it’s damn close enough.

The Banality of Evil.

January 4, 2008

Related to my previous post, here’s a very interesting essay on the Banality of Evil, which helps explain why as soon as there’s an “us” and a “them,” humans tend to turn against “them.”  Certainly helps answer the question of why we’re so reluctant to step in to help “them,” whoever “they” might be. 

The holidays are a busy time, far too busy for over-analysis. Sure, I could have been writing screeds about American consumerism and the collective material guilt that forces us all to go into massive amounts of debt in the month of December, but uh… I think that was really enough. Anyhow! On with the show!

Like any good nerd, I’ve been reading.  Currently, I’m reading Guns Germs and Steel, which I started reading eons ago and never finished. Subtitled “The Fates of Human Societies,” Diamond starts at the very beginning of pre-history – the dispersal of humans from Africa into the rest of the world – and works his way up. One of the first few chapters concerns the Maori and Moriori people who settled in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, respectively. The Maori and Moriori were both descendants of the same group of settlers, but due to a rather notable difference in resources developed different societies and eventually, the Moriori were destroyed by the Maori.

To sum up:

It is easy to trace how the differing environments of the Chatham Islands and of New Zealand molded the Moriori and the Maori differently.  While those ancestral Maori who first colonized that Chathams may have been farmers,. Maori tropical crops could not grow in the Chathams’ cold climate, and the colonists had no alternative except to revert to being hunter-gatherers.  Since as hunter-gatherers they did not produce crop surpluses available for redistribution or storage, they could not support and feed nonhunting craft specialists, armies, bureaucrats, and chiefs.  Their prey were seals, shellfish, nesting seabirds, and fish that could b captured by hand or with clubs and required no more elaborate technology.  In addition, the Chathams are relatively small and remote islands, capable of supporting a total population of only about 2,000 hunter-gatherers.  With no other accessible islands to colonize, the Moriori had to remain in the Chathams, and to learn how to get along with each other.  They did so by renouncing war, and they reduced potential conflicts from over population by castrating some male infants.  The result was a small, unwarlike population with simple technology and weapons, and without strong leadership.

In contrast, the northern (warmer) part of New Zealand, by far the largest island group in Polynesia, was suitable for Polynesian agriculture.  Those Maori who remained in New Zealand increased in numbers until there were more than 100,000 of them. They developed locally dense populations chronically enganged in ferocious wars with neighboring populations.  With the crop surpluses that they could grow and store, they fed craft specialists, chiefs, and part-time soldiers.  They needed and developed varied tools for growing their crops, fighting, and making art.  They erected elaborate ceremonial buildings and prodigious numbers of forts.

Diamond describes these differences as follow-up to the tragic fate of the Moriori, but I’m going backwards a bit here. This set-up should be familiar to anyone who has ever played Civilization. You start off the game and there you are, you’re on an island. There are few resources. Your civilization can’t really grow all that fast, and without specialized cities, you don’t get very far technologically. Also, without a large network of cities producing military units, the best you can get is a few archers.  If your islands don’t happen to contain copper or iron (which, let’s face it, they probably don’t), you are just fucked. Build all the archers you want, some jackass is going to come over with a force of axemen and wipe your sorry ass off the face of the Earth.

Which, sadly, is exactly what happens to the Moriori, as Diamond describes in the beginning of the chapter I just quoted. I may as well go and quote some more! Ok!

On the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835.  On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori.  Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected.  An organized resistance by the Moriori could still have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one.  However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully.  They decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse.  Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing mostmost of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim.  A Moriori survivor recalled “[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep… [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies.  It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed – men, women, and children, indiscriminately.” A Maori conqueror explained. “We took possession… in accordance with our customs and we killed all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, those we killed, and others we killed – but what of that? It was in accordance with our customs.”

Reading this factual summary of the fate of the Moriori immediately brought to mind the fictional account of this historical event presented in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas weaves together six stories from six different time periods, each story containing an undercurrent of man’s inhumanity to man.  From such a bleak setup, it is nonetheless one of the most well-written and beautiful things I have ever written.

I will now commence to quote extensively, as is my wont!

The origins of the Moriori of Rekohu (the native moniker for the Chathams) remain a mystery to this day.  Mr. Evans evinces the belief they are descended from the Jews expelled from Spain, citing their hooked noses and sneering lips.  Mr. D’Arnoq’s preferred theorum, that the Moriori were once Maori whose canoes were wrecked upon these remotest of isles, is founded on similarities of tongue & mythology & thereby possess a higher carat of logic.  What is certain is that, after centuries or millenia of living in isolation, the Moriori lived as primitive a life as their woebegone cousins of Van Diemen’s Land. Arts of boatbuilding (beyond crude woven rafts used to cross the channels betwixt islands) & navigation fell into disuse.  That the terraqueous globe held other lands, trod by other feet, the Moriori dreamt not.  Indeed their language lacks a word for “race” & “Moriori” means, simply, “People.” Husbandry was not practiced, for no mammals walked these isles until passing whalers willfully marooned pigs here to propagate a parlor.  In their virgin state, the Moriori were foragers, picking up paua shellfish, diving for crayfish, plundering bird eggs, spearing seals, gather kelp & digging for grubs & roots.

Thus far, the Moriori were but a local variant of most flaxen-skirted, feather-cloaked heathens of those dwindling “blind spots” of the ocean still unschooled by the White Man.  Old Rekohu’s claim to singularity, however, lay in its unique pacific creed.  Since time immemorial, the Moriori’s priestly caste dictated that whosoever spilt a man’s blood killed his own mana – his honor, his worth, his standing & his soul. No Moriori would shelter, feed, converse with, or even see the persona non grata. If the ostracized murderer survived his first winter, the desperation of solitude usually drove him to a blowhole on Cape Young, where he took his life.

Consider this, Mr. D’Arnoq urged us.  Two thousand savages (Mr. Evans’s best guess) enshrine “Thou Shalt Not Kill” in word & in deed & frame an oral “Magna Carta” to create a harmony unknown elsewhere for the sixty centuries since Adam first tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  War was as alien a concept to the Moriori as the telescope is to the Pygmy.  Peace, not a hiatus betwixt wars but millennia of imperishable peace, rules these far-flung islands.  Who can deny Old Rekohu lay closer to More’s Utopia than our States of Progress governed by war-hungry princelings in Versailles & Vienna, Washington & Westminster?  “Here,” declaimed Mr. D’Arnoq, “and where only, were those elusive phantasms, those noble savages, framed in flesh & blood!” (Henry, as we later made our back to the Musket confessed, “I could never describe a race of savages too backwards to throw a spear as ‘noble.'”

Glass & peace alike betray proof of fragility under repeated blows.  The first blow to the Moriori was the Union Jack, planted in Skirmish Bay’s sod in the name of King George by Lieutenant Broughton of HMS Chatham just fifty years ago.  Three years later, Broughton’s discovery was in Sydney & London chart agents & a scattering of free settlers (whose number included Mr. Evans’s father), wrecked mariners & “convicts at odds with the New South Wales Colonial Office over the terms of their incarceration” were cultivating pumpkins, onions, maize & carrots.  These they sold to needy sealers, the second blow to the Moriori’s independence, who disappointed the Natives’ hopes of prosperity by turning the surf pink with seals’ blood.  (Mr. D’Arnoq illustrated the profits by this arithmetic – a single pelt fetched 15 shillings in Canton & those pioneer sealers gathered over two thousand pelts per boat!) Within a few years the seals were found only on the outer rocks & the “sealers” too turned to farming potatoes, sheep & pig rearing on such a scale that the Chathams are now dubbed “The Garden of the Pacific.”  These parvenu farmers clear the land by bushfires that smolder beneath the peat for many seasons, surfacing in dry spells to sow renewed calamity.

The third blow to the Moriori was the whalers, now calling at Ocean Bay, Waitangi, Owenga & Te Whakaru in sizable numbers for careening, refitting & refreshing.  Whalers’ cats & rats bred like the Plagues of Egypt & ate the burrow-nesting birds whose eggs the Moriori so valued for sustenance.  Fourth, those motley maladies which cull the darker races whene’er White civilization draws near, sapped the Aboriginal census still further.

All those misfortunes the Moriori might have endured, however, were it not for reports arriving in New Zealand depicting the Chathams as a veritable Canaan of eel-stuffed lagoons, shellfish-carpeted coves & inhabitants who understand neither combat nor weapons.  To the ears of the Ngati Tama & Ngati Mutunga, two clans of the Taranaki Te Ati Awa Maori (Maori genealogy is, Mr. D’Arnoq assures us, every twig as intricate as those genealogical trees so revered by the European gentry; indeed any boy of that unlettered race can recall his grandfather’s grandfather’s name & “rank” in a trice), these rumors promised compensation for the tracts of their ancestral estates lost during the recent “Musket Wars.”  Spies were sent to test the Moriori’s mettle by violating tapu & despoiling holy sites. These provocations the Moriori faced as our Lord importuned, by “turnign the other cheek,” & the transgressors returned to New Zealand confirming the Moriori’s apparent pusillanimity.  The tattooed Maori conquistadores found their single-barked armada in Captain Harewood of the brig Rodney, who in the dying months of 1835, agreed to transport nine hundred Maori & seven war canoes in two voyages, in guerno for seed potatoes, firearms, pigs, a great supply of scraped flax & a cannon. (Mr. D’Arnoq encountered Harewood five years ago, penurious in a Bay of Islands tavern.  He at first denied being the Rodney’s Harewood, then swore he had been coerced into conveying the Blacks, but was unclear how this coercion had been worked upon him.)

The Rodney embarked from Port Nicholas in November, but its heathen cargo of five hundred men, women & children, packed tight in the hold for the six-day voyage, bilged in ordure & sea-sickness & lacking in the barest sufficiency of water, anchored at Whangatete Inlet in such a state that, had they but the will,  even the Moriori might have slain their Martial brethren.  The Goodly Samaritans chose instead to share the diminished abundance of Rekohu in preference to destroying their mana by bloodletting & nursed the sick & dying Maori back to health.  “Maori had come to Rekohu before,” Mr. D’Arnoq explained, “yet gone away again, so the Moriori assumed the colonists would likewise leave them in peace.”

The Moriori’s generosity was rewarded when Cpt. Harewood returned from New Zealand with another four hundred Maori.  Now the strangers proceeded to lay claim to Chatham by takahi, a Maori ritual translated as “Walking the Land to Possess the Land.”  Old Rekohu was thus partitioned & the Moriori informed that they were now Maori vassals.  In early December, when some dozen Aborignals protested, they were casually slain with tomahawks.  The Maori proved themselves apt pupils of the English in “the dark arts of colonization.”

Chatham Isle encloses a vast eastern salt lagoon, Te Whanga, very nearly an island sea but fecundated by the ocean at high tide through the lagoon’s “lips” at Te Awapatiki.  Fourteen years ago, the Moriori men held on that sacred ground a parliament.  Three days it lasted, its object to settle this question: Would the spillage of Maori blood also destroy one’s mana?  Younger men argued the creed of Peace did not encompass foreign cannibals of whom their ancestors knew nothing.  The Moriori must kill or be killed.  Elders urged appeasement, for as long as the Moriori preserved their mana with their land, their gods & ancestors would deliver the race from harm. “Embrace your enemy,” the elders urged, “to prevent him from striking you.” (“Embrace your enemy,” Henry quipped, “to feel his dagger tickle your kidneys.”)

The elders won the day, but it mattered little. “When lacking numerical superiority,” Mr. D’Arnoq told us, “the Maori seize an advantage by striking first & hardest, has many hapless British & French can testify from their graves.”  The Ngati Tama & Ngati Mutunga had held councils of their own.  The Moriori menfolk returned from their parliament to ambushes & a night of infamy beyond nightmare of butchery, of villages torched, of rapine, of men & women, impaled in rows on beaches, of children hiding in holes, scened & dismembered by hunting dogs.  Some chiefs kept an eye to the morrow & slew only enough to instill terrified obediance in the remainder.  Other chiefs were not so restrained.  On Waitangi Beach fifty Moriori were beheaded, filleted, wrapped in flax leaves, then baked in a giant earth oven with yams & sweet potatoes.  Not half those Moriori who had seen Old Rekohu’s last sunset were alive to see the Maori sun rise. (“Less than a hundred pure-blooded Moriori now remain,” mourned D’Arnoq. “On paper the British Crown freed these from the yoke of slavery years ago, but the Maori do not care for paper.  We are one week’s sail from the Governor’s House & Her Majesty holds no garrison on Chatham.”)

I asked, why had not the Whites stayed the hands of the Maori during the massacre?

The answer to that comes from the Maori themselves – it was not according to our customs.  To expect benevolent intercession from the peoples who enslaved and slaughtered the Native American Indians is about as reasonable as expecting pigs to fly.  That’s not to say that individual Whites were incapable of compassionate aid, but a colonial power isn’t going to intercede on behalf of the oppressed just because someone else is doing the colonizing.

I don’t think that I’m alone in believing that we need new customs, but this is about the past, not the future. The only thing we can gain from what has occured before is a knowledge of our predecessor’s mistakes and the will not to make them again.

Until once again, we start up Civ and slaughter some useless jerks sitting on an island chain with no metal to make decent weapons.

Fashion for Social Change.

December 5, 2007

I love fashion. Love it. Especially street fashion. I have spent entire days combing the archives of wardrobe_remix, not to mention Hel Looks, Face Hunter, etc. And one thing that has always stuck in my craw is the lack of variety in bodies in street fashion – it’s not quite as extreme as in the glossies, that’s for sure. Instead of waif-thin models, they’re traded in for girls between sizes 4 and 10. It’s especially obvious on Face Hunter, the archives of which will lead you to believe that everyone in Europe is both thin and fashionable. While the tendencies are towards being thiner and more fashionable than Americans, the photographer definitely has a bias towards the skinny.

Vasiliisa, of The Suburban Queen, has a good essay on the lack of disabled bodies in fashion. Fashion should be about the clothes and the personal style of the individual wearing them, not the size or shape of the body they’re on!

You said it, Natalie Dee.

December 3, 2007

I think this comic (by Natalie Dee) speaks for itself.