April 2016
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Rags and Bones

By Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Soda taxes

I am not nearly as intelligent as I thought when I was eighteen, but I can tell “a hawk from a handsaw”. I have been noticing for some years how Republicans present almost everything they want to destroy as an infringement on personal liberty while disregarding any public costs. Of course, the most prominent example is gun control: they have actually legislated bans on research on the costs of gun violence and (at the state level, for example Florida) prohibited doctors from asking if there is a gun in the home. The Affordable Health Care Act is another prominent example, in which strident voices insist that you should have a right to be uninsured. This would require a right on the part of emergency rooms to turn the uninsured away (presumably leaving heaps of gunshot victims lying on the sidewalk). As long as emergency rooms are required to treat people who cannot pay, the not very hidden costs of your defiant choice not to have health coverage is that I pay for you via my own premiums and taxes. The same way I pay for gun violence. So Republicans, who claim to be all about personal responsibility, rarely get through a day without urging their voters to be free riders.

The soda tax is another example. The same voices trumpet that you have a right to drink a 3,000 calorie drink if you want to, but says nothing about the costs of obesity and diabetes in our society, which are again allocated to the rest of us as a result of your choices.

The Panama law firm

I am happy every time hidden information is exposed to light (I try to have no hidden information myself; yes, I took acid in the 1960’s). So I applaud the disclosure of the files of the Panama law firm, which set up shell companies used to hide money everywhere. The biggest take-away is that the money laundering we criticize when Soviet billionaires, Pakistani politicians or European film directors do it, is exactly what Citizens United allowed American billionaires to do in our politics. Exactly, in every detail.

The Washington subway

Some lines on the DC metro are deteriorating so badly they will be closed for months for repairs. Fifty years ago, we assumed uncritically, really naively, that there were certain things government could reliably provide, such as highway repair, bridge maintenance, public transportation, potable water, pensions for the widows or widowers of murdered police officers. Every one of these assumptions is being challenged today, and the decline of Western civilization has really just begun.

Hillary Clinton

In 2009, a mere few months after Obama became president, I saw a very brief news item about him ordering a drone strike, and was fascinated by the subtext: the new President had become a killer, like almost all his predecessors (John Quincy Adams probably did not order a death). I will of course vote for Hillary against Donald Trump in a heartbeat, but I personally do not like her and what’s more, find her a fatuous killer-in-waiting, based on her unguarded, laughing reaction when she heard Quaddafi had been tortured and murdered: “We came, we saw, we killed him”.

Power is inane

Power really makes people stupid; Clinton’s remark about the Libyan dictator’s death is a minor example. Donald Rumsfeld wrote in the margin of a memo about torture methods: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” Rush Limbaugh compared torture to fraternity hazing. “Legitimate rape”, General Westmoreland’s suggestion that “Orientals” are not attached to their lives, ketchup as a vegetable, Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”, the verbiage uttered by Bill Clinton to this day about the tragic repeal of Glass-Steagall, world without end, amen.

Butt dials

I recently accidentally dialed a friend in Arizona at 6 a.m. Twice on separate days. My old Droid phones accidentally dialed sometimes; my new Iphone does so obsessively, constantly, randomly. Technologically, this is such an easy problem to solve; the fact it hasn’t been is to me a symptom of arrogance engendered by monopoly power. In general, I find my Iphone to be incredibly buggy and annoying. When I am on the New York state court web site, and try to click on an index number to view information about a case, Safari interprets “659046/2015” as a phone number, not a link, which is maddening. Another side effect of monopoly power: Verizon won’t repair the simplest problems with the phones it sells (or more accurately, leases), such as a cracked screen or a malfunctioning charge port (a $20 part).

Trump voters

Voters are overlooking the most basic historical facts in plain sight about Donald Trump, for example that he is the classic New York City evil landlord, who has tried to drive out rent-stabilized tenant, that he operated a "university" which denuded desperate, sinking-down people of their last cash, and the beat goes on. As I write this, I am half-listening to Trump on television, accusing Ted Cruz' dad of being involved in the Kennedy assassination. There was a meme recently about Trump voters feeling that we eggheaded types are treating them very condescendingly, and it sounded persuasive, for a minute. No, we are criticizing them for stupid choices, which is very different.

New York values

Ted Cruz is another example of a smart person rendered stupid. What a gaffe, when he needed New York votes, to make that crack about “New York values”. It was a self-inflicted wound entirely; there were hundreds of other ways to express that sentiment without dragging the whole state into it.

Ethical Spectacle of the Month

Governor LePage of Maine just vetoed a bill to expand the state’s use of Narcan. This is one of the few real miracle drugs; as an EMT, I personally witnessed a number of comatose people wake up after a Narcan shot. LePage says its not keeping people alive, just preserving them until their next use of heroin. I suppose surgery on shooting victims isn’t saving them either, just keeping them alive until someone else wants to shoot them. Maybe we should rename the drug “Narcan’t”....

Pet stores

I was just very distressed by an admiring Youtube video about a man who hatches and raises tens of thousands of turtles and tortoises for sale from his Florida home, some rarer species selling for thousands of dollars. Most turtles live twenty to forty years, and tortoises can live more than a century. The vast majority of reptiles purchased even by relatively well meaning people probably don’t live more than a year or two. The two simplest rules, unknown to most people who ever brought home a baby turtle, is that the water must be kept scrupulously clean to avoid eye infections, and that they require a varied diet of meat and vegetable matter (and usually can’t live only, if at all, on the pellets sold with the turtle). The trade in pet reptiles and amphibians is a trade in death.

Suicide

I saw a report last week that suicide rates in America are rising alarmingly across the years. Nobody seems to know all the reasons why, but it is probably a combination of a world which is much less worth living in, economic distress, a paucity of the surroundings and attention people need to feel valued, an increase in bullying at all levels, and the universal availability of suicide information and even encouragement on the Internet.

Craigslist

Seven years ago I wrote an essay I am quite proud of, Craigslist: The Failure of an Internet Community. Unlike my purely opinion pieces, it was extensively researched, and as a result, better structured than many of my maunderings. I still get occasional email from people who found it, all of whom are writing to share their own experiences and to thank me for being truthful about Craigslist, which is a mean, cheap for profit monopoly masquerading as an Internet community. The remarkable thing is that all these years later, nothing has changed, there has been no news coverage or Congressional outcry, and all the same things I wrote about (such as the flagging and deletion of posts by anonymous trolls) are still happening.

The moral of the story

The situation is hopeless but not serious.