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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 20 March 2006
The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...

When you seem to have lost the game you play on, doing your best. It's the right thing to do. And it is possible things may, by some miracle, shift - the other team goes suddenly cold, you get a good call or two from the officials, you get a series of improbable, unlikely, impossible scores. Who knows how such things happen? You can always hope. You play on. That's kind of what the White House seems to doing these days. Everything seems to go wrong, but you put on your game face, you suck it up - choose your own sports cliché - but you plow ahead. It's the manly thing to do.

Research

So what's this about the "manliness" of our leaders - the three strong daddy guys, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who say not to worry, not to ask questions and just know they will protect us all us children who fret over things we don't understand?

Well, Monday, March 20th, everyone was pointing to Kurt Kleiner in the Toronto Star where he reported on some amusing research from Berkeley, California -
In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings - the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.
And there you have it. The whiney, insecure kids just never grew up. They still need a strong, stern daddy who will explain things, or refuse to explain things, and who will make it all better, or say he will in a way that reduces anxiety. The kids who hang loose and explore things just grew up. Someone plays "strong daddy" and demands this behavior or that? They just shrug. Of course the males in this "confident" group do, later, turn introspective. They get all thoughtful and that sort of thing. They want to figure things out, and ask questions, and consider details. That's not very manly, of course. You might call it "adult" or something.

Somehow this explains a lot about American politics.

One side doesn't understand why everyone doesn't want a strong daddy. The world is scary and no ordinary guy or gal has any power to do anything about it. A strong daddy is what you need.

The other side is puzzled as why you want one at all. The world is interesting, or challenging or whatever, and you figure out how to deal with it. What's the problem?

There is no way to bridge the gap. The whole matter looks to be a function of fairly fixed personality traits. No one is going to switch sides.

The State of Play

Sunday the 19th was three years to the day since the start of the invasion of Iraq (other comments on that here), and oddly enough, three public figures called for one of the three strong daddies to go away.

This is unusual. But you could look it up, as here smiling Senator Joe Biden of Delaware says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld really ought to resign. And here Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha says, yep, he should go. But you'd expect that from these two. Murtha is a blunt, no-nonsense ex-military guy who's just fed up with what's happening to our Army and reserves, and convinced we're creating more problems for ourselves by occupying a Muslim and mostly Arab nation smack in the middle of the Middle East. Biden is an opportunist. He'd like to be president one day.

The odd call for resignation came from General Paul D. Eaton in the New York Times here. This is the man who, for two years, was in charge of training Iraqi forces to bring them up to snuff. So he's not the grump from Pennsylvania, nor the master politician from Delaware. He's been on the inside.

He says this -
[D]efense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not competent to lead our armed forces.

First, his failure to build coalitions with our allies from what he dismissively called "old Europe" has imposed far greater demands and risks on our soldiers in Iraq than necessary. Second, he alienated his allies in our own military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down.

In the five years Mr. Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon, I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership. [...]

Mr. Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his cold warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower. [...]

Donald Rumsfeld demands more than loyalty. He wants fealty. And he has hired men who give it. [...]
Eaton was in the other group in nursery school, it seems. Daddy says "trust me I know what I'm doing" and he doesn't take his word for it. He looks at what's been done, and what is being done, and draws his own conclusions. Not an obedient kid, it seems. As a military man his has no issues with authority per se, but he makes the assumption he's allowed to think things through, assuming too that senior officers should think and add to the discussion of what's the best way to proceed. That's not the model at work in this administration. The place is run by the "other" kids.

Of course, the same day the Washington Post gave Rumsfeld his column inches to explain why we're doing what we're doing, and why we have to do it his way. His killer line was this "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

Huh? Well, THAT will shut up the critics. Who likes Hitler? That will scare the uppity kids.

The University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole has a few things to say about that here, and CNN gathered other reaction here - Henry Kissinger: "In Germany, the opposition was completely crushed; there was no significant resistance movement." Zbigniew Brzezinski: "That is really absolutely crazy to anyone who knows history. There was no alternative to our presence. The Germans were totally crushed. For Secretary Rumsfeld to be talking this way suggests either he doesn't know history or he's simply demagoguing."

You think? Well, it keeps the kids in line.

And, going back to the sport analogy, when you're down four touchdown with thirty second to play, well, you try a trick play. What could it hurt?

Others see things differently, kind of like when the end of the game will never come because they're replaying a loop of the last controversial penalty, breaking for commercials, then going back to the instant reply.

Matthew Yglesias captures that here -
Today we enter the fourth year of the misguided war in Iraq and it's worth noting that this time around basically nothing has changed in the past twelve months. It continues to be the case, as advocates of continuing the war maintain, that the day after American troops leave, conditions will almost certainly deteriorate. More importantly, it also continues to be the case that every day American troops stay, conditions deteriorate slowly. Moreover, it continues to be the case that American troops simply can't stay forever - it's logistically impossible and keeping such a large number of them in Iraq creates immense problems for our policies around the world.

It continues to be the case that Iraq's problems are overwhelmingly political in nature. There is no consensus among the country's major ethnic and sectarian blocs (or, for that matter, its smaller ones) as to what the outlines of a legitimate Iraqi political order should look like. This is not an insoluble problem (other pluralitist polities exist peacefully around the world) but it's not an easily solved one (these situations are complicated and conflict-ridden everywhere they arise, even in placid Canada) and it's not one that either American soldiers or better-trained Iraqi soldiers are capable of solving. This isn't a deficiency on the part of the military; it reflects the fact that the problems at hand aren't military problems.

The sooner the country's political leaders and elite opinion-makers wake up to this, the better. I'd just as soon not write a "year five" post.
But one suspects Yglesias an post this on May 20, 2007, and May 20, 2008, and May 20, 2009, and so on.

There was similar ennui from the NYU journalism professor and noted author Eric Alterman with this -
I don't have anything profound to add to the commentary on the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, except that it may be the single most misguided, dishonest and counter-productive expenditure of our nation's blood and treasure in its history. And almost all of this was evident from the start to anyone who cared to look. (The ideological spectrum of Sunday's Washington Post op-ed page on the topic stretched all the way from Donald Rumsfeld to George F. Will.) I do think that any political commentator who supported it owes his or her readers an explanation as to why they would expect such judgment to be trusted again in the future.

This is, after all, the purpose of punditry; to help people make sense of the fusillade of news that comes to them, as Walter Lippmann explained, "helter-skelter." What's fascinating is that everyday people seem to have an easier time admitting how foolish they were to trust this dishonest, incompetent, ideologically-obsessed president.
Ah, but the "everyday people" he is citing, the sixty percent who disapprove of the war (and by similar numbers disapprove of many other policies of the administration), are the "hang loose" personalities from the Berkeley study. There's that thirty-three percent in the latest polling who still trust daddy, or all three daddies in this case.

But things are taking an odd turn. It's March madness. Some of us old folks remember March 16, 1968. That's the date of the My Lai massacre (those younger might go here). Vietnam. Our guys wiping out a village of woman and children, for no good reason. Turned everything around. Upset a lot of people. All our fine talk about the rightness of what we were doing became a whole lot harder to advertise. The "moral high ground" was lost, as they say, particularly when only one Lieutenant took the rap on got some jail time. We said that closed the case. That was a hard sell.

In any event, in the big game you don't want one of your linemen making the bonehead play that ruins everything.

And if Abu Ghraib and some events at Guantánamo weren't enough now we have Haditha.

Well, it doesn't really count as March madness, as the event happened on 19 November last year. Marines this time. The Pentagon and Naval Criminal Investigative Service have opened an investigation (the Marines are traditionally part of the Navy). Time magazine covers it here - a raid where we captured a bad guy, but fifteen civilians, including six women and children, died. Was it civilians unfortunately in the way? The building just collapsed and that was that?

We say so. The local police say no. It may be that our guys lost one of there own and got angry and things spun out of control. A cameraman working for Reuters in Haditha at the time said bodies were left lying in the street for hours after the attack. One source here has the women and children handcuffed and shot in the head, execution-style. ABC News covers it here with video of the aftermath shot by an Iraqi journalism student, but who did what? That there is now a formal investigation is not a good sign. We've been forced to look into this. Abandoning the usual "sorry, fog of war" line is not a good sign. Ah, maybe it's nothing - things happened just as the guys said.

But that "moral high ground" is damned slippery.

Of course, the other side finds it slippery too, as in this item from Afghanistan, where the government is seeking to execute a fellow because, sixteen years ago, he converted to Christianity. That's a capital offense there (and my be in the new Iraq we created). But they may let him live. Their moral high ground? He has the right to convert back to Islam. As the judge there said - "We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him." Why does that remind one of Pat Robertson and the Jews who he says are damned forever, but could, if they choose, convert to Christianity and not be?

Just how did the one group of kids from the Berkeley study come to rule the world?

But back to sports. Monday, March 20th the "daddy in chief" spoke in Cleveland. He assumed the role of coach, rallying the team - and sports dads are a pain.

It was the usual - we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here, the oceans don't protect us anymore, we have an enemy that hides in cave and 9/11 changed everything, and his job is to make decisions and protect us.

How did it go? As the Washington Post reports here it may have been a mistake to make this an open forum after the speech. The audience was not pre-selected and coached, just selected to be generally friendly. The president said "glad to answer some questions." Bad move. They ran trough lunch. He got grumpy - "Anybody work here in this town?" And they missed the obvious punch line as "Think Progress" notes here - "Not as many as used to, sir." The unemployment rate there has increased twenty-nine percent in the last five years. But they were polite.

There was that embarrassing question - "Do you believe terrorism and the war in Iraq are signs of Armageddon?" He said he hadn't thought of it that way, the rambled on for ten minutes or more, dancing around the question. He never answered it. It was a tight spot. Say yes for the base and the moderates go ballistic. Say no and lose the base. It's hard work being president, as he said over and over in his debates with Kerry. Amusing. Who knows what he believes? Motivating a team is hard work too.

As for who is standing with him, the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted this -
Prominent Ohio Republicans including Sen. Mike DeWine, Sen. George Voinovich and Rep. Steve LaTourette say they're skipping Bush's speech because of prior commitments. DeWine is visiting his convalescing father in Florida and accompanying him to spring training baseball games. LaTourette previously scheduled a staff retreat in Washington. Voinovich has meetings in Washington that he couldn't reschedule. Gov. Bob Taft, whose popularity is even lower than Bush's, isn't expected to attend, either. Taft noted that he attended Bush's speech last month outside Columbus, as did Voinovich. Today's event isn't on the schedules of either Jim Petro or Ken Blackwell, the GOP candidates to replace Taft, their spokesmen said.
His local team didn't even show up? Hard work indeed.

Maybe they know how things seem. Most believe there is a mess of our own making over in Iraq, and, as James Walcott here demonstrates with anecdote and evidence, that's just what it is.

And there is that censure thing the senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, is pushing. Digby at Hullabaloo has a long post on that here. The concept of censuring the president for breaking the law, admitting it, and then saying he will continue to do so, spooked a lot of folks in his own party, and made the Republicans grin. The Democrats had blow it again. Then the polling showed almost half the country agreed it should be done, including a fifth of the Republicans surveyed. Oops. Maybe Feingold isn't a grandstanding madman.

As Digby puts it -
... politics is not just about running on issues people already agree with, it is trying to change public opinion. Somebody had to jump start the debate about the president's theory of presidential infallibility and abuse of power. It's a huge issue to millions of Americans and it's vital that politicians of both parties recognize this.

... People want to know what Democratic base really stands for? The same thing that the majority of the country stands for. We believe in the rule of law, civil liberties, civil rights and supporting the troops - all of those things are embodied in the Alito filibuster motion, the Feingold NSA wiretapping resolution and the Murtha plan. None of them were done out of an expectation that they would win passage in the congress or force the president to change course. These actions, regardless of motive, have laid down the stakes in the next election, which is why Brit Hume had an aneurysm about the proposition that the NSA wiretapping issue might actually play to the benefit of Democrats.

If that's so, then it's true that Republicans are going to be in for a tough time under a Democratic congress. People need to prepare for the fact that accountability is going to be on the menu. Nobody is going to be impeached over silly blow-jobs but there are some very serious matters that the Republican congress has refused to deal with. If that stirs up the GOP base, then fine. It stirs up the Democratic base too.
But, but, but... Daddy said it was just fine and legal as the day is long. It seems of the two nursery school groups the "hang loose" kids who grew up to think a bit are coming out of the shadows.

If you're a coach trying to rally the team, this is not good. They don't like last-minute rule changes. We have the rule book, if you want to think about the constitution that way. It means something else now? No fair. How can you play a game to win when the rules keep changing? If our daddy is coaching our team it gets hard to trust him when he does stuff like that.

And the team is demoralized, as Ron Beasley notes here, pointing to a columnist for The Independent (UK), Johann Hari, saying he trusted the daddy-coach-protector, but he grew up.

Hari says this (British spelling retained) -
So when people ask if I think I was wrong, I think about the Iraqi friend - hiding, terrified, in his own house - who said to me this week, "Every day you delete another name from your mobile, because they've been killed. By the Americans or the jihadists or the militias - usually you never find out which." I think of the people trapped in the siege of a civilian city, Fallujah, where amidst homes and schools the Americans indiscriminately used a banned chemical weapon - white phosphorous - that burns through skin and bone. (The Americans say they told civilians to leave the city, so anybody left behind was a suspected jihadi - an evacuation procedure so successful they later used it in New Orleans.). I think of the raw numbers: on the largest estimate - from the Human Rights Centre in Khadimiya - Saddam was killing 70,000 people a year. The occupation and the jihadists have topped that, and the violence is getting worse. And I think - yes, I was wrong. Terribly wrong.
But it couldn't a fine idea bungled? He gave up on that -
The lamest defence I could offer - one used by many supporters of the war as they slam into reverse gear - is that I still support the principle of invasion, it's just the Bush administration screwed it up. But as one anti-war friend snapped at me when I mooted this argument, "Yeah, who would ever have thought that supporting George Bush in the illegal invasion of an Arab country would go wrong?" She's right: the truth is that there was no pure Platonic ideal of The Perfect Invasion to support, no abstract idea we lent our names to. There was only Bush, with his cluster bombs, depleted uranium, IMF-ed up economic model, bogus rationale and unmistakable stench of petrol, offering his war, his way. (Expecting Tony Blair to use his influence was, it is now clear, a delusion, as he refuses to even frontally condemn the American torture camp at Guantanomo Bay).

The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster. Let's look at the major mistakes-cum-crimes. Who would have thought they would unleash widespread torture, with over 10,000 people disappearing without trial into Iraq's secret prisons? Anybody who followed the record of the very same people - from Rumsfeld to Negroponte - in Central America in the 1980s. Who would have thought they would use chemical weapons? Anybody who looked up Bush's stance on chemical weapons treaties (he uses them for toilet paper) or checked Rumsfeld's record of flogging them to tyrants. Who would have thought they would impose shock therapy mass privatisation on the Iraqi economy, sending unemployment soaring to 60 percent - a guarantee of ethnic strife? Anybody who followed the record of the US towards Russia, Argentina, and East Asia. Who could have known that they would cancel all reconstruction funds, when electricity and water supplies are still below even Saddam's standards? Anybody who looked at their domestic policies.
And he decided not to look a motivation, until he did -
The Bush administration was primarily motivated by a desire to secure strategic access to one of the world's major sources of oil. The 9/11 massacres by Saudi hijackers had reminded them that their favourite client-state - the one run by the torturing House of Saud - was vulnerable to an internal Islamist revolution that would snatch the oil-wells from Halliburton hands. They needed an alternative source of Middle East oil, fast. I obviously found this rationale disgusting, but I deluded myself into thinking it was possible to ride this beast to a better Iraq. Reeling from a visit to Saddam's Iraq, I knew that Iraqis didn't care why their dictator was deposed, they just wanted it done, now. As I thought of the ethnically cleansed Marsh Arabs I had met, reduced to living in a mud hut in the desert, I thought that whatever happens, however it occurs, it will be better. In that immediate rush, I - like most Iraqis - failed to see that the Bush administration's warped motives would lead to a warped occupation. A war for oil would mean that as Baghdad was looted, troops would be sent to guard the oil ministry, not the hospitals - a bleak harbinger of things to come.
Welcome to the other side of the nursery school playground. It's where you should have been in the first place.

Of course, the game is still in progress. We're told we must win. We need to define that, even if the daddy-coach-protector says it's not out business.

__

Footnote:

Pop up these items for additional thoughts.

That question to the president at the press conference in Cleveland - "Do you believe terrorism and the war in Iraq are signs of Armageddon?" - can be seen in a larger context. Read Alan Brinkley's review of the new hot book "American Theocracy," by Kevin Phillips. The review in the New York Times Review of Books is here -
Although Phillips is scathingly critical of what he considers the dangerous policies of the Bush administration, he does not spend much time examining the ideas and behavior of the president and his advisers. Instead, he identifies three broad and related trends - none of them new to the Bush years but all of them, he believes, exacerbated by this administration's policies - that together threaten the future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt - current and prospective - that both the government and the American people have been heedlessly accumulating. If there is a single, if implicit, theme running through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.
And Kevin Phillips is the guy who wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority" and went to work for Nixon to make it so.

In the same issue there is a review of "Manliness," by Harvey C. Mansfield. That book, and the man, were discussed in these pages the same day here, but Walter Kirn opens with this -
REMEMBER those great old "Saturday Night Live" bits about the moronic Germanic bodybuilders who kept offering to "pump you up" while flexing the delts of their bulbous foam rubber muscle suits? Remember how unwittingly fey they seemed, partly because of their wagging little pinheads but mostly because of the way they loved the words "girly" and "manly" - a pair of usages that was poignantly out of date by then among even minimally hip Americans? Remember that?

Apparently, Harvey C. Mansfield doesn't. In fact, this Harvard professor of government and the author of "Manliness" (yep), a new polemic about the nature and value of masculinity, shows little awareness of much that's happened recently - televisually and otherwise - in the allegedly feminized culture that he aims to shake up. Like Austin Powers (who, come to think of it, made even more fun of "manly" than Hans and Franz), Mansfield seems stuck in a semantic time warp in which it is still possible to write sentences like "Though it's clear that women can be manly, it's just as clear that they are not as manly or as often manly as men."
Hey, he doesn't like the book. But Mansfield was in DC last week speaking to the right-wing think-tank. The whole matter looks to be a function of fairly fixed personality traits. No one is going to switch sides.

Posted by Alan at 22:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006 22:31 PST home

Paris: Sunday
Topic: World View

Paris: Sunday
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, had no Our Man in Paris column in Sunday's Just Above Sunset. He's been busy with the redesign of his site, with the kids, and with his upcoming trio to New York. But there were big doings in Paris this weekend, and more. He explains, below, with photos.

Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006 - Busy with Metropole's facelift, busy getting ready for New York, and busy with my kids here this weekend. They are good kids and we went across the street to visit Serge's grave, admire the metro ticket collection and the five fairly fresh cabbages.

On Saturday we 'helped' with the third march to protest the government plan for a new employment 'contract' for first-times hires under 25. This was easy because it started from here - Denfert-Rochereau, just down the street. As promised by union leaders, the occasion drew twice as many as the second demo which had twice as many as the first.

Perhaps 350,000 in Paris, for a total of one million-plus throughout France. I hope this explains why the French did not join in the anti-war stuff Saturday. They were busy giving their government the finger.

We had a nice spot outside the Santé. Prisoners were chanting and marchers gave solidarity salutes back. Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long - still leaving Denfert as it was breaking up at Nation. Coverage on the TV-news was extensive but we did not see ourselves.

Last night union leaders were to meet to discuss the next step. If the government will not renounce its plan to introduce the contested law, union bonzen have said the government may face a general strike. Just so they won't be able to say they didn't know.

Sunday's reactions not registered yet. Our politicos talk on Sundays too.

__

EDITOR'S NOTE

As of Monday morning this - "The French Prime Minister, Mr Dominique De Villepin refused to back down from his contested youth jobs plan, despite a growing movement of student opposition and the looming threat of a general strike."

Trouble brewing - this is a big deal.

And Serge's grave? That would Serge Gainsbourg (1928 - 1991), the poet, singer-songwriter, actor and director, buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. "His home at the well-known address 5bis rue de Verneuil is still covered by graffiti and poems."

There's much more information at the link, including this -
One of the most frequent interpreters of Gainsbourg's songs was British singer Petula Clark, whose success in France was propelled by her recordings of his tunes. In 2003, she wrote and recorded "La Chanson de Gainsbourg" as a tribute to the composer of some of her biggest hits.

Since his death, Gainsbourg's music has reached an iconic stature in France. His lyrical brilliance in French has left an extraordinary legacy. His music, always progressive, covered many styles: Jazz, ballads, mambo, lounge, reggae, pop (including adult contemporary pop, kitsch pop, yé-yé pop, 80s pop, pop-art pop, prog pop, space-age pop, psychedelic pop, and erotic pop), disco, calypso, Africana, bossa nova and rock and roll. He has gained a following in the English-speaking world with many non-mainstream artists finding his imaginative and eclectic arrangements highly influential.

He is also considered to be one of the first music pop artists of the late 1960s. While artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein explored modern iconographic consumer culture through painting, Gainsbourg explored similar territory in music with songs such as "Comic Strip," "Ford Mustang," "Qui est In Qui est Out," and "Teenie Weenie Boppie."
You were probably wondering.

__

... we went across the street to visit Serge's grave, admire the metro ticket collection and the five fairly fresh cabbages.

The grave of Serge Gainsbourg - Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.




















... outside the Santé. Prisoners were chanting and marchers gave solidarity salutes back

Demonstrators at the Santé prison in Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006


















Demonstrators at the Santé prison in Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006















Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long...

Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long - demonstrations, Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006




















... still leaving Denfert as it was breaking up at Nation.

Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long - demonstrations, Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006

















Things wind down...

Street demonstration in Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006













Photos and Text, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Posted by Alan at 10:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006 10:34 PST home

Sunday, 19 March 2006
Hot Off The Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot Off The Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is the parent to this daily web log, is now on line. This is Volume 4, Number 12 for the week of March 19, 2006.

This week's issue opens with five extended commentaries - on the third anniversary of the war we're waging, on the rhetoric and posturing of the past week, on the issue of what we seem to expect in leaders, manliness and competence and how we define those, on religion and politics (and on that fellow who sold his soul on eBay), and finally, on a simmering background issue, healthcare in America, but here offering the extended observations of a reader from Canada on how things work there, and here. The first drafts of these appeared earlier here.

The International Desk is dark. Our Man in Paris will return next month, or perhaps sooner.

This week there's a wide array of photography, again from the edge of Los Angeles - The Most Picturesque Basketball Court In The World, something for those who like incredible stonework, startling botanicals, a stab at nature photography with a more than a few birds, and a look at the coast here - the part you seldom see.

And there's a new feature, links to pages at Just Above Sunset Photography, where one or two special shots are posted each day that don't fit into any theme for the weekly.

Bob Patterson is back too, with an item on nonsense and a Book Wrangler item on books by or about starving artists.

The quotes? Matters related to the war turning four.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Perspective and Fear: Starting the week with alarms and chaos...
Manliness and Competence
Religion: Tales of the eBay Atheist
Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris is busy. Sorry. He explains here.

Southern California Photography ______________________

March Madness: The Most Picturesque Basketball Court In The World
Stonework
Botanicals: Detailed Pairings
Birds
The Coast

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Don't Step In The Buncombe!
Book Wrangler: Vicarious Looks At The Life Of A Starving Artist

Quotes for the week of March 19, 2006 - As the War Turns Four

New photos at Just Above Sunset Photography ______________________

Hollywood Places
Hollywood Wall
Racing with the moon...
Roots (light and shadow)
The Flag

Posted by Alan at 08:37 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006 08:40 PST home

Saturday, 18 March 2006
Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Topic: Dissent

Milestones: Three, Going on Four

On Saint Patrick's Day three years ago we saw this on television - the president, standing behind a podium, stiff and grim, saying that if Saddam Hussein didn't step down, if he didn't give up and leave Iraq, we'd invade and remove him and his government. He had forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours later we attacked. It was over before long. He was gone. We were there.

We're still there. The war turns four.

On May 1st in 2003 the president declared "Mission Accomplished" (the White House photos from the aircraft carrier off San Diego are here - the shots of the "Mission Accomplished" banner looming large in the background now gone - it's just barely visible in one shot).

No one seems to have any victory celebrations planned for May 1st - but, since that is the day set aside by the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate "labor" and celebrated around the world, there is a conflict. That day is already "taken." And people seem to be using the weekend of March 18-19 to have their say about the ongoing war.

Saturday was the big day.

Around the world here (AP) - "Thousands of people held anti-war demonstrations Saturday in global protests that marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by demanding that coalition troops pull out." But everyone is just tired - in London, police said about fifteen thousand marched from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square, but the authorities had been told there'd be a hundred thousand. In Stockholm, about a thousand marched to our Embassy, and it seems someone held up a United States flag with the white stars replaced by dollar signs. Two thousand marched in Copenhagen, and more around Denmark - the five hundred thirty Danish troops stationed in southern Iraq need to come home. AP notes big demonstrations in Turkey, but then "previously close relations with Washington were severely strained after parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory." And there was that movie -
A movie depicting Americans as the bad guys in Iraq has become a super hit in Turkey, a secular Muslim country and a NATO ally of the United States.

More than 2.5 million Turks thronged to see the movie "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq" in the first 10 days and pirate copies reportedly are doing a roaring business.

"The film is absolutely magnificent," Bulent Arinc, the parliament speaker and one of several politicians to attend the gala in Ankara, told The London Times. "It is completely true to life."
And elsewhere? "In Italy, Romano Prodi, the center-left leader who is challenging conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi in next month's election, said he and his supporters wouldn't join Rome's march because of a risk of violence." And there were small demonstrations in Greece, Berlin, Vienna, and Spain of course, and three thousand marched in Seoul, South Korea.

The French were busy - "Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of French cities to protest against a youth labor law proposed by the prime minister." All three cable networks carried live images, long segments of scuffles in Paris, not any of the ant-war marches around the world. And the administration thought French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was their enemy, given what happened at the UN when he was the French ambassador there and elegantly dismissed Colin Powell's "smoking gun" presentation on why the UN had to get behind our proposed overthrow of the government in Iraq. Now he's keeping the anti-war images off our television screens by arranging photogenic street battles on the boulevards of Paris that are far more compelling than scruffy marchers at the same time seeking some air time. Very convenient. But, of course, not his plan.

Here in Hollywood, there was this - "Paul Haggis, the Canadian director of 'Crash,' this year's Oscar winner for best picture, will lead a protest in Hollywood this weekend against the war in Iraq, now three years old, organizers said."

Yep, he's Canadian, and the movie is about how people just cannot connect in this awful, dangerous, crime-ridden place - so Canadians know something we don't? Noon. Hollywood and Vine. But the Paris scenes are on television. We'll, Haggis is a director, not a marketing guy. Martin Sheen and Harry Belafonte seemed like a good idea. So was Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, the author of the book "Born on the Fourth of July" - later a film where Tom Cruise played Kovic (Oliver Stone won the 1990 Oscar for Best Direction, Cruise was nominated for Best Actor). But then, Tom Cruise wasn't there. He was also busy - he had just forced Comedy Central to cancel a "South Park" episode about Scientology, threatening to boycott publicity events for his new movie and pull ads and all that. The extraterrestrial Thetans inside his brain told him protecting the faith was from satiric cartoons more important, just like in the world of radical Islam.

But the marches are pointless.

Yes, three years ago Rumsfeld was talking about a war that would last weeks rather than months. Cheney was saying out troops being greeted as liberators. We had a spare Iraqi government in reserve - Ahmed Chalabi (with his PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago) and his band of Iraqi-Americans who after three or four decades exile wanted to get back home. Pop them in power. Accept thanks. Go home.

Yes, that didn't work out. We have 133,000 troops still serving in Iraq, some on third and fourth tours of duty. And there was this on the 16th from the US commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid - "The general trend, given a legitimate government emerging, will be, Iraqis do more, we do less and eventually more reductions come about." Abizaid says troop levels are trending downward, generally, but this is "a period of sensitivity" when "sectarian tensions are high." He thinks national unity government must be formed in the "relative near term."

The new Iraqi parliament did meet, finally, for the first time, on the 16th - for thirty minutes. They couldn't agree on a speaker. They adjourned indefinitely. They'll meet again later, sometime. The "relative near term" seems unlikely.

This isn't looking good, and here Reuters surveys the thinking of experts on what to expect in the next three years of this - something between, on the upside, "gloomy," and on the downside, "apocalyptic" -
"The reconstruction is destined to fail," said Pierre-Jean Luizard, an Iraq expert at France's CNRS state research council. "Iraq is condemned to an endless civil war."

... Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the U.S. National Defense College, saw no great change soon: "I see the current situation - the insurgency and violence - persisting for the next foreseeable period. I don't know what the period is."

Henner Fuertig at the German Institute for Middle East Studies envisages four scenarios, more or less equally likely. They range from a best case where the U.S. plan actually works to a worst, in which civil war combines with a proxy "war of civilizations" between Muslims and Americans fought in Iraq.

... Another could be a new, probably Shi'ite, "dictatorship". That possibility was also raised by Charles Tripp, a British historian of Iraq, who questioned how much party "oligarchs" in Baghdad can control supporters and leaders in the provinces. "Much will hinge on the relationship between the two," he said. Political parties are weak, he added. Bargaining in the capital would depend on whether local followers respect their leaders' promises on security, oil supplies or other issues. If not, anarchy and local warlordism could prevail.

... The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month: "A civil war ... could trigger the country's dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites step up the swapping of populations ... It would come at terrifying human cost."

One personal story, among many, is illuminating. A Shi'ite relative of an Iraqi journalist was shot at home in the Sunni city of Fallujah by sectarian gunmen this week. It took days to bury him because of obstructive local officials and medical staff who made no secret of their anti-Shi'ite views. "When a couple of thugs start killing people for their religion, it's bad," the journalist said. "But when a whole community joins in with them, I'm not sure there's any hope."
Just reporting. That's what they said. It could all work out. You never know.

But marching down Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon demanding that the war end will help? It's hard to see how. The administration will suddenly see no one trusts them and most thing this is going badly and will end badly?

They know that. A week of awful polling ended with this from Newsweek -
President Bush's approval rating has dropped to new lows on domestic issues and public anger is rising over his handling of Iraq and homeland security, according to NEWSWEEK's latest poll. ... His image as an effective leader in the war on terror is tarnished, with less than half the public (44 percent) approving of the way he's handling terrorism and homeland security. Despite a series of presidential speeches meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq, as well as the announcement of a major military offensive when the poll was getting under way, only 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove.
They know.

The counterargument came from the president in his weekly radio address, as the AP explains here - you see, all that sectarian violence in Iraq, with mosques blowing up left and right and reprisal executions of the families of those who have insulted the other, is really a good thing. Why, you ask? Because it "has motivated warring political factions to move quickly to set up a representative government."

Yep, it's a great motivational tool. Except they're not doing that.

AP - "Bush's broadcast came in advance of a speech he plans to deliver in Cleveland on Monday, the second in a series of talks marking Sunday's three-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In the speech, Bush will discuss how the United States is working with various sectors of Iraqi society to defeat terrorists, restore calm and help rebuild homes and communities."

He'd better screen his audiences more carefully than ever before.

And as for that major military offensive launched when the Newsweek poll was getting underway (news item here), well, luckily the polling was completed before items like this -
According to a colleague of mine from Time who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The "number of weapons caches" equals six, which isn't unusual when you travel around Iraq. They're literally everywhere.

... About 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they're scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

"Operation Swarmer" is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army - although there was no enemy for them to fight.
Then Time reported On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled -
... Contrary to what many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war... In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation... was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces... But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers.
And elsewhere a Vietnam veteran says this - "Hey, folks, this is a small operation. It sounds like a battalion of infantry (maybe two battalions) from the 101st Airborne Division and some Iraqi police troops. In Vietnam this operation would have been too small to have been given a name. It would have just been, 'what you were doing tomorrow.'"

Was someone impressed? (Note: for a full discussion of the effects of air assaults and aerial bombardment on "insurgency" or "guerrilla" forces see this - the effect is always to increase the anger and will of the resistance, and to assure more people join them.)

But there will be the speech Monday in Cleveland. We'll be told we're doing fine, or doing the right thing and things will, at some point, be just fine.

Jennifer Loven explains what to expect in Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches -
"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

... A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said.
Well, it sure beats dealing with real people. Of course the question is whether this is a cynical rhetorical trick to manipulate the gullible, or whether the speaker actually believes those who oppose him are arguing nonsense that the didn't actually say but really meant to say. Is the speaker deeply cynical, or merely delusional, living in a world of imaginary people who oppose him for no good reason and spout nonsense.

Take this for what it's worth -
Abrahams, who has a vast knowledge of improbable scientific literature, compares Gier's work to that of two Cornell scientists who showed that one attribute of extreme incompetence is "that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent." The study, titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It," demonstrated that people who scored, on average, at the 12th percentile in tests of humor, grammar and logic assessed themselves to be, on average, at the 62nd percentile. Incompetence at the extreme is a double-whammy, the authors declare: "Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."
So three year on, that's where we are. March in the streets if you'd like. It won't do much good.

__

Note: Saturday, March 18, 2006, brings us this in the New York Times, one more exposé - everything you wanted to know about Task Force 6-26, our military's free-lance torture unit and the "Black Room" at Camp Nama, a converted Baghdad military installation located at the Baghdad airport -
There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.
And their slogan? "No Blood, No Foul" -
"If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.
The Times - "The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Maybe so. But who knows? As in - "Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost."

As Andrew Sullivan notes here -
Induced drowning, hypothermia, repeated beatings, the torture of relatives of intelligence targets: we have seen all these already multiple times. They are always the same techniques, almost as if someone had figured them out and trained people in them. But that couldn't have happened, could it? We don't know. We do know that the Pentagon's Steven Cambone tried to stop it, which implies the second explanation, which is that there were elite military units beyond the control of the Pentagon and the law, let alone the Geneva Conventions, who felt they had been allowed to enter the twilight zone.

Cambone's efforts seem to have come up empty, by the way. We have the far-right Christianist, general William Boykin, telling Cambone on March 17, 2004, that he had "found no pattern of misconduct with the task force." (Boykin was the man who declared the Iraq war one between his God and the God of Islam. He suffered no discipline for that comment.) So the alternative explanation is simply a complete breakdown in the chain of command. Other agencies - even CIA officials some of whom had been trained to abuse inmates at Gitmo - tip-toed around this black hole. They acted as if they knew someone had sanctioned it; or that no one dared stop it; or that these troops were empowered to do whatever they wanted.
Nothing new, but for the new unit. Readers here know Boykin, as in, from Monday, 8 December 2003, Who would Jesus assassinate? (subhead - "We ask our consultants. Lieutenant General William 'Jerry' Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis") For Stephen Cambone and the torture business, from May 23, 2004 see Notes on the War Scandals. It just takes time for things to develop.

But we are where we are. March if you will. Those in power will shrug. One thinks of what our governor out here in California, Arnold Shwarzenegger, said in a 1990 interview with US News and World Report - "My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave."

Back to sleep.

Posted by Alan at 16:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006 16:04 PST home

Friday, 17 March 2006
Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View
Topic: For policy wonks...

Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View

Context

In the almost four years that Just Above Sunset has been on line the topic of healthcare has come up almost twenty times. The topic bubbles up now and then because it is a matter public policy, and for most Americans, personal. The costs keep rising, employers are playing less and less and employees more. And for what? The World Heath Organization rates healthcare in the United States rather low - France most recently had the best system in the world. We have approximately forty-four million uninsured, a rather high morbidity rate, a rather high rate of infant mortality, and we spend the most per capita on healthcare. What up with that? Could it have to do with for-profit providers and administrators, a private systems lightly regulated by the government, and a tradition of health insurance provided only by employers? It is somewhat a free-market approach. We have decided the government has no business in running a "single-payer" system, supported by taxpayers, that assures every citizen can get access to medical care. We trust to market forces and "freedom to choose" - if people want care and will pay for it, the vendors will compete for their dollars, offering more and more and better and better care, at lower and lower cost, as they compete with each other for those dollars. Well, it's a theory, or, more precisely, and ideology.

But we have a mixed-mode system. The government provides Medicare for those for whom the system has no answers, the poor and unemployed and elderly (and Wal-Mart workers). The government takes care of veterans. And hospital emergency rooms and regional trauma centers are required by law to treat whoever walks in, or is rolled in, regardless of their ability to pay for immediate, necessary treatment. Of course, the latest issue is Medicare Part D - the government covering the cost medications for the poor and unemployed and elderly (and Wal-Mart workers). That program is not going well - so complex no one much can understand how to use it, designed to protect and boost the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, not bad for the HMO's, absurdly expensive for the government, and driving even Texas pharmacies into bankruptcy - but not the topic here.

Here the topic is the whole idea of just who pays for what. Everyone chips in for the national defense, and for roads and such (infrastructure), for police and fire services. We, alone among all the nations in the industrialized world, don't seem to want to move healthcare into this category of "basic stuff the government does for the common good paid from general funds." We like the market model, with exceptions we make grudgingly. We're not getting our money's worth, given the statistical results, and cars built in the United States cost GM and Ford around fourteen hundred dollars more per unit, to cover employee and retiree health insurance, but that's just the way it is. We prefer that to "big government" running things, or even just collecting and administering the funding. We've made our choice.

Other countries have made other choices. From April 17, 2005 see Healthcare in America is the Best? - looking at our system, the one in France, the one in the UK, and a few others. From October 2, 2005 see The Nation's Health - Our Man in London, Mike McCahill, on how their system is working there. From July 10, 2005 see Oh, Canada! - on the cost of building cars here and in Southwestern Ontario, where a whole lot of "American cars" are actually built.

And the topic is in the media right now. See The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It - Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in the March 23rd New York Review of Books, making the case for a health-care system that is not only "single payer" - the government handles the finances - but is pretty much "single provider," with the government supplying the services directly.

The counterargument to that appear in the Washington Post, Friday, March 17th, from Michael Kinsley - To Your Health: Why Modest Reform Is Preferable To Single-Payer Health Care (also posted at SLATE.COM and syndicated widely) -
Krugman and his co-author, Robin Wells, correctly diagnose the problem with the Bush administration's pet health-care solution of encouraging people (with tax breaks, naturally) to pay for routine care à la carte instead of through insurance. Like Willie Sutton in reverse, this notion goes where the money isn't. Annual checkups and sore throats aren't bankrupting us: It's the gargantuan cost of treating people who are seriously ill. People who can get insurance against that risk would be insane not to, and the government would be insane to encourage them not to.

Most lucky Americans with good insurance are doubly isolated from financial reality. They don't pay for their health care and they don't even pay for most of their insurance—their employers or the government pays. Of course, one perversity of the current system is that you can lose your insurance either by losing your job if you've got one or by taking a job (and losing Medicaid) if you don't.
The argument that follows is "let's not go so fast" - this is pretty radical.

The Washington Monthly (Kevin Drum) here says this "sure gets tiresome sometimes" -
... various forms of single-payer have been in use in dozens of advanced countries for decades - including Medicare right here in the United States. There are few social programs we know more about than single-payer, and what we know is that in a well constructed program costs are lower, the quality of healthcare is better, the amount of healthcare is higher, private healthcare remains available to anyone who wants to pay for it, and people are generally far more satisfied than American healthcare consumers are. The problems Kinsley tries to scare us with flatly don't exist in the simplistic ways he presents them, and it's dishonest for him to pretend otherwise.
Well, keeping us scared is the current mode of governance in use these days. We're used to being scared. Terrorists? Universal healthcare? Whatever. (Drum also points to others commenting here and here.)

The Canadian Experience

One reader, Ross Mallov, has much to say about their system of universal healthcare, call it Canadian Medicare, and how it works in contrast to ours. Ross Mallov, by the way, is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. He has lived in Canada since very early childhood, and attended university in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Here's the real story -
There are several reasons why Canadians cling to Medicare.

In the sixties, there was a lot of fuss. But afterwards, it worked well! There were actually more resources because Parliament allocated money for it. It was both compassionate and sensible for everyone, so it constituted progress - pure, undiluted progress. I think there was a tremendous amount of national patting ourselves on the back, especially since the US did not do it - it became a part of the Canadian identity.

It is hard to make Americans see the tremendous freedom of entering the doctor's office, paying only with your health card, not forms, no reimbursement, without a thought of cost. Maybe this leads to irresponsibility - I don't know.

The system worked pretty well into the early nineties. Then troubles started. Health care demand soared, as in the whole first world. Immigration brought millions of people, making even more demand. In a diabolical bit of completely false economy, provinces listened to a bunch of idiots who said we had a "doctor surplus" (according to statistics at the time, Canada had fewer per 100,000 than the US and most of Western Europe), and cut medical school enrollments at a time when demand, remember, was soaring. This has failed to prevent rising health costs, too. And surprise, surprise - people without family doctors will go straight to hospital - making care less smooth, and surely in fact more costly.

In Nova Scotia where I am, the province's restrictions on doctors' freedoms led doctors to leave for Ontario or the States. In Truro, before this happened, a doctor was prevented from settling there by other doctors who didn't want competition (what happened to their selfless commitment to professional freedom?) - several of those God damned doctors afterwards left for the States, leaving the rest of us in the lurch. There went money used by the province to train and pay them.

My current experiences are mixed - I have a good doctor at my university health service . Doctors and nurses do their best generally with insufficient resources - Halifax's hospitals provide care of such quality, even delivered with a smile most of the time. But I waited several months for a colonoscopy, and only that because my community is fortunate to have such a doctor - if I'd been in Halifax at the time, it would have been more than a year. Then I waited several months for a rheumatology appointment. Neither of these cases was urgent, but both were painful. The Regional Health Authorities are often quite bureaucratic - after the Halifax one refused to provide another colonoscopy room, one of the gastroenterologists left for Ontario. Except for MRI's, there is no private health care available in NS like in Québec or Ontario. I am having trouble getting back to a gastroenterologist, too, and a lot of intestinal pain from my misgrown large intestine hurts me daily. I do not see how the poor benefit from my misery. Inevitably priorities mean that most people who will die without care get it decently quickly, occasionally not, but any non-urgent cases have fantastic waits (hip replacements!)

Much as I hate to admit it, I would be better off in the US, although a number would not. Canadians are as selfish and complacent in some ways as Americans - many well people do not care if others must wait for months in pain, and figure they're okay and will be okay. Also, I think we cling to Medicare because in other areas, Canada is not really an equitable society - it ranks just above Britain and the USA for poverty.

Cancer survival rates are similar to the US. The life expectancy is high, but it is not in itself adequate proof of a quality system - perhaps Canadians aren't quite as portly on average. But I bet the population as a whole is healthier because of a universal system. What good is it if two more in ten thousand survive cancer if people die from completely preventable diseases for lack of ability to pay - thousands a year by the US feds' estimate? However, that would yield a strange situation in which the Canadian population is healthier, but the average Canadian has poorer care than the average American.

My mother's family hoped her brother would be born after 1 Jan 1959, when the hospital insurance act came into effect, but he wasn't. And she grew up and spent her young-adult years in Medicare's glory days, so she still deeply believes in it. But I and a growing number of Canadians believe that it must be possible to avoid monstrous waiting lists without denying one in seven health insurance and letting middle class families' finances be ruined by cancer. France's system stems demand probably unfairly, especially on the poor, by co-payments that do not vary with income. However, they have managed to avoid the British situation's dualism of public-private quality and cost. On a website for Britons moving to France, I saw -"Comparing private and public hospitals in France to the same in the UK is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no difference in the quality of care between public and private hospitals, and there is not necessarily any great difference in price."

I am quite jealous of this French feat, particularly since, if I got cancer there for example, all costs would be covered. Excellent - quick curative care and financial security too would clearly leave both Canada and the US in the dust. France has been accused of maintaining well-funded hospitals by over-focusing on curative and hospital care at the expense of community and preventative care - don't know how fare this is true. France also has great flexibility - you can go to a specialist directly, and now you must pay for it yourself, but that's only fair. In Canada, you can have as much choice as is now possible, but not that - gatekeeping and rationing for short supply are necessary, and while freedom of choice for family doctor was never purposely eliminated (this was AMA propaganda), it has become effectively quite rare since a number of people cannot even have a family doctor.

It should be noted that, just as Republicans rant about public health care, many of the people who helped hurt Canada's system did so by treating it as just another budget problem, not as a public INSURANCE plan - many of these are Republicans' own ideological counterparts, such as Ralph Klein, and Mike Harris in Ontario's "common sense revolution" (Ha!)

Confusion also results when Americans try to fit our politics into the left-right boxes of American politics (or vice versa) - political systems are not quite equivalent. However, this is in some ways a good thing, because Canada and the US are of similar origin, but turned out differently - each represents what the other could have been. However, I think we both should look beyond each other, toward Europe and Australia as well.

A well-thought paper on the Swedish system noted that if some patients go private, not only can they make themselves better off, but they actually shorten the list for those in the public queue. This could help. However, if not carefully regulated, a private system could poach scarce resources from the public system, denying availability to these physicians except at a high price. I wonder if this happens in the UK or New Zealand - it would probably happen in Canada if allowed, where the real problem is not enough doctors and nurses.

This is pretty accurate, I hope you'll find. I used to be a passionate supporter of Medicare on principle, but my own illness has forced me to look more practically , so I'm not an ideologue. What I'm saying is the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
And he adds this -
You should realize that I have never been to France, so I do not have first-hand knowledge of their system. However, all sources that I have read say that France, with a few exceptions, has no waiting list problem. To me, this sounds better than the current American system. In France, people who have certain serious diseases (there is an official list) have one hundred percent of conventional medical bills covered (although some extra billing is possible, I believe, if a doctor charges more than the usual fee, the tarif conventionné). In the US, even good insurance does not provide any such security. In an article (I can't remember where it was), the author remarked that part of the focus should be on how American health insurance is not only bad for those with no insurance, but also is bad for ordinary Middle America, which can face financial ruin if medical bills exceed catastrophic medical expense coverage.

My paragraph about my family wasn't that clear. In case it was incomprehensible, I'll explain. My grandmother was pregnant with my uncle in December 1958. They were very poor, and I believe had no health insurance. (Even in the sixties, although costs were much lower, a far greater percentage of Canadians lacked health insurance then than lack health insurance now in the US).

They were hoping that she wouldn't give birth until Jan 1 1959, when general hospital insurance took effect. However, my uncle was born in December, so he had to be born at home. Also, when I said that Parliament allocated more resources for it, I meant that Parliament allocated money to expand medical facilities etc. when Medicare came in.

In recent developments, in the last few years, provinces have upped medical school enrollments. I am not sure what effect that will have, since those medical students will not become full doctors for a bit.

I am not sure if you wanted to know this, but I'm trying to round out what I said earlier.
So there you have it. What they have up north kind of works. And what we have down here?

The two countries are so much alike - my two years working in London, Ontario was a breeze and quite comfortable, and I have only fine memories of the good, slyly funny, just decent people who became my friends there. But there were differences - there wasn't much free-market right-wing ideology, nor much or the left - just an effort to get what was going on and do the best for everyone concerned. The aggression and pushiness was confined to the London Knights minor league hockey games. And this is the country that gave us curling (men with brooms).

There's much to consider here.

Posted by Alan at 19:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006 19:20 PST home

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