September 26, 2009

No socialism here

Venus is an anarcho-syndicalist.

Probably most of us get all kinds of forwarded emails that just go viral. These run across the political spectrum. I usually just hit delete but this one was kind of cute:

This morning I was awakened by my alarm clock powered by socialist electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the socialist clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the socialist radio to one of the FCC regulated channels to hear what the socialist National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using socialist satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of socialist US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the socialist drugs which have been determined to be safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as kept accurate by the socialist National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory, I got into my socialist National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the socialist roads build by the socialist local, state, and federal departments of transportation, potentially stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the socialist Environmental Protection Agency, using socialist legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank. On the way I deposited mail to be sent out via the socialist US Postal Service and dropped the kids off at the socialist public school.

If I get lost, I can use my socialist GPS navigation technology developed by the United States Department of Defense and made available to the public in 1996 by President Bill Clinton who issued a policy directive declaring socialist GPS to be a dual-use military/civilian system to be managed as a national socialist asset.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the socialist workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the socialist USDA, I drove my socialist
NHTSA car back home, on the socialist DOT roads, to my house which did not burn down in my absence because of the socialist state and local building codes and socialist fire marshal's inspection, and which had not been plundered of it's valuables thanks to the socialist local police department.

I then got on my computer and used the socialist internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and browse the socialist World Wide Web using my graphical web browser, both made possible by Al Gore's socialist High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991. I then post on and Fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

By the way, what do people think Medicare and Medicaid are?

September 25, 2009

An interesting question

This guy is very status conscious.

Off and on lately, this blog has been looking at how social status and related factors affect health and longevity. (Short version: they do in a big way.)

But this kind of musing leads to an interesting question:

*Given that there are status hierarchies in primate populations and many other animal groups as well; and

*Given that humans are primates; and

*Given that all human societies have some kind of hierarchy (even if it is mostly a guy thing)....does this not imply that this is a fact of nature and that there's nothing we can do about it?

Epidemiologist Michael Marmot examines this question in his book The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity. Here's one possible answer.

Striving for status is probably a legacy of our evolutionary heritage (again, chiefly amongst the dudes). BUT for most of human history, we were foragers or hunter-gatherers. Such groups in general don't accumulate a lot in the way of property and don't have class systems that institutionalize inequality. Also, one can gain status in such a group in lots of ways, including by showing generosity and concern for others. Also, if you know anything about hunting or fishing, you know that sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not, which would tend to make status differences fairly fluid.

We really see the status affect in humans at it strongest in class societies quite unlike that of our ancestors. These have all kinds of built-in structural inequalities. But even within these, the affects of status vary widely, with the degree of inequality having a major effect. In other words, a lot of the status syndrome and related social determinants of health are socially constructed and vary widely from society to society.

To quote Shakespeare, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings"--at least to a large extent.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Unemployment claims have nearly doubled since last year in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. Meanwhile, over 300,000 state residents got SNAP or what used to be called food stamps. That number was up over 60,000 from the previous year.

ON THE OTHER HAND, there are some signs that job losses are slowing at the national level.

AND BY THE WAY, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is playing a big role in making things less bad. As part of ARRA, food stamp payments went up and there were also mechanisms to extend, expand and modernize unemployment, aside from all the other effects of the boost in spending.

THE NEXT BIG HISSY FIT after health care reform will be climate change legislation.


September 24, 2009

Water under the bridge

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this random post about a memory that was just jogged. In yesterday's Charleston Gazette, there was an article with a great picture about the catwalk beneath West Virginia's famous New River Gorge Bridge. (The view is worth a click.)

There are many cool things in El Cabrero's beloved home state, and the bridge is definitely one of them. It's over 3300 feet long and stands over 800 feet above the New River.

The article mentioned above talks about a new program that will provide tours of the underbelly of the bridge along a 30 inch catwalk just below it. I'm glad that people will legally be able to take that stroll.

It so happens that around 30 years ago, when the bridge and the earth were fairly new, El Cabrero took an extra-legal tour of the catwalk after stupidly walking on an I-beam to get there. The view was spectacular and we were very lucky not to get busted or worse. I took an instant photo of it to prove that I'd done it, but it is now long lost.

I'm only writing this because I assume that the statute of limitations on extra-legal catwalking has expired. If that is not the case, I just made that whole story up.

(But now that it's legal, I may have to revisit the scene of the crime.)

OK, back to the salt mines...

UNEQUAL IMPACT. The recession has hit minorities hard, according to this CNN report on a new study by the Center for American Progress. Here's a link to the CAP website that can take you to the full report.

G 20. Lots of eyes are turning to Pittsburgh for the latest of these international wingdings. The American Friends Service Committee is there and while we're at it, so is the AFLCIO.

HONEST ABE. Here's a review of the latest Lincoln books by someone who knows his stuff.

OVERDETERMINED. West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of residents with disabilities for all kinds of reasons.

ONE TO WATCH. Here's a review of Michael Moore's latest cinematic offering.


September 23, 2009

Nature and nurture: the rematch

Jean-Jacques Rousseau tended to blame human ills on social corruption.

One of these days, I want to go on a long blogging jag about the dangerous territory where biology and society overlap. I call it dangerous territory because many earlier efforts to go there have led to bad results in various forms of social Darwinism. On the other hand, a great deal of harm has been done by those who deny that we have any kind of biological human nature and view people as blanks slates.

In fact, I'd say that both the right and left are prone errors on this question. Conservatives tend to see hierarchy and systemic inequality (the old Great Chain of Being) built into nature itself, thus making it impossible to do anything about it. Some on the left in the past have denied that there is such a thing as human nature and viewed all negative human traits to be due to bad social conditions--and the results of acting on this belief have been pretty bad.

It seems to me that there is a growing body of evidence that we do carry around some evolutionary baggage which probably made sense for a lot of human history but can cause problems now. Some of that baggage might include a tendency towards binary in-group/out-group views; kin favoritism; striving for status, particularly among males; the capacity for aggression; and so on.

That doesn't mean we're fated to any given kind of social arrangement. It just means we have to work with the materials at hand. Human nature isn't some kind of Silly Putty that can be molded into any conceivable shape, but it is remarkably adaptable.

WALL STREET ON THE MOON. The Dow is up while millions of Americans are down. Here's Robert Reich on the subject.

WHICH IS WHY it's a good thing the US House voted again to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks.

THE COST OF DOING NOTHING about health care is too high, as this op-ed argues.

TORTURE ON THE BRAIN. Brain research reinforces the widely held conclusion that torture does not lead to reliable information, aside from the whole moral repugnance factor.

URGENT WEIRD SHARK UPDATE here. (Teaser: it looks like this kind is into kinky sex.)


September 22, 2009

Untangling a knot

He did it with a sword. "Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot," by Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1743–1811)

When it comes to health and well being, there are a lot of issues to untangle. Obviously one is the lack of health care at all, which is a serious problem in the US and one that is getting worse in the wake of the recession. In yesterday's post, I linked a recent news item about a report that found that 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year because they don't have it.

Obviously, moving towards universal health care is way overdue. But there are some things about health and longevity that go beyond mere health coverage. As I've mentioned in the last several posts, status matters. People in higher social positions enjoy better health and longer lives than people in lower positions.

Typically, people try to explain this in terms of bad habits of people down the status scale, particularly among poor people, but this is missing a major point. According to Michael Marmot, author of The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity, two key factors are autonomy and social participation: conditions affect the degree of autonomy and control individuals have and their opportunities for full social engagement. These needs, for control and participation are more adequately met the higher your social position. As a result, health is better.


Lack of social participation and inadequate control over your life, in the sense of not being able to lead the life you want to lead, will lead to chronic stress, which in turn increases risk of a number of diseases, heart disease among them.

Marmot argues that this lack of control and full participation may lead to behaviors that are bad for health in the long term, but those things seem like small potatoes when one is just trying to get by in the short term.

ON THAT NOTE, here's another take on the link between health and social conditions.

RECESSION NATION. The latest Census data shows that the recession has had a major impact on Americans.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE PARANOID RANCH. Here's an interview between Bill Moyers and Max Blumenthal about today's rabid right and here's former religious right leader Frank Schaeffer on far right versions of politicized religion.

HOW WE GONNA KEEP HIM DOWN ON THE FARM NOW? Gazette reporter and uberblogger Ken Ward of Coal Tattoo fame was featured on NPR's Living on Earth.


September 21, 2009

The necessities

A large and growing body of research shows that things like health and mortality are affected by social standing. Once people have the basic resources needed to stay alive, health is influenced by how one stands in relationship to other people in the same society.

This isn't an entirely new idea. Adam Smith, writing in the 1700s, understood that what we consider to be necessities vary according to social customs:

By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but what ever the customs of the country renders it indecent for creditable people in the lowest order to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessity of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without some extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them.

In other words, it's not just about staying alive; it's about being able to participate decently in the life of the community.

SPEAKING OF NECESSITIES, a new study found that 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to lack of health care.


SPEAKING IN (OR ABOUT) TONGUES. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from under the Fig Tree.

POLITICAL PARANOIA was the theme here a few weeks back. Here's another take on it.

FINANCIAL REFORM. Krugman says do it.