Odds and Ends Vol 9

Odds and EndsI really don’t know why I do these other than that I kind of like the “Odds and Ends” graphic. But most of these could have been a full article. Or I could just do one of these a day and relax the rest of the day.

Well, now that I think of it, only a couple of these actually seem interesting enough to do a whole article about. The main thing is that I try to do shorter takes here. Today is a bit of a mixed bag. There is some politics from the last two days and then just some “fun” stuff. I’m sure it will be worth the price!

  1. Canadian Healthcare Debate: This is interesting. Dr Danielle Martin from Toronto was testifying before the Senate Health Subcommittee about the differences between the Canadian and American healthcare system. That’s Bernie Sanders’ subcommittee. The ranking Republican is Richard Burr, who, like most conservatives, will never believe anything but that America has the Greatest Healthcare System in the World™. He is very big at throwing out anecdotal evidence. But of course no one questions that America has as good a healthcare system as any in the world if money is no object. One would hope for better from and for America.

    Also in the video is Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute. PRI is a “free market” think tank that has been pushing medical savings accounts from at least since I started graduate school 24 years ago, when I saw a presentation by one of their people. Their interest is not creating a good healthcare system but rather creating a passable system that is in alignment with their anti-government philosophy. Sally Pipes is nothing but a talking point fount who is usually arguing any way she can against Obamacare. It’s very simple: Obamacare is the free market healthcare reform. The fact that she argues against it indicates that she doesn’t want any healthcare reform. Not that I would ever expect her to admit that.

    But Pipes is a small part of this video. Most of it involves Martin. My favorite part of the exchange is when Burr asks her, “On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?” Martin replies, “I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.” Ouch!

  2. Historical Jesus: Regular readers know my position on the historical Jesus: if he ever existed, he is now so covered over by myth that the actual man is lost. So the fact that there is a whole industry of books and lectures on the historical Jesus strikes me as silly. The most recent notable work is Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m afraid that such books really only speak to the author and his times. But that’s not surprising. Regardless of what the fundamentalists think, religions evolve and that’s how something like Christianity manages to still speak to people after two thousand years.

    One bit of Jesus historicity is very good. That is the push back against the idea that Jesus was some blond hair and blue eyed man who looks more like Odin’s son than a Jewish carpenter. (By the way: the Bible never actually says that Jesus was a carpenter.) About 15 years ago, some anthropologists put together an image of Jesus for a BBC program. Now, this is not a picture of Jesus, but rather a picture of roughly what Jewish men in Nazareth looked like two thousand years ago. This is now the image I use when thinking about Jesus:

    Anthropologist Rendering of Jesus
  3. Weird State Things: On Huffington Post I saw the following click bait headline, The 1 Weirdest Thing You Never Knew About Your Home State. (Was that “1” really necessary?) But since I’m a total sucker for click bait, I clicked over. In this particular case, I clicked because I was pretty certain that whatever they were going to say about California was very well known to me. Indeed: “Hollywood was initially founded to escape Thomas Edison.” I think this is common knowledge, but I might be wrong. Sadly, the article made no mention of the fact that it shows how patents largely reduce creative output. If Edison had been able to rigorously exploit his patents (As he would in modern America!) the development of film as a great entertainment medium would have taken far longer.

    I also knew a few other state secrets. For example, “Every year, a town [in Colorado] celebrates a frozen dead guy.” Of course I know that! The event gets a lot of coverage and I try to stay up on all the latest news about frozen dead guys. Similarly, “Lobster was once so abundant in this state [Massachusetts] that it was given to slaves and prisoners.” I knew that because I have read David Foster Wallace’s great essay “Consider the Lobster.” And really, doesn’t everyone know about South Carolina’s Rhesus monkey island? But somehow I hadn’t heard that they were being bread for lab testing. That takes the shine off that particular fact.

    Many of the “weird things” are trivial. Consider: “The terrain of the entire state [of Kansas] is actually scientifically proven to be flatter than a pancake.” Actually, I’m pretty sure that others states are too. Pancakes are not that flat. Other “weird things” are not really indicative of the state. Consider: “A Minnesota father would only speak to his son in the Star Trek language of Klingon for the first three years of the child’s life.” Yes, there are kooks all over. Hell, there are Star Trek kooks all over! And then some aren’t even true. Consider: “The residents of a small fishing island [of Virginia] still talk in a dialect closely resembling ‘Restoration English.'” This is a common linguistic myth; people throw an occasional “ye” in their conversation and the Yankees think they’re Shakespeare.

    Still, you should probably click over. Some of the information really is important. Did you know Nevada has an Area 51-themed brothel? Or this:

    Boring Oregon City
  4. Ezra’s Folly: After a string of notably straight white male hires, Ezra Klein has been trying to add a bit of diversity to his Vox Media project. And his newest hire is getting a lot of attention, although not in a good way. Hired as a “writing fellow,” it is not exactly clear what Brandon Ambrosino will do for the project. But as a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, he is known for being a gay man who writes apologetics for anti-gay causes and groups. For example, after Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty equated homosexuality with bestiality, Ambrosino wrote that he would still like to go fishing with the homophobic and racist older man.

    Gabriel Arana provides an excellent rundown of the problems with Ambrosino in The American Prospect, Ezra Klein’s Queer New Hire. It focuses not on Ambrosino’s opinions, but rather his incompetence:

    Gay intellectuals like Andrew Sullivan or Jonathan Rauch may occasionally ruffle queer folks’ feathers for going against the grain when it comes to hate-crime laws, say, or the right of for-profit businesses to turn away gay customers. But Ambrosino should not be thought of in this mold. Whereas Sullivan’s and Rauch’s positions are thoughtfully staked out and stem from nuanced views about the role of government, Ambrosino’s iconoclasm amounts to heedless self-promotion. His gross distortions of mainstream gay views and stunning lack of fluency in the basic language of gay equality reveals him to be little but a feckless provocateur. His mischaracterization of 20th-century philosopher Michel Foucault—Ambrosino warps the philosopher’s idea that sexuality is a “social construct” to justify his view that gays choose their sexuality—has gotten him called out by academics. But his use of nonsensical phrases like “intersexed crossdressers” (intersexuality, a medical condition, has nothing to do with cross-dressing) and penchant for referring to transsexualism as a “sexual choice” (it’s not about sexuality) show that his lack of familiarity with his subject matter runs even deeper.

    A similar appraisal is offered by Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, Vox‘s Unbelievably Terrible New Hire:

    Yet Ambrosino’s main problem is not that he defends homophobia; The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat does that too, but at least Douthat’s views arise from real intelligence and conviction. Ambrosino’s worldview, so far as he has one, is primarily comprised of crass opportunism and toxic narcissism. His writing is a quagmire of tedious ideas and sloppy prose; his angry jabs at the LGBTQ community reek of a writer legitimizing his insecurities by presenting them to an audience that should know better. A typical Ambrosino article takes a self-consciously contrarian thesis (Jerry Falwell was a gay-friendly saint, gay-rights activists are bigots) and immerses it in a muddle of casuistry, victimization, and unintelligible nonsense. On first read, his pieces aren’t infuriating so much as they are baffling: Ambrosino ignores the basic principles of journalism and simply spews free-form argle-bargle, as though he’s swinging a bat at a pinata that’s hanging from a different tree.

    Klein responded that he is still learning about hiring. I tend to think it doesn’t play to his strengths. Time will tell. Whenever I hear discussions of “new media” I always think of the same thing: click baiting. And that seems to be all that is really behind the Ambrosino hire.

  5. Andrea and Phil: Last week, Andrea recommended that I watch Phil the Alien. Even though I do think she has good taste in films, I’m usually more excited to see films she really hates. But she thought that I would particularly like this one. And I did! How could I not? It has a beaver puppet and Joe Flaherty does the voice. But I did make the mistake of saying that I thought the script was weak and she has not been willing to let it go.

    For the record: the screenplay seems very much like an unfinished draft. It is filled with lose ends and generally isn’t tight. And the problems are fairly extreme. I think it is at least two drafts from being finished. But that doesn’t make it bad. There are lots of things to like about it. At first Phil becomes a drunk. When this lands him in jail, he becomes a Christian, using his special powers to convert people. It has plenty of funny bits in the middle of all that. But it ends about as abruptly as it starts. It’s worth a viewing but not much more.

  6. UFOs: And finally, here’s a sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look that points out most of what is absurd about the “government hiding alien crash” conspiracies:

Well, that’s all for now. My best guess: tomorrow will be very much like today.

0 thoughts on “Odds and Ends Vol 9

  1. Of course, "best healthcare system in the world" is just another version of the "if you vote to establish a union, you’ll lose your shitty dangerous job and your life will suck harder" tactic. Nobody but the super-rich love our medical system; yet, the scare scum like to say, "if you try to change it, you’ll get boned even worse." This is pretty low, even for right-wingers.

    (And, if we had a decent public health system, we’d still have for-profit specialty services catering to the rich. Probably the world’s best, because we have the most rich people! So they aren’t even defending the elitist system they’re claiming to defend; just defending the right of the majority to eat dung and die if somebody somewhere can make a profit from it. What else is new . . .)

    Never can there be too much Mitchell & Webb. Ufos, good grief . . .

  2. @JMF – Yeah, that’s perhaps the most disingenuous parts of the attack against single payer: the idea that it would stop the rich from getting whatever healthcare they wanted. Of course, as I stress around here all the time, the reason that conservatives are against Obamacare is just because it raised taxes a little bit on the highest income earners. Of course they never talk about it, but that is the reason.

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