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Atomized junior

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Art of the mundane

There is a certain reduced excitement to a day of the semi-skill of copy cataloging. One that requires practicing the art of the mundane. I usually enjoy the time-warping subroutine of working on gift collections. Often these are from a professor, who on retiring, bequeaths his or her magic horde of books to the library. In this case the Charles Keesing Collection for the Performing Arts Library. One book in particular caught my attention a while back: Arts Integration Curriculum in Connecticut Public Schools. A yearbook covering the year 1973 Artists in the classroom [University of Maryland, College Park]. I flipped through it. There's always time in the day for a little of that. 1973: These are days I remember - however dimly - from similar halls and class rooms only one state further north. I like things that can collapse and compromise time, rolling it up like an old rug, so that  a single step might take you across it. The absolute present-minded and event-documenting sense of the book gave up a feeling like one of Frederick Wiseman's films "High School" or "Canal Zone". An encounter  with artifacts possessed of the power to put you in a place.

  After I had glanced through the book, stuck a barcode on it set the item record in the catalog, I went on to other books. An hour or so later, I felt a strange pull  to look at the book again. There had been a picture that had been a cut above the rest. Most were simply illustrative. Snapshots in a random state government document. This one had the dignity or perhaps sympathy of a portrait. A subject seeming to have a certain reserve of character. He was a musician, a folk musician. A genuine mandolin handling folkie. I have a soft spot for musicians. Especially for anyone daft enough to try to make a living that way. He seemed that sort. I neglected to make a copy or scan of the picture when I still had it in hand, the book has gone off to a branch library elsewhere on campus.. From memory he was a young man perhaps in his late twenties. A full but understated beard that declared earnestness and dedication to craft. He rather reminded me of a thinner version of my high school geology teacher Mr. Tosti. His clothing I can't recall exactly, but I want to say it was a dark corduroy jacket and a hat. Something of the nature of a Greek or Portuguese fisherman's cap

 I studied at the picture  for a few moments trying to draw some conclusion out of it the nature of which I couldn't identify. There is some scattered evidence that I was around during the late sixties, but I do not remember them, not culturally. That is, there is nothing out of the ordinary I remember of them. I had limited context for things. I do not remember protesters or flower children, hippies or yippies. I remember the tribes of the sixties only as they were just a few years later in the seventies. The war over, revolution in the rear view mirror. A world and a lifetime ahead of them.  I thought of a visit down to Spartanburg in 1977 to visit my friend George who had moved down there the year before. We made a trip up across the North Carolina border to Saluda or Ashville to visit a young couple who taught high school down in Inman school system but lived up in the mountains. There they lived a a quiet vegetarian semi off-the-grid life.  It made a significant impression on me at the time and I began to imagine thereafter there were many such souls hidden away in various off-beaten tracks.

 A few weeks afterward I came across the scrap of paper on which I had written down the musicians name. Good, I thought, this is 2009 the second decade of the age of the Internet. Until the shadows fall across the world again and our cell phone and laptop screens darken, nearly all is discoverable. I typed the name into Google and got a hit:  Bill Wallach (2003).  I only needed that first hit. No need to rummage through the man's privacy.  From 2003 it was clearly the same person. The same beard - thirty years radiantly on. The same mandolin, I believe, as in some of the old pictures. Still a musician, still a folkie. It would be interesting to see what a typical Bill Wallach set list looks like, bluegrass, Renbourn? I couldn't say. The picture is from a website calling itself  Forum Coffee House, a Hartford thing I believe. The two pictures form a self-contained testimony.


 Bill Wallach belongs to an American cohort prior to mine, the early boom generation - generations really. This "boom" was so large and varied that there is no one narrative that tells the story. A great deal and a great many from it just seemed to quietly go to ground as the seventies ran on to the eighties and again to the nineties. The cultural eye moved on. The thousands of movie screens, and millions of TV screens reflected other things. Little of it ever seemed to be talking to me.  Sometimes I set to thinking how big a crowd I need before its worth raising a toast to the Soft Boys or the Replacements. A bigger and harder to find crowd than for the Holy Modal Rounders? I couldn't say. Large enough.

 A toast for today. Although you can't prove it through iTunes, Dave Thomas from Ohio's Pere Ubu once did a record with Richard Thompson (and Mayo Thompson). Not a thing that likely exists digitally, but a record in the back of somebody's closet I'm sure.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009
Il-Managed Care

 I wouldn't have believed six months ago that health care reform could be derailed this time around too. However those same battle lines and largely same actors form those old lines again Health reform can pay for itself. - By Timothy Noah - Slate Magazine.  Health Care Reform stalls and degenerates into a PushmePullyou game that will ensure nothing happens for another generation.

 There are forces that do not want a broken and dysfunctional health system fixed. It works for them An online guide to following the health care legislation. - By Timothy Noah - Slate Magazine. They get what they want out of it. They being: insurance companies, those running the existing HMO market place. Here lies a simple story of greed and narrow self interest. The truly wealthy (defacto opposite of your truly needy) who desire the ancient health care: on demand primary care from a particular individual who essentially functions as a retainer. This describes the old indemnity insurance models (at least in nostalgic view) and the higher-end PPOs today that emulate them. This is also those upper income segments for whom health care costs are not ordinarily a primary budget item, ie those who do not know off the top of their heads what they pay, because it just isn't critical. A $10 loaf of bread to a rich man. To a degree also, those preferring the status quo include many who have access to a decent managed care health plan through stable employment with a large scale organization and therefore feel falsely secure.

  I confess to lacking the intestinal fortitude to throw my self into the middle of this angry ocean of policy  The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It - The New York Review of Books  and chew my way to shore The Treatment. (New Republic health blog).  Perhaps modern medicine has something for that; intestinal fortitude in a prescription caplet. Something I could use my pharmaceutical co-pay plan for. Then I could join in on all those thrilling workplace discussions that revolve around the words: "My Meds."  What I have though is only the outlook of a consumer. I am aware that with the last round of state employee insurance "Open Enrollment" I went into something that is somewhat less than an HMO (an EPO). This, though, is more that a great many others have, and more than no insurance at all. Any long-term illness; though, would overwhelm its delicate nature. And concurrent with this the insurance system would quickly divest themselves of me.


 All this informs my limited notion of what a Healthcare system ought do. There are three things I might expect from a modern HC system.

  1. Be universal or a close to it as friction allows. I noted the example President Obama used in his speech "the one individual who refuses to be covered..." compares closely with standard undergraduate philosophy arguments about the power of the state to compel inoculations against infectious diseases. Society is generally understood to have some standing here. Additional to trying to be universal it should be designed not to devolve into a two tiered system. With professional care and modern technology for the wealthy, who avoid adverse selction traps, and paraprofessional outpatient care for everyone else. The point of medical insurance is to move medical care beyond "immediate means.
  2. Delinked and portable. That is not tied to employment necessarily, a matter of institutional convenience. De-linked so that health no longer drags American industries down. On grounds of creating a permanent or transportable health care.  Eliminating "preexisting condition" hurdles and encouraging smaller employment scenarios and entrepreneurship. A single-payer system wouldn't burden small businesses.
  3. Efficient and sustainable  Less expensive yes, but only more so than how the current insurance company model would deliver a complete system.  Costing less but doing less, isn't what should be regarded as sufficient. I do not believe that public run systems are any less efficient than private in principle. In practice, however work is apportioned: public or private, work done for a large resourced and distracted client will produce similar tendencies towards self interests and inefficiencies.  Ask any private contractor with a large and semi-permanent institutional contract: General Dynamics, or Halliburton/KRB for instance. If single payer system is cheaper and more efficient I would not place any secondary valuation in its way. Health care should proactive rather than reactive. The was a large part original intent of HMOs. Managed care was never intended to be a solely gate-keeping process

 Certainly I question the hostility towards health-care reform as stated. The Frontline survey of health care variety in a handful of other nations demonstrated forward thinking in nations whose free market and standard of living credentials are easily a match for our own  "Sick Around the World": PBS Frontline . "Killing" health care reform with no thought for genuine and broad societal reform, the need for but simply for the desire to hinder President Obama politically, disrupt his momentum is destructively narrow minded. Against this the future costs of not reforming the system should be levied and opinions judged.

 Other forces against reform do so for the sake of a small but potent segment of American service economy the insurance industry. Which is unwilling or unable to see beyond todays dollar. They profit richly enough to have the excess wealth to influence and carry along lawmakers  Drug Firms Pour $40 Million Into Health Care Debate : NPR. Who can decide whether or not reform happens, but not what happens next.  

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Monday, July 20, 2009
Punkers Misbehaving?

That last post was not an example of web-logging at its finest. Being some three weeks between conception and execution. It got a little stale while I worked on it, and I got bored with it. Then I caught a nasty summer cold/infection of some sort, and stopped working on it altogether. My thoughts turned to other things: Manny Acta, Wendell Wilkie. The usual I suppose. I did very little last week and accomplished even less. For the sake of this next week I went ahead and finished that post anyway.

 Here I want only to point to a story I saw in the middle of the week that gave me some pause. A leader of Boston based street gang was charged with using threats and violence to control the punk rock music scene Gang leader charged in scheme to control punk rock - Yahoo! News - in an effort to drive "Nazi skinheads" out, the article notes (yeah, standards rule, Nazi skinheads can F'off).  Punk Music Scene? What, like TSOL, Channel 3? The Bad Brains, The Teen Idles, Void, SS Decontrol? "Gotta stick together, Like glue like crew." The story vaguely refers to a "popular recording artist from the Chicago area". Oh the Effigies maybe? My initial and strongest reaction when I read this piece was to muse: "Wow this person sounds even more difficult to deal with than Lefty."

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Packing Sand

  Following the end of the last spring term, a year ago, the spin on the Supreme court was that it was a remarkably balanced set of decisions for a court composed as it was. This year, for this last session, no one bothered pushing that line. It was clear to everyone the US Supreme Court had taken a major turn to the right Decisions Indicate Supreme Court Moved Rightward This Term - This could be read even in the small handful of cases I paid any attention to.

 There was the West Virginia Judicial Bias case (Caperton v. Massey) The Supreme Court talks about judicial bias. Sort of. - By Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine. This case which I think I first heard about through a 60 Minutes piece is especially bad and revealing. A case so stark as to beggar description.  A man, Brent Benjamin, seeking an elected judicial position in West Virginia receives massive campaign contributions from another man, Don Blankenship, who is seeking to overturn a multimillion dollar judgement against him (for unfair competitive practices that ran another company out of business). A case that judge would decide upon taking office,  which he announced he had no intention of recusing himself from. It was never that this judge might overcome bias, through application of heroic professionalism. It was entirely that he was not supposed to. He was intended to be purchased justice. And he intended to deliver and lay the limp body of the Law and lay it at Don Blankenship's feet. This was fine by that reliable section of the court Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas, even if in this case they were the only ones and held the minority. Roberts and Scalia issued wounded dissenting opinions provoked by the simple idea the certitude of self examination was not word enough for the public. Brought short by the weak minded notion that wealth should not be able inhabit and reconstitute justice in its image at will. Fretting only mildly that the chimera of judicial bias might bring harms of appearance to the judiciary.   

In the voting rights act case {Northwest Austin Municipal Utility district no.1 v. Holder} the story was that it was mark of the conservatism and restraint of Justice Roberts, even a concession to the left that a key part the voting rights act was not simply declared unconstitutional. It wasn't that there weren't those urging them towards this. The Court rather decided in the end to embrace a more limited notion of letting jurisdictions opt out of regulatory provision of the act (that of pre-clearing changes to voting regulations and jurisdictions with the federal government) if they could demonstrate a history of not interfering with with the right to vote Supreme Court: More districts can sue to bail out of Voting Rights Act |       

 An area where the current court seems obviously engaged in programmatic operation is the area of affirmative action. It is a transparent fiction - a malintended lie - to claim that the United States is a class and prejudice free nation, simply because our legal framework is such.  No more than proscribing laws and mores alone have eliminated crime. The last significant case of the last term was New Haven Fireman case {Ricco v. DeStafano}. There are elements of this case that make it a muddle. The city had settled on an examination to enable advancement, then balked at this when the results did not show the diversity they also desired. What caused them to imagine a written test as the final arbitrator of anti-combustion effectiveness I don't know? But when they attempted to change course after the fact, suit was brought. This was a case that Judge Sonia Sotomayer had judged at the appellate level Court rules for white firefighters, reversing Sotomayor panel | . Ricco was not explicitly an affirmative action case. It was not the perfect instrument or test case constructed as crucible to dissolve formal racial awareness, leaving only human nature to carry that enterprise forward.

Some suggest ending attempts at affirmative action, achieving racial blindness, then fighting any lingering effects in other ways. There is an interrelation of class and race prejudice. Racism; though, can't be entirely trapped by reduction to economic deprivation. Artificial adherence to a  idealized level playing field that refuses statistical awareness that the field still drains poorly and denies it repair, comes close to a suggestion that a level playing field is not desired The damage done by the Supreme Court in the New Haven firefighters case. - By Richard Thompson Ford - Slate Magazine.

I've been around long enough and in different situations to know there are times in given homogenous groupings consensus are reached that seem so obvious as to preclude discussion. Yet with only minor changes to the groups make-up that consensus can be turned on its head.

 Court's hard right knot Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas (ASRT) is real. They vote in unison near or in excess of eighty percent of the time. The only question is does it represent adherance to principle or these individuals position in this society. In Scalia's case it hardly matters, he is an intellectual bully by nature. He plays law the way a young Bobby Fischer played chess. He knows few can argue on his level and holds them at bay with tactics of intimidation.

 Despite some small fear of perception of bias on the Court, there is the desire to have the Court proceed in a certain manner, notwithstanding the Chief Justice's disinclination to overtly (or obviously) take on that role. I think the Court is aware that by much of the public they are increasing perceived as a body in motion. Aware that they may be perceived as being outside the envelope of American public opinion, something that would strip away a measure of their authoritarian majesty. Originalism is activism. It is a movement with an ideological vision and intended on steering the nation and laws (back) towards this. It is not a course that reflects much judicial restraint or stare decisis. It is largely unalloyed corporatism, the straw boss of the modern world. Marked by continual weakening of ability for common citizens to achieve standing to challenge large institutions in the courts.

A course against the extension of standing or collective action. Abandoning, in society, solitary individuals against powerful entrenched interests often faceless behind blank corporate being. Every day Alito, Scalia Roberts and Thomas look in the mirror and their wealth, comfort and privilege is reflected back to them in an overwhelming, confirming sense of entitlement and right order. What they are is the norm from which all else deviates in error. Which makes it an easy task to be dismissive of all else and call it reason. True dispassionate rationality exists only at a remove.

 Over the next few weeks the spectacle of Sonia Sotomayer's confirmation and hearing will be in the news. Her judicial experience is considerable extensive it is also rather uncontroversial it won't be commented on much in these proceedings. She didn't spend time as an academic there is no long paper trail of journal articles. She was an inveterate speech giver and the debate will likely center on out-takes from these. The Senators and opinion leaders on the right are well aware that Sotomayer represents and safe and centrist selection for the Obama administration. She will be in many ways an even replacement for Justice Souter. What will occur is an exercise in defining the envelope of allowable opinions on the court with an eye towards future vacancies.

 James MacGreagor Burns, a respectable academic...we read him even at Maryland never a hotbed of the revolution, wrote a recent book critical of the Court Packing the court : the rise of judicial power and the coming crisis of the Supreme Court [] discussed in this Slate review James MacGregor Burns' Packing the Court. - By Emily Bazelon - Slate Magazine. He rather raffishly advocates directly challenging the court - this would be  accomplished the executive and legislature both - if they attempt to swing into a obstructionist mode or if they continue to produce programmatic rulings heralding a single-minded march to the right. The Court has no mandate to place their own plutocratic oligarchic stamp on this country no matter what conception of the nation excites their ego and sense of entitlement.

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