An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What does "Green" mean?

Update I and Update II below.

One of the great advantages to working in academia comes from what you can learn just chatting with a colleague. A few weeks ago one of my colleagues explained to me what he learned from a moslem member of his department: What green means. In a discussion about the use of the word "green" in the U.S. (and enthusiastically adopted by our workplace) to mean "environmentally friendly" he told me that in the Islamic world, green is the symbolic color of Islam itself. "Going green" in that context means becoming more Islamic, more religious.

In the news reports about the political unrest in Iran following an obviously (and sloppily) rigged election, I have yet to find any news outlet that points out the symbolic meaning of the green head gear, green flags, green banners, etc. that we see on the TV. Maybe someone did explain and I just missed it. Nonetheless, the idea of right-wing bloggers changing their color schemes on their blogs in support of the protesters in Iran makes me chuckle a bit. Nevermind, that only a short time ago (a couple of years) Senator McCain made a tasteless joke about killing Iranian en masse ("Bomb, Bomb, Bomb... Bomb, Bomb Iran"). I have grown accustomed to the ease with which ideologues can turn on a dime. But I digress...

I read this morning two items that have coalesced in my head, and hope to do justice to that here. Glenn Greenwald on discussed the hypocrisy we witnessed when the President sang the praises of the power of the visual image to reveal the violence and brutality of the Iranian regime while chuckling at the reporter who asked about the suppression of the torture pictures by the same President (The Neda video, Torture and the truth-revealing power of images). Evidently not only right-wing ideologues turn on a dime - lots of people have that talent these days. And Greenwald gives us more scary for the day: a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that support for torturing "terrorist" suspects stands at about 50% (?!). I realize that no empirical evidence could ever tie this to the 7 seasons of torture porn broadcast as the television series 24, but I believe that popular culture, or even culture in general, has the ability to influence opinions on that most basic level: people's assumptions (assumptions are what you don't know you're making).

To make matters even more surreal, NPR (Nominally Public Radio) has made a decision to stop using the word "torture." Consider reading (or, I hope, re-reading) the essays of George Orwell (including the one at the end of 1984) about euphemism and dishonest use of language. NPR's Alicia C. Shepard writes an apologia for dropping the use of the word "torture" that reads like something out of the Ministry of Truth. I guess she would argue that it's only torture if you actually open the rat cage? Happily, many who have left comments on this atrocity have called bullshit on her. (Read about this whopper and comment as you please).

Culture and cluelessness combine in fascinating ways in Iran now, as I read an anonymous Iranian's report about how the regime has tried to keep people at home and complacent by showing them more movies that usual. To this end, they have started a Lord of the Rings marathon. I can almost imagine these imagination-challenged, ignorant, authoritarian hacks picking this out: "Oh, look. Harmless escapist fantasy, no relationship to reality here." Right. As if religions do not pillage the popular culture of the times for their holy books. These idiots never guessed that Tolkien artfully distills hundreds of characters, myths, legends, themes from around the world -- the stuff of popular culture throughout the centuries -- into an epic story that has to touch on at least some cultural references familiar to nearly any given person anywhere in the world. Not that Lord of the Rings necessarily borrows anything directly from the Koran or Iranian epic poetry (I have no idea, maybe it does?) but that (more likely) Tolkien's trilogy borrows from the same sources. In Tehran Dispatch: The regime shows us movies the anonymous Iranian explains the Iranian interpretation of the films. Please read this yourself. I will give you a spoiler, though: the Iranian regime looks a lot like Mordor. Who'd have guessed?


I can not resist mentioning my favorite of all the comments I have read thus far on Shepard's Orwellian nightmare apologia:

Don McAdam (dmc) wrote:

The next time NPR does a story on child abuse or date rape, they should refer to those immoral acts as "enhanced parenting techniques" and "harsh dating practices".


Update II

Here's someone who beat me to the punch:

Overton Glavlit (Googie) wrote:

I recognize that it's frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the number 4 to describe certain sums of 2 and 2. But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate. People have different definitions of what 2+2 equals and different feelings about what constitutes "4". NPR's job is to give listeners all perspectives, and present the news as detailed as possible and put it in context.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fear and loathing in Healthcare "reform"

Republicans know how to set people against each other. According to an AP story Senator says tax on health benefits is unnecessary we read that republican senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has suggested that a tax on employer health benefits could fund President Obama's proposal to provide healthcare to everyone. Despite Senator Dodd's comments to the effect that such a tax is unnecessary and counter-productive the damage is done.

Just the suggestion is enough to frighten those who have healthcare benefits from their employers to fear additional taxes. The idea of taxing people with jobs to supply healthcare others already has a firm link in many people's minds.

There's an easy way to resolve this problem. I wrote back in 2007 Are you a good risk or a bad risk that private insurance poaching the "good risks" diverts money from health care and spends it on six-figure salaries, bonuses, and a huge campaign war-chest for giving to politicians and both parties as well as PR efforts to fend off a single-payer system.

According to reports from the GAO to Consumer Reports private insurance and HMOs have an overhead (measured in number of dollars per $100 in reimbursement to health care providers) of about 15%. Some have overhead as high as $18 per $100 of reimbursement. What about the "grossly inefficient" government programs? Medicare and Medicaid consistently come in at $3 per $100. If you were simply to replace the current spending on private health insurance and divert the same funds to a single-payer system, you could pay for health care for everyone and have enough left over to give back money to both employers and employees.

The republican disinformation campaign and scare tactics take advantage of existing prejudices against poor people. Not all poor people are lazy, collecting welfare and uninterested in work. Many under-employed people to not receive employer health benefits. Many small businesses can not afford to offer health benefits and state laws do not require them to either. The stereotype of the lazy welfare recipient does not hold true for millions of people without health care.

Also keep in mind that back in 2007 GM griped about the competition from Europe. The European car companies do not have to pay health benefits but the U.S. ones do. If not for humanitarian reasons then for economic ones why not have a single-payer system that spends the premiums on health care instead of influence and astronomical salaries? Just a thought