Susan's Musings

These musings—blog entries—are for the year 2009. Other years can be accessed from the blog's home page, use the link in the upper right.

Spend and save
Lately I've gotten a number of marketing pieces in the mail loudly promising SAVE—if only if I first SPEND. I am not fooled—SPEND and SAVE are contradictory, even mutually exclusive. The only way I can truly save is by not spending. How about you? (12-10-2009)
Obama's acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize
All in all, an interesting speech. I hesitate to characterize it as well-written. Obama admits we are currently at war and will stay at war while providing grounds for new wars in the future. He spends a few words on the role of international institutions in the achievement and preservation of peace. He acknowledges Martin Luther King Jr. as saying "violence never brings permanent peace," then moves on to conclude "the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace." He declaims religious violence. And totally ignores economic violence. I found his speech disingenuous.
After thought: I think what Obama really said was we are the biggest baddass on the block and we'll do what we want. F__k you. Read the entire essay. (12-10-2009)
December 7, . . . 1941
For many years I have barely registered the significance of December 7th. Sometimes a radio announcement clued me in, sometimes a newspaper headline. My connection to December 7, 1941 was tenuous.

But no longer. For the past few years I have been bonding with my mother's brother, now 90 years old. He told me about his experiences in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and in that way made it very personal and close.

This December I am sorting through his papers in an effort to assume management of his affairs. Today I spent following up with his accounts. I knew the date but it was just a date, more interesting because of its proximity to my birthday. It was only tonight as I relaxed with dinner and a DVD that the 1941 event got my attention. All of a sudden it was urgent that I talk with him and acknowledge his service to America on this day 68 years ago. When I called the hospital the nurse said he was sleeping, I said I was calling because it was December 7th, and hung up. Three minutes later I called back and explained that he was in Pearl Harbor on that day, that it was a very significant date for him. Afterwards I wept because I didn't think to phone him earlier. (12-7-2009)

The limitations of scientific research
We are familiar with scientific research studies that rely on statistical analyses of data to suggest causal relationships. The point so often missed in the publication, and PR, of research findings is that only one factor in the data being analyzed can be variable at a time. This limitation is based on a "fact" taught to every college mathematics student: formulas with more than one unknown variable cannot be solved.

In the real world we know that effects have many causal factors. Gardeners are especially familiar with this truth, as the health and growth of garden plants depends on many factors, some obvious (like irrigation schedule, sunlight hours, air temperature, soil temperature, and nutrients in the soil) and some less obvious (like soil texture, pollinators, even perhaps sunspots).

Given the limitations of the analysis of research data, what degree of importance can be meaningfully granted to the findings? Is it wise to ground policies and laws on these findings? (12-7-2009)

Apologies to Captain, or how to avoid poisoning our cats
Disease in cats, as in people, is a result of poor food and environmental poisons. Our food supply is so compromised that even actions guided by the best intentions cannot avoid all the dangers. Hence this apology to Captain Courageous, my beloved Maine Coon cat. In modern America profit is more important than life. (12-5-2009)
More health—let's focus on remedying the true causes of illness
President Obama started a virtual firestorm with his commitment to health care reform and his determination that it would begin in 2009. At this moment Congress is considering a group of laws which they claim advance health care. But they have missed the point: true health care reform must start with remedying the true causes of illness. Read the essay! (12-1-2009)
Apathetic Americans
Why are people so apathetic in 2009 when they weren't in 1970? What are the causes of the "dumbing-down" of Americans? Inadequate education, inadequate nutrition, and environmental poisons. And the distractions of so-called entertainment and gadgets. (11-22-2009)
Bicyling to school
When I was a school child I walked to grade school, it was about a mile each way. In high school I walked one-to-two blocks to a bus stop. Things have changed. Where I now live in suburban Marin County, CA, where I rarely see a school bus, parents have been driving their children to school for years. And in SUVs. One driver, one child, for the most part. Now that the price of gasoline has gone up I see children with or without parents bicyling to school. A welcome improvement to my mind. (10-26-2009)
American war crimes in Pakistan?
There is a similarity between America's war on the Taliban in Pakistan and Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza (December 2008). In both "wars" the aggressor was undeterred by civilian deaths caused by proximity to targets. Some time later the UN's Goldstone Report accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes. Will America be similarly accused of war crimes? (10-26-2009)
Health care insurance is prone to immorality
Medical care is a humanitarian act. There is an intrinsic conflict in a health insurance company, a for-profit enterprise, paying for its customers' medical care. This business model sets profit and humanitarianism in opposition to each other. (10-23-2009)
An open letter to Prez Obama about being a help to the American people
Your election to the office of President of the USA will test—sorely—your true commitment to the people of America.
(1) You committed in your campaign to finding a cure for cancer.
(2) You committed to reforming health care.
(3) You face failure in capitalism in the form of the financial crisis, the unemployment crisis, and the home foreclosure crisis.

Hegemony may be your biggest foe.

Please don't be sidetracked by your desire for consensus in Congress and lose sight of the true needs of the American people—for good paying jobs, health, and affordable homes (not to overlook real education and families).

There are true cancer cures that have been and continue to be denigrated by the likes of the AMA. Instead, those worthies offer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—what I call slash and burn—which kills more surely than cancer. And pays them well.

P.S., I need a good job. I offer you my uncommon sense and open mind. (10-16-2009)

The problem with health care part 2
Recent news stories cite congressional arguments about extending health care benefits to people who don't take care of themselves. Now they're blaming the patient! As an excuse to deny coverage. (I am reminded of the saying about he who is without sin.) This is just like pre-existing conditions. Certainly how you care for yourself, the euphemistic lifestyle choices, is a factor in your health. But there are lots of other factors, many of which are unknown—by anyone.

It is simpler to say that everybody has a right to health. No exceptions.

If you get caught up in the funding issues, such as funding health care for some but not others regardless of the situation, you are on a slippery moral slope.

I say medicine for all.

Let the counties provide wellness clinics that provide information and services focused on keeping people well.

One aspect of the current "discussion" that leaves me cold is the notion of Congresspeople negotiating with each other about which medical procedures are "covered" and which are not in a "single payer" system. While I cannot see that a sex-change operation should be covered, I think this sort of judgment belongs in other hands. (10-2-2009)

The problem with health care part 1
1. "Health care" is a misnomer. What we're really talking about is the provision of medicine to patients.
2. One problem with our medical system is how providers get paid.
3. A second problem with our medical system is the nature of the medicine itself. MDs are so committed to prescription drugs and surgery that when one doesn't do this, he is castigated by his peers. Drugs and surgery have their place, but they are no panacea.
4. There are many effective remedies and treatment modalities other than drugs and surgery, but these are "not covered" by health insurance. Examples: accupuncture, manual therapy, Pilates, herbalism, aromatherapy. Not only are they effective, they are often less expensive and less apt to cause unintended consequences (aka "side effects").
5. People feel confined by their health insurance policies so that they only seek out treatments that will be covered, regardless of what would be the most appropriate and effective.
6. Most of the illnesses that cause us grief once we reach age 40 have environmental causes. This includes food, air, and water. Our nearly constant exposure to dangerous chemicals and a diet of processsed and industrial foods makes us sick, often with fatal illnesses. There is little that medicine can do to prevent or cure these illnesses. Doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies can take our money, but with little-to-no benefit. The current medical system is unable to address, let alone confront, these issues. They content themselves with denying coverage.
7. A third problem with our medical system is that third parties— the health insurance companies—actively interfere in the practice of medicine. They tell doctors what they can and cannot do to treat a patient. The fact that practicing medicine without a license is illegal does not stop this behavior.
8. A fourth problem with our medical system is that doctors are being squeezed financially by the insurance companies, and a growing number are quitting, either in protest with their inability to practice the medicine they learned in school or because they do not make enough money to pay their bills.
9. A fifth problem with our medical system is that a huge number of administrators are employed, by doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, to deal with the coverage questions, with claims, and with payments. All of these workers represent a cost that is born by patients with no real benefit.
10. The health insurance system extorts huge premiums while providing as little useful medicine as possible. How can anyone talk about a family of four spending $24,000 a year on insurance premiums? This is a farce! What family can afford this? And what do they get in return? Probably less than $5000 in actual medical care, the rest is "just in case," but the fallacy here is that they get no credit for their payment several years later when a medical crisis occurs. This is an odd insurance model. (9-29-2009)
Michael Moore's recent talk at the Commonwealth Club
I heard excerpts this morning on the radio. He is a pretty good speaker, a tolerable level of a "and"s and "um"s. He talked about the possible demise of newspapers: he thinks they may be gone in a year. While the newspapers cite the internet as the cause of their financial problems, MM said the real problem is a lack of content. Newspapers are alive and well in Europe, and they have real content. American papers succumbed to the lure of short-term profits and laid off their beat reporters, so the meatiness of the content of the stories fell. Also, in the last 17 national elections, the papers backed the Republican candidate in 14. Republicans have been determinedly cutting financial support of education. Today we have 40 million illiterates and 40 million semi-illiterates (they read at a 4th-grade level). Hence, fewer readers of newspapers. He said the papers shot themselves in the foot. (9-28-2009)
My favorite bread baker—Metropolis Baking Company in Berkeley, CA
Metropolis makes bread with durum wheat flour, the same wheat Italians use to make pasta. The bread is phenomenal! It has not been carried in the groceries I shop for some years, to my endless disappointment. I thought they went out of business. Wrong!! They just sell their bread in different shops. Where I'm off to right now. Their website is (7-15-2009)
California's budget crisis . . . again
While my focus is California, where I live, I do understand other states are having similar gaps between income and outgo. I've watched the state legislature for the past years fail to pass a budget on time. They never really passed a budget in 2008 and now it is time for the 2009 budget and the deficit grows daily. It seems to me that the current situation is one where the legislature prefers to cut services and abandon state assets that benefit the poor and middle classes over raising taxes on the wealthy. It is easy to blame this on (1) the Republicans, who have vowed to NOT raise taxes, and (2) on Proposition 13 (1978), which, in addition to limiting real estate taxes to 1% of the purchase price (which I still favor), also changed the state constitution to require a 2/3rds vote to change taxes. I doubt the Democrats would raise taxes on the wealthy—if they could. So we're still left with a legislature that has failed, year in and year out, to perform their fiscal duty. Shame on them! (7-14-2009)
The nature of programming
I recently read a news article that blythely claimed in the coming economy software development will slip off the stage and become just another ho-hum production task. I was horrified. Who was the author trying to suck up to?

In my world programming is rarely a paint-by-numbers production task. To the contrary, it is most always a research and development effort. Many job descriptions these days are for work in support of new, innovative products in a technical environment on the bleeding edge. The multiplicity of software technologies alone is enough to disprove the mechanical nature of programming. Those technologies are increasing. And the desire for product innovation is ever present. (6-11-2009)

Letter to Congress about health care (again)
Congress is closer to mandated private health insurance. What a crock! I've written about this before, but here I go again.

There are lots of misunderstandings of the current situation (virtually all of them sown deliberately by private health insurers). James K. Galbraith in The Predator State makes the point that health care is not a "market." It is instead "a label covering a class of goods and services, an enormously diverse class, adapted to the specific health condition of each individual patient. . . There is no unit of health care . . . Health care is therefore not a commodity that is bought and sold at a given price on an open market."

He continues to discuss the role of insurance and concludes "Insurance in general is therefore intrinsically a service that the public sector can competently provide at lower cost than the private sector, and from the standpoint of an entire population, selective private provision of health insurance is invariably inferior to universal public provision." (page 158)

He explains "Private health insurance companies would not exist except for their political capacity to forestall the creation of universal public systems."

If Congress is sincerely committed to both improving the quality of health enjoyed by the public and reducing the costs of health care, then it must promote a universal public health system.

I urge you to support this public health system. (6-9-2009)

Letter to Congresswoman Woolsey about health care
Dear Congresswoman Woolsey, It is simply amazing that the form of America's health care "system" is being addressed by Congress with an eye to improvement. Certainly the failures of the current system are endless and even mind-boggling. Health care delivery dominated by insurance companies is obviously a part of the problem, even the biggest part of the problem. Imposing structural changes on them will not fix the problem. Instead what is needed is a parallel public health system which patients can enter at will.

I urge you to support this public health system and to resist the predictable pressures from the insurance companies to act in their own best interests. (6-2-2009)

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris (2004)
This is a logically reasoned argument against faith. "Faith" is herein described as belief in something in the absence of evidence. (Thus faith is irrational.) It is religious faith that is addressed—and found dangerous to the future of humanity. More . . . (5-15-2009)
I type therefore I am
What is my life coming to? (5-9-2009)
Entitled or titled
Get a grip people! When you are referring to a book, you say "titled"!! As much as I am enjoying Conn Iggulden's new series of historical fiction about Genghis Kahn, I was so disappointed to find it discusssed on Wikipedia: "Iggulden's debut book was the The Gates of Rome, the first in a four-part series entitled Emperor." That would be "titled" in case you were asking. "Entitled" means to designate or furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something, for example "his wealth does not entitle him to more votes." (4-27-2009)
A new model of affordable housing
Lately newspeople have been saying housing prices are at their lowest in 30 years—as if that is evidence the housing "market" has returned to sanity. NOT in my neighborhood. Starter homes have dropped—from $1 million to $850K. They are still unaffordable to the majority of the middle class and much higher than they were 30 years ago.

Marin County, CA has an affordable housing community. They advocate new homes for families earning $40K or less, they ensure the homes remain affordable by limiting resale profit to cost of living increases.

I suggest an additional program that advocates new and used homes for people regardless of income who will also promise to limit their resale profit to COL. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) protects farmland from conversion to resorts and housing development by buying development easements. Perhaps we can copy this model with an Affordable Housing Trust. It can buy resale easements.

Homeowners who sell their resale easement should get an income tax credit from the state and federal governments, both when they sell the easement and when they sell the home. The AHT can be a non-profit group and get funds from gifts and government grants. And from their customers—the people who purchase the homes at below-market prices—who are obliged to pay them a fee at purchase time, perhaps 1–2 percent of the price. We might call this the Marin Residential Affordability Trust (MRAT). (4-27-2009)

Escape fiction
This phrase was popular years ago, and I used it myself to characterize the bulk of what I read. But no more. Which of the two words is more damning? Is "escape" an adjective or a noun? Are they independent or interlocked? I've read all my life, even, in desperation, cereal boxes. I found in fiction storytelling that, at its best, teaches. I've learned history, philosophy, and different ways of thinking about myself, my life, and my world. And been entertained in the process.

Escape is not bad. The difficulties of our lives demand intermittent relief. Fiction can be a better choice than TV, alcohol, or drugs.

The modern category that seems to have superceded "escape fiction" is "chick lit." While the old label carried whiffs of condescension and criticism, the new one is downright nasty and sexist.

I'm waiting for "dick lit." (4-19-2009)

The Sound of Music in an Antwerp train station
You have got to watch this YouTube video! (4-14-2009)
What are the ethics of pre-emptive violence?
What ethics justify violence, especially pre-emptive violence? Read the full essay. (4-9-2009)
"Health insurance" is an oxymoron
"Health insurance" is not insurance in the traditional meaning of the word. Real insurance is a "guarantee against loss by a specified contingency or peril." (Merriam-Webster) In contrast, modern health insurance covers the likes of colds—everyday illnesses—as well as critical illnesses like heart attacks, chronic illnesses like asthma, and trauma from accidents. The shocking statistics are that most people have critical and/or chronic illness.

Healthy people are the cornerstone of our society. The insurance paradigm is totally unsuitable for medical treatment of illness and trauma and proactive care, getting well and staying well should not be a source of corporate profit. Yes, doctors and nurses deserve compensation. But there is no reason to employ a middleman, especially one that adds cost but no value.

People use health insurance to cover their normal medical bills, largely because of the way in which the insurers have transformed the practice of medicine into a marketplace. As the cost of care rises and the environmental threats to our health increase, the cost of staying well increases. It should be no surprise that people want financial relief from the endlessly rising costs. What they really need is a medical system that is effective and cost efficient—one that works medically and financially.

This will only happen when governments at all levels organize medical care without the intrusion of the health insurance companies. Just bypass them, make them irrelevant. Provide the care we all need. And pay for it with taxes. Just do it! (4-7-2009)

American civilians in Afghanistan
Do you know how many American civilians are working in Afghanistan? Read on. (4-3-2009)
Cuba's Special Period
This morning's radio program proved inspirational. It was about Cuba's "Special Period" that began in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's primary trading partner and supplier of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, etc. At that time Cuba relied heavily on its oil imports to power its industrialized agriculture and transportation systems. Their solution to the loss of oil and trade was local organic gardening and bicycles. They abandoned oil-based fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in favor of compost, worms, and green manure. They replaced gasoline-powered tractors with oxen. They grew food in the country and in the cities, in patios and on rooftops. Local food production did not need the use of gasoline-powered distribution vehicles, instead they could deliver food throughout the cities by people on foot and bicycle. Many people moved to the country where they lived near the farms they worked. They were gradually able to produce enough food that the hunger bordering on starvation of the early days subsided; it took 3 to 5 years to restore the fertility of their soils in the aftermath of the oil-based fertilizers and herbicides which had previously dominated their agriculture. (2-10-2009)
Afghanistan and why we cannot succeed
Today's radio program discussed the reasons why America is intruding itself in the affairs of Aghanistan, a sovereign country, apparently without their invitation. The reasons and what America intends to accomplish. Well, the problems they cite for Afghanistan are the same as exist today in the USA. The solutions they plan have failed here, how can anyone realistically believe they will succeed there? It's beginning to seem as though these foreign interventions are just another American industry, this one brought to us by the military. (2-6-2009)
Microsoft joke?
How many Microsoft techs does it take to change a lightbulb? None, they just make darkness an industry standard. (1-27-2009)
The price of a home of your own
The constantly rising price of homes has impacted communities, the quality of family life, and the environment. Read the entire essay. (1-11-2009)
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Revision: 3-16-2015.