Hawking Up Hairballs

Friday, July 31, 2009

Pitt's Wisdom

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

The above quotation comes from William Pitt in 1783. I ran across it on a site that I frequent, and I liked it, so I thought I'd reproduce it here. We Americans have embraced this creed with a vengeance, and it's made us a nation of slaves. Don't believe me? Here are a few, quick examples. How many people objected when the Busheviks curtailed personal freedoms after 9/11? Not many, because they bought the alarmist claim that those measures were necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. They've embraced it again in this economic crisis. Billions and billions of taxpayers monies to bailout rich bankers? It's necessary to save the economy. More bullshit. And the need to let the insurance companies get their fat, greasy fingers into a national health care plan. It's necessary, you see. There's the market, and capitalism. And who wants socialized medicine anyway? You don't get to pick your doctor. You don't get any say in your treatment. Blah-blah-blah, but the know-nothing American public is all too willing to buy it.

Steelworkers in northeast China aren't so prostrate. On the 27th, The Guardian reported that, when workers at one of the country's largest steel plants were told that 25,000 of them would lose their jobs in a takeover, they killed the messenger. That's right, they beat to death the firm's executive who gave them the news. The deal was subsequently cancelled. Maybe people shouldn't kill executives, or maybe they should. I don't much care one way or the other. However, there's definitely a lesson to be learned here. No real change takes place until people decide to take things into their own hands. The only thing the masters really fear is mass social disruption. Individual acts of terrorism they can handle, and at times they're even welcomed, because they can be turned against those who seek change. Social upheaval is a horse of an altogether different color, a coal-black horse, a stalking horse that scares the crap out of them.

And since I've mentioned China, welcome to the new boss, he's the same as the old boss. On the 25th, the Straits Times, which is a newspaper that is published in Singapore, reported that 90% or more of China's billionaires are the sons and daughters of high-ranking government officials. Is that really any surprise?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Health Care Bill

This short piece by Matt Taibbi, political reporter for Rolling Stone, sums up things regarding the health care bill that is currently working its tortured way through Congress. In particular, I like the following sentence from his article. "Our government doesn't exist to protect from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters." Indeed. I doubt that the US government has ever really been anything like "of the people, for the people and by the people," but it's transparently the polar opposite of that right now.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Well, it looks like the clinical psychologists have all got their panties in wads. They're up in arms because Wikipedia is publishing the Rorschach blots. I guess they're afraid that all the nut jobs out there will now be able to cheat. It's hard to believe but, according to the New York Times, thousands of journal articles have been published on the interpretation of the blots. But what's to interpret? Why not read the patient's tea leafs? It makes about as much sense.

I suppose they have some diagnostic value, but you'd probably do just as well with one of those word association tests. Psychologist says, "Mother". Patient says, "Knife". Psychologist says, "Father". Patients says, "Pistol". You get those kinds of responses from a patient and you know it wouldn't be a good idea to send him home. There isn't really any sophisticated analysis involved. It's the same with those blobs of ink. A real candidate for a rubber room will make oddball associations no matter what you show him, but I defy anyone to demonstrate how these Rorschach associations have any value at all when the responses are common or mundane.

One of the many reasons that health care is so expensive is because of the proliferation of pseudo professions*, which clinical psychology comes close to being. I say "comes close to" because they do perform one good function. Since they cannot prescribe drugs, they act as a counterweight to the psychiatrists whose solution to every condition is to medicate the patient up to his eyeballs. For that alone I would give them a hand, but I can't, because these are the guys whose professional association endorsed their role in what the psychologists would probably call "enhanced interrogation". The rest of us know it as torture.

* Want a truly pseudo profession? How about nutritionists? People get degrees in that and get paid professional salaries. What nonsense. Anything a nutritionist could tell you that has any value at all could be put down on a couple of sheets of paper, and the print wouldn't have to be all that small.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Socialized Medicine

In the discussion of health care in this country, the right wing often goes on and on about what horrors the proverbial "friend of a friend" experienced with the health care system of countries like Canada and the UK. Here's a link to a woman's direct account of her experience with universal, government-administered health care in Finland. By the way, in case you haven't seen it, Michael Moore's movie "Sicko" makes the same case as this piece.


Sunday, July 12, 2009


As those few of you who occasionally check this site know, I haven't been blogging lately. It hasn't been because of sloth, though I confess to being somewhat lazy about it. No, it's because I've started another novel. After finishing Buster Bungle's Big Top, I thought that I would relax for a while. As it's turned out that hasn't been the case. I immediately started on another one, and I've already got 35,000 words of a first draft. There have been a number of times when I thought of composing a blog post, but decided that I'd rather expend the time and energy working on this new novel. Right now, I'm in a lull and have been away from it for a few days, though I plan to start banging away again tomorrow.

I've read a couple of interesting books since I've last blogged. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley was one. He's a damned good science writer and I was intrigued by this book. A lot of people, particularly those of progressive inclinations won't like it. That's because the rightwingers have no monopoly on the denial of reality. Us lefties deny the inconvenient facts as well, like the influence of biology on human behavior. Certain leftists, like Mao said that there is no such thing as human nature, that we are who we are purely as a result of cultural forces. The role of nature is insignificant in relation to nurture. Modern genetics and evolutionary science puts the lie to that.

Take sexual roles as a case in point. Men seek sexual partners that are young and beautiful. They compete with other men for the most desirable women, though this competition may take other forms. For example, there's this remark from the wealthy shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. "If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning." On the other hand, women seek out partners who have status and power. Men will indulge in polygamy if given the opportunity. We all know the stories about the emperors and despots who have had harems. Where circumstances don't permit that, men take concubines or lovers on the side. Women tend to more monogamous, and centered around family. I'm not aware of a single woman ruler who's had multiple partners on the scale of the extravagant despots.

There's an abundance of evidence to support the contention that this sort of behavior is largely a part of our biological heritage. In the first place there's the pure logic of evolution. Those species which have maximized their reproduction have been the ones that have survived. In the case of males, especially among the more highly evolved mammals, that means spreading your seed as far and wide as you can. Since females among the mammals carry their young for so long, they can only maximize their number of offspring by make sure their young survive, which generally means one of two things. They seek the company of other females who band together to raise the young or, as the case with humans, they seek to bind a male to them so that he can help raise the young.

Now, as Ridley is quick to point out, none of this is to suggest that there is an inevitability about certain behaviors. Culture certainly plays a role, and it's impossible to separate the contributions of nature and nurture. To use a nice, little description provided by Ridley, if human behavior is like the area of a rectangle, then nature is its length and nurture is its width. You need both to compute the area of the rectangle.

What this suggests is that we ignore the innate biological differences between men and women at our peril. However, it does not imply that the differences are such as to prevent both from fully participating in all aspects of society. Allowances must be made though. To take an extreme example, there's the question of women in combat. That might not be such a good idea. As has been pointed out, rape is common in battle or, more accurately, in its aftermath. There are also not a few instances of rape by one's own forces in such situations. It's a biological imperative, folks. The logic of the raid is at work. The men band together, go kill the members of a competing tribe or troop, take their women, and impregnate them. Chimpanzees do it, aborginal tribes do it, and so-called civilized men will do it in combat. That doesn't make it right or acceptable, but it is inevitable. All the more reason to make certain that no more wars.