24 April 2009

Capitalists Pay Scientists to Shut Up

Okay, the New York Times puts it this way: Industry Ignored its Scientists on Climate.

Fine, call me a socialist. My grandfather, back in the 1930s, was a union-organizing communist. (Long story.) Unregulated capitalism, as we're seeing over and over and over again in recent months, is bad news.

It's brought us to the brink of financial collapse, it brought us asbestos, it brought us corporate claims that cigarettes didn't cause cancer. It brought us high-fructose corn syrup (now linked to heart disease) as well as Splenda, Aspartame, and Saccharine. It brought us fast food. It brought us factory farming and genetically engineered food.

Some capitalists are motivated by making a product that will improve human lives. But too many are motivated only by making money, more of it, regardless of the human and planetary costs. Humans are by nature imperfect beings, and human organizations need checks and balances, regulations and oversight.

Okay. Rant over.

15 April 2009

Another Look at Shipping Emissions

A couple of years ago, it was all about plane flights. Environmentalists were worrying about the environmental impact of all the additional trips people were taking, compared to 30 or 40 years ago, for business as well as for fun, as well as about produce flown from one country to another.

Shipping stuff by sea seemed to be a far better alternative.

Now it turns out that governments have vastly underestimated the health and environmental impacts of shipping. According to recent studies reported in the Guardian, the 90,000 cargo ships plying the world's oceans are a significant source of emissions contributing to global warming, in part because of the size of the ships and their engines and in part because of the low-quality fuel used because shipping is subject to little regulation.

In response to problems with shipping emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules that would require ships to reduce emissions near the US and Canadian coasts. According to the New York Times:
The proposal calls for a 200-mile buffer zone in which shippers would be required to make large reductions in the pollutants they emit. For example, they would have to cut sulfur emissions 98 percent by 2015, by burning cleaner fuel or through a process of “scrubbing” exhaust gas to remove sulfur.
This seems like a good idea on the face of it: protect Americans from death and illness caused by toxic fumes. But the toxins emitted 201 miles out at sea aren't going to disappear. They'll still end up in the air and the water in America as well as elsewhere around the world, though maybe in somewhat less concentrated form than right around port cities.

What, then, is really needed?

One, clean up all the fuel used by all the tankers. And two, reduce shipping by buying less stuff and -- here we go again -- buying things locally grown and produced as much as possible.

13 April 2009

Sad Day for Queers

Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick, pioneering queer theorist, is dead. (Duke University Press has an obituary here.) And amazon.com is claiming it's a software "glitch" that has taking sales rankings off her books, and others with gay and lesbian content, so that they won't appear on any bestseller lists and are harder to find in searches.

Amazon's initial response to an author's question about the removal of sales rankings from books indicated that they wanted to protect some readers from books with "adult comment." But after a tempest of comment from bloggers and Twitterers (who pointed out that books detailing heterosexual acts), the sales giant started to backpedal.

PCWorld is now reporting that a hacker is taking credit for spamming amazon.com with complaints about books with gay or lesbian content to get their sales rankings removed.

At any rate -- whether it was a glitch, a bad decision that's now being covered up, or the result of a malicious attack -- it's the end of the day Monday and amazon still hasn't restored the books' sales rankings. Barnes and Noble will still tell you that Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet ranks 75,086 -- behind Judith Butler's Gender Trouble at 29,031 and Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 at 15,613.

What power does Amazon have in the marketplace of ideas? What power might it acquire as newspapers fold and bricks-and-mortar stores disappear? Frightening thoughts.

05 April 2009

She's Not the First Bimbo

I'm bothered by all of the attention paid to Mrs. Obama's wardrobe, and the comparisons with Mrs. Sarkozy, as a sideline to President Obama's negotiations with G20 in Europe.

Mrs. Sarkozy is a former model, and since her marriage to the French president has continued in her career as a pop singer, so for her perhaps it's appropriate to focus on appearance. Mrs. Obama, on the other hand, is a Princeton- and Harvard-educated attorney who has been a dean of the University of Chicago as well as vice president for community relations at that university's teaching hospital..

Since President Obama was inaugurated, Mrs. Obama has reached out to military families, visited schools, and spoken about the importance of healthy food, among other initiatives that suggest she will use the potentially powerful platform of the president's wife to reach out to people across socioeconomic and political spectrums and build community.

03 April 2009

Excellent Question

On returning from a trip to the health food store in the neighborhood for non-dairy ice cream....

The Mate: How is Mr. Sano?

Me: His name isn't Sano, that's Spanish for "health." Like in "sanitorium," where you go to get your health back.

The Offspring: Then why do they sell treats?

Health Coverage: Broken

Problems with health care in the US are exemplified by three articles in The New York Times this week.

If you have a "pre-existing condition" -- which includes pregnancy (!), good luck in getting health insurance. Melissa Klettke bought an individual policy last year rather than paying higher premiums for an employer-sponsored policy. Three weeks later, she developed symptoms that led her doctors to suspect multiple sclerosis, and the insurer dropped her policy, claiming a bout of vertigo a year before proved she had a pre-existing condition. She's paid thousands of dollars for tests (and it turns out she doesn't have MS) and the insurance company isn't playing.

If you get insured through Medicare, good luck in finding a doctor to give you a check-up. Barbara Plumb's gynecologist decided to opt out of Medicare, and her primary care doctor doesn't know of any gynecologists who still accept Medicare insurance: the reimbursements are too low and the paperwork too onerous.

In the midst of coverage gaps like these, over a trillion dollars a years is wasted in our health care system each year because of unneeded tests and procedures done solely in an attempt to protect doctors from lawsuits in case something goes wrong.

Our system of paying for health care is broken. The health insurers want you to think that health care reform will lead to a decline in the quality of health care. Nope. But it will lead to a decrease in the profitability of health insurance.

I said it last week, and I'll say it again: when folks make money off of others' illness, it's just wrong.