the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Archive for the ‘as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT’ Category

5 JAN 2011

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on January 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm

“I was under huge pressure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.” Tweeted Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab region, shortly before he was assassinated by a religious zealot in broad daylight. “Refused.” he continued, nearing his 140 character limit, “Even if I’m the last man standing.” Taseer was murdered b/c of the attention he brought to the plight an elderly Punjab woman who could face a life sentence for “blasphemy”—an accusation often used in the region to seize a neighbor’s farmland or jail an overly moderate frenemy. If the governor were alive today, he would surely be firing up his Twitter account to comment on what has become the most controversial detail of his assassination: whether 9 or 24 bullets were found in his body. “9 or 24, 140 or 1, the # of bullets or characters doesn’t matter—truths or falsehoods, cowardice or passion come in all sizes” // A Palestinian woman killed over the weekend during a demonstration in the West Bank border town of Bilin may or may not have had a preexisting condition that exacerbated the suffocating effect of the cloud of tear gas that killed her. Israeli officials consider this a very serious question; Palestinians see the larger picture—resolving conflicting medical records of the 36 year-old’s death doesn’t reanimate this woman, and it certainly doesn’t reverse what could be called the perpetual “preexisting condition” of Palestinian life in the West Bank: poor medical care, a lack of economic opportunity, and a general dis-ease that emerges when checkpoints or the ghosts of lost sons and daughters hide behind every street corner. Who’s fault is that, Israel? // A study in JAMA found that one quarter of Americans with implanted defibrillators do not meet the guidelines to justify these $35,000+ procedures; at the same time, 100,000 qualified patients do NOT receive the defibrillators. Interestingly, those receiving defibs too early or outside of the AHA recommendations for implantation are predominantly Hispanic or African American. 2 correlates to take from these findings: 1) Hispanics and Blacks make up a large proportion of Medicaid recipients. The authors argue that the implantation procedure does not have a large enough reimbursement value to incentivize heart surgeons to do unnecessary procedures to make an extra buck—but it’s worth noting that these two groups have the lowest frequency of voluntary medical visits, so with a borderline at-risk patient in the office, surgeons do have a temporary marginal incentive to do the procedure (vs. sending them to a primary care physician for water pills or statins). 2) A guess: those not receiving defibs are most likely those underinsured individuals with plans that only provide minimal patient reimbursement for expensive preventative measures. // In other news, like Darth Vader, defib-implanted Dick Cheney appears to be making a political comeback. Please join twitter, former Vice President—if only for my amusement.


4 JAN 2011

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on January 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Sorry for the break in posts… Happy New Year!

There are two presidents, still, in the Ivory Coast. The elected one, Alassane Ouattra, continues to watch diplomatic envoys shuffle in and out of discussions with the former one, Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo considers his divine right to the presidential palace as “non-negotiable” and sends roaming militias out to harass UN peacekeeping forces. Ivorians left watching this multi-state spectacle, and Gbagbo’s nationalistic rhetoric on state TV, must wonder if their sovereignty, as expressed in December’s election, has been ignored by both sides. Gbagbo could always just form a personally-selected 5 member court to reverse what UN elections observers confirmed—as Hamid Karzai has done in Afghanistan. Not content with the last parliamentary election, Karzai and the ethnic Pashtun majority he represents are trying to gain seats through judicial decree. It’s easy to write this development off, as most hawks do, as another example of a crazy tribal country that needs a continuing American presence to get anything done. But a more subtle reading reveals a different and perhaps more serious divide emerging in this embattled country: in the (relatively) safe cocoon of Kabul, the thinking of the capital’s politicians and  gov’t apparatchiks has become severed almost completely from the daily fears and struggles and violence faced by their constituents. Developing public faith in government can not, and should not, come from an occupying force. // President Obama looks like he may use a signing statement to get around congressional restrictions on Gitmo detainee transfers. Congress voted in Dec. to defund any attempt to move enemy combatants to US courts or prisons (= Habeus corpus only for those who can pay for their own plane ticket and prison accommodations). The restrictions were part of a larger Military spending bill—past iterations of which helped fund the production of the queer-baiting videos of (now former) Capt. Owen Honors.

Picture of the Day

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on November 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm

(From “In expectant mood, sudanese register to vote on secession for the south“)

You may not be able to read the whiteboard—but a close inspection of this same picture in my paper copy of the Times reveals:

1) there is a cow. the cow is fat. the cow is not thin.

2) that is a crocodie [sic]. the crocodie is long. the crocodie is not short.

3) the cow is drinking. the crocodie is bathing. the crocodie is looking at the cow. the crocodie is going to the cow.

4) the crocodie is catching the cow.

5) the crocodie is eating the cow

Oh dear! Oh dear!


What starts as a simple grammar exercise on opposites (fat/thin, long/short) transforms into an Aesopian allegory espousing the importance of staying to your own watering hole (Hear that, Khartoum?!?!) and then transitions, in its final lines, to a very human expression of exasperation over the seemingly unnecessary cruelty of nature. I love it.

I also love the color version, with the older woman’s pure azure robe trailing her animated gestures. Registering to vote for South Sudan’s January referendum on sovereignty, she seems the full-body equivalent of the bright, defiant purple thumbs seen in Iraq during their elections in 2007.

9 Nov 2010

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on November 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

In Court

Steven J Hayes, with a still-to-be-tried accomplice, forced the Petit family to withdraw $15K from their bank account, sexually assaulted the mother and oldest daughter, beat the father with a baseball bat, strangled the mother, and set the family’s Connecticut home on fire, killing the two girls. He will receive the death penalty. After yesterday’s sentencing, Mr. Hayes was seen smiling. “That’s what he’s wanted all along,” his lawyer told the press. “Suicide by state.”  The thing is, though—the state of CT voted (by 70%) to outlaw the death penalty earlier this year; the governor, however, vetoed the proposition, citing the Hayes case. Proponents of the death penalty or other “the-best-way-to-stop-crime-is-to-instate-the-heaviest-deterrent” laws (think the Three Strikes law in CA) hold these truly heinous cases up as their primary argument—“how can you possibly think Hayes deserves to live?” is their associated query. Answer: because execution (even lethal injection) is pure Spectacle—no moral meaning is gleaned in the killer’s prescriptive last words and stereotyped walk to the chair; the last uncommuted pardon, in the form of a silent prison phone, is total legitimation (not of the act, but of our misplaced sense that justice has been served); and all is unquestioningly lighted, scripted, captured by the media. Execution is not justice, it’s entertainment, and it displaces more important questions about the socio-political environment that pushed a drug addict to commit such a crime. // A lesbian couple in Connecticut, after repeated attempts to receive federally-supported healthcare, is suing the government with the help of GLAD and the ACLU in an attempt to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex unions. Gays “continue to push a  [strategy] of inventing rights that neither the founders nor the majority of Americans recognize in our Constitution,” responded the leader of the National Org. for Marriage. Rights are not bestowed upon us by the majority—in fact, the constitution was established, in part, to maintain the rights of minority communities against a majority that found those rights inconvenient. This is not to say the majority does not have rights; rather, they cannot, they should not, posit their preferred freedoms as something sacred and integral to a national identity simply because they are shared with dead white dudes who counted African Americans as 3/5ths of a person and weren’t keen on letting the womanfolk vote. // The supreme court heard a case on monday concerning medical residency programs and SS tax rules. Residents would love to be exempt from these taxes, and could be, if the court rules that they’re students as much as workers. The robed-ones will probably let this one be sorted out by the IRS. // To go to trial: 99 pimps, for selling the bodies of 12 to 17-year-olds. The most arrests in the FBIs three day sting came from Seattle. // Fired: this guy.

3 Nov 2010

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on November 3, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Up in the air

“Coordinated Bombings, Aimed at Shiites and Sunnis alike, Strike Baghdad”

The Story: A mosque, a public square, a busy restaurant—sites chosen for their high human traffic—were bombed on Tuesday, leaving many Iraqis questioning their security and frustrated with the ineptitude of their government.

The Quote: “‘It was just storm and fire,’ said Ahmed Said, 22, who said he was stirring his tea and ordering flavored tobacco at a cafe when he was hurled into the air.”

The Implications: Coming shortly after a deadly hostage standoff at a Christian church in Iraq earlier this week, these bombings, while most likely not perpetrated by the same groups, are of the same punch-in-the-gut sickening quality. The important numbers—63 people killed, 285 wounded—invoke in Iraqis both outrage and desensitization. The image of a young man being catapulted through the air from his cafe seat perfectly captures the helplessness most of the nation feels: it’s a cruel fall in reverse—a resignation to one’s fate comes first, with the feeling of a lack of control emerging only after the carnage is complete and survivors ask themselves, “Why not me?” “Tension,” one Baghdad resident told the reporter, “is in the air.” Uncertainty is accepted as an essential element of Iraqi life—like soil, like water, if these elements were themselves stable in Baghdad. (They’re not.)

“Police in Russia Raid Bank of Billionaire”

The Story: An opposition newspaper owner was surprised in his office by an elite Moscow police unit seeking documents related to an ongoing criminal case.

The Quote: A bystander to the raid: “The first primal feeling is simply fear. All of a sudden 20 armed, aggressive men are rushing into your premises and they treat you like a criminal—not a potential one, but a real one. There is a clear certainty that in any case they’ll find something. In any case, you will be a criminal.”

The Implications: Certainty is a sort-of self-willed and false belief that chance and randomness can be stripped away from reality. It can be just as soul-destroying as uncertainty. And censorship seems to be a chronic symptom of this self-delusion. This entire story reads like Kafka’s “The Trial”—a morality tale, like this article, that proves that there is a certain chaos in a society that strives to control everything. It’s an internal chaos, but it’s just as self-defeating.

29 Oct 2010

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on October 29, 2010 at 8:37 pm

“Iraq: Opposition Seeks Inquiry into Claims of Torture by Prime Minister’s Government”

The Story: Political opponents of Nuri Al-Maliki want to hold a special parliamentary investigation into the allegations of abuse contained within WikiLeaks’ publication of classified US military documents.

The Quote: “The representatives of the people should not be any less humane than the international organizations that have called for an investigation.”

The Implications: Remember when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid walked into their respective chambers of congress in January 2008 after the Democratic election surge and demanded that we investigate the possible torture committed since 2002 by American soldiers and condoned by the Bush Administration? Neither do I.

“US Panel Debates Value of HPV Vaccine for Boys”

The Story: A government advisory panel can’t decide if a vaccine regimen that helps prevent genital warts and cervical cancer (for a cost of about $100) should be given to young men.

The Quote: “Concerns about whether to vaccinate against a sexually transmitted disease are made even more charged because much of the serious disease results from homosexual sex”

The Implications: Question—when will the myth of the uber-promiscuous, disease-vector gay male die? This is how every Sex Ed talk on sexually transmitted infections should begin: Teacher: Sex exists. Gay sex exists. The nature of the sex, not the nature of those engaged in it, puts some individuals at a higher risk for contracting STIs.

Honorable mention (for awesome headline): “Putin’s left eye appears to need a cold compress” –Yes, that’s an actual NYT headline.

26 Oct 10

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on October 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm

a 15 year old, mid-breakdown

National Section, First Page: Deal Averts Trial in Disputed Guantanamo Case

The story: a 24-year-old detainee pleaded guilty to “terrorism-related” charges, avoiding what would have been the test case of the Obama Administration’s new military tribunal system.

The quote: “The United States contended that Mr. Khadr lacked battlefield immunity [he killed a coalition soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade] because he wore no uniform. [Because] the CIA drone operators also kill while not wearing uniforms, the team reqrote the rules to downgrade [murder] to a domestic law offense.”

The implications: Elsewhere in the article, it is mentioned that the administration “spent months working with congress to set up new rules providing greater defendant protections.” What seems like a benign statement is anything but—it’s an admission that the military tribunal system is inherently unjust, requiring the facade of “defendant protections” to appear in line with due process. Almost a decade after its start, we still haven’t defined the boundaries of the War on Terror, and we have not identified a uniform (not to mention uniformed), typified enemy.  Here’s a clue: we won’t—the whole point of preemptive war and military tribunals and drone strikes is to attenuate any decision about the ethics of our actions.

Buried in the International Section: Tijuana Killings Erode Image of a City Recovering from Past Woes

The story: 13 people were shot with automatic rifles after being told to lay face down on the floor of a drug rehabilitation clinic.

The quote: “Centers like that one frequently become targets in Mexico because drug gang members often seek treatment or hide in them”

The implications: Speaking of vague, un-win-able global wars… The war on drugs tends to focus on the supply side: shut down the narcoterrorists, secure our borders, burn 134 tons of marijuana (yes, there are pictures). Let’s talk about demand: either the press is doing an awful job of reporting efforts to increase  availability of addiction centers, legalize use, increase drug education, etc—or these initiatives are just not happening on a scale commensurate with that of the often violent, zero-sum supply-side pushes.


20 Oct 2010

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on October 20, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Above the Fold: Elite of Taliban Are Said to Join Talks for Peace”

The Story: Under pressure from a weary American administration and an apparently-not-compromised-enough Afghan leadership team, NATO has insured safe passage for Taliban leaders to meet in Kabul to discuss a peace agreement.

The Quote: “[talks] about talks have foundered over preconditions that each side has set: for the Taliban, that the Americans must first withdraw; for the Afghan government, that the Taliban must fist disarm.”

The Implications: Preconditions have become an excuse on both sides to avoid the necessary sacrifices that make peace possible, and maintain the overinflated egos of their hawkish constituents. Think Iran and their nuclear ambitions; think Israel and Palestine—preconditions, rather than bringing the region closer to peace, have made continued antagonism a politically sound position.

Buried in the National Section: ” 1 in 5 Americans Have Close Ties Elsewhere”

The Story: The Census said that around 40 million Americans are first-gen immigrants, and another 33 million are children of immigrants.

The Quote: “Among the foreign born, 29 percent had a bachelor’s degree”

The Implications: That college graduation figure is higher than the national average (25%). This is incredible, considering the escalating tuition costs of the last 10 years. The question becomes, can we “out-innovate” the rest of the world (the solution the Right puts forward for pulling us out of the recession) by closing our borders and hope our failing high schools somehow churn out more college-ready kids?

19 Oct 2010

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on October 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I’m going to try to do a brief daily news recap, in two parts: 1) I talk about a ignored or little-mentioned meme from a frontpage article. 2) I look at a small news story and talk about how it connects to a larger trend. 1 = small in big, 2 = big in small. Cool?

Above the fold: “From Obama, the Tax Cut No one has heard of

As part of the stimulus package, congress approved a tax cut for 95% of Americans. That’s right, your federal taxes went down last year. Two problems: 1) state taxes rose substantially, b/c unlike the fed. gov’t, states can’t run up a tab—they have to balance their budgets each year. 2) the tax cut came in the form of less gov’t withholdings of funds from your taxes. But here’s what I latched onto from the article:

“In retrospect, we think that judgment [to cut taxes via less withholdings] was right,” [the deputy director of the NEC] said. “It’s harder to predict what’s good for politics. Ultimately, the best thing for politics is going to be helping the economy.”

I don’t think that’s true. There was a chance to help the economy back in early 2009 with a larger stimulus, but politics—in the form of too few Republican votes and Larry Summers‘s reluctance—got in the way then. The best thing for politics seems to be conjuring up a narrative that the economy is improving when your party is in power, and bad when your opponent holds the reigns. But that’s not good economics. And it doesn’t help someone just scraping by.

A suggestion: prior to an election, each party puts forward proto-legislation (they’re called “party manifestos” in britain) that’s scored by the non-partisan CBO for its effect on the deficit, jobs, etc. You win, you get to hold a majority vote on the legislation (nothing added, nothing subtracted).

Buried in the World News Section: “Two Chinese Managers Arrested in Mine Shooting”

The story, in full:

Two chinese citizens—managers at a Chinese-owned collum mine—were arrested on Monday and accused of shooting 12 miners who were testing wages and working conditions at the mine, about 200 miles south of Lusaka (Zambia). A district commissioner said the managers were charge with attempted murder, according to AFP. Two miners were transferred to a hospital.

Lost in the Chilean mine miracle was the fact that they never should have been down that shaft—the mine had been under investigation for previous incidents. We know who to blame in that case: the gov’t of chile, for not shutting down the mine; and the mining company, for putting profits before safety. In the case of the Zambian miners, it’s less clear who is the villain: The managers (for their desperate exploitation of their workers), the Zambian gov’t (for lack of oversight), China (for their increasing loss of a sense of accountability for the externalities of their state-supported interprises), the US (for our inexhaustible demand for cheap goods)?

Expect this chain of displaced accountability to become more, not less, tangled as mining operations (or Oil drilling or hurricane prevention or flooding disasters) become more complicated.