Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallow's Eve: The Gift and The Church of Death

SOMA Fm is perhaps the coolest Internet radio station out there. Kindly accept from Chaos a seasonal treat: click on the website and listen to The Soma Haunt. You will need to download Winamp, and it won't continue much past today, but should get you in the mood. On to more scary things...

Imperial Nation becomes Imperial Theocracy: Cervical cancer strikes an estimated 10,000 women in the U.S. every year, killing some 3700. It is mostly caused by strains of the human papilloma virus, considered a sexually transmitted disease. Good news: there is a preventive vaccine. Bad scary news: mandatory vaccinations of schoolchildren are opposed by fundamentalist theocrats of death, who say that it "undermines our abstinence message" and thereby encourages sexual activity. Chaos supposes that the net effect of this benighted nation's descent into ignorance will be more dead laid at fundamentalist religion's doorstep. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Peak Oil in Microcosm: The Planet Starves

Chaos considers Hurricane Katrina a distant early warning to the greedy inhabitants of the planet, a mild but insistent omen of future shortages and lifestyle changes wrought by the slow end of fossil fuels. Peak oil is becoming increasingly hard for the unconscious American public to ignore: articles that attempt to present the issue, albeit in the shallowest and most superficial way, have become common. The larger truth has peeked out, however, in today's paper of record, in an article largely concerned with why food prices haven't increased as a result of rising oil prices. Not yet, anyway, as it's clear that the supply side of the food chain can only be squeezed so much. Expect inevitable increases in prices for sustenance to hit about the same time as winter heating bills. Note well how ubiquitous oil and gas are to the food supply: tractors, fishing boats, fertilizers, plastics, refrigeration, transport.

At the bottom of the article, however, (that's where the truth tends to leak out, have you noticed?) one finds the key as well as a harbinger of the future: a restaurant owner in Cleveland, who relies solely upon small local growers, hasn't gotten a price increase of any kind in the last year. Chaos does not prognosticate often or well, but believes that small and local farming will be the only viable methods in the post-peak era. Brush up on gardening skills.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Best Political Pandering: A Cocaine Addict Responds

As the French would say, it is to laugh...pandering to idiots will always get you reelected.

"Hi, I'm Chaos and I'm a cocaine addict."
"Welcome, Chaos"
"I've been an addict for so many years I can't even remember living without my cocaine. I used to use a little bit every day, and it wasn't much of a problem. I even used to grow my own coca plants! But over the years I've gradually ramped up my appetite, and I've gotten to the point where I have to rely on many many coke dealers to keep me happy. I've had a lot of bad stuff happen to me because of my cocaine use: my health has gradually gotten worse and I have a lot of trouble just getting through the day. I'm sure more cocaine would help this, so I use even more. The stuff has gotten a lot more expensive lately; it used to be real cheap and some people say that all the good coca fields are played out and one day there might not be any left. A few days ago, one of the major dealers I buy from even said that most of the cheap cocaine is already gone and what's left is expensive and hard to grow. I can't believe this; the idea that there won't be any cocaine someday is just ridiculous, I mean there's always been plenty of cocaine so there always will be, right? I'd rather believe the people who say there's plenty of coke left. When the dealers raise the price of my cocaine, I get really mad. They always say that the market is to blame, that it costs more for them to get it for me, but I don't buy that. I think it's just these greedy coke dealers who are making big profits on addicts like me. When I tell them this, they just laugh and say I should use less cocaine, but how can I? It's not like there's something else I can replace cocaine with, and it's my God-given right to use as much cheap cocaine as I want to, isn't it? My lifestyle isn't negotiable! I've never tried to live without coke; I think it'd be real bad if one day I couldn't get some, or even as much as I want, but I can't stand to even think about it, so I don't. Can anyone help me?"
"No one here can help you, Chaos; you don't realize you have a problem"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ice Melts, Coral Reefs Die, Gaia Shrieks

Environmental milestones abound as those on the Potomac wait with bated breath imminent indictments for crimes of moral turpitude:

As previously noted, the North Pole will in a few decades cease to be a place one can walk to and instead kayaks, oil tankers or the like will be necessary. But the real punch in the gut from global warming, which is now too advanced to stop, lies on the frozen island of Greenland. Described as an upside down Gulf of Mexico, a vast sheet of overlaying ice has started to melt and by the time it ceases, sea levels will rise 20 feet or more. Although temporarily based 150 miles inland, Chaos has always enjoyed ocean views, and the summer seabreeze can be quite refreshing. The condition of the coral reefs, however, is not so nice. Those who wish to experience undersea vistas should plan to become SCUBA certified and visit a reef sometime soon, preferably before 2050 AD.

Peak Oil Watch: Secret Government Report Says Saudis Can't Hold the Line

Well, maybe it's not so secret anymore.

Message from the Boy King: Oooops! When that guy in the headdress held my hand and told me he could send me plenty of oil, I looked into his soul and believed him. Hey, give me a break, our families go back a long way, and he was telling me stuff I wanted to hear, unlike Matt Simmons.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two More Thoughts On Health Care: It's All Your Fault! It's All Up to You!

The U.S. healthcare system is moving from a "social insurance" model, where healthy people pay the same amount for insurance as those who are sick, to an "actuarial" model, in which sick people pay more than healthy people. By way of background, the social insurance model has been the traditional way of thinking in the U.S. in the past (and still is in most Western nations). Health insuance economics in the U.S. has been infected (sorry) with the concept of "moral hazard"--the notion that people with insurance will use the system more. (An example of this would be if you were provided free sodas at work: you'd probably drink more than if you had to pay for them). As this recent article explains, however, moral hazard, when applied to people's use of health care, is fundamentally flawed: people go to the doctor when they have to, not for frivolous reasons. Do the "well insured go to the doctor because it's free? Do people really like to go to the doctor? Do they check into the hospital instead of playing golf?"asks Uwe Reinhardt, Princeton health care economist. Health savings accounts are the ultimate expression of those who believe that people have too much health insurance, and need less. Check out 2004 Economic Report of the President's outrageous intentional misinterpretation of why poor working people don't have insurance: they had the opportunity (from an employer) but "declined the coverage." Wonder why that would be? Surely not because they couldn't afford it, right? Reading this makes Chaos wonder if Reinhardt is wrong: blaming the devil for the state of healthcare lets the sleazy Republicans who produced this off the hook.

On a cheerier note, one 86 year old man has the cure for healthcare, and it's a booming endorsement of prevention. Exercise and diet (and, possibly, a wife 29 years his junior) keeps this fellow in top form: his doctor, frustrated with his nonparticipation in the healthcare system, tries vainly to attribute his success to nonprescription drugs. Chaos observes that the novelty of the author's habits are the reason for publication, and wonders how many sedentary citizens of the Republic can or will avail themselves of the methods detailed. Given the current rates of obesity, skepticism seems the best course.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bound: Thirst For Oil Strangles Democracy

You didn't really buy that stuff about "bringing democracy to the Middle East," did you? Even getting past the fact that this was the latest rationale proposed to invade Iraq (lately morphed into the reason why the US is still there...), this was a howler when the minions of Bush trotted it out and is no less unpersuasive today. Ever wonder why Imperial Nation doesn't decapitate the House of Saud? After all, one of the most repressive regimes in the world routinely tortures, flogs and executes citizens, engages in secret detentions, trials without due process, and violates womens rights. This in addition to tolerating the rise of Wahabbism and its progeny, the jihadists, an extreme sect of Islam that advocates violent action and whose most famous follower is Osama Ben Laden. The answer to this question and subsequent followups are found in a current story on democratic parties in Syria. Imperial Nation would like to support these democrats in that troubled country, but is constrained by what would actually happen if it did (hint: it's also Reason #13 Imperial Nation Can't Win in Iraq: Be Careful What You Wish For). Simply put, democracy in Middle East dictatorships would result in elected regimes hostile to the Fatherland, since the vast majority of people in the Middle East: 1. hate Imperial Nation and 2. think being ruled by a strict Muslim government is a fine idea. Oh, and "hostile to the Fatherland" in this context means no more oil to evil infidel empires. When commentator Fareed Zakaria noted a few weeks ago that higher prices for oil were "crippling" US foreign policy, he understated the problem by a magnitude of ten. Once again, it's impossible to credibly talk about "promoting democracy" when one beds down every night with repressive dictators. American officials and the mainstream media downplay this dynamic, probably because those in power know that there really is nothing to do about it, and the media have an awful lot of SUV advertising to sell. Middle Easterners and other people on the planet, however, seem to have no difficulty making this connection.
Tomorrow: Healthcare cleanup...

The Death of a Theme Park?

Hurricane Wilma caused devastation lately to the loathsome tourist theme park of Cancun/Playa del Carmen, including washing away most of the beaches. No doubt the palatial hotels will be easily duplicated, given Mexico's anxiety over its cash cow (President Fox, a lame duck since his inauguration, promised to rebuild within two months, in time for the high season, because it's all about the money, after all) but Chaos wonders whether the once pristine white beaches, clearly why the computer originally chose the place, are so easily replaced. If the beaches disappear for good or become degraded, will the theme park burst its geographic boundaries and become another Las Vegas or will it die? (It probably doesn't matter, since most Americans visit only to consume vast quantities of cheap alcohol, parboil themselves in grotesque bathing suits and pretend they are participants in a Girls Gone Wild video.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Entropy Meets American Exceptionalism: Collapse

"To the crew of the Nostromo, a word of warning..."
--preview to Alien (1979)

Jared Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of geography and physiology at UCLA. Best known for Guns, Germs and Steel, a survey of prehistoric history designed to answer the question: why did some societies succeed and conquer other, less successful societies (or more concretely, why did the Spaniards sail across the Atlantic and conquer the Incas, rather than the other way around?). The answers to this question fascinate; Chaos highly recommends this work.
Diamond's current book is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which he examines several societies, past and present, under varying circumstances, as to why each succeeded or failed. Diamond finds that several factors are usually present in the collapse of societies, among them:

1. Environmental damage
2. climate change
3. enemies
4. changes in trading partners
5. political, social and economic responses to the first four.

Diamond notes in particular that societies have collapsed at the height of their dominance, as he puts it, in a an effective synopsis of Collapse, "peak power usually means peak population, peak needs, and hence peak vulnerability."
Not content with an historical analysis, Diamond reviews the environmental conditions of several countries (China, Japan, Australia) and regions (Montana, Rwanda) through the prism of societal collapse. (The environmental roots of the Rwandan genocide in particular make compelling reading). Although it is apparent that Diamond sees population overshoot as the precondition of the environmental devastation that he describes, the work overall has a discongruently hopeful tone. A more pessimistic reader may believe Diamond's examples of hopeful progress are creeping incrementalism, instead of necessarily drastic action. (Even the author refers to a race between environmental destruction and human enlightenment, with the outcome far from certain). Further, regional solutions are unlikely to succeed in the present global interconnectedness and indeed, global collapse is possible.

Chaos views Diamond's work in Collapse as the backdrop or landscape to an upcoming series of posts on the effects of entropy in the coming century, in particular the twin towers of uncertainty in the economy, the impending retirement of the baby boomers, peak oil, and global warming. Chaos observes that Diamond has elucidated a theory and a theme, universal across time and place, which can serve both as an organizing principle and an admonition to American exceptionalism. Is the Imperial Nation, now at the height of dominance, also at peak vulnerability? Stay tuned, there's more.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

We Are Not Normal, Here: A Pre-Thanksgiving Sermon

Take a gander at this and then reflect on how unusual you are, when most people on the planet:

1. Can't read or write.
2. Reside in dangerous, crime-infested areas.
3. Have no access to uncensored media (and no, we're not talking about Fox News, or Faux News, as they say).
4. Don't have jobs and live on no more than $2 per day.
5. Live in corrupt countries where civil rights are curtailed (hey wait a minute, that sounds familiar...)
6. Barely get the minimum caloric intake (that's food) to survive.
7. Have no access to electricity or phone service of any kind.
8. Have little or no health care, resulting in high infant mortality and childbirth deaths.

The article points out that our assumptions that what we have is normal or should be, when applied outside the western industrialized world, lead to dangerous (unintended) consequences when we treat other countries as slightly less efficient and free versions of our own. Given the Imperial Nation's lack of sophistication in foreign policy these days, Chaos has little hope that the U.S. will stop trying to impose American "values" on the rest of the world, and do we really want everyone worldwide to emulate our SUVs, strip centers, tract housing developments and insatiable appetite for natural resources?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Movie (Preview) of the Week

Too too funny (you may need to get quicktime to see it)...what a heartwarmer, and a little meaningless trash to start the weekend. Tomorrow: you may be unique, but you're not normal.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Passage to India

Chaos mentioned in a recent post on health care that roughly 44 million Americans are uninsured. Middle-aged or older people who lose their jobs find that replacement coverage is difficult to get and outrageously expensive. Uninsured people facing major surgical procedures have had no good options. Fortunately, the free markets and global outsourcing have come to the rescue. Many countries around the world, including Thailand, Costa Rica, and South Africa, are now advertising themselves as destinations for "medical tourism." The country leading the pack in this field, however, is India, where the government is handing out support and incentives and growth has been upwards of 30% per year. With prices for some procedures at about 1/10th that of those in the U.S. and other Western countries (even allowing for post-op care and a vacation thrown in), this trend has skyrocketed in the last 10 years and promises to get even bigger in the future, as health care prices increase in the U.S. and access to surgery in Canada and Great Britain becomes more limited. (Note the subtle criticsm of the single payer system: if people can't get the surgery they need in a timely fashion, is that better than the ER-last resort system of the US?) Concerned about the quality? The providers are way ahead of you: facilities in Costa Rica, Thailand and India are acknowledged to be first class, with more staff and highly qualified doctors, many of whom have practiced in the U.S. or are board certified specialists. Some Indian health providers claim to have a lower margin of medical errors than hospitals in the U.S. When a heart valve procedure costs $200,000 in the U.S. but only $10,000 in India, expect more people to vote with their feet and reject the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Reason #3 Why the US Can't Win in Iraq: Reading is Fundamental

T.E. Lawrence (the famed "Lawrence of Arabia") was a British military liasion officer to the Arabs during World War I. At the time, Arabia was part of the Turk empire and the Arabs rebelled against the Turks. Lawrence ended up fighting alongside the Arabs and produced a book (The Seven Pillars of Wisdom) as a result of these experiences. Lawrence is sometimes called the "Clausewitz of guerilla warfare." His influence reached far beyond the Middle East: General Nguyen Giap, commander of the Vietnamese forces against the French in Indochina, stated that his primary influence was T.E. Lawrence. In particular, Lawrence elucidated six principles of guerilla warfare that have proved to be timeless and are relevant to the Imperial Nation's occupation of Iraq. These are:

"First, a successful guerrilla movement must have an unassailable base-a base secure not only from direct physical assault, but from attack in other forms as well, including psychological attack. Second, the guerrilla must have a technologically sophisticated enemy. The greater this sophistication, the greater this alien force would rely on forms of communications and logistics that must necessarily present vulnerabilities to the irregular. Third, the enemy must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory in depth with a system of interlocking fortified posts. Fourth, the guerrilla must have at least the passive support of the populace, if not its full involvement. By Lawrence's calculation, "Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in striking force and 98 percent passively sympathetic." Fifth, the irregular force must have the fundamental qualities of speed, endurance, presence and logistical independence. Sixth, the irregular must be sufficiently advanced in weaponry to strike at the enemy's logistics and signals vulnerabilities."

Alas, Chaos observes that the Boy King and his minions have been woefully ignorant of history, and reading Lawrence now would be an exercise in futility, even if they were so inclined, which they are not. Iraq is now a dramatic example of Lawrence's principles in action, effectively stymieing the mightiest military on the planet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Low Culture Discovers Peak Oil

October 2005 issue of Esquire contains a short feature (pay site, but it's the presence of the article, not its content, that's significant...) on peak oil, coming firmly down on the side of the Hubbert/Deffeyes/Simmons crowd. If the concept has trickled down to this frivolous, vulgar magazine, Chaos believes it may be approaching critical mass in the U.S. One small problem: this is a complex issue and can't accurately be reduced to sound bites, so the doomsday aspects are likely to prevail, leading to either (1) hysteria, a la avian flu, or (2) dismissal of the concept as crazy. Chaos had great faith in the ability of the American public to live in denial of the obvious...oh, and here's another one from a real estate agent(!) who's obviously read Simmons.

A System Designed by the Devil: Chaos Comes Face to Face With US Health Care

"Only the devil could have invented such a system." Uwe Reinhardt, Heathcare Economist.

Recently, Chaos took a firsttime involuntary tour of a local hospital on an emergency basis (appendectomy, for the curious, and there were actually two visits, and yes, it hurt). Although Chaos was impressed with the conscientiousness and caring of the physicians and staff (while noting that, in many instances, nurses seemed to be required to perform more menial tasks than one would have thought) as well as the superior technology brought to bear (MRI, lapriscopy, etc.), it wasn't until Chaos recieved the first statement from the insurance company that the revelation occurred: $19,500 (that's dollars, not pesos or yen) for the first three day stay! Yikes!

The U.S. healthcare "system," if one can even call it that, is, by all accounts, grossly dysfunctional, at once wildly expensive and wasteful (the US spends 2 1/2 times more per capita than any Western industrialized nation and a lower life expectancy than Costa Rica), and ridiculously unfair: 44 million or so Americans are uninsured. The US spends three times as much as Canada, for example, just on paperwork. The paperwork can overwhelm even people who are completely familiar with the system, to the point that paperwork "specialists" are available to wade through it for a fee, much like employing a CPA to do ones taxes. It's been estimated that 18,000 people in America die each year as a result of being uninsured. The system has been described as a "hybrid," in that approximately 50% of health care goes through various government programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran's Administration) while the remainder is through private insurance. What this means in practice is that the system is like a game of musical chairs, with each entity attempting to shift the costs to someone else until the music stops. This is what Chaos experienced--"sticker shock," even though the insurance company was paying most of it. The hospital attempts to charge the full "rack rate," (to make up for paying the government much less for Medicare patients) the insurance company negotiates this down a little, and the taxpayers pay for the uninsured, but not before their health problems have so deteriorated that they become a screaming emergency. Of courser, medical problems untreated often worsen (and become more expensive) so that costs for "last minute" treatment are much greater, and people die earlier and more often.

Politicians sometimes defend the current system by claiming that the U.S.can't have a singlepayer system like Canada's because that amounts to "rationing health care." If one ever says this within earshot, box his ears, vote him out of office (yeah right) or throw a shoe at the TV screen. Yeah, there's rationed health care all right: the rich get all the health care they need and the uninsured (notice Chaos didn't say poor, since many people who lose their "good" jobs end up without health insurance) ration themselves by not going to the doctor, and taxpayers have to clean up the mess.

A political solution? Don't bet on it. Powerful forces, who benefit from the current system, will rise up to spew propaganda and corral their paid-for "representatives." Remember the last time health care reform came up? The industry squashed the Clintons easily. Bush's health savings accounts? Great for the healthy and wealthy. Chaos' advice: bet on the current system continuing and invest in health care; it's a sector brokers call "outperforming."

One positive note: following Chaos' release from the hospital, several acquaintances who have been uninsured were persuaded to purchase health insurance. "A ray of light breaks through the clouds..."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Is "Over There" All You Need to Know About Iraq?

This show, a Steven Bochco creation, suffers from the usual television "flourishes" that are characteristic of the medium. For example, in Episode 11, Sgt. Scream doesn't go home (and exit the show) when he has the chance, in an utterly unconvincing "sacrifice" to enable some Iraqi orphans (and their guardian, a comely but oh-so-world-weary French woman) to keep living in their rundown house in the middle of town. And let's not get into the annoying repetition of the title song at the end of every episode.

As documentary, however, Over There has provided the U.S. public with a more realistic view of the war on the ground than most anything offered by the self-censoring news media or the cheery pronouncements of the Bush Administration. Interestingly, the show was described by Bochco as non-political and indeed, there seems to be no need for preachiness. The squad has weekly encounters with a witches brew of Iraq war horrors: limbs blown off, children killed, deaths from friendly fire, and an Iraqi population bitterly hostile to Americans. The show has even been prescient: an episode a few weeks ago showed the character Bo, who lost his foot and was shipped home in the pilot, getting a bill from the Army for missing equipment, while the Army sent his pay to an old address, where it was misappropriated by his dad. Characters often (and rightly) question what they are doing in this seemingly purposeless maelstrom of violence. It is an observed peculiarity in American culture that "fictional" violence and mayhem are acceptable to sell scented toilet paper and other frivolities, but graphic "news" of the real war is not. In this light, Chaos suggests that a more valuable use of time might be to skip the news of the war on FOX/CNN/MSNBC and the print media and just tune in to F/X on Wednesday nights, at least until the reruns begin...more to the point, does Over There undermine the armed forces attempts at recruitment?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A View From The Matrix; Eating Without Oil

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure."--Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999).

The Oil We Eat, (Harpers, 2004).

Long and quite excellent discussion of the platform on which global society is based. Chaos especially likes the explication of the Laws of Thermodynamics, but there is much more as to why the long term exploitation of the planet will have to end. Did you know that much of the corn we grow goes into...sugar? (Check out the list of ingredients in the food items in your pantry. Hint: the words "fructose corn syrup" are what you're looking for...) Think your vegetarianism will save the planet? Maybe not so much, as John Stewart would say. Did you realize nitrogen as fertilizer is environmentally radioactive? If this article makes you uncomfortable, Chaos suggests that you might ask yourself why.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Human Rights Watch: Imperial Nation Denies Suffrage

A geographic epiphany*: the U.S. denies the vote to felons. Other Western countries do not. Chaos wonders what these countries know that the Fatherland doesn't. Or maybe they're just nicer. Certainly, serving life in prison is unknown in developed Western countries, but enthusiastically embraced here. And let's not even get into the death shooting fish in a barrel.

*Geographic epiphany: enlightenment achieved upon the realization that another city/region/state/country has pursued a different way of addressing an issue or solving a problem. Ant.: geographic ignorance

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Population Overshoot: Kristof (briefly) Impaled

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the paper of record, apparently relies on a series of calamities mostly involving the downtrodden of the world to fill his space. (In all fairness, writing a column several times a week wears upon the brain--coming up with new ideas can be tough. Some columnists resort to synopsizing their latest reading. Chaos, amateur though he is, sympathizes). The latest Kristof column, however, gets it quite wrong, in Chaos' view. Here's the rebuttal, consciously made shorter to accommodate NYT space requirements:

"To the Editor:

It's heartening to see that Nicholas Kristof has found a fresh humanitarian cause: starving children in Nigeria, and indeed, it is and will continue to be an ongoing tragedy. Kristof would be better advised, however, to inform readers of the larger problem Nigeria will face in the coming years, chiefly that, because of its high fertility rate (5.32, more than twice the replacement rate), the U.N. projects its population to double between now and 2050. In light of this, it is clear that the country's inability to feed itself today is an indication of population overshoot and a distant early warning of worsening conditions in the future. Simply put, there are too many people in Nigeria now; there will be many more later and teaching them Western agriculture is insufficient to address the underlying population explosion. We would do better to marshal our limited resources to provide Nigerian women access to contraceptive education."

The twin dilemmas of overpopulation and declining population are going to become more salient in the next 30 years, in Chaos' opinion. Curiously, some nations will be extremely overpopulated, while others will have declining (and aging) populations. Look for future posts on the details of this issue. By the way, readers irritated with the Times' pay-to-read policy may wish to visit this site.

Gimme That Old-Time Religion, Vol. 33

Once, and again...pervert priests hit the headlines. As a private correspondent noted to Chaos recently, there's not much use beating a dead horse, and indeed, this is a variation on a familiar scenario (with a typically California twist: "counseling" was thought to be adequate to remedy the problem). Chaos could make larger points about large institutions and how they marshal forces to protect themselves, the Catholic Church's neverending obessession with sex, and how religion often does more harm than good, but Nicholas Kristof is at it again, and Chaos is compelled to offer a rebuttal...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Another Reason Not to Live in Texas

Chaos usually isn't much interested in local or regional issues, but an exception can always be found...
This discusses the human face of "tort reform," the artificial setting of limits to recovering damages in civil cases. As it applies to nursing homes, expected effects are fewer, less trained staff (to save money) and no incentives to provide adequate care. If it does nothing else, the civil justice system punishes negligent or intentional misbehavior of large entities who cut corners to enhance profits. As the largest generation in the history of America prepares to retire, it warms Chaos' heart to know Texas is at the head of the line in encouraging poorly run nursing homes.

Reason #25 Why the US Can't Win in Iraq; Imperial Nation Yawns

The proposition that the US approves of/stands for/will reserve the right to/cannot be constrained from torturing anyone and everyone on the planet is not exactly news, but the latest development lends clarity to the issue. The US Senate, perhaps a weak beacon of light in the declining days of the Empire, and in response to brave and foolish Captain Ian Fishback, has decided that enough is enough. Led by John McCain, a bill setting clear limits on our Imperial Storm Troopers to torture/abuse/make uncomfortable captives wherever we may find them was passed 90-9 (the dissenters were unsurprisingly from red states only, including John Cornyn of Texas--go Lone Star State!). Although nobody thinks this would actually fly in the House, the Boy King's minions were quick to threaten a veto from the guy who has never vetoed a bill in his life (does he even know how? can he be taught?). Aside from a few editorials, the collective response from a somnolent, apathetic public was...nothing. Been there, done that, Chaos guesses. Internet-savvy Iraqis have additional reasons to foam with rage at their occupiers. Chaos predicts an embarrassing, tail-between-the-legs-retreat in 2006 or so, a great bow to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Global Warming: The Carbon-based Life Forms Fiddle While Rome Ignites (The Tectonic Plates Begin to Speed Up)

Were Chaos to truly delight in the self-immolation (this image comes to mind) of the human race, he would need look no further than the melting polar ice cap, projected to be completely ice-free in summertime by the end of the century. The first hurricane in the Southern Hemisphere has appeared and droughts in Colorado have caused a massive die-off of pinyon pines. Alas, examples like these are now ridiculously easy to track and depressingly common. Sadly, no one is seriously attempting to do much (governmental-level intervention is widely acknowledged to be the only avenue to halt or reverse such a massive planetary phenomenon, and even then it may be too late to accomplish anything--thanks, Mike Davis) and in fact, the Fatherland, Canada, Russia, Norway and various entrepreneurs are now maneuvering, squabbling, and generally falling all over themselves to establish exclusive oil, gas and mineral rights, fisheries, trade routes and newly "expanded territories." Chaos observes that once the polar ice caps melt , the Gulf Stream is subsumed, and the Capitol of Ignorance becomes a coastal city (look, Mom! the beach is coming!) conflicts over who gets what at the North Pole may become sort of, well, irrelevant. Oh, and Chaos does admit to a teensy bit of glee over the coming demise of the SUV and its devoted following.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Unintended Consequences Poleaxes the Xenophobes or, Why LULAC Should Support More Border Guards

More immigration, in honor of Columbus Day...

As noted yesterday, "illegal" immigration (we speak here primarily of Mexican immigration into the US) has become quite the divisive issue of late. Mexican immigrants are on the rise after a few years of decline, and are spreading out all over the country. Increasing the number of Border Guards, building walls, fences and the like are the traditional Xenophobic methods of combatting the phenomenon (along with calls to "enforce the law," forgetting perhaps in our Wal-Mart economy, we likey our meat packed cheap, our houses built cheaper, and our fruit picked cheapest of all, pesticides or no). At the other end are analyses such are this indicating that Mexican immigrants tend to be high school dropouts; their children also drop out of high school in greater numbers than either the general population or other(almost always more educated) immigrant groups. Recently, the law of unintended consequences has intruded on Chaos' conciousness...seems that immigrants, while not discouraged from coming over here, are going back in fewer numbers because of increased border enforcement. Is it Hotel California (you can check in, but not ever leave...) revisited? If the concerns of the Xenophobes ( lack of assimilation of Mexicans in contrast with previous generations of immigrants who came from overseas) are correct, increased border enforcement may actually lead to more assimilated and successful (economically, anyway) Mexican immigrants.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Question of the Day: Will Immigration Split the Republican Party in Half?

There is, apparently, a large and growing segment of the goosesteppers who are "incandescent with anger" over illegal immigration and our Fatherland's apparent inability to stop it. (Let's gloss over the inconvenient reality that: 1. this phenomenon is too deep and powerful to stop with more INS agents, fences and nightvision goggles, and 2. we sorta/kinda depend on these energetic people to build our houses, pack our meat, pick our fruits and vegetables, and clean our houses). There are also some moderate (or more "reality-based," if you will) party members who want not to offend a large and growing voting bloc. Chaos believes that the force of entropy will eventually split the party in half on this issue. Dems, bereft of ideas, should embrace the Second Law of Thermodynamics...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Capital of Ignorance

This really should speak for itself; perhaps a comment or two later...well, to summarize, San Antonio leads the nation in military recruiting. Yes, yes, it is a military town, with four military bases, but reading between the lines in the Times story makes it obvious the jawdropping amazement of the reporters as they discover how much collaboration exists between the recruiters and school administrators, teachers, counselors, and churches. Well, Texas is the reddest of the red states. Chaos finds the ignorance of the interviewed adolescents hanging out at the mall and spouting Bushisms profoundly depressing...don't these kids watch Over There?

Is the US becoming a failed state?

Recently, Foreign Policy published an index of some 60 countries at risk of failure and collapse. Notably, several of them are responsible for supplying us with oil--Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, and (surprise!) Saudi Arabia. What Chaos finds interesting, however, was some of the criteria used to describe these basket cases:

"Uneven development is high in almost all the states in the index, suggesting that inequality within states—and not merely poverty—increases instability. Criminalization or delegitimization of the state, which occurs when state institutions are regarded as corrupt, illegal, or ineffective, also figured prominently. Facing this condition, people often shift their allegiances to other leaders—opposition parties, warlords, ethnic nationalists, clergy, or rebel forces. Demographic factors, especially population pressures stemming from refugees, internally displaced populations, and environmental degradation, are also found in most at-risk countries, as are consistent human rights violations."

Let's see, inequality of economic development, ineffective state institutions (FEMA? Iraq? Hello?), rise of religious leaders, population pressures (from south of the border, you think?) and environmental degradation...hmmm, sounds a lot more like the US than Chaos is comfortable with right now.

First (and most likely last) Letter to the NY Times

Chaos was bothered by Nicholas Kristof's recent column in the Times, and after a few glasses of wine, this reply emerged:


Nicholas Kristof ("Order in the Court, NYTimes, October 5) makes an attempt at evenhandedness, as is his habit, in chastising both liberals and conservatives for relying on the Supreme Court to engage in judicial activism for their own particular causes. His efforts, however well-intentioned, fail to persuade. First, the "liberal"examples he cites, without exception are decisions which ocurred well in the past and now reflect mainstream thought (desegregation, Roe, private discrimination, various freedom of speech issues). He then follows these "examples" of judicial activism with a disclaimer (these were "manifestly right"and "fine justice," but achieved through the"torturing" of the Constitution). Next, Kristof postulates that these decisions were not well-received by the man in the street (or "ordinary Americans in the heartland," as he puts it--could this possibly be code for redstaters? fundamentalist Christians?). I suppose that really is the heart of the problem, when a majority (or vocal minority, perhaps) simply refuse to believe in the racial desegregation of schools, that accused persons without financial means ought to be provided free legal counsel, or that perennial issue before Congress, that the burning of the flag does not constitute free speech. I suspect Kristof is afraid to openly state what this column tapdances around: that it is in fact the Court's role to step in when all other branches of government have simply refused to address the "inalienable rights" guaranteed by the Constitution. When the will of the people, as expressed through the legislative and executive branches, is simply wrong, it falls upon the Court as a last resort to provide redress. There is no requirement that the decisions rendered from such a state of affairs need be popular, and indeed it may be a perverse measure of a decision's "rightness" that it is unpopular. Further, it is significant that Kristof cannot cite any specific examples of "conservative" judicial activism, much less any of the stature of Brown, Roe, Gideon, or Miranda. The reason for this is most likely that conservative judicial activism consists simply of striking down laws that conservatives do not like. Kristof's evenhandedness, far from illuminating these issues, serve merely to obscure the obvious truth: conservatives have used the "judicial activism" label as code for judges who decide the issues before them contrary to conservative orthodoxy, whatever that may be.

Don't look for this letter to be published (alas, it exceeds the 150 word limit, and Chaos was not inclined to edit). Chaos cares nothing for recognition....