Critical Mass

March 27, 2017

critical mass
Just read an article a few minutes ago that featured a few quotes by a sadly duped man who I am asked to sympathize with, and I do. I grew up in a huge family supported by the single pay-check of a struggling blue-collar father. When I look back I don’t know how he did it, so I get it. The man in the article is in pain and does not understand how or why he got to be there. He’s a guy who’s now struggling so hard due exactly to people like Donald Trump, his momentary messiah. That lack of understanding leads to off-the-wall utterances:

“It was the first afternoon of spring. Cassidy, an unemployed former construction worker, was smoking outside a bar on one of the faded downtown streets of Newark, a city of 48,000 people about 45 minutes east of Columbus. When a buddy rolled up on a bicycle, they soon got to talking about their chronic pain.”

“James Cassidy didn’t need the director of the FBI to tell him Barack Obama never wiretapped Donald Trump at Trump Tower. Cassidy knew from the start that Trump made the whole thing up.

“He was happy the president lied.

“He’s ruffling every feather in Washington that he can ruffle. These guys are scrambling. So: yeah! I like it. I think it’s a good thing. I want to see them jump around a little bit,” Cassidy, 58, said on Tuesday.”

Such misinformed and/or misguided men and women (and in this category I include Trump and his entire retinue) ought to read up a little on “critical mass” to jog their historical memories. They’re not all stupid after all, but lust for power has been known to eclipse IQ.

crit•i•cal mass; noun:
1. PHYSICS: the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction.

Just as plutonium atoms “jump around a bit” and morph into nuclear bombs that wipe out even stuff that might want keeping (even the good stuff), so do political systems. It’s important to understand this fact if one hopes to have at least controlled demolition. I’m not opposed to transforming government but we should not live under the delusion that “repealing” government and replacing it later is a good idea. A lot can happen in interims.

Trump is an id-driven id-iot who doesn’t care what the f**k happens as long as he has a gold-plated bunker to retire to. But he doesn’t understand that all bets are off after critical mass is reached: banking systems fold, money doesn’t mean as much (or anything), health systems collapse, glass towers shatter, silk suits and red ties are hard to get, bizarre coiffures aren’t as easy to maintain, orange skin-tone products disappear from shelves, …people all of a sudden just don’t have all those government rules that help hold societies together, people get really ugly, some storm Bastilles, much topples… the price of guillotine stock may rise though.

Then what, Mr. I-Was-Happy-The-President-Lied-I-Want-To-See-Them-Jump-Around-A-Bit?!

—sorry, sad man …men.

Jim Culleny


camel and needle

I have a small subscription list of friends and acquaintances to whom I’ve been emailing poetrydaily for maybe ten years. I mix it up: some poems are mine and some are those I come across which strike me in ways that compel me to share them. They range from classic works to modern pieces in various modes and styles. This morning I posted this:

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes

This is a haiku by Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) translated by American poet RobertHaas. It struck me that these three lines correspond to something I recalled from the NewTestament, from the Gospel of Matthew to be exact. Matthew has Jesus making this remark:

“…the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” —Matthew 7:13-14

Googling a bit I found that most Christian interpreters consider this an insight relating to salvation in a traditional Christian sense, but scriptural interpreters have been known to have axes to grind and have surely spun verses to grind them well. As a result many words have been put into the mouths of religious figures that they probably never dreamed of thinking, much less saying. But I think both of these verses speak to the same authentic truth, namely that being a genuinely good and honorable person in this world is not an easy thing.

The forces operating against goodness have always been fierce and mighty, this is nothing new. Pushback is not an idea that suddenly popped up in 21st century news cycles. In fact, centuries of religious teachings might be thought of as moral pushback systems and the figures at their center, each in their own way, sometimes cramped by prejudices of their own cultures, have struggled and taught against greed, ignorance, fear, xenophobia, misogyny, religious intolerance, hate, you name it, by appealing to us to consider truth.

So in Issa’s haiku we have a Buddhist whose tradition teaches ahimsa (no harm) murdering mosquitoes. It’s hard not to harm in the middle of a biting swarm. Few could do it. Squeezing through the good gate is as hard as getting a camel through the eye of a needle. In the past these ideas meant something. They meant so much that religious traditions grew around the teachings of especially insightful and compassionate humans who bucked human nature. But today we follow different drummers who speak in the tongues of men without an ounce of compassion and sound like clanging cymbals in irrational tweets at 3 a.m. —men and women who throw themselves into the worst swamps of human nature without shame then twist and torture the meaning of words, of ideas, of truths into grotesque caricatures of the good.

In the United States we’ve come to a place where we’ve elevated such men and women to power to an extent we’ve never done before. Men and women who treat truths as if they were lies and speak lies with the moral ease of Russian oligarchs using their people as door mats at the thresholds of their mansions. We have a president who’s in the process of creating such moral confusion through tweets and counter tweets, through wild charges and immediate contradictions, through the use of calculated, serial sprays of doubletalk from the mouths of press secretaries and surrogates that he is accomplishing what the Soviet Union could not do in its 70 years of existence, which is to bury us.

An immediate example of what we’re doing to ourselves is wrapped in the person of Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives —an ironic title if there ever was one. A speaker who’s been pushing a bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will do exactly what he claims it will not do. It will strip 24 million Americans of their health insurance. It will cost especially older people more. It will treat the poor as pathetic chumps. And it will do this in the name of Ryan’s ideology. It will do this in the name of Ryan’s primary constituency: the rich. And, as if to rub salt into wounds, it will do this to the sights and sounds of Ryan’s obvious glee in having pulled off something Republicans have been salivating over for decades: not so much to kill so-called entitlements for the poor and middleclass but to transfer them to the wealthy by means of the tax breaks for elites that will finance the Republican health “care” bill.

To make things even more insulting, Ryan doesn’t even seem to know what the basic idea of insurance is yet there he is stating the obvious as if it were some dark, secret evil. He says the “fatal conceit” in Obama-care is that it has the healthy paying for the care of the sick.

Ryan on Obama’s ACA: “… young and healthy people are going to go into the market and pay for the older, sicker people.’ So the young healthy person is going to be made to buy health care, and they’re going to pay for the person, you know, who gets breast cancer in her 40s. Or who gets heart disease in his 50s.”

You want to say, What! were you born yesterday? The insurance industry is built upon exactly that. Every form of insurance since the idea was first conceived is a statistical system built upon odds. Every insurance system counts on making its profits from those who pay premiums but never collect.

After the CBO’s report was issued Ryan of course claimed it said exactly what it did not say. But, though Paul Ryan may be a fool, he’s no dope. He knows exactly what he’s doing and so is a pathetic example of how narrow they way is that leads to life (and truth), and of how Paul may sit contentedly at mass in his Sunday suit praying to his God while grinning and swatting, killing poor mosquitoes.


Jim Culleny

bernie-health-insuranceSeveral weeks ago a tragedy occurred in a small town in western Massachusetts that should resonate with us all. A 63 year-old veteran took his own life in a public way. For some time Daniel Dowd had for weeks been seeking treatment at a detox center in Franklin County and was not accepted. He finally lost hope and gave up in a way which may focus attention upon our health care insurance system and how it drives some to despair. He shot himself in that center.

According to reports Dowd’s core complaint focused on the center’s apparent inability or, in his mind, unwillingness to take him into its detoxification program. The reasons for this may be various but one is certainly the current state and influence of the nation’s health insurance industry, an industry that is mistakenly but intentionally referred to as a Health “Care” Industry by those who support it. But health insurance is not health care.

Many, of course, object to this characterization and the suggestion that our nation’s insurance “system” (systems are usually systematic, not erratic) may have had a central part in the death of Dan Dowd. Some blame the detox center itself or those employed there, but whether there were mistakes made by the center or not I think a valid argument can be made that the largest factor by far are the effects of our health insurance laws. The detox center itself is hamstrung by the limiting factors of the laws it works within.

As a matter of fact, the statistical content of one article suggests the significant role the insurance system played here. Of its 1393 words of reportage explaining the basic questions posed by the incident 48% had to do with insurance.

For instance, we learn that centers such as the one in Greenfield may not be supported by state funds or Medicaid but rely instead on private funding which may be unreliable and unpredictable at best. With a universal, single payer health care system this would not be at issue.

Much of what the event of Dan Dowd’s death reveals speaks to the hodge-podge nature of the insurance system that exists now: one riddled with inherent obstacles to good reliable care because it is set up to reap profit not good health outcomes. In this specific case one person close to the center observed “We try to contract with every insurance provider out there, Some of them just won’t pay for detox services.”While another stated that “having zero insurance is better than having the wrong insurance … once you have (insufficient) insurance, you can’t pretend to have zero insurance. That’s fraud.”

Profit, not care, is at the center of our system. In it care is reliably doled out only to those who are insured and insured well: those with sufficient resources to pay and increase the bottom lines of middle-men: our insurance corporations —the industry that stands between men like Dan Dowd and his doctors or other care-givers.

As is made clear by Dowd’s case most of the Recovery Center’s patients arrange admission by telephone, so when they need care insurance issues have been resolved. But life is often not as orderly as that spelled out in insurance system protocols. If someone needs help during a detox center’s off hours, a center erratically funded, one not universally backed by the society it operates within that person may be temporarily admitted and treated but summarily ditched and shunted to somewhere that will take his insurance and continue care. And if there is no such place what then? Tough luck, this is the land of profiteers not care.  

Again, these problems would be gone with single payer.

Finally, there are the contradictory demands and circumstances our present system places upon hospitals, the ERs of which are obligated to provide care with or without insurance, often losing thousands of dollars in uncompensated care (and driving up health insurance costs for others).

But at the center of this tragedy is a simple truth —an almost simplistic one— that cannot seem to make its way into the hearts of minds of those in government who are supposed to represent the people but who, as cases like Dan Dowd’s show, represent instead the insurance industry. This simple truth was eloquently and simply stated by Sheriff Christopher Donelan, another (detox) task force co-founder.  Donelan said he hopes to work with the task force to push state officials in Boston to consider changing rules. “Let’s focus on the crisis first and the insurance second,” he said.

This, certainly, is exactly right. But immediately following that particular goal should be a national non-ideological, non-insurance industry driven commitment to create a health care system in line with the established and successful systems of most developed countries.

In this light, what the ACA tried to do was to insure as many Americans as possible despite the political morass created by (largely) Republican obeisance to the insurance industry. It put in place what it could against the political obstacles it faced, and went a long way in doing that successfully. Whatever its flaws, they are significantly the effects of barriers put up by lobbyists of insurance corporations made effective by Republican (and insurance industry cowed Democrat) intentions to make the ACA as flawed as possible. The resulting insurance cob-job we’re stuck with, this profit-driven system, is about life and death for millions and fortunes for others and, arguably, has more to do with Dan Dowd’s frustration and loss of hope than the consequent actions of the detox center.

Jim Culleny