20 December 2017

If history had taken a slight detour....

OK, I'm a tad biased. And historical contrafactuals, apart from being fun to think about, are really pretty meaningless. But reading the history of the Parthians, Sogdians, Bactrians, and what's now Pakistan and India in the era of roughly 200-600 AD, and Southeastern Asia including what's now Indonesia a few centuries later it's hard to escape the suspicion that had history further West taken a slightly different turn, and the religion of Islam either not arisen at all or remained confined to the Arabian peninsula (not an entirely implausible chain of events), in all likelihood from Iran to Japan and Mongolia to Indonesia would all be Buddhist today. And somehow I think that would've made for a somewhat better world. Just sayin'.


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.


It is no longer possible to be a conscientious Republican

​If you needed any further proof that the Republicans in Congress have been entirely hijacked by craven allegiance to economic special interests, and that the same is simply not true, overall, of Democrats, consider the vote on the Tax Bill.

 First, I hold it to be a fact that the only people defending this bill are those who have a political interest in its provisions. Objectively, even initially, 83% of its tax cut benefits (at the cost of huge ballooning of the national debt, which Republicans used to oppose on principle), GOES TO THE VERY TOP in terms of income. It favors non-wage income of the wealthy over the wages of ordinary people, doubly so when you consider that much of the tax burden of ordinary working people are regressive taxes such as sales tax and payroll taxes, that hit working people disproportionately harder than the very wealthy. It's even accurate, factually, not as an opinion, that this soon to be law, benefits the very, very rich, and not just the ordinarily rich. There is no way this is, objectively, good public policy. The Republican leadership even essentially admits that its draconian cuts to revenue will make it easier for them to cut social programs, including Social Security and Medicare, that AREN'T EVEN PAID FOR OUT OF INCOME TAX REVENUES. Cutting those programs because of shortfalls in income tax revenue is just theft, pure and simple, from the funds people have paid in payroll taxes on the promise that those programs will be there. Not to mention that the kinds of investments other countries, such as China and Germany, routinely make in their future: research, education, infrastructure— will be severely impacted by this terrible law. It is not at all hyperbole, in other words, to refer to this Republican scheme as a HEIST.

 OK, then, look at the vote:

 Republicans 51 Yes, 1 too sick to be there

Democrats: 48 No

 We didn't used to have such lopsided votes on major policy measures. But our politics is now ENTIRELY POLARIZED. Democrats have been FORCED to side with the interests of the people at large, because there is nowhere else to go. And Republicans now represent their donors, and to some extent their own interests (several super rich senators directly benefit from tax provisions inserted in the dead of night into the HEIST bill).

 Then there is the whole issue of unprecedented disregard for process, and continued promotion of what can only be called subversion of democracy, through suppression of voting, gerrymandering, and foreign-backed meddling in the election. These non-democratic acts are not laid at the door of Democrats, but almost entirely Republicans. And the complete subversion of the executive branch is so manifest that you have to be deluded not to see it. And, unfortunately, millions of Americans ARE deluded in just the way Trump and his oligarchic backers have worked assiduously, through propaganda arms such as TrumpTV (Fox News), to ensure.

 It is no longer the case that we have two parties, more or less representing the interests of significant sectors of society. We now have a party that represents oligarchs, the super rich, only, and which will use whatever means necessary to gain and retain power. The other party is still trying to figure out how to deal with this crisis, but it is, finally, coalescing around a broad program of social reform and restoration of small-r republican government in America.

 Days of reckoning will be coming, soon. We, as a nation, will have to pull together and destroy the forces of anti-democracy. And that means defeating as many Republicans as possible, at all levels of government, and especially state legislatures, governors, Congress, the Senate, and the presidency.

19 December 2017

Where we stand now -- my view

If anyone had any thought that even one Republican senator was anything other than a craven panderer to special interests and a self dealer, the fact that all of them intend to vote on the disgusting spectacle of a tax bill should cure them of that particular delusion. After all, almost three quarters of the public is against it and it serves only the interests of the super rich and mega business.

I honestly believe that every single Republican in the Senate has put non-democratic concerns, including personal power and wealth, ahead of the most basic concern for the well being of our nation. I accuse them. They, every one of them, are not patriots, in any sense of the word. They are a disgrace. They have betrayed the very most basic principles of small-r republican government and in so doing have betrayed their country. Every single one of them.

And as for our president,
​it should be ​
clear to everyone by now that our broken
​electoral college ​
system allowed
​ for​
the election of the most craven,
​truly dangerous, ​
self-dealing, selfish, corrupt,
sociopathic, foolish, unbalanced, stupid, and just plain mean man
​ ​
ever to hold th
office, then someone isn't paying attention.
​This is a man
who cares nothing whatsoever for small-d democracy.
This is beyond reasonable difference of opinion. The facts stare us down, and we ignore them, or make excuses for them, or "normalize" them, at our peril

If the rumors are true that the Trump administration intends to engineer the shutdown of the Mueller probe and plant violent insurrectionists among the peaceful protesters who will be taking to the streets in the wake of that, then our crisis will be upon us. We, the People, must build on our organizational efforts, to massively overcome the inertia and lethargy of American electoral politics, to wrest control from the forces of oligarchy and anti-democracy that currently hold power at almost all levels of government in much of the United States and the Federal Government. The very existence of our republic, as such, is at stake. 

We used to have civil discourse in this country. Where people who have a different view, left or right, centrist or eccentric, could present those views and strive for power without imperiling the very institutions that made our country, despite all, capable of calling itself a "democracy." But this Congress, and this presidency, have thrown all of that out. And it's not both parties. It is the Republicans, who have done this. Democrats are not without fault, of course, but the most damaging actions, such as undermining voting rights, promotion of court decisions and regulations to undermine democracy and sell power to the highest bidder, gerrymandering on steroids to prevent representation of whole classes of people, and simply ignoring the popular will as manifest in actual votes and every conceivable poll... these are overwhelming laid at the door not of both parties but of the Republicans alone. They have allowed our republic to become an oligarchy, which can no longer reasonably be called a democracy. I call upon my reasonable Republican friends, ordinary Americans who believe in our country, its Constitution, and what it always stood for, to take control back from your party, because these people do not share those beliefs. 


02 December 2017

This is how democracy dies

The Republicans in the Senate just passed the single worst piece of tax legislation in US History, and very probably the worst piece of public policy legislation in many decades, certainly so if measured by its devastating impact on social cohesion. And they did it while destroying comity and orderly legislative procedure UTTERLY. Such actions have consequences. 

And if another Republican mentions to me that the ACA was "rammed through," I will scream. A year of solicited input, thousands of hours of hearings, only to be met in the end by no serious effort to compromise, is simply not the same thing as presenting a massive, ill thought out, fiercely unpopular gift to the half of one percent who is their donor class, and everyone else be damned, passed on a straight party vote in the dead of night with no hearings and no debate. Functional representative democracy died last night in the US. It remains to be seen if it can be resuscitated.

I now state flatly, I cannot understand how any reasonable person can continue to call him or herself a Republican.



20 November 2017

Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

A friend posted this on Facebook and it reminded me of studying this wonderful text.

The source of all the misery in the world
Lies in thinking of oneself;
The source of all the happiness in the world
Lies in thinking of others.  

​ ​

This is probably the most often quoted passage from Shantideva's "
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life
," which is one of the truly key Mahayana (Indo-Tibetan) Buddhist classics. (8th Century). I was struck after reading this text that it is far more important than, say, Thomas a Kempis's "
Imitation of Christ
" as a practical guide to spiritual life and happiness, yet, when I was in high school, "Shantideva" wasn't even an entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. If you don't know of this wonderful text, give it a try. It stands up beautifully in translation and is one of the most accessible Buddhist scriptures (except for Chapter Nine, which deals with Emptiness, and which is pretty inscrutable to us Westerners, whose inner knowledge is usually pretty limited) (!).

I am not religious, but I am inspired by the purity and essential goodness and intelligence of Buddhist teachings. Not the supernatural, deities and guru yoga and all that, but the core teachings on how we make ourselves and others unhappy, what we can do about it, and how to live a life in the world that is ethical and spiritual, in the sense of being the best human beings we can be, by practicing the most essential, even cosmic, virtues: lovingkindness, compassion, taking joy in other's happiness, and equanimity (the so-called "Four Limitless Qualities.") To me, these are the real essence of Buddhism, and nowhere are they more beautifully expounded upon than in Shantideva's  classic text.

Legend has it that Shantideva was a scholar at the famous Nalanda University in what is now Bangladesh
in the 8th century.
​(You didn't really think universities were invented in the West, did you?) ​
He was thought of as a do-nothing and know-nothing by some of his fellow scholars, because all he did was meditate. They thought he must be rather dull. So, as a trick, they connived to have him be required to give a teaching on Dharma, thinking to embarrass him, since they assumed he knew nothing, as he rarely spoke. As part of the trick, they took away the ladder for the Throne, which was very high. When the date came, Shantideva (remember this is a legend) entered the Gompa (Meditation Hall). Seeing that there was no ladder, he sat in the Padmasana posture, levitated up to the throne, and began reciting this very text, which he delivered over many hours in its entirety. Those in attendance were humbled and blessed to receive such pure wisdom, and were quickly cured of their petty jealousies.

Makes a nice story. And it really is a wonderful spiritual guide.
​ And now it's available in a dozen different translations in English. ​


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

19 November 2017

Oregon Symphony, November 18, 2017

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
John Adams: Absolute Jest
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

The concert was quite interesting. Johannes Debus conducted. The Beethoven 2d symphony, which is quite charming, was very well played and came off with good effect. But the other music in the program was actually more interesting. John Adams's Absolute Jest, which is a sort of Metamorphosis of themes of Beethoven (especially from the late quartets) was excitingly played and multifaceted. I am not always a fan of Adams (though I tend to like him better than Glass and other American so called minimalists), but this work rewards attention. The use of a string quartet as a solo group, sometimes pitted against the orchestra, sometimes interwoven with it, each commenting on the other, is very well done and gives the work some meaty texture. The last piece, in some ways the model for the Adams piece, was the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, by Paul Hindemith (1940, written after he emigrated to America to escape the Nazis). I have heard this before, and found it rather conventional mid-century neoclassical fare, but this performance was so electric and sparkling that I heard the music in a whole new light. Hindemith is not a "popular" composer. He wasn't a serialist or doctrinarian, and some of his music is quite charming, but it doesn't yield its charms all that easily. This piece was originally supposed to be a ballet, and the choreographer really just wanted an orchestration of some dances by Weber (1786-1826), but that fell apart, because Hindemith had other ideas. These aren't arrangements; it's a unified work that uses its source material as a springboard. You have to pay attention, get in touch with the thinking behind it, let it seep in. This was a thoroughly rewarding experience overall, and let's face it, Classical symphony orchestra concerts in our postmodern era do not always rise to that level; frequently, workaday competence is all you get. Not this time... these musicians were engaged and thoughtful, as well as masterful, and the result was just great.

05 November 2017

Tulsi Gabbard on military intervention

I don't agree with everything Tulsi Gabbard has said or done, but these words bear repeating and should ring from the lips of every politician, in essence, every time they address this subject. (From recent New Yorker profile; she said them at a speech to a veterans group).

"Too often we have found, throughout our country's history, we have people in positions of power who make offhanded comments about sending a few thousand troops here, fifty thousand there, hundred thousand there, intervening militarily here, or starting a war there — without seeming to understand or appreciate the cost of war. If our troops are sent to fight a war, it must be the last option. Not the first."


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

03 November 2017

Read this much of Krugman today

 Even if you don't make a habit of reading Krugman, you should read this much from today's column:

"why should tax cuts even be on the table? We have budget deficits, not surpluses, and lots of unmet needs for future spending. U.S. taxes are low, not high, compared with other wealthy countries. Predictions that tax cuts will lead to rapid economic growth have been wrong time and again. And by large margins, voters want taxes on corporations and the wealthy to go up, not down.

"The ruling theory among Republicans seems to be that going into the midterm elections they need a "win" to offset their failure to repeal Obamacare. I guess this might be right, although it's a theory that reveals extraordinary contempt for voters, who are supposed to be impressed by the G.O.P.'s ability to ram through policies that only benefit a tiny elite.

"However the politics turn out, this is remarkably terrible policy, devised via a remarkably terrible process. Most Americans realize that Donald Trump is a very bad president; they need to realize that his party's congressional leadership is pretty awful, too."

01 November 2017

Not really all THAT complicated

If Clinton had been elected, and you read that Chelsea had accepted a meeting back in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer with connections to Russian intelligence to discuss help with the Clinton campaign against Trump, and she'd accepted in her response with "I love it," actually held that meeting, with the Chairman of the campaign present; and then a few months later another staffer pleaded guilty to meeting with a Russian "professor" with ties to the Kremlin who promised "dirt" on Donald Trump, then lied to the FBI about it, do you seriously think there would be any question about whether or not Clinton should be impeached? Not to mention that, in this reverse world scenario, her campaign manager (who'd had to resign in disgrace), and his protege, would be indicted for money laundering after accepting millions and millions of dollars for influence peddling from pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian oligarchs. 

This is exactly what has already happened with Trump, in the real world. There is clear evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with a hostile foreign power, including the cooperation in the use of illegally hacked DNC emails, which are a "thing of value" under election laws. Very serious crimes, involving compromising our national interest in favor of the interests of a hostile foreign power, have been committed, and it is all but impossible to believe Trump himself didn't know about it, or that he hasn't been lying about it for months now. Impeachment is inevitable. It isn't really all that complicated. 

Nouveau Quatour

Here's a link to a phone video of part of our chamber music concert last week. Taken by Brad. The harpsichord is all but inaudible, unfortunately. 


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

31 October 2017

Jack o lanterns

Mueller news

I take no pleasure in any of this. I regard Trump as a scourge and a tragedy, but I'd much rather focus on positive things for our country. But anyway, Mueller's job is to investigate crimes in the arena he's investigating, whether or not they are directly connected to Trump's own culpability. Certainly the questions of why Manafort was so anxious to assume the role of campaign manager when he was some $17 million in debt to a Russian oligarch, and then proceeded to commit massive tax evasion and money laundering while concealing the fact that he continued to act as a foreign agent, even while Trump's campaign manager and afterwards, while not directly implicating Trump or his family members, casts his entire campaign in a very dark light. And the Gates indictment is just sort of a "mini me" for Manafort. Both these guys now have a tremendous incentive to cooperate in the investigation from here on out, because without the leniency that cooperation could bring, they are facing many years in prison. 

And if Trump is foolish enough to pardon them, I have to believe that will be a bridge too far for enough Republicans, combined with nearly all Democrats, that he will be impeached. These indictments are airtight document cases. These guys are guilty as hell, and there's no way out for them other than cooperation or pardon. And I suspect both of them know about some skeletons in the closet, because Trump is so stupid he doesn't even understand that it actually is illegal to cooperate with foreign governments to interfere in elections. Remember he said "a lot of people would've taken that meeting" about Don Jr.'s meeting with Russians in June of '16... if it can be proven that that meeting resulted in the transfer of "a thing of value" (such as oppo. research, like the emails themselves), it would be a felony. But Trump pretty obviously doesn't grasp that. He keeps saying "everyone's saying there's no collusion." Which is just plain stupid. What 'everybody says' is totally irrelevant. 

But the real news on Monday no one saw coming. It's the seemingly minor case of George Papadopoulos. A Trump campaign staffer. One of the guys he mentioned (along with Carter Paige) to the Washington Post as "an excellent guy" and a foreign policy advisor. (Actually a 30 year old, rather undistinguished fellow of the Hudson Institute). Anyway, this guy rather clumsily lied to the FBI back in January and February of this year (before the Mueller appointment)(a felony), and then tried to cover it up (ineptly). According to not an indictment but a plea agreement. He told them he hadn't met with Russians, but he had. He talked to Russian "danglers" no doubt working at the behest of Russian intelligence services, back as early as April of '16, about getting "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and learned, long before this was public knowledge, that the Russians had "thousands of e-mails." Did he report this to the FBI at the time? No, he reported it to his "supervisor," who said, "good work," and discussed sending him to Russia to follow up. Remember, this is an adversary of the United States, attempting to influence the outcome of a US election. Cooperation with that endeavor is a serious crime if committed by a US citizen. Papadopoulos was not charged with that, and did not plead guilty to it, but he did plead guilty to lying about it, and he has been a "proactive cooperator" since his arrest in July. The conclusion that he has been wearing a wire and/or otherwise helping investigators get evidence against higher ups in the Trump campaign, who knows how high up, is inescapable. And this guy pleaded guilty, turned states' evidence. This is very, very bad news, far worse that Manafort and Gates, for Trump, and, like I said, no one saw it coming. 

I think it's now more than likely that Trump will be forced out of office by, say, 2019. And a week ago I did not think that. 


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

27 October 2017

I support OFA/Obama/Holder effort to address gerrymandering

I tend to support more Progressive Democratic organizations like Progressive Change Campaign Committee, over the DSCC, DCCC and DNC itself, because I want to emphasize my belief that the center of gravity of the Democratic party in the Trump era has shifted, and needs to shift, to the left, to present Medicare for All and other Progressive issues front and center as the alternative to the know nothing, mendacious and oligarchic GOP. But OFA, which is spearheading Pres. Obama and former AG Holder's campaign to reverse the horrible gerrymandering in the wake of the 2010 census, which has cost us a huge number of House seats in particular, is very definitely worthy of our support, both in terms of financial support and volunteer effort.

Link here to lend a hand or a few bucks.


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

Donald Trump must be impeached

In signing on to Tom Steyer's needtoimpeach.com campaign to generate a groundswell of support to impeach Trump, I'm not acting symbolically, ironically, or as a joke. I truly believe that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the future of our republic, and that his impeachment (or removal via the 25th amendment) is necessary, and the most important political priority facing our country at the present moment.  His corruption and recklessness, and, only slightly less grave, the horrible damage he is doing to the environment and our nation's ability to function as a member of the world community, are intolerable, and if he serves out his term, may cause literally irreparable damage to our country, if not our world. I urge everyone to join Tom Steyer in declaring their demand that Trump be impeached. All Democrats in office anywhere, local, state or federal, should be pressured, yes, pressured to join this movement and to publicly say so. 


24 October 2017

A lefty perspective on Democratic politics

A little perspective from the left: I'm reading about the shakeup at the DNC. I have to say that the rather heavy handed "purge" of Sanders and Ellison supporters executed by Perez bodes ill for Democratic unity right when we cannot afford internecine fighting. My guess is that a certain class of donors is demanding a centrist "party line." I am very concerned that the establishment of the Democratic party has failed to recognize that there has been a major leftward shift in the party's rank and file since 2008, and if they attempt to rule the party top down, it could cost Democrats dearly in 2018 and 2020, when we simply cannot lose. 

I hope I'm wrong and that more inclusive attitudes prevail, including a recognition that policy positions need to track the views of the majority of Democrats more closely going forward. But I, like many Sanders supporters, intend to commit my time and money to the progressive organizations within the party umbrella like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, rather than the DNC, DCCC and DSCC, precisely to help ensure that happens. 


05 October 2017

Tried for solar, but....

Well, gave it the old college try, but no dice. I actually signed a contract to install 28 solar panels on the roof of our house, at a cost way north of $35K before rebates and tax credits. The Federal credit of 30% was good, but the Oregon Energy Trust rebate and Oregon State refundable tax credit did not qualify. (That was a contingency in the contract). Partly because, hey, we're at almost 46° N here, far north of New York City (and more than halfway from the Equator to the North Pole). But mainly because although our house is in a "clearing," meaning no overhanging or closeby tall trees, it's still a forest here, and the horizon is limited part of the day. Added to which the house is angled at 45° to the Cardinal Axis, and the roof section that could qualify faces SE instead of SW (which would be much better), and it didn't add up. Submarginal. They wouldn't pay the rebates. Which has to mean that it isn't really worth it to install solar anyway. So, backed out, with regrets and apologies all around for unfortunately wasting time and effort for no result. No hard feelings.

04 October 2017

Brilliant article on universal health care in the New Yorker

There is a longish passage in the brilliant article by Atul Gawande in the current New Yorker, about whether health care should be considered a right that is JUST SO WELL PUT that I take the liberty of transcribing it here in its entirety. IF THIS ISSUE IS IMPORTANT TO YOU, please take a few moments to read this.

The Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild spent five years listening to Tea Party supporters in Louisiana, and in her masterly book "Strangers in Their Own Land" she identifies what she calls the deep story that they lived and felt. Visualize a long line of people snaking up a hill, she says. Just over the hill is the American Dream. You are somewhere in the middle of that line. But instead of moving forward you find that you are falling back. Ahead of you, people are cutting in line. You see immigrants and shirkers among them. It's not hard to imagine how infuriating this could be to some, how it could fuel an America First ideal, aiming to give pride to "real" Americans and demoting those who would undermine that identity -- foreigners, Muslims, Black Lives Matter supporters, feminists, "snowflakes."

Our political debates seem to focus on what the rules should be four our place in line. Should the most highly educated get to move up to the front? The most talented? Does seniority matter? What about people whose ancestors were cheated and mistreated?

The mistake is accepting the line, and its dismal conception of life as a zero-sum proposition. It gives up on the more encompassing possibilities of shared belonging, mutual loyalty, and collective gains. America's founders believed these possibilities to be fundamental. They held life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be "unalienable rights" possessed equally by all members of their new nation. The terms of membership have had to be rewritten a few times since, sometimes in blood. But the aspiration endured, even as what we need to fulfill it has changed.

When the new country embarked on its experiment in democracy, health care was too primitive to life or liberty. The average citizen was a hardscrabble rural farmer who lived just forty years. People mainly needed government to insure physical security and the rue of law. Knowledge and technology, however, expanded the prospects of life and liberty, and, accordingly, the requirements of government. During the next two centuries, we relied on government to establish a system of compulsory public education, infrastructure for everything from running water to the electric grid, and old-age pensions, along with tax systems to pay for it all. As in other countries, these programs were designed to be universal. For the most part, we didn't divide families between those who qualified and those who didn't, between participants and patrons. This inclusiveness is likely a major reason that these policies have garnered such enduring support.

Health care has been a cavernous exception. Medical discoveries have enabled the average American to live eighty years or longer, and with a higher quality of life than ever before. Achieving this requires access not only to emergency care, but also, crucially, to routine care and medicines, which is how we stave off and manage the series of chronic health issues that accumulate with long life. We get high blood pressure and hepatitis, diabetes and depression, cholesterol problems and colon cancer. Those who can't afford the requisite care get sicker and die sooner. Yet in a country where pretty much everyone has trash pick up and K-12 schooling for the kids, we've been reluctant to address our Second World War mistake and establish a basic system of health-care coverage that's open to all. Some even argue that such a system is un-American, stepping beyond the powers the Founders envisioned for our government. 
The article goes on to recount how that is a total misconception, and how Madison and Jefferson, who disagreed on many things, both concurred in the near unanimous 1813 Vaccination Act, wherein the US government PROVIDED FREE SMALLPOX VACCINES to all citizens. Few realize that the idea of universal health care actually goes all the way back to the very early day of our republic. But even then, when a batch of vaccine was accidentally infected with smallpox and several died, there was great controversy and the law ended up being repealed. So both the idea of universal health care, and the tragedy of unrealistic realization of the ideal, have a long history in our country.

08 September 2017

On my high horse about medical billing practices

I wrote this to the administrator of a for-profit Catholic medical group (which is well-known and widespread in the Pacific Northwest and also operates a chain of for-profit hospitals that are known to be a bit on the "pricey" side).


 Dear Dr. XX, 

I am writing to you about a matter of great concern to me, as a patient and spouse of another XX Medical Group patient. This is a concern that affects much of the for-profit and even non-profit private health care delivery system in this country, and I believe that it is a specific area where financial practices which are immoral and unethical are being commonly not only tolerated but actively engaged in, including by your organization. It is an area where I strongly believe that right-thinking medical administrators can and should voluntarily institute a simple reform for the good of all the citizens of our country, but most particularly for those who are unfortunate enough to have inadequate or no health insurance at all. I hope to at least suggest to you that this is something worth thinking seriously about. While the ultimate resolution of our ongoing national health care reimbursement policy crisis will almost certainly be political in nature, in the meantime, there are specific actions which providers can take which would increase equity and reduce the adverse impact of our medical cost crisis, especially on those least able to shoulder the burdens. Until our nation faces up to the necessity of ensuring health care as a right not a privilege, it is unfortunately incumbent on health care providers to ensure some degree of equity, to see to it that costs do not fall disproportionately on those least able to bear them.


I need hardly belabor the point that health care expenses are a major source of anxiety and stress for the shrinking middle class in our country. In some ways it is they, as opposed to the actual poor (who receive Medicaid), who are most affected by the problems I am talking about. Unexpected and inadequately insured medical expenses are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in our country, as I'm sure you know.


The practice I am referring to is that of billing uninsured patients far more than would be reimbursed if they had insurance. I know that your organization offers to work with patients, but merely receiving a bill for $500 when the insurance would pay $350 (or even less) for the same services is a shock and assault on people's well-being. And this doesn't even address the fundamental inequity of the default expectation, contrary to any ordinary sense of fairness, that patients who lack coverage should pay, or at least be presented with the expectation that they pay, more for the same services than those who have coverage. And we should not pretend that it's easy or routine to secure reductions of these "full ride" costs. The entire burden of trying to get out from under enormous medical debts falls on the patient, when frequently the patients are at a point in their lives where they are least able to cope with such considerations and the necessity of negotiation and wrangling over medical bills. People routinely get unexpected bills in the mail that cause them huge distress, only to have to spend time, effort, and mental anguish trying to figure out how to cope with them.


And this is just plain wrong. My attention was drawn to this situation again, when, recently, my spouse went in for a wellness visit, and apparently the insurance was slow to adjust the billing. Upshot: we received a bill for $527, the non-discounted sum, with no explanation, no attempt to call us to explain that there was a delay with the insurance, just a bill. And it turned out that the EOB had crossed in the mail, and the insurance had already paid in full: $398 (the insurance discounted amount). My spouse presented as an insured patient, and even so was billed the full amount. Patients who have no insurance, or coverage problems, who are typically people with fewer financial resources than more fortunate insured patients, are expected to shoulder more than their proportionate share of health care costs. Of course some cannot pay, but that doesn't make it ethical to expect and dun people of limited means to pay more than others who have more resources. I put it to you, Dr. XX: such practice is both immoral and contrary to the tenets of every traditional religion, not least Christianity. I say this flatly and bluntly, and I hope you will consider seriously what I am saying. It is wrong to perpetuate a system that shifts greater financial burdens onto the less well off and the sick. Period. What must be done is that a program be instituted to make sure patients whose costs are not reimbursed receive bills which are no more than the typical insurance reimbursement. No other practice can be tolerated.


In our case, the matter was resolved, and we are not victims of the anomalous inequity I am complaining about, although we were exposed to it. We are fortunate enough to be adequately insured, even if the claim administrator was slow to process the claim. But many people are not, and bills like this are a serious burden on the finances of many who are least able to afford those burdens. Health care providers should never bill uninsured patients more than what insurers would ordinarily pay for the same services. Period. It's wrong, and it's one of the immoral practices that have tainted the entire profession of medicine in our country.


To the counterargument that health care providers as squeezed in all directions and costs for them are spiraling too, I can only say, this may be true, but it does not excuse disparate billing practices that disadvantage the less well off and the sick. Some other ways of meeting expenses simply must be put in place, because this practice is wrong.


Thank you.

Sincerely,  XX


06 September 2017

Oregon fires

I haven't read any scientific analysis, but is sure seems to me that Oregon's climate is rapidly transitioning to a hotter, dry summer, colder, wet and snowier winter regime. The summer is more like California, the winter more like someplace like Arkansas. In comparison to formerly I mean. I can't but assume that if this persists the forest environment here will change, because I don't think it can withstand three months without rain (like this year) every year. 

Not to mention the wildfires, which are truly terrible. Fortunately, it's finally cooler and moist air from the ocean has moved in, to mitigate the smoke. What we need though is a drenching rain, and that's not in the forecast. 

02 September 2017

Three Laws of AI ? Nah

I read this article in the NYT with some bemusement. (It's an attempt to codify a more modern version of Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics," which were his attempt to imagine how a superior artificial life form might be permanently controlled by its creators, us).

As someone who spends a certain amount of mental energy thinking about the future, and the future of technology, let me propose a truism:

The possible manifestations, both for better and for worse, in terms of human outcomes, of any new technology, will eventually emerge, regardless of any attempts to control or regulate them.

So, control genetic manipulation, even the creation of new species? Forget it. That ship is on its way out of the berth. And that means that future human evolution, way on down the road, perhaps, but inevitably, will be artificially guided. A very discomfiting thought, but count on it.

But I don't worry about AI robots taking over and supplanting us. If I'm wrong, well, they will, and RIP human race, our successors will be cyborgs. Get over it. But I don't think it will happen. And here's why.

Despite what people like Ray Kurzweil and Marvin Minsky say, I don't know of any evidence that artificial machines have ever been developed that have ANY self-awareness. Complex computational ability, yes. Modeling ability, which can look like an internally aware system, sure, but there is no suggestion that there is awareness "behind the eyes." The idea that a sufficiently complex, recursive computational system inevitably becomes self aware is actually just an assumption, a bias, even, for which, to my knowledge, there is not only scant evidence, there is NO evidence.

We really don't know what consciousness is. The problem of studying it objectively is not trivial. B. Alan Wallace and Daniel Dennett have grappled with it, but not come up with any definitive empirical view. The problem is that it's virtually impossible to examine something that is definitionally subjective and internal by using methodologies (Western scientific procedure) that are definitinally objective and external. So our only real knowledge of consciousness is experiential. We do know that artificial computing systems work very, very differently from biological ones, and that an advanced working model of a biological type brain is not even close to having been created artificially.

So, I don't worry about robots taking over. As long as we remember to always install a kill switch.

A casual report

Things are odd, as usual, en Amerique. Yesterday in San Francisco was the hottest day ever recorded there, 106° (41° in real). But the Russian consular annex, having just been given 48 hours to vacate, as part of the ongoing retaliatory tiff (wherein the Russians slashed American embassy staff in retaliation for sanctions which were in retaliation for the most serious cyber attack on another country in history, so somewhat asymmetrical, but I digress)...anyway, they started a fire in an outside bin and an inside fireplace. The fire department was called but was told "Zdes' nechegto smotret" ... "nothing to see here..." the Russians were obviously burning sensitive documents. Don't they know about shredders? 

The West Coast's epic heat wave (not yet arrived in the Portland or Seattle areas but expected shortly), is yet another instance of extremes of weather that climate scientists like Michael Mann and James Hansen are no longer equivocating over: they are definitely being caused by increases in atmospheric CO-2 over the last century or so in particular. 

This all contrasts with the continuing obsession of Toddler/Man president, who still has never actually criticized Putin or his government in public since declaring his then seemingly quixotic run for office now more than two years ago.  Toddlerman is now widely expected to cancel the DACA orders put in place by Obama in 2012... despite strong support among even many Republicans (such as Dippy Paul of Janesville) for keeping them. Apparently just out of spite. He delayed the announcement just to keep hundreds of thousands on edge over a holiday weekend. Former (R) Sen. John Danforth of Kansas put it quite bluntly the other day in an op-ed:  "Our party has been corrupted by this hateful man." 

Meantime the Mueller investigation continues apace. They have brought in CI, the elite criminal investigations unit of the IRS to help untangle financial crimes (probably focusing on Manafort). They also, weirdly, apparently unsolicited, received briefs from Trump's defense lawyers as to why firing Comey wasn't obstruction of justice (presumably under the specific circumstances, because without them it's kind of an empty issue). Jill Wine Banks, a Watergate era prosecutor, commented that the Trump defense people appear to be "on their heels." We don't actually know what evidence there is of actual collusion with the Russians, but the circumstances and timing of the release of the hacked emails to Wikileaks is looking really suspicious, and the conduct of the president, including his comments to Lester Holt about the Comey firing and repeated conversations with various people where quid pro quos were broadly implied viz. the Russia investigation, looks more and more like a plausible bill of particulars for impeachment. If the Republicans in the House ever get to the point where they have any stomach for that. At least Mueller will likely give them a report that will be damning in the extreme and if they don't impeach, their failure to do the obviously right thing will be there for history's judgment. 

I still don't think it's the right strategy for Democrats to put a lot of stock in the Mueller investigation to "save us." We have, as a party, failed miserably, and we must rebuild our message and present candidates, especially for the House, who present an obviously superior alternative to the chaos and corruption of the Republicans. If we do not do this, and just rely, as Clinton did, on "they're awful, and we're not so bad," we will lose many of these elections and our democracy, which I really believe is currently in greater peril than at any time in the last 150 years, will remain in great and increasing peril. This isn't tiddlywinks: we should be fighting for our political lives as a Center Left political movement. Fortunately, there are many in our party who see it in just these terms, and things are happening. I am optimistic. 

30 August 2017

Secular Buddhism

Anyone who has made any real effort to practice or understand Buddhist doctrine (Dharma) will acknowledge that the traditions of Buddhism can be very complicated, and frequently challenging, both intellectually and in terms of putting them into practice. But I think it's fair to say that for many in the modern western context, there are hangups that frequently interfere with success in either of those endeavors that arise from what you might call the supernatural aspects of the traditions, particularly any even modestly literal view of the doctrines of karma and rebirth, both of which seem to lack any plausible mechanism consistent with modern objectivist, or empirical, or scientific, thinking. These paradoxes have caused many a well intentioned practitioner to stray from Buddhist practice, even though they may have experienced an overarching truth in the teachings of compassion, lovingkindness, meditation practice, and the doctrine that our discursive thought and focus on, and concern for, ourselves and our own well being, are largely based on active and malignant delusions. We may feel that these insights are true, but get bogged down on other things that are incorporated into Buddhist tradition which seem, well, impossible.

There are a couple of relatively new books out that try to grapple with these issues, reviewed recently in an essay/review by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker. (See their website, you can read it free). The first is Robert Wright's Why Buddism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, and the second is Stephen Batchelor's After Buddhism

As a "secular" Buddhist myself, I find these attempts to define what it means to be a Buddhist without resort to nonscientific beliefs very interesting and helpful. I do agree with the letter writer to the New Yorker who says (paraphrasing) that Gopnik focuses too much in his essay on the wisdom aspect of Dharma (emptiness, or the illusory nature of clinging to a particular view of reality), as opposed to the equally important role of compassion, which is often most thoroughly experienced in the practice of what in Tibet is called Tonglen, or more generally "exchanging self with others," i.e., recognizing the essential truth that we are all the same in our essential view, and that suffering is pervasive. Without compassion, we are lost. But the good news is that when Gotama taught not to accept what he said on faith, but to try the recommended practices and see if they work for you, he was creating a tradition that sill lives, and still works. Because what is objectively real is that you can in fact learn to drop story lines, and see the present moment as it is, and you can learn to practice compassion. There are simple techniques, and they aren't magic, they're just method. And they work. In those techniques lie the essential "truth" of Buddhism, which we "secular Buddhists" contend is not a religion but a practicum, which requires no faith, but rather trust in a system that has been shown to work over a very, very long time by a large body of serious and dedicated practitioners. 

22 August 2017

Eclipse set up

This is our set up near Antelope, OR for the eclipse. It was extraordinary. Eerie. Spooky. Truly a once in a lifetime experience. We got up at 3 AM to drive out to central Oregon, and found this spot; clear skies except for the smoke visible to the South. Coming back was an epic traffic jam (partly due to poor choice of exit route), but it was worth it. 

Antelope was formerly (temporarily) known as Rajneeshpuram. And if you've forgotten or never knew that amazing and sordid tale of the 80s, look it up in Wikipedia. We were a good 15 mi. from the Big Muddy Ranch, which was their desert city for a time. 

09 August 2017


People never give up trying to predict the future though. So test me on these. 

By 2025 (hey, even folks born in the 1950s stand a good chance), over 50% of all new cars will be electric. The cost of electric transportation will drop to less than the cost of fossil fuels, and since the cars are simpler and last longer, the long term transition to carsharing as the norm, with the coming on line of driverless technology, will mean that the paradigm where people will order a car to their house per use rather than own them will have begun to transform transportation, at least in urban and suburban areas. This process will take some time but will be evident by 2025. 

It's already the case that solar and wind energy is cheaper than fossil fuels in some markets. This presumes new plants; it will take a long time for existing infrastructure to be replaced. But by 2025 in the US, which will lag the developing world, especially China, all new electric generating capacity will be solar or wind, with minor hydroelectric and tidal. Nuclear will be phased out, because it's way, way more expensive, never mind waste considerations. (The nuclear industry doesn't like anyone to point this out, but the truth is that no nuclear plant has ever been built without government subsidies, anywhere). Fusion will still be the perennial "ten years away." I actually do imagine fusion energy will eventually be developed, but the Earth receives more theoretically usable solar energy in an hour than the human race uses in an entire year, so the perfection of solar technology (essentially already here), coupled with continuing improvements and cost reduction in battery and other storage technologies, will be the main drivers of the energy economy post 2025 worldwide. 

Combining these two trends, fossil fuels (and not just coal, but oil and gas, too), will be in the beginnings of a long term decline to near zero by the end of the century. Oil and coal will be used essentially entirely for materials, not energy, by 2100. (A use for them that has a bright future long term; we will not stop using plastics anytime soon, and fossil carbon is a great source of raw materials). All energy production will be carbon neutral by 2075 or so, everywhere on Earth.  

OK, enough. 

25 July 2017

Doin' what I can to preserve the ACA

I emailed this to every single Republican in the Senate who I thought could conceivably be influenced to vote no. Portman, Capito, Heller, Flake, McCain, Rubio, Collins, Murkowski, Moran... any others ? This is important... and this is make or break. They've now gotten past the firewall whereby the bills are on the floor of the Senate. If McConnell can convince 50 of his colleagues to vote for any one of the many versions of this unimaginably horrible legislation, it's ALL OVER. Please help by contacting Senators, especially Republicans' in their offices home and in Washington and urge them to vote NO.

It is increasingly clear that there is no version of the Republican health care bill which does NOT make huge cuts to Medicaid, impose unacceptable premiums and deductibles on older moderate income Americans, and destroy the important reforms that help to ensure meaningful and genuine health insurance for almost all Americans. Estimates for all versions range from a loss by 15 to over 30 million Americans of health insurance coverage. Along with the vast majority of American citizens, I STRONGLY urge you to vote no on all of these destructive and terrible bills. Kill the bill, not your constituents. VOTE NO. Thank you. 

19 July 2017

Messaging Trump over ACA

For all the good it will do, I posted this on the White House contact line.

«I want to urge the president to set politics aside and do everything possible to make existing health care laws WORK to provide health insurance for the American people to the fullest possible extent. The president took an oath of office to take care that the laws of the United States be faithfully executed. That means NOT doing anything to undermine, reduce the effectiveness of, or sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Thank you. »

Presidential leadership

That's presidential leadership for you. Promise sweeping, "really good" health care reform, do nothing to achieve it, watch the ridiculous and cruel efforts of your party's attempt to pass a huge tax cut and call it "health reform," then, instead of saying, "Folks, we tried, but we will just have to make the current ACA system work, and my administration will do everything possible to make sure every American gets the best health care possible under existing law," you say "We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us." (And the hell with my constituents and all the rest of the American people who rely on a functional government). Read that statement again and let it sink in. The president of the United States said that.

This man is unquestionably the worst president in the history of America. I'm not religious, but I can only PRAY we get through this time without critical injury to our nation's very means of continuing to exist. No rational person can possibly support this monster any longer in good faith; which leads to the conclusion that the only people who do are incapable of distinguishing propaganda from reality, or, in the case of the more well heeled among them, they are lying crooks themselves.

It won't work, though, their plan to devastate health care by sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, and then wait for "Democrats to come to us." REALLY? When the Republicans have both houses of Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court majority, and they 100% excluded Democrats from ANY participation in their discussions of their bill? No, GOP, you will own this. And we will defeat you in 2018 in large part because of this.

And the main reason for that is what will turn out to be the signature achievement of Pres. Obama and the ACA: we have ESTABLISHED in the hearts and minds of the American people that health care, as a social compact, is a RIGHT NOT A PRIVILEGE, and we will see to it that that promise is DELIVERED to the American people. We will leave the legacy of the Radical Right in the dust, fatally wounded by their own incapacity to govern. 

They have lied to voters on a massive scale, and manipulated the government's "operating system," with all its flaws, to achieve minority rule of our major institutions. But they have fundamentally failed to deliver because their governing philosophy is complete crap, totally nonfunctional and out of accord with realities of economics and how public policy actually works. Their failure was inevitable, and it is now absolutely manifest. I truly believe that a huge paradigm shift is about to change the way large majorities of Americans think about trusting the Right to govern, and not in a good way for them. 

But of course, it all depends on our ability, as Democrats, to present a coherent, values-driven alternative, that all Democrats can espouse and make real for people. And this we have yet to achieve. We simply must rise to this occasion. Cajole your Democratic leaders, make your views known. Tell them: "Majorities say Democrats don't stand for anything other than opposition to Trump, and that's NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Articulate the Democratic alternative, and appeal to the common sense, decency, and morality of the American people. Do that, and we will win."

13 July 2017

What the Hell is Wrong with Democrats (posted to Facebook)

What the hell is wrong with Democrats? With the Republicans in FULL MELTDOWN, here is a historic opportunity to create a new policy consensus. But you GOTTA HAVE A POLICY, and YOU GOTTA COMMUNICATE IT.

There should be a ten point agenda that Democrats universally stand for. Any one of us of the "Sandersista" wing could give you a pretty good approximation of what's needed, both in terms of policy and how to promote it. So let's get busy! Seize the day! Every time Trump or the stupid Republicans fall flat on their face, as with this horrible tax cut masquerading as a health bill, we DO MORE than point out how bad it is. WE ELUCIDATE CLEARLY what alternative we stand for (in that case, MEDICARE FOR ALL).

DEMOCRATS failed by being lukewarm Republican-light. WE WILL SUCCEED by offering a convincing and specific alternative.

06 July 2017

Voice of Evil

Here is the voice of evil. (Paul Ryan in this case). 

"If you're not going to force people to buy something they don't want, then they won't buy it," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Fox News. "So it's not that people are getting pushed off a plan. It's that people will choose not to buy something they don't like or want."

Bloody hell.