Much has been said about healthcare in the last few months. It seems there is nothing more to talk about. I mean come one we’re headed towards National Socialism or Communism (interesting how one policy can lead to wildly divergent political outcomes eh?), we’re going to kill grandma, we’re going to ration healthcare, we’re going to take healthcare decisions out of the hands of patients and put it in the hands of bureaucrats (a dramatic shift, no doubt, from my insurance company denying any and every treatment I’ve ever needed until I called in to bust some balls). Well this post is about absolutely none of those things, so I’d appreciate it if we could avoid such silliness.
No, this post is about the costs to our healthcare that arise from our social isolationism. Okay, so the title is a bit misleading, it says individualism, but I tend to not see a dramatic difference. Individualism encourages us to look to no one but ourselves for our necessities, which when taken to its logical endpoint, means we become more isolated. Semantics aside, my argument is pretty simple: our isolationism is costing us in our healthcare spending – and big time. Read more…
Last night I had a lengthy debate with my very intelligent friend Robert after a concert. Our debate swirled around whether humans are making progress or whether we are creating a greater probability that we will destroy ourselves and our planet. I am a naive, heedless optimist and he is a depressing, Gulliver pessimist. I find it interesting that two people can view the world with such different colors painted over their lenses.
I believe that humans are becoming more intelligent, more educated, more moral, less violent, and more human. By more human, I mean that we have more leisure time to consume and to create art, politics, music, literature, etc. We also have more and more leisure time to help other humans or to heal the environment, as evidenced by the enormous number of NGOs and donors who fund them. Free trade and technological development are two primary factors that have allowed humans to escape the cruelties and monotony of the non-industrialized life and to become “more human.”
My friend and others who think as him (a significant portion of Prof. Freyfogle’s Individualism & its Critics class), often romanticize the non-industrialized, agrarian, hunter-gatherer world. I always find it curious that when I hear that romanticization and the denunciation of the industrialized world that it always comes from someone who lives in the industrialized world, but who visits nature. They visit nature during their leisure time as a vacation, but I have not yet met one who has had the courage to abandon civilized society to live an entire life on an isolated farm or in a forest with hunter-gatherer opportunities. A quick Google search reveals many such opportunities.
Regardless, the answer to the question asked in the title of this post is not obvious, even to a naive, heedless optimist. The amount of evil in the world is decreasing as humans become more educated and more connected through technology and the radii of our circles of empathy expand. Our humanity might be increasing, but the technologies of destruction that we develop are also increasing.
The equation would look something like this: (Proportion of Evil in the World) x (Ability of Existing Technology to Destroy Humanity) = Probability that Humans will Commit Mass Suicide. The existing technology could be nuclear power plants, nuclear bombs, the factors that cause global warming, a killer virus, or anything else. Therefore, the probability of mass suicide might be increasing. This equation serves as a general comment and also as a slight critique of Pinker’s presentation below.
I have posted two TED videos below that support my argument and I invite him to share material that supports his views. I maintain my optimism in the face of the arguments presented by Robert and myself. My thoughts on this subject are not well organized or articulated, but I am mostly curious what y’all think.
A new-found friend of mine created the videos below. Kate Hathaway is a local musician who has mastered the Peruvian charango. Kate and her brother create music under the band name Hathaways. The first video features Kate the musician and the second features Kate the documentarist.
The documentary is about Charles Joseph Smith. I have met and spoken to Charles before about his music, but I did not have the intuition to investigate his life and his thoughts. Kate did. Champaign-Urbana is teeming with unique, interesting, beautiful people and I am happy that she noticed one of them. I think a good writer or filmmaker could make a career out of attempting to understand and describe the people in Champaign-Urbana who live with spark.
Both pieces are thoughtful, intelligent and intimate. Both deserve at least one viewing.
The following is my final product from Prof. Leon Dash’s Immersion Journalism class. Prof. Dash is a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, author of Rosa Lee and a great professor. Immersion Journalism allows journalists to conduct extensive, personal, in-depth interviews with a single person over multiple weeks, months, or years. Read more…
Hey Urbanagora! My name is Rosie Powers, I’m a sophomore at U of I, and an aspiring journalist. I’m currently on staff with the Daily Illini, and I was linked into Urbanagora thanks to the deep intellectual insight of Billy Joe and Josh.
University of Chicago student starts “Men in Power” advocacy group
According to a recent Chicago Tribune story, University of Chicago student Steve Saltarelli recently founded a male advocacy group entitled “Men in Power”. The group was founded to celebrate male achievement while promoting entrance into the competitive workforce. The article also mentions how many members of the group see it as a necessity as a result of the job market shrinkage with the advent of more women reaching higher career positions. Saltarelli proposed the idea in a satirical column, but started the group after he received an overwhelmingly positive response. In this column, Saltarelli wrote, “Anyone with an interest in both studying and learning from men in powerful positions, as well as issues involved with reverse sexism, may become a member of MiP.”
While I believe that this group has the same right as any other gender or cultural group to assemble, its premise seems a bit blurry. It is true that in many male-dominated professions, women are now being offered more jobs in an effort to diversity the workplace, putting some men out of jobs. But “reverse sexism”? Really?
I am not at all advocating against merit. I don’t believe a woman should be hired instead a man merely because of her gender, paying no attention to his or her qualifications. But I find this group’s viewpoint a bit skewed. For example, Corporate America continues to be a male-dominated career field. According to CNN, only 15 of the current Fortune 500 company CEO’s are women. Certain fields, yes, are dominated by women. But similarly, many professions continue to be associated with men.
I support this group in that there are already many other advocacy groups which focus specifically on women or certain minority groups. Consequentially, yes, males have this same right to celebrate their role in society. However, I sometimes think that the presence of these groups (regardless of what race, ethnicity or gender that they focus on) can promote a feeling of segregation and isolation in society. American society has often been described as a sort of “melting pot” of cultures, in that various cultural backgrounds and beliefs coexist to mix together, culminating into a sort of multicultural national stew. Do we always have group ourselves with people exactly like ourselves? From the same socioeconomic backgrounds, with the same ideals, political leanings, ect.? Joining groups like this that promote these ideals can be positive and proactive. But I can’t help but be concerned as to how groups like this, especially with a name like “Men in power”, will promote single-mindedness.
Thanks to Kiyoshi for alerting me to tonight’s debut of Wolfram|Alpha, a new way of searching and organizing data that will change our (Internet) lives. Wolfram|Alpha can compute a nearly infinite number of data requests. I love data, so perhaps I am exaggerating the importance of Wolfram|Alpha, but I don’t think it can be exaggerated. This engine is already ridiculous and it will only get more ridiculous in the future. Wolfram happens to be a Champaign guy. His company has its headquarters here. I was fortunate enough to hear Wolfram lecture on his book, A New Kind of Science, at Foellinger Auditorium when I was a Freshman. His lecture shocked me. He’s a genius. I shook his hand in awe.
Tonight Wolfram and his team will debut the first practical fruits of his book. All you need to do is watch this introduction to Wolfram|Alpha to be convinced. The engine will debut tonight at 7pm CST at this link. The Wolfram|Alpha blog has lots of other information as well. Here is a techy article that tries to explain Wolfram|Alpha.
The video below is a lengthy presentation that Wolfram gave at Harvard. It is worth watching:
I recently read Edward Abbey’s Good News. The book describes post-apocalyptic skirmishes between good and evil in America. Some kind of nuclear war destroyed civilization. The West is wild again. I have not been able to find good discussion of this book on the Internet; I have a dim hope that this post will initiate some. I wrote an essay about the book, but I am only going to post a small portion of it.
Abbey makes frequent mention of brand names being dead and buried in the sand. Cars that used to be expensive and cherished line all lanes of the highway attempting to escape from Phoenix. Abbey mentions these decayed brands to show their insignificance and transience. The post-apocalyptic world does not value them. It doesn’t care for them. Human necessity and roots do not give a damn about them. They are transient. Abbey wrote:
They ride at a brisk walking pace, due west, up the broad avenue littered with fragments of paper and glass, flanked now with dehydrated palm trees, abandoned automobiles, decaying office buildings with sagging walls of lathing, chicken wire, stucco, crumbling bastions of cinderblock. Old voices speak from dangling signs, dead for a decade: Lou Grubb Chevrolet: “the Friendly Folks”; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Ace Liquors; Goldwater’s; Ramada Inn East’ Fannin Makes It Move!; Big Surf; Food Giant; Yellow Front; Checker Auto Parts; McDonalds: “Over Two Hundred Billion Served”; Denny’s; Valley National Bank; No-Tel Motel: “Adult Movies in Every Room” . . .
Abbey’s description of decayed decadence reminded me of a poem taught to me by John Bottiglieri in my High School English class. Thanks, Mr. Bottiglieri. I coincidentally saw him a couple of weeks ago at the Ebert Film Festival. We attended Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg. It’s a cool and weird movie, my preferred flavor.
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem called Ozymandias in 1818. I love it. Ozymandias is another name for Pharaoh Ramesses the Great. The poem reveals the transience of power. It implicitly argues that ideas, like Shelley’s poem itself, endure. The genuine kings of humanity write or speak about ideas. The student rebels in Good News cherish the one remaining music record that they have. The piano player only wishes to play beautiful classical music until humans regain their sanity. Shelley purportedly wrote the poem for a friendly competition with Horace Smith. They wrote on the same subject and published their poems in the same magazine. I prefer Shelley’s poem. I was not aware of Smith’s poem, but it coincidentally relates to Good News. The conclusion of Smith’s poem has a “Hunter” wondering at the ruins of London in what could be a post-apocalyptic world or simply the fall of London as a major city. I have copied the two poems below:
Ozymandias – Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias – Smith
IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
I have not yet read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I am not a well-read person. I am trying to change this and I have succeeded in recent months. I will read Infinite Jest soon. Wallace killed himself in September of 2008. Laura Miller wrote a beautiful tribute to Wallace on Salon. A recurring theme among Wallace fans is their ability to identify with him. He exposes himself. He exposes his insecurities. His father still teaches philosophy at the University of Illinois.
I mention all of this as an introduction to a video where Charlie Rose interviews Wallace. The video shows you his sparking mind and his insecurities. The interview struck me as incredible.
Joe Pug is a fantastic songwriter/musician from Chicago, and he’s only 23. He reminds many people, including me, of a young Bob Dylan. Here’s the video of the first track from his debut album.
Thanks to One Jones Brother for telling me to check him out.
It’s being reported that Sacha Baron Cohen’s highly anticipated “Bruno” movie – his follow-up to Borat centering around Cohen’s flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista – has been slapped with an “NC-17″ rating after its first submission to the Motion Picture Association of America. Because Hollywood studios almost never release NC-17 rated movies, it’s a near certainty that cuts to the movie will be made removing the more objectionable parts of the film (and that those parts will later be put back in for a director’s cut DVD). Why the NC-17 rating? According to the report:
Among the objectionable scenes is one in which Bruno — a gay Austrian fashionista played by Baron Cohen — appears to have anal sex with a man on camera. In another, the actor goes on a hunting trip and sneaks naked into the tent of one of the fellow hunters, an unsuspecting non-actor.
Admittedly I don’t know how graphic these scenes get, but I’m willing to bet that an equally graphic scene involving heterosexual sex would not provoke the NC-17 rating. I’m reminded of the cuts made to Stanley Kubrick’s underrated classic Eyes Wide Shut, in which his shots were digitally altered in the famous orgy scene so as to block out a couple instances of lesbian sex, thereby reducing the rating from NC-17 to R.
This story comes on the heels of an even more bizarre story: Times Online reported a couple weeks ago that I Love You Phillip Morris, a new comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as incarcerated gay lovers, from the guys who brought you Bad Santa, may go straight to DVD in the United States for lack of an American distributor:
Film industry insiders said the movie, which features a graphic sex scene and frequent references to gay sex, had fallen foul of anti-gay prejudice in America.
I’m skeptical that this movie won’t eventually find a distributor, but the fact that it’s even having trouble is a little startling. In the wake of Brokeback Mountain and Milk – both profitable films that portray gay sex and deal explicitly with gay subject matter – it seems a bit bizarre that Hollywood would conclude that American audiences wouldn’t be open to this movie.
It shouldn’t be that startling, however. Homosexuality in film tends to fall into a few limited categories:
- Tragedy: gay characters ultimately meet with a tragic fate, usually death. See, e.g., Brokeback Mountain, Milk, Philadelphia.
- Comic relief: gay characters or homosexuality in general is used as a gag. See, e.g., I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, any movie with a hilariously flamboyant gay dude.
- Female companions: gay characters exist solely as the fun-loving, sassy friend of the lead heterosexual female, esp. common in romantic comedies. See, e.g., My Best Friend’s Wedding.
- Murderers: gay characters are psychotic killers. See, e.g., Monster, Rope.
I Love You Phillip Morris doesn’t appear to fall into any of these categories. The gay characters here are not mere comic relief, they’re the center of the story. And while homosexuality was also at the center of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the joke there was OMG THOSE STRAIGHT GUYS HAVE TO PRETEND TO BE GAY, THAT’S TOTALLY ZANY, and while I haven’t seen it, I’m told that at one point in the film the characters are told to kiss to prove their homosexuality lest they face some severe consequence I can’t remember, and the joke is that that would be just too gay so they don’t do it. I Love You Phillip Morris doesn’t appear to be going for that kind of humor.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, incidentally, made over $120 million domestically. You hear that, and you hear that I Love You Phillip Morris is struggling to find an American distributor, and you basically want to shoot yourself in the fucking head.
Trailer for I Love You Phillip Morris after the jump (no trailer out yet for the Bruno movie). Read more…