ASK Musings

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Monthly Archive: October 2010



October 2010



It’s the healthcare, stupid!

Written by , Posted in Politics

8 October 2010 Last updated at 12:45 ET

US healthcare ‘to blame’ for poor life expectancy rates

Hospital in Chicago US healthcare reform may save lives and money, the study authors wrote

The US healthcare system is to blame for declines in the country’s life expectancy ranking, a study suggests.

The Columbia University report rejects claims that factors such as obesity have shortened life-spans for Americans relative to other wealthy nations.

The study blames reliance on costly and fragmented specialised care, and calls for systemic reform.

Its release comes as President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform remains a key issue in upcoming mid-term elections.

Higher costs

The study notes that in 1950, the US ranked fifth among leading industrialised nations for female life expectancy at birth, but only 46th in 2008.

It finds that US healthcare spending increased at nearly twice the rate of that in other wealthy nations between 1970 and 2002, with the increased spending corresponding with worsening survival rates relative to the other countries studied.

“In most cases, the relative US performance deteriorated from decade to decade,” wrote authors Peter Muennig and Sherry Glied of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

They note the countries to which the US is compared – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK – all provide universal healthcare coverage.

Factors such as differing obesity, smoking, road accident and murder rates were taken into account in the study.

‘Meaningful reform’

The US spends far more on healthcare than any other country as a percentage of gross domestic product, the study finds.

“We speculate that the nature of our health care system – specifically, its reliance on unregulated fee-for-service and specialty care – may explain both the increased spending and the relative deterioration in survival that we observed,” the authors wrote.

“If so, meaningful reform may not only save money over the long term, it may also save lives.”

The authors said those aspects of the US health system contributed to unnecessary medical procedures, poor communication between doctors and higher rates of medical errors.

So, apparently it’s not so much obesity but our crap healthcare system that accounts for the US life expectancy. 

I haven’t had a chance to read the study, so I can’t say whether the reporting on the results is fair. The study is linked above and here.



October 2010



Rethinking Life and Death: Singer’s Five New Commandments

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Peter Singer is an interesting person. His goal as a philosopher is, as I see it, to come up with guidelines that allow for acting ethically while remaining consistent. He artfully exposes the inconsistencies in much of what we in the west consider our ethical codes. The book itself, Rethinking Life and Death, is a quick read, and one I recommend. 

Singer does have a perspective that has been challenged often; one example is that he has been accused of promoting the killing of the disabled. Those charges show that those who raise them have not read his work, but it is true that much of what he proposes may not be worth the trade off. For me, he raises the issue of whether it is more important to be consistent or to do what is right. He does not see the two as conflicting; I am not so sure.

At the end of his book he discusses the ‘old’ rules and proposes instead a new rule for each.

1. Old – Treat all human life as of equal worth

New – Recognize that the worth of human life varies

I think this one is possibly most likely to draw the ire of many who have not read his arguments. It mainly serves to address the concerns surrounding withdrawal of medical care from those who never will be conscious. 


2. Old – Never intentionally take innocent human life

New – Take responsibility for the consequencs of your decisions


3. Old – Never take your own life, and always try to prevent others taking theirs

New – Respect a person’s desire to live or die

This one, for me, was the most obviously correct. I know that suicide of a young, troubled person is something I want to prevent, but I do not agree that those who are terminally ill or in severe and unending pain should be required to stay alive if that is not their choice.


4. Old – Be fruitful and multiply

New – Bring children into the world only if they are wanted

I clearly agree with this suggestion as well. The idea of having kids to fulfill some religious purpose turns my stomach a bit (Duggars, I’m looking at you).


5. Old – Treat all human life as always more precious than any nonhuman life

New – Do not descriminate on the basis of species

This one also is likely to earn an audible guffaw from most people. As someone who has been a vegetarian a few times in my life, I have struggled with this for years. I’m still not sure how to act when it comes to using animals to receive pleasure in the form of cute boots or a tasty burger. I have requested his Animal Liberation book from the library to learn more.


If any of this strikes you as interesting, I suggest picking up a copy of the book at the library. 



October 2010



The (fantasy of the) Power of Positive Thinking

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Barbara Ehrenreich (of Nickel and Dimed fame) has written a good, if not always extremely interesting, book critically examining positive thinking and the demand that all people embrace it. I just finished it and wanted to recommend it to anyone looking for a fairly quick vacation read that is more than just a trashy novel.

Her overall thesis is not that positive thinking is BAD, but that the idea of positive thinking has been used to ignore potential dangers and look down upon those who are in pain or trouble. Essentially, those who espouse ideas like “The Secret” are not just suggesting that if you dream it, you can achieve it, but the opposite; namely, if something bad has happened, it is your fault for just not thinking positively enough.

She also spends time looking at the recent economic downturn and how positive thinking life coaches are brought into corporations after mass firings to ‘motivate’ the remaining employees to work even harder. She also discusses the desire for people to encourage those going through difficult times to “buck up” even though being upset may be a very valid emotional response.

To that end, in my opinion the first chapter is clearly the best one, as it focuses on the author’s experience with breast cancer and the culture surrounding the demand that cancer patients keep a positive attitude, lest they show signs of weakness or defeat. Perhaps because she was diagnosed with cancer and is able to articulate her feelings (as opposed to interviewing others or reading the work of others on the topic), this chapter is strongest.

If you get a chance, I suggest you pick it up at the library.



October 2010



Speaking of Religion …

Written by , Posted in Feminism

4 October 2010 Last updated at 15:20 ET

Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer

The first test tube baby celebrated her 30th birthday with Prof Edwards in 2008

A Vatican official has said the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to British IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is “completely out of order”.

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the award ignored the ethical questions raised by the fertility treatment.

He said IVF had led to the destruction of large numbers of human embryos.

Nearly four million babies have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978.

Mr Carrasco, the Vatican’s spokesman on bio-ethics, said in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) had been “a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction”.

But he said the Nobel prize committee’s choice of Prof Edwards had been “completely out of order” as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs “and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world”, he told Italy’s Ansa news agency.

“In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible.”

In his statement, Mr Carrasco stressed that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

The Nobel medicine prize committee in Oslo said Prof Edwards’ work had brought “joy to infertile people all over the world”.

“His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10% of all couples worldwide,” it said.

Prof Edwards efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s led to the birth of the world’s first “test tube baby”, Louise Brown, in July 1978.

Ms Brown said the award was “fantastic news”.

“Me and mum are so glad that one of the pioneers of IVF has been given the recognition he deserves,” she said.

“We hold Bob in great affection and are delighted to send our personal congratulations to him and his family at this time.”




October 2010



Does Religion Poison Everything? Thoughts From A Somewhat Reluctant Athiest

Written by , Posted in Reviews

If I ever jump into the world of online dating, I will be checking the box “athiest.” Not even the “spiritual but not religious” box describes me, because I think that generally refers to those who think there is some sort of god out there but they do not like organized religion. I neither think religion is a net positive in the world nor do I believe that there is a god who man has yet to accurately describe.

One of the most interesting books I’ve read lately is Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. You can read professional reviews of it online; my purpose here is not to necessarily break it down, or get into every point he raises. Instead it’s more of a jumping off point for discussing my view of reality, a view that has been evolving and solidifying over the the last twenty years of my life. While this post certainly will not begin to cover what I believe are all of the logical reasons for not believing in god (nor will I get into, at this time, why throwing the word “faith” out there does not provide any sort of support for god), I wanted to spend some time discussing what has led me to not believe in any sort of diety. I think it is important to get down onto paper (or LCD screens, if you prefer) these thoughts, because I have found over the past few years that when it comes to public policy – which is where my real interests in life lie – religion, and the type of thinking that it often promotes, is the root of so many problems in society.

My parents are not particularly religious – or at least are not the type of religious parents who would force their beliefs on their children. However, when I was in late middle school / early high school I became involved in a youth group at the local church, which in retrospect makes me quite uncomfortable. I do not believe that adolescents are stupid, but I also think that the idea of religion is a bit too complex for a thirteen-year-old. Honestly, I think it is too complex for most adults, especially when you think about the mental gymnastics one needs to rationalize and reconcile what is written in religious texts and promoted by religious leaders.

Additionally, the ability of a teen to fully grasp the nuances and ask critical questions with judgemental peers around is underdeveloped, to say the least. Who is going to question the idea of the holy trinity with the cute girl from biology staring at him? I spent two years involved in ‘the church;’ however, thanks to some careful parenting I realized that some of the church’s stances – such as the idea that evolution is a hoax – did not have much relation to reality.

I still considered myself a Christian, although I clearly did not understand exactly the implications and obligations such a statement conveyed. I removed myself from the youth group, but during my third year in college, I attended a Bible study group. I figured, sure, why not, and that became a turning point for me. Even when I was attending that unhealthy youth group, I still believed that while there was a god, and probably a heaven, Christians certainly weren’t the only ones going there. That struck my fifteen-year-old mind as obvious. Clearly if there was a god, humans couldn’t know all about him or her anyway, so the arrogance involved in most religions was certainly on my radar.

At the second Bible study meeting I asked a question about other religions and whether the believers in those went to heaven too. The leader of the group sort of nodded, and instead of answering the question, said it was a good one, and then ‘reminded me’ that Satan likes to plant seeds of doubt in our minds.

Say WHAT? First off, the idea of a devil has always sturck me as absurd. Grown adults thinking there’s this horned man who gets all up in our heads to get us to do bad things seems more like the rationalizations of the child who cannot begin to understand the world, or who would rather not be held accountable for her actions. “It wasn’t me, it was SATAN!” Disturbing. Second, the implication from her comment was that the religious beliefs of billions of people existed because of the devil, and thus all of those folks were going to hell. That was enough for me; I was done.

At least, I was done with Bible study. I was not yet ready to be done with religion. Monotheism is the common western religious category, but I started to wonder about other ideas, so I read about a variety of them, from paganism to buddhism.

(As an aside, I still am not clear why believing in multiple gods, or gods that manifest themselves through nature, is any more bizarre than believing in a god who exists in three different forms, kills his own son [who is also him, and so is really committing suicide], and then demands that some of his followers eat his body and drink his blood every week. If that isn’t entirely odd, it is at least stranger than people chanting in the woods and exploring the possible healing properties of different plants.)

None of the religions really made any logical sense. There seemed to be so much effort spent explaining away certain parts of different ‘holy texts’ to make them fit what we know now. Evolution exists? Okay then – Genesis is not really talking about six 24-hour days; the days are metaphorical. But everything else is totally true! 

In the past couple of years, I’ve come to the realization that I do not believe in any sort of god. I am an atheist, although I find it so strange that I need to declare my non-belief in someone for whom there is no proof of existence. I do not believe in unicorns, but I do not see why it should be assumed that I do, or why I should have to make it clear that I do not.

I recognize that the unicorn / god analogy is putting it indelicately, and that I need to be careful to not offend my religious friends, lest they think I see them as less intelligent than me, or that I condescend to them when discussing these issues. That is not my goal, nor do I think my religious friends are stupid. People disagree about many things, from how to reduce poverty to who should be given civil rights.

That is why I find philosophy so fascinating. I have had many interesting conversations with religious folks about what is the right thing to do in a particular situation; however I do admit that I am not open to reasoning that starts with “in the Bible” or “in the Koran” if the textual quotes that follow are meant to serve as evidence supporting a particular position. My own exploration of the world, the inconsistencies in the tenets of religions, what they practice, and how members present themselves, coupled with much of what I have been studying in the past year, have helped me to understand and support my beliefs. 

In answer to the question posed in the title, I am still not sure that I am in agreement with Hitchens’ central thesis, because to accept it would be to accept that religion has poisoned all of my friends who choose to believe in some version of god. I do not think that is the case – some of the coolest, most interesting, kind people I know are religious. However, I do think so much of what Hitchens says – the points he makes, the evidence he provides, the inconsistencies he reveals – is valid, and should be examined by anyone who has made the choice to believe in god.



October 2010



A whole new level of creepy

Written by , Posted in Politics

Have you heard about this? It is making me extremely sad. From what is being reported so far, it appears that freshman Tyler Clementi was recorded remotely by his residence hall roommate, being intimate with another man. It now appears that Mr. Clementi jumped from the GW bridge, killing himself.

There are two aspects to this story that I’m mulling over right now. The first is the ridiculousness of the two alleged defendants. I understand that 18-year-olds may be adults legally but are still figuring some things out. However, while I do not think it is likely that they acted with the idea that Mr. Clementi would end up killing himself, one would have to have never lived in the world – let alone attended high school – to recognize that what they were doing would be highly humiliating and emotionally hurtful. Whether it ended up being made public or just circulated among friends, having photographic evidence of someone doing something they would not normally do in public only serves to embarrass them. Emotional harm can be the only outcome.

The second aspect is whether they would have considered doing this if Mr. Clementi had been intimate with someone of the opposite sex. Was he taped solely because the two people who taped him were thinking it would be funny? Or were they thinking it would be funny because they could humiliate him even more because people are still bigoted towards gay men and lesbians?

Both possibilities are disturbing to me. The fact that young adults still think that humiliating people they do not know or do not like is fun saddens me. Perhaps kids have always been this way, but now the actions can be magnified and sent out across the planet instantly. Once a video is sent to someone, there is no way to get it back. Even if the person who filmed it later realizes that he screwed up, he can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. It may be unfortunate, but it is the reality, and I think there needs to be more of an effort to explain what that actually means, to try to get these kids (and adults, too, in some cases) to think more long term. I post some silly things on Facebook, but everything is set to private, and nothing I post there would get me in trouble (mostly because I don’t do anything that troublesome). Do young adults not realize that their moments of being obnoxious could have lifelong consequences not just for others, but for them, too?

A sex tape of anyone at any age that was made without his consent is going to be disturbing. I certainly don’t want my intimate moments viewed by anyone else. But if it’s thought worse because it involved two people of the same sex, that’s another example of what is not right in the world. Life can be hard for people who are gay because of people who decide to make life hard for them. Sexual orientation is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, and the fact that there is a chance that the people who chose to be bigots are what lead this young man to kill himself should be distressing to everyone.

The comments section of Rachel Maddow’s blog is an interesting read.