An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Archive for April, 2012

America and Greed: A Health Care Story

There was a video that was posted on YouTube by a channel called ForaTV.  They are pretty good about posting some thoughtful videos.  Whether you agree with them or not, they are quite thoughtful.  A very recent video had the former governor of Michigan, and the host of Current TV’s “The War Room,” Jennifer Granholm talking about health care in America.

It’s not a mystery that America spends more money on healthcare.  The amount rounds out to roughly $8,000 per person.  This would be perfectly fine, if what we were getting for our money was worth what we spent.  This, however, is not the case.  Approximately 45,000 people die every year from a lack of health insurance, according to a study from Harvard University.  Over 50 million people in America don’t have health insurance.  One of the biggest causes of bankruptcy is health care costs.  These are real problems that are completely verifiable.

However, take a look at the video linked at the top.  After watching it, take a look down in the comments section.  You’ll find lovely little gems like this –

this women is horrible. i dont spend anywhere near 10000 per year. why should me and my family who have our own problems be paying for others? gottt damn.

truth! i’m sick of government punishing me with absurd taxes because i’m responsible enough to live healthy and save

i have an idea. lets let the nation that did as much testing on its populace as the soviets and nazis unbridled control of healthcare and every other system. what could go wrong.

Accuse us of taking the most radical comments we could find (and its true that there was a lot of genuinely intelligent conversation), but the fact is that there are a lot of people who think this way.  They believe that they shouldn’t be burdened with helping other people.  That because they are healthy, pardon the language, screw everybody else.

The level of greed displayed in that thinking is absolutely amazing.  But it isn’t a small thing.  All over the conservative arena, there are people who will fight tooth and nail to get out the view that they shouldn’t have to help other people, because it’s their money.

Never mind that if universal health care was implemented, they would be saving money.  Never mind that such a system would save everybody money in the long term.  That’s too hard a thing to consider.  The fact is that they are being told, day in and day out that all of this help for the poor is funding laziness and everything else.  Not helping families who desperately need it.

There are plenty of people in America who are working two jobs and who don’t go to the doctor because they know that they can’t afford it.  This is not a new phenomenon.  But the machines of conservative America are putting out every day that these people are just leeches, hoping that the government will hold their hand.  Totally ignoring the fact that these people don’t want anybody to hold their hand.  They are busting tail and working hard to stay alive.  They merely want, and desperately need, help.  Help that should be given because we are supposed to be a better people than what we want to be.

But the greater existential question comes to this – why?  Why do these people just so adamently refuse to believe that this is for a good cause?  Perhaps the answer comes from the fact that nobody wants to sacrifice.  Make people believe that they are going to have to sacrifice, and they will simply work against it.  It is a fact that even in times of hardship, nobody wants to give up some of their good for the betterment of others.

An irony of that statement, however, is that the bulk of the people against universal health care in America identify themselves as Christian.  Being against this is kind of odd, in that respect, because if you look at their holy book, the Bible, there is a passage where Jesus Christ, their savior, openly says how people should treat the poor.

Luke 3:11 “If you have two coats,” he replied, “give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry.”

Helping the poor was a core tenant of the son of the God that they believe is what America is based around, and yet whenever somebody talks about universal health care, there is an argument that often comes up that these people are leeches, and that they shouldn’t have to pay so that they can be lazy.

There was a brilliant quote by Stephen Colbert about how America treats the least of its people –

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.

But these quotes haven’t answered the question – why?  Why do these people seem so dead-set against helping the people who are the most hurt by the current health care system?  Perhaps the ultimate answer is that they don’t know.  Just like so many other people in this country, it is just easier to go with the flow, and not to question something, than it is to step up and fight for anything.

If that is the case, then the real question becomes – what has America come to?

Peace out,

Lefty

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12th Annual Campus Litter Cleanup at UAA

Well, this is going to be a slightly different kind of post than the kind I usually do.  This fits as it was a little bit different than the kind of story I usually cover.  This was the first time that I really went out and walked a story, getting to see all the elements, and interact with the events and find out everything involved.  It was a lot of fun, and I am hoping to do so again next year, along with do more stories like this when they come up.  The format of this will be a kind of photo slideshow, with text underneath talking about what these pictures are for, and why I have them there.  All pictures can be expanded by clicking on them.  I hope you enjoy.


As you no doubt can infer from the title, this was the 12th time that this event has been held at UAA.  It is in celebration of Earth Day.  The effort is also to help make the campus look nice for the heart run that is going to take place this Saturday.  A lot of groups have supported this effort, and a lot of people came out to help.  We’ll get to that in just a picture.


There were 143 people who particpated in this event, according to the man I spoke to who was leading the project, Erik Ohm.  He was gracious enough to get me all the details after the event, so I could get this out in the most accurate way possible, as is correct of a diligent reporter.  They gathered at around 9:00 in the morning and were given gloves, a trash bag, and a pair of “tongs.”  The tools of the warriors headed out to do battle with what was a battle with a tiny entity that lurked all over campus like ants.


Those involved in this cleanup spread to all corners of campus, including the satellite areas like Housing, Aviation and the University Center.  This was an effort to get the whole campus to look better and be a less littered place.  But as said above, there was a battle against a tiny entity that was the bane of a lot of the people involved in this’ existence.


Cigarette butts.  Yes, this was the most common thing.  Like little ants, they were everywhere, and there was a clear sense of annoyance from those who were using their tongs to try and clean up this almost insurmountable mess of butts.  Not hard to see why.  With so many, having to take the time to pick them up individually, that would get on anybody’s nerves.  As a person who has never condemned or condoned smokers, it at least draws the issue that if a person is going to smoke, could they at least show the courtesy to put their buts in the recepticals around campus for just that, if not putting them out on the cold steeel garbage cans and then throwing them away?  Courtesy was a little lacking.  But the people out cleaning did their best to deal with this barrage of butts (the immature part of me will address that yes, that does sound dirty).


Of course, there were some pieces of litter that were more dangerous, like this lovely mosaic of blue glass that was found by the Wendy Williamson auditorium.  It makes for a charming picture, but a sad reminder that there are some people who aren’t even courteous enough to not be dangerous with other people’s feet.


Though not everything was a bust.  There were prizes for whoever found the strangest and most valuable things on their wanderings.  I was the one who eyed this lovely prize, hanging on a tree.  Somebody lost a good sweatshirt.  Too bad that we are too tall for it.  It is pretty nice.


At the end of the cleanup, around 11:30, the groups came in.  There was a kickin’ barbeque that was held, and the people involved ate their fill (we didn’t get any pictures of it.  Sorry).  The total count of trash that was collected was 143 bags, along with a myriad of other odds and ends, such as car parts, a dog-house, and a children’s pool that was pretty destroyed.  There was 2,940 pounds of trash taken to the dump, while there was a large number of recycleables that were seperated out.  One of the people who participated in the event remarked that the amount of trash was low.  Looking at the final count, he was right.  According to Ohm, there is roughly 150 to 250 bags of trash gathered.  The onlooker theorized that the reason for the low count was the large amount of snow still on campus.

Anchorage got a record high this year in snow, and it will be a while before it is all gone.  The man also remarked that if there was a lot more left, there would either have to be another of these events to have to take place, or facilities would have to take care of it during the summer.  It’s a bummer that so many people can’t just throw away their trash and cigarette butts, but there were 143 people who came out and helped to make campus look better.

Hopefully, with posts like this, and with more support, that number can grow, and awareness can grow with it.  That is the best thing that can happen.

Peace out,

Lefty

Lefty and Music

Several of the people that I keep in touch with saw the post where I reviewed the performance here in Anchorage by the jazz musician, Chris Botti.  They found it kind of odd that that is what we were writing a review about, and more specifically that I seemed to have been incredibly amazed by this concert.  In the interest of explaining things, I thought that I would touch on why this concert was something that I was so glad to be able to see.  This going to be a rather personal post, which isn’t something that we do often, but it was needed to be discussed.

The love of music that I have goes back almost to the beginning of my life.  The first Disney film that I ever saw was “Fantasia.”  It was a work of cinematic mastery, and remains my second-favorite film to date.  It’s ironic that for their third film, Disney did something so absolutely different from everything that they had done before.  And not only that, but this film wasn’t really made for kids.  There were parts that they could enjoy, but to be honest, this film was made almost entirely for adults.

For those who haven’t seen it, Fantasia is a film that combines beautiful classical music with artistry.  There is almost no speaking, aside from the host.  It is pure expression, and the beauty of it is beyond words.  It is, by far, Disney’s best animated film.  But from seeing that film, at the age that I saw it, I was able to get an appreciation for great music.  Complex harmonies, the chords all working together to form the artistic vision, the mass of instruments that had made this creation, I didn’t know what any of those things were when I was a little kid.  But I could see the beauty of the music that I was able to hear and see.  It forever changed the way that I look at music, and how it has had an effect on life.

I think that you can get a glimpse of what a culture is like during a time period exclusively by looking at its music.  Forget the politics, forget the economy, all you need to see in order to determine the state of a culture is to see what music that it creates.  So, the question becomes – what do you see now?  Well, unlike the 60’s and 70’s, where you saw rebellion and deep love, today we see conformity, the need to be up to the horribly low standards, a complete lack of emotional intimacy with the words.  The power of singers like John Lennon, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain is replaced by the emotionless drek of singers like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.  Never singing about the hard parts.  Love is easy, available, and life is awesome.  Such lies, but we are meant to stomach it.  And let’s not even get started about the fact that nobody seems to have any appreciation for wordless music, which gets its passion from the chords it plays and the instruments playing it.

Probably the only disappointment about Botti’s concert was that I was one of about 20 people in that packed auditorium who was in my own age group.  The bulk of the people in that room were middle-aged to senior.  Botti is a young artist, trying to play to a style that is young.  It should have had a much younger audience.  But it didn’t.  It had so few.  The lack of love for music that we are seeing in the modern culture is truly heart-breaking, because music is something that has absolute power.

The Beatles effectively ruled the world.  When Igor Stravinsky wrote his ballet, the Rite of Spring, it was so controversial that he was driven out of town with the threat of death on his heels.  Music has challenged leaders and ways of thinking, as it should.  Like the written word, it should be about more than just entertaining people.  Millions of neurons fire every single day, and the more you think, the more connections are made through this process.  With our new culture of brainless entertainment, it becoming increasingly clear that good taste is falling through in favor of something that is bright and loud.

If nothing else that I have said means anything to any of you, please take this away – the love of great music should be uniting our culture, and instead, while the Botti concert did sell out, and that is awesome beyond words, it should be selling out by the young.  The youth should have beaten the old people there, with a stick.  Oh yeah, I went there.

Music is power.  Music is passion.  Music is art and it is beauty and it is everything that makes our culture work.  The culture of America is dying, and this is sad beyond belief.  Botti touched on this when he said that one of his favorite places to go was Poland, because of their deep respect for musical artistry.  He was even asked to go there and perform in honor of Frederic Chopin.

We need our culture back.  Though that may be too much to ask.

Peace out,

Lefty

Lefty’s Review: Anchorage Concert Association – Chris Botti

This may not seem like the most pressing issue that can be talked about in a year of turbulence and craziness all over America’s political sphere, but honestly, this is worth talking about, because despite how active a person is, they need to realize that sometimes, you just have to take a break and have fun.  This concert was a perfection occasion to do so.

This performance was one of those things that a person will see maybe once in their entire life.  Everything about this was amazing.  It was total and complete perfection in every way.  Chris Botti’s performance was just as much about him as it was about everybody else on that stage tonight.  He is one of the few really great musicians who fully recognizes that he would be nothing without those who are with him, and he was so cool.

This group couldn’t have had better on-stage chemistry.  Their solo numbers were just as cool Botti.  He also had two guests with him, who each played amazing roles in this concert.  The first was Caroline Campbell, making her debut on stage with him.  She is also in his newest album, “Impressions,” as well.  The next was a woman who had actually sung with the Rolling Stones, Lisa Fischer.  Both of these women did an amazing job.

I know that I am talking about how great this is, but honestly, it was.  This night was what all great concerts should be.  It was joy, it was pain, it was rapture, it was passion, it was sadness, it was all the emotions and none of them at all.  To be in that place, and to be a part of the music that happened here, it was one of the few nights where one could actually forget about the world.

But Botti didn’t just have stage charisma, he also had audience charisma.  Early in the show, he asked how many of the people in the audience had played music.  There were two boys who said that they had.  For the final number, he had them come up on stage with his band and play the drums.  He also had their dad come up and film it on his iPhone, saying that this was going to be something that he wanted to keep.  Too right.  I have no doubt that this man has done something that those boys will remember, FOREVER!  To be in that place, how could you not?!

This was an amazing night, and honestly, I wish it didn’t have to end.  To have this kind of experience, it is a once and a life-time opportunity.

Peace out,

Lefty

The Lost Liberal

What can a person be, if they are unaware of who they are?  This is a question that has rattled around the base of the mind since this evening.  The great question that probably all people have asked themselves since the moment that people began to question their own existence, and to ponder the greater existential meanings of all of the things that life has to offer.

A friend of mine offered the perspective that one can never truly know themselves, since a person changes on a day to day basis.  This seems like a more intelligent perspective than most.  Most people tend to think that by a certain age, they will or have got it all figured out.  This, however, seems to be rather simple-minded.  Life isn’t so simple that just one night of sitting like the famous statue by Auguste Rodin, deep in contemplation.

Perhaps it is a curse to look at the world and be able to see what is true.  The truth doesn’t set you free.  Seeing the reality of the political and cultural degeneration over time really makes finding the points that one is to be happy about increasingly difficult.  I will agree with perhaps 5 out of 100 positions that my political philosophy teacher makes, but he made a rather poignant one last class.

The problem with the liberal mentality is that unlike conservatives, which tell you how to operate and move toward a given direction, there is little to no group to it, except where the common interests are shared.  We are only allied to the point where our needs and desires intersect, and after that, there is very little true camaraderie between us.  That was a rather profound way to look at things.  We are not a true brotherhood.

The reality of our situation has begun to sink in, now that the end of the college road is staring us in the face.  The reality is that we have no idea where we are going, or what we are going to do.  It’s a cold feeling, when one feels this absolutely lost.  Our advisor said that we are going to fail at life, because we don’t have all this stuff under our belt.  Well, she was wrong about one part.  We do have a portfolio.  It grows a few times every week.

We are lost, in a sea of confusion and uncertainty.  There is so little opportunity to be able to get by in this country these days.  Jobs are getting more and more scarce, and the competition is heating up.  Not being the most competitive person has really stuck us in that sense.  Where do we go?  What do we do?  These are not easy questions to answer.

I could see us ending up working at some company, writing up manuals, editing business documents.  I am a damn good editor.  I have a gift at spotting the problems with a document, that go beyond just spelling and grammar.  Those are actually kind of immaterial in a lot of ways, because most people don’t notice them.  If the essence of your work is flawed, the rest is for nothing.  Whenever I am writing something, I know exactly what I am writing for, and who I am writing to.  That is why we got an A on the last paper for that Political Philosophy class.  To be able to see the end goal, the true skill of an editor is to get at the heart of what needs to be said, and how it can be said.  Of course, spelling is another nice skill too.

There was also the idea that we could write about what we write about here – politics.  There is a mixed blessing in being informed.  To truly see what is going on is to accept the absolute ugliness of it.  To present things, after careful consideration.  You see, facts are meaningless.  William Faulkner once said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”  Any news group who gives you the facts, without any interpretation of what this all means, is just lying to you.  Of course, given our health problems, and the need for the green pieces of paper, writing biased work doesn’t present itself as too much of a problem, though that would be a last resort.

But the truth is, we are a lost liberal, drifting down this ocean of uncertainty and doubt.  We are a good writer.  We know this.  But, if that isn’t enough.  If having a passion for the truth, and a passion for following what fewer and fewer people care about isn’t enough to get by in this world, what can one do?

Maybe Fox News is hiring.  I could sell my soul for some serious dough.

Peace out,

Maverick

The Question of Morality

There was a question that was posed by a public figure who isn’t known as a great intellectual, and yet he has some very poignant message about the way things are in the world.  His name is TJ Kincaid, also known on YouTube as The Amazing Atheist.  In a video on Bing, he posed a question –

If morality controls human behavior, then who, or what controls human morality?

While he furnishes his own answer, I thought that, while it is late and I am unable to sleep, I would write up what I believe to be the answer to that question.

The first thing that one has to accept when they are looking at this question is that morality is a human invention.  There will be those that argue for absolute morals.  If that is to be taken seriously, then the question comes – where did those morals come from?  Many will respond to this – God.  He created the world, and gave us this moral code.  However, this cannot be taken seriously.

There is no evidence for the existence of God, and if something cannot be proven to exist, saying that we must follow a code that is by it, and even more disturbingly, unchanging is absolutely false.  To do so is madness, in every sense of the word.

The reasons why are obvious.  What if the religious figure which you get your morals from is not the real deity?  What if it is something completely different?  If that is the case, then you are deliberately disobeying that absolute morals that you claim to cherish.

The next is that the fact is that the predominate source that Christians claim to be the source of their morality, the Christian God, has a holy book that is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions.  To obey such a text, absolutely to the letter, is not only impossible, but completely ridiculous.

The final reason is that to obey any set of principles, absolutely, without change or even the ability to discuss change, is nothing more than a way to be manipulated.  A moral code of any kind must be flexible, it must be open to change.  It must be willing to accept that there may be issues that one can take with it, and willing to change to accomodate that, along with changing social values.

According to the Bible, slavery was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.  God encouraged his various armies to take their slain enemies families and cities as their slaves.  He made rules about how much a master could punish their slaves.

The bible had a lenient punishment for rape, and virtually no punishment for murder.  While The Ten Commandments stated that murder was wrong, this didn’t stop those from murdering others in the name of God, did it?  Not only that, but God, on numerous incidents, commanded his followers to murder, telling his armies to kill the girls and women who were not virgins, and to tear open the bellies of pregnant women.

So, by that logic, the absolute moral code that is given to us by religion is a farce.  But if that is the case, then where can morality come from?  This brings us back to the question at hand, who controls morality?  Well, take a look at the previous statements about religion, and how it works.

Back before the days when literacy was high, the Bible was taught to the people by priests and preachers.  The growth of education and the growth of skepticism has led to the increas in the atheist population, because reading these books and judging them on their own merits naturally leads to questioning the absolute system they are taught.  However, these religious leaders are giving people the system as they believe it to be from their holy book.  These people have power over their congregations and give them the values that they have.

Next up, we have governmental systems.  The laws that we make are secular in nature, designed to be fair to all parties, while still using a metric that is within the purview of people’s understanding, such as how killing and rape is wrong, and should be severely punished.

There is a pattern that you are seeing with these systems, aren’t you?  The people in power.  The religious leaders have power over their congregations.  They are informing their congregations of the values of the book that they are teaching, since it has been shown that most Christians are unfamiliar with the bulk of what is in their Bible.  Likewise, the people in government have power over the entire nations.  This power gives them the ability to dictate the morality of a nation.

Take Sparta, for example.  In the ancient city-state, there was the belief that kindness was weakness, and to show any kindness took away some of your honor.  In the Hindu-guided states, if you were suffering, it was your fault, for what you did in a past life.  There are parts of culture, even here in America that encourage hate, seperation, bigotry and being divided.  This tactic has been used by the powerful to keep the lower-classes in line.

So, where do morals come from?  Well, the answer is simple – they are a tool that is used by the powerful to control those without power, or those who are ignorant of their power.  Moral systems are simply a device that is to keep order in a society.  But what of morality?  How do we know that things are right and wrong?  How do atheists like myself know that killing people is inherantly the wrong thing to do?

The answer is empathy.  Those have this knowledge within them based on their ability to empathize with other people.  Through that, the real natural morality is born.  Perhaps, when we abandon these systems that we are taught and embrace empathy, then real progress of acceptance and kindness between people can be born, away from the systems that drive us apart, and teach division, rather than working together.

Of course, given how gullible people are, probably not.

Peace out,

Lefty

Anchorage election fraud goes unchallenged, and democracy dies a little more

It’s no mystery to the people who know me that I don’t think that voting means much.  It’s ironic that when I saw in an article tonight my friend Heather’s husband, John Aronno make the point that George Carlin made a career (which I don’t truly believe, but it was a part of his beliefs) out of saying that voting doesn’t matter.  Carlin was right when he said about our politicians –

They come from American families in American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities.  And they’re elected by American citizens.  This is the best we can do, folks!  This is what we have to offer.  It’s what our system produces.  Garbage in, garbage out.

I love that Carlin was such a sharp mind.  Even up to his dying days, he was one of the most intelligent people who has graced the stage in about 50 years.  Now, unlike Carlin, I gripe and complain about the things that American politicians do, but that’s just because it is my schtick.  However, I also vote, but not because I believe in it.

Not for two seconds do I believe that it does any good.  I just do it to say that I did, and to hope that maybe, just maybe, this time, it won’t lead to some ignorant, overpaid and underworked pseudo-celebrity jackass running my country and leading it into ruin.  That maybe the guy or gal that I vote for won’t be one of the corrupt aristocracy that runs this country.

But like John, I do think that on the municipal level, I can make a difference, and I do take some comfort in that.  In this last election, however, I lost that belief.  I lost it because I saw open and blatant subversion of democracy.  This wasn’t a partially flawed election.  This was an outright fraud.  The illegitimacy of this election is obvious to anybody here in Anchorage paying even a modicum of attention.

He wrote in a post about a young woman who made an impassioned statement at the assembly meeting.  I won’t put it up here, because I didn’t hear it, and I don’t want to feel that I took away from this, because I have a feeling that if I had been there, I would have been beyond angry.  Rage would have coursed through me as I could listen to Honeman continue to defend this, to defend the people who are allowing this.

This woman says that voting is your voice, and while I want to agree, I don’t.  The reason that I don’t agree is that I don’t share most people’s belief in the general goodness of humanity.  I have absolutely no faith in the human race.  None whatsoever.  I believe that people are dumb, stupid, dangerous animals that are our own worst enemy.  BUt I’m not advocating for that belief.  As a friend of mine has pointed out, it is fairly toxic to the mind, and I admit, I’m not a happy person.  That is who I have chosen to be.  Wading in to the river of crap that runs this country, trying to sort it all out.

But you know what I think is that Catch-22 of this whole debacle here in Anchorage, and with John’s post?  People want to believe that their vote matters, that they are making a difference, and this is good.  But I think the reason that so many people have just given up is that they are not given a reason to care.  Now, with this local election, we are seeing that even that can be rigged, can be fraudulent, can be invalid.  And when the government officials who we are saying need to hold this whole mess accountable do nothing, can you honestly blame them?

Peace out,

Lefty

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