Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The public virtue of oligarchs

Are rich people irredeemably sanguine? The President went after "Terrorism" as if it was his only duty as statesman. As if nothing else mattered, as if Divine Providence would spare Murka from any asset depletion.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, amnesic that his own state is still whupped from last year's catastrophic weather and only at the midpoint of this year's storm season, nobly offers Florida's "resources" to the storm-ravaged people of the northern Gulf Coast.

Not begrudging any help - they certainly need it. It's just that these statesmen appear to function in temporal vacuums. When they address the latest emergency, they act as if there were no other realities, no other potentialities, no other obligations, no other possible avenues of action.

News and rulers seem to follow the same cycle: Forget, command, control, forget. Nothing on their radar screen five minutes ahead, or behind. No fore and aft. No phronesis. Broadcast media requires it anyway. The obsessional gaze. The hero must make a grand stand. Strut while sufferers fret. Watch the Towers collapse five million times.

The other day, a woman whose home suffered fairly heavy hurricane damage last year in Florida shared with me an enlightening story of the ways of home insurance:

Her family happened to have an adjuster who worked for two companies. He told them that they were lucky he was working for the insurance company they were with. That company, he told them, was very good to its customers. Sent checks promptly, didn't niggle every penny. The other company he worked for was making life hell for its customers. Took forever to pay, argued every nickle. He did the same work for both - damage reports and estimates - but with diametrically opposite results. (I can personally vouch for the fact that the bad company he worked for was all he said it was.) Many people blamed their particular adjusters, missing the point.

This advice will seem premature to the folks in Miss. and Ala. and La. who are now without power, phone, water, bug spray, AC, dryness and decent food, but it's going to acquire relevance for some in the coming days:

If and when you are attempting to deal with your insurer, remember, it's not about the adjuster. It's about who pays him. If he's giving you a hard time, it's time to talk to your state regulators and perhaps to a public adjuster -- a reliable one. (These are people licensed to do the same thing private insurance adjusters do, but they do it for you, not against you.)

Brave windblown media folk never seem to figure it out: The business of risk is not a risky business. The insurance industry either raises rates or cuts and runs.

Which brings us back to the sanguinity of our Mr. and Master Bushes: You will send in the troops, and make large gestures, as you did here on Florida's Gulf Coast last year. And then you will fail to do anything about the white collar thugs whose good hands will dick around with homeowners who have lost everything in Gulfport, Miss. and environs. New Orleans is good at funerals anyway.

You never think in terms of what you actually can do to help the community of people you pretend to lead. That would involve statesmanship. Instead, like the agencies you are charged with managing, you go on about your business (strutting) while the unobtrusive matter of learning from the past, and anticipating the future, continues to make no news.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Ways of hearing

Some of you may remember an episode from John Berger’s way of seeing (the TV version) where he flicks through a Sunday Times magazine. Photos of starving refugees in Bangladesh, advertisements for aftershaves, life insurance, a grinning TV celebrity, back to the pictures of starving refugees. Incommensurate realities, co-existing on the same glossy visual plane. The culture that has produced this incoherent visual language, Berger declares, ‘is insane’. Long Sunday.
Are broadcast media any different? Take NPR news offerings, for example: Remove the scaffolding that gives Morning Edition its formal coherence - the musical segues, the aural wallpaper of the openings and transitions, the submerged metaphor of the program as a journey, or tour, "Coming up we'll talk with so and so, followed by a recap of the week's such and such" and what's left?

The sleek production techniques of program design facilitate the illusion there is some unifying perspective through which "All things [can be] considered."

But this is the structuring lie of broadcast, of news media: There is no such perspective. The illusions of intelligent design only make it seem so.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Badaboom Rev. Robertson

Today in Opa Locka, the Blessed Virgin appeared before a small gathering of Mexican and Haitian migrants.

She called for the assassination of Pat Robertson, who on Monday called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We don't usually endorse political assassinations," said Our Lady. "But," she added, "it seems presumptuous of Mr. Robertson to arrogate to himself the business of the Dept. of Saints and Martyrs."

"This is in our sphere of influence," added Mary, "so we can't let this happen."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Health Savings Accounts...?

As it happens, I'm trying to sort out health insurance, and can commiserate muchly with Jeneane's predicament.

One thing I'm looking at is Health Savings Accounts - HSAs. The US Government thinks it's ok for us to deduct money we spend on healthcare from our incomes, similar to deductible IRA contributions. But you have to have a healthcare policy that offers the HSA option -- high deductible policies. (I don't see why we can't just have the accounts without the policies, but Blue Cross probably thinks that's a commie idea.) The good part is, the premiums are lower.

I am still researching HSAs. Here are some resources. I would think the US Treasury stuff, just updated, might be the most reliable source:

Oddly, the first bank I talked to -- a very big national brand -- had no knowledge of HSAs, no product to offer. Some credit unions and other financial operators do. Here's an old USA Today article that needs updating, but it shows that this concept has been around a while. Corporate enterprises may not give a fig because it's not a big moneymaker for them. At least, not yet.

A little prognostication: When millions of people have stashed lots of dollars in these accounts, banks will fall over themselves trying to grab the business.

This is not national healthcare. Maybe a stopgap. I'd be interested in any info, experiences, from those better acquainted with HSAs.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Jeu de Sprite

The new Sprite cans? So thin you barely touch them and they begin to collapse.

You may infer one of two things:
  1. Capitalism is producing cheaper, more substanceless things every day.
  2. You have just been invested with superhuman strength.
If you tend to be sane, you go with 1. If you are Mr. Bush, you go with 2, which yields a


To the extent Capital debases the realm of artifacts and commodities in the happy pursuit of surplus value, to that extent will end users' delusions about their mastery of the universe be augmented.

Action Item:

Modify the Theory of Surplus Value to comprehend the proliferation of superheroes populating the System.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Deadeye dicks

As we mark the year since our hurricanes began in earnest, the accuracy of FEMA's purposive activity is still capable of making news. The agency, it is reported,
used hurricane aid money to pay funeral expenses for at least 203 Floridians whose deaths were not caused by last year's storms, the state's coroners have concluded.

The deaths include a Palm Beach Gardens millionaire recovering from heart surgery who died two days before Hurricane Frances; a Miami baby not yet born when the storm arrived; and a Port Charlotte man who died of cirrhosis and heart failure five months after Hurricane Charley.

In two other cases, coroners could find no record of the people dying.
"Good afternoon. I'm quite sure I'm dead. May I have please some money?"

Ten people were not in Florida at the time of their deaths, including Brant Moskowicz, 40, of Boca Raton. He died in a head-on collision Sept. 7 in Ashburn, Ga., when the driver of a Ford Ranger crossed a median and hit his Nissan Altima, according to traffic reports.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Aristophanic variations

...the ‘philistinism’ of The Guiltless – those who, whilst not dispatching the trains to death camps, created a world in which they could be loaded – a worldview that can tolerate people being ripped to shreds in an industrial scale, but is horrified about sex or the transgression of petty manners. Prudishness, in Broch’s pre-war world of eerily tense picnics and ominous cafés, becomes a veil with which to cover the insignificant – making it significant, while the truly monstrous quietly liberates itself. Difference Engine, The fucking war

a damn good thing, this engine.

A friend writes to say a 19-year-old she knew, the son of a friend, has been killed in Iraq. She ends her moving email:

I read today about a woman who picketed the Bush place in Crawford -- her son died over there, too. I'd like to join her protest. I'd like to rend a few garments, keen until I have no voice, and then stone the president and leave him to rot in the Texas sun.