Winter Mind Games
Does anyone know exactly how the Winter Olympics got hijacked by the Canadian Hotel Housekeeping Employees Union? Every time I turned the damn thing on, there were these ladies uniformed in manual labor casuals shoving teakettles across the floor while other ladies madly polished the forward path of said sliding kettles with Swiffer© sweepers. At least this was the first Olympiad to be dominated by Proctor & Gamble instead of some obnoxious Great Power nation with a political agenda. The NBC execs must have loved this weird new sport, because it was practically all they put on the air.
My own interest in tea kettle shoving waned over the days, and a good thing too, because along came President Obama's Health Care Reform Summit Meeting on Thursday to engage the whole nation in a rousing Olympiad of mind games, including a round-robin version of The Spanish Prisoner, a mixed set of the Republican Pigeon Drop, and variations on the Nigerian Lottery scam, with touches of the Madoff Ponzi Gambit here and there. After a few hours of that, one longed for the simple mindless bliss of tea kettle shoving, if only to relieve the headache.
I wish I could fetch up something like the glowing false authority of Paul Krugman to pronounce on the fantastic bundle of conundrums, riddles, and fathomless mysteries that is health care reform but I was left far more confused about it after the summit. All I can offer, really, are observations: for example, that Congressman John Boehner (R -Ohio) needs a set of steel ball bearings to roll around in his hand to perfect his otherwise dead-on impersonation of Captain Queeg, the paranoid villain of that 1950s movie The Caine Mutiny. I kept wishing that President Obama would reach under the table for a fungo bat every time the miserable Mr. Boehner opened his Midwestern pie-hole to drone out a new lie, and split his fucking head open like a Crenshaw melon -- but perhaps my fantasies are excessively baroque.
My feelings toward the rest of the Republicans ran along similar lines. Even that ole Teddy bear Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) managed to put over a line of insolently mendacious bullshit in the Republican effort to support the status quo at all costs. It brought to mind that curious incident from 1856 -- another era of inflamed passions -- when Congressman Preston Brooks (D - SC) stepped into the Senate chamber and flogged Senator Charles Sumner within an inch of his life with a gold-headed gutta-percha cane. Brooks had originally entertained the idea of a duel with Sumner, but was persuaded by friends that duels were correct only between social equals, and that Sumner was more deserving of treatments more usually prescribed for drunkards in the gutter. A horsewhip probably would have sufficed, but Brooks himself was a cripple from an earlier duel who happened to walk with a cane. Sumner was never quite same afterward, perhaps to the nation's ultimate benefit. Anyway, I would have enjoyed seeing the entire Republican side of the Health care Reform summit table swarmed and beset upon by cane-wielding crazies -- and all those golf-obsessed, grift-fattened, hypocritical gentlemen from those backwater districts in the Heartland begging for mercy as they cringed on the floor. Perhaps a bloody spectacle like that is yet to come. Based on how we seem to be doing things in this Republic, I wouldn't count it out.
Of President Obama's performance, I confess I came away disappointed. His speech throughout the long day seemed halting, wan, lacking in conviction, as though he had been assigned some thankless interlocutor's role in an embarrassing and hopeless political minstrel show that history had cruelly mandated to demean him. (Or maybe he just needed a cigarette.) Of all people, the rascally Charles Rangel (D -NY) far outshone the President both in stylish verve and substance in laying out his version of what was at stake late in the day. And though I am generally not a Pelosi fan, House Speaker Nancy (D - Cal) rather effectively called out the opposition as a claque of lying motherfuckers in her concluding remarks.
We are left, finally, with a so-called health care system so cruel and unjust that the Devil himself in consultation with the most demonic lobbyists, and perhaps a little input from historical politicians such as Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, Heinrich Himmler, and Pol Pot could not construct a worse way of deploying the fruits of modern science. It has gotten to the point for most of us where we dread a visit to the doctor more for the bureaucratic consequences than the health issues themselves. Your gall bladder may have to come out, but it's much harder to face the booby-trap clause in your health insurance that will result in you getting stuck with a $123,000 bill for surgery and attendant procedures (including the $500 tylenols). Three months later, of course, the re-po man is towing your car and the mortgage "servicer" has foreclosed on your house, and your life (even without that pesky gall bladder) has become a permanent camping trip next to a drainage ditch.
I am personally not confident that we will do anything to address the failures and inequities of so-called Health Care. As a general thing, I have to say that this recent exercise only seems to prove the now permanent impotence and impairment of the federal government. In The Long Emergency we have entered, real governance is likely to devolve downward to the community level, and it may be unrealistic to expect any real action from on high. Things have just gone too far at this point. We have blown past the thresholds of hyper-complexity so that further hyper-complexity only make things worse. At more than 2,000 pages, the current Health Care Reform bill is surely an exercise in the diminishing returns of grotesque additional hyper-complexity.
I am confident in the "emergent," self-organizing capablities of human societies. We are now faced with the task of emergently re-organizing medicine downward to the community clinic level -- and sooner or later probably toward a simple, straightforward pay-as-you-go in cash basis with doctors you know, with all the bureaucratic barnacles scraped away. Like a lot of other things in the years ahead -- education, retail trade, transport, even banking -- medicine is likely to be much less dazzling than the way it is practiced today. But when all is said and done we'll still possess the germ theory of illness and the recipe for lidocaine and a few other things that will make existence tolerable.
Oh, one last thing. What I said about John Boehner also applies to that miserable dissembling pinch-faced prick Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R- Ky). Someone, please, take a cricket bat to him.
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, click here.