Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent in the swamp

Hieronymus Bosch, Hell 2
Happy First Sunday in Advent, which is equivalent to New Year's Day on the church calendar, only without the hangover.

To honor the season, I recommend listening to Leonard Cohen's "Anthem."

And when you've finished weeping--if you're wondering what Advent is all about, or if you just want a refresher on why Advent is a particularly good idea--read this NYT op-ed piece by the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren: "Want to Get into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness."

Many of us in the U.S. are struggling through a three-year Advent (and counting) as the swamp is systematically drained of truth, respect, honor, and compassion. With repulsive swamp creatures surfacing one by one, and sometimes in whole flotillas, it's only natural to want to flee the darkness.

But Advent is about looking directly into the darkness.

It's about living in Narnia under the white witch's domination, where it's "always winter but never Christmas." It's about the wars that will be fought again, the holy dove that will be caught again, bought and sold and bought again. It's about crying out with the souls under the altar, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10).

It's about reality.

Strangely, Advent is also about hope. Not the hope provided by Santa and eggnog and presents under a tree, lovely as those things are. The hope they provide is a momentary distraction that goes out to the curb with the Christmas tree, leaving us with bleak January.

Advent hope, by contrast, plumbs the dark depths and yet still sees light breaking through--faint, perhaps sporadic, but persistent.

That too is reality.
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — 
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Amazing Disappearing Woman

CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza just posted his analysis of winners and losers from the third Democratic presidential debate. He made some interesting points, but his most amazing assertion was this paragraph under "Losers":
*Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts senator wasn't bad -- she just wasn't super involved in the debate, which is weird given that she is widely seen as the strongest challenger to Biden at the moment. For a chunk of the first hour of the debate, Warren sort of disappeared. Some of that is a function of not getting questions from the moderators. But Warren also needs to find ways into conversations -- especially given how centrally located she was on the stage. When she got questions, Warren was solid, particularly when talking about teachers and her own personal narrative. But she didn't get enough questions.
We women know that it's easy to be overlooked and ignored when men are in the room, though Ms. Warren, standing at center stage in her red jacket, was plainly visible. Apparently, however, she was inaudible to Mr. Cillizza (did he wonder why her lips were moving?) Here's how often she actually spoke, and on what topics:

The graph may not be legible on your phone. You can look it up here, but if you're short of time, here's what it shows: Joe Biden spoke for 17 minutes and 22 seconds; Elizabeth Warren spoke for 16 minutes and 37 seconds. The other eight candidates spoke significantly less.

And here's something else you should have noticed, Mr. Cillizza. While Mr. Biden bumbled through many of his minutes (as even you acknowledged, despite declaring him the winner), Ms. Warren was focused and articulate throughout. If she had found her way into conversations even more than she did, would you have accused her of dominating the debate?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mr Trump, did you just condemn yourself?

Presidents Trump and Obama both responded firmly and with dignity to the two mass shootings last weekend.

President Trump, August 5, 10:08 a.m.: In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.

President Obama, August 5, 3:01 p.m.: All of us have to send a clarion call and behave with the values of tolerance and diversity that should be the hallmark of our democracy. We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people....It’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much – clearly and unequivocally.

Wait - do you two guys agree?

President Trump, August 6, 6:47 a.m.: Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign [sic]. Not many people said Obama is out of Control. Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.

Oh, I guess you don't. And now I'm confused. Mr Trump, could you help me understand?

1. Didn't you and President Obama say essentially the same thing on August 5? Did you understand the words you read?

2. President Obama never mentioned your name or your office. What makes you think he was talking about you when he called on American leaders to reject racist language in all its forms? Are you acknowledging that his description fits you?

3. Do you have any idea of the extent to which mass shootings have multiplied since you took office?

Here, let me explain the data. I'll keep it simple. Try to focus.

Yes, there were indeed 32 mass shootings during President Obama's two terms in office, if your criterion is that at least four people are killed per incident. During your two-and-a-half years in office so far, there have been 17 mass shootings. (The raw data is here.) Let's look at what that means.

During Mr Obama's presidency, there was a mass shooting every 91 days.
During your presidency so far, there has been a mass shooting every 55 days.

During Mr Obama's presidency, there were, on average, 4 mass shootings per year.
During your presidency so far, there have been, on average, nearly 7 mass shootings per year.

During Mr Obama's presidency, 295 people died in mass shootings. That's about one death every 10 days.
During your presidency so far, 215 people have died in mass shootings. That's about one death every 4 days.

During Mr Obama's presidency, 275 people were wounded in mass shootings. That's about one person wounded every 11 days.
During your presidency so far, 704 people have been wounded in mass shootings. That's about one person wounded every 32 hours--not even a day and a half.

Comparing your presidency, Mr Trump, to Mr Obama's,

  • the number of mass shootings per year has increased by 67%.
  • the number of deaths per week in mass shootings has increased by 129%.
  • the number of people wounded per week in mass shootings has increased by 706%.

You're right that mass shootings have happened during previous administrations, but mass shootings are vastly increasing under yours.

President Obama did not condemn you by name or by office. You condemned yourself - both by recognizing who best fits his description, and by doing the very things that cause mass shootings (and all kinds of other despicable actions) to proliferate.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

USA violence: don't blame mental illness. Blame hatred, corruption, and lies.

Last Tuesday I wrote a blog post asking, Are Americans 10 times more deranged than Norwegians? I was suggesting that the United States' appalling homicide rate--10 times that of Norway, more than 5 times that of Western European countries as a whole--must be due to something more than mental illness.

Three and a half days later, someone murdered 20 people and wounded 26 others in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart. Fifteen hours after that, someone murdered 9 people and wounded at least 26 others in a Dayton, Ohio, nightlife district.

There is no agreed-upon definition of a mass shooting. If you use the FBI's definition of 4 or more killed, not including the shooter, we have had 22 mass shootings in the nearly 31 weeks (so far) this year. If you use the Gun Violence Archive's definition of 4 or more killed or wounded, not including the shooter, we've had 251 mass shootings in 216 days.

Are mass shooters mentally ill, or are they just reeking with hatred? Are legislators who refuse to even consider approaches that have reduced gun violence in other countries mentally ill, or just incredibly corrupt? Are people who keep voting for NRA shills and fomenters of hate mentally ill, or just dangerously deceived? Are people who are genuinely mentally ill getting a bad rap by association with these other people?

Jesus wept.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Are Americans really 10 times more deranged than Norwegians?

In the past 72 hours, 104 people in the United States were murdered by guns.

On an average day in 2017 in the United States, 47 people were murdered. About 2/3 of them were killed by firearms.

On an average day in 2017 in Western Europe--an area whose population is greater than that of the U.S.--11 people were murdered. Most of them were not killed by firearms.

The United States homicide rate (number of people killed for every 100,000 residents) is nearly 5 1/2 times greater than the Western European homicide rate.

You're 10 times more likely to be murdered in the U.S. than in Norway.

If, as some argue, the problem is not access to guns but rather violent mental illness or just plain badness, are we Americans really 10 times sicker than Norwegians?

Maybe. Every one of the Western European countries has better access to health care than the United States. Every one of them pays a lot less for it, too. (But save us from socialism, right?)

Though maybe America's flood of firearms does have something to do with our homicide rate. Every one of the Western European countries regulates gun ownership more strictly than does the U.S. (But golly, we need a well-regulated militia, right?)

I don't know if Americans are more than 5 times more deranged than Western Europeans. It's easy to think, though, that we're more than 5 times more ignorant. There are proven ways to save a lot of American lives. We could study how other countries reduce violence. Our corrupt leaders, however, don't want us to do that. After all, there's a lot of money to be made in guns and overpriced healthcare. 
P.S. I wrote this several days before the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Here's a link to what I posted the day after those horrific events.
In case you'd like to see how the U.S. homicide rate compares with the homicide rates of 17 European countries, I made this chart.

All data is from 2017. Follow these links if you want to check the figures on homicides
European population, and U.S. population.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Need good healthcare? Need it now? Short on cash? Be Icelandic.

Today on Facebook I posted a link to this article: "An American In Iceland Found A Lump On Her Body And Her Viral Twitter Thread Shows How Much Better Their Healthcare Is." If you've ever encountered the U.S. healthcare system, you might want to read the article too.

A reliably and sometimes knee-jerk conservative friend of mine left this comment on my post:

"Iceland has a population of 338,349, with practically no illegal (excuse me, undocumented) immigration. The Personal Income Tax Rate in Iceland stands at 46.30 percent. In addition, according to the Trip Savvy website, "VAT in Iceland is charged at two rates: the standard rate of 24 percent and the reduced rate of 11 percent on certain products. Since 2015, the 24-percent standard rate has been applied for almost all goods, whereas the 11-percent reduced rate is applied to things such as accommodations; books, newspapers, and magazines; and food and alcohol." One imagines it might be possible for the United States government to fund all sorts of things under a similar tax regime, not including state and local taxes. How much LIVING the average American would be able to do, however, is another question."

I'm not sure what he's saying there. If we had fewer immigrants, our healthcare system would be as good as Iceland's? If we paid more taxes, our lives would somehow be impoverished?

My friend is right, of course, that the U.S. has a much larger population than Iceland. He is also right that the U.S. has a higher percentage of immigrants: the U.S. population is 15.3% immigrant, whereas Iceland's is 12.5%. I don't know how many of those are undocumented; I do know that many economists have found that immigration (documented or un) is mostly beneficial. A report from the Wharton School (President Trump's alma mater) concludes, "Economists generally agree that the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy are broadly positive."

But let's look at some countries with a higher percentage of immigrants than the U.S. and see how they fare with regard to health and happiness. Here are seven. Ireland: 16.9%. Sweden: 17.6%. Austria, 19.0%. Canada, 21.5%. New Zealand, 22.7%. Australia, 28.8%. Switzerland, 29.6%. Golly, their healthcare costs must be enormous!

Well, no. The per capita yearly healthcare cost in those seven countries averaged $5,352 in 2017, or about half the per capita yearly healthcare cost in the United States, which was $10,209. The costs ranged from $3,683 (New Zealand) to $8,009 (Switzerland). (Iceland's cost was $4,581.)

Ah, but the U.S. has better healthcare, right? Maybe not. Interestingly, people in these seven countries have significantly longer lifespans than people in the United States. U.S. residents' average lifespan is 79.772 years. People in the other seven countries, on average, live three years longer, ranging from 81.884 years to 83.706 years (In Iceland, the average resident lives to 83.152 years). And if you think residents of those countries have to wait longer for healthcare, read the comments on the Iceland article.

But sheesh, those taxes! Yes, U.S. residents pay less tax and have more disposable income than residents of those other seven countries, on average. But the difference is not as great as it might appear, partly because those taxes pay for things that U.S. residents pay for out of pocket, and partly because the U.S. has much more inequality (multibillionaires have a way of skewing the averages). The Gini Index ranks 157 countries from #1--the most unequal--to #157, the most nearly equal. On their list, you want a high number. The U.S. is #39. The other seven countries range from #88 to #152 (Iceland is #141).

So how much LIVING can people in these seven countries do, compared with the average American? Well, with enormous healthcare costs and huge educational debt, life can be rough for average Americans. And when you and your neighbors are poor in a country run by obscenely rich people, you may not feel so good either. Maybe that's why Americans aren't as happy as people from those other seven countries. The U.S. took 19th place in the yearly happiness index. The other seven countries ranked at place 16 (Ireland), 11 (Australia), 10 (Austria), 9 (Canada), 8 (New Zealand), 7 (Sweden), and 6 (Switzerland). (Iceland came in at 4th place.)

Summary: Immigrants are not the reason for high healthcare costs. High costs are not a predictor of good care or good results. Low taxes are not a predictor of happiness.

If you want to terrify Europeans, just suggest replacing their healthcare system with one that resembles the U.S. system. President Trump didn't realize that a few days ago when he went to the U.K. and made comments that worried supporters of Britain's National Health System, but the strong blowback made him quickly change his tune.

America deserves a healthcare system that covers more people, costs less, and produces better results. I wonder why more Americans don't pay attention to systems that are already doing that.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Fact-Checking Only One of Trump's Lies This Week

From yesterday's interview on Fox News:
“I had one of the greatest election victories in history, wouldn’t you say that’s right?” [Trump] then asked host Maria Bartiromo, who nodded her head and responded “Yes, absolutely.”
I suppose that depends on how you define "great." Even Trump knows that he lost the popular vote. Let's compare his percentage of the Electoral College vote with those of all the other presidents in his lifetime, shall we?

Six of those presidents had a lower Electoral College percentage than Trump's (though five of them, unlike him, won the popular vote). Eleven of those presidents had a higher Electoral College percentage than Trump's (and they all won the popular vote).

The average Electoral College percentage of all seventeen of those presidents - those with lower as well as those with higher percentages than Trump's - is 71.87%. Trump's percentage, an unimpressive 57.25%, lowers the average.

Apparently Trump has only one possible definition of "one of the greatest election victories in history": He thinks it was great because he won. And his Fox News interviewer "absolutely" agrees with him. 

In related news this week, George Conway, referring to the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, nailed it.