Monday Poem

“All humans are genetically 99.9 per cent identical.”
—Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Great Wall, Tremendous Wall
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall one poet said Trumps Wall
imagining friendly neighbors working their way
along that which stood between, resetting
fallen gneiss and granite loaves and balls
that had fallen to each to keep their wall intact
while one questioned the irony of friendly walls
and the other made a prima facie case
for an inherent friendliness in their practicality.
And so we’ve had walls and walls remain
not of stone but of blood and bone,
walls built of double helixes spiraling through time,
hydrogen-mortared pairs of adenine,
guanine, cytosine, thymine,
smaller than any past poet’s wall-builder might imagine,
but centuries stronger than Hadrian’s real
or Alexander’s mythic one which imprisoned
the Gogs and Magogs of alien tribes
behind stone or iron barriers to keep the builders safe
from differences that barely exist in the protein hieroglyphics
of the nature-made chemical bonds of a double helix
making us all Gogs and Magogs of each other
as we spiral through worlds hurting and killing
to uphold our imagination’s chronic beliefs
in quixotic walls and spurious distinctions
which heap between us grudges and griefs

Jim Culleny
from Blink

Gog and Magog

Will the End of Obamacare Mean the End of Cancer Care?

by Carol A. Westbrook

WhoKnows?You can't afford to have cancer without insurance. Medical bills from cancer run from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the unreimbursed personal costs, such as loss of income, babysitting, caregiver's costs, and transportation.

Paying for this is a complex process. About 60% of peple with cancer will be 65 or older, and thus will be insured through Medicare. A few percent more will qualify for Social Security disability insurance. Some of the rest will have health insurance. The others face loss of savings, huge loans, and even bankruptcy.

But even with insurance or Medicare, many medical costs are not reimbursed–these include deductibles, co-pays for clinic visits, medical supplies, and outpatient medication. Cancer patients face especially high unreimbursed costs because their treatment may require frequent clinic visits or expensive chemotherapy pills with exorbitant co-pays.

Cancer patients and their doctors are concerned about the uncertainty of health care costs with the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare with the new presidential administration. What will be the impact on cancer care?

In reality, the impact may be smaller than you think. Obamacare has helped with cancer care in some ways, but has made it worse in others. The most significant positive impact is guaranteeing health insurance coverage even in the face of pre-existing conditions, including cancer. Another improvement is in the ability to obtain insurance, even if you never had any in the first place. But the uninsured are still liable for the medical bills they already owe before their insurance kicks in–and they have to wait for the open enrollment period (December to January) to sign up for it through the insurance exchanges.

Where Obamacare has really failed is in cost containment. Enactment of the ACA led to rapid and often exorbitant increases in insurance premiums, or even the loss of coverage for those whose policies did not meet ACA standards. Worse yet, medical costs have continued skyrocket; there are continued increases in deductibles, co-pays, medication, medical supplies, and hospital charges. Although Obamacare does not apply to Medicare, there were collateral effects on its recipients, who faced mounting costs for their medication, for their Medicare supplemental insurance, and higher deductibles. Obamacare did nothing to stop the increase in health costs, and may have made it worse.

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Jiang Zhi. Love Letters (12), 2014.

Archival inkjet prints.

“In 2010, Jiang Zhi’s wife, whose name meant Orchid, died suddenly at the age of 37. His photo series Love Letters (2011–2014) was his way of mourning her: “She loved flowers,” he says. Selecting one or two flower stems—first orchids and later lilies, roses, peonies—he sprayed them with alcohol, set them alight, and, with his shutter clicking at 60 frames per second, captured the blossoms haloed in pale flames. The artist, who is also a poet, likens the flames to the butterfly in a fairy tale he once wrote. The butterfly fell in love with a flower, and when the flower died it wanted to die too, to “be with its beloved forever”. In Jiang Zhi’s pictures, the flowers are wreathed in flames but miraculously untouched by them. It is as if their beauty, like love itself, is immortal.”

More here and here.

The Wedding Singer: Take a Ride

by Christopher Bacas

ImageMy first paid gig: volunteer fire hall, Saturday night. The leader picked me up at my house and drove to a small township outside the city. Barry was related to a woman who worked with my mother. In the orphanage where he spent some years, a teacher drilled hymns and choral music into his charges. Sam Cooke, in his Soul Stirrer days, visited the school and heard the boy sing. Sam embraced and encouraged him. That moment, Sam's music changed his life. He still played guitar and sang in a fetching tenor. With a day job now, weekend gigs were all he could manage. In the car, he talked to me like a musician, not a kid, explaining what we'd play (not surprisingly, I knew a few) and where I'd be contributing.

I was in tenth grade and a bit under a hundred pounds. So far, I'd played football games, Pancake Jamborees, and school assemblies. The high school fielded a juggernaut band of 250, drawing eager youth from three middle schools. A local wind band, filled with parents and teachers, performed park concerts all summer and included a jazz unit. At the fall agricultural fair, its stalwarts backed touring acts. Music as vocation wasn't in the air, though. Sulfurous paper plants, tar and asphalt makers, and a feed mill all smoked constantly. Guys started a second or third shift job the summer after graduation. Their father or uncle would vouch them in. If they did well, better hours and money, a car and house could follow. My trajectory was different. The day I came home with a tenor, my dad played "Soultrane" for me. On the LP jacket, a saxophonist with onyx skin and a gold mouthpiece; an African God pouring molten ore from his mouth. His playing, on "Russian Lullaby" (written by a real Russian), confirmed that mythic gift. Later, at a Woody Herman concert, Gregory Herbert, unimpressed I listened to Weather Report and Mahavishnu, pointed me back to Stitt, 50's Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Of course, my father had their records,too. Later on, I saw Herbert burn up the bandstand with Thad and Mel. A year later, he was dead at 30. I knew about Bird and Fats Navarro, of course. Punctures came soon for the rest of my innocence.

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— White House Press Secretary Responding to Reporters’ Questions in The New York Times, January 9, 1992

A thousand tiny dots of light:
I diminish the noise.

Duped smirk on aging face,
eyes eclipsed by spectacles,

The President,
previously recorded,

moving his lips slowly.

Watching me watching him
he holds my stare

kindly, gently.
Reading my thoughts,

George Herbert Walker Bush

By Rafiq Kathwari / / @brownpundit

My Grandfather’s Ghost

by Elise Hempel

ScreenHunter_2530 Jan. 23 10.54I remember my grandfather, sometime in the 1970s, sitting in his checkered wing-chair on the back porch of his Chicago house, his slippered feet propped as usual on the ottoman, complaining that there were too many Blacks appearing now on TV, as we all watched some sitcom or variety show after Sunday dinner. What was supposed to be progress he considered a setback.

He was a misogynist too, every once in a while, from behind his daily paper or The Wall Street Journal, telling my grandmother to "shut yer yap" if he felt she was talking too much, or talking about something he didn't want to hear. And once, I've recently learned, when my aunt was a teenager and my grandfather had ordered my grandmother to get the ketchup or mustard or whatever condiment it was he immediately needed, and my aunt spoke up from her place at the table and told him, on my grandmother's behalf, to get it himself, he hauled her to the bedroom and beat her with his belt. His beliefs about women being subordinate to men didn't end after my grandmother died and he was forced to spend his final days in a nursing home. After he died, at 85, with Parkinson's, there were reports from the home not only of his attempted escapes but also of his inappropriate touching of certain female residents. He was depressed and disoriented at the nursing home, but he didn't have dementia, and it's hard not to wonder about the possibility of some long prior history of sexual indiscretion.

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by Max Sirak

BowieThere's a reason change is hard. It's biology's fault.

Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon write in their book, A General Theory of Love, "Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear anew what we have heard most often, think just what we have always thought."

The game is rigged. The deck, stacked. Odds are, despite our best (or pretend-best) efforts, we will continue to live as we always have and do what we've always done. We are designed to repeat our patterns. We're made to continue our habits.

This is how we work. It's how we're wired. To borrow some computer programmer lingo, this is a feature of our system, not a bug. Because our neurons like ruts, "attempting to change" could easily be rebranded "fighting inertia."

I get it. I mean, I love ruts. They're comfortable and easy, like an old pair of jeans. They're familiar and warm, like a favorite hoodie. However, just like old clothes, sometimes old ruts need replacing.

Maybe we wake up one morning and have an anti-Talking Heads moment. "I don't have a beautiful house. I don't have a beautiful wife. I don't even have a job. How did I get here?"

Or perhaps there's an external cause. Our doctor calls and says the test came back positive. We're on a crash course with a major health risk. There is no surgery. There is no medicine. It's change or die.

Whatever our reasons, whatever our whys, I want to help with our hows.

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Walking Past the White House: March comes in January

by Maniza Naqvi

MarchA very decent, elegant, graceful and intelligent man, the kind who opens doors for his wife, and wins a Nobel prize for Peace just by being has for eight years occupied the White House, furthering and expanding the indecency of war. And Mr. Trump may slam doors on everyone and not win a prize but will do the same.

Because in this system, it doesn't matter who is elected, they become part and parcel of, let me coin a term the: war industrial complex kitkaboodles endless dreadfulness (WICKED).

Let me locate myself. If you draw a straight line from here, Karachi, to there—DC, both points are home. Most days of the year walking past it I stop and gaze at the White House—at its glory—with appreciation as well as with many grievances in my heart for the policies unleashed across the globe.

Grievances against the kind of endless war policies which have now brought us inevitably, shamefully, tragically, criminally up to year sixteen of relentless erosion of public space, privacy, discourse and the increase of war and the propaganda necessary for it—books have disappeared—we rely on google and social media for all our information.

In the vicinity of where I live in Washington DC and where I work there used to be many bookshops and now there are next to none. Yes, Politics and Prose and Kramers— one or two keep chugging on—but more as coffee shops, bars and restaurants then bookstores. With the erosion and disappearance of books and with the rise of IPhones and social media—we are getting more and more connected with nothing—and informed about nothing. Perhaps the march across the USA on January 21, 2017 has finally woken up America, thanks to the over the top fascistic rhetoric of Donald J. Trump. Perhaps Trump has managed to build that wall—after all—but of people rising against injustice and fascism. Perhaps against war and the killing of people and genocide and not just for the sake of protection of our women's right to birth control.

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Wallace Stevens, the Detached Poet

Mark Dunbar in The American Conservative:

ScreenHunter_2528 Jan. 22 20.12The European poet Paul Celan once said that a poem “intends another, needs this other, needs an opposite.” For Wallace Stevens, this otherness was the world at large—the reason, perhaps, why his poetry contained so little but expressed so much.

Stevens was born October 2, 1879, and died August 2, 1955. Between these two dates quite a lot happened in the world. Fanatical ideologies were born, took control of states, and were defeated. Two global wars were fought: the first began with skirmishes on horseback and the second ended with the splitting of the atom. Human aviation was established, then militarized, and, finally, commercialized. Economic depressions wiped out the general optimism of the 19th century, and welfare systems were put in place as acts of material expiation. Frantic voices—either approvingly or with alarm—cried out that politics had replaced religion as society’s moral centrifuge. Telephones, cars, and antibiotics became commonplace, and the modern computer was already beginning its ascendancy toward societal ubiquitousness.

Stevens, however, was always somewhere else when the action happened and never spoke intelligently afterward about what took place. In Paul Mariani’s biography of him, The Whole Harmonium, one of the things that stands out is how little effect any of these tragedies or trends had on Stevens’s life or his poetry. Modern technology rarely appears in his poems. Planes don’t naggingly fly overhead and the telephone doesn’t interrupt the neurotic aesthetician. Scant political images can be found in a handful of his poems but never any political ideals.

More here.

The History of Popularity

Rayyan Al-Shawaf in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_2527 Jan. 22 19.59David Hajdu, on the first page of Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, dismisses the category of popular music:

Of the countless terms for categories of music […] the least useful phrase I know is “popular music.” It provides no information about the music itself: no suggestion of how it sounds or what mood it might conjure, no indication of the traditions it grows from or defies, and no hint of whether it could be good for dancing, for solitary listening, or for anything else.

Yet he went and wrote a book on the subject — go figure — and a fine one at that.

Love for Sale examines the shape-shifting undergone by popular music, from minstrelsy to hip-hop, and the equally protean ways in which it has reached the public, from printed notation sheets for do-it-yourself parlor revelry in days of yore to the streaming and downloading of our digital era. The result is an exceptionally astute and stimulating account of music in the United States from the late 19th century until the early 21st. Hajdu’s propensity for stepping away from the hit parade in order to mingle with its architects as well as members of its audience not only militates against the monotony that a straightforward chronicle of the charts would generate, but it also fleshes out the social context of the songs under discussion.

The author also fills in the history of popularity for different kinds of music before 1940, when Billboard, which already compiled and published lists of popular songs, devised a system of charts — albeit an imperfect one — for tracking their sales.

More here.

Both NASA and NOAA declare that our planet is experiencing record-breaking warming for the third year in a row

Andrea Thompson in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2526 Jan. 22 19.532016 was the hottest year in 137 years of record keeping and the third year in a row to take the number one slot, a mark of how much the world has warmed over the last century because of human activities, U.S. government scientists announced Wednesday.

2016 is a “data point at the end of many data points that indicates” long-term warming, Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of the National Centers for Environmental Information, said.

While the record was expected, the joint announcement by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came in the midst of Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees, several of whom have expressed doubts about established climate science, as has Trump himself.

Many climate scientists, policy experts and environmentalists are concerned about the potential for the incoming administration to limit funding for climate science and roll back both national and international progress toward limiting the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

According to NOAA data, the global average temperature for 2016 was 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average and 0.07°F (0.04°C) above the previous record set last year.

In NASA’s records, 2016 was 1.8°F (0.99°C) above the 1951-1980 average.

Each agency has slightly different methods of processing the data and different baseline periods they use for comparison, as do other groups around the world that monitor global temperatures, leading to slightly different year-to-year numbers.

But despite these differences, all of these records “are capturing the same long-term signal. It’s a pretty unmistakable signal,” Arndt said. Or as he likes to put it: “They’re singing the same song, even if they’re hitting different notes along the way.”

More here.

Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats

John Holbo in Crooked Timber:

Election2016tippedabit_white-1024x743I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’

One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others.

In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it.

The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.

Wilkinson goes on to talk about other, non-Haidt stuff that contributes to polarization. I like that better. (I think Wilkinson does, too.) But I want to grouse about Haidt, who I think has done interesting empirical work but who commits what I regard as terrible howlers when it comes to moral theory, and when it comes to reasoning about practical, normative implications of his work.

More here.

Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

Jean-Paul Delahaye in Inference Review:

ScreenHunter_2525 Jan. 22 19.35In November 2008, a paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published online.1 The system described in the paper, including a monetary unit termed “bitcoins,” embodied the world’s first cryptocurrency. The most striking characteristic of the bitcoin system is the complete absence of any form of centralized control. There is no role for governments, financial institutions, or regulatory bodies. The system is completely autonomous. Peer-to-peer networking technology and mathematical encryption form the basis for the system. A distributed ledger, known as the blockchain, maintains a public record of all transactions. In the absence of trusted third parties, the security and maintenance of the system is a shared responsibility.

On January 3, 2009, with access limited to a select few cryptologists, the bitcoin software was released and the first bitcoins issued. Bitcoin was not, it must be noted, an overnight success. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the system really began to take off. That year saw a fifty-fold increase in valuation, so that by January 2014, a bitcoin was worth around nine hundred euros. A series of advances and declines since then has seen the value of bitcoins fluctuate. Against the expectations of some observers, the currency has recovered and a bitcoin is again worth around six hundred euros.2 There are now more than seven hundred cryptocurrencies competing with bitcoin.3 Their success to date has been limited, with a cumulative capitalization of only around twenty percent that of bitcoin. The total capitalization of the bitcoins issued thus far amounts to more than fifteen billion euros.

Although credited to Satoshi Nakamoto, the true identity of the person, or people, responsible for the bitcoin paper remains unknown.

More here.

Sunday Poem

The depth of value of a thing
is in how much its missed.
………………………. Roshi Bob

The Executive’s Death

Merchants have multiplied more than the stars of heaven
Half the population are like the long grasshoppers
That sleep in the bushes in the cool of the day;
The sound of their wings is heard at noon, muffled, near the earth.
The crane handler dies; the taxi driver dies, slumped over
In his taxi. Meanwhile high in the air an executive
Walks on cool floors, and suddenly falls.
Dying, he dreams he is lost in a snowbound mountain
On which he crashed, carried at night by great machines.
As he lies on the wintry slope, cut off and dying,
A pine stump talks to him of Goethe and Jesus.
Commuters arrive in Hartford at dusk like moles
Or hares flying from a fire behind them,
And the dusk in Hartford is full of their sighs.
Their trains come through the air like a dark music,
Like the sound of horns, the sound of thousands of small wings.

by Robert Bly
from The Light Around the Body
HarperCollins Publishers, 1967

An inaugural poem of protest by Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky at CNN:

170120100154-robert-pinsky-headshot-new-medium-plus-169'Exile and Lightning'

You choose your ancestors our
Ancestor Ralph Ellison wrote.
Now, fellow-descendants, we endure a
Moment of charismatic indecency
And sanctimonious greed. Falsehood
Beyond shame. Our Polish Grandfather
Milosz and African American Grandmother Brooks
Endured worse than this.
Fight first, then fiddle she wrote.
Our great-grandmother Emma Lazarus
Wrote that the flame of the lamp of the
Mother of Exiles is "Imprisoned lightning."
My fellow children of exile
And lightning, the indecency
Constructs its own statuary.
But our uncle Ernesto Cardenal
Says, sabemos que el pueblo
la derribará un día. The people
Will tear it down. Milosz says,
Beautiful and very young
, meaning recent,
Are poetry and philo-sophia, meaning science,
Her ally in the service of the good . …

Their enemies, he wrote, have delivered
Themselves to destruction.
"Un dia," and "very young" — that long
Ancestral view of time:
Inheritors, el pueblo, fellow-exiles:
All the quicker our need to
Fight and make music. As Gwendolyn
Brooks wrote, To civilize a space.
From here.

J.M. Coetzee: Antonio Di Benedetto is a Great Writer We Should Know

J.M. Coetzee in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_2524 Jan. 21 19.25The year is 1790, the place an unnamed outpost on the Paraguay River ruled from faraway Buenos Aires. Don Diego de Zama has been here for fourteen months, serving in the Spanish administration, separated from his wife and sons. Nostalgically Zama looks back to the days when he was a corregidor (chief administrator) with a district of his own to run:

Doctor Don Diego de Zama!… The forceful executive, the pacifier of Indians, the warrior who rendered justice without recourse to the sword…, who put down the native rebellion without wasting a drop of Spanish blood.

Now, under a new, centralized system of government meant to tighten Spain’s control over its colonies, chief administrators have to be Spanish-born. Zama serves as second-in-command to a Spanish gobernador: as a Creole, an americano born in the New World, he can aspire no higher. He is in his mid-thirties; his career is stagnating. He has applied for a transfer; he dreams of the letter from the viceroy that will whisk him away to Buenos Aires, but it does not come.

Strolling around the docks, he notices a corpse floating in the water, the corpse of a monkey that had dared to quit the jungle and dive into the flux. Yet even in death the monkey is trapped amid the piles of the wharf, unable to escape downriver. Is it an omen?

More here.