Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Confederate Flag – The Push Me Pull You of Culture and Race

Tenured Radical had a post on the 2009 conservative march in Washington. If you follow the link you will see two men holding a flag. I also encourage you to read her full post. When I see the fabric that is called the “Confederate flag” I have very specific emotions. They are visceral. I feel fear inducing recollections based in historical facts and events. No, this is not about bashing white people.

First A Bit of Historical Context

One of the learning skills impressed upon me as a teen was to know what a word or concept really means. For the benefit of our overseas readers, I want to give a brief summary about what has become to be known as the Confederate flag. This is photo is the first actual Confederate Flag, 1861 from the Smithsonian Institute.

First Confederate Flag 1861


This is not the flag that gets people blood red upset. In fact, most Americans would probably confuse it with an early version of a American or Union flag. It is most certainly not a Union flag. When I look at it I have no immediate attachment, fear or hatred of it. It is a historically valuable object created at the time of the separation of the southern states during the Civil War. The history of that war is painful but it is a part of my collective American history and it is exactly where it belongs, protected in a museum. 

Rebel Flag

Rebel Flag


This is a Rebel flag. It is not a true Confederate flag; it is a latter day variation of the third Confederate flag from 1865.

During World War 2 some of the southern solders brought along the Rebel flag to show pride in their country and to represent their state. Other states and countries were doing the same thing. After World War 2 southern college students began bringing the flag to football games. The Rebel flag became a southern cultural icon, so I have been told. One that African-Americans at the time were nervous about but that is a story for another time.

David Sarratt writes about the historical Rebel flag’s resurgence:

White Southerners believed that their exclusive culture was being threatened, and the flag became a symbol against civil rights. The segregationist Dixiecrat party of 1948, who ran Strom Thurmond for president, took on the Confederate flag as its symbol. Anti-Civil Rights sentiment ran strong in the South, which was once again feeling imposed upon by a distant federal government. The conflict was on again.

The Rebel flag was embraced by the Klu Klux Klan and every anti-civil rights and hate group from here to Georgia and all points beyond. It was used to support intimidation, threatens fire bombing and murder. The victims were not just African-Americans but Jews, women and European-Americans.  It was used as a rally banner to defend southern land from any group that tried to challenge the Jim Crow laws and system of segregated government.

The rest of the country was in no way exempt from this type of behavior by the way. In some respects, they did dirt worse than the South.

The points that the Segregationists wanted understood was that they resented outsiders coming into the South to dictate change. They felt that they had a regional system that worked for them. Southerners felt race relations and integration was a state’s rights issue, not a federal concern. Segregationists felt they were defending their American rights of self-governance and expression.  They felt that the federal government was overreaching it jurisdiction.

Is any of this sounding familiar? In a 2009 sort of way?

Support for The Confederate/Rebel Flag

Other Points of View about the Contemporary Usage of the Rebel/Confederate Flag

  • Rev. Ryusho has the same questions I have, why bring that flag to DC?
  • Tension between NAACP and South Carolina Conservative Action Council on Confederate flag. You should view the video or read the text of the news story.
  • Fox The Poet uses the Rebel flag as a jumping off point for one of his poems.

Historic Culture Clash

I have tried and continue to try to understand the conservative point of view to the various issues of the day. There are legitimate concerns about the budget, corporate financial malfeasance, health care and repairing and developing new infrastructures.

That damn flag make it almost impossible to have those conversations. You see, that Rebel flag is a part of my history too. A part of my heritage.  The blood soaked one. The one stained in humiliations and screaming voices too numerous to count.  I can’t speak for Native Americans, Latinos/a or Asian-Americans, but I bet some of them ain’t feeling the warm fuzzes for the Rebel flag either.

When I see the Rebel flag at a conservative march on Washington or at healthcare protests that tells me I am not invited. In fact, it might be detrimental to my health and longevity to attend. I have history to back me up on this particular theory of mine. I have no desire to test it out in real life. It is scary enough reading blog posts and comments that damn me to hell for breathing.

I am not advocating suppressing any groups history or culture. I’m all about the solutions. Got any?


For more information about the History of the Confederate flag visit the American Studies Department of the University of Virginia historical overview.

The Smithsonian Museum has an online collection of military resources, images and objects called The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer where this post originally appeared.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Women, Health Care and Universal Exclusion?

Are we really saying to save insurance costs we need exclude women's health care and treatment because a portion of the population does not and cannot make use of said treatment?

This is a brief exchange between Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ. The topic? Including maternal care in insurance coverage.

Wait a minute. Even before her interjection I'm thinking; women carry babies. It is currently an exclusively female function of reproduction.

Senator Kyl does not want to pay or have included the additional insurance costs of providing maternal care for women. He does not anticipating himself being pregnant so why should he have to pay for medical care specific to women.

By extension this would also mean:
  • Couldn't scare up a quarter for postpartum depression,
  • Not a dime for breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer or and related conditions.
  • Not a nickle to explore how heart symptoms and heart disease in women is different than in the menfolk?

My nipples are not valued as much as the gonads? If this is true, then we have gone ape shit crazy.

If I don't have an Adam's apple this should disqualify me from medical treatment that is different from a man?

I would never question "why do I have to pay for men's health and medications exclusively used by men?" God knows I've busted out a few "enhancement" jokes but the reality is there is a legitimate medical reason for those male specific drugs. Cancer treatment by radiation is one of them.

In no reality would I say that because I do not have a prostate that we should not pay for treatment of prostate cancer.

Senator Kyl, I'm guessing no one in your family has Sickle Cell Anemia either? So hell, don't need to treat that sucker; scratch it off the list. Tay-Sachs Disease? Yeah, we can save a few more pennies but not treating that either.

Do you see where we are heading? We are suppose to be talking about universal coverage, not universal exclusions. Take the freaking insurance out of the discussion and get back to the concept of providing health care for Americans.

Otherwise we are in a dead heat for the stupidest nation on earth.

The Lab/WGBH Boston's Open Call for Videos

I like being a part of different communities. Some days I feel like an information conductor. I learned about this from the Videoblogging forum. I posted this on the Create Video Notebook blog, but I want to make sure other folks know about this as well.

The Lab at WGBH Boston is having an open call for three minute or less videos on life, life stories or your take on your journey so far.

One of the first things to do is check out the eligibility and guidelines for the videos. You do have to be over 18 years of age and a U.S. citizen. Those of you younger than 18 years of age can submit videos via your teacher who can contact The Lab/WGBH for submission guidelines.

I think if you have made it this far on the planet you might have an observation or two about the nature of life. If you were waiting for an opportunity to put in your two cents here it is. This is it, go forth and tell what you have learned standing in line at the market looking at magazine covers.

I learn a lot of stuff that way, like how my life is far interesting and way more complicated than the celebrity of the moment.

The Lab/WGBH will accept videos until December 31, 2009. You can do a talking head video but there are other options to tell life stories such as:
  • animated photo slideshows converted to a video format
  • montages
  • mash-ups, if you use your own content or public domain sources
  • video poetry or text streams of consciousness wrapped in video
and so many more ways than just talking head videos. But if all you got is your head then go forth and speak your piece.

You do want to be very conscious of using copyrighted material. If you have to use other content make absolutely certain it is in the Public Domain and you can document that fact.

I know some really cool people and in the coming weeks I will be secretly badgering them to do this.

Tell your story.

And you? I'm flat out asking. What is life?

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Change Is Gonna Come on the Finally Friday Freakout

Seal is a singer. A damn fine singer that American radio is too stupid to accommodate. Ever since the corporate lock down on innovation, new artists and focus on the base level instead of the quality level, well let's just say a whole lot of people are locked out.

I'm gonna let contemporary radio continue the march to the tar pits. This is Seal in a mighty fine performance of A Change Is Gonna Come.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Anne Sexton – Her Whispers of Inspiration

There was an urgency of somebody or something trying to get my attention. I kept hearing Van Morrison’s Inarticulate Speech of the Heart in my head. Well that and various other song lyrics about pain, love and the search of redemptive peace. Finally, I heard Anne Sexton’s name. I had not thought of her for years. I loved her poetry when I was a teen. I remembered how Anne used words that were her tethers to her world.  A world where madness dominated her life and yet she created solid, beautifully crafted poems.

Who Was This Woman?

Anne had been a fashion model. She was a wife and mother. And a poet. This woman advanced what could be thought of as topics for poems. Topics that were profoundly personal. Her work moved the reader, not stylized structures or academic approval; although she had that too. 

For every box they searched to constrict her value she found a way to express herself. Her poetry were confessional in the sense that she didn’t necessarily clean it up for public consumption. She was not vulgar. There was craftsmanship in her work. Anne wrote her poems as she experienced her life. Engaging and painful.

Trying to explaining her importance is complicated. Anne Sexton had a mental illness. There is no dispute about that fact. The illness has been described as manic-depression in some of the biographical summaries I’ve read. There may have been early family based abuse. I’d guess that there is a possibility that she might have also experienced undiagnosed post-partum depression.

Anne had a great deal of needs that couldn’t possibly be filled or properly treated at the time. Yet, in the middle of all her chaos, Anne created a fine body of work.

Musician Crystal Cheatham has also heard the whispers from Anne:

Most of all I think I understand how much she truly needed her husband and later told him she had exchanged that neediness for what she thought it was in the first place, love. You see what I’ve discovered is that Anne’s writing is not brilliant because she was crazy. It was brilliant because she was honest.

Another thing to consider is the environment of the late 1950s-1960s with specific defined roles for men and women. When she was was not writing, teaching, performing she was creating the source material for her work. Anne burned through friends, love affairs and hospitalizations.  It was not an easy life.

At the Eleventh Stack. Don writes about what Anne faced as a poet and a woman:

I can’t begin to imagine the courage it took for this lone woman to stand up and confront her madness in a public way at a time when most did not want to hear.  The cusp of change was rapidly approaching and perhaps the single greatest accomplishment of Sexton’s life was to bring these issues, with the help of psychoanalysis, into the public forum to be engaged, debated, and addressed.

Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974. Suicide has many surviving victims trying to make sense of what seems to be a senseless act. At Louisey's blog Letting Go, Recovery in the Sunset, she remembers the anniversary of her own mother’s death. She posted a copy of Anne’s poem, Why Death? maybe as a way of saying she will never understand but Anne did and this is how it was articulated.

Why Is Anne Sexton Important?

I have always remembered the feeling of being stunned reading her poem “For My Lover, Returning to His Wife.” It wasn’t just the topic but the honesty of admitting that the character in the poem knew she was a transitory value. It was painfully lyrical.  It was honest and made me a part of an unspoken understandable depth of loneliness.

At The Unfolding Moment MoonRabbit gives us a glimpse into her creative process in creating art. The example she displays incorporates poems into the the mixed media pieces:

…Other poems have been burning in my consciousness. I search my journals for lines that connect…With colored pencils in various shades of brown and olive, I begin to add text to the diptych. Text becomes texture as I use the words to fill in a space here, to visually extend a line there. If Mary Oliver’s key ideas are the centerpiece of this work, then Adrienne Rich provides the anchor—I carve a slice from her lines and lay it repeatedly across the shape that encloses “breath,” so that breath/spirit and words/communion are intertwined and interdependent.

So Anne and other poets can help mixed media artists find new mediums to incorporate into their work? Yes, I guess they can.

SummerPoet speaks to separations and beginning again with Anne also slipping into her thoughts:

I wondered about Anne Sexton today and Woolf and Plath. The strong women, well not so strong. The beautiful women who wrote, who were brave and in the end stumbled. They felt they weren't loved enough, weren't understood and they couldn't take one more bit of bad news. The sky opened, it start to rain and for woolf, she just let herself go in the river after sitting down to write her husband a note that she didn't wish to be his burden. His heartache maybe but not a burden. I understand that. 67 days later I get it.

For More Information About Anne Sexton and Her Work

This is one time I’d like to suggest you go low tech and visit a public library to get one of her books. If you can download an e-book version that will work as well.

Having said that, for a quick biographic sketch you can’t do wrong visiting Anne Sexton's page at The Poetry Foundation. There you will find not only biographical information but links to some of her poems and a listing of her work.

You should also check out the Modern American Poetry site with a section that contains Anne’s biography, cultural influences and essays about her career.

Do you have a favorite poem of Anne’s or a memory she invoked?

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer where this post originally appeared.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The View From Here - Sourpuss in Action

There is a reason I generally don't post photos of myself. I have been asked. The truth of the matter is I am not photogenic. I give attitude when I am taking my own photo.

Then again, the camera may be recording exactly what it is seeing. I look like an over-aged petulant child. I was aiming for calm and serene.

I really was, being in the park mellows me out. I understand better why homeless bums have put the word out not to hit me up for cash first thing in the morning. There was one panhandler who did not get the memo.

To be clear, he demand I give him money. I refused.

He asked "Why Not?"

I responded "Why? What obligation do I have to give you money because you stand before me and demand it?" There were a couple of other words as well. I am not always calm and serene nor am I always sitting in the park.

I do not like aggressive panhandlers. I like opportunists even less. There is a circuit of opportunists that look like homeless people. Pull out your wallet at the start of the block and his friend might jump you at the end of the block.

So What is Sourpuss Trying to Tell You?

One thing is I don't have my glasses on so I'm trying to see you. I could put my glasses on but then you really would see Sourpuss in action. On the good side, it might cover up that one zit thing I've got going.

I don't wear makeup unless I really, really have to. Has more to do with very sensitive skin. I do have makeup. $90 worth that I bought drunk in San Francisco. And by drunk that would have been a glass of wine.

So yeah, I have makeup but I can't find the instructional DVD that tells me how to replicate my nature skin tone without using my natural skin but with magic dust instead.

Lemme see, yes I have hair. No I don't wear scarfs all the time but I do think I look better wearing them than not.

I need more sun. Need more neck too. I do have one. Otherwise, yeah. This is me. On this day. Not that I am counting down or anything. Just wanting to honor what I say to other people about acceptance and moving forward.

I accept who I am. That person evolves from day to day. I am content. Working on projects that interest me. Trying to extend beyond my comfort zone without worrying is this going to cost me a job or a relationship.

I'm tired of fronting an un-authentic self. Y'all can do what you like, I'm going to be more me. All of me. Honestly, I'm tired of postponing life (not that I do) based on what-ifs.

Those that know me know there is more to me than my face. Hell, there is much more to any person than their face.

Like the song says, take me as I am.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Need A Poetry Tonic - Oscar Brown Jr.

Poetry can heal but it can also scream to the rafters that something is wrong. You need a master craft person to say what is in your heart before you get a little too ventilated at your job or on the train.

If Oscar Brown, Jr. was still hear he would know how to respond to the talking point idiocy of these times. He'd have us laughing in our tears or syncopating anger into works of art. This is an example of Mr. Brown doing his classic "I Apologize" from an episode of Def Poetry Jam.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lay Down, Candles in the Rain on the Finally Friday Freakout

There are people hurting in this country. The pain is enormous. There are people asking for help and other people defending their God given right not to do a damn thing.

There are others people yelling and screaming in frustration and when grown folks do that there will be trouble.

By the time I got to be this old I had hoped that we would be better than this, much more civil and certainly respectful in our disagreements. Maybe it is time to lay childlike hope aside. Naw, I can't do that. Not yet.

I like all kinds of music. Always have. Except Opera. I tried, really.

I actually have this song on a compilation album by Buddah Records. Melanie's picture is on the album but I never knew more than I like the song.

Her full name is Melanie Safka. This is a version of her classic tune Lay Down, Candles in the Rain as performed on the Nashville Network in 1991.

"Some came to sing, some came to pray, some came to keep the dark away."

Yep, we have to stand and keep the dark forces of fear away. It is hard but facing fear is hard. There is a lot of fear romping around. More of us have to stand up for truth, integrity and really good chocolate.

Did I say chocolate? Oh, well, chocolate... peace, same thing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Irregular Flow from 4khz

Sometimes it is a simple idea matched with the breath of execution.

irregular flow from 4khz on Vimeo.

There is not much more I can add except h/t to Buddha at Musings. I went to Vimeo to find out more about it and the creator but there are only a few more videos and a lot of positive comments.

Yes, video can be like this and more.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For The Lover in You on the Finally Friday Freakout

A wee bit of normally has returned to the Stoop. I needed a musical infusion. Digging in the Groove Yard turned up something old and something new.

There are songs that belong to the community. Not even the performers who originated the song has any say when or where it gets performed. Mr. Howard Hewett has made great albums since his Shalamar days but knows that in a roomful of women that song is gonna have to acknowledged if he wants to get out of the building in one piece.

This is a latter day version of the song performed in New York. The ladies get to sing full blast on it. It is song that has literally brought people into this world. It is a time when the war of the sexes was a lot less hostile.

Feel free to rusty bucket up a chorus or two on For The Lover In You

It is strange because I didn't care for Shalamar when I was coming up. I was a total Funkateer, Parliament, Bootsy and all permutations in between. The Bar-Kays, Cameo and any funk master that could twang and band his way into my heart.

It was later, maybe first year of college that I started liking the music. So to end this week of lessons, many life lessons let's add one more to the mix. Jeffrey Daniels, Jody Watley and Howard Hewett dancing it up on Night To Remember

Oh, and about those life lessons? I strongly recommend taking one at a time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Moment In Time - I'm Older Than I Think

I was researching the new Apple Nano Video camera feature. I click on a video at YouTube where this young man was trying to explain new features in iTunes, iTouch and the Nano. He is doing a screencast of the Apple page.

God bless him. iPhoneHelper786 is unintentionally cracking me up. I'm not making fun of him. He is trying to communicate to his community about what is happening with the new products. I'm not hating on him.

There is a new feature in iTunes called iTunes LP. Spirit did not know what an LP was. He thinks it is a new menu system where you can get info about the artist, song lyrics, notes and other stuff.

He is right, it is a menu system. I never thought about it that way.

When I studied LP album covers as a kid I was moving through a menu system. It was a static one but yes, sometimes there were photos, notes and song lyrics. He also makes the distinction between legal and cracked music.

Those of us that created our own cassette tapes from our or other acquired albums need to hush up and render no judgment.

Then it hit me - dang, I've seen items this person has never witness. His parents may have only seen music CDs. His experience base is totally different from the one that I had.

Whoa. I forget that I'm not who I use to be. This is not a bad thing.

But still, dang.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Health Care Reform Crib Sheet For Busy People Part 2

I got a letter from my insurance company telling me that they will decide if a medication is valid, not my doctor. The insurance company will decide on the dosage, the length of time I can and can't have the medication and whether I take a prerequisite medication before I can receive the one that my doctor wants me to have. This gives me an excellent opportunity to review of my last post.

You see, if I'm telling you about this situation and I have no visible proof then it is anecdotal. I'm not lying, I really got the letter but you don't know that for sure. There is nothing wrong with anecdotal statements. If is one person telling another “this is my experience” that is not a problem. But when the anecdotal statement leaps into a friend of a friend… then that is a problem. E-mail chain letters are never valid anecdotal resources.

Now if I uploaded a copy of the actual letter then I would be posting the document that is the primary source. In this case, from my insurance company.

If I read about it in a newspaper article and the newspaper confirms with the insurance company that they are changing the terms of prescription coverage or they publish an authentic copy of the letter then the newspaper article is a secondary source. If newspaper columnists, editorial writers or bloggers are commenting on the change in prescription coverage then it is opinion.

Here is a chart to help visualize on overview of the playing field. You can also click to see a large version of the chart:

Health Reform Info Sources

Vested Stakeholders

Health care is a multi-billion dollar industry. The business of health care intersects with many stakeholders beyond the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Everybody has something to say. I can’t list all the stakeholders but I want to give you examples and a few questions to ask to help you evaluate the information being presented.


Three Questions To Think About As You Evaluate An Information Source

  • Who are you are dealing with? Check the Mission statement or the About Us page.
  • Who do they cite as being in support of the point of view expressed on the website or blog? Is it a primary source, a newspaper or an anecdotal statement.
  • Where does the money come from to support the web site and the activities being promoted by the web site? Again, you shouldn't have to spend all day trying to find that out. That information should be no more than two clicks away from the main page. I’m being generous.

Medical Stakeholders

Many of the sites that I will use as an example have multiple functions. Certainly physicians have a stake in any discussion of health care reform. One of the places that I visited was the American Medical Association current topics page. This lead me to an AMA advocacy site that goes into details on their perspective on health care reform. You can watch a question and answer video with doctor responses or read a short summary of what they want in health care reform.

Not all doctors belong to the AMA or even the ones that do support the AMA’s position on health reform. Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) is: “a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 17,000 members and chapters across the United States.” There is video, links and resources to evaluate.

On August 20, 2009 Health Affairs held a meeting at the National Press Club to discuss Fact vs. Fiction, Key Issues in Health Reform. There were representatives from both sides of the debate. You can download the audio file, PowerPoint presentation or view video clips of the sessions. Every one who presented was a stakeholder who explained their point of view.

Trade and Professional Unions

The more union members work the more the union like any plan that would benefit their membership. There is no question that they are involved in the health care debate. One of the web sites is from the AFL – CIO is advocacy driven the Health Care for America Now. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Make America Happen/highway to heath care is another union supporting health care reform website.


This group contains folks that are actively supporting, actively trying to defeat the reform measure or adding their interpretations based on their group affinity. Also included are corporations and organizations that benefit no matter what the position the public holds on health care.

Hand Off My Health does not like the current health reform proposed at this writing. It does not support a government financed option. One of the questions I ask of an organization is where did they get their information. It should not take more than three clicks to find that out.

Look for a mission statement or an About Us page. Also you can get a lot of information by checking out pages that list links and resources. Many of the resources were to the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation believes that:

To formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

That is fine. I clearly understand the reasoning of the Heritage Foundation. If the budget was balanced they still would not be in favor of any kind of government or public health plan. There was full disclosure and they do have a page specifically detailing The Heritage Foundation's point of view on health reform. It took a while to find out the home base of the Hands Off My Health and related web sites.

At Get Better you can listen to a discussion between medical professionals. Now if I hadn’t done any research I wouldn’t have known that the guy leading the discussion is one of the participants at CMPI, which is the main website that Hands Off My Health Care and others are spun off from. I still would have researched the name of the doctor and looked up the web site.

Just one more thing. Get Better Health is a sponsored website. I do appreciate that they were upfront about it on their About page:

Better Health accepts sponsorship for content licensing, advertising, events (including salons, debates, forums, conferences, presentations), and information-sharing with our network. Individual bloggers receive revenue-share from licensing and advertising their content, and additional compensation for participation in events. We give 10% of our post-tax profits to non-profit health organizations to support their work.

This does not make their point of view any less valid. This means you have to check the front end and the back end of the horse to make sure it is what it is.


There are keyboards smoking across the country from the heated exchange of facts, opinion and commentary about this topic. I really don’t have to leave BlogHer to find different views but let me show you other bloggers with something to say about health reform.

Disruptive Women in Health Care is a health information blog. The bloggers come from a variety of viewpoints on health issues.

Nurse Ratched’s Place has a post up, she is a working nurse and gives her opinion on health care reform. California Nurses have videos that contain advocacy and commentary about issues concerning their work and health reform.

Melissa Suran in her post The Young and Insured-Less wants to know if those in their Twenties are included in the health care debate.


Last week Nancy Watzman wrote about the financial lobbying power of contributions to congress members. Congressional Quarterly Politics is a free, non-partisan journalism site that looks at issues and the money that tag along the congressional health care trail. Can you spell PAC?

Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch has a post by Wendell Potter about his role as a health care PR person. He talks about the techniques used in disinformation campaigns in the past and the present.

The Cato Institute, like the Heritage Foundation, believes in limited role of government. On the web site you will find ideas, suggestions and alternatives to a government financed health care option.

Citizenship Is Not Easy

Being informed is our responsibility. Don’t abdicate that responsibility. If you really want to be a patriot share a comment or a relevant link that others would find useful. We don’t have to agree but we can respectfully educate each other.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor and the post originally appeared BlogHer.

Update 02/22/2010 Typographical corrections.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Health Reform Crib Sheet For Busy People Part 1

This year, many first year college students will take a class taught by library staff on critical thinking and evaluating sources. I am trying to convince their parents and other interested people that they need to do the same. There is more to contemporary education than reading, writing and arithmetic. The current health care debate is the prime reason why we need information evaluation and literacy skills.  This is a my attempt at a functional crib sheet.

To begin,  I want to focus on primary and secondary sources and the tools that you can use to help make sense out of the verbal and textual clutter. Next week I’ll show how to evaluate material associated with vested interests and opinion.

Let me say that this topic is a challenge. I would like to keep politics out of this post. That is impossible. My goal for this specific post is to help us make informed decisions.  If you haven’t done so please check out Nancy Watzman’s BlogHer post on More Tools to Get Your Own Scoop on Health Care Debate.

Who Said What? - Look For Primary Sources

The primary source is the originator of the statement or documentation. It can be a person, organization or, in this case, a branch of the United States government. There are multiple health care bills and proposals; the one that has gotten the most publicity as of this writing is from the House of Representatives. It is known as  H.R. 3200, the "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009."

This is the primary source you use to support or refute a fact or statement being discussed about the proposed legislation. Internet users can view and download a copy of the printed bill or you can access a web version from the Library of Congress portal. I found the web version easier to navigate and target the sections of the bill I am most interested in reviewing.

The Cost of Health Care

Reading a health care bill is one thing but it is also important to understand what has been spent by the government and the projected futures expenses.  Again, I’m going to use governmental figures because no matter what political party is in office there is always someone standing in the corner saying, “We are in trouble. We can’t continue spending like this; please pay attention.” 

Allow me to cast a light on the Accountants, Analysts and Researchers  in the following governmental offices:

GAO Health Search Page

The Congressional Budget Office has a section on the website that is a quick view on health care spending and projections.  You might want to take a look at a 2007 report that really is clear and concise on why we are in this situation. Insurance, Providers and Patients all have a share of the responsibility for the expense. We need to be honest about the problem. This report does it in 30 pages. There are people who have issues with the Congressional Budget Office. Not to worry. I have more.

From this is the 2009 Statistical Abstract where you can view health care expenditures from 1961 to projected 2017. Let me give you a hint. The numbers do not go down over time. You can see a quick pdf chart of the figures.

The Government Accountability Office constantly looks at how money is spent. There is so much data here I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about diving in the data flow. You might feel otherwise. I understand.

Please use the search engine and type in “health care”. Then filter by the year you want to see data. You can read summaries, the full text, or an accessible version for text readers. 

The main point of this section is know your facts and share with others if asked. You should direct attention, whenever possible to the primary source of information. Everything else is a secondary or derivative source and subject to interpretation.

Secondary Sources - Verification and Interpretation

Traditionally, secondary sources have been newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Responsible journalists will cite the source of the topic they are reporting. Secondary sources can also point to expert might support or disprove the presented information. That is why you will see a lot of news articles and television news programs seek out the expert.  “The expert states…” not the reporter/journalist. 

Bloggers can be secondary sources if they cite the primary source without distortion, that they provide linked attribution that can be easily followed by their visitors and that there is a clear separation between providing facts and providing opinion.

Check It Once and Check It Again

Journalism and news reporting can be helpful to consumers when they examine a statement and methodically evaluate the source and credibility.  My love knows no bounds for  and their review of a chain e-mail letter Twenty Six Lies About H.R. 3200. And how can I not mention PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter on the same e-mail meme.

Another place to hang around is the Association for Health Care Journalists blog. These are the folks that we want to keep an eye on because there is reporting here that may or may not make print in your local newspapers or television news program.

For example, you might have heard about the dust up concerning John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods and his Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.  Via Pia Christensen's post, I found out that Mr. Mackey has very interesting connections to the health care industry.

The original post was written by Laura Bennett and appeared on helps you see visual relationships between people and companies. It was a little clunky for me but it does work.  Many media outlets are creating their own “health blog” including the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and Consumer Health Blog

I have questions if this is a good thing or not. If the media outlets has not provided credible journalism in their traditional environment what makes them think a blog is the way to go?

Other Voices

I don’t have to tell you that there is an increasing disconnect between certain types of journalism and consumers. Some newspapers are so busy trying to learn to tweet that they have forgotten how to tell the story. There are a lot of reasons why we are getting the kind of reporting that does not seem to be serving our needs. Sadly too many examples to lists.

There are other bloggers that can say it better than I can.  Mary Turck writes about the Spinning The News:

Too much news reporting is about spin and who’s spinning which directions and which spin is working. It’s about tactics and winning and losing and the horse race — and not about the issues and facts.

Rebecca Critchfield primarily writes about health and nutrition but I think this statement could be applied to health reporting as well. In her post called  the Price of Misinformation she writes:

It’s one thing when people hear new information and share it with others (there’s a reason they call it a “rumormill” and “myths”), but when the media are behind the misinformation it helps no one. People trust the media and they assume that the stories are well-researched. But that’s not always the case in this day and age of a small news hole and the fierce competition to stand out with breaking news. The pressure for ratings is higher than ever and staying relevant in the land of Twitter and the Blogosphere is a challenge for mainstream media.

Next time, a look at how to evaluate those with a vested interest in the health care debate and how to spot an editorial, an advocacy post and various forms of dis-information.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer and that is where this post originally appeared.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Smoke and Deacon Blues on the Finally Friday Freakout

I loved Burt Sugarman's Midnight Special. Everybody was on that show and you usually couldn't slide up and just lip sync. There was no need for wardrobe distractions. This is not to say that people did not dress creatively. Hey it was the 70s, ok?

I don't buy from television infomercials. I almost made an exception for the Midnight Special collection. One of these days I'm going to get my hands on a Midnight Special performance I saw by Van Morrison, Etta James and Dr. Hook. It was perfection as I recalled. I could be wrong but, really with these three? I don't think so.

Burt, I swear I'll pay legit cash money for it. In the meantime this song came into my head a couple of days ago. I was talking about relationships with a friend. I could here it in his voice. I knew that one of his heart fires was a Smoke from a Distant Fire. This is the Sanford Townsend Band.

And to make up for totally blowing last week's Freakout, on account I was up to my neck in researching and writing. I think I heard first heard Steely Dan on the radio but the movie FM and the music from the movie caused total loyalty to these guys.

Much love for these folks. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker with a 2006 rendition of Deacon Blues.

Peace out and be good to each other. You can disagree but no biting, ok?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Is Public Education Socialism or Why Should I Pay For Your Child?

I double checked my copy of the Constitution from the ACLU and my copy from the Cato Institute. Education is not mentioned. There is no constitutional reason for the federal government to provide education to anybody. It is not in the Amendments either.

Now if you want to get fiddly with it you might make the case that in the preamble that "promote the general welfare" might mean that education is implied but I know how some of you feel about the word "welfare." It is right up their with socialism.

The Case for Not Educating Children With Public Funds

  • Families have traditionally taught and homeschooled their children in faith, reading and work skills. Many families depend on their child’s labor to support the family. The intrusion of the state takes away parental authority.   
  • Businesses would suffer having to pay higher wages for older workers.
  • It is sinful to allow idle hands when there is gainful employment to be had.
  • Providing education becomes a never ending financial drain on the population, city and state budgets. It is unfair taxation and unconstitutional.
  • Poor children, those in foster care and orphans could become productive members of the society without government support. Sure there were crimes, abuses and fraud but on the whole it works; why change?
  • Everyone agrees, education is a noble and worthwhile goal but why not leave it to the charities – this isn’t a concern of a capitalist society.

Unfortunately I am not making this up. These were the historical reasons given by parents, business leaders and political pontificators at various stages in American history about not providing education to children. There were fights about classical versus practical education. There were compromises on education and child labor. There were riots about a secular Protestant education and a new wave of Irish Catholic immigrants who were not about to step foot in such a school.

What Is Socialism?

It has been used as an invective, a pejorative and something that no breathing American would seem to tolerate. When I hear a word being used with such frequency I look up the original meaning and bring myself forward.

In one of my dictionaries it is defined as:

State ownership of all or most of the means of production and distribution with control over aspects of social welfare and planning.

Another definition is:

The view that the government should own and control major industries using the dollars earned to provide benefits to citizens.

Now it does strike me funny that few people have gone over to the actual socialists to find out how they define themselves. That is what I did. I visited World and read what they had to say. You can read their definition for yourself.

So When The Government Provides Public Education It is A Socialist Act?

Well match it up with the definitions. If the city, state or federal government uses taxes to provide educational services that replicate private industry practices and then distributes those services to the population then a case could be made that that is a socialist act.

On the other hand, it could be said that providing education to children is an act of capitalism when citizens invest in the supply of functional, capable future workers who will continue to support the goals of the government and provide businesses and the population with a stability, self-sufficiency population who contribute to the tax base.

It could also be said that education is a means of defense. Educated people as a whole tend not to commit violent crimes and are less likely to be victimized due to ignorance. A literate population monitors  and participates in the governance of the country. Educated people have a voices that can’t be taken away by surface intimidation.

Did Socialism via Public Schools Destroyed Private Education?

No.  When there were no schools there were no alternatives to schools if you were not wealthy. It was either work or apprentice to learn a trade. This meant a population that was incapable of adjusting to new situations or environments. They were vulnerable to being ripped off, prayed upon by certain members of the business class and inviting mental stagnation.

Private schools for the affluent members of the society continue to exists. Faith based schools continue to exist. 

There have always been for-profit schools that provided value added instruction. Trade schools are in demand as students look for ways to quickly gain skills to enter the workforce and as a means of continuing their education.

Schools are a reflection of the society. When Brown vs. Board of Education became law many southern parents (and a whole bunch of northern parents too) pulled their children out of public schools and started “Whites-only academies.” When public education failed to provide equal services some African-Americans set up their own schools.

The options increased, not decreased. That is one of the strength we have is to see beyond the visible and imagine a new way to do things. That has nothing to do with socialism or capitalism. It has to do with imagination, not the fear of staying on the same dead grind.

Why Should I Pay For Your Child’s Education?

I’ll be the first to say public education is not perfect but the alternative of having huge chunks of the population being non-literate is a security issue.  The constitution does say “provide for the common defense.” I need to know I’m not surrounded by bone stupid people. So in that sense, yes there is a constitutional reason to fund education.

Education is a reflection of the needs of the citizens, the business community and the government. We all have a stake in what we believe and know for a fact; that we are joint members of this society.

It is a civic duty to insure that all of us, regardless of age, have the opportunity to develop, learn and prosper however you choose to define it. It is our civic duty to make sure that the children who come later have the ability to do the same.  We are not isolated beings that just happen to live in the United States.

Individuals, yes. We are connected to each other. We are so much more than political polarities. I am willing to invest in that opportunity. I’m waiting on that kid that will find a way to take old tires and transform it into something life affirming and non-toxic.  Yes, I proudly want my tax dollars to contribute to the education of any child, teen or adult.


A Little Mind Nurturing for Time Challenged People Paid for by Taxes, Donations or Listener Contributions:

  • Hold This Thought – a one minute audio and podcast on literature culture and history from KSKA public radio.
  • The Loh Down on Science with Sandra Tsing Loh who is a CalTech grade and a gifted writer/performer.
  • The Writers Almanac – what happened this day in literary history and Garrison Keeler reading a poem.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer.