We’re Not Just Coping with “The Great Recession.” This Is “The Great Change.”

Posted by – October 2, 2014

The Damage Wrought by the Great Big Horrendous Financialization Ka-blooie is Real.  But this was (and is) Part of a Great Change.

My friends, there’s no doubt we live in interesting times.

This isn’t just a recession when budget sheets show big gaps, then the economy dips into a deep lull and then comes back up, nor is this a systemic economy-is-grinding-to-a-halt like the Great Depression. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a massive revolution politically, socially, economically, and especially technologically, that’s been building ever since the advent of personal computing, the Internet, and all it’s wrought…

This is The Great Change.

In the latter part of the ’00s, the first decade of the 21st century, The Great Recession occurred as a byproduct or baby steps of The Great Change. The ongoing changes caused a crash, hit a wall once the technological ability of the powerful to gain enormous wealth outpaced the economy’s ability to compensate and cope, and the entire world suffered a breakdown.
By “technological ability of the powerful to gain enormous wealth” I’m referring to new financial techniques impossible with the approaches, technology and computing power of previous generations, such as complicated mortgage-backed securities and “robo-signing” forgery-factories that fed mortgages to the beast, these weird securitized mortgage investments—for example CDOs (collateralized debt obligations)—and algorithm-driven high-frequency trading that capitalizes on millisecond price differentials… stuff like that.  These exotic financial thingies are innovations, but innovations in the way Frankenstein’s monster was… demonstrating awesome new capabilities but creating potentially horrible consequences for the wielders of these new powers and the wider society affected.

This economic breakdown—see subprime mortgage crisis of 2006-’09 and big financial meltdown of ’07-’08—was and is bad.  The worst of the tailspin occurred prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, and there were many contributing factors. Jeremy Rifkin and other economic thinkers stress the spike in energy prices and peak oil as the financial meltdown’s main causes, and I don’t think the role of the energy economy and other triggers should be overlooked.  But the predominant view is that the crisis in finance was directly related to problems within Big Finance, and that the financial crisis happened due to the house of cards of exotic securities and over-financialization toppling.  Global financial markets began to realize that these mortgage-backed securities, rated AAA, were, in actuality, more like FFF, jumbo-stuft with FAIL.  Many of these exotic securities were failful—full o’ fail, made up of mortgage scams: financial instruments that were essentially a Ponzi scheme composed of Ponzi schemes.  Think of gold-plated Russian nesting dolls with one toxic waste after another making up the inner dolls.
As the big money guys inevitably figured out they were holding financial hot potatoes, the dash to sell these toxic assets (and the related rapid devaluation of same)was devastating.  Wall Street partied like it’s 1929, leading millions of businesses, individuals and 401ks to lose their shirts in the stock market.

The MTA, the transit authority that gets people to work on trains and buses and has such centrality in the socio-economic life of New York City, became a poster boy for bad bets of this type when, subsequent to the subprime dominos falling in 2008, hundreds of millions the MTA sunk into an elaborate scheme run by shady Irish and German banks involving ballooning variable-rate debt and CDOs evaporated in short order. The MTA also lost bazillions in auction-rate securities in 2007, getting played by Citigroup and Goldman Sachs in a classic rat guano sold as filet mignon-type game.  Suddenly, the transit lifeblood of NYC was experiencing painful sclerosis. Fares and fees were abruptly raised.  Other gov’t entities, from transportation agencies to state pension funds, even public school boards, from sea to shining sea, got similarly swindled by promises of AAA, low-risk investments.

The Great Big Horrendous Financialization Ka-blooie had a catastrophic impact.  It’s tough to overstate the damage.  Nine million Americans lost their jobs.  Lost output—goods and services that should’ve existed given expected economic activity but didn’t exist—”was at least 40 percent of 2007 gross domestic product and probably considerably more,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (source: BloombergView).

But the financial crisis is the byproduct of a bigger bad.  It’s a severe episode in a longer bout of disorder, it is part of death and rebirth in the goddess of destruction sense of rebirth. The Great Recession is one piece, wrecked by human failty and greed, economic catastrophe but nonetheless part of a greater nexus of processes that are ongoing: The Great Change.
I see this as like puberty but more perilous, not as a disease we could cure, though the official gov’t line is that we’ve overcome it and our inexhaustible awesomeness makes us only better than before.  Most misunderstand.

The economic fail is merely a symptom, one part of the massive changes in every facet of life (economically, socially, politically and technologically) rapidly spinning all around us. I’m arguing that this is “The Great Change,” an unprecedented reconfiguration of the socio-economic arrangements of humanity. The old economic and social order is to be shed like a cocoon.

This brings wonderful opportunities and great dangers. The potential for horrific consequences in the meanwhile is clear. The powerful and entrenched have near-infinite ways of abusing the transition and its uncertainties, as the Great Recession exemplifies.  According to a recent study surveying HR managers globally and examining relevant trends to gauge the future of work by 2022, an Orwellian nightmare but with corporate “ministates” running society, not unlike the corporate cyber dystopia envisioned in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, may be inevitable (source: Yahoo! Finance).

Futurist, economic theorist and writer Jeremy Rifkin highlights exciting opportunities coming with the new revolutionary Internets and their zero marginal cost paradigm spreading to multiple areas of the economy, the core of The Great Change I’m talking about.
Marginal cost means the costs necessary to produce an additional +1 of a thing or service. For example, to copy an additional Kindle eBook for you to read, it’s as near-zero marginal cost as it gets.

Rifkin acknowledges {though never emphasizes) how entrenched interests stomp on ordinary workers as they try to get labor costs, e.g. the wages of service workers in fast food and such, down as close to zero marginal cost as possible.

Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies

He envisions the new laterally-networked sharing economy, the Collaborative Commons expanding enough to provide an ample alternative.  But without 3D printing leaping so far ahead they become like replicators on Star Trek, thereafter pulling the cost of living down to near-zero marginal cost as well, I don’t understand how this sharing economy works. It would require a totally new economic engine as unlike capitalism as Star Trek‘s economy.

I totally dig Rifkin’s vision of capitalism being eclipsed, supplanted by a Collaborative Commons wherein all information, entertainment, handmade schematics for 3D-printed items of every type, and soon even energy is shared in lateral networks at near-zero marginal cost, and I really want humanity to get there in my lifetime. Rifkin sees the new sharing economy revolving around care, empathy, quality of life, people freed from menial and repetitive labor that the AI of the not-distant future can do. The problem is getting the human economy, as corrupt and enormous and unwieldy as it is, from point A to point B.  We need to get there. We have to get to a new, better economy if future generations are going to have any type of survival.

Really we’ve already departed from Point A and are well into this transition, since so much of the world economy has been transformed/devastated by the encroaching near-zero marginal cost reality, even energy, with the increasing availability of renewables soon will be near-zero marginal cost after up-front installation.  French investment bank Kepler Chevreux released a new analysis last month projecting solar and wind to yield more energy return on investment than oil by the 2030s at the latest, and you look at their numbers and they are low-balling how soon solar panels get dirt-cheap… if we get liquid-like organic photovoltaic cells that are “paintable” on any surface at low cost, that changes the calculations enormously.

Already, Germany is setting up an energy internet, like with social media the users produce the content, the users produce energy from the solar, wind, and geothermal on their property, massively store it for use when the sun isn’t shining, and share it on the energy internet.  China is going long investing in new renewables technology and a similar internet of energy.  Meanwhile, the U.S, is doubling down on hydraulic fracking, and no decentralized energy internet is in the works.

I led with the Wall Street shenanigans for a reason – if we keep having economic meltdowns because everyone’s been bamboozled into investing in turd-backed securities and lost their nest egg, if the bottom 90% can’t afford anything, that is bad.  Rifkin has a much more trusting and sunny view of industry than I do.  These pitfalls are problems now and could easily get worse.

a line graph displaying economist Thomas Piketty’s data on income in the United States. As of 2013, the top 10% of American earners amassed the same amount of national income % as the other 90% combined. Then, projections of the 90% losing more and more of the pie, but we’re in economic transition and prediction is difficult. (Source: Chart: Half of All Income Goes to the Top 10 Percent | motherjones.com)

It’s really important we get to Point B and not get stalled, derailed, ending up in an economic cul-de-sac of dystopian corporatism with a predominantly roboticized industrial and service sector that feeds an ever-more opulent, powerful and entrenched 1% most of the GDP while the increasingly powerless 99% starve.
To his credit, Jeremy Rifkin stresses the risks losing net neutrality, losing a safe climate, or losing potable water can pose: there’s no progress if we cut our legs off.  Food and water will continue to be big issues. And it is unclear how ordinary workers will earn enough to keep the consumption-based economy going…

Notice on the income line graph, the 2007-09 Great Recession happened alongside a dip in the 90 percent’s income. A similar drop in the vast majority’s share of the income pie shows up on the line graph for 2013-14, indicating we may be in another recessionary pattern RIGHT NOW.

In order to have hope, we have to first understand where we are.  Where we are is near-zero marginal cost affecting every nook and cranny of the global economy. Where we are is the old economy is long dead

Laverne and Shirley – they worked at Shotz Brewery, exemplifying now-automated old economy jobs that won’t be coming back.

and not coming back, easy to get factory jobs aren’t coming back. American-run social media sites (Facebook et al) are already WAY more profitable than the entire U.S. automotive sector.
We’re heading into a presidential primary cycle where the Hillarys and Romneys of the world will be constantly lying to you that, if you just make them president, old economy jobs will rain down like manna from heaven, that they will bring renewal, belief, optimism back to America and just from our exceptional spirit, from really believing in ourselves, our inexhaustible economic dynamism will subsequently reactivate. These are lies, some of the most intellectually dishonest claptrap you’ll ever hear.  These are political and spiritual snake oil salesmen. No miracle can bring back the old Laverne & Shirley beer plant.
We have to create a totally new economy, and I haven’t heard any creative ideas on that front from our sucktastic political class. Our awfullicious DINOs and RINOs don’t even address near-term economic crises like how the vast majority of workers will keep consumer spending up, so enthralled are they with the perverse logic of “winning” the news cycle and appearing relevant next to whatever dumb sensational headline.  How the new economy will work, how we get away from our dependence on consumption, replacing old economy consumer spending as the central pillar of our economy; these issues should be foremost.

One possible driver of the new economy could be the social media bonanza spreading the wealth to its users/content-producers, something like reddit’s CEO proposed on Tuesday, giving redditors 10% of reddit’s stock via online cryptocurrency (meaning cryptography-secured and generated digital medium of exchange).  Probably they’ll use the extant reddit currency, reddit gold/creddits, but make it exchangeable with other cryptocurrencies

a dogecoin! And here’s a list of sellers and service providers of every description on reddit who accept payment in dogecoin.

like Bitcoin and the hilarious dogecoin, in addition to old currencies: USD, the Euro, Renminbi and so forth. This reddit idea, assuming it doesn’t fail before getting to the launch pad, would mean the dispersal of millions of USD to kick off a new market economy – countless new micro-economies taking off….

But even with wild success of new markets, and all the new economy’s opportunities, there are perilous days ahead.  Especially for people living day-to-day with chronic illnesses and severe disabilities and all the related health care costs, competing in an economy of near-zero marginal cost poses terrible challenges.  Simultaneously, virtual economies open up new egalitarian market spaces, participation possible regardless of physical abilities or identity.

Meanwhile, what happens to the vast majority of ordinary workers?

Some ideas for consideration:

Jappe suggests hyper-local and international cooperative economies above/outside of the logic of corporate capitalism as a way to outlive the old economy. See: What will we do if the system can no longer create jobs? An interview with Anselm Jappe

One alternative currency idea, and many will be needed – Video: The Hero Reward System – A Complementary Economic System Based Upon Merit

If you want people to keep consuming, something like this may be needed for people to survive the transition – Video: Basic Income – An idea whose time has come | Basic Income Europe

We’re all living through “The Great Change.” It’s going to be both wondiferous and horrifying. Spread the word.

 

Nick

Recommended resource
:

Video: Jeremy Rifkin: “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” | Authors at Google

Why The Doctor Who Series Opener Was Awesome

Posted by – September 13, 2014

a bit belated, but…

The debut of the new Doctor—episode 8.1: Deep Breath—was great,
because…

1. the female Tyrannosaur inadvertently loosed on Victorian London…

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener "Deep Breath," this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I'M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener “Deep Breath,” this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I’M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

 

CAUTION: Spoilers Ahead

2. Badass lesbian kung fu detectives, one of whom is dino sapiens, in Victorian London.

Madame Vastra, actually part of the Silurian or homo reptilia race, an early Eocene civilization that rose from the dinosaurs and I call dino sapiens, and wife Jenny Flint are awesome leather-clad ninja space detectives who help the police of Victorian London fight crime and kick ass, especially when unusual or otherworldly villainy is afoot.

Vastra and Jenny as the tyrannosaur walks the Thames.

Apparently awakened from cryo-hibernation by the early construction of the London Underground, explained here, Vastra took to eating Victorian commuters until The Doctor gave her a pep talk. Thereafter, Vastra has mainly limited her diet to the worst of London’s serial killers, child murderers, and the like; she catches them, then “has them for dinner” so to speak.

Madame Vastra and Jenny are totally badass… and after Sontaran nurse Strax was nearly killed alongside the pair while helping The Doctor in the Battle of Demons Run, Strax joined the woman and dino duo in 1888 London.  Being an alien potato of non-imposing stature (roughly 5-feet) in appearance and a super aggressive commando programmed to fight for the “glory of the Sontaran Empire” in behavior, Strax doesn’t exactly blend in easily in Victorian London.  But his attempts to understand humans from the point of view of a mono-gender world of cloned super soldiers provides a lot of comic relief.
Internet rumors about a Vastra-Jenny-Strax spin-off show are indicative of little more than the three’s huge popularity, but I want to go on record as totally FOR such a TV series! The trio, also known as the Paternoster Gang after their HQ (Vastra’s manse) on Paternoster Row, is a lot of fun, and certainly a big part of why I loved the episode.

another favorite Paternoster Row moment of mine: Jenny thought she was posing for a painting – but Vastra just thought her posing “brighten[ed] the room” …and because “art.”

3. A scene that confronts Ableism and Agism

This episode is about the new Doctor, The Doctor regenerating into a new body.

The Doctor regenerating into the Twelfth Doctor (TV: The Time of The Doctor)

During regeneration, disorientation, loss of function and motor control, and sleeping for 24 hours or something are the norm, and there can be regeneration sickness, even regeneration madness as with the Sixth Doctor, who tried to kill his companion Peri during regeneration-related insanity/disorientation.  The Tenth Doctor had some regeneration sickness and was revived by a strong cuppa tea.

In this sensitive time of regeneration, The Doctor is… well, disabled doesn’t seem the right word, but certainly vulnerable, not himself, not in his usual fighting shape. The Doctor, the Time Lord who protects all times of Earth’s people, suddenly needs protection. Often, by coincidence or purposefully, alien enemies attack right when The Doctor is least prepared to fight back. This regeneration, The Doctor is disoriented and blacking out when the space detective trio takes him (and Clara) to Paternoster Row, and gives Clara a reality check that is unforgettable.

As the new Doctor is recuperating, Clara, the latest in Doctor Who’s cavalcade of pretty companions, is being weird and whiny about The Doctor regenerating as an older, less flirty, not-Matt-Smith.  Madame Vastra reacts by indirectly calling out Clara as a stranger, then dons the veil of srs bzn™ and brings Clara into the sitting room for a serious business sit-down.  The exchange that follows is epic, smacking down Clara’s superficiality, agism, ableism. The takeaway: even allies need to check their own biases, reality check. Checketh yourself before you wrecketh yourself. 

Clara being smackdownt

The sitting room smackdown scene. I definitely relate to being “lost in the ruin of [your]self,” I feel those feels of late…

4. the art direction

Doctor Who keeps getting more beautiful, more well done.  This episode didn’t have the type of visual flourish and experimental quick cuts/editing like 6th series (11th Doctor) standout 6.11: The God Complex; it’s visually awesome in its own way.  “Deep Breath” has big movie looks, brilliant and cinematic wide shots, and great use of color.  Someone behind the camera really understands how color works.  It isn’t over-killed thankfully, but different settings have unique color schemes.
The example that sticks out most is the T-Rex post-mortem from a bridge scene, where everything is bathed in orange from the immolated dinosaur.  Whatever future technology the villains used to burn the tyrannosaur, it has set the Thames aglow, and in bouncing off the rippling waters, colors everyone in fiery tones.

Like this…

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange...

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange…

and this…

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Fiery rebirth, The Doctor rising from the dino ashes…

5. the villains: Space Age Clockwork Repair Droids

The Clockwork Repair Droids, last seen in the totally awesome Tenth Doctor episode 2.4: The Girl in the Fireplace on the 51st century ship Madame de Pompadour, are a threat to humanity because

The Clockwork Repair Droids (minus V for Vendetta-ish masks) in early Tenth Doctor episode The Girl in the Fireplace.

they’re programmed to repair/maintain their ship and themselves by any means necessary, up to and including cannibalizing people for parts.  While the Clockwork Droids the 10th Doctor faced seemed almost accidentally villainous, repair AI gone wrong after massive damage, these clockwork droids (evidently from the sister ship Marie Antoinette) seem way more psycho and evil as they seek “The Promised Land,” whatever that is.
We don’t know what caused these droids to come to Earth, whether they (and other robo-foes of The Doctor) were called to Earth but didn’t know what century, or if the Clockwork Droids were trying to find what happened to the sister ship Madame de Pompadour‘s droids The Doctor deactivated in 18th century Versailles, accidentally ended up in Mesozoic times and were tampered with or signaled later on, but the unrelenting drive to get to “The Promised Land” is intriguing.

That these droids would dedicate such an inordinate amount of time and energy to extract parts and skin from people for a hot air balloon of human skin instead of robbing or buying a balloon from the local hot air balloon vendor—by this point, 1898, hot air balloons are a long-established and commonplace technology—and that they would go to the trouble of building and running Mancini’s, like “if Hannibal Lecter were to open an Italian restaurant,” fancy cuisine and YOU are the main course… it means that they are so whacked out, perhaps from all the human elements they’ve incorporated, becoming inverted cyborgs or near it, they’re human-obsessed, now almost singlemindedly people scavenging.  That is very creepy, and an excellent nemesis to begin the new Doctor with…

they also look really cool.

The half of the Half-faced Man that has moving clockwork exposed.

The idea of inverted cyborgs, androids using so many human replacement parts they’ve ambiguized the distinction between droid and cyborg but are still computers at base-foundation, networked and controlled by one “control node” android, is fascinating.
And it is a good way to debut the new “The Promised Land” mystery arc.

I think that the “Promised Land”/Missy’s virtual world (see Who is Missy?) is a virtual world, digital world, and that the Half-faced Man is uploaded first is significant.  The Half-faced Man is the control node for all the Marie Antoinette clockwork droids, but he awakens in psychotic Mary Poppins’ “paradise” and no clockwork droids reactivated as far as we know. This, and that the miniaturized soldier woman in the following episode is obliterated at the atomic level but appears whole and non-miniaturized in Missy’s “heaven,” implies that the consciousness is being uploaded at the moment of death, NOT the body moved. So far, all Missy’s “guests” are from atomized or abandoned dead bodies, and this leads me to believe that the Great Intelligence, or somebody/something with G.I.-esque upload abilities, is uploading people killed in The Doctor’s missions.

and in case you’re wondering if The Doctor killed the Half-faced Man or not, that’s his MURDER FACE™ after the deed!

6. The Doctor (now Peter Capaldi)

The new Doctor got some great, hilarious lines, like the one about “attack eyebrows” that are so “independently cross” they’re liable to “cede from” the north of his face (a sly topical crack about Scottish independence).

But no one really loves this Doctor. Because you’re not supposed to…not really.
The blog An American View of British Science Fiction shed light on this for me… the new Doctor is more like the First and Sixth Doctors, the hardcore, colder, more alien Time Lords.  That, I think, will be a freshener for the series if it doesn’t veer too dreary.

Check out Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) | An American View of British Science Fiction for the explanation, how Twelfth Doctor is like the Sixth Doctor and First Doctor. It’s made me want to look into the Classic Doctors.

Nick

Elsewhere on the web:

VoteSaxon07’s SPOILERIFIC REVIEW : Deep Breath is a detailed video review I like, and I agree with the bit about Clara and the Matt Smith cameo – if she’s still too thick to figure out who The Doctor is by the end of the episode and all he did, including rescuing her from vivisection at the hands of the clockwork droids, she should leave, not get a bonus phone-a-friend.

Doctor Who blogging: “Deep Breath” | FlickFilosopher.com – another in-depth review I admired and recommend.

TV Tropes: Deep Breath – I love their dissection of popular tropes Moffat employs in this episode.

TARDIS Wiki – Deep Breath

Stuart Reviews Stuff: The Girl in the Fireplace Review- on why this Tenth Doctor episode is one of the best episodes “of Anything” EVAR

Watch the Classic Doctors: Classic Doctor Who on Hulu

The Hawkmen’s Sky City Runs on Radium

Posted by – September 3, 2014

and now for something completely different

Depictions of Radioactivity Fears in 1936 Flash Gordon Serial

Defining my terms: Up until at least the mid-1950s, newsreels, cartoon shorts like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, and this week’s chapter of your favorite movie serials were shown before or between the feature(s)—the full-length movies—and the afternoon at the movies was the main audio-visual mass media form people consumed, the core method industrialized societies used to spread images, information and propaganda.  Before being supplanted by TV shows, movie serials were hugely popular.

Lest I sugarcoat, I say this up front: the problematic aspects of the old serials are… well, glaring and intensely pre-civil-rights in content and tone. “Talkie” film serials are part of American culture in the 1930s and ’40s mostly, so they’re a time window showing a very different country… in the Flash Gordon serial, the first ever space adventure on the silver screen, the supervillain Ming the Merciless is obviously in the mold of the Fu Manchu evil genius.  The imperial court, the costumes and sets, the official state cult of Tao, and high concentration of non-Earth humanoid races give the series a definite otherworldly—even bizarro world—look and feel, and that mitigates the Fu Manchuness of Ming.  At its worst the Ming depiction is tame compared to the WW2-fueled anti-Asian hate that pervaded later serials¹, but this early Flash Gordon has no shortage of very Earth-like sexism (despite the uber-strong Princess Aura²).

I dig movie serials because their story structure is really prominent, clear, and crucial, the story mechanics are visible like exposed wooden planks and beams.  Serials also offer a bounty of delicious cultural tropes and images: fresh, raw, not adulterated or distilled, as they originate here or appear for the first time in this new visual form, the picture show.  For example, most subsequent space operas imitate, derive from, or refer to Flash Gordon, since it invented the opening crawl, and, along with the comic strip it sprung from, created the first visual depictions of sci-fi elements—themselves mainly borrowed from pulp writer and space opera originator E.E. Smith—including the space fleet, the tractor beam/gravity beams, the Evil Interplanetary Overlord, the planet of crystal spires and togas (proto version) and more…

Even The Sky City Has an Energy Crisis

Spoilers ahead: The hawkmen’s sky city, and it is truly the “city of the hawkmen,” with not a hawkwoman or hawkchild ever seen, and no women in the city at all excepting visitors Princess Aura and Dale Arden and background servant-girls who don’t wear hawk gear.  The spire-laden city

The hawkmen’s sky city in the Flash Gordon serial (1936), held aloft by gravity beams powered by the atom furnaces.

is ruled by Vultan, King of the Hawkmen, who is like a Viking warlord of the skies complete with Beard of Barbarism, big hammy laugh, big ambitions, and big appetites for babes, beer and beasts (always om-nomming a leg of roast beast).

The sky city feels both medieval and high tech, great lumber doors like a castle and moody candlelit walls, for example, the mega technology backgrounded (as befitting a civilization of togas and crystal spires).  The underlying technology is abruptly foregrounded, however, when King Vultan sentences Flash and his bros to feed the steampunk-looking atom furnaces piles o’ radium with the other prisoners (apparently we’ll use manual labor, slaves doing rote grunt work in the space age).

Flash Gordon and his bros enslaved by the hawkmen and made to shovel “radium” into the “atom furnaces”… hawkman overseer(s) are always present to whip the slaves. We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future?

 

Most of what I’m talking about appears in Chapter 6 of the Flash Gordon serial:

The sky city is featured in Chapters 5-8…

 

the moving, setting, re-setting of the “hands” on this clock is essential to the atom furnaces’ operation …somehow. The clock, which a hawkman worker mans at all times, moves in rhythm with the gears, the fires… industry as performance art.

 

The atom furnaces look and feel like relics of the bygone days of steam power, Vultan’s prisoners seemingly shoveling coal just like in an old steamboat engine room, but the narratives around these “atom furnaces” are unambiguously modern.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that his friends will continue sentenced to shovel radium into the atom furnaces until he finds a “new force” to hold up the sky city.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that the sky city is held aloft with gravity beams run on radium-fueled atom furnaces, but there are fears of running out of radium. Like concerns today around peak oil, peak coal, peak uranium, and increasingly, peak water, King Vultan is—between bursts of boisterous laughter—worried about “peak radium,” having neared or passed that point of no return or peak where the depletion of a finite resource is only a matter of time thereafter, raising the possibility of the hawkmen’s sky city crashing to the ground and bringing an ugly, apocalyptic end to hawk-civilization.

Vultan wants Zarkov to discover a “new force” to hold up the sky city, which sounds funky, but it is 1936. Einstein had published Special Relativity just 20 years previous, electromagnetism as one invisible force was being translated into radio and other magic things, new theories of physics droppin’ right and left, and amidst all that a “new force” or new field being discovered didn’t seem so implausible. Sci-fi stories and novels of the ’20s and ’30s—I’m particularly thinking of E.E. Smith “the father of space opera”—often draw on a hypothetical fifth force of nature³ being discovered and harnessed to propel space adventurers through the solar system and used to beam at foes.

Dr. Zarkov replies to Vultan with concerns that Flash and friends will get lethal doses of radiation from shoveling radium. The subtext is our fear as we enter “the atomic age.”

Vultan answers “it’s a pleasant death! LOL!” and that they’ll indeed be radiated until Zarkov invents a new alternative energy source. Dr. Zarkov does eventually discover a new force of physics to beam the city aloft. He turns on the new beam, powered by an unexplained new infinite force, just in the nick of time, right after Flash Gordon + super-bros explode the atom furnace. No word on what happened with the deadly radioactive fallout from all that radium goin’ up like a roman candle.

Lots of implications here, lots of subtext…

 

“Will Radium Restore Youth?” Article in Popular Science Monthly, June 1923 (copy of the issue). Not only was radium injected and chugged as an “elixir of life,” it was used in all types of cosmetics, and there were even radium condoms for superpowered radioactive wangs; read more at the excellent blog post Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin

My last post on radium in fracking wastewater was written in part to lay the groundwork for this post… RADIUM: it’s not just for Marie Curie anymore.
RADIUM: coming to an aquifer near you!

there are some disturbing (mildly disturbing, depending on your perspective) themes, images and subtexts in the Flash Gordon serial… pretty sure that I would want to give younger or more sheltered teens an explainer/guided watching… and most of the more disturbing aspects aren’t about radiation…

I understand that the writers want to set up King Vultan and the hawkmen as formidable opponents, so when they turn to aid Flash Gordon against Ming the Merciless, it is a really high stakes event, Vultan and Flash shaking on a Fire Forged Friendship that really matters.  In all Flash Gordon incarnations, Vultan ends up friends with Flash Gordon on an “enemy of my enemy” basis, and in the 1979 animated series Flash goes from forced labor at the atom furnaces to Fire Forged Friends in the course of one episode—view it free on Hulu—and his threatening turn feels more like a Challenge of the Week.  But here, King Vultan is closer to a serious villain.  Though he has some human moments, like trying to get Dale to eat her roast beast, Vultan electric-tortures, radiates, and almost executes Flash!

And then there’s this…

A hawkman guard aggressively greets Dr. Zarkov (unfortunately still in the mandatory hot pants of Ming’s Go-Go Enslavement) with a heil salute. The hawkmen use the heil again and again. Given that these serials were shown before/after newsreels of the Nazis (1936) how would audiences have reacted?

Thank you for reading!  Hope I gave some nutritious food for thought…

The hawkmen continue to echo down the decades, not just in the many subsequent and new Flash Gordon works, but in the DC universe, the Justice League and related content… since the DC Comics heroes Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Hawkgirl, et al were inspired by the Hawkmen in Alex Raymond’s founding Flash Gordon comic strip.  Hawkman creator Dennis Neville said that he modeled his Hawkman design on the hawkmen of the sky city on planet Mongo.  I feel that the Silver Age Hawkman, Hawkgirl and other Hawk-characters, hailing from crystal spiresque high towers (sky city-like) on the distant planet Thanagar, are an even more direct homage to the old Raymond comic strips

Recommended Resources:
Tropes in Flash Gordon serial – TVtropes.org – listing some of the cultural tropes invented or employed by the Flash Gordon serial
Know Thy History: Flash Gordon – from the excellent comics review blog The Webcomic Overlook

Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin
9 Ways People Used Radium Before We Understood the Risks | Mental Floss

E. E. Smith novels – public domain audiobooks @ LibraVox

 

Tip of the hat to the wondiferous disability-in-moving-pictures blogger spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacecrip for inspiring me to blog about film again.

Nick

 

Footnotes:
1. Especially during the War with Imperial Japan, racist depictions of Asians hit an all-time low. In the original Batman serial (1943) they refer to Japanese internment as “…the wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed japs” (view on youtube).  Though the concept of internment is inadvertently revealed as failed and ineffective moments later, when the evil genius and supervillain Dr. Daka, Hirohito’s baddest agent, is introduced as the antagonist, conspicuously non-imprisoned and unfettered in his evil-doing. I hate the sugarcoating and outright omitting of the ugly moments of our history, and I want my descriptions of the past to feel near as close to the real and biting reality of the people who lived it as possible in blag format.
2. Princess Aura is one badass woman, probably ahead of her time, but she is also really complicated. She can evil-rescue Flash, seem the heroine one moment, seem villainess the next…  In the animated series, done by the He-Man producers, she’s largely a copy/paste of their She-ra animations, but is more the Action Girl than in the old serial, where she’s daddy’s little villainess exemplified, but villainess wanting the hero always applies…
3. something akin to a fifth force of nature may still be possible, if physicists can figure out dark energy/matter.

The ADAPT Ice Bucket Challenge: An #IceBucketChallenge for Community Inclusion! /memeHijack

Posted by – August 29, 2014

My Mom Taught Me – Subvert The Dominant Paradigm


remember to turn the subtitles on.

[my shirt says: FREE OUR PEOPLE  BIG APPLE ADAPT]

When Alejandra mentioned to me that even Raul, like me one of two brothers with an uber rare muscle mitochondrial thing, on a ventilator full time and an awesome advocate too, went ahead with the Ice Bucket Challenge, I replied “if only ADAPT had a meme like that!” So together, Alejandra and I brainstormed a new, ADAPTed version of the challenge, and here it is.

I offer a different focus for the ice bucketed masses on social media, and try to give voice to the views of many like me in disability rights circles: we don’t want “eradicating neuromuscular diseases” to be the only agenda… quality of life is the key, and every day we’re fighting uphill against systems that hold us back from living the best lives we can.

Yes, awareness is great. Yes, medical research is super important, for quality of life too. Politicians who ham it up with an ice bucket after voting to sequester cut the NIH budget so severely that ALS research and all NIH programs had to regroup even more barebones than before shouldn’t be re-elected!  Democrats voted for that sequester en masse while the Republicans held out for even more harsh cuts; nominating the lot of ‘em for a bucket o’ scorpions challenge would be more like it.
Neuromuscular research funding should be auto-approved and Raytheon, Northrupp Grummond, KBR and their ilk should have to pass the hat on social media.

Medicaid long-term care still mandates antiquated nursing home care but in-home supports are “optional,” meaning most states offer only spotty or barely-existing home care, and even that is increasingly threatened.  Private “major medical” health insurance like Blue Cross phased out coverage of long-term care nationwide in the early ’90s excepting a handful of examples, so unless you’ve purchased a special long-term care plan in your working years to cover full-time care in your senior years, Medicaid is the only place you can turn.  Private long-term care plans aren’t available to ALS diagnosed people, preexisting condition y’know, much less sold for the Nicks and Rauls with inborn genetic muscle diseases.
This means the most severely affected by neuromuscular diseases like ALS, the Americans who need full-time care the most, have only the dilapidated 50 states/different Medicaid programs for the long-term care that is so essential for both survival and a life worth living. RIGHT NOW these vulnerable groups are unable to get the needed services and supports for the quality of life that they deserve, with their loved ones in their homes, and face worse conditions than they should because of our insane political system. That fight is RIGHT NOW, not four, five generations hence like the potential cures we seek.

Standing up for the people in the trenches now is important, awareness of our lives, our struggles, our dignity, is crucial oxygen for us as we face daily battles… Visit www.adapt.org to learn more and to donate.

Nick

How Can the U.S. Constitutional System Cope When Big Fracking Bucks mean Big Toxin Dumping?

Posted by – August 27, 2014

With New Forms of Toxic Waste from the Fracking Bonanza Piling Up, What Must Be Done?

I really like the PBS documentary mini-series Constitution USA, because it brings forward the constitutional arguments that are so relevant to the problems we face in our country today.  It explores a worthy cross-section of important legal/constitutional debates with the depth that they deserve, and with refreshing honesty/even-handedness.  All the while it stays firmly rooted in our history, frequently referencing the rich backstories of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, subsequent amendments and laws and the more controversial implementing actions.

The first episode gives an overview of jurisdictional conflicts that are ongoing between states, the federal gov’t and the individual citizens.  Some of the issues covered are the more obvious and well-known legal problems between states and the federales, like medical cannabis: can states trump the federal drug laws and re-legalize it? (cannabis tinctures and the like being legal from your local pharmacy in the past)
The Commerce Clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal Congress power to “regulate commerce between the several states,” and that is the basis for so much of our legal and regulatory system, from drug laws and gun control, to water use regulations for toilets (which I blogged about here).

Air and water pollution, with its effects on multiple states and countries, seems an obvious place for federal intervention to me, and the number of federal regs waived during the past decade—the carte blanche given to mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing—should concern all Americans.  In many areas, there ought to be more and better regulation: for example, given ProPublica’s recent reporting, it sounds like Ohio will be dotted with radioactive Superfund sites like a constellation is dotted with stars if the legislature in Columbus doesn’t get serious about regulating the toxic (and sometimes radioactive, including content containing RADIUM) waste that’s unintentionally unearthed as a byproduct of the fracking boom.

Inevitably, the various waste byproducts generated by fracking are dangerous if safety measures aren’t followed [see the facts on the difficulties disposing of fracking wastes].  Not only does the fracking process involve inserting hydraulic fracking fluids®, proprietary mixes of chemicals to facilitate fracturing, some heavily depending on known health hazards like benzene, into the earth, the extraction process also unearths things that should stay earthed, like naturally occurring radioactive materials, richly accumulated over eons, especially so deep in shale.  Radon, uranium, thorium, and especially radium have been confirmed living in the waste “brine” alongside the oil and gas (and the heady mixture of man-made chemicals, benzenes, et al, just injected) pulled from shale deposits, alerting all concerned to the risks associated with fracking wastewater.

gas production from the 400 million year-old, multi-state Marcellus shale formation, mostly from drilling in Pennsylvania and Ohio, is booming!

Reasonable monitoring and responsible handling is sorely needed, but the politicians that control how (and how much) these newer species of toxic wastes will be regulated see the state’s fracking bonanza as win-win-win-win, pumping in new jobs, new income/GDP, new tax revenue, and new troughs of campaign bribetributions to pig out on.

Politicians representing economically depressed post-industrial hell-holes tend to understand actually regulating fracking as putting speed limits on their state’s gravy train, or as outright flipping the railroad switch to turnout that gravy train onto a competing state’s track, so rival states profit more and more quickly. This may startle readers in not-America, but in the U.S., state governments are usually competing with other (especially neighboring) states to attract Big Business, including fracking operations, to start up in their state, often leading to a distressing “race to the bottom,” evidenced by things like the governor of Alabama meeting with German automakers to offer them more state-sponsored bribe money “incentives,” less costly labor, and fewer worker protections than other states where they could put down roots… this “jobs race” is deeply embedded in our political ecosystem. Even the more liberal representatives will likely prefer looking tough on polluters without actually regulating fracking in a meaningful way and risking accusations of “harming the district’s economy.”  Political cowardice and faux populist outrage at the polluters is the norm.

Of course, once you understand what Ohio has been through, “post-industrial” meaning that industry has left, offshored production to China or wherever had won the jobs race that year, joblessness everywhere, cities just “gone,” it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to be as fracking-friendly and job-attract-y as possible.  I think of Chrissie Hynde, singin’ “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone…” and that was the ’80s. Gone Ohio cities are even gonier now.

Shale gas is the closest thing to a gold rush this country’s seen since the initial oil boom nearly 100 years ago, and desperation for gas drilling jobs makes it really hard, societally, to regulate and enforce with a long-view toward the public health consequences of benzenes, radionuclides, and so on.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, where the economics and politics of fracking are similar, radium was found in rivers where fracking wastes were released, and “internal” studies leaked to the New York Times in 2011 detail the alarming data:

…state records indicate that the radium levels found in Pennsylvania wastewater are much higher than those used in this study. Radium, for example, was found in Pennsylvania at levels over 18 times the number used in the this study. It should be noted, however, that this study did not detail actual cases of increased cancer. Rather, it modeled potential increases in cancer rates as a result of radium-laced drilling waste being discharged into large waterways.
… Asked to review the study, an expert on human health and ecological risk analysis said that it clearly shows that the drilling waste is not sufficiently diluted in some cases. As a result, the radioactivity levels left behind in receiving waters come close to reaching the threshold at which the E.P.A., under federal Superfund rules, requires a cleanup, the risk expert said.

For a look at the leaked documents and the relevant analysis, see Documents: Natural Gas’s Toxic Waste – NYTimes.com

The revelations from the leaked studies raise some troubling, difficult questions… one is, if you’re at the radioactivity threshold that triggers the creation of a federal Superfund site, how would you turn part or all of a river into a Superfund site?
What unintended consequences will radium in the water have on freshwater sealife and the humans that depend on these freshwater ecosystems? If it’s a blend of radionuclides, benzenes and other horrors, what effects do these have on lifeforms

a row of dark indigo-and-pink-fish-faced, orangey-throated Hath soldiers, mini-fishtank thingy mounted 'round their mouths to enable breathing in non-aquatic environments

Invasive uber carp become biped super soldiers after too much river radium? (Actually the Hath, a Piscine humanoid species from one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “The Doctor’s Daughter“)

when combined/interacting with each other? Godzilla was created from a similar unintended exposure to radiation. Freshwater ecosystems (especially in Ohio and due west) are already devastated by the invasion of nonindigenous uber carp, mentioned in the fourth installment of Constitution USA as well… what happens when you add radioactivity? Carpzilla?

This ProPublica exposé uncovers just how lax Ohio’s been about toxic waste.  Regulation is “muted” to the point they’ve become a top destination for other states to dump radioactive fracking waste.

These tanker trucks have 8 wheels and are colored a bright

Fracking wastewater is collected in special trucks like these in Pennsylvania, and moved elsewhere (Ohio?). Source: NRDC Switchboard Blog

Yes, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been used to get to oil and gas since the late 1940s. Yes, the radionuclides are originally “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORMs), not a problem if left in their natural configuration, spread out, trace amounts. But once you inadvertently pump large amounts of these out of shale, concentrate them, mix them with other terrible things, it becomes something different—TENORMs (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials)—something you REALLY don’t want in your water supply.  Refer to the horrible fate of radium’s discoverer Marie Curie if you doubt that radium is hazardous.

To my core questions, things that I’ve brought up again and again in recent bloggings, what, why, are the systems and rules that enable, or fix (or exacerbate) our problems?
Similar to the inaction around the multi-state + Canada invasion of Asian Carp, something I’d previously blogged about here, the constitutional system we have provides ways to deal with the issue, but no one is stepping up and adequately addressing the problem. The multi-jurisdictional nature of our system enables struggle, appropriate checks and balances, collaboration, but also gridlock and EPIC FAIL if the human beings at the helm of the different gov’t branches and agencies are corrupt and/or ineffectual shampoo models.

What must be done about the toxic wastes left behind by the shale gas rush?

One can easily imagine the preserved head of James Madison judging medical cannabis, and indeed all medicines and drugs, the province of the individual citizen and/or “the several states,” as centralized decision-making for the entire country, especially where commerce and a man’s personal habits are concerned, would be perceived as positively British and anathema to the whole constitutional project.
But it is much more difficult to envision the framers’ possible positions on environmental law.  The founders, especially the Virginians, often distained the prospect of an industrialized United States, as debates over which ways of life were best, the most free, the most moral for the developing nation—profit was far from the only objective—were commonly considered as the Constitution took shape, and afterwards.  Cities in general, and wage labor for Big Business industries in particular, were largely seen as part of an unfree, corrupt, dirty system, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” at odds with the Jeffersonian vision of a society of self-sufficient yeomen farmers, hyper-moral because they’re dependent on no man (except for all the slaves, though this is typically omitted from the sweeping “Empire of Liberty” narratives). The Constitution’s framers couldn’t hammer out a solution for phasing out the slave system that supported (and simultaneously threatened) the kind of economy they wanted—agriculture, shiny independent freeholds—much less did they legislate for socio-economic arrangements they hoped to avoid, factories and mills.

The consequences of large-scale industrialization, air pollution blowing cross-country, water contamination in one state affecting other states downstream, were inconceivable in the late 1700s. Our founding people don’t really offer us any guidance on these issues.
Madison tended to view state governments as unavoidably, intractably corrupt, and that was one of his main arguments for the Constitution and new, more robust federal government: that the people must have watchdogs to guard their rights and liberties against the corrupt excesses and overreaching laws of drunken state legislatures, another crucial check on the tyranny of the majority. But today, few would argue that the federal gov’t is less corrupt, or are better regulators. On the other hand, who else but the feds can deal with water pollution in a river shared by six states?

How can effective regulation and enforcement in the service of long-term public health outcomes be achieved in this time of corruption, deceit and regulatory capture?  How can our constitutional system cope?

Nick

this blog post inspired by my fascination with mutants and mutation, by mito activist Andy Williams who I hope keeps giving ‘em hell about the toxic waste in Watertown, NY
and brought to you by the Letter F!

Diamonds in the Rough ‘n Tumble Webternets: What Med-people of Conscience Are Blogging (Part 4/4)

Posted by – August 19, 2014

Part 4 of 4 of the series When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

For part 2, I wrote an overview of some of the bad things that have occurred when people in medical settings follow policy strictly even when it leads to horrible consequences, or in the case of Eric Garner, they don’t follow anything (aside from what the cops said) with horrible results.  In part 3, I covered the psychology of obeying.
For the last part, I look at what some med-people of conscience have said about obeying bad top-down mandates, the VA kerfuffle, and related issues as our medical ecosystems undergo tectonic shifts in the U.S. with very mixed, highly debatable, results.

I’ve always been drawn to posts blogged by nurses, doctors, RTs, et al…

Cartoon description: Just like the iconic photograph of five helmeted WW2 veterans working together to plant an American flag in a muddy clearing on Iwo Jima, but in this iteration, the five famous GIs struggle to foist forward a tower of VA paperwork instead.

“VA Red Tape” by John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune.

and for understanding the complexities of the overlapping universes (univerii? the multiverse?) of health care models and their rules and regulations, the medical bloggers out there are invaluable.

Dr. Marc-David Munk, blogging from his unique vantage point as “Chief Medical Officer” of an ACO in Central Massachusetts, explains the paradox behind the epic fails seen at the VA and other “big healthcare” institutions: the more top-down mandates, rigid accountability rules, and abstract “performance metrics” are imposed, the more you accelerate crapification¹, enable unaccountability and cooking the books, remove front-line staff’s decision-making powers, and lessen patient-focused medicine.
Dr. Munk deftly unpacks the weirdity:

It’s a common story to anyone who has been around big healthcare: senior management attempts to respond to a business problem by implementing a series of high level mandates that remove front-line management’s ability to think and make operational decisions.

…A cascade of things happens with high-level mandates: Senior management becomes obsessive about setting and measuring metrics. The degrees of freedom for people to make patient-focussed care decisions diminishes and every manager along the way starts to feel squeezed on all sides. Some find work-arounds such as the secret set of “waiting lists” kept off the books at the VA and the false reports generated by some.

See the entire blog post: The VA, Laws on Healthcare and the Dangerous Business of Replacing Front-Line Thinking with Corporate Mandates

Dr. Roy Poses, blogging fearlessly at Health Care Renewal, takes on the issue of top-down mandates from corporate managers with uncommon boldness, questioning the ability of the MBA managerial class to understand medical care long-haul at all, even pondering the role corporate psychopaths helming our big health care conglomerates might be playing in the present state of affairs. I applaud you, Dr. Poses! Your candor and insight (and pure gutsiness) is desperately needed. PLEASE keep bloggering on – KBO!

Dr. Michael Hein (linked to by Dr. Munk) sheds light on the 90% of the iceberg underneath the VA scandal we’re not seeing or addressing: the crisis of woefully scarce primary care.  Most civilians wait much longer than 14 days for an initial primary care appointment; 30 days if you’re lucky, up to 6-9 months depending on which part of the country you’re in.
Dr. Hein also linked to the always insightful OB/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter reining in “metrics madness” at the VA and elsewhere with her lasso of truth.

I hope to blog more about the issue of the supply of health care in the future.  The Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion (see my post explaining the Medicaid expansionboost access to insurance (and ostensibly health care) without a corresponding effort to expand the supply of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and so forth.  Though I disagree with libertarian sources like Reason Magazine on most issues excepting civil liberties and bad, counterintuitive regulations being bad, I gotta give ‘em a big tip of the hat for addressing the supply of health care and the many unnecessary choke-points in the supply pipeline head-on: Video: How to Grow the Supply of Health Care RIGHT NOW!

Paul Levy, a former hospital CEO whose bloggings at Not Running A Hospital led me to Dr. Munk’s blog to begin with, is running down part of the health care supply problem: monopoly. Embedded in the Bay State, Not Running A Hospital is giving much needed scrutiny to the recent deal with Partners HealthCare and the Attorney General Martha Coakley, the behemoth corporation that owns Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both affiliated with Harvard, allowing them to eat South Shore Hospital and related doctors’ practices and ultimately become more scary and behemoth-y, the prices even gougier.  “…it cannot be in the public interest to permit a dominant provider to become still more dominant” Levy points out in his letter to the trial court set to rule on Coakley’s “anti-trust settlement”—read his full letter here.
He deserves not only an award for activism but an award for blog journalism, as he has pulled together an excellent collection of factual information about Partners HealthCare and the ongoing anti-trust dispute in a way spin-doctored news media don’t, and examined things, like Gov. Patrick’s unserious “wait and see” lip-service, that the news media won’t.

And this brings us full circle back to the concepts I began this series with: rules, regulations and policies decided in boardrooms, courtrooms and back-rooms have an enormous affect on all our lives, especially when you’re a “patient.”

Like Lambert Strether at (terrific blog critical of big finance) naked capitalism wrote, the way the corporations code their systems—the computer code, the 1s and 0s—increasingly is becoming the law. Notably in cases of big banks’ mortgage databases that perpetrated mass-scale fraud, the courts just assessed penalties per offense, “cost of doin’ bidness” for banks, and the big databases roll on, slapped on the wrist but essentially made legal after the fact.

Step one: Code the system. Step two: Rewrite the law to match the code, and grant immunity. It is, after all, better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Code is law.

See the whole post here: “Code is law.” Literally. | naked capitalism

It’s symptomatic of a weak state and broken legislative branch(es). More and more, we need to lobby the corporations, the guys who control “the code” and the related bureaucracies—my focus is medical bureaucracy —just as much or more than the public officials who ostensibly run things in a democracy.
We’ll need good bloggers, good advocates, good blog-journalists and blog-activists. The aforementioned blogs are great examples of what that can look like.  I hope to be a part of it.

Nick

 

Part 1: the introduction/weird ventilator rule

Part 2: Paramedics, the VA and obedience gone wrong

Part 3: The Milgram experiment, the tendency to obey and medical contexts

 

Footnote:
1. crapification – coined by Yves Smith (nom de blag of Susan Webber, head of naked capitalism) to describe the ever crappier quality of consumer goods and services as everything inexplicably succumbs to “the race to the bottom”… “…long-overdue and largely futile backlash against the crapification of almost everything“…

Human Nature, the Tendency to OBEY, Bad Incentives, and the U.S. Medical System (Part 3/4)

Posted by – August 18, 2014

Part 3 of 4 of the series When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

In part 2, I examined some of the bad things that can happen when people in medical settings apply “the rules” strictly, unmodified by the patient involved or the dictates of conscience. Now I’ll look at the what and why of human obedience…

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was the one of the most extensive and certainly the most well-known study of obedience ever conducted. The Milgram experiment was a series of social psychology experiments designed and run by psychologist Stanley Milgram in the summer of 1961 specifically to test how far “Just following orders!” goes with Americans, to answer “could genocide happen here if framed by authority figures as lawful?” “Could it happen here?

Dr. Milgram was keenly interested in how social context affects behavior, and also was an early creator of educational films. He made a film about the obedience experiment along with other films teaching social psychology.

Dr. Milgram, a middle-aged white professor with poofy hair, demonstrating social contexts, with shaving cream on his face

Milgram’s educational film: In certain contexts you do things you would not do in others. In this film clip, Dr. Milgram explains “…in this setting I willingly expose my neck to a man with a razor blade.” Source: this youtube clip

For the experiment on obedience, Dr. Milgram et al carefully selected the study participants to screen out psychos, any abnormal psychology excluded, so the subjects were your totally normal New England Christian people for the most part. He had researchers telling the subjects to shock the unseen “learner” in the next room when they supposedly got the memory questions wrong, shock people with the (not actually real) shock box, increasing the power of the shock successively.  In Milgram’s first set of experiments, an incredibly disturbing 65 percent of participants went all the way up to the massive experiment-ending 450 volt shock.

the infamous Milgram experiment shock box, with switches and in red letters EXTREME INTENSITY SHOCK

the infamous Milgram experiment shock box, with switches and in red letters EXTREME INTENSITY SHOCK

Men and women showed identical willingness to kill the “learner” with fatal shocks, though the experiment isn’t about killing, it’s about obeying bad things and inflicting pain on others. In the course of the experiments, the experimenter (the authority figure) would urge the subject to continue, to “please go on,” and re-assure them that the electric shocks were their job, part of something necessary, non-deadly and that the researcher is legally responsible. For the subjects, there’s the ambiguity of the volts on the board vs. the experimenter telling them it doesn’t cause “long-term damage,” the authority figure taking responsibility, and the overarching concept that this benefits science.

Med school psychiatry faculty had predicted only 1% of subjects would go to maximum shock, but in the initial experiments and all subsequent (and present-day) repeats of the experiment, regardless of political geography or background, consistently 55-65 percent will go all the way to XXX, the maximum 450 volts. Few variations, like changing the proximity of the authority figure, moving the victim closer, lower subjects’ obedience levels. In a variation where participants had to hold the learner’s arm physically onto a shock plate, compliance decreased but 30 percent still obeyed and administered the fatal shock.  Other variations, including age, gender, religion, politics, made no difference, revealing obedience to authority to be one of the few constants of social behavior, unaffected by time and place.
The urge to OBEY the bureaucrats in charge is immense. In this recent repeat of the Milgram experiment for the BBC, 9/12 went all the way to maximum shock 450 volts, only 3 refused.  The guy shown refusing seems a totally non-descript random middle-aged white male, so the people willing to tell the authority figure to shove it, that they won’t harm someone, period, fit no particular pattern. People of strong conscience don’t adhere to what you would expect, a certain mold or “type,” it seems closer to “the people you least expect.”

Milgram concluded:

“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

Recommended resource: TED Talk on the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment

Milgram Experiment-like Reality in U.S. Hospitals?

The parallels with U.S. hospitals are disturbingly obvious here.

Doctors, nurses, RTs, et al…
if you’re ordered to follow rules that could hurt or endanger the patient, would you?

Not only do you have authority figures bearing down on you, the administrators have real power to impose repercussions, and you know the supervisors and bureaucrats up close, you’ve observed them in their natural habitat(s) and know that they could really ruin your week if not fire you if you’re “not a team player,” serious powers the Milgram experiment’s authority figures never claimed to have.  Throw in fatigue, patient censuses that often mean 1:30 nurse-to-sick-people ratios, and the self-evident reality that hands-on staff in clinical settings may only see a given patient for a few hours or one shift, then poof, but have to deal with the same supervisor(s) most/all work weeks, and you’re probably going to get 90-95% of staff obeying bad things if it were possible to run a Milgram-type experiment in a hospital situation.

The only time that the order to take me off my normal ventilator and put me on the hospital vent was ultimately not followed, was when a charge nurse (who we never saw) apparently stood up for me in the behind the scenes debate with higher-level administrators.  Then it is an order that authority figures disagree on, and therefore very different for the front-line staff actually doing it.

James Madison famously wrote: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”  Like the founding fathers set out to engineer checks and balances since the republic would be led by “men” not “angels,” the medical sphere should have real controls.  Not to be harsh or judgmental, I just think we should not assume frail humans, fatigued and under the gun to OBEY the boss, will be moral heroes 100 percent of the time.  As “Publius” and also “Publius” (James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) articulated in the Federalist Papers, banking on mankind to be consistently angelic is a really bad bet.  Not trying to malign anybody, just trying to look at human social behavior as it is.

Front-line staff need good conditions, whistleblower protections with real teeth, flexibility to improvise, trust in their decision-making, and the main “performance metrics” should be patient outcomes and happiness.  You can’t have bad incentives so divorced from patient outcomes, entirely non aligned with the task of helping people, and have functional health care.

VA hospital execs were given performance bonuses $$$$ for meeting certain metrics, like first appointment for veterans after intake within 14 days, and, quelle surprise, the incentives being to cook the books—and as far as I know that structure of cash bonus incentives is still in place—documenting fictions was exactly what resulted, it being in the hospital leaders’ own best interests to rack up performance pay and reassure the higher-ups that their impossible goals were going forward just swimmingly. This is why VA secretary Eric Shinseki was so clueless… the culture was to tell everybody at the top of the VA food chain only what they want to hear.

It’s a cold and bleak world, but there are still lots of good people, people of conscience in medicine who take their oaths to patients (e.g. “Primum non nocere,” first, do no harm) as serious life missions.  There are points of light, “diamonds in the rough.” Some of these med-people of conscience have blogs.

In part 4, the finale, I’ll show you what some of my favorite medical bloggers say about the VA fiasco and medibureaucracy.

I also write about disobeying the power structure back in June, see: Law and Order: When Is It Wrong to Follow The Law?

Nick

 

3/4 Series When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

In Part 4, activism and rays of hope from medical bloggers

go back to Part 2, Paramedics, the VA, and when following policy goes horribly wrong

or go back to Part 1: introduction to the series/weird ventilator rule

 

 

Paramedics, the VA, and Eric Garner: When Deference to Authority Goes Horribly Wrong (Part 2/4)

Posted by – August 15, 2014

Part 2 of 4 of the series When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

Annnnnnnnnd we’re back… in part one of this series, I detailed one policy driven by No Discernable Medical Purpose (NDMP), and that’s the “no foreign ventilator” policy hospitals have, affecting me in the past and maybe at points in the future.
In the past, I blogged about paramedics not wanting to move a dude suffering cardiac arrest “because liability,” No Discernable Medical Purpose (NDMP).

Here in the NY metro area especially, paramedics have been in the spotlight lately… not for good reasons, but in connection with the death of Staten Island gentle giant Eric Garner.  Garner, known in his neighborhood as “Big E,” was murdered in broad daylight by an illegal NYPD chokehold for talking back to cops who were harassing him for a past pattern of selling “loosies” (single cigarettes).  Garner, who wasn’t even selling anything that day, said “this stops today!” and “please just leave me alone,” among similar things, which apparently constituted resisting arrest and justified initiating force against him—an unarmed man—straight up police brutality.  Here in NY, Garner’s murder has occupied conversations, newsprint, blogprint, radio and TV, and the role of the paramedics who seemed to make no effort to resuscitate him was/is being investigated, and the EMS team involved was suspended pending the investigation.

It’s evident from the horrifying footage of Garner’s death that none of the normal medical protocols were followed, and all nurses and doctors who have talked about it on the record (see Eyewitness News 7 report) are unanimously flummoxed and dismayed at the unusually lackadaisical approach EMS took.  The New York Times spoke to Dr. Alexander Kuehl, who led Emergency Medical Services in New York City during the ’80s. “She certainly didn’t do her job,” he said of the paramedic girl on the infamous cell phone video of the Garner killing.
“She’s totally overawed by the cops. She doesn’t do her assessment at all. There was something very peculiar about her approach.” (full NYT article)

We may never know the full story. It’s apparent from the horrendous footage that the cops waylaid EMS, saying “not yet,” and also telling the crowd Garner was fine and still breathing in order to avert the whole neighborhood going into full-on rioting (crowd control). But that two EMTs + two paramedics took the NYPD assailant’s word for it and didn’t intervene in any of the usual ways is more than a little discouraging.  The decisions made, whether directed by the NYPD on the scene, or driven by weird liability fear-related policies, or the EMS supervisor, or all of the above, self-evidently do not reflect advocating for your patient or serving Any Discernable Medical Purpose.

Recently an EMS-related surreal hospital policy also grabbed headlines (in conjunction with the increased scrutiny around the VA scandal) when the policy directing staff anywhere outside of the main buildings to CALL 911 if a patient collapses was followed, and killed a Vietnam veteran who, through unlucky happenstance, had a heart attack in the hospital cafeteria.

The AP reported:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veteran Affairs hospital cafeteria — 500 yards from the emergency room — died after waiting around 20 minutes for an ambulance, officials confirmed Thursday.

It took between 15 and 20 minutes for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five-minute walk, officials at the hospital said.

Kirtland Air Force Medical Group personnel performed CPR until the ambulance arrived, VA spokeswoman Sonja Brown said.

Staff followed policy in calling 911 when the man collapsed on Monday, she said. “Our policy is under expedited review,” Brown said.

Full story here: Veteran dies waiting for ambulance in VA hospital

In this Dave Granlund political cartoon, wheelchair inaccessibility serves as a visual metaphor for the inaccessibility of V’A medical care/doctors’ appointments writ large. Unfortunately, architectural barriers to medical care are too often non-metaphorical in many parts of the country.

In the initial local TV News reports, the implicated hospital said simply “we followed policy.”

“Just following orders.”

Sadly, this is yet another instance of “No Discernable Medical Purpose” (NDMP). The best medical treatment for this veteran easily WAS NOT waiting for an outside ambulance, after all “every second counts” with a heart attack. What he needed was heroic action by the staff hoofin’ it to get him to the Emergency Room with all possible rapidity, where cardiac crises are something U.S. medicine is set up to handle really well.  If their Emergency Dept. has no one who can rapid response with a gurney to code blues in adjacent buildings, that is a matter of leadership and policy too, NDMP as it was not serving a legit medical goal.

Deference to whacked-out policies is baffling, especially in the United States, where you’d expect a bit more spunk and middle-finger wielding to authority figures from the descendants of rebellious colonists who sparked a revolution over the British effort to inhibit their tea smuggling and rum running (among other things).  Here, that meek obedience—maybe even “willful blindness—the higher-ups like to cultivate led to horrible consequences.  Sometimes disobedience is needed, even essential, as I also discussed in the post Law and Order: When Is It Wrong to Follow The Law?

In Part 3, I’ll look at the psychology behind the tendency to OBEY, bad incentives at the VA, and how these problems can be ameliorated.

Nick

2/4 Series When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

In Part 3, the Milgram experiment, James Madison, and hospital ethics
Part 4: activism and rays of hope from medical bloggers

or go back to Part 1: introduction to the series/weird ventilator rule

Medical Bureaucracy: Switching Your Ventilator “Because Policy” (Part 1/4)

Posted by – August 14, 2014

Part 1 of 4 of the series: When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

As I mentioned recently in the quasi-mission statement of the blog, I create bloggings to ask the right questions, to illuminate the unseen issues facing us ignored vulnerable groups, or that’s the goal.  Within that is the idea that the questions mainstream media asks are THE WRONG QUESTIONS, and that the issues facing vulnerable groups that really need advocates (e.g. families with medically complex children, people on mechanical ventilation, the population who faces poverty solely/primarily because of their disabling medical conditions) are largely unseen… therefore I keep blogging to fill that gap, to voice the unheard concerns.

One huge umbrella of concerns affecting me and others in the aforementioned unseen groups is the top-down rules and regulations imposed on us.  For us, there are the laws, but in terms of the ad-hoc jumble of non-systems that control the services and supports essential to our survival—much less quality of life—there are all the rules and regulations implementing the laws, and rules more local to us coming from home health agencies, state regulators and Medicaid offices, hospital administrators, the list goes on and could cover a number of pages unheard-of except for in encyclopedias, and these rules and regulations govern our lives just as much as the actual laws (if not moreso).

The bureaucratic octopi have tentacles everywhere, and they’re especially consequential in medical bureaucracy where people are at their most vulnerable and any tweak in the rules can change the care, and suddenly life and death is “a matter of policy,” not just about the right care at the right time. That can kill.

Medical Staff Too Often Directed to Do Things for No Discernable Medical Purpose

The actual lived experience with medibureaucracy matters most here, as the data to prove or disprove the impact of diverse millions of rules on untold millions of individual staff and patients doesn’t exist. One especially vexing hospital policy that I run into frequently is the “no foreign ventilators” policy, and it is so frustrating because it’s purely a problem of legalese, not a matter of the appropriate medical treatment…it’s simply “a matter of policy,” outside treatments and prescriptions, and therefore outside of the patient’s right to refuse treatment. I don’t single out one hospital, all hospitals do this.  If somehow your hospital is the same company as the DME (Durable Medical Equipment) company providing your home ventilator, there’s probably no issue of hospital non-ownership or fear of an unknown machine, and it’d be fine, but otherwise, the bureaucrats are likely to deem the liability risk of “OMG foreign equipment” worse than the risks of changing you to a hospital vent, even if the opposite is true.

"No foreign ventilators" - cartoon by Nick Dupree.  This is a caricature I painted about how it feels when hospital staff try to take your home vent, depicted here as portable lungs, caricature of my own self on the vent, hospital staff depicted as hands on the lungs and a speech bubble: "gonna take you off your vent now mmmkay?"

“No foreign ventilators” – cartoon by Nick Dupree. This is a caricature I painted about how it feels when hospital staff try to take your home vent, depicted here as portable lungs, caricature of my own self on the vent, hospital staff depicted as hands on the lungs and a speech bubble: “gonna take you off your vent now mmmkay?”

I would like to see a study of the effect of taking people off their vent in favor of a hospital vent for No Discernable Medical Purpose (NDMP). This could be done as a basic hospital exit survey or a more detailed “qualitative analysis” or something to discern the wider reality: for most of the people affected, is switching vents solely because they’ve switched care/legal jurisdictions (and for NDMP) a traumatic and risky thing, or is switching to a hospital vent more like switching to a new toothbrush for most, no biggie? I definitely fall into the former category, my lungs maintaining a delicate balance against “compressive atelectasis“—my spine smushing into the right middle lung—equilibrium created by high volume ventilation that can quickly deteriorate, lungs partly collapsing and all hell breaking loose when hastily forced on a different form of mechanical ventilation with different (inappropriately low) volume nearly 18 months ago subsequent to an exploratory thingy in the OR.  But I don’t know that most permanently vented patients react similarly….

While this is also an issue of patients like me who are so RARE they don’t match any of the hospital protocols or norms of practice, square peg vs. round hole, my focus in this series is the medical bureaucracy’s whole canon of weird rules, potentially affecting anyone, especially insofar as the rules and policies create staff actions that serve No Discernable Medical Purpose (NDMP).

Nick

intro post of my Series When Life and Death is “A Matter of Policy”

In Part 2, Paramedics, the VA, and doing things for NDMP
Part 3: the Milgram experiment and hospital ethics
Part 4: activism and rays of hope from medical bloggers

The Coler Chronicles: Collected Bloggings of the Institution Days

Posted by – July 24, 2014

Dispatches from Ventboy Alcatraz

From inside the walls of the institution, Coler-Goldwater, I continued to create content, to blog, and we added video blogging from the inside.

I wrote the following blog posts about the institution, where I lived from August 28, 2008 to September 10, 2009:

All nine video blogs can be found here: First Video Blog Series From Inside An Institution

these video diaries/rants are me speaking on camera about the institutional experience and related policies… the commentary on the formative “stakeholder meetings” that shaped the Affordable Care Act is one of my most important videos, I think.

Note: the respect I have for the staff and bond felt with the other patients is very real, and though these diaries vent frustration and the heat felt at the time, their intent is to shed light not heat and to educate about the real world conditions and actual lived experience of disability in public long-term care hospitals.  Please understand that I blame policies not people.   I want to give Love to the human beings within the surreal constructs I’ve described.
In addition, you should know that the unit A13 I describe and the hospital Coler-Goldwater itself no longer exist in the forms I encountered, having closed/dramatically shifted at the end-of-2013 without the best transition plan for the people there…

I collected everything here for convenient access for readers who’d like an intimate look “on the inside.”

Nick

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