Author Archive: Ebonmuse
I'm an author, skeptic and computer programmer living in New York City. I'm also an unapologetic atheist, and believe passionately that freethinkers deserve a much stronger voice in our culture than they've been given in the past. Since politicians and the mainstream media aren't willing to give us that, it falls to us to take our case directly to the public. Both on my own weblog, Daylight Atheism, and here on Dangerous Intersection, I hope to be able to spread the good news of freethought!
Summary: A chilling portrait of everyday life in the world’s most fanatically totalitarian state.
When the Cold War ended, communism came tumbling down worldwide. The Soviet Union disintegrated, the Warsaw Pact nations joined the West, and though China’s authoritarian government still stands, its economy has become capitalist in all but name. But one true communist state still exists, defiant in its isolation, sealed off from the outside world by almost impenetrable barriers. That state is North Korea, the topic of Barbara Demick’s superb book Nothing to Envy. By interviewing some of the few who’ve successfully escaped, Demick weaves a frighteningly compelling narrative of what everyday life is like in the world’s most brutal and reclusive dictatorship.
Isolated from the outside world, North Korea has developed into a cult of personality rivaling anything found in the most fanatical religion. Its first president, Kim Il-sung, and his son and successor Kim Jong-il aren’t just the absolute rulers of the country, they’re hailed as divine saviors, literally able to perform miracles:
Much has been written, here on Dangerous Intersection and elsewhere, about the corrupting effect that massive amounts of corporate spending and lobbying has on our democracy. And I don’t disagree with any of that – I think public financing of elections, or at the least more stringent disclosure laws, would be hugely beneficial in creating [...]
Caroline Baum, a columnist for Bloomberg News, had this to say in an August 12 column about health care reform:
Take the issue of a public option. How can the private insurance industry survive with a not-for-profit government plan charging a pittance?
Ms. Baum has overlooked some basic facts that would undermine this claim. Namely, in America, there are public universities competing with private universities, public hospitals competing with private hospitals, public libraries competing with private bookstores, and a public post office competing with private package delivery companies. To cite an even more obvious example, there are already public, not-for-profit government plans like Medicare competing with private insurers. Even in Europe, where most countries already offer universal public health coverage, private insurers still operate.
In none of these instances has the public alternative put private competitors out of business. Why on earth would this suddenly change if the U.S. Congress created a public health insurance option?
I’ve criticized President Obama for not keeping his campaign pledges to end the faith-based initiative and restore transparency to government, but when he does something right, I’ll give him credit where credit is due. So, it’s good to see him taking this unapologetically progressive stance on an issue where some reason is badly needed – the precautionary use of antibiotics in animals raised on factory farms:
The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.
…In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.
Feeding massive doses of antibiotics to farm animals enables them to live in crowded, unsanitary and often inhumane conditions. It also encourages the evolution of antibiotic resistance to the dangerous bacteria that inevitably live inside them, and when those bacteria spread through the food chain to humans, the result is outbreaks of virulent, drug-resistant diseases.
Having recently seen the movie Food, Inc., it’s easy for me to appreciate how serious a threat this is. Antibiotic use, like fossil fuels, have promoted a dangerously unsustainable way of life in our culture. This first attempt may or may not make it past the powerful corporate food lobby – but kudos to the Obama administration for bringing it into the national consciousness in a bold way.
This is now the second time in a few months that I’ve gotten the following piece of junk mail:
This letter is advertising a promotion in which, for thirty-two dollars a month and up, I can pay to have bottled water delivered to my door. What a brilliant idea! How could you beat that for convenience?
Oh, that’s right . . . Instead of paying for Poland Spring water at the rate of about $1.64 per gallon, I could get clean, fresh, drinkable water of any temperature I please straight from the tap in my kitchen. I don’t know exactly how much this costs me, but I can say with complete confidence that it’s a lot less than a dollar per gallon.
Clearly, Poland Spring doesn’t want you to think too hard about the economics of this. However, for the environmentally conscious consumer, this mailing also has a page touting their green credentials:
Recycling 900,000 bottles and keeping 1.8 million pounds of plastic out of landfills is certainly very impressive. But, the skeptic in me has to ask, wouldn’t it be much better for people to just use their perfectly good existing public infrastructure for drinking water, and not have to manufacture all that plastic in the first place?
The bottled-water industry is one of the great triumphs of modern marketing: creating demand for a product for which there’s absolutely no genuine need, selling at exorbitant cost a substance which any person in the Western world can obtain virtually for free. Even more absurd, despite its imagery of glaciers and mountain springs, most bottled water comes from municipal sources – i.e., the same water you get from your tap anyway.
What bottled water really represents is almost pure profit for the beverage conglomerates that sell it, and unnecessary environmental harm caused by the expenditure of fossil fuels needed to manufacture, pack and ship it (not to mention sending out all this junk mail touting it). It’s no healthier than the water that comes from the tap in your house. It doesn’t even taste better. What on earth could convince a person to pay money for a scheme as ridiculous as this?
6:00 AM The Overnight News The morning show. Discusses significant events that happened in America the night before, as well as important stories that developed during the day in other time zones around the world. 9:00 AM Science Today Expert analysis of some of this week’s more significant peer-reviewed publications. 11:00 AM Fads and Fallacies [...]
Summary: A superb exercise in consciousness-raising; it paints a detailed picture of the food chains that supply us every day and the environmental and health consequences of each of them. Where does your food come from? If you answered “the supermarket”, you’re probably like most Americans. And while most people are dimly aware that there [...]
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the government in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, finding that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file habeas corpus petitions in federal court. This decision strikes down a key section of the Military Commissions Act, the horrible piece of legislation [...]
In my most recent post on Dangerous Intersection, as well as others previously, I’ve written about the many ways in which the traditional media has willfully discarded its obligation to inform the public. And so far, as the 2008 presidential election gets into full swing, there are no signs of improvement. If anything, the traditional [...]