Pink Slime, “Obamacare,” and the Price of Gas (Oh, My!)

by Jason Peters on March 27, 2012 · 16 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low

Pink Slime

Rock Island, IL

It is another moment of high controversy: pink slime, the constitutionality of national (mistakenly called “universal”) health care, and soaring gas prices.

What would it cost a man to put a message in a bottle stating that these are the issues by which the twenty-third century will judge us?

Not much. Nothing that he’ll ever know about—unless the scientists and sugar-daddies obsessed with the technology of anti-aging succeed in defying the limit that so absorbs their fantasies. (They won’t.)

Maybe these three issues won’t achieve such distinction in the eyes of future anthropologists and historians. Maybe, as Bill Kauffman has said, that witless sitcom, Friends, will be all that the future needs to condemn us by. But taken together (and, being creatures of time, we sort of have to take them together) pink slime, national health care, and soaring gas prices are not uninteresting—not as coeval media obsessions.

They concern what we eat, how we take care of ourselves after we’ve eaten what we shouldn’t have eaten, and how we get from A to B, which, apparently, we will do at all costs—including $105 a barrel and more.

The first of these, pink slime, is (in case you missed it) a beef “industry” byproduct made of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily eat had it not been converted into something unrecognizable. Depending on whom you listen to, it’s in something like seventy per cent of all the ground beef sold in the U.S. and constitutes as much as twenty-five per cent of the beef “product.”

Now I’m not squeamish when it comes to converting other animals into human body mass, and I’ll say in pink slime’s defense that it never had a say in what it would be called. And so it’s only fair to note that, being called “slime,” pink slime has been at something of a disadvantage from the start. Had it been named “gold bovinator” it might have fared better, especially if it could be said to cure E.D.

But pink slime by any other name would smell as unsweet, were not it pink slime called, and I have to say I’m against it. Here at Casa Carnivore we eat our fair share of burgers, but I know by name the beasts I eat, and I know their packer too. On the grill pink is as close to brown as the beef I eat gets, but it ain’t pink on account of no slime, I can tell you. Bad ground beef has a distinct flavor, and it’s bad. When you eat it, you sort of wish you were a cat so you could lick you anus to clear your palate.

The second of these issues by which we might or might not be judged in the twenty-third century, national health care, is a bit more flummoxing. Whether it’s a good thing that our current supreme court gets to determine “Obamacare’s” constitutionality is a matter I leave up to the constutionalitators. I’m a poor country English teacher whose mind and sullied flesh are too too given to country matters.

But two uncountry matters seem to me worth noting. One is this: what I mostly hear, and mostly from the right, is that a national health care system will mean too much waiting in line—like in Canada. (This is from people who not only have never been treated in Canada; they’ve never even been to Canada.) “If I need to see my doctor because I’ve got tennis elbow,” I hear said, “under Obamacare I’ll have to wait six months.” (Here “Obamacare” is said with a sneer.)

Of this first matter, two points are worth noting. One is that tennis, like most things invented by the French, is idiotic. You hit a ball back and forth. It’s like an argument waged by two people who do not agree to a common language and who keep score by inscrutable terms. If you have tennis elbow, you deserve it.

The other point worth noting is that the objection, raised as it usually is by the right, comes from God-fearing, family-values folk. And on their lips it sounds like this: “If I have to wait six months to have my tennis elbow treated just so poor children can have any health insurance at all, then to hell with the poor children.”

This is a sentiment I am somewhat uncomfortable with, although it is possible I have misread the Gospels. But I’ll leave that to better exegetes and move on to the second matter.

National health care does seem to work in some countries. I have had extended conversations with a Swede, for example, who, having had a hip replaced in his native land, keeps telling me that, when it comes to such issues as health care, the difference between Swedes and Americans is that Swedes trust their government.

I have no doubt this is true. My question to him is always the same: “But don’t you think it’s a matter of scale?”

And he concedes the point. Scandinavians can do things that we probably can’t because, as the economists (who are otherwise untrustworthy) say, “it won’t scale.”

I’ll be interested to see the judgment a supreme court I have no confidence in hands down. I dislike very much what I hear, mostly from Christians, about standing in line. But I rather doubt we can pull this off, given the scale of things. I should like very much to live in a more just and compassionate world: I would enjoy seeing the tennis-club ladies waiting in line so that a poor child can be treated for the whooping cough. But I fear it won’t scale.

It won’t scale because the age of wealth bankrolled by cheap oil is over, which brings me to the third issue by which the twenty-third century might judge us. It will say: “the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries were marked by a peculiar race of mathematically-challenged citizens. It seems they really didn’t know the difference between a debit and a credit. They had forgotten how to subtract entirely.”

For, as the price of oil soars once again (it’s Obama’s fault: he actually controls global commodities from a switchboard next to his executive commode—where there’s a toilet tissue holder with its own telephone), we seem once again to have forgotten that it’s a good idea to subtract from our unearned standard of living the costs exacted by the cheap energy that made it possible. Even as we witness another one of those swings in oil prices that the peak oil boys have been telling us we’ll see more of, so we hear from countless suburban cul de sacs cries of outrage: I can’t afford to drive eighty miles round trip to work and back!

As predicted, we’ve got volatile prices, lots of uncertainty, and tremors frightening everyone but the smug Kai Ryssdal. (You should hear me do this in person: “Hey, everybody! It’s official! The American Empire has collapsed, but first: let’s do the numbers! I’m Kai Ryssdal for Marketplace!”)

Scorn at localization all you want, but get your mind around this: reality doesn’t give a shit what you think.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t do some thinking. So let’s do some thinking:

We aren’t served by pink slime, so let’s avoid it. If you can, know your burger while it grazes.

And national health care, whatever its boons and banes, isn’t likely to succeed. If we had more physicians, and if they were willing to live more like the rest of us, I’d give it a snowball’s chance in Faith Hill’s underpants. It might “scale.”

But more work and less pay won’t make the “vocation” of physician more attractive to “lifestyle”-driven undergrads looking for pre-med programs with high placement ratings. So our having more physicians willing to live like the circlers of comma splices is highly unlikely. These clueless unimaginative undergraduate pre-med babes in the woods would do better to become farriers, and they’d do at least as much good, especially in the long run.

But, like most of us, they won’t do what’s best for the common good until the “economy” rewards them for doing so. So expect them to rack up debt that the oil-deficient economy can’t repay.

And as for the lifeblood of our “economy,” well, we’re in hemorrhagic mode. Our current Commander-in-Chief, if he gets it (and I doubt he does), isn’t letting on that he does. And the GOP carnival crew vying to contest his reelection … ah, well, the members thereof couldn’t recognize a limit, much less a place or a liberty, if one swam up and bit them in the ass.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeffrey Polet March 28, 2012 at 8:45 am

I recently ran across an ad for a drug that solves one of the greatest problems associated with aging: thinning eyelashes. and I fear for a culture that thinks this is a problem that needs solving.

That said, while it would be unfair to judge the Canadian healthcare system without having been there or studying it (for the record, since I am married to a Canuck and have a good friend who lives there I have seen it operate up close, and if you believe they’re not rationing health care then you’re living in a sentimental fog), it would be equally unfair to suggest that critics of Obamacare spend their spare time knocking dying children out of the way with their good elbows. It is, as you say, a question of scale, and that is why the Constitutional question is such a vitally important one. The Court in this instance has an opportunity to do something seriously significant: to wit, rescale the Constitution and the notion of limited government. Based on what has happened so far in oral argument I think there is a chance they just might do this.

Like you, I buy my meat only from my local butcher, who notes that they’re inspected daily by the USDA, which hardly generates confidence in me that I’m getting a better cut as a result. I don’t like my meat to have anything in it I wouldn’t eat separately.

You also rightly note the irrationality of oil prices. My son successfully parlayed his college education and degree in history into a second shift assistant managerial position at the local gas and convenience store. Any time gas prices would go up customers would go in there and start hollering at him. Finally, exasperated, he mentioned to one of them that it was in fact the case that a second-shift assistant manager at the Speedway on the corner of 44th and Byron Center was in fact setting the world-wide price for crude for the sole purpose of gouging that particular customer. And I believe the customer took solace in that. Now tell me how you formulate policy in a democratic regime so populated? Here your analogy is more apt, for individuals who believe that cheap oil is an entitlement are unlikely to think too carefully about who has to die or suffer in order to keep it flowing. (As an aside, I’m happy to report that my son is now better employed.)

On an unrelated note, your latest misapplication of the “little brother” moniker did not go by unnoticed. I’m willing to put a bottle of Maker’s Mark on October 20′s outcome.

avatar Kevin March 28, 2012 at 9:51 am

This is clueless about the realities medical students face. Generalists (GPs, Pediatricians) make low six-figures after devoting 8 years of school after high school, plus a minimum 3-year residency, and after paying $160k on medical school alone. (I know, I know, school is too expensive. Do you have a solution for that one?) These aren’t negotiable terms, or fueled by greed. Anyone want to be a doctor of any kind has to bear these costs at a minimum. (Assuming we need at least a few surgeons around, there’s a minimum 5-year residency to be reckoned with.) An economy on any scale has to incentivize people to pursue needful careers with high upfront costs.

If solutions to health care costs were simple, don’t you think someone would have thought of them by now? Or does greed and scale just explain everything? It’s not dispositive, but such problem solving so simple often suggests arrogance. Don’t you think others have considered these solutions before? (If this essay were an English paper, I hope you’d criticize the writer for overly simplistic analysis.)

avatar Brian March 28, 2012 at 11:01 am

“If I have to wait six months to have my tennis elbow treated just so poor children can have any health insurance at all, then to hell with the poor children.”
Personally, I don’t care whether poor children, or rich children, or poor or rich adults, have health insurance. Now, whether they have *health care* is another beast altogether. That, I can get behind. The notion that the two are considered synonymous is truly bizarre. Means and ends and all that jazz…

As for what folks in the 23rd century will think of their ancestors from the early 21st century, my guess is it will be something along the lines of how did those strange people think they could build a sustainable system in which folks got a few decades of pensions and health care paid for directly from the paychecks of their children and grandchildren, who they somehow forgot to have, and no one bothered to reform the system even when it required the government to borrow 40%+ of all its spending, with no conceivable plan to achieve solvency.

avatar Jordan Smith March 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm

@ Jeffrey Polet

What, exactly, is your point about Canadian healthcare? That it is rationed? And therefore… ?

As a Canadian I can say our system is far from perfect. I took me over a year and to get a simple operation to remove a kidney bean-sized bone that was floating around in my ankle. However, I was able to function quite well during that time. Sure, I couldn’t play sports like I had been used to, but in the end I got the operation from maybe the top Sports Med surgeon in the city.

And a month ago my 42 year old sister suffered a stroke. She received immediate and life-saving attention. The response and care she received was so exemplary that she is already walking and talking.

So yeah, perhaps we ration time and immediate attention to knobs like me who injure themselves playing with a ball, but we do that so my sister’s life, mobility, and ability to communicate are protected.

If I have to wait a year before I can play with a ball again in order to save my sister’s life, that’s a sacrifice I am willing to make. It’s what I like to call “limits”. Are you familiar with that term?

avatar Shyla March 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm

If we want affordable health care, let’s consider policies to train more doctors and regulatory reforms that would allow lower cost practitioners to provide more health care services. Instead, we got cartelization and rent-seeking on the part of the health care industry. Not to mention the divisive discussions about birth control that were inevitable once the government decided it should design health insurance policies. This boondoggle has all the flaws of socialized medicine but few of its benefits.

avatar Jeffrey Polet March 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm


Interesting that you first assert that I have no point and then presume to know exactly what my point is, and this in a most ham-fisted manner.

Are you familiar with the term “reason”?

avatar Jordan Smith March 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Apparently I am not familiar with the term “reason”. But please, don’t let my stupidity get in the way of your chance to enlighten me on your take on the Canadian healthcare system.

avatar B K March 28, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I wish medical doctors would quit their damn whining. “Waaah, I make SIX FIGURES right out of school. Waah, it’s going to take me less than 10 years to pay off my student loans! Waaaah, I have so many job opportunities!” Try being a veterinarian. Same amount of schooling (14 years post-high school for me) and same amount of debt but with a big ole 5 figure salary (just like a normal person) to use to pay it off. Will I get to buy that McMansion I’ve been dreaming about? No, but I make it work because I believe in what I do. This “you just don’t understand” attitude from someone with a salary that most people (even highly educated ones) could never hope to attain is kind of gross. No wonder people don’t want to pay more for medical care.

avatar J J J March 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm

But if we can’t scapegoat the president, then how will we release all of our pent up frustration and anxiety over hot oil, pink meat, fast nurses?When Faith Hill’s underpants just doesn’t get the job done… We’re screwed!

avatar Bo Grimes March 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm

As a “poor country teacher” given to “country matters,” who knows the names of the cows he eats, I find it surprising you know so many tennis players. A rural man myself, from birth, I have never been in the presence of anyone discussing tennis elbow.

The concerns I hear are like the one today by a mother of a 19 year old diagnosed with bladder cancer. They discovered the cancer and had it out in a week. There are no signs of it having spread, but he’ll need a cystoscope every 6 months for the rest of his life.

Some teachers might have fancy words about logical fallacies for something like making it an either/or between tennis elbow and poor children being treated for whooping cough (one presumes they may have longer waits too than at an ER now), but where I’m from we just call it silly.

avatar John Médaille March 29, 2012 at 1:13 am

“reality doesn’t give a shit what you think. ” Damn!
I do wish Obamacare had anything to do with healthcare rather than (as it really is) insurance care. Anyway, nine people with federal health care will decide if the rest of us get it, or as much of it as is on offer. But I’ll be on medicare next year, so the rest of you can pay my medical, and that’s off the top, before you pay for your own or your children’s. Hey, if you wanted healthcare, why did you wait so long to be born?

But as a minor rhetorical point, ALL healthcare is rationed. Price systems are rationing systems: those that have, get. They only question is how you ration it: administratively or by price. And as far as price goes, they always start at the wrong end, subsidizing demand rather than increasing supply. Remove the patents, lighten up on the licenses, have a variety of levels of licensed practitioners, don’t require certificates of need for hospitals to be built, etc. But as a political matter, the sources of supply are protected by big lobbies.

avatar Benjamin Nagle March 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

I thought porchers wanted to localize economic and political power. Maybe I am missing something here, but this bill hands more power to both insurance oligarchies and the federal government and then encourages them to begin shacking up. Right?

avatar Joan March 31, 2012 at 11:21 am

I looked up “pink slime” in Wikipedia and was surprised to learn that its primary ingredient is not the less popular organs I’d expected but connective tissue, a valuable source of collagen. This connective tissue does come out of the CAFO system and is therefore vile whether you’re talking gigantification, inferior nutrition, unsanitary production, animal abuse, worker abuse, land abuse, water pollution or unsustainability, but not necessarily moreso than the hamburger and “luncheon meats” (there’s an Orwellian term for you) that it gets snuck into. Seriously, this pink slime scandal is a matter of aesthetics masquerading as a health issue, and a distraction from the real issues around the externalized costs of cheap meat.

avatar WhollyRoamin March 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Ms. Joan, if you want to eat connective tissue, then ballyhoo. But please don’t make me do so– particularly in the name of collagen deficiency.

avatar D.W. Sabin April 4, 2012 at 7:17 pm

There is no better demonstration of how far our blessed government has traipsed around the bend than to ponder the hilarious idea that our August Department of Agriculture and the equally dignified Food and Drug Administration actually think dousing curiously assembled meats with Ammonia makes the pottage actually edible. Not only edible, but “certified” to market to the “masses”.

There it is again, that curious phrase, “the masses”.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins April 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I have a sense that the Justice Department lawyers defending the health care access law are no more competent at simple, direct, factually grounded arguments than the incompetent Christian legal teams fighting for states to retain jurisdiction over marriage licenses. In the latter case, same-sex couples are not even similarly situated to each other, let along to heterosexual couples, so “equal protection of the laws” has no application to the controversy.

In the case of health care, delivery is and has been for some time almost exclusive interstate commerce, more’s the pity, which is why congress has jurisdiction now that it did not have when Doc used to saddle up his horse and ride up the road after Sally ran over to say that Ma was about to have her baby. I’d be for reconsidering the entire bill AFTER we figure out how to make delivery something other than interstate commerce.

My true love despises pink slime, so I guess I should too. After all, she’s a nurse.

Increasing the supply of doctors where they are needed most, while relieving the burden of massive student debt, is a fairly simple proposition. Its being done on a small scale, and should be done on a much larger scale. All medical school fees are paid in full from the public purse, and in return the doctor will spend a good ten to fifteen years doing primary care in an underserved area. Then, we need to forcibly restructure specialties, so that those who HAVE put in their fifteen years have dibs on getting into specialties, which they should be much better suited for after fifteen years doing primary care.

Sounds socialist, even Maoist, the very thought of ASSIGNING and educated free American citizen, but hey, its still a free country, if they are independently wealthy or want to take on massive student loans, its still an option. If the people pay for your education, you use it where the people need the supply increased. I can already hear the spoiled post-yuppies wail “But its not fair to put conditions on what I do with MY education in order to qualify for the scholarship. I have a RIGHT to my scholarship.”

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