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.