On One Hand

June 25, 2009

Why I don’t believe in Hell

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 8:08 pm
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To most people the philosophy of Hell is a non-issue. If you are agnostic or atheist or from a religion that doesn’t believe in Hell, you think, why should one believe in some mythical place invented by some other group of people, with no evidenciary basis, and a lot of reasoning based on premises that can’t be proved? If you are a believer you say of course there is a Hell, but I’m in the right church and I’m not going, so what do I care?

But if you grew up Roman Catholic, like I did, a physical place called Hell is a founding part of your religion, and something you learn to fear. Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, Christian doctrine teaches that all people are sinners, and having even the slightest, tiniest unforgiven sin on your record means you are damned for eternity. Jesus is the atonement for your sin; accept Jesus as your Lord (meaning accept him as God), and because Jesus died on the cross, your record is wiped clean! He was punished in your place! By his love and mercy you are free!

The fate of your non-Christian family or friends notwithstanding, there are some hardships to accepting this with glee. Catholic doctrine teaches that most people lapse into “mortal sin” from time to time, so you must repent and go to confession to re-gain grace. Mortal sins are seen as a rejection of God so they aren’t automatically forgiven like other kinds. If you die “in sin” before you get to confession, you go to hell. Mortal sins include big, obvious things like rape, murder, genocide, torture, adultery and intentionally offending God.

They also include everything sexual you can think of, even if it doesn’t seem that harmful; in Catholicism, ALL sexual activity outside marriage (even if there is no penetration), masturbation, or even “deep kissing” (according to my church’s youth group leader), are mortal sins. Even entertaining sexual fantasies can be a mortal sin. Acting on any sexual impulse the Church doesn’t like is damnable, so if you are one of those rare individuals attracted only to the same sex, you are taught that you will either die a virgin, or find yourself, at many points in your life, in mortal sin you must repent.

Nowadays they don’t teach the littlest kids about Hell. You grow up vaguely aware of the fact that the world’s worst people go there, but it doesn’t affect you or anybody you know. I remember telling my parents I thought the Book of Revelations was hooey because there’s no way God would be so cruel. At Catechism they only talk about heaven until you’re 13 or 14 years old – they don’t want to piss off your parents by scaring you – and then they spring it on you when you’re a hormoned teenager and you really want to do the things you’ll be condemned for. That’s when you learn that not only is there a real Lake of Fire somewhere in the universe for bad people like Hitler and Timothy McVeigh, but MOST people, far more than half, end up there: society is full of hellbound miscreants who are the either wrong on religion, don’t believe in God at all, reject God at the end out of bitterness, stop going to church out of laziness or apathy, or most commonly, die in sin. (Like they have sex with their teenaged girlfriend before marriage, you’ll be informed.) But you are one of the lucky few, your church instructors explain: you are Catholic, so don’t have anything to worry about, just so long as you don’t have the wrong kind of sex or have sex too early.

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Headlines from 4:30pm Thursday, June 25

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June 23, 2009

Drag me to Hell is amusing but troublesome

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:59 pm
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From a film-critical standpoint, Drag me to Hell is entertaining. It achieves what it sets out to achieve – to be a shocking, fun, jumpy and self-satirical film. It requires a hefty dose of suspension-of-disbelief, but remains within its boundaries. Every bit of information offered early on is important later, and a rich and funny scene with the protagonist and her soon-to-be in-laws ads a familiar element to an otherwise horror film. Some parts of Drag me to Hell are so gross or playful that they’d be jarring in a serious film, but this movie is delightful for those who like gratuitous terror, green vomit and slimy mucus pouring from rotting corpses. You get the sense that the director is poking fun of other horror flicks with the utter cheesiness of some of the dialog.

The film has little literary or social value; to take anything in it seriously would mean admitting that many of the ethnic portrayals in the film are so hyperbolized in their stereotyping that it becomes problematic. Get ready for the familiar trope of wise brown-skinned people representing the mystic or supernatural, because there is a lot of it here. (See Michael Clarke Duncan as the feeble-minded yet holy giant Black prisoner in The Green Mile, Brandon Walters as the earthy, Aborigines boy in Australia or Tourism Australia’s commercial, or Gloria Foster as the all-knowing Black oracle in The Matrix trilogy to see more of what I’m talking about.) This film has an East Indian psychic as its main spiritual guide, and an even more powerful Latina psychic medium who does a dramatic spiritual battle with the antagonist demon. Meanwhile, we cannot leave out the utterly cliché curse from an old Gypsy witch with one eye, which sets the film’s plot in motion. One scene where the protagonist visits the Gypsy home is painfully stereotypical; everything you ever associated with Gypsies: a candle-lit room, boisterous laughter, copious amount of food and reveling, walls utterly covered in adornments, Eastern European iconography, framed pictures of deceased relatives set on empty table places, and huge numbers of people packed in a small space are randomly present inside the otherwise-inconspicuous home. There is even someone playing a fucking Gypsy Violin in there while they eat dinner, for chrissakes.

Every character seems to be enveloped in a cliché social archetype; the young university professor boyfriend who is a rationalist and initially dismissive of his girlfriend’s interest in the supernatural, the grotesquely-wealthy, self-absorbed and restrained parents who live in an immaculate home and want their son to marry into high society, the boss figure, played by a Jewish actor, who is fixated on nothing but the bottom line, the career-hungry but groveling Asian who will do anything for a promotion is the protagonists main competitor at work, and the once-chubby former farm girl who wants nothing but to prove herself. And lets not forget our two main psychics, who are familiar with this kind of gypsy curse, and turn to esoteric books to inform us everything we need to know about every kind of supernatural being or phenomenon.

The film is fun if you’re willing to laugh at it, with spine-tingling demon scenes and lots of startles. But I’m not a film critic – I wouldn’t post an entry here to discuss a film from the standpoint of is it entertaining or not.

What moved me in Drag me to Hell is the depraved immorality of the universe itself. The ultimate premise of the film is grotesque: it accepts a Christian-Islamic version of an eternal hell of flames and lava, but hell is not where a person goes because of evil deeds or even lack of faith; in this film, you go to hell because you are the owner of a cursed object you don’t even know is cursed, and three days after obtaining said object you are pulled down alive into the fire. What bothers me most is how lightly the idea of going to hell is taken in a film that is ultimately meant to be amusing and funny.

That’s why Drag me to Hell is so troublesome, whether you see that troublesomeness as a good thing or a bad thing. I can tell you without spoiling the plot that at least one innocent person does get “dragged to hell” in this film, in the very beginning – a young Mexican boy, not even ten years old, who, too young to even comprehend what he was doing, “stole” a necklace from some Gypsies and was not allowed to give it back. It is 30 years before the rest of the film’s plot takes place, and introduces the psychic Shaun San Dena, who calls after the demon that they will meet again after it successfully claims the terrified young boy.

This film is like a cross between a traditional horror films and films that portray epic spiritual battles between heaven and hell, like The Prophesy and Constantine – each with its own theological universe – except that Drag me to Hell battles the forces of hell with no theological universe beyond a viewer’s speculation and no explanation of good. Throughout the film there is no mention of whether or not God exists, or why there is no good force that can overpower this particular demon. There is no mention of why the lamia (the evil demon that fetches the miserable souls) is allowed to travel to and from hell but the human inhabitants are stuck there for eternity. There is no explanation as to why demons, who are themselves revealed to be somewhat mortal, lack infinite power but hell itself contains infinite power to trap forever the people the demons catch. There is no explanation as to how it is different being pulled there alive through a portal in the ground than to go there after death as consistent with traditional theology.

I’m rather shocked that the film got away with being rated PG-13. If full-frontal-nudity or bloody violence is considered too traumatizing for young children to handle, then surely the thought of someone their age being sucked down to burn for eternity is more likely to give them nightmares. The most disturbing movie clip of my entire childhood was the Hell scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven and this one was far, far worse.

There are a few ironies in the plot that the writers simply overlooked. It is strange that a woman who grew up on a farm raising pigs would later identify as a PETA-friendly vegetarian who is shocked by the idea of slaughtering animals, as the film later explicitly states. It’s also strange that the Gypsy woman, who was presumably an ordinary human, becomes more or less a disembodied stand-in for the powerful demon at different points of the film – or why she is so adamant during a time later in the film (I will try not to give too much away) to prevent the protagonist from putting a meaningless coin on a tombstone.

They are really excessive on the sound effects in some places; the dog growling sound while the old woman tries to bite the protagonist just puts it over the top.

There is no explanation as to why the protagonist didn’t tell her boyfriend more of what was going on – there is first an easy enough assumption that she kept it secret because he wouldn’t understand, but when he later reveals that she did tell him part of the story off-camera, and he seems to beleive her, it leaves a question on how some of the tragic events of the film could have been avoided had he known more.

If you watch the trailer carefully you could probably use it to guess how the movie ends.

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June 22, 2009

72% of Americans Support a Public Option – Conservative pundit George Will admits it would cut costs

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:02 am
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If the public were to directly vote on a government-run option for health insurance, the initiative would win in a landslide, according to a recent New York Times poll that only reaffirmed what we already knew from other polls about public support for this plan. Not only does the public option have a mandate among the general populace, but even fifty percent of Republicans support it.

Yet it still may not pass. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com explains:

The bottom line is that the health care debate is not really being played out in the court of public opinion. If it were, Congress would pass a robust plan with a public option that was funded by raising taxes on cigarettes, booze, and people making over $250,000, and we’d live happily ever after (or not). Rather, this is a behind-the-scenes fight at the committee level, where certain senators who have ample financial incentives to please the insurance industry have a disproportionate amount of control over the process.

I’m generally not one to carp about special interest money — seeing politics through that lens is often an overly reductive formulation that serves as a catch-all excuse any time Congress does something you don’t like. But on something like the public option, which has broad public support and which would probably reduce — not increase — the long-run bill to the taxpayers, it is just about the only way to explain what’s going on in Washington.

How shameful would it be for this plan to fail?

Here’s another entry from fivethirtyeight where Nate Silver says essentially what I said in my last post about healthcare:

George Will Admits Public Option will Cut Costs.

Nate explains that George Will’s argument is essentially that: of course government would do better than private insurance companies, because they have no need to make a profit, and that’s unfair competition.

Which essentially means, we are ideologically opposed, even though your camp is technically more right on the facts. And what I’m saying is, ideological opposition is ideological opposition, so why turn around and use false factual arguments to back that up?

June 21, 2009

It doesn’t follow!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:51 am
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I’m running into a common breakdown when discussing healthcare policy with economic conservatives. They are people who believe that taxation to pay for government programs is unfair or immoral, and because of that belief, argue that any form of government-provided healthcare is bound to fail and dig up a bunch of statistical or factual points about why they think it would. Or to be more accurate, they think adjusting our already-public/private system by creating a government-sponsored public healthcare option is a “step in the wrong direction” and therefore bring up points about why they think it would waste money and lead to worsening health conditions. There are rapid shifts from moral to factual arguments.

This is akin to discussing theology based on someone’s personal interests:

Person A: I know there is a god.
Person B: How do you know?
Person A: Because there should be something to right the wrongs in the world.

There may be a god, or there may not – I’m not trying to get in to that argument – but the above argument is a non-sequiter. Just because you want something to be so doesn’t mean it is.

Similarly, just because you think that taxing income to provide healthcare for low-income people represents what you call an immoral redistribution of wealth – a power that the government has no legitimate claim to – doesn’t mean that using a government program to provide better healthcare to our 50 million uninsured people could only do so by worsening healthcare for everyone else.

I doubt that many economic conservatives are even fully aware that their passionate opposition to a government health insurance provider – that they still oppose to even if it were, for the sake of conversation, completely self-supporting and not require tax dollars – is based on their desire to see society structured in a certain way but not actual facts or interests. But it would be hard to argue that the uninsured’s interest in getting access to better healthcare outweighs a private insurance company’s interest in their profits, or their own asthetic preference for private over public entities – and that their passion in opposing it is really proportional to how destructive they honestly think it would be.

To be fair, there are people on the other side of the aisle who make similar leaps. Some want a public option because they would rather buy in to that option and have their money go into a common public plan than a private entity, which they consider immoral. Others dislike the private sector in general, or just want to stick it to those mean rich guys. But I consider this more of a European-style leftist attitude than one of American liberalism, which, excepting a few hardliners, is open to the market if that’s the best way to solve the issue we want solved.

Also to be fair, I am sure there are some opponents of government-subsidized healthcare who reached that conclusion out of reasoned analysis rather than a need to fit their observations into a predetermined ideology, and there are also liberals who support government healthcare for ideological reasons – one of the main reasons why I and most other liberals want to increase access to healthcare is that we consider 50 million uninsured Americans to be morally unacceptable. So it is a moral argument. But we have sought out, and would consider, any number of a wide variety of plausible solutions to expanding access. Single-payer would be the preferable option for many liberals, but we’d be willing to compromise for a public option in a private market if it were more feasible or more likely to make it through the political process. We’d be willing to consider a variety of options if it could be argued better than how it is working now. I think you could argue that we are operating under a pragmatic concern rather than a moral one – we’d be up for anything if you can convince us that it makes healthcare better for everyone and expands the number of people who have access to it.

The scarcity argument does not work for me – healthcare is a service, and is therefore as scarce as monetary resources spent on healthcare put in the right places. The scarcity argument would only in economies that have no expendable income or economies that aren’t wasting the vast majority of dollars already spend on healthcare – maybe Africa or Southeast Asia, where people have a hard enough time paying for food. We do not need to “ration” healthcare – a buzzword of the Right – when we live in an extremely wealthy society that has as many resources for healthcare as we provide. Putting money into healthcare on behalf of those who currently do not have access could certainly lead to an increase in the number of doctor’s offices, doctors and nurses and other medical staff, medical research and resources. Scarcity is only limited by the number of people employed in the profession and the efficiency with which we use those resources. Furthermore, giving low-income people access to preventative care would reduce the need for delayed care which is more expensive and uses more resources – which is the single most important issue I and most liberal advocates of healthcare reform will talk about. It is perfectly reasonable to believe that shifting the system around and encouraging people to see a doctor sooner would ultimately reduce the scarcity of healthcare in America – and it’s what most economists and experts say anyway.

I’ve heard the scarcity argument from six or seven people now, who insisted that any government intervention in healthcare would mean it is being “rationed,” and it seems to be more of something fed by university economics departments than a real-world analysis, or in some cases even a scare tactic. They have the need to fit the same basic principles to everything because doing so tends to put factual arguments in a framework of their moral philosophy. I didn’t graduate with a degree in economics so I can’t name any philosophy that argues that in some cases, in an industry that is a service rather than a good, scarcity is limited by how much much energy we choose to spend and not a physical property, but if I did know, I’d name that.

June 18, 2009

Protected: The Streets of Tehran

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Tell your legislators to support a public option!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:08 pm
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I’m sure that few of you are unaware of the healthcare crisis facing the United States; American healthcare is more expensive than healthcare in any other nation on Earth, yet we provide coverage to fewer people than any other developed country. We also have shorter lifespans and poorer health due to incomplete coverage than most other developed nations.

One of the focal points of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was a public option for health insurance.

What’s a public option? A Public Option creates a publicly-owned health insurance provider. It gives individuals the choice to buy health insurance from the federal government if private companies refuse to insure them or do not charge reasonable rates. It would not be free, but would more than likely cost less than private insurance for the same product. There would be no “pre-existing condition” clause and you would not have to “qualify” for this insurance. Meanwhile, a public, not-for-profit system would have less incentive to find excuses from paying for parts or all of an individual’s medical care. It could be scaled so that low-income people pay a reduced rate.

Expanding affordable health insurance coverage lowers healthcare costs for everyone. Expanded coverage means hospitals are not forced to foot the bill when uninsured people allow themselves to get sicker and sicker until they are hospitalized, but cannot afford to pay the hospital for treatment. The hospital must raise treatment costs for everyone to avoid debt. Treatment would be cheaper if the same people had insurance coverage and got early treatment which costs much less.

Perhaps most importantly, a public option would add competition to the healthcare system. If the government could come out with a better product at lower cost, people would flood into that system and pressure private companies to come up with better deals or find ways to cut costs. But if the government option was failing, or if individuals didn’t want to choose the public option, the private markets would still be there. It allows the public and private center to provide checks and balances on each others’ runaway costs.

The public option is a great compromise between a nationalized, single-payer system used in Europe and most developed countries, and private insurance that is currently failing in the United States. It doesn’t abolish the existing market, and incorporates free-market principles of competition, so escapes the heavy political opposition that “socialized” single-payer healthcare has.

But moderate Democrats in “purple” states are now capitulating to Republicans and insurance companies who oppose any form of public option – so while 75% of Americans support an extensive reform of the healthcare system so that everyone can be covered (scroll down after link for healthcare section), our elected leaders are compromising to a system that would attempt to limit the cost of health insurance but couldn’t possibly cover everyone and would make it easier for health insurance companies to find loopholes in new regulation. The political pressure is too strong for the government to avoid passing reform legislation, but they may ultimately do so in a way that siphons off that public will without leading to real change.

President Obama still supports a public option, but the American Medical Association, the largest lobbying group for doctors, and the health insurance industry have come out in opposition, and are joined by an increasing number of elected officials including Democratic senators. Even Tom Dashle, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, is saying that though he thinks a public option is vital, Democrats may have to compromise by scrapping it.

This is going to come down to who can howl louder. Can you?

Dear Senator Bennet:

I am deeply troubled to hear that many Democrats are abandoning President Obama’s call for a public option for health insurance. Adding a public option is the minimum acceptable amount of reform to expand access to healthcare.

Healthcare is the greatest challenge that our nation faces from one decade to the next. I vote in the primaries as well as in general elections, and always support candidates who beleive in that the choice to have health insurance should be universal.

A public option is, in itself, a compromise with free-market advocates who oppose single-payer healthcare. It leaves private insurance plans in place and gives each American person or family a choice. What could be a better way to synthesize all interests than to leave both public and private options on the table?

MOST Americans support expanding choice in health care. We do not need to further a compromise with conservatives by gutting healthcare reform of its intent to create a systemic change. According to all the rececnt polling, numbers on the order of three quarters of Americans are on board with a drastic overhall of the healthcare system in order to make universal coverage possible. We need a public option to put pressure on private providers to lower their costs and improve the product!

I speak to my family and friends on this issue, and even individuals far more conservative than I am are in support of a public option.

How tragic would it be if our elected officials were so gutless as to let the majority interest fail for the interests of a few very rich and powerful institutions.

I hope I can count on your support for a public option, and that you will give the president your support and encourage your colleagues in the Senate to do so as well.

Sincerely,
Matthew Pizzuti
Boulder, Colorado

contact info for representatives

June 15, 2009

Cable Network Website Screenshot Comparison

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:13 am
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It is near noon on Monday, June 15, 2009. President Obama has just finished addressing the American Medical Association calling for healthcare reform. Iran is boiling over as reformists spill onto the streets protesting suspicious election results giving incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 63 percent of the vote. Early word indicates that some protesters have been killed by police.

Here’s how the networks have the news of the day:

Protected: So are we a desert or not?

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