Saturday, September 12, 2009


Baby chicks
To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


The following morning, it was raining lightly by the time Pyosz hauled her milk to Koldok. She stopped at the allotment center to drop off more fruit. She then went to Gitta's to deliver bread.

"I don't mean to create a cash imbalance in your business" she said to Gitta, "but it would be better for me if I could barter for my purchases with you whenever possible, instead of giving you back coins you've just paid me."

Gitta grinned. "Your impact on my business is creating an imbalance, but only in the form of more income flowing my way than before. What kind of barter are we talking about?"

"Well, cheese, yogurt, and butter, obviously. Dried fruits and nuts" said Pyosz.

"I can use a little more of each" said Gitta. "I hear you're making jam on Saya."

"Yes, but I don't know if I can promise exclusivity on that with you like I am with the bread and pies" said Pyosz. "I've been using jam for barter at Market Day."

"I think I can live with that" said Gitta. "If word gets out that I have your jams here, some folks won't wait for market day."

"I'm also wondering if I could change to making bread every other day" said Pyosz. "I'd still deliver as much as I am now, but half the time it would be a day old. I bag everything as soon as it's cool, and I don't know how much the difference can be tasted."

Gitta said "I guess I assumed you weren't baking every day. Let's give it a try, see if anyone notices. How's the vinegar making going?"

"So far so good. I'm going to start a batch of apple cider this weekend, some of which will become vinegar" said Pyosz.

"Well, here's my suggestion. Go for it in a big way, we never have quite enough flavored vinegars here on Pya" said Gitta. "In fact, if you want to buy some plain vinegar from me through your allotment, you could start making herb and other infused vinegars without waiting on your own product. I'll barter a good price for those when they're ready in a month or so." Pyosz put 50 gallons of clear vinegar in her cart, 5 pounds of sugar, a stack of pint jam jars and two flats of blackberries which Gitta had saved for her.

When she went to the Lofthall, she parked her cart inside the main hall and went to the main office. Jiips was there, and Pyosz asked Mill if they could meet in her private office. Behind a closed door, Pyosz pulled a plastic-wrapped cube from her carryall and handed it to Mill. Mill unwrapped it and said "What is this?"

"Clay. I think perhaps the finest grade clay I've ever seen, including that from Argile. I've got a 50 foot square field of it in the middle of my goat pasture that goes down an untold number of meters" said Pyosz somberly.

"You're serious?" said Mill, her face lighting up. "Have you had this tested?"

"I sent one soil sample to the ejida. But here's the problem, S'bemma." Pyosz outlined her concerns. Mill's face grew as serious at Pyosz's.

"I hadn't gotten that far, but you're right" said Mill.

"After seeing my herd's reaction to the tree-cutting equipment yesterday, and how there was a drop in the milk yield today, there's a part of me that wants to keep this news from getting out" said Pyosz. She licked her lips and said "I looked through my contract with Pya last night."

Mill sat down, still fingering the clay. "Your contract for Saya Island, you mean."

"Yes. I have first right for all its resources, with the stipulation that if I'm not using a resource, I can't keep others from it. But I actually know how to throw pots, and I'm considering asking for the right to work this clay field on my own. I mean, I won't hoard it, if there are other keramikers on Pya, or an industrial use for clay of this caliber, I'd be happy to dig it out by hand and have it picked up at the jichang. But I don't want heavy equipment tearing up my pasture" said Pyosz.

Mill pursed her lips, looking off into the distance. "I can't think of another keramiker on Pya. And Skene will want to demand this as a product we export, but you're right, you have first claim. Let me talk it over with Api. Lev...I wish you hadn't taken sent in that soil sample, copies of all those reports go straight to Skene."

"I'll need a throwing wheel, and a kiln" said Pyosz, realizing her mind was already made up about adding yet another occupation to her list of trades.

"I'll pass that on. You'll have as much luck, though, telling Klosa about it -- in confidence, of course. She has tabs on every piece of used equipment there is on Pya, in addition to her furniture trade." Mill hefted the clay and said "Do I get to keep this?"

"Yes. Maar was there when I found it, by the way. She's the only other person who knows."

As Pyosz stood, Mill said "I don't know if you heard, but there's a dance in Sepek on Roku evening. We're all planning to either ride the bus or take bicycles down. Also, Ollow says she thinks the first of our corn will be ready for harvest this weekend, so Shmonah's menu will be corn-heavy."

"Do you need help with the harvest?" asked Pyosz.

"Whatever you can spare" said Mill, smiling.

"I'll come right after milking on Shmonah, then" said Pyosz. "Listen, I need to run an errand in Pertama, can I leave my full cart in the hall here for an hour?"

"No problem" said Mill.

Pyosz found a bicycle near the library, wiped off the wet seat, and tucked up her burzaka before wobbling onto the Pertama road. Most work traffic had come and gone, and by the time she reached more busy streets, she felt confident again about her bike abilities. She carried it inside the main ejida office and got directions to the section she needed.

Nobody was at the counter when she arrived there, but an older woman was passing by in the rear and came forward to ask that Pyosz needed.

"I sent in some soil samples from Saya and I was told they'd be done by today" Pyosz said.

"The samples may have been processed, but our report explaining the findings won't come out for at least two weeks" the woman said.

"Could I get copies of the preliminary findings, all the same?" asked Pyosz. "I'm the new capriste, and I want to do research on my own about possibilities."

The woman introduced herself at Nioma, adding "I work in the animal section, not soil or horticultural. But let me look." She leafed through a congested inbox and returned with a sheaf of forms.

"There's at least two dozen here marked for Saya" said Nioma.

"That's right, I did a comprehensive survey" said Pyosz. She had pulled out her logbook and opened it to the rough map she'd sketched showing where each sample originated. Nioma leaned over to look at this and said "Very impressive. Poth says you're extremely industrious."

Pyosz grinned widely. "Driven is more like it." She took in Nioma's hazel eyes, the darker cocoa brown of her skin, and wide forehead leading to long black hair with swirling silver at her temples.

"Well, these are in triplicate, I have to separate the pink and green copies from your copy first" said Nioma, starting to sort through the stack of forms.

"I can help" said Pyosz. "I'll check off each one on my chart, to make sure the goats didn't eat one of my marker flags before I took the sample." Without waiting for Nioma's assent, she picked up the next form in the stack and neatly separated pink and green from white, putting the colored copies in a second stack.

"What do you think of the goats on Saya?" asked Nioma, letting Pyosz continue with the form separation.

"I don't have anything to compare them to, they're the first goats I've known" laughed Pyosz. "I've already gotten attached to most of them, however. Except a couple who think humans are a waste of space, and Molars the biter. But you know, I'm tackling the issue of next autumn's breeding plan, though I won't be here. I've been talking over ideas with my cousin Vants, a capriste on Yagi -- "

"I know Vants, went to school with her" said Nioma. "I went to school with your emma as well, I think. Prl, right?"

Pyosz's smile was huge. "Yes. Anyhow, is there a set of guidelines you'd recommend, or at the very least, last year's ejida forms for the breeding that took place then?"

"Now that I know about firsthand" said Nioma, starting to leave the counter.

"While you're at it, I'd like the same for my flock of chickens, I have a chance to introduce a new line" said Pyosz. "I'll need any forms I have to complete for that process as well."

Nioma went out a side door into another office. The ejida was using the same numbering system Pyosz had put on each sample, with a prefix that she presumed meant "Saya". She swiftly thumbed through until she found the form corresponding to her clay field. She folded all three copies into her gilet and had managed to calm her breathing back to normal by the time Nioma returned.

Nioma pushed pamphlets and a clip of papers over the counter to Pyosz. "This should give you a good start. But I'd recommend you also consult a couple of general texts." The titles she gave were those Pyosz already had. Pyosz finished the rest of the forms and pushed the stack of pink-and-green sheets back to Nioma.

"Give my regards to your emma" said Nioma. "I'm not surprised someone with the bent for science and learning that she had produced a woman with your kind of industry."

Pyosz thought My emma would be appalled at the crime I'm about to commit as she thanked Nioma and clasped her own copies to her chest, to mask the rustle of paper under her gilet.

Before leaving Pertama, she went to the fish docks and bought two pounds of shrimp plus a thick fillet of ryba, having to pay cash because she didn't have Maar along to get it free with her pilot's perk. She stopped by the food stall next door and got another lentil patty sandwich with fried onion rings, and sat on the balcony over the vetriste yard to eat it in the rain, her burzaka bloused around her.

When she returned to the Lofthall, Mill was on the radio in a detailed argument about the school sinner schedule. Pyosz wrote a note saying "I got the soil sample results from the ejida, official report in 2 weeks, I stole the pages for the clay field. Oops. Goats must have kept me from testing that area" and folded it into Mill's hand.

The sun had emerged when she went back outside, as if the weather approved of her deception. She heard someone call her name from the path to the school and turned to see Dodd coming her way.

"Washing slates?" she asked, hugging Dodd.

"Nothing so simple" said Dodd. "I'm tucking more into the curriculum at every grade level. We're already graduating kids who're way ahead of Skene's academic standards, but there's more room for improvement." Pyosz knew Dodd deeply resented the commonly-held belief on Skene that Pya's school system was inferior. "Listen, I've got chicks ready to go home with you, if you're up for it."

"Oh, lovely" said Pyosz. She went to Dodd's tillage and melted over the yeeping, bewildered balls of yellow fluff.

"These four are clearly going to be hens" said Dodd, setting them gently in a crate. "The other two in this hatching are chanticleers. I can't raise them here in Koldok, folks would complain about the early morning racket. But they're the same line as the hens, which means you could use them equally well for breeding in new vigor. And there's nobody to hear them crow, except you."

"And I'm already up well before dawn" said Pyosz, laughing. "All right, add them in, this will be a new adventure. Will they fight with each other when they start maturing?"

"They might" conceded Dodd. "In which case, neuter the one you like less and fatten her for a fried chicken dinner in the fall."

Back on Saya, Pyosz divided the chicks into two timid groups of three and placed them in the hopeful brood nests of two older hens who longed to emma. The hens went a little out of their minds at this sudden bounty, and Pyosz sat in the chicken run for an hour, watching the antics with pure enjoyment. Both katts came to sit outside the fence and observe as well. Pyosz hadn't named any of the chickens yet, and found no list of names in Ferk's logs, but she now decided the start of this new flock would have appellations. When she finally dragged herself away from the chicken run, she started a new page in her logbooks with her six chick names written in a bold hand: Saffron, Pokey, Peeker, Dusty, Daisy, and Crank.

She realized if she didn't bake tomorrow, she'd have to make a triple batch today in order to provide for Market Day. She began three large sponges of various recipes and rising times. She decided to also try making flatbread with rye, ground walnuts, and plums in it. She put all her blackberries into the stockpot with sugar and pectin. Since she was more or less tied to the kitchen by the need to stir and knead periodically, she retrieved her books with information on soil composition and improvement, and sat down at her table with a pot of tea to make sense of the ejida test findings.

By 2:00, the jam was ready to be canned, her bread was all cooling, and she was hungry again. She cleaned her shrimp, dumped them into boiling seasoned water, and pulled tomatoes plus aromatics from her tillage to make a hot sauce for dipping. She steamed zucchini with thin green beans and made a marinade for her ryba with garlic, miso, and lime juice, putting it away in the coldbox for tomorrow. As she was about to eat her second lunch, Api appeared on the trail from the dock.

"Welcome!" called out Pyosz. "Have you eaten lunch?"

"I did" said Api. "But I could have a nibble." Pyosz set a second place and said "Make yourself at home."

Api looked around the kitchen with an appraising eye, then walked to the cabin and glanced in the door. "You've made it look much more inviting" she commented. "How's the solar power on this circuit holding out?"

"I've had some close calls, but so far okay" said Pyosz. "I don't shower as often as I'd like, and I hate the stove limitations. It'll be much worse for whoever's contending with the cold and overcast of winter."

Api sat down with Pyosz and took small servings of shrimp and vegetables. After a few bites, she said "Mill told me about the soil samples. Including what you did today."

Pyosz couldn't tell from her tone if Api was angry or resigned. "I've been hitting the books, and I was right -- the test results indicate a superior bed of clay is out there in the middle of my pasture." She handed the ejida sheet to Api, along with the open book giving an explanation. Api read slowly, chewing slowly.

"Great sauce" commented Api, taking a second helping. When she finished reading, she tucked the report neatly into the book and closed it. "I have to think about this another day or two. Basically, yes, we can grant you the right to become a keramiker and use this resource exclusively, as long as it isn't a token effort on your part. Not that you seem to indulge in token efforts" she added with a tight smile, looking around her.

"That's just-made blackberry preserves, by the way" said Pyosz, pointing to a bowl. "And warm flatbread." Api added helpings of each to her plate.

"Don't do anything else" said Api flatly. "Not until I decide on a course of action. Don't even talk to Klosa about equipment."

"All right" promised Pyosz. She tore apart a shrimp and dropped morsels to Ember and Curds at her feet under the table.

"Tu and Pank say you've expressed agreement with their connecting a ferry to Saya and using the island as a pathway" said Api.

"Jubilant agreement" said Pyosz. "It's a go, then, for Herne Island?"

"Yes, it wil be good for the Pea Pods to have their presence among us" said Api primly. "The family from Skene has definitely settled on Kacang for their immigration site, by the way."

"I have a hypothetical question for you" said Pyosz. If I asked for a geothermal survey and installation on Saya at the same time as Kacang and Herne's is done, splitting as much of the cost with them as I could, what would my share be?"

Api wiped her fingers and opened her notebook. She leafed through to a particular page, made calculations in a tiny script with her pencil, and munched through a piece of jam-topped flatbread while she stared at her figures for a long minute. Finally she said "There will likely be some offset from rock harvested as part of the geothermal excavation, I can't predict how much credit that could give you. But as it is, if you include what you'll have to pay a timmer to build your power shed, plus the survey, tap, machinery, and connections to several structures here, I think your component will be at least 3 eks."

"Whew" said Pyosz. "What if I added on an aga to this kitchen?"

"Another two-tenths of an ek for the installation, and then whatever an aga runs these days" said Api. She looked around and said "You don't actually have room to place an aga in here."

"I know" said Pyosz. "But if I go forward with taking up potting, I'll need a space for the wheel and kiln. I was considering the idea of extending this kitchen canopy over to the grill area, with flooring and rain screens as well as a roof. I'd shut out the grill smoke from coming into the kitchen, of course. The geo pipe for the aga could also work for the kiln, I think I remember from Skene. So, that's an additional construction cost there."

"Up to 5 eks, not including the aga" guessed Api. "You understand, we don't have the funds to pay for personal improvements. If you're a keramiker, that income will be yours alone. Although if there's a use for this clay elsewhere on Pya, I will ask you to turn over a half-share for that."

"As long as I have the say about how it is excavated" said Pyosz. Api had finished eating and was setting her plate tidily in the sink. Pyosz said "I'm not nearly done with this shrimp, it is all right if I let you go do your inspection without me?"

"Of course" said Api. She picked up her notebook and walked to the grill, lifting its lid. Pyosz had not cleaned out all the ash and charcoal from her herring smoking. Api leaned over to look into the bottom of the grill.

"What sort of stone did you use for the foundation?" she called out.

"It's on bare sand, then a thick layer of shingle from the southern beach" answered Pyosz. "Pank had me haul up two buckets, I hope that's within guidelines." Api was still trying to see through the charcoal, and Pyosz added "I also brought all the leftover wood from the tree removals here to burn in the grill, that's it stacked nearby. If that's not okay, I'll do whatever you want with it."

Api put down the grill lid to look at the woodpile. "No, this is appropriate" she said. She turned and smiled again. "Ah, the infamous orange wain." She headed toward the barn.

Pyosz whispered to herself You're getting altogether too accomplished at deception. She decided if there was no shrimp left for dinner, she'd have an omelet with her salad, no problem, and kept eating.

After doing dishes, she began rolling out pie dough as jars of jam were canned in the hissing pressure cooker. Curds and Ember always left the kitchen when the pressure cooker was in operation. She reluctantly used a portion of the blackberry preserves to make turnovers with soft cheese added to the fruit and an almond-sugar frosting on their tops. She reminded herself to charge extra for these tomorrow. She saw Api go through the kissing gate heading west and hoped Molars was far away.

As the pies baked, she finished listing what she'd need for soil amendments at the portions of Saya reflected in the remaining samples. She walked to check on the chicks and became so caught up in playing with them she almost forgot her canning. Hurrying back, she turned off stove and oven. She did a load of laundry, hoping it would dry overnight because she had to do another full wain of fruit harvesting tomorrow. Api returned as Pyosz began mixing udder cleaner in a bucket in preparation for milking.

"It looks better than it has in years, and I mean to cast no aspersion on Ferk with that assessment" said Api.

"None taken" said Pyosz. She walked back to the kitchen to sign and initial the new round of forms Api had for her. She noticed Api did not request the purloined soil sample copies. Better evidence of criminality should remain in my hands, I guess she thought. She sent Api home with a round of flatbread and a jar of jam.

She wasn't hungry when she finished milking. She returned to the chicken house one last time to make sure her foster emma hens weren't trying to steal one another's chicks, taking a photo of small yellow heads popping out from underneath a large black-feathered body. She bagged pies and bread, put labels on everything, and used a private frequency to call the Genist Manage.

Qala answered. "Your emma's in with a consultation" she said. "Will I do?"

"I'd love to talk something over with you, but you should know that what I share cannot go any further than the three of you there" said Pyosz. "If it gets back to Api here, I'll be in trouble with the Ethicist of Pya. In addition to the legal repercussions I may face at some point."

Qala's voice was deep with concern. "You have my assurance. What have you done, Pyosz?"

Pyosz had to call back twice to give her the whole story. "So...I'm thinking about putting in some major improvements to Saya, and I can realistiically only come up with 2 eks against a possible 6 ek bill" she said. "Will emma's head explode if I ask to borrow money?"

"No, I think she'd be happy except for what you're spending it on. That expense should be covered by Pya, it makes no sense to me to treat your residence there as comparable to the folks who are settling a Pea Pod" said Qala. "You tell Api, and Mill, that you expect your capital expenditures to be repaid to you by the next tenant of Saya."

"That sounds fair" said Pyosz.

"And with regard to the keramiker idea, I think it's an excellent direction for you to head" said Qala. "I remember that plate you made at the University, it reminded me of Ng's work. I gather you're not willing to break open the money-pouch your abbas sent you?"

"No, that's inheritance and I'm returning it to them as premature" said Pyosz.

"Well, if you'll trust me, I'd like to be the one who gives you a loan for your current needs" said Qala. "Me and Lawa together, I mean. I know she'll be thrilled to see someone in her line take up Ng's profession. And as for getting an aga, lev, yes, the sooner the better."

"I'll pay you back, with interest" said Pyosz.

"You can pay us back but no usury" said Qala. "Lawa and I only invest in projects we believe will be in our best interests anyhow, or that of Skene, so that's all the reward we'll take from it."

"Oh, Qala, I hardly know what to say. Don't do anything yet, I have to wait on Api's decision" said Pyosz, emotion filling her chest.

"But it's all right if I tell Lawa and Prl everything, right? Lawa still has contact with folks on Argile, she may have a lead on a wheel or kiln. I'll tell her to not mention you, obviously. Plus you should ask her your soil amendment questions, she's the expert. She's at the ejida or I'd put her on the line" said Qala. Prl still had not emerged from her office, so Pyosz finally clicked off and made herself a late light supper. It began raining again before she went to bed. She daydreamed about the slick feel of clay under her hands as she dropped off.

In Skene, it was late morning. Qala left a note for Prl saying Pyosz had called and asking her to come to her emmas' Manage down the lane for lunch, they all needed to talk. She called said Manage, reaching Halling and asking for them to all eat together. Halling said she would notify Yoj and Bux. Qala picked a basket of produce from the tillage and walked over to the ejida. Lawa went with her to the fish docks, where they selected three succulent hamsa steaks as they talked in their quiet but thorough way about Pyosz's situation.

While Pyosz was in deep sleep, Qala opened the copper cao door to find everyone else already there. Bux was making rice, Halling was assembling a salad, and Prl was pacing.

"We brought hamsa" said Lawa. "Plus asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and two kinds of carrots" said Qala.

"What's going on?" demanded Prl. Qala handed her basket to Bux, who set it down on the counter and went to the table, sitting at the head between Yoj and Halling. "Could we make tea first?" said Qala. "She's fine, but I need a little something in me."

Yoj pulled honey bars from the larder and set them on the table. After one bite and sip, Qala told them the entire conversation except for the part about the clay field.

"Lawa and I are loaning her the money" she finished. Before Prl could burst forth, Lawa said "I have additional news. I got a call early this morning from Tu -- did you, Halling?"

Halling shook her head. Lawa said "She and Pank have asked for one of the Pea Pod islands, Herne, which apparently is literally feet away from one of Saya Island's shores. They're having a ferry built to Saya to use as their access to the rest of Pya, and they have extensive plans for Herne's development. Nk and Frahe are moving there with them, and will inherit it. From what Tu described, it will generate a good income and allow them to work at their own pace, at things they love doing. It's their version of retirement. And it seems linked to Pyosz's proximity."

"They're all sinking their hooks in her" cried Prl. "Even Dodd, with those chicks, it's another way to make her stay in Pya!"

"She's ours" said Yoj, anguish in her voice. Qala saw agreement on Bux and Halling's faces.

"I rather think Pyosz would say that we are hers" Qala said quietly. "As we are. But so is the rest of our family. They've been her summer family for 20 years, and I don't hear her giving up one for the other, only trying to make the next right choice for herself. At the moment, building up Saya is what's driving her."

"But that's a misplaced drive" said Prl.

Lawa said "Consider if she'd been given tenancy of Beras, or Argile, sole tenancy and responsibility for maintaining either of those islands. Saya is the same approximate land mass." She let the shock of that comparison sink in. "You raised her to live up to expectations, and she's doing her best."

"How much does she need to borrow, again?" asked Bux.

"She says she's saved one ek and can come up with one more, so at least four eks" said Qala.

"I thought you said she had spent all her money, when we sent her that package" said Halling accusingly.

"She had. Between then and now, she's generated enough income to save an ek" said Qala. "In addition to more barter than she's quite able to use, apparently, and a serious increase in Saya's production for the state."

Bux was doing math in her head. "You realize the exorbitance of what the geothermal guild is charging for their work on Pya? If they could get away with that sort of fee here, it would add up to an annual salary of several hundred eks for that woman. I tell you, when Pya's contracts expire next year, the changes will be ugly."

"What, you think Pya will get its own consultants to move there?" said Yoj.

"For starters. Our tax base for the last ten years has been artificially inflated from all the income we're generating by overcharging" said Bux. "We have almost half again as many people as we did before Pya was settled, and essential services will have to remain the same. But Pya is going to find ways to keep its extra for itself."

"And Pyosz is helping pave the way for that. I suspect she's completely aware of it" mused Halling.

"Our family once again is finding itself at the center of major change on Skene" said Yoj softly. "Only this time, Pyosz is the fulcrum, it appears. No wonder we're all so fixated on her."

"They'll never let her go" said Prl in a near moan.

Bux was reconsidering. She leaned over to look Prl in the eye and said "Pyosz will do what's right for herself, she's not going to fall for manipulation. She's dutiful but not stupid."

They talked on as they prepared and ate a meal together. When Tlunu came home from sinning, she had mail and packages for them from Pyosz. Prl had to return to her Manage for an appointment. Qala and Lawa walked with her, and along the way, Qala told Prl about the clay friend and Pyosz's theft of the soil sample reports.

She expected this to cause another flare. Instead, Prl looked at her appraisingly and said "You two are right, then, about her sense of commitment. For her to go that far...Api won't let her get into trouble, at least not this time."

"I think she was cut out to be an artist instead of a mathematician" said Lawa. "If you want to know."

"I wish I'd had a chance to talk with her" said Prl resignedly. "And that she'd come to me for the loan."

"But she was" reminded Qala. "She was calling for you, I intercepted. She still wants to talk with you. You're in the loop, I think closer than any of us. As long as you don't tell her the family there is casting a net around her."

Prl smiled bleakly. "Did she mention the pilot? Maar, I meant to say."

"No" said Qala.

"I have to rush in. Leave me a note if there's anything further in your letters, please" said Prl. "I'll see you at dinner."

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Friday, September 11, 2009

BROAD CAST 11 SEPTEMBER 2009: Alan Turing, Roma, Government Transparency, Maira Kalman, Migrating Birds, and the Failure of Reparative Therapy

Alan Turing (Alan Turing)

Many historians credit the cracking of the German Enigma code by English mathematician Alan Turing with eventual Allied victory in World War II. At the very least, this breakthrough turned the tide of the war and saved untold thousands of lives.

After the war, Turing went on to invent the Turing machine, which is considered the basis of all modern computing.

For his accomplishments, in 1952 Turing was convicted of "gross indecency" because he admitted to having a gay relationship. Just that -- he loved a man. The punishment for that crime was either a prison sentence or chemical castration. Turing chose castration. Two years later, at age 41, he committed suicide.

If you don't know about Turing's contribution to our freedom and our current ability to communicate via the internet, consider the reasons for why he has been relegated to obscurity -- why Quentin Tarantino will likely never make a movie based on his life. Why we don't have a "Turing Day" or a Turing monument on our national plaza near other World War II honorees.

In an effort to remedy this injustice, last month computer programmer John Graham-Cumming started an online petition to campaign for Alan Turing's recognition. The petition swiftly drew more than 30,000 signatures, including those of scientist Richard Dawkins, actor Stephen Fry, author Ian McEwan and philosopher A.C. Grayling. Now, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued a posthumous apology for the "appalling" treatment of Alan Turing.

According to an article by Hilary Whiteman for CNN Europe, Brown stated "He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely."

Bombe decoding machine (The Bombe decoding machine created by Alan Turing to crack German Enigma code.)

Roma women

During an August concert in Bucharest, Romania, singer/performer Madonna featured Roma musicians and a Roma dancers in her show. Roma people are often called Gypsies, though their preferred name for themselves is Rom or Roma. However, when during the concert Madonna paused to speak out against the way these people are discriminated against in Eastern Europe, she was booed by thousands in the crowd of 60,000.

According to the 365Gay article reporting on this incident, "There are officially some 500,000 Roma in Romania, but the real number could be around 2 million." Roma were among those singled out for internment and slaughter by the Nazis during World War II.

Gay activist stepping around police horses 1971 (Gay activist steps between pair of police horses to be interviewed during New York demonstration in 1971; photo by Grey Villet, from Life photo archives.)

The National Black Justice Coalition has issued a statement celebrating the recent American Psychological Association (APA) declaration that "health professionals should avoid telling clients they can change their sexual orientation". NBJC Interim Executive Director Dr. Sylvia Rhue commented: "This report is a long overdue repudiation of the 'reparative therapy' movement that is based in fear, error, discarded psychoblunder from the 1950's, and bad theology. The 'ex-gay' movement has done untold damage to thousands of people."

In a related story, the Denver Post reports "Focus on the Family will shed its controversial 'Love Won Out' program for transforming homosexuals into heterosexuals because of budget troubles."

Former and new oil rig lighting comparison (Image from Philips Habitat Lighting.)

In conservation news, Utne Reader reports "European researchers recently sought to stem the mortality rate of birds migrating over the North Sea, where lights from oil and gas rigs can distract and disorient the fair-feathered travelers. After finding that blue light and green light are much less disconcerting to birds than the red and white lights favored by these sites, the researchers worked with a Dutch oil and gas company to swap them out."

Sun in hands photograph (Sun in Hands, photo from Stopped Time, Part 5 series.)

Every year the Sunlight Foundation has a contest called Apps for America, seeking web applications whose purpose is to enhance the usefulness and transparency of government data. Clicking on the line above will give you a list of all this year's applications. Below is an abstract of the list and brief description -- for more information, check out the Sunlight Foundation. (The three applications in bold at the top are the winners this year.) Be sure to bookmark this fantastic resource and pass it on.
ThisWeKnow -- ThisWeKnow sheds light on what the government knows about every community
DataMasher -- DataMasher lets you take state level data sets and mashem
GovPulse -- The Federal Registry at your fingertips. Over 1,000,000 pages finally accessible. View, explore, search, locate and take the pulse of your government. Catalog Dashboard -- A look at the Catalog
Jobs In The USA -- Statistics of importance to the American Worker including stimulus money impacts.
Fund Flows -- Visualizer for comparing government procurements by geographic area. -- Understand US Government economic statistics through easy interactive charts -- Adding Political Context to USA Federal Spending
loquake -- location based earthquake lookup
House Scoreboard -- Just how representative is the House?
Jobless -- Compare jobless rates by region over time
DataRemix -- A community documented catalog of public data sets and developer tools
Pattrends -- Getting trends out of patents
Local Recovery -- Find out how much Recovery Act money has been spent at your current location
Wiki MapMaker -- Making custom, dynamic maps for Wikipedia
simpler/gov -- Simpler/gov is a platform that connects people and data. It is available to every local government that wants to share data and connect with the public.
Refugee Flow -- Uses Hans Rosling's Trendalyzer Software to Display Time-Series Asylum Grantee Data by Country Against GDP Per Capita Values and Freedom House's "Civil Liberties" Scores
Local Spending -- Find out how much federal money is being spent at your current location...
Budget -- Explore the federal budget.
Quakespotter -- Earthquakes rumble across a 3D globe. Tweets and maps pinpoint the action. Donations carry the day.
Superfund Finder -- Have you ever wondered how many Superfund sites are located near your home, your work, your loved ones? Now with Superfund Finder you can find out with help from, Google Maps & geolocation support in Firefox 3.5, iPhone & Android mobile browsers.
Geodata Explorer -- Visualize census data at a neighborhood level
Maps for America: EPA Edition -- Explore the relative chronic health risks, hazard levels and toxic release volumes across the country. Maps for America combines population, toxic chemical release reports, and chemical toxicity into easy to navigate maps.
Data-Gov Wiki -- Our Data-gov Wiki is the delivery site for a project where we investigate the role of linked data in producing, processing and utilizing the government datasets found in -- Integrating top contractors for each congress member's state.
Goodness500 -- ranks the largest companies in the world based on corporate social responsibility.
WaterGoodness -- is a free website shining a bright light on America’s waters, both what flows from your tap, and your local bay/lake/pond/reservoir/river/ocean/stream. We show a mix of government and crowdsourced water quality data on a Google map. -- Use to easily search government contracts for spending trends.
UsaOpenGov -- Provides help in identifying and fixing crippled data and APIs -- produces visualizations of custom consumer price indexes (CPIs). Its custom CPIs are generated by mashing up demographic groups' average expenditures with consumer goods' price changes.
Eureka Invention Generator -- Eureka generates random inventions by analyzing the word frequencies of US patent application abstracts.
Disasters Map -- Maps, history and real-time comments to the natural disasters with Twitter and Capitol Words.
AHDI Calculator -- AHDI Calculator is a web-based application support expert user formulate the AHDI for their sake of research and improve the advance concept mining of AHDI to discover new social indicators
Employment market explorer -- Employment Market explorer is tool designed to help people understand local employment market, giving them a chance to compare local, regional and state unemployment rates and analyze the labor market dynamics. Time Machine -- new and interesting look for any historical data - time series in dynamic
GreenSpace Map -- GreenSpace Map is a web based and mobile application that allows the user to identify all of the EPA Featured Environmental Interests sites relative to a specifed location.
Fedtastic -- Fedtastic is a dynamic portal to government information referenced in the catalog and other sources.
Bernie - The Federal Register Watcher -- Post community comments on new Federal Register items, and keep track of your favorite agencies with Atom Feeds.
Quake Alert -- Find out which friends might be affected by recent earthquakes. See the Google Maps mashup and opt-in to receive Facebook notifications.
AlexLIb -- AlexLib is a KM/research tool which permits the user to create an ontology to search and everything else on the web at the same time. The search bot is a web page which only requires refreshing the page to (re)search.
typologies of intellectual property -- An interactive visualization of intellectual property.
D.C. Historic Tours -- Free Tour Planner of the Nation's Capital
MAICgregator -- MAICgregator is a Firefox extension that aggregates information about colleges and universities embedded in the military-academic-industrial complex (MAIC)
Top Dangerous Mines -- A website showing a real-time list of the most dangerous mines in the US based on recent earthquake data. -- Find the most on-time flight from one city to another.
FBI Fugitive Concentration -- Play Concentration with photos of FBI Fugitives

Invention drawing by Maira Kalman (By Maira Kalman from her "Can Do" column.)

And, finally, I can never say enough good things about Maira Kalman. We are now lucky enough to have her publishing a blog at the New York Times called "And The Pursuit of Happiness". Pursue your own happiness by reading her.

(By Maira Kalman from her "I Lift My Lamp Beside The Golden Door" column.)

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog. Hat tip to Calico, commenter at Dykes To Watch Out For, for the lead about Alan Turing.]



Pants on fire
After natural distasters, there are folks who are up bright and early the next morning to defraud devastated survivors with lying offers of roof repair, cut-rate funeral plots, and, oh yeah, toxic trailers in which to house their children and ill family members. We have a special contempt for these particular kinds of deceit, which plays on need and vulnerability to make money and accrue influence.

On this anniversary of 9/11, a day when briefly we mourned together as a nation and hoped for leadership that would give us guidance, I urge us to complete our grieving process by also catharsing the justifiable rage we feel at those who used this terrible event for personal gain.

I'll "let it go" once all the truth has been exposed and the criminals are held responsible. And no, I'm not referring to those in Gitmo, I'm referring to the criminals whose decisions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands more innocent lives, bankrupted an economy, and shredded our Constitution.

Bush reading My Pet Goat on 9/11 "After being told 'America is under attack' when the second plane hit the tower on 9/11, George W. Bush continued to read 'My Pet Goat' in a Florida classroom for the next seven minutes." -from Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore

If we do not demand accountability for the vile treachery perpetrated on us in the name of 9/11, we'll be stuck here forever.

Keith Olbermann addressed it last night in his Special Comment. (Hat-tip to Crooks and Liars for the transcript and the video.)

And finally, as promised, a Special Comment about the shout of "You Lie" during the presidential address to the joint session of Congress last night on the
matter of health care reform.

The 43rd president of the United States lied the nation into the war, lied 4,343 of his fellow citizens to death in that war, lied about upholding the constitution, and lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction.

He lied about how he reacted to Al-Qaeda before 9/11 and he lied about how he reacted to Al-Qaeda after 9/11.

He lied about getting Bin Laden, and he lied about not getting Bin Laden.

He lied about nation-building in Iraq, lied about the appearance of new buildings **in** the nation **of** Iraq, and lied about embassy buildings in nations like Iraq.

He lied about trailers with mobile weapons labs in them, and he lied about trailers with Cuban prostitutes in them.

He and his administration lied -- by the counting of one non-profit group -- 532 times about links between Al-Qaeda and Iraq. Only 28 of those were by that President, but he made up for that by lying 231 times about W-M-D.

And yet not once did an elected Democratic official shout out during one of George W. Bush's speeches and call him a "liar."

Even when the president was George W. Bush, even when he was assailed from sidelines like mine, even when the lies came down so thick the nation needed a hat... he was still the President and if he didn't earn any respect, the office he held demanded respect.

More over, that President and his Congressional tools like Congressman Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson of South Carolina insisted not just unquestioned respect for the office; they wanted unanimous lock-step compliance with the man.

And when the blasphemy of mere respectful criticism somehow came anyway -- say by, or built on that by, the real Joe Wilson -- lord help he who might have made the slightest factual error in that criticism.

Congressman Wilson and his masters and the flying monkeys of right-wing media would pursue the erroneous critic to the ends of their careers, firing hot accusations of moral or intellectual confusion and incompetence at the unbelievers.

And that is the line Congressman Wilson crossed last night when he shouted "you lie" at this President of the United States.

Not the respect line.

The stupid line.

Watch the whole thing below:

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]



(President Obama speaks on health care before Congress 9 September 2009) (President Barack Obama speaking on health care before a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol on 9 September 2009; behind him are Vice President Joseph Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.)

President Barack Obama
Remarks by the President on Health Care
September 9, 2009
To a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, and the American people:

When I spoke here last winter, this nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse.

As any American who is still looking for work or a way to pay their bills will tell you, we are by no means out of the woods. A full and vibrant recovery is still many months away. And I will not let up until those Americans who seek jobs can find them -- (applause) -- until those businesses that seek capital and credit can thrive; until all responsible homeowners can stay in their homes. That is our ultimate goal. But thanks to the bold and decisive action we've taken since January, I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink. (Applause.)

I want to thank the members of this body for your efforts and your support in these last several months, and especially those who've taken the difficult votes that have put us on a path to recovery. I also want to thank the American people for their patience and resolve during this trying time for our nation.

But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came here to build a future. (Applause.) So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future -- and that is the issue of health care.

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. (Applause.) It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session. (Applause.)

Our collective failure to meet this challenge -- year after year, decade after decade -- has led us to the breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or too expensive to cover.

We are the only democracy -- the only advanced democracy on Earth -- the only wealthy nation -- that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two-year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone.

But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem for the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.

One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer had more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America. (Applause.)

Then there's the problem of rising cost. We spend one and a half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It's why so many employers -- especially small businesses -- are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally -- like our automakers -- are at a huge disadvantage. And it's why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it -- about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else's emergency room and charitable care.

Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close. Nothing else. (Applause.)

Now, these are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how.

There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's -- (applause) -- where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everybody. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end employer-based systems and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.

I've said -- I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both these approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have. Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch. (Applause.) And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the past several months.

During that time, we've seen Washington at its best and at its worst.

We've seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before. Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors' groups, and even drug companies -- many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we've also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government. Instead of honest debate, we've seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. (Applause.) Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals. It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance for those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. (Applause.) It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge -- not just government, not just insurance companies, but everybody including employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from senators and congressmen, from Democrats and Republicans -- and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.

Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan. First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. (Applause.) Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

What this plan will do is make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. (Applause.) As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it the most. (Applause.) They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. (Applause.) We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. (Applause.) And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies -- (applause) -- because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives. (Applause.)

Now, that's what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan -- more security and more stability.

Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. (Applause.) If you lose your job or you change your job, you'll be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you'll be able to get coverage. We'll do this by creating a new insurance exchange -- a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we give ourselves. (Applause.)

Now, for those individuals and small businesses who still can't afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we'll provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need. And all insurance companies that want access to this new marketplace will have to abide by the consumer protections I already mentioned. This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have preexisting medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. (Applause.) This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it's a good idea now, and we should all embrace it. (Applause.)

Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those -- especially the young and the healthy -- who still want to take the risk and go without coverage. There may still be companies that refuse to do right by their workers by giving them coverage. The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for these people's expensive emergency room visits. If some businesses don't provide workers health care, it forces the rest of us to pick up the tab when their workers get sick, and gives those businesses an unfair advantage over their competitors. And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek -- especially requiring insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions -- just can't be achieved.

And that's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance -- just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. (Applause.) Likewise -- likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage, and 95 percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. (Applause.) But we can't have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.

And while there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe -- (laughter) -- I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage, and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.

And I have no doubt that these reforms would greatly benefit Americans from all walks of life, as well as the economy as a whole. Still, given all the misinformation that's been spread over the past few months, I realize -- (applause) -- I realize that many Americans have grown nervous about reform. So tonight I want to address some of the key controversies that are still out there.

Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Now, such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple. (Applause.)

There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You lie! (Boos.)

President Obama before joint session of Congress 9 September 2009 (President Barack Obama addressing a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on 9 September 2009; official White House photo taken by Laurence Jackson.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's not true. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up -- under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place. (Applause.)

Now, my health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a "government takeover" of the entire health care system. As proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly sponsored insurance option, administered by the government just like Medicaid or Medicare. (Applause.)

So let me set the record straight here. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. That's how the market works. (Applause.) Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90 percent is controlled by just one company. And without competition, the price of insurance goes up and quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly -- by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest, by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage, and by jacking up rates.

Insurance executives don't do this because they're bad people; they do it because it's profitable. As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill, they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. (Applause.) And the insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. (Applause.) Now, let me be clear. Let me be clear. It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don't like this idea. They argue that these private companies can't fairly compete with the government. And they'd be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won't be. I've insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits and excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers, and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities. (Applause.)

Now, it is -- it's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated -- by the left or the right or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and shouldn't be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it. (Applause.) The public option -- the public option is only a means to that end -- and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have. (Applause.)

For example -- for example, some have suggested that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others have proposed a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. (Applause.) And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need. (Applause.)

Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public -- and that's how we pay for this plan.

And here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future. (Applause.) I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize. (Applause.) Now, part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for -- from the Iraq war to tax breaks for the wealthy. (Applause.) I will not make that same mistake with health care.

Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system, a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care don't make us any healthier. That's not my judgment -- it's the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, I want to speak directly to seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.

More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That's how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. (Applause.) And that is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan. (Applause.)

The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies -- subsidies that do everything to pad their profits but don't improve the care of seniors. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead. (Applause.)

Now, these steps will ensure that you -- America's seniors -- get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pockets for prescription drugs. (Applause.) That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut, especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past and just this year supported a budget that would essentially have turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will not happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare. (Applause.)

Now, because Medicare is such a big part of the health care system, making the program more efficient can help usher in changes in the way we deliver health care that can reduce costs for everybody. We have long known that some places -- like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania -- offer high-quality care at costs below average. So the commission can help encourage the adoption of these common-sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system -- everything from reducing hospital infection rates to encouraging better coordination between teams of doctors.

Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. (Applause.) Now, much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. And this reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money -- an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts. And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long run.

Now, finally, many in this chamber -- particularly on the Republican side of the aisle -- have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. (Applause.) Now -- there you go. There you go. Now, I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I've talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. (Applause.) So I'm proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. (Applause.) I know that the Bush administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these ideas. I think it's a good idea, and I'm directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today. (Applause.)

Now, add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years -- less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration. (Applause.) Now, most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent -- but spent badly -- in the existing health care system. The plan will not add to our deficit. The middle class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of 1 percent each year -- one-tenth of 1 percent -- it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

Now, this is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight -- Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than to improve it. (Applause.) I won't stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in this plan, we will call you out. (Applause.) And I will not -- and I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed -- the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town halls, in e-mails, and in letters.

I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.

In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight. And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform -- "that great unfinished business of our society," he called it -- would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that "it concerns more than material things." "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

I've thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days -- the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That's our history.

For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here -- people of both parties -- know that what drove him was something more. His friend Orrin Hatch -- he knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient's Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can't afford it.

That large-heartedness -- that concern and regard for the plight of others -- is not a partisan feeling. It's not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character -- our ability to stand in other people's shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter -- that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

That was true then. It remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road -- to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that is not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. (Applause.) I still believe -- I still believe that we can act when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.

Because that's who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Michele Obama embracing Vicki Kennedy following health care speech 9 September 2009 (First Lady Michele Obama embraces Vicki Kennedy following address to a joint session on Congress on health care by President Barack Obama, 9 September 2009; official White House photo by Pete Souza.)

[From White House]

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Thursday, September 10, 2009


(Ant With Acorn from Tugboat Printshop)

I was once friends with someone who is a direct descendant of Edmund Ruffin. For those of you who don't recognize the name, Edmund Ruffin is the South Carolina slaveholding farmer who is credited with fining the shot which began the Civil War. My friend was, among other identities, an anti-racism activist. She spent a great deal of personal energy coming to peace with her family history, her white Southern identity, and her owning class roots.

According to my friend, her family's version of events is that Ruffin was definitely a fierce advocate of slavery and secession, but he was not a nutjob. In particular, they claim the men around him got him liquored up and then convinced him the Yankees were attacking in order to persuade him to be the first to fire. After the war, Ruffin committed suicide, and his family believed it was because of shame rather than an inability to adjust to a changed world.

But believing in slavery, advocating secession, and choosing suicide are all clear indicators of an inability to handle reality. They all exist on the continuum of crazy. So, alcohol aside, Ruffin was living in a particular zone of denial which won't allow his actions the excuse of an unforeseen accident. Any more than Republicans can claim there was no warning Al Qaeda would attack the U.S. in 2001 using domestic airplanes.

Richard Blair at All Spin Zone has a post up today which begins "It’s hard to believe the 'lone gunman' theory of Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) outburst yesterday evening during the president’s address to congress. Someone put him up to it. Low level hit men in crime families don’t freelance."

I agree with him. The larger point is that while there is a solid 30% functional delusional segment of our population (see my post of yesterday), there is also an organized, highly orchestrated effort being made by the Republican Party, their mouthpieces on hate radio, and the corporate elite who fund them to persistently exploit that Crazy 30% to keep change from occurring. They used fake terror alerts and trumped up wars during Dubya's tenure. Now they're relying on more "grassroots" means to scare the shit out of the rest of us and immobilize us enough to keep their dominion going.

What happens in a democracy when nobody listens to each other any more? What happens when guns and camouflage are commonplace sights in public settings? What happens when you can shout absolutely anything at an elected official? This is not protecting or promoting freedom of speech, this is tyranny by the few at the expense of information reception by the many.

And, let's be clear, the Right will be thrilled if the progressive response is to start putting curbs on public expression, because those laws will be enforced by the status quo and will not come down in our favor. (Just like hate crime laws, which I oppose because they are overwhelmingly be used against poor and/or nonwhite people rather than the most flagrant perpetrators of hate.) I think the best reaction is going to be one which comes from us, the masses, rather than through courts or g*d forbid taser-wielding SOA trained urban cops.

The tools at our disposal are education, thinking on our feet, humor, community, common decency, and, most importantly, our liberal belief that respect for the individual trumps blind adherence to authority.

There's a joke among lesbians of my generation that when you came out to your family, a day later it was as if you'd said nothing at all -- not through acceptance, but because the news was so disturbing to them, they blocked it from family consciousness. This would occur simultaneously with someone, usually your mother, saying "All right, but don't tell you're father, it'll kill him."

Alix Dobkin, famous singer/songwriter, became intrigued with this notion of lesbian as a word that is so powerful it passes by without registering and concurrently can strike men dead. As a result, she wrote one of her most famous hits, "View from Gay Head", which uses the word lesbian 22 times. The rollicking chorus goes
Lesbian, lesbian,
Let's be in no-man's-land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian.

Thus, one mechanism of oppression is preventing certain words or kinds of speech from occurring -- though not all restriction of speech is oppression. Oppression, remember, has to be part of a systematic and institutionalized imbalance of power, not simply reflecting a difference of opinion. Another mechanism is ignoring reality, such as how the corporate-controlled media is simply not reporting on the large numbers of people currently meeting for/organizing around their need for a public option in health care reform. On a daily level, this plays out in households when someone can reel off sports statistics in minutiae going back decades but cannot recall how to load a dishwasher or separate laundry. Such deliberately obstructed learning and listening is common currency to Republicans, and if it can be linked to an underlying vein of culturally-embedded oppression -- sexism or racism, for example -- it seems "normal" enough to often not be challenged as attempted domination.

Here's a few immediate actions you can take regarding the extreme disrespect and obstructionism displayed during last night's speech on health care reform by our President:

(1) Progressive Change Campaign Committee has launched a petition asking Congress to censure Rep. Joe Wilson: "Enough is enough. On an issue as critical as health care reform, it's time to stop the lies, the misinformation, and the uncivil disruptions. Rep. Joe Wilson went way over the line by yelling 'You lie' during President Obama's speech, and Congress should censure him immediately." You can sign it by going here.

(2) Since Joe Wilson's outburst on the House floor his Democratic opponent, former Marine Rob Miller, has received over 11,000 individual grassroots contributions raising over $414,000. If you want to contribute, you can go to his Act Blue page here.

(3) Make sure this is not simply attached to Rep. Joe Wilson, but that it is linked to the overall Republican effort to bring down Obama and stop ANY reform from occurring. Alex Koppelman, writing for The War Room at, in his post Joe Wilson Wasn't The Only Disrespectful Republican points out: "There's video of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the Minority Whip, on his BlackBerry during the speech, for instance...When Obama addressed the charge that he plans 'panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens,' someone on the GOP side shouted out 'shame!' The president went on: 'Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical.' 'Read the bill!' someone shouted back. Obama mentioned those who accuse him of a government takeover of health care. 'It's true,' someone shouted back .... Even as Obama delivered a tribute to the late senator Ted Kennedy, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), a leader of House conservatives, perused his BlackBerry. Shortly before the speech ended, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) walked out to beat the rush."

Call your Member of Congress today at (202) 224-3121 to express your outrage.

Longer-term, it's important to keep naming what's going on for what it is. Identify crazy when it is crazy, and don't let them shout you down that you're not being fair. The ability to scream at a President while s/he is speaking to Congress is not a right granted by the rules of that body. The assumption that this long-standing rule could be broken is NOT DIVORCED from the fact that the President in question is African-American and the Representative in question has been a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. As researched by Dave Neiwert at Crooks and Liars, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is a white supremacist organization tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center which, among other things, defends slavery as a benign institution. What Wilson was calling a lie was Obama's denial there would be health care coverage for undocumented immigrants, a key recruitment issue for the Republican Party's white supremacist base.

It's also important to keep our eyes on the prize, which is not simply countering their terror, nor is it Obama's appeasement path (doomed to fail).

Our goal is No more loss of life or livelihood because health care is currently rationed by profit-obsessed death panels (called insurance companies) rather than being acknowledged as a basic human right.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]