April 28, 2009


From the side of US 95 in Nevada, a spooky glimpse of a Predator drone taxiing quickly along a runway at Creech, then a line of black pickups with federal plates and dark windows pulls out onto the highway ahead of me. A Nevada Highway Patrol car flashes past me at twice my speed, silently. I bumble on towards Vegas.

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April 22, 2009

Dr Pangloss, I Presume

"'I believe in the right of every American to choose the doctor, the hospital, the health plan of his or her choice,' Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said before the [Sebelius confirmation] vote." (from a recent AP story).

I'll bet he also believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. If there's one thing that the vast majority of Americans don't currently have — and, by design, would never have under most proposed extensions of current schemes — it's any real choice in things like health plans (or even the choice of having any health coverage at all).

There's an absolutely surreal air about American discussions about health care, a mixture of denial and an inability to understand that choices don't have to be as claustrophobically limited as they are here at the moment. Americans by and large seem dead set against medical services rationing, but ruthless rationing is at the heart of the current system (it just happens to be based on your income or financial state or past health record), and few Americans feel it's their duty to pay for any unrationed system. Health care insurance is one of the few things that unequivocally works best with social insurance (as opposed to individual insurance), where risk is spread across as many people as possible, but any mention of the word "social" or "socialised" brings out the pitchforks, and we get the current bizarre situation where you pay insurance for decades, only to be (quite legally) dropped from a plan as soon as you get seriously sick; at which point you face bankruptcy because no other insurance company will insure you. In effect, the current scheme is "insurance until you're sick; pay-as-you-go thereafter…". The worst of all possible worlds, in other words.

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April 18, 2009

Cal Day

It's Cal Day at the university, and Berkeley's being overrun by good cheer and sunny futures. At one of the stands a young guy's hawking silly hats with floppy ears and a big Cal bear on them: "Cal Hats! Cal Hats! Get your Cal hat here! All proceeds to charity!" He locks eyes with me as I wander past and says "Sir! A Cal hat for you?!" I can't help smiling and responding with "Do I look like the kind of person who wears a silly hat?!" He squints at me, pauses, then grins back, doing a pretty good imitation of my Anglo-Australian accent "Yyyyeeeeeessssss... why yes you do, mate! You could wear it while lecturing!"

A decade or two of being mistaken for a professor while walking through Berkeley does the ego a lot of good; I buy a hat. Surely the right thing to wear while reading Baudrillard at The Milano; an Irony Hat in mufti, I guess.

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April 13, 2009


Today's Google news is reporting Peter Zumthor's Pritzker Prize in its entertainment section — alongside such gems as Woody Harrelson's zombie attack and Billy Bob Thornton's latest contretemps. This is as it should be, I guess.

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April 11, 2009


Downtown Berkeley, 11am, an older white woman (at least 70, I'd say), dressed in classic expensive Californian upper-middle-class clothing, stands beside me waiting for the lights to change on Shattuck. Apropos of nothing at all she looks up at me and says "The last time I was here it was full of people protesting gay marriage!" I look around at her, smile sweetly (wondering where this was leading), and say cautiously "Yeah, it's Berkeley…". She goes on: "They're nuts! They're bigots! Can't they see even their god created everyone, straight and gay! I had a great time screaming back at them. If anyone thinks being gay's a choice I'll scream at them too!". She smiles broadly, steps off the street as the lights change, and strides off towards Wells Fargo.

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