Blimps, bikes, pipelines, uninsurance

Back home in San Francisco, my head still floating in Istanbul or somewhere in Central Europe, my body most definitely in San Francisco. Jet lag is still a bitch, even after nearly a week at home. Happy to land in the arms of my sweetie, but sad to leave my sweet daughter’s company… that was a 50th birthday present for all time: five weeks with my daughter (part of it with my parents too), visiting the UK, Berlin, Budapest, Sofia, and Istanbul… the memories swirl…

I really hate air travel now. The absurd Theater of Security in which you have to take off your shoes (only in the U.S.) and have your belongings examined is all about learning to live passively in a police state. As I overheard a friend say the other day, “when I’m in an airport I’m like an obedient dog.” It has NOTHING to do with security, that’s for sure. On this trip I had my tube of posters stopped by some rent-a-cop in London, so I had to check it, only to have the airlines mangle and destroy the tube and a number of the irreplaceable posters inside… fuckers!

I never much liked the weird sensation of getting on plane on one side of the globe and popping out a half day later on the other side. I’d much rather take longer to get there and make the physical and mental transition it ought to take in something closer to real time… my favorite idea that percolated up during this trip (including 3 days spent on the practically moribund Orient Express) is to resuscitate travel by airship, i.e. blimp! Think of it, a journey by air, not so far from the ground so you can watch the meandering countryside or ocean as it passes beneath you, moving at liesurely 100-200 mph, putting down in inclement weather or for an occasional refueling/rest stop… And of course for all those carbon footprint worriers, the blimp could be powered by wind and solar… the future of air travel? let’s hope so!

As for ground travel, I was glad to return to SF just in time for the June Critical Mass, a rather huge ride of 3000-4000, happy and energetic as it has been for months now. Here’s a couple of shots at the corner of Turk and Scott during the ride. This is when about 75% of the ride has already gone by…

Critical Mass keeps rolling, as do the insane twists and turns of global geopolitics. The mundane and simple act of riding home together once a month can seem unimportant when juxtaposed to the war and mayhem that continues to frame the “great game” to control world oil supplies. Still my favorite analyst of how this process is unfolding is on Asia Times, MK Bhadrakumar, who has yet another illuminating piece recently. Interesting to compare this to today’s Democracy Now, in which Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation is interviewed about the Putin visit to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s all about Cold War redux (or not) and Bush Senior’s legacy and the factions within the US… not a mention of the insights that Bhadrakumar offers about Putin’s maneuevers in global oil and gas and the abject defeat of US interests they represent.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you already saw versions of this, but if you’re interested in the final, edited and tidied up version of my look at the recent anti-G8 protest in Rostock, Germany, the article has been published on Mute’s website here. I could be a lot bleaker about it than I was in the article, but that doesn’t serve anyone. I was glad to get a nice note from John Holloway who said he liked it. He gave a great speech after Chumbawamba at the Rostock rock concert on the 2nd night, which I hope Mute will also post on their website. If not, maybe I’ll drop it in here later.

I went out to see Michael Moore’s latest, Sicko, the other day. Much as I share the general antipathy to Moore himself, and can’t miss the irony of an enormously obese man making a movie about a dysfunctional health care system, I like Sicko for several reasons. For one thing it shows myopic Americans that other countries have a much better system than we have here in the supposedly “best country in the world” with the supposedly “best health care in the world.” It also focuses, intelligently, on the Big Lie of insurance coverage rather than the obvious problem of 50 million people with no safety net. Most people with insurance expect to have their medical needs met when they arise and are shocked to learn that they’ve been paying for a bureaucracy whose main job is to deny their benefits when they come due. Sicko shows this with great clarity. One can object to Moore’s rosy portrayal of state-run health care in Canada, UK, France and Cuba, which can surely be as blundering and incompetent as any US hospital. But the interviews with doctors in which they declare their pleasure in being able to actually do their jobs without the constraint of what insurance will pay for is refreshing. It’s a great example of how markets, profits and money constrain us from doing work that needs doing, and it’s a lesson that could be applied far beyond the health care system. I appreciate Sicko’s success at juxtaposing a medical system dedicated to making profits and therefore denying benefits to a system that is dedicated to taking care of people and therefore no one is denied what they need (at least not by policy design like in the U.S.).

I was dismayed at dinner later the same night when we tried to explain the movie’s main arguments and two different people immediately spouted rightwing talking points as though they were obviously true: “I wouldn’t want the guvmint running the health care system!” said one person. “We need a system that promotes economic growth, that allows us as consumers to spend our money as we see fit!” said another… That’s when coming home to the U.S. feels like I’m really in the wrong place. So many people so easily bamboozled by propaganda… America must be the dumbest place on the planet!

Anyway, I’m glad the conversation is being stimulated by the movie. Maybe something good can come of it, something that unites the people who do the work with the people who depend on it, cutting out the bureaucracies and insurance companies who parasitically occupy the vast middle of the system.

It was great to come home and meet Maizie Jade Lazzara Lee, who is here with her happy mom, Marina, and yours truly, glad to welcome a new creative spirit into the world… Welcome Maizie!

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