Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Back to civilization

Being as it's a holiday and all, I'm not going to actually work on this post, so all you get is a brain dump.

I did a lot of heavy lifting this weekend. In addition to loading and hauling some very heavy objects, I sectioned and split a chord of wood, loaded half of it and took it to my mother and my aunt's houses, where I unloaded and stacked it; then went back and got the rest and brought it here to Boston, where it now resides in the garage. I'll still need at least another chord to get through the winter, and that's assuming I've already got enough at the country estate to meet my needs there.

Good for me, I can still do that, but two or three hours a day of really hard physical labor is plenty. To make a living, I get to sit on my ass all day and think thoughts, deep or otherwise, but most people aren't so lucky. Physical labor isn't necessarily drudgery -- carpenters and masons and many other kinds of craftspeople need to be highly skilled, and they are often creative and take real satisfaction in their work. Other work -- plastering, hotel housekeeping or the loading dock -- is not so satisfying, but at least it puts a few cans of corn in the larder. Either way though, you just can't keep doing it for 40 or 50 years. The back gives out, there are only so many ladder cycles in the knees, you blow a biceps tendon or you just wear out. And then what? From age 50 to social security is a long desert to cross.

As a starving grad student, I taught at a community college for a while, and out of 60 students in a semester I had three or four who I knew about who had been manual workers who'd had injuries that put them permanently out of work. One of my students was a 40 year old former carpenter whose family was in dire straits since he'd injured his back. He'd managed to get into a state-funded retraining program that was paying most of his tuition, but this guy's chances of starting over as some form of clerk didn't look good to me. The factory jobs that used to offer a decent standard of living to a big chunk of the working class are melting away like the snows of March. The jobs that are left for people without high level technical skills are more and more soul-destroying drudgery that pays a pittance.

On top of this long-term structural change in the labor market, right now we have more people who are long-term unemployed than we've had since we started keeping records. These are people whose unemployment benefits are running out, whose homes and savings are gone, whose health is deteriorating, and guess what? For most of them, their old jobs are never coming back. And now, if Max Baucus and Ben Nelson have their way, they will never have health care until they finally stagger across the age 65 barrier.

These - the people, the ordinary folks, the real America -- are in deep trouble. And they have been convinced to view the prospect of a national community that might actually come together through its elected government -- to do something about their circumstances and build a decent and livable society out of our great though unjustly distributed wealth, as a threat, a plot to -- to do what? Steal the freedom and prosperity they do not have? Do they truly believe that it's all an elaborate scheme to murder their parents and establish a totalitarian anti-Christian communist state? Why do they listen to this insanity? What brain worm has gotten into our water supply? It's a deep mystery.


kathy a. said...

i don't believe that people who are already in dire straits are the ones complaining about change. but people who are broke and out of work and/or in pain are also people less likely to have their voices heard -- it's what they can do to get through the day.

i also have a suspicion that despite the volume of opposition, most ordinary people -- even those who give lip service to some of the gasbag talking points -- are not buying the whole package, because it doesn't reflect the reality they live.

this is at least true regarding health care, with the otherwise conservative people i know. several have a variety of health conditions themselves, or close family members do, and they have struggled for years to get needed care -- struggled with insurance companies as well as disability programs, medicare, etc. the ones with insurance are terrified of losing it, even as they have to fight inappropriate denials, and scramble to cover the increasing patient costs.

but none are opposed to the other programs covering medical costs -- they may have problems with getting a loved one enrolled, poor fit with providers, and the more ordinary problems of getting doctors to pay attention to patient history, etc. -- but these are lifelines. i do not hear *any* grousing about getting the government out of their family's health care, because without a safety net, they or their loved ones would be shit out of luck.

C. Corax said...

Wow, chord wood! Major triad? Augmented seventh? :)

I agree with Kathy: Those folks aren't against "Medicare for all." At best, they don't have a clue that's an option that has been discussed. At worst, they're against the fantasy gov't takeover with Death Panels and forced abortions and unplugged grannies. But they do want the same thing that the rabid fringe left is insisting on.

If you want a free cord of wood, come on up to Hawley with your chainsaw and clear the devastation off my lot. I've got at least 30 cords' worth of trees lying on the ground so thick, I can't walk to the stone wall in back.

Bix said...

I was speaking with someone who told me the government should not be involved in healthcare. It's socialized medicine, which she doesn't believe in. She said if someone needs care, people on their block should chip in and help. She believes in "Community."

Cervantes said...

Sounds good, C, but that's a long way away. If you were in Sturbridge or some such place, I might go for it.

And the chord is a 7th flat nine, you play a diminished scale over it.

Well folks, it's kind of hard to interpret the polls because so much depends on how the questions are worded. I think that a) most people really have little or no clue about what is actually proposed; even less so what a "single payer" system means or other more substantial possibilities; and so b) majorities respond positively to specific propositions that do happen to be good ones, but the wingnuts and gasbags have managed to create vague negative associations in their minds with the names or labels that are normally put on the good stuff which they actually do support if you just don't call it that. Or something.

kathy a. said...

bix, that's astonishing! let's suppose someone on the block gets cancer or has a catastrophic injury or needs nursing home care. would she personally be willing to chip in a few thousand? what about a couple thousand for years on end? if someone needed home nursing, how many hours a week would she be willing to devote to changing diapers and administering physical therapy, and cooking and housework that the patient can no longer do?

when my grandmother became physically disabled and turned out to have alzheimer's, too, i ended up assuming her care. my mother insisted that i should have left her in florida, because her elderly neighbors "loved her" and would take care of her.

mom was batshit. the one set of neighbors who cared were elderly and already wringing their hands about my grandmother's decline, before the fall. her household helper's last 2 checks had bounced. there were $30,000 in overdue bills sitting around. she had sold her house and needed to move, but had no idea where she could move. once the bills were paid, she had $10,000 left for the duration. etc.

there is no way i could have handled the situation without medicare [and i think also medi-cal, the state's version of medicaid], and finding a nursing home that would take medicare. i had a challenging job, 2 young kids, very little money, and it was all i could do to manage her medical care and hospitalizations, the money, visits, the paperwork, and odds and ends like clothing. my grandmother lived another 6.5 years.

Bix said...

Oh man, wrenching story, kathy. Hard on everyone, your grandmother, you, your family. We have such a terrible reputation for caring for our elderly.

Everywhere I turn there's a wrenching story. How many wrenching stories will it take before we make changes? It's unfathomable, to me, that a country so rich chooses to turn away. Compassionate conservatism for 8 years. Where is the compassion?

Mine was a true story. The person was a healthcare provider, no less. Apart from her ideas about socialist communities, her idea that government shouldn't get more involved in healthcare is supported by several providers I know.

(Gasbags is a great word.)

kathy a. said...

well, bix. a healthcare provider? i'm utterly speechless.