Wikipedia: An Orwellian View

While I was browsing the internet, I began to realize that more and more search engines are putting the Wikipedia entries for the searched terms at or near the top of the list. This, combined with the rapidly growing popularity of Wikipedia, creates the possibility — in my mind, at least — for a tremendous Orwellian system of information manipulation.

Political campaigns and practical jokers have already demonstrated that false information can be introduced into Wikipedia, and can remain there for a significant amount of time. So what happens when Wikipedia is becoming more and more of a centralized repository for information? There will be tremendous political advantage to be had in manipulating the information contained therein. And so, like so many democracies over the ages, totalitarianism will become too tempting, and right beneath our noses, Wikipedia will turn into the Orwellian Ministry of Truth: a center for disinformation, benefiting whichever candidate happens to be at the forefront at the time.

┬áI’m aware that this is hardly likely, and that it’s an awfully paranoid thing to say, but as always, it’s just food for thought.


The House Comes Through

The other day, I was, as usual, listening to NPR, and somebody mentioned something off-hand that caught my attention. This February, a committee of the United States House of Representatives approved a bill that would ban any kind of discrimination based on genetics. This, to me, is a step in the right direction, and sets back what looked like a truly terrible misuse of science.

Here’s the problem: with genetic screening for common diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis becoming cheaper, more accurate, and more widespread, the insurance companies are faced with a veritable gold mine: they can insure only people who are at little or no risk of getting any of these diseases, so that less of “their” profits go towards treating people. This is clearly an ethical dilemma. Just because these people are stricken with diseases doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to medical care, and the right to live the most normal lives they can. Many have argued that something must be done about the steadily increasing possibility of such discrimination.

Enter the United States government. I never thought I’d be able to use that phrase: back when the Republicans controlled the Congress, they never passed the bills I wanted to see passed, and ever since the Democrats took over, it doesn’t seem they’ve passed much of anything. Well, assuming this bill passes, they’re coming through at last! Of course, given the Congress’s tendency to obsess about a few high-profile issues to the exclusion of all others, my hope may be premature…

Political Sum-Over-Histories (and a solemn note on the Virginia Tech shootings)

Note: Being a reasonably decent human being, I feel I would be terribly remiss if I did not give my heartfelt condolences to the faculty and staff of Virginia Tech, following yesterday’s terrifying shooting. As a member of the college-going population, I myself was absolutely horrified that such a thing is even possible. As for the killer, who may have fancied that he would render the authorities powerless by killing himself before they could, I say they drag his rotten corpse behind a dump truck for a while. Now, please don’t fault me on this, dear readers, but I feel that the best course of action for me would be to simply go on as normal, as nothing I can do will change the facts.

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Insurance: The Silent Evil

Often in this humble blog, I complain about the manipulative evils of various industries: the pharmaceutical industry, the petroleum industry, and a number of others. An industry I hadn’t considered — until recently, that is — is the insurance industry. And in terms of the amount of human suffering they cause, insurers may be the worst industry I’ve ever ranted about.┬áInsurance is not an inherently bad idea. Among the various methods of paying for healthcare, it’s one of the better ones. The problem is greed and corruption. Of late, the insurance companies have been hiking their premiums excessively, making insurance very difficult for many people to afford. So, straight away, insurers cut out anybody who can’t afford their prices. These people, however, happen to be those who would probably most benefit from health insurance: African Americans (who, it is believed, are more prone to heart disease and diabetes), the poor, and the homeless.

There is another slice of the population that the insurance companies toss in the garbage (metaphorically speaking): the chronically ill. The aim of insurance is to help people pay for the ridiculously expensive medical treatments they require, right? Not if you’re chronically sick. If you have cancer or diabetes or heart disease, good luck trying to find any kind of health insurance. Insurance companies simply don’t want to take on the “risk” of people who are in need of frequent, and often expensive, healthcare. So, once again, they cut out another segment of the population who could most benefit from their services.

Do you notice a pattern emerging? It would seem that insurance companies only want to insure those that would cost them the least: middle- and upper-class citizens with little prior history of health problems and little genetic predisposition to them, so that they can take as much of their premiums as possible for themselves. Almost makes the oil companies look tame in comparison.

But wait, there’s more! With the advent of the Human Genome Project, and the ability to predict genetic disease, the Insurers will at last be able to cut out the remaining group that steals their income away from them: the people who even have a chance of getting sick. Imagine: the year is around 2015, and genetic testing is becoming more and more accurate. Suppose you’re a twenty-something woman from a middle-class background who wants to buy some health insurance. Well, you’d better hope that you don’t have any genetic predisposition to disease! And you’d really better hope that the insurance company doesn’t have the legal clout to force you to get tested for genetic diseases! “I’m afraid you’re un-insurable, Ms. Doe, as you have a ten percent risk of developing ovarian cancer within the next thirty years.”

You can probably see why this would be a problem: the insurance companies appear to be moving in the direction of insuring people who rarely or never get sick. Wait a minute! These are the people who need insurance the least! You can see where problems would arise, and how your friendly Insurer might seem just a bit immoral, or at the least, shortsighted.

Think about that the next time you’re feeling under the weather: how sick can you really afford to get?

“Send me Something I Can Agree With”

Okay, I normally do my best to avoid railing against America’s current president, because, frankly, that’s been done to death. But he has forced me to break my own rule, through a spasm of what appears to be either complete foolishness or complete totalitarianism.

Here’s the problem: America is currently engaging in a war. Democrats don’t want America to be in that war any longer. Republicans want America to stay in the war for a while. But, since the Democrats are now in control of the American congress, they have promoted a bill which they hoped would continue keeping the military well-funded enough so that they don’t have to go to war shirtless, but that also demands that the war be ended by a 2008 deadline. No dice. President Bush decided that he didn’t like this idea.

Now that’s nothing especially new. He often decides that he doesn’t like other peoples’ ideas. But what truly baffled me was the way in which he chose to express this dislike. He said, and I quote, “I hope that the Congress can send me something I can sign.” What? I thought the purpose of the congress was to make laws that were best for the people, not laws that were best for the president. In my mind, the whole affair goes something like this:

Congress: We don’t like the war any longer. We think you should stop.

Mister President: No.

Congress: We’ll pass a bill to make you stop.

Mister President: I’ll veto it.

Congress: What about a compromise?

Mister President: As long as the compromise is the same as my plan.

And please don’t think that I’m attacking the President here. Well, I am, but not exclusively. I’m also trying to figure out how the new Democratic majority managed to make itself so completely ineffective. I guess I’d just never seen a divided congress before…

Sports Metaphors and Politics

I don’t intend to get into a full-fledged rant against sports-themed metaphors in general; I don’t have that kind of time or space to work with here. But I would like to address, in brief, the strange propensity of politicians to use these metaphors, often in rather inappropriate ways.

Take for example the phrase “political football,” which seems to be especially favored by members of the current administration. Now, while this one is fairly understandable (the “opposition” essentially takes their idea and runs the other way with it), I’d like some clarification. After all, there are many things you can do with a football. You can run the other way with it. You can throw it down on the ground for no particular reason. You can throw it to somebody else. You can trip and fall on it, and have a guy throw a little political bean-bag flag at you.

Most of the clarity ends there. What about “The ball’s in his court”? What is he actually supposed to do with it? It’s not always clear whether he’s supposed to shoot or pass or whatever else you do in basketball. Most of the time, people with balls in their court just stand there dribbling them stupidly anyway (that was not, I repeat NOT a double-entendre).

And what about “Home run”? This term is thrown about so freely that it’s lost all semblance of meaning. In politics, sometimes it’s not a good idea to go on bashing everything out of the ballpark. “Ballpark” is another one. Have any of these politicians actually seen a ballpark? Pretty damn large, it turns out. Actually, considering the level of accuracy we’ve learned to expect from modern government, “ballpark” might be pretty apt…

Our State

Now, when most Americans think about corrupt states, I doubt that North Carolina would be the first one to come to their minds. I, however, beg to differ. This, it has always seemed to me, is one of the most socially and economically backwards states in the union. Let me explain why.

This state houses the city of Charlotte, where I was born, and where I currently take up residence. Charlotte has been a rat’s nest of problems for at least the last decade, and possibly longer (since I wasn’t paying attention to all of it until about a decade ago). First, there’s the ongoing, painfully slow road construction. It never seems to finish, making an already-congested city clog up even worse. And what’s more, they do all the road construction on the best roads. It seems to me that they should do something about the roads where the pavement has had to be replaced so many times that the asphalt has become three-colored. Or the roads that have had all their lane markings worn off. Or the ones that are so warped that driving on them is reminiscent of being in a small boat in a hurricane.

Next comes the arena scandal. Many years ago, a select group of high-powered executives decided that they wanted a basketball arena. The only problem was, the people voted it down. So the city council lumped the arena into a package with Discovery Place, a cool childrens’ science museum (trips to which were the highlights of my youth), so that we couldn’t vote down the arena without voting down funding for Discovery Place. So, in a nutshell, this is what happened. They wanted an arena. The citizens didn’t want it. So they built an arena…

And finally, in ascending order of severity, comes the current scandal. It seems that some of North Carolina’s corruption has leaked across the border into South Carolina. There, Duke Power (the Haliburton or Blackwater of the North Carolina power industry), asked for funding to build a new nuclear power plant. That’s all well and good; I’m not terribly fond of nuclear power, but at least they didn’t get the coal power stations they wanted. But then comes the corruption. Apparently, in order to “protect their financial interests”, they’d like to be able to recover $125,000,000 in planning money if the project doesn’t go forward. Where is that recovery money going to come from? They want to take it out of the taxpayers’ hides! They actually want the people to pay them for something they didn’t build. The main problem (one of many, of course): the government funds the plant, but the people pay for not building it. It’s been called “An open-ended nuclear spending account.” How stupid does Duke Power really think we are?

And to my fellow North Carolinians who may be reading this: move now! Save yourself while you still can!