America – its Ill-health

The Supreme Court has surprisingly ruled 5 to 4 (more on that another time) that the Obama Health scheme was generally but not totally unconstitutional. What sort of victory or defeat is that?

At the time of its Congress passing, after two years of bitter struggle, the bill had reached its most diluted form possible. Many argued it was a waste of time achieving such a pathetic effort, especially at such a political cost. There must now be some relief among the thirty millions Americans who for the first now have health coverage, but the rest of the population it seems maintains its bitterly help opposing opinions.

Republicans promise to repeal the entire bill once it wins the Presidency. The mood against ‘Obamacare’ is ugly, as Americans can do so easily, increasingly so. Listen to what The Age correspondent reports (June 30, 2012):
A young man sweating in a suit and tie in the 35-degree heat (of Washington) told The Saturday Age “To me, communism has now descended upon America. This allows the Government to do whatever they want whenever they want”.
This is not simply the sentiment of the odd paranoid freak; in more judicious, learned, rational language this is also the mood expressed in most of the articles published in The Washington Post today on this issue.

America has always prided itself on its ‘exceptionalism’. Its self-image is becoming an increasingly accurate portrayal of its reality – domestically and internationally. But that particular value can cast different shadows. A ‘rogue-state’ can never be a healthy state – for itself and the world.

Don Miller, Melbourne Centre for Ideas,
June 30, 2012


Science Fiction?

Regular readers of Melbourne Centre for Ideas will know that I am not normally a great barracker for the virtues of science and technology. Anything new dished up is invariably embraced as yet another God-sent benefit. And it distresses me to hear so many people argue that if there is such a thing as global warming seriously threatening our future, mankind will once again step into ‘innovation mode’ and create technology that will solve the problem for us. There will be, they add, no need for us to change our ways.

But on a flight the other day, when the captain announced we were cruising at 39,000 feet, I looked out and saw nothing but blue sky and sunshine, and I suddenly thought: “It seem feasible that one day science could conceive a means by which aircraft could be made of a material making it a perfect solar panel. And what a permanent sun-trap! Once above cloud level, every flight around the globe would be constantly energising itself. Even night flights could be fuelled by power captured during the day. Free flying – both in terms of fuel costs and in its pollution-free effect.”

I remember then thinking whether that meant ‘more flights the better’ – but a moment’s reflection corrected that false hope: the scheme and technology as the stand at the moment in my mind are, as it were, simply paying for the trips being made, rescuing the aircraft industry from its extreme odium of giant polluter and, in the process, making a huge reduction to the human task of reducing carbon. Impressive enough, but it’s not everything.

And that triggered my further thought. What is next needed is a way of capturing that solar energy up there, and transferring it to earth making more and more collective human production and services free of energy and ancillary costs. That would require a means of saving surplus solar energy, and then ‘channelling’ it earth-bound to ‘banks’ for further distribution industry-wide according to priorities determined.

How to capture or create surplus solar energy seems the primary task. Civilian airlines cannot be expected to do more than pay for their own fares. Which
lead to my next thought. If we need planes without the weight of humans and baggage and freed from the necessity to be going between specific destinations all the time, we need look no further: we have them already. Drones.

That remote-controlled inhuman monstrosity, deservedly despised throughout the world, can be rescued from all opprobrium. Henceforth flotillas of drones, size enlarged preferably, to be launched to permanently fly the skies in formations set and guided never to interfere with each other or any civilian aircraft, to do nothing but absorb solar energy which it then transmits to energy reservoirs scattered around the globe. (That transmission earthwards is an additional task outside my ken to speculate – but at least we know drones target quite accurately). The craft may need to return to earth periodically (once a week, month, year – who knows) for possible maintenance purposes.

A constant supervision of the drones ( pity the word ‘ergs’ is already taken) can be left in the hands of a handful of people). I imagine on occasions a drone could technically turn rogue, but it can immediately and harmlessly be remotely ‘removed’ by any supervisor employed by the CIA (Centre for Intelligent Affairs), a new instrumentality of the U.N.

That was all I imagined during the flight.
Above the clouds the sky is the limit. Up there, solar-energy is really do-able. Drones, redeemed, could save us all.

Don Miller


To be posted on


Religion and the Eternal return

Most people think that as time passes, Life continues its evolutionary movement ever forward. Progress, that triumphal word, maintains its linear thrust. With a moment’s pause, however, that simple ‘story’ of our ‘history’ (the two words are of the same Latin root) needs to be taken essentially as a history only of the west; from this perspective the remainder continues in its mire of superstition, cruelty, poverty and ignorance.

Only the west had an Enlightenment, the argument reminds us, a sustained explosion of knowledge, four hundred years ago and ever since, its civilisation of science, rationality, and ultimately democracy has delivered bountiful benefits. Only this modern west, endowed with a scientific spirit and a thirst for endless, new technology, scientific experimentation and innovation could land a man on the moon, perform feats of surgical brilliance, and display breathtaking speed in all things, unbelievable a mere hundred years ago.

Not everyone is convinced by this fulsome exhortations of the west’s history. Certainly Nietzsche, one of the early sceptics, and there have been many since, argues that along with the apparent benefits of the post-Enlightenment, a nasty, brutal and ignorant history has continued, marring mankind’s popular self-image. Indeed, we seem destined to endlessly repeat ourselves – our ‘eternal return’. Our past clings on; seemingly impossible to permanently dislodge.

Over the last half century American scholars in particular have analysed what is needed to allow the impoverished and superstitious non-western societies to become ‘modern’/‘western’ – economically, politically and culturally. What, in other words, will help them become secular, democratic and rational beings.

However I sense a new uncertainty and ambivalence in discussing these matters in recent years. Some societies have become economically successful/modern without accompanying democratic or cultural progress. Our teleology of/for the ‘third world’ seems very shaky these days. Furthermore the buoyant images of ourselves, as modernists, are also being dislodged. Religion in America, for example, is growing at a pace; not as expected, gradually withering on the vine. Further and surprisingly, this religious fervour has become dramatically political in its interests and activities. And most people, I suspect, are aware of the continued battle to have forms of Christian teachings on the birth of mankind taught in schools in opposition to or replacement of the recognised evolutionist theories of science. Is America still a secular state as always assumed?

And now the latest news. Once again an Eternal Return. The Past becoming the Present. Twenty or so years ago, the first of America’s one hundred and fifty Medical Schools introduced a new subject in its curriculum, ‘Religion and Medicine’. Today one hundred Medical Schools have such a course – 66 per cent of the total tertiary institutions educating the future medical profession. And the course is compulsory.

To return.

Don Miller

MCI Blogs for the month of May include “Words, Words, Words”; “News, Views and Ads”; “Capitalism” on either
and http://melbournecentreforideas.posterous.con

Comments are always welcome.


“All the news fit to print”

Ive forgotten when and where that famous piece of journalistic creed first appeared. It certainly has captured the attention of many – writers and readers. But what is ‘fit’? And fitness for whom? One wonders how often is it abused – as it can so easily be with such an elastic word – or perhaps all words. And how often does a public know when the article of faith is being ‘misapplied’, and something too potentially troublesome to print is quietly interred.

It would be interesting to know how many news sources in the USA have decided to publish or not the findings of a recent UNESCO research – ‘Report Card 10’ – which discovered that America has the second-highest rate of child poverty among thirty-five developed countries. Only Rumania was higher, with 26.5 percent; America 23.1, followed by Latvia and Bulgaria at 18.8, Spain 17.1, and Greece 16.

Iceland had the lowest child poverty rate 4.7, followed by Finland at 5.3, Cyprus and the Netherlands at 6.1 and Norway at 6.3.

The Research also studied child deprivation, defined for the purpose as a child who lacked two or more of 14 basic items, such as three meals a day, a quiet place to do homework, educational books at home, or an internet connection. Rumania, Bulgaria and Portugal had the highest rates of deprivation; but richer countries like France and Italy had rates higher than 10 percent. The Nordic countries all had rates of 3 or below.

It also showed that government policies play a role in these matters; it is not a straight result of national wealth. Denmark and Sweden had lower rates of child deprivation than Germany and Belgium – all on roughly similar levels of national economy and personal income.

There are no surprises, I am sure, to many people outside of America. Broad public opinion inside the USA is another matter. The propaganda machine, pervasive and powerful, is difficult to resist; and a public concern for the needs of others is coming to be seen as a sure badge of disloyalty. Denial on a grand scale makes ‘seeing’ certain matters problematic. The western tradition of ‘care’ is retreating on many fronts everywhere.

Don Miller