Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health-care reform: the biggest lie

For a long time now, any reasonable observer would have had to conclude that our bizarre health-care system demands fundamental reform to bring it into line with the humane norms that have long prevailed in the other advanced industrial democracies. All the same, as with many other people, my eyes glazed over as I sought to follow the details that began to unfold a year ago.

First, the president should have started with a real reform proposal, which would have to be a single-payer approach that would cover everyone resident in the United States. Then the burden of opprobrium would lie on those who were maneuvering to water down the proposal. Instead the Democratic leaders s t a r t e d o u t with a plan that was already watered down. Once this limping, wounded creature was released, it was only a matter of time before the jackals attacked, taking out further bites.

To my mind, however, the worst feature about the health-care proposal that is apparently about to pass is not the coddling of big pharma and the insurance agencies, and not the millions who are cruelly left out, but the way in which it is absurdly claimed that the proposal will save money over the next ten years.

This notion of saving money, endorsed by the president, is simply a huge lie.

In a piece in today's Week in Review (New York Times) Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office lays out the ugly details. We are told that although the bill will cost some $950 billion over the next decade it will save $138 billion. "In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits by $562 billion."

Holtz-Eakin goes on to explain how this legerdemain is produced. Some of the devices are almost incredibly transparent and phony, but just about everyone has been drinking the Kool-Aid. The article, entitled "The Real Arithmetic of Health Care Reform," gives the skinny. It is too horrible for me to repeat here; just read the article (

Btw, some may question Holtz-Eakin's credentials, as he was for a time an adviser to John McCain. My recommendation would be to avoid attempting to kill the messenger. Is the message correct? Yes, it is.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


David Gelernter has a reputation, apparently well-deserved, as an Internet prophet. In a piece at, he surveys the past, present status, and future prospects of the Behemoth I am now utilizing. Here is the money quote:

"Nowness is one of the most important cultural phenomena of the modern age: the western world’s attention shifted gradually from the deep but narrow domain of one family or village and its history to the (broader but shallower) domains of the larger community, the nation, the world. The cult of celebrity, the importance of opinion polls, the decline in the teaching and learning of history, the uniformity of opinions and attitudes in academia and other educated elites — they are all part of one phenomenon. Nowness ignores all other moments but this."

I admit to being a bit of a skeptic here. Isn't the proclamation of the pressing problem of nowness itself a symptom of nowness? After all, daily newspapers have existed since the late 18th century. Gossip, an annoying tick of human socialization that we can't seem to get rid of, relies on the freshness of the (pseudo)information. Nobody cares about old gossip--except perhaps historians.

Speaking of historians, they have long recognized something called "presentism," usually to decry it. However, Benedetto Croce (seconded by his English disciple Collingwood) held that all history--at least history that is worth its salt--is present history. That is to say that only in the present, as we rethink the past, does the past actually live.

Since at least the time of Saussure a hundred years ago, most who have reflected on the issue have regarded a balance of the synchronic (the now) with the diachronic (the longitudinal aspect) as essential.

Gelernter seems to think that the Next Big Thing will be a restoration of the diachronic dimension through something he calls lifestreaming. I am not sure that I understand, and I am not sure that he does either. But there are bound to be further major changes in that vast phenomenon of the wired community, aka the Hive. Amor fati--et futuri.


Sir Kenneth Dover

Kenneth Dover, the English classicist, died in Scotland on March 7 at the age of 89. Dover is best known for his 1978 monograph on "Greek Homosexuality."

The NY Times obituary (which appeared in the paper today) spends some time in going over Dover's wish, expressed in his autobiography, to kill an academic colleague, Trevor Aston. Dover, who made a great fuss about heterosexual antics with his wife, once threatened to sue a man in California who had alleged that he might be gay. These denials have more than a whif of protesting too much. Rumor has it that as an Oxford undergraduate he was known as "bend-over Dover."

I never met Sir Kenneth. Perhaps that is just as well, as he does not seem to have been very simpatico.

The Times obituary contains this extraordinary claim about Dover's Greek homosexuality book. "It was the first openly published scholarly work to talk about Greek male love in unfettered terms. (A few earlier books on the subject had been privately published and were little known as a result.)"

This claim is complete nonsense. As I have shown in an article published in an essay collection edited by Beert Verstraete and Vernon Provencal, the subject had been carefully studied by respected German philologists for more than t w o - h u n d r e d years before Dover's book appeared. The culminating figure in this procession of luminaries was Paul Brandt, who wrote under the name of Hans Licht. In 1932, Licht's superb book summing up this achievement was published in English as "Sexual Life in Ancient Greece," a volume that is still widely available. The title notwithstanding, this book deals mainly with male homosexuality. Licht's work contains many intriguing details, some of which have not been followed up even now.

The obituary points up a disturbing trend that the Internet is accentuating. If something hasn't been originally published in English, then it doesn't exist. This anglophone chauvinism is an obstacle to the progress of knowledge. Recently, the Australian gay scholar, Paul Knobel, has assembled a vast bibliography of 4600 publications on homosexuality, all of which have been published in languages other than English ( This stupendous research covers 39 languages. There are all sorts of riches out there, if one will only attend to them, as Knobel has so tenaciously done.

Of course time has not stood still since Dover's book was published. Some assertions in the book are questionable. Especially notable as correctives are the recent publications of William A. Percy and Thomas K. Hubbard. See Amazon for details.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Abrahamica manuscript

My book-length work A b r a h a m i c a addresses the three major faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Collectively these are known as the Abrahamic religions. This endeavor necessarily focuses on the canonical scriptures honored by the three: the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh, known to Christians as the Old Testament); the New Testament; and the Qur’an. In addition, there is attention to noncanonical texts, such as the so-called Intertestamental writings; Mishnah and Talmud; noncanonical gospels; and the Muslim Hadith collections. The study highlights motifs (precepts, doctrines, personalities, and legends) connecting the scriptures of all three traditions (intertextuality).

Deployment of the principles of the critical-historical approach is indispensable. This method, which has gone from strength to strength over the last 150 years, has demonstrated that many truisms religionists cherish about their faiths are in error. Perhaps the most disturbing finding is the nexus linking monotheism, intolerance, and violence. Unfortunately, optimistic schemes for reconciling the three, such as Henry Corbin’s Harmonia Abrahamica, are naive and ill-founded.

An overarching theme is the question of the historicity of the three major source collections. The short answer must be blunt: there is very little real history in any of them. They are basicly a series of "just-so" stories.

Still, one cannot simply throw the Abrahamic heritage out, bag and baggage, as the New Atheists would have us do. Abrahamic motifs have been--and still are--pervasive in Western civilization--as they are in every part of the world, with the significant exceptions of East Asia and the Hindu-Buddhist realms of South and Southeast Asia.

For many years I emphasized the positive deposit of this religious heritage in my college classes in art history, where its themes have inspired countless works of art--not to mention literature and music. Yet further research, conducted during my retirement, has revealed how problematic the role of the Abrahamic faiths has been. A b r a h a m i c a delineates this downside in necessary, though astringent detail.

Many segments of the work appeared on this blog, before being integrated into their present, fuller context. I thank readers for their helpful comments. I am pleased that, while I work on perfecting the final version, the draft of Abrahamica (a very rough draft) is now avallable through the Internet.

The introductory page as well as chapters 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, and 6 have been posted at