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Weekly Must-Reads: Disappearing, the Super-Rich, Harry Potter, the Public Option, Craziness, and Abortion

[digg-reddit-me]A low-key blogging day today. Further events complicated my normal week-night blog writing, as my brother was hospitalized yesterday. He’s doing fine. But to some extent, it impressed upon me the reality of some small portion of this health care debate. To get to my brother’s room, I had to walk through the hospital – through security measures in the pediatric section, and then further security measures in the Intensive Care Unit of the pediatric section – and then to his room where I saw him, looking wan, but apparently much better than in the morning, with maybe a half-dozen tubes giving him drugs and liquid and food and another half-dozen wires monitoring his oxygen levels and heart beat and who knows what else. The nurses had to do tests on him every hour. And as I visited in the evening, I didn’t see the doctors who are figuring out what’s wrong and directing the treatment. The whole set-up must be outrageously expensive. And with my brother lying there, getting better, every cent is worth it. As a society, we have made a choice to spend some large portion of our wealth on protecting our families, ourselves – on following our natural human instinct to care for those who are not well. We have made a choice to maximize life at the expense of wealth.

But we must acknowledge that our system has limits. If my father didn’t have a generous health insurance plan, he could never have afforded for my brother to be treated this way. The hospital would treat him anyway – and then they would go after my father for everything he had. About a third of all Americans would be in this position – on the verge of bankruptcy – if an emergency required serious medical attention. And while hospitals have an ethical obligation to treat anyone who needs treatment, studies have shown that those without sufficient insurance get significantly worse treatment. When people argue that health care is not a right, they must do so in the face of those who need treatment. And if you consider health care to be a right, then health insurance must be a necessary responsibility for each citizen.

We do need to reign in increasing health care costs; we also need to preserve our system’s willingness to spend. But what we need most of all is a reasoned debate about what type of system we have and what type of system we want – and it doesn’t seem that America is capable of that. To that, I don’t know the solution.

Without further ado, here are the must-reads of the week:

1. Disappearing. Evan Ratcliff explains in Wired the difficulty of disappearing in our modern world – and how even the smallest slip-up can bring the authorities to your door. It’s an interesting look at the desire to start over – and how technology today makes it both easier and harder.

2. The Super-Rich. David Leonhardt and Geraldine Fabrikant examine the implications of the current recession on the super-rich – including John McAfee of McAfee Anti-Virus fame, whose net worth went from $100 million to $4 million in the downturn. Not that anyone should feel bad for the guy. The piece looks at the historical implications of our recent massive inequality and what this downturn’s implications are for such inequality in the long-term. The prognosis: the super-rich will stay richer than they were in the 1950s and 1960s, but their relative wealth will decline a bit.

3. Harry Potter and theological libraries. Michael Paulson in the Boston Globe explains how Harry Potter is becoming a serious subject of theological debate:

[S]cholars of religion have begun developing a more nuanced take on the Potter phenomenon, with some arguing that the wildly popular series of books and films contains positive ethical messages and a narrative arc that is worthy of serious scholarly examination and even theological reflection. The scholars are primarily interested in what the books have to say about the two big issues that always preoccupy people of faith – morality and mortality – but some are also interested in what the series has to say about tolerance (Harry and friends are notably open to people and creatures who differ from them) and bullying, the nature and presence of evil in society, and the existence of the supernatural.

Scholarly interest in the Harry Potter books began long before the series was finished, and shows no signs of slowing. There have been several academic books, with titles such as “The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon” and “Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives.” The American Academy of Religion last fall offered a panel at its annual convention titled “The Potterian Way of Death: J. K. Rowling’s Conception of Mortality.” And there is a raft of articles in religion journals with titles including “Looking for God in Harry Potter” and “Engaging with the spirituality of Harry Potter,” as well as the more complex, “Harry Potter and the baptism of the imagination,” “Harry Potter and the problem of evil,” and the crowd-pleasing “Harry Potter and theological libraries.”

4. Fighting for the Public Option. Ezra Klein makes a persuasive argument against simply giving up on the public option, but he still comes down on the side of those willing to give it up:

For all that, it’s one thing to fight for an uncertain, but promising, policy experiment. It’s another thing to sacrifice health-care reform on its altar. In July, Families USA released a paper explaining “10 Reasons to Support Heath-Care Reform.” The public plan is one of the reasons. But only one of them. And it’s not even the most convincing.

5. Crazy is a Preexisting Condition. Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, has an editorial in the Washington Post examining the “crazy” that he sees as an essentially American part of the political process. Read the whole piece:

So the birthers, the anti-tax tea-partiers, the town hall hecklers — these are “either” the genuine grass roots or evil conspirators staging scenes for YouTube? The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president — too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters’ signs — too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.

6. Watching an Abortion. Sarah Kliff for Newsweek, who is pro-choice, watched her first abortion and reported on her feelings. Rather moving and honest. A welcome inclusion into our fraught debate.

[Image by me.]

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