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What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It seems to me a good idea for our laws to be based on truth.  If the meaning of “miles per hour” is ambiguous, I would want to find the true definition of miles and hour rather than arbitrarily setting up some other explanation.  No argument about how an accurate definition of miles would infringe my freedom to drive as fast as I wanted should be considered.  We might change the law to increase the speed limit if that is our argument, but we cannot keep the existing law and just lie about what all the words mean.

Personhood is such an issue.  We have a law that guarantees life and due process to all persons.  If we don’t like that law, we can try to change it so that not all persons are so guaranteed.  (That law, incidentally, is based on a moral judgment that murder is wrong.  Many of our laws are enforcement of morality.)  What we cannot do is alter the definition of a person to mean something that it truly does not.  Defining the word “person” to include my rocking chair would be absurd.  Including my pet would be a stretch not intended by those who wrote the law.  Excluding my neighbor with freckles is dishonest.  Saying that my neighbor in the womb is less of a person than me is too arbitrary to be good science or good law.

Some would argue that the truth reflected in our laws should be based on precedent.  This breaks down for a number of reasons.  First, we have the problem of where the very first precedents got their truth.  History does not record an eternal list of precedents.  Secondly, we can point to many court rulings that have been made by liars, self-serving judges who refused to acknowledge the truth.  For example, see the slavery decision Dred Scott.  Finally, precedents can (and sometimes should) be overturned.  The “landmark” ruling that made abortion legal throughout the USA, Roe v. Wade, overturned many state laws that had been in existence for years.  It wasn’t that the question of reproductive rights had never been in court before; this was simply the first time the Supreme Court said abortion was a mother’s “right.”  (I must specify that it was seen as a woman’s right, not a man’s right or a baby’s right – which is important.  Roe v. Wade rests in the supposition that the baby is actually a part of the mother, thus giving her special privileges to end his life.  US law does not give a man the right to decide a mother must abort.  In fact, it will punish those criminals who assault a preborn child.  Nor does the legal system ask the baby, who is demonstrably a separate entity from his mother, whether he wants to be aborted, or acknowledge his right to life.  This is what Personhood seeks to amend.)

Another supposed basis for the truth of our laws is democracy.  What does the majority believe or want?  While our government is set up as a participatory representative system, where the voice of the people influences the leaders making the laws and even at times the laws themselves, this is arguably not the best means for ensuring justice.  The majority has sometimes voted for terrorist governments.  Or for slavery.  Hitler got his first foothold of power through democracy.  A majority of people once believed the world was flat.  We human beings are special, but not powerful enough to mold truth as we wish it was.  Republics like ours, the founding fathers warned us, are only sustainable, only free, if they are comprised of a moral citizenry.  The people must acknowledge a standard outside of themselves, and align with that, for freedom and justice to exist.

Can science be used to decide such a moral and philosophical question as what constitutes life or personhood?  We already have these philosophical terms in our law.  These words have been applied to at least some groups of humanity since the law was written.  No one disputes that the word “person” applies to a large part of humanity (always including the one making the judgment).  And here comes science, demonstrating that there is no significant, meaningful difference between one group of human beings and another.  Science can demonstrate that skin color is not a factor in personhood.  Size does not make person more of a person.  In fact, science can tell us that a human being has the same unique DNA from the moment of conception, at their birth, as they grow from infants to adolescents to fully-formed adults, even as they age and their health declines.

Any lines that have been proposed distinguishing one class of human beings as non-persons have been arbitrary.  Every person needs two things to continue living: nourishment and defense from violence.  The fertilized egg, the single-celled human embryo, needs only these things to develop into an adult.  An infant 1 year of age is still very dependent on his parents for the necessary nourishment and protection.  But given these things, he will grow into a man.  A young woman has to go through puberty to give her the hourglass shape associated with womanhood (and the ability to reproduce).  Where do you draw the line?  Which of these stages begins personhood?

In the history of this debate, the line of personhood has been suggested to begin:

–         at some point after birth when the baby is still dependent on his parents.  (If we draw the line at 3 months, was he less of a human the 24 hours before he was 3 months?  Honestly?)

–         at the first breath of air.  (Are humans receiving CPR or on ventilators not people?  What about the pre-mi’s born and kept alive for months by artificial breathing machines, to be weaned off when their lungs developed fully?)

–         when the baby completely leaves the womb – birth.  (Ten inches decides the identity of a human being?  There have been surgeries performed on preborn babies that involve removing the infants from the womb and then returning them there.  Are they people while out of the womb, then non-people again?  What has changed in the baby?)

–         at viability.  (Come What May, a film produced by the students at Patrick Henry College, makes the point that when we talk about viability, we are talking about viability sustained by human inventions.  Most babies are viable in the womb.  When we talk about viability, though, we disqualify that means of life support and substitute our own.  Man is not better than God at providing a hospitable environment for the youngest among us.  Even aside from that argument, our technology is improving.  A child who was not viable outside the womb 20 years ago might be now.  Nothing changed in the abilities or nature of the children.  We changed.)

–         when the mother can first detect movement – sometimes called “quickening.”  (Some mothers are more sensitive to the movement of their child than others.  Body shape and other factors might contribute to missing the first sensations of motion.  Also, some preborn babies move less or less emphatically than others.  We know from scientific experience that the baby is moving: swimming – from day one when he moves to the uterus!, kicking, waving, turning, changing facial expressions.  Again, this line is not dependent on the nature of the being inside the mother.)

–         at the beginning of biological development – called fertilization or conception.  (At this point a new life is begun.  Already his DNA has determined his features, his gender, his blood type – all of which can be different from his mother’s.  Before this moment, more was needed than nourishment and protection.  After this he will grow at his own body’s initiative and direction.)

All but the last “line” are arbitrary – as arbitrary as me deciding you were not a person because you live in the country, or because your skin is a different color from mine, or because I can whistle and you can’t (actually, I can’t), or worse: if I can’t hear you whistle even when you are.  Science and a bit of logic can recognize that there is no objective difference between adults like us and the kids who are so needy and the preborn.  Draw the line at conception.  Anything else is discrimination.

One more point I’d like to address is the legal objection many put forward.  In most abortion laws, pro-abortion activists push for “exceptions,” when a baby may still be killed.  They say that oh yes, abortion is a tragedy and we want it to be rare.  But surely there are bigger tragedies that abortion could solve: rape, incest, the life of the mother.

Regarding the “life of the mother” exception: our definition of person begins at conception.  It doesn’t end at birth.  This definition includes mothers.  The life of the baby is not, by this truth-reliant definition, more or less important than the mother’s.  Doctors and parents would be legally required to treat that baby as a person, without treating the mother as a non-person.  That’s the answer to the most common “life of the mother” clause.  No exception is necessary in the wording used by Personhood groups, because they affirm the right of the mother to life as well as the right of the baby.

But there are other “exceptions” argued for.  These tragedies are chosen for the exception list emotionally.  Why not include in the list: financial incompetence, household over-population, genetic deformity?  And if you go that far, why not make exceptions for gender, for the mom’s busy career, for her relationship with the father?  I’m not saying that everyone pushing for a few exceptions wants all of these exceptions.  My goal is to make it obvious that to be consistent in their reasoning, they should include all of these exceptions.  In every case the baby is a person.

That’s why I want to finish by asking you a few questions:

–         Is a human being not a person if her father is a rapist?  Is a 3 year old not a person if her father is a rapist?  Do you have less rights if your father was a rapist?

–         Is a human being not a person if his mother gets cancer?  Is a 3 year old not a person if his mom gets cancer?  Do you have less rights if your mother gets cancer?

–         Is a human being not a person if he and his mother are in danger and only one of them can be rescued?  Is a 3 year old not a person if he and his mother are in danger and only one of them can be rescued?  Do you have less rights if you and your mother are in danger and only one of you can be rescued?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I am no fan of government involvement in commerce, even when the industry is health care.  As with most government programs, the three arguments are simple: First, it is quite illogical to think that we can funnel money through a string of middlemen, each of which receives their cut, and come out ahead.  Second, the more the government controls the money, the more they control everything else.  We see this in the recent bailouts of banks, where CEO’s were deprived of their prearranged bonuses by force, and also in the car manufacturing fiasco where the government first handed the money and second forced a government-arranged bankruptcy.  The fear is that when the government is funding health care, the government will tell doctors and patients their options.  Finally, every other experiment the government has made in taking over an industry, however charitable, has been a money-draining disaster with worse results.  For example, consider social security or the public education system. 

Obviously there are other concerns with a socialized, or even a partially socialized health care system.  If things go as they have in Europe and Canada, lines will be long, doctors scarce, and treatments almost rationed (or chosen for their cost efficiency rather than effectiveness).  Private health insurance companies (which insure no such thing) may be put out of business.  Perhaps they ought to be put out of business, but the government is hardly an improvement.  We might worry about fraud, or about people taking advantage of services that cost them nothing. 

 The Problem with Health Insurance

There are two reasons why the people want the government involved in health care:  Many individuals are not insured and cannot afford the high costs of treatment or even of preventative checks.  As an act of charitable compassion, some people argue, the government should take responsibility for these “underprivileged.”  Others, many of whom work in the industry, agree that the present health insurance system is not as good as it ought to be, and think that the government should fix it.  Not surprisingly, these two groups of constituents are looking for very different things from their government.  But they each voted for the same man as president because he at least sounded concerned about the issue. 

 Status Quo

I realize the relatively-free-market health insurance system is not meeting needs, though I believe a free market solution would be better.  Let me describe the problem.  An insurance company takes money monthly to insure you and your family.  They put that money into a pot, part of which goes to pay their employees.  The rest is a bet they make that you will not need the full amount of your premium.  Sometimes they lose the bet, but as long as they don’t lose too often, they can apply the extra money they charged you to the bills for other people.  To keep their costs down, insurance companies tend to be selective and difficult about accepting claims.  They use different ploys, like keeping the most expensive treatments out of formularies; claiming that the treatments are experimental or cosmetic; restricting the doctors you see to those in a pre-approved network; or by prohibitive referral processes.  Insurance companies sign contracts with in-network doctors agreeing to pay a certain amount for specific services – usually an amount less than that which the doctor would usually bill.  This though it actually costs a doctor more to bill an insurance company, due to the amount and hassle of paperwork required.  On top of this, the insurance company usually requires you to pay a copay or percentage of your bill.  Or another old-fashioned, lower-priced option is to have a deductible.  In this system, the patient pays for routine care and emergency expenses up to a certain amount (which they may or may not exceed in a year, and would probably do better not to exceed), at which point the insurance kicks in with a discount or normal coverage.  More on this later. 

To compensate for the arbitrary reductions that insurance companies make to the amount of a doctor’s fee, doctors are almost forced to raise their prices to fool insurance companies into paying them what they need to make a living.  Competitively low prices have been eliminated by an across-the-board amount insurance will pay.  What is to be gained by a doctor charging the insurance less than they have agreed to pay? 

The Corporation Aspect

Insurance companies, except for Medicaid and Medicare, have been private enterprises, required to compete for customers.  To gain a competitive edge, there are several options.  The most obvious is advertising.  Name recognition is important.  Companies can advertise having a large pool of doctors in their networks, easy paperwork, comprehensive coverage, low premiums, small deductibles or copays, perks like inexpensive prescription drugs, or customized get-only-what-you-need plans.  The problem is, insurance companies as a rule have become accustomed to advertising to corporations or businesses, not to individuals. 

Enter Government Interference

I have not studied how the benefits became a normal offering from a corporation to its slaves, but I suspect taxes (translate: government interference and manipulation) have something to do with it.  This is what I know.  Businesses are taxed on the amount of money they pay their employees.  Employees are taxed on their income.  Some things on which people spend their money are tax-exempt (food and medical expenses in most cases).  Perhaps businesses sought to increase the incentive to work for them by offering the untaxed add-on’s? 

(excerpt from an article at http://www.ebri.org/publications/facts/index.cfm?fa=0302fact: “In 1910, Montgomery Ward entered into one of the earliest group insurance contracts. Prior to World War II, few Americans had health insurance, and most policies covered only hospital room, board, and ancillary services. During World War II, the number of persons with employment-based health insurance coverage started to increase for several reasons. When wages were frozen by the National War Labor Board and a shortage of workers occurred, employers sought ways to get around the wage controls in order to attract scarce workers, and offering health insurance was one option. Health insurance was an attractive means to recruit and retain workers during a labor shortage for two reasons: Unions supported employment-based health insurance, and workers’ health benefits were not subject to income tax or Social Security payroll taxes, as were cash wages.

“Under the current tax code, health insurance premiums paid by employers are deductible for employers as a business expense, and are excluded, without limit, from workers’ taxable income.”)

Why is this adverse?  As long as the employees of the company are not complaining – or in worse cases, not threatening strike or resignation – the corporations are under no pressure to do what is best for the patients.  They will buy insurance plans that cost them the least money.  Even if two plans cost the same low price, how is a corporation to know which health insurance provider will offer better service? 

Starbucks and Competition

Let’s compare this to something simple and familiar: Starbucks.  On every corner, there is a Starbucks.  One might be on your way out of your neighborhood when you’re headed to work.  Your grocery store might have one in the corner.  Or there may be that chic spot where you always have coffee with your girlfriends.  Which Starbucks do you patronize?  There might be a friendly Starbucks, a convenient Starbucks, the one with the drive-thru or the excellent customer service.  You might prefer a clean Starbucks or a less busy coffee location.  A few Starbucks offer different selections for their bakery, or later hours.  If you ever have a bad experience at one franchise, you can switch loyalties and frequent the Starbucks across the street. 

Now what if the company you work for, as part of your compensation package, had agreed to fund your Starbucks addiction?  Yet for their convenience they bought a package with a single Starbucks site for all of their employees.  To use your benefits, which your company already paid for, you must go to the Starbucks they chose.  The person who selected the corporate Starbucks didn’t even like coffee, has no idea where you live or whether you like bakery items or drive-thrus.  But now you’re stuck.  To take advantage, you have to drive clear out of your way, get out of your car and walk in, only to find they don’t have the muffins you like and the barrista is grumpy every day.  If you get ambitious, you may complain to your human resources department in hopes that they would change coffee shops for you.  But then someone else is unhappy, because they don’t like the busy, cramped feeling of a drive-thru when they’re reading their novel in the corner, hugging a cardboard-ringed cup of coffee. 

What’s more, as this trend catches on, more and more businesses start choosing a Starbucks for their employee benefits.  Starbucks realizes that they can earn as much by pleasing one corporation as they could by catering to a thousand individual customers.  Once the contract is landed, there’s almost no possibility the business would pull out.  Service wanes, options are reduced, prices inflated, and soon no one who is not part of a corporate plan can afford to buy Starbucks.  Opting for your old favorite Starbucks near your house with the drive-thru and muffins costs you an arm and a leg – and they don’t even have muffins anymore, because that isn’t part of the plan the corporation who chose them wanted.  Your neighbor has to give up his Starbucks addiction because he is self-employed and can’t afford it. 

And the economics get worse, because your wife and kids used to love Starbucks.  The corporate plan includes them (and the trend has made it impossible to afford mocha frappachinos anywhere else), only at that one Starbucks.  To reduce corporate costs, though, they start to restrict the family plan.  Wives and kids under 18 can be included for now for a monthly fee.  After 18, if they enroll in college, the company will still fund their Starbucks life – who knows why the company cares.  Then all of a sudden, at 25, no matter what your family values or circumstances, your kids are no longer covered.  “So get over it,” my reader says, “It’s only coffee.” 

Dire Consequences

But I’m not talking about coffee.  I’m talking about health care, without which you will live with chronic pain or illness.  When you break a bone and can’t afford the X-rays and doctor’s visits, you forever cripple yourself, limiting your employment possibilities.  Or you may die, after exposing your community to sickness.  And remember, the reason an average uninsured person cannot afford basic health care is because the prices are inflated due to insurance policies and corporate-appealing non-competition. 

 Every Man for Himself

In the Starbucks illustration, I even skipped a step, eliminated the middle man.  That middle man not only harms you, the patient, but also the doctor.  And the less lucrative it becomes to be a doctor, the less people want to be doctors.  When there are not enough doctors for immediate care, you wait.  The service gets worse, more and more limited because all these unnecessary people are skimming off their share, and there isn’t enough money to pay for what is needed at the inflated prices.  But everyone is out for themselves, including the patient.  They’re going to get the most they can out of their coverage, too, taking advantage of any free or fully covered procedure, necessary or not.  These procedures have their place, and their price, but are not for everyone.  Someone is paying for them, even if it is not the patient, and no one is benefiting. 

How the Government Makes Things Worse

An astute observer may already have realized that if the government takes over the Starbucks plan system, the problem is only going to get worse.  There will be even less competition; more cost-cutting standardization of inventory; and less incentive for providers leading to less providers and longer waiting and higher costs.  This is not even to mention the regulation that will accompany the government plan, or the government-funded coverage for those who could not afford health insurance under the old system. 

 Creation Rather than Creativity

Nevertheless, the Obama administration presses on towards a government option for health insurance.  A nation already so much in debt that it cannot hope to get out of it, threatened with economic collapse, high unemployment, and runaway inflation is going to invent more money (and possibly also increase your taxes) with which to provide health care to its poor.  The US may be able to create dollars ex nihilo, but it cannot create doctors, and we are going to run low. 

Government Advantage

What’s more, this government plan will have the unmatchable advantage of an endless supply of money for which they will have to give little account, as opposed to the private competitors who have to make do with what they can collect by way of premiums.  Analysts fear that private insurance companies will be shouldered out of business by the government “option.”  Corporations will not choose to carry the expense of health insurance when their employees could get coverage from the government. 

Rationing

Others who risk prophesying anticipate a responsible government (don’t know where they got that idea), which will limit the amount of imaginary money they’re spending, and be forced to ration care.  Even aside from the money, as I said, fewer providers in business may demand rationing, too.  The most fearful consequences of this potentiality are the way decisions will be made.  Would a rationing system choose a younger person for care over an elderly person?  If your condition is the most expensive to treat, would you be left untreated?  Or perhaps your chances of survival are small, so there will be no attempt made to save your life.  An extreme government might choose by party loyalty or by race.  When choices like that have to be made, motives become suspect. 

Forecasting Good Things

Now for the bright side.  Barring a law prohibiting paying for your own care or health insurance, the private half of the system might be improved by this sudden competition.  If under a national health care system you cannot get treatment or if you doubt the quality of the treatment, you may take your savings and pay dearly for health care yourself.  It will be interesting to see if all doctors will be required to accept the government health plan, or if they will have the option of demanding private pay. 

Free Markets Fight Back

When corporations start dropping benefits from their compensation packages, employees worried about the level of health care they might receive under a government-run plan will have the competitive option of buying health care for themselves and their families outside of the corporate insurance model.  I believe the best option for reforming the health care industry is to make just this shift, to competing for the business of the individual rather than the company.  Already I see insurance companies marketing to that class of consumers.  Such policies would be most efficient as catastrophic coverage, for medical expenses exceeding tens of thousands of dollars.  Patients would pay out of pocket for routine medical visits and simple treatments like antibiotics, but in case of surgery, hospital stays, or a disease like cancer, those high costs would be covered.

The Answer for the Poor

In either case the solution requires that you have enough money of your own to pay for health care.  Most people do not.  So in the end we may survive this government takeover only by prevention and caring for each other in community.  Eat healthy.  Wash your hands.  Get enough sleep.  Join a community of people who are going to watch your back – maybe even an insurance community where you all save your money together, agreeing to help each other if any of you incurs a major medical expense. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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No one is checking. 

People are careless. 

Take signatures:

With scan technology, forgery is fairly simple. 

But people don’t need scan technology. 

Banks aren’t checking signatures on checks. 

Those contracts you sign to pay things?  You can declare bankruptcy and back out. 

Marriage contract?  No fault divorce. 

Those credit cards that are supposed to be signed?  Who looks at the back, let alone checks ID cards? 

Income tax returns can now be efiled, and you esign them.  Or someone else claiming to be you does. 

 

A bank, which isn’t going to check for the validity of the signature anyway (as my bank informed me in a notice on my recent statement), requires that a check be endorsed by the payee.  A husband signs for his wife all the time.  So do her parents and teenage children.  If a transaction is ever challenged in court, who is to say what her signature is, and which is a fraud?  How different can a forgery be from the variety of family versions of her signature? 

Here is a scenario.  A large debit comes in on her monthly bank statement.  She calls the bank and says that she did not authorize that payment.  Do you have your credit card with you?  Yes.  Have you lost any checks?  I haven’t, but my husband has a checkbook, and I send my kids with checks sometimes for things like doctor’s copays.  Are you careful when you do business online?  Yeah.  I don’t give my password out or anything. 

So the bank isn’t really sure whether her identity has been stolen, or her bank account number.  Neither is she.  Does the bank just put the money back into her account and send the bill to insurance?  How would criminals get caught?  What if the woman is lying, and just wants a free hot tub or laptop or vacation?  

Maybe they call the business and look at the credit card receipt.  The signature is her name, and maybe it is a little different from standard, but no one’s signature is the same, and this woman’s tends to show more variation than most.  Maybe she’s on anti-depressants, and her signature is firmer early in the day.  Or she is tired when she shops in the middle of the night.  Maybe those electronic penpad signature machines at Walmart and grocery stores distort the signature a bit.  Or maybe she has her family sign for her all the time.  The whole thing is her word against theirs that she didn’t sign that receipt.  And is she really going to vouch for everyone who had access to her credit card, that they didn’t sign for her? 

For the sake of efficiency (if not for fraud), people are abdicating the power to create their own identification.  It is like standardizing the locks on houses to where anyone can buy a key to anyone’s house.  In the example of keys, we have private companies that create and issue unique access keys to homes.  A car company actually standardizes, and has a variety of keys and locks that they apply to their cars (my key opens one of my best friend’s cars made by the same company).  Personal identification is a growing private industry.  There are some identity protection companies, and companies that sell you a “key fob” which randomly generates passwords and sends that message to you and to your website or computer or other secured digital device in the information technology realm.  We have the iris scan and thumbprint locks that are some of the best options for security – but again, in a digital world, how hard could it be to hack the system?  In the old days people used signets or seals as identification, but those can be forged.  A signature was something recreated each time, not scientifically standardized, but theoretically an identifier solely in your possession.  As we move away from signatures, we give businesses more market to sell us identification.  Or worse, we give governments more incentive to enforce a government-issued identification.  When even your identity is controlled by the government, watch out! 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The Federal Reserve is a collection of banks that loan money to the Federal Government.  Don’t be confused by the use of federal in both terms.  One is private, and the latter is public, run and (at least hypothetically) regulated by the US Constitution as ratified by the states. 

If the government wants capital, they call up the Federal Reserve, who prints out “federal reserve notes” that we call dollars.  They’re legally backed as usable on any transactions in the United States, but they have no other intrinsic value.  They are good towards commerce and payment of debts, but their value is not fixed, and the more that are printed, the less value each “note” has.  The Federal Reserve is not taking money from one place and loaning it to the government like you or I would have to do in order to loan money.  They are inventing it out of thin air. 

And here is the interesting thing.  The Federal Reserve charges interest on the money they print for the government.  A loan has been made, that could be called up.  To repay this loan, we would have to give back the dollars plus interest.  Do you see a problem here?  To repay a loan with interest, we have to give the Federal Reserve more dollars than we got from them, and they’re the only source of dollars.  Even if there were another source of dollars, those dollars would be a note on some other group, even the government, backed by nothing.  It’s all Monopoly money that people use to control each other.  Kind of strange.  This isn’t even a case of the power of the richest.  They own nothing of value, but wield all sorts of authority. 

I don’t like it.  A partial list of banks that make up the Federal Reserve (many of which are foreign) is available.  On that list is my bank, Chase Manhattan.  This leaves me conflicted.  On the one hand, I don’t want to help the criminals that propagate the Federal Reserve.  On the other hand, it is virtually impossible that my bank will go under.  When you can print your own money and are in on the biggest racket in history, you’re in pretty good shape.  This is worse than Batman, let me tell you.  The only way that my bank would be threatened is if other members of the Federal Reserve were to turn on them, and I believe that will not happen until there are no other banks.  For there to be no other banks, there would have to be no more capital. 

This is my best bet for boycotting the Federal Reserve: set myself up in a situation where I can be self-sufficient or barter whatever I need, living entirely without capital.  (Even this is impossible because the government charges property taxes payable only in the form of Federal Reserve Notes – the government is compounding their own problem.  Why?  As long as the game is still going, the government also wields power using the Monopoly money.  Just like the idea of debt in the first place, or economic stimulus packages, or bailouts, or bankrupting social security – the government does not think about long-term consequences.  Their value is not liberty and justice, but control.) 

But there is another way of eliminating capital.  We could go to a digital currency system.  Belonging to a bank (probably only one central bank) would be mandatory in a legal sense, and almost in a practical sense.  Accessing the account would require a password or a physical scan (fingerprint, iris) or a digital key (like they use in hotels, or in your remote access car key).  And anyone who has studied any kind of end times prophecies has heard of the “mark of the beast” on hands or foreheads used for buying or selling.  Can’t you imagine a world leader who decides to throw off the yoke of the banking industry and replace them? 

To God be all glory.

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It seems to me that if there is a law, however silly, and if a person is accused of breaking that law but goes to court and a judge agrees that their behavior did not trespass the law, that such a precedent should serve as a guide to that person and all in the district for acceptable behavior. These people should not be repeatedly accused of breaking that law for the same offense ruled to be legal in prior cases. I would call that harassment.

Those are my opinions, but they do not seem to be shared by our local government. For Planned Parenthood, who is trying to shut down the pro-life voices outside their clinic, has been pressuring the government in every possible means (save making brand new laws; Obama is a bit to busy to keep his promise of passing FOCA, thank Jesus) to harass us. The latest, from Wednesday last week, was to call code enforcement about our ladders. Now pro-lifers look pretty extreme a lot of times not only because we have the unpopular belief that people have a right to life, but because we are trying to be law abiding behind ridiculous restrictions. To save lives we are not allowed to enter a medical facility, or its property. We cannot peacefully sit in the driveways or roads, or in front of the doors. Politics has found us inconvenient. So have police*, it seems.

So we have to yell at women, because we can’t get close enough to them to talk (8 foot bubble law within 100 feet of an abortion clinic). And we have to have big signs because kids aren’t taught the truth in school, at home, or through media. We wear t-shirts because no one else is talking about it. And we use ladders because, unlike any other medical facility in the country, these have tarps surrounding their parking lot. Men who practice wickedness like to hide. They want to block out the light and the truth. So we put up ladders and talk over the black tarp fences. (Yelling is certainly not preferable. If they park close enough, or walk by, we do talk to them. And we try to make eye contact with the mothers.) We heard one account from this past year where a baby was saved partly because of ladders. The girl couldn’t believe the man talking to her was so tall!

Code enforcement came by Wednesday. He rolled down his window and addressed me at my perch on top of a ladder. “You can’t have those on the sidewalk,” he said.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, with naivety. I mean, I’ve been doing this a year and a half. The people who own the ladders have been coming out for decades. I’m sure if it was illegal, they would have been stopped already.

He added, “They can’t block the sidewalk.”

“People can get by.” I looked down at the three feet of space between my ladder and the road.

“You can’t have the ladders on the sidewalk.”

I then directed him to the owner of the ladders, whom I knew would know what to say. “Yes I can,” was the thing. “We’ve been to court 100 times, and we’ve won every time about the ladders.”

“I can take them,” he said.

“No you can’t,” she replied. I mean, this is hard for Christians. Because in a constitutional republic, where we have laws that guide our behavior and not arbitrary men telling us what to do, we have the right to act in accordance with those laws. But bossy little people with no real authority try to tell us what to do, and they are working for the government, so should we comply? Do we have to comply every time they talk to us, until we look up the law again and go back to doing it until they stop us again? The court told the sidewalk counselors they could use ladders on the sidewalk. So that’s what she stood for. And she threatened to call 911 if he tried to take her ladders.

So he drove away, and as we suspected he would, he called the police.


Three squad cars and an SUV came shortly, and told my friend to move her ladders. Same story. Except they could ticket her, and they had big sticks and probably guns. (They always remind me of when Jesus asked, “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.”) She tends to remind policemen* that babies are about to be murdered just a few yards away, instead of sticking to their topic. Men should know what they are doing, she feels, and which side they are serving.


During her argument, one or two of the police officers went to chat with the abortion clinic security guard. A third, Catholic, chatted with a woman who had been praying her rosary before they arrived, when she spoke up. I went to find my camera and start taking pictures and prepare to video whatever was going to happen. My friend kept talking to the fourth policeman. Eventually she said that she knew the name of their commander, had spoken with her about the ladders, and that she would back her with permission to keep the ladders.

“You can move them into the street,” one officer suggested.


“Why didn’t you just say so?” With evident frustration, she descended her ladder for the first time and tugged the first one into the road. But once she had both of them in the street, they were going to cite her for having had them on the sidewalk. As you may imagine, this was met with further resistance. For one thing, after the last time they had been to court for the same legal action, my friend and her husband had warned the government that if they had to deal with the issue again, they would be in a federal first amendment lawsuit. This was brought up to reinforce the seriousness of her next statement: “I’m calling Commander –“ she said, and took out her cell phone. The station did not pick up my friend’s call, and the officers raced her to speak with their commander first. While the ladder-woman continued to wait on hold, the commander informed her people that as long as the path was not obstructed in a way in which pedestrians could not get by, the ladders could stay.

 
With a short apology, three of the patrol packed up and left. She returned her ladders to the sidewalk, and spent the next half hour or so talking with the Catholic policeman who was the friendliest to begin with.

I would like to point out that during the whole incident the street was rather blocked with patrol cars, including two parked facing the wrong direction.

  • Police, I imagine, got into their line of work because they wanted to defend innocent lives. To be reminded that the law protects murderers and that their official job restricts their involvement in saving lives has to be frustrating. My friend likes to invite them to join the cause, even if only when they’re off duty. And she likes to point out that they will answer to a higher authority.
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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This is getting on my nerves.  There are so many laws in this silly country that no person should be held accountable for them all.  It would probably take years just to read all the laws for a given city, county, state, and country – let alone understand them and the precedents for their application.  And yet these laws are constantly changing (because legislators get bored? Power hungry?).  And most of them are silly.  For example, it is fine with me for it to be illegal to shoot someone except in self (or family or friend or property) defense: unprovoked.  But why then do we need laws about registration, about locking the weapons in trunks, about not practicing in city limits?  And do police really intend to enforce these laws, or only when you make them (or some powerful influence on them) mad? 

 

I don’t mind laws against impeding traffic, but why in a free country can people not be allowed to think for themselves and go in or out of the public street as they wish?  A policeman should not be able to ticket a person for engaging in a behavior that, had circumstances been all wrong and the person fail to use any common sense to get out of the situation, could lead to inconvenience (or harm) to another person?  Why are we doing preventative law?  Is this about protecting people and their rights, or about controlling them? 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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