Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “socialism”

Flu vacccines and snake oil

Almost every year my medical aid sends out a circular to its members, urging them to get vaccinated against influenzs, and saying that they will pay for it. And the letter they send usually warns of the dire consequences of not being vaccinated, and the complications that can ensue from influenza.

flu-shotAnd every year I ignore their advice, because I believe it is unnecessary. Yes, I know that they will pay for it, and so it will cost me nothing but the effort of going to the doctor or the chemist to get vaccinated. But I believe that the main purpose of medical aids is to help with medical expenses in the case of serious illness or injury, and that wasting money on things that I regard as trivial, like flu vaccines, mean that contributions will have to go up, or benefits will go down. So I ignore it.

Influenza is something that comes around every year, and I suspect that one of the reasons for that is that the virus that causes it mutates, so any immunity you have from last year isn’t much good for nezt year’s variety. And in my experience, most times it can be sorted out by two days of bed rest and a couple of boxes of tissues. An aspririn to two can help with headaches, and Vitamin C seems to help, if only as a placebo.

influenzaOf course two days in bed usually means two days off work, and that means lost productivity, and as employers provide substantial funding for most medical aid schemes, it is in their interest to urge people to get vaccinated to avoid the time lost. But if immunity to last year’s flu doesn’t count this year, then vaccines made for last year’s flu won’t count for much this year either. And my experience has been that if I have flu once this season, I’m unlikely to have it again. So the most effective vaccine for flu is flu. Unless, of course, you suffer from something like Aids, which weakens the immune system; in that case it is probably safer to be vaccinated against everything.

I’ve had no scientific basis for ignoring the blandishments to be vaccinated against flu, just my own experience and reasonings. But now there comes this article, which seems to support wehat I’ve long thought: Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines

A Johns Hopkins scientist has issued a blistering report on influenza vaccines in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Peter Doshi, Ph.D., charges that although the vaccines are being pushed on the public in unprecedented numbers, they are less effective and cause more side effects than alleged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, says Doshi, the studies that underlie the CDC’s policy of encouraging most people to get a yearly flu shot are often low quality studies that do not substantiate the official claims.

So it seems that my reluctance to support big pharma is not so crazy after all. Of course influenza can lead to complications like bronchitis or pneumonia, but I also suspect that it is most likely to do so if you skip the two days of bed rest and try to carry on with n0rmal activities. So by all means have the vaccination if you can’t afford to take the two days off work, or if you are planning to travel to America, where they might mistake the symptoms for Ebola.

But generally I think medical aid schemes can find better things to spend their money on.

They can also find worse things to spend their money on.

The medical aid I belong to, Bestmed, retains some vestiges of its socialist origins, and therefore tends to consult its members about some things (we are memberts, not customers, you see). One thing they consulted us on was whether we wanted to participate in one of those “loyalty” programmes, which give you points to save up for this or that benefit, or discounts at various shops you never frequent and on products you would never dream of buying. I gather most members said that they’d rather pay lower subscriptions or get more medical benefits than such frippery, because no more was heard of it. But capitalist medical schemes, which have “customers” rather than members, and are accountable to their shareholders rather than to their customers, embark on such things without asking the people who ultimately have to pay for them.

So there are definitely things worse than flu vaccines, but I still don’t want one.

How you too can participate in the financial crisis

About 15 (or was it 25?) years ago many building societies conned their members into agreeing to them turning themselves into banks. Was this the law of unintended consequences in action? Oh the joys of capitalism!

Bishop Alan’s Blog: HBOS: Personalised Credit Crunch:

Welcome to the share offer that enables you to have your very own credit crunch at home this Christmas. As a student I earned some holiday money and put it in the building society. Then the building society became a bank and my shares were converted into, er, more shares… Imagine my joy, then to be sent an “important document” this morning that “required my immediate attention.” It’s my opportunity to bail the bank out by taking them up on a very special offer — They are willing to flog me 261 shares, as a special favour, at only 113.6 pence a share. Here comes fate, tapping me on the shoulder, offering me a career as a major capitalist, and all for only £296-49! Deep Joy!

Belarus: Zimbabwe in Europe or socialist paradise?

I’ve just read two contradictory accounts of Belarus in blogs that I read. I’ve never been to Belarus, so have no firsthand experience of the place.

Neil Clark: Letter from Minsk: Belarus- a country unspoilt by capitalism:

This is a capital city where the streets are safe and clean, where ordinary people can still afford to buy medicine and basic foodstuffs and where the unemployment rate is less than 1 per cent. It’s the side of Belarus you won’t read much about.

And then there is this:

Clarissa’s Blog: American Writers and Actors Helping Belarus:

As if that weren’t enough suffering, since 1994 Belarus has been ruled by a fascist dictator Alexander Lukashenko. He has been condemned by the EU for horrible human rights violations on a variety of occasions and has been made notorious by his anti-semitic statements. Lukashenko can afford not to care about that, though, since his regime is supported by Russia. Russia isn’t interested in being surrounded by strong nation-states and has been punishing its neighbors for daring to seek independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And then in Russia last year renowned TV anchor Vladimir Pozner declared that that Orthodoxy is a reason for economic failures and the low living standards of Russians. Partiarch Kirill disagrees: Interfax-Religion:

‘Today our life is worse not because we are Orthodox, but because we ruined our country and spiritual foundation of our life two times during one century. Protestant countries live better not because they are Protestant, but because these countries have not been at war, they developed their economy staying in rather favorable conditions,’ the Patriarch summed up and wished so that God ‘gives us reason to save our political, social stability and develop ourselves both spiritually and economically.’

My own observation is that in the early 1990s Russia was overrun by snake oil salesmen from the West, evangelising for the Western religion of the free market system, which had become the established church in the USA and UK under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. A lot of Russians bought this lie, and the new god didn’t live up to the claims made for it.

Perhaps Belarus didn’t buy into that to quite the same extent. but it also seems to have retained an authoritarian government.

In the 1990s both Russia and South Africa moved away from authoritarian government, and this was accompanied by a huge increase in the crime rate. A Russian geologist living in Johannesburg at the time told me, when I was about to visit Moscow, that the crime was far worse in Moscow than in Johannesburg. But it makes me wonder: is the Mafia the necessary price we have to pay for freedom? In Russia the Mafia operated in the private sector. In Zimbabwe for the last 20 years it has been the government. I can’t make up my mind about Belarus.

And whatever the case may be, it seems to be a highly disingenuous effort of misdirection to try to blame it on Orthodoxy.

The importance of co-operatives

One of the factoids one often encounters is the idea that “socialism” invariably means state ownership, and that that is the only alternative to profit-driven capitalism. There are, in fact, various kinds of free-enterprise socialism as well.

The importance of co-operatives | Peter Lazenby:

The announcement that Labour will pump resources into the development of the co-operative movement if it is returned to power in the general election is to be welcomed. If the pledge is honoured the potential is enormous.

To appreciate the significance, we can learn from the history of co-ops in Britain over the last 170 years. It reveals not only the emergence of an unprecedented force for social change through worker ownership and control, but also the extent to which capitalist society in Britain felt challenged by such a movement.

Hat-tip to Nouslife: The importance of co-operatives.

More information is available on a blog devoted to Mutual Money.

In South Africa most of the building societies, and certainly all of the big ones, went commercial more than 20 years ago. They would have made good partners for the ANC’s hastily-abandoned Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the only remnant of which is the pejorative “RDP houses” for a sub-standard jerry-built dwelling, built by commercial builders who have cut corners in construction to increase their profits.

Mutual life insurance cooperatives followed the building societies in demutualising a few years later, one of the worst being the “Old Mutual” — a deliberately deceptive name, since there is no longer anything mutual about it, and it should surely be called the “New Commercial”.

Sales of Marx soar

The recession and the collapse of many capitalist economies has resulted in a boom for booksellers — at least in the sales of the works of Karl Marx.

Thoroughly Modern Marx : NPR:

The economic crisis has spawned a resurgence of interest in Karl Marx. Worldwide sales of Das Kapital have shot up (one lone German publisher sold thousands of copies in 2008, compared with 100 the year before), a measure of a crisis so broad in scope and devastation that it has global capitalism -— and its high priests -— in an ideological tailspin.

Yet even as faith in neoliberal orthodoxies has imploded, why resurrect Marx? To start, Marx was far ahead of his time in predicting the successful capitalist globalization of recent decades. He accurately foresaw many of the fateful factors that would give rise to today s global economic crisis what he called the ‘contradictions’ inherent in a world comprised of competitive markets commodity production and financial speculation.

In the 1980s neoliberalism was advocated as the panacea for the world’s economic ills. The fact that the “structural adjustment programmes” imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had a disastrous effect on health and education in much of Africa did not seem to worry the proponents of neoliberalism very much. By the 1990s many advocates of neoliberalism were saying that socialism was dead.

And in the 1990s many people could be excused for thinking that Marx’s ideas had been shown to be wrong, and that there could never be a revival of interest in them. Most of the “socialist” countries had abandoned socialism, and often followed the advice of neoliberal Westerners to liberalise their economics as well as their politics. In Russia the immediate result of this was a drastic drop in life-expecatancy, as health services deteriorated. Another result was a gangsterisation of the economy.

And, as the article quoted above points out, much of this was predicted by Marx. Capitalism has changed a great deal in the 150 years since Marx wrote about it, but some of the fundamentals remain the same.

But while Marx was quite good at analysing the weaknesses of capitalism, his proposals for alternatives were not as successful. And some of his fundamentalist followers who tried to apply his solutions in a spirit of ideological correctness regardless of their practical effects produced results as disastrous of those of the neoliberals.

So we should not be surprised that the sales of Marx’s works are booming. But we can hope that the buyers will pay more attention to Marx’s analysis of the problems than to some of the solutions proposed by him and his followers in the past.

Perhaps the adage of G.K. Chesterton can be applied to this, mutatis mutandis: “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism, but there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.”

And so I hope that people will say, “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in socialism, but there was once a rosy time of innocence when I believed in socialists.”

Trade unionists and communists in South Africa seem to have the unhappy knack of allying themselves to all the wrong people and causes, and attacking all the wrong targets. Here in South Africa we have an example of unrestrained capitalism that the government dare not control, and which is a magnificent example of the application of neoliberalism in practice — the taxi industry. I would love to see someone do a Marxist analysis of that.

Synchroblog for International Women’s Day

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day, and it has captured the imagination of a group of Christians, many of them in the USA, enough to inspire them to have a to mark the occasion. So people who participated have blogged on women of the Bible, or Christian women in history.

Here are links to some of the blog posts that are already up, and you should find more links at the end of each post to follow them.

I had never paid much attention to International Women’s Day before, partly because we have a national Women’s Day on 9th August, which is a public holiday. So I looked up Internatonal Women’s Day, and discovered a little about its history. It seems that is very much a socialist festival, and I found it quite interesting that many of the women who are participating in this synchroblog are Americans of evangelical Christian background. According to the news media, American evangelicals are almost synonymous with the “religious right”, and so the very fact of this synchroblog breaks stereotypes, not only about women, but also about the “religious right” and the American aversion to ““.

I thought the easiest way to write it was to look up saints commemorated on 8 March, and to blog about any women saints commemorated on that day. It turned out that it was the first Sunday in Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and so it seemed logical to write about St Theodora the Iconodule, who established the practice of observing the First Sunday of Lent in this way — a shrewd move, because it has probably protected the Orthodox Church from to this day.

Will the real socialists please stand up

During the recent US elections, there were all kinds of stories flying around the internet from Americans to the effect that Barack Obama was a “socialist”, which made it clear that a lot of people simply don’t have a clue about what “socialism” actually means.

Hat-tip to the Western Confucian for this piece from a real socialist explaining what it’s all about.

Where Are All The Socialists? Here, There and Everywhere | CommonDreams.org:

Socialism shares one thing in common with religion; there are many denominations and sects and they all claim to hold some higher truth. I don’t claim to hold a higher truth. I do have a perspective on socialism, and that is, of course, open to disagreement.

Not all socialists are Marxists or atheists. Norman Thomas, the leader of the party in the 1930s and ’40s, was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Socialists do not believe nationalization of an industry, government buying stocks in banks or the subsides to auto makers makes the country socialist.

Will the real socialists please stand up

During the recent US elections, there were all kinds of stories flying around the internet from Americans to the effect that Barack Obama was a “socialist”, which made it clear that a lot of people simply don’t have a clue about what “socialism” actually means.

Hat-tip to the Western Confucian for this piece from a real socialist explaining what it’s all about.

Where Are All The Socialists? Here, There and Everywhere | CommonDreams.org:

Socialism shares one thing in common with religion; there are many denominations and sects and they all claim to hold some higher truth. I don’t claim to hold a higher truth. I do have a perspective on socialism, and that is, of course, open to disagreement.

Not all socialists are Marxists or atheists. Norman Thomas, the leader of the party in the 1930s and ’40s, was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Socialists do not believe nationalization of an industry, government buying stocks in banks or the subsides to auto makers makes the country socialist.

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