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February 27, 2007

Snakes and Arrows

Mark May 1, 2007 down on your calendars, because that's when the new Rush album comes out! Since you probably aren't googling "new rush album", you probably heard it here first. Here's Neil Peart:

"Just seeing the power of evangelical Christianity and contrasting that with the power of fundamentalist religion all over the world in its different forms had a big effect on me," he said.

"You try to put your own way of seeing the world into some kind of congruence with other people's, and that's difficult for me. I mean, I see the world in what I think to be a perfectly obvious and rational way, but when you go out into it and see the way other people think and behave, and express themselves on church signs, you realize, 'Well, I'm not really part of this club.'"

"assault" on corporate speech?

"Free speech" is universally acknowledged in this country to be a good thing, and it seems obvious that it is. Which probably explains why, when George Will wants to attack a proposed rule change making it easier for workers to join a union, he chooses to characterize the rule change that he doesn't like as an "assault on corporate speech." Will suggests by the accusation that the new rules would be un-American or vaguely unconstitutional, but the question for us is: is Will correct?

The House is scheduled to vote on a bill this week that would change the procedure for establishing unionized workplaces. Under the new rules, union representation would be established whenever a majority of workers sign a card declaring that they want a union. Currently, unionizing requires a formal secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

I'm far from understanding all the subtleties of these proposed rule changes, but suffice it to say that union organizers think the new procedures will make it easier to organize workers (which is why they support them), and employers agree (which is why they oppose them). There are many arguments that can be made for and against the rule changes -- many involve the extent to which workers would be exposed to pressure from either employers or from union organizers; others involve the benefits and costs to our economy that a more unionized workforce would entail. George Will, however, knowing the power that the idea of "free speech" has in our country, chooses to attack the rule change as an "assault on corporate speech."

We should be suspicious of Will's argument, for many of the same reasons that this sentence of Will's just sounds odd: "[McCain-Feingold's] speech restrictions -- applauded as virtuous by the (exempt) media -- have legitimized talk about "drawing lines" to circumscribe the speech rights of entire categories of Americans, in this case employers."

Employers -- the "category of Americans" that Will has in mind -- apparently includes not just Bob Smith down the block who owns a plumbing supply company, but also PepsiCo and Wal-Mart. It's reasonable to ask whether the virtues of free speech enjoyed by individual citizens and human beings are equally as virtuous when applied to behemoth corporations that are "persons" in a legal sense only. Corporations are constructs formed for the sole purpose of concentrating more capital in one place than any single human being could ever possess, are non-existent apart from the hundreds of thousands of individual human beings that invest in and are employed by the corporation (all of whom presumably have opinions of their own that cannot be said to be Pepsi's "opinions"), and are, to the extent that we can speak of them as single entities, single-mindedly devoted to the pursuit of monetary profit to an extent far greater than any of the real human beings that collectively make it up. You shouldn't expect to reason with a corporation in the same way that you can reason with a human being. You can't "persuade" it like you can persuade the individual who may be its CEO.

It's a simple point, really. It's why we can call the same words uttered by our neighbor Fritz "persuasion," but when they're uttered by the Government we call it "propaganda." One of the reasons Americans love free speech so much is precisely because we think that allowing individuals to voice their opinions protects us from the overbearing influence of messages delivered from on high -- usually by the government. The question is, is "corporate speech" in the context of union organizing more like government propaganda or more like discussing the issues of the day with the lady who waits tables at Bennigan's? George Will may have a good point about the union organizing rules, but his equation of "corporate speech" with free speech generally is much more suspect.

February 26, 2007

China Miéville and Guy Gavriel Kay

I just picked up China Miéville's new book. It'll be good to see how the author of Perdido Street Station does young adult fiction.

I also now own Guy Gavriel Kay's new book. You would thank me if I beat you over the head until you agreed to read Guy Gavriel Kay: "In the ancient baptistry, the pair are surprised by a mysterious, scarred man wielding a knife who warns that they've 'blundered into a corner of a very old story. It is no place for children.'"

Returning to my blog

Hey again, all of you out there in blogland...

I'm back from my dead-of-winter sojourn through internship. It's still cold and snowy here in Chicago, but somehow I feel like the coldest, darkest, and loneliest parts of the year are behind me. Maybe seeing an inch-tall bundle of new crocus leaves poking out of the ground along 57th street yesterday (!!) has something to do with it. Maybe the emergency medicine inservice exam that I'm taking on Wednesday has me thinking about how soon residency will be over with, and about how soon I'll have to take the specialty boards for real. Maybe it's just that the days really are longer, even if they're still cold. For whatever reason, I see a big light at the end of a tunnel that I'm almost all the way through.

I also want to start posting on my blog again. And I think I want to post about my job. Most of my readers (at least the ones I had before I stopped posting) are not in medicine, and I think it would be fun to tell them about what it's like to be a resident in the Queen of the Medical Specialties -- emergency medicine. After all, it can be fun as hell, and I see some of the strangest shit almost every day. It would be a shame not to blog about it.

The only thing is, I need to find a way to do it that ensures that my patients won't recognize themselves on my blog. As I've said before, I think it'd be pretty shitty for one of my patients to see me in the hospital, go home, google my name, and be able to recognize themselves in one of my blog posts. It's not a matter of the privacy of my patients-- it'd be easy to blog about them in a way that no one other than the patient in question could identify themselves. It's more a matter of my own privacy. If I think the guy with the gunshot wound to the left buttock was acting like a little shit, I don't want him to find out about it on my blog. I'd rather keep it to myself, or if I'm going to tell him, I'd want to do it in a professional way, face-to-face. If the old lady with the rapid heartbeat that I saw the other night had me convinced that she was about to die, she shouldn't find out about it after the fact on my blog. The same thing goes for my co-workers. I don't want them to recognize themselves in my blog posts, either.

In law school it was easy to blog about cases and issues without mentioning what was said in class by particular professors or students. I never really blogged much about law school anyway, because I never wanted to, and I always had so much free time that I could write about non-law subjects pretty easily. Residency is different. I don't have enough free time (damn!) to spend two or three hours a day reading random articles and blogs and responding to them. These days, I want to post about what I'm doing in the hospital. I'm still thinking about how to do it.