July 31 - Of Public Punishment and Flowers

Posted on July 31, 2019

Freedom of the press is an important thing - especially when used to let people know that the rich or powerful - and especially the rich AND powerful! - are doing shady things to grab even more money or to keep their power.

And freedom of religion is also super important. Of course governments should not insist that all of their citizens worship one or more god or goddess, in one particular way! Of course citizens should have the right to believe in any or no religion, and if they hold religious beliefs, they should be able to do any lawful activity to practice those beliefs.

But back when author Daniel Defoe was living (1659 - 1731), these freedoms weren't as obvious. Back then, many, many rulers had and used the power to punish people for criticizing their decisions, and most nations had a state church (temple, etc.) or official religion; many - but not all - nations required its citizens to belong to the state church (etc.) and punished or discriminated against those who didn't. 

Defoe was an Englishman, and in 1702 the King of England, William III, died and was replaced on the throne by Queen Anne. She immediately began to punish what was called "Nonconformists," people who didn't belong to or believe in the Church of England.

One of the people Queen Anne moved to punish was Defoe. He had written a lot of political pamphlets, and one satirized those who pushed for everyone to belong to the Church of England. In other words, he used what should have been his right to freedom of the press to criticize those who go against freedom of religion. It was a sort of pro-rights "two-fer." 

Daniel Defoe was arrested for "seditious libel" - in other words, publishing criticism of the government. He had three punishments: he had to pay a fine, he had to stay in prison until the fine was paid, and - on this date in 1703 - he had to be locked in a pillory.

A pillory was a device set up in a public square. It had three holes meant to secure the head and two hands. It was supposed to be all about public humiliation plus uncomfortable, even painful, corporal punishment.

The public was encouraged to insult, laugh at, or taunt whoever was locked into a pillory. Even more, the public was encouraged to throw yucky stuff at the prisoner. You know, slop water, rotten vegetables, mud, dead animals, the guts from a butchered animals, even poop.

This picture shows yucky stuff, including dead
animals, being thrown at several prisoners
locked into multiple pillories.

Once in a while, the jeering, mocking, pelting public got too carried away, and the prisoner in the pillory would get badly hurt as people threw stones or bricks at him or her. 

Now, supposedly, when Daniel Defoe was put into the pillory for criticizing the government, he was a hero to the general public. Instead of pelting him with disgusting, foul-smelling stuff, people threw flowers. Or so the story goes.

One thing is for sure: most people who get put into the pillory had a worse reputation after the public punishment. But Defoe ended up becoming more respected and more famous after his punishment.

By the way, if you think to yourself, "I've never heard of him - I don't know how famous he could be!" - have you ever heard of his book Robinson Crusoe?

July 30 – Happy Birthday, Medicare and Medicaid!

Posted on July 30, 2019

July 30, 1965:

President L. B. Johnson signed into U.S. law the establishment of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. 

These single-payer health care systems have worked really well for millions and millions of Americans, keeping many seniors out of poverty by making sure that their health care is affordable. 

The history of Medicare has been bipartisan (both parties). Both former-President Theodore Roosevelt (who'd been Republican when he was President) and Presidents Harry Truman and John Kennedy (both Democrats) had pushed unsuccessfully for the government to provide universal health care - what we might deem as "Medicare for All," or what we could compare to what every developed nation in the world, other than the U.S., provides its citizens. LBJ, a Democrat, signed the legislation founding the Medicare program, and Richard Nixon, a Republican, extended Medicare to people with certain long-term disabilities or diseases. George W. Bush, also a Republican, signed into law an optional prescription drug benefit, and Barack Obama, a Democrat, signed into law the Affordable Care Act (often called ObamaCare), which has provisions to decrease Medicare costs while improving delivery systems and increasing services. 

In some ways, I love the idea of insurance of all kinds - all of us paying into a program that will bail out whoever gets slammed with a devastating illness, or car accident, or robbery, or hurricane. We all pay in a little bit so that - if we ourselves need it, or our neighbor or friend or community member or fellow citizen, we will be helped out in a time of trouble and won't have to immediately sink into poverty and despair.

In some ways, I hate insurance as it actually exists. I've had bad experiences with insurance, and I've heard lots of awful tales from others: we pay every month for years, and when we finally need to make a claim, our insurance goes up as punishment; we have a beautiful, well-maintained auto that we could sell for much more than Kelly Blue Book, but when someone destroys it in an accident, we only get a fraction of what it would cost to replace it; we need a medical test for a rare condition and have to jump through so many hoops to get it, or we are told it's not covered.

I get that insurance companies have to make a profit and are beholden to their shareholders. I also get that that's a problem, especially when we consider healthcare: when profits come before patients, healthcare in a developed nation - at least for people who aren't rich - becomes a lot like healthcare in a country without modern facilities and medical training. If you can't afford out-of-pocket costs for a doctor's visit, operation, or medical test, the result is the same as if you have no doctor, surgical hospital, or lab available to you!

Medicare and Medicaid have been the solution to the affordability question for millions of Americans, so let's wish the programs a Happy 54th Birthday!

July 29 - A Photographer Meets His Muse

Posted on July 29, 2019

True artists, including photographers, will make art wherever they are, no matter what their life looks like. 

But sometimes an artist goes along at one level, making quite nice art - and then something changes, and the change inspires what I would argue is greater art. 

The "something changes" that inspires an artist can be a world event, like humans reaching the Moon or a disastrous typhoon. Or it can be a personal event - finding an amazing job, moving, meeting a soulmate. 

In Dave Koh's case, it was becoming a father. On this date in 2013, he posted the first photo of his newborn daughter to his professional photography account - which can be found with the name milkpa316.

Koh's daughter seemed to act as a sort of muse. His pre-fatherhood photos were generally portraits - beautiful and evocative portraits - but after he became a dad, Koh also began to produce conceptual pieces. Some of his photos speak to concern about the environment, concern for the future. (Of course, parents and grandparents have even more at stake in the future than they did before they had kids!)

By the way, Koh is from Malaysia and now lives in Singapore. He is a full-time dad (or used to be, at least). He and his wife have had another child, this time a son.

Check out Dave Koh's work. I think that his pics will make you think - and more thinking makes the world a better place!