Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

In Praise of US Healthcare?

All the things happening in this world — ALL THE THINGS — and I spend my morning worrying about Adrian White’s op-ed in Wednesday’s Cape Breton Post.

What is wrong with me?

It’s not like President-elect Joe Biden — to whom White directs a barrage of helpful advice on running the freaking United States of America — is likely to have read the Wednesday edition of the Cape Breton Post. Nor is White saying anything Biden’s centrist Democrat advisors and friends haven’t already told him, White’s thesis basically being that Donald Trump’s unexpectedly (to people like me, who believed the polls) strong performance in the recent US elections — and the even stronger performance of the Republicans as a whole — should be read as a rejection of progressive policies:

An important observation to note from the American election is that the Senate will likely remain under Republican control. Also noteworthy, the House of Representatives significantly increased its Republican membership from the 2018 mid-term elections.

That result alone should send a clear message to president-elect Biden that Americans are not ready to embrace the new green deal [sic], medicare [sic]US for all or defund police policies promoted by the Democratic party left. The voter message this time was simply one of, “we are sick of Trump but we are not ready to embrace Democratic policies either.”

Here’s another important observation to note from the American election: Joe Biden did not run on the “new green deal” (which is actually the Green New Deal and is a play on FDR’s Depression-era New Deal and if you’re informed enough to discuss US politics in the local daily, you should be informed enough to know that), Medicare for All OR defunding the police.

Another important observation to note is that 112 co-sponsors of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill were on the ballot in November and they all won re-election, as did 97 of 98 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal.

But I have to stop arguing, I won’t convince Adrian, who spent a decade as an executive at a recycling company in Los Angeles (where Biden won 71.1% of the vote), California (where Biden won 63.6% of the vote) and left a fanboy of fossil fuels and private health insurance.

It’s that last bit that’s really sticking in my craw. I’m guessing White, as the CEO of a mid-sized California company, enjoyed a decent healthcare plan. How else, really, to explain this paean to private insurance:

[E]mployees are enrolled in employer-sponsored private health-care plans where they contribute 50 per cent of the cost and have a real say in the quality of health care they receive. Ten per cent of Americans are unfortunately uninsured due to a variety of circumstances. In Canada where everyone is insured, wait times are long and the provinces decide for you what health care you will receive.

Joe BidenEven if you could be as blasé about 28 million uninsured people as is White (who sits or has sat on the boards of the Breton Ability Centre, and the Affordable Housing Renovation Partnership and Hospice Victoria County, so presumably has some degree of feeling for his fellow human beings), you have to know that those “private health-care plans” are not as billed (no pun intended). According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2019 Employer Health Benefits Survey, roughly 153 million Americans who have insurance through their jobs have seen their deductibles double over the past decade. As CNN reported earlier this year, a worker “now has to shell out about $1,655 [about $2,170 Canadian] a year on average, before coverage kicks in.” More than 25% of covered workers have an average deductible of at least $2,000 a year (about $2,600 Canadian).

And that’s pre-COVID. Do you know what happens when you have an employer-sponsored healthcare plan and you lose your job, bozo? You lose your healthcare — as do your dependents. According to the Commonwealth Fund, by June 2020, as many as 7.7 million Americans had lost jobs with employer-sponsored insurance because of the COVID-19 epidemic. These health plans covered another 6.9 million people — for a total of 14.6 million Americans joining the “unfortunately uninsured.” During a pandemic.

And yeah, Donald Trump has been a disaster in the face of COVID, but do you know what else has been disastrous? A system in which uninsured or underinsured people — many of them the frontline “heroes” of the crisis — are hesitant to get tested for the disease because they can’t afford it. Per CNN:

While countries around the globe are struggling to deal with the coronavirus, people in the US must contend with a fragmented health system where just going to get tested can mean hundreds or thousands of dollars in medical bills — a risk those in other developed countries don’t face.

As for the question of wait times in Canada, obviously, they exist for some procedures and services (we know that all too well in Cape Breton) but the idea that a US-style system would solve this problem would be laughable if it weren’t, at its core, so cruel: those with money would get prompt and timely care, those without would run up bankrupting medical bills or go without treatment.

But I have to drop this — not just because I won’t convince Adrian or even because thinking about him anymore is going to make my head explode but because I don’t think Adrian is likely to convince anyone in this country we’d be better off right now if we all had to pay for our COVID tests and treatments.


Call me

Have you noticed the coordinated letter-to-the-Post-editor campaign to drum up support for the proposed Centre for Discovery and Innovation at CBU? I’ve seen letters from the president of the alumni association, and the chair of the CBU board and there may be others I’ve missed.

The latest voice to ring out is that of Mary Tulle, former head of Destination Cape Breton, who gives the whole game away in the third paragraph:

President Dingwall stated at a recent luncheon that “Our collective task is to help our citizens to understand the need and the positive impact the Centre for Discovery and Innovation can have on the university and on our community.”

Artist's rendition CBU Discovery and Innovation Centre

Artist’s rendition CBU Discovery and Innovation Centre

Tulle then, in her own inimitable way, goes on to help us understand the need for the $80 million facility:

This new facility will not just drive a more prosperous, globally-oriented future for the Island. It will also allow CBU to take a lead role in providing innovative solutions to problems faced here in Cape Breton and in communities around the world. A commendable feat, but not the first time this has happened on our Island.

Let’s think about who Cape Breton Island attracted in the past and the impacts to the world that resulted. Imagine the conversations on discovery and innovation that would have taken place between Alexander Graham Bell and Guglielmo Marconi. Suffice to say, their discoveries and innovations have revolutionized our world.

Wikipedia tells me Marconi chose Table Head as the site of his transatlantic wireless station “for its elevated flat expanse and unobstructed view out over the Atlantic Ocean.” And Bell apparently “fell in love” with Cape Breton because it reminded him of Scotland. How either man’s history constitutes an argument for a multi-million research facility at CBU escapes me.

But I owe Tulle a thank you because her letter made me wonder whether Bell (who died at his estate, Beinn Bhreagh, in Cape Breton in 1922) and Marconi, who established his station in Table Head in 1902, ever had a conversation, which sent me down one of those rabbit holes I hold so dear.

I can’t actually tell you whether the inventors met in person (although I’m sure anyone who has read a good biography of either man could answer that question), but I can tell you they tried to meet. I found a little clutch of letters and telegrams between them in the files of the Alexander Graham Bell collection at the Library of Congress.

It starts with this typed letter from Bell to Marconi, dated 30 September 1899, in which Bell invites Marconi to visit him at Beinn Bhreagh:

1899 letter from Alexander Bell to Guglielmo Marconi

Source: Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, Library of Congress

The letter goes astray (actually, to Italy) and by the time Marconi receives it, he’s been called to England by the British government which plans to use his “Wireless Telegraphy” in its battle against the Boers in South Africa, which had flamed into full-scale war in October 1899. Marconi, writing on the letterhead of The Hoffman House in New York city, begs off:

Dear Prof Graham Bell

I am extremely sorry to have to inform you that through some mistake your kind letter of the 30th directed to me was forwarded by the Herald to a wrong address in Italy, and has only been returned here after considerable delay.

It would have given me the greatest pleasure if I could have gone to Nova Scotia to call and see you and Mrs. Bell, but regret that owing to the decision of the British government to make use of my system of Wireless Telegraphy on a large scale in South Africa during their present war, I am compelled to leave at once for England and am sailing on the St. Paul on Wednesday.

Letter from Guglielmo Marconi to Alexander Graham Bell, 6 November 1899

Source: Alexander Bell Family Papers, Library of Congress (

I much regret you have not yet had the opportunity of seeing my system in operation but as I hope to return to America early next year, I then may hope to make your acquaintance. Allow me to say that you are a person of whom I have always felt the deepest admiration .

Thanking you again for your very kind invitation,

I remain,

Very sincerely yours,

G. Marconi

I found three telegrams from Marconi to Bell but none of them, weirdly, contains the year they were sent (although one was sent from St. John’s Newfoundland where Marconi assembled a receiver on Signal Hill in December 1901 — this is where the first signal from Europe to North America was received. Bell had made a “generous offer” which Marconi is forced to decline because “it is essential that site should be on ocean.” (Did Bell offer to host Marconi’s station in Baddeck?)

Telegram from Marconi to Graham Bell

Source: Alexander Bell Family Papers, Library of Congress 


Telegram from Marconi to Graham Bell December 20

Source: Alexander Bell Family Papers, Library of Congress 


And here’s Marconi, in Ottawa, trying to decide if he can visit Bell in Washington:

Telegram from Marconi to Graham Bell

Source: Source: Alexander Bell Family Papers, Library of Congress

If they never did meet, what an opportunity lost. Imagine the conversations on discovery and innovation they might have had.


‘Tis the season

The government of Nova Scotia sent me a copy of The Tree for Boston, which I think marks the birth of new children’s literature genre: the industrial Christmas tale. No snow, no lights, no candy canes — just heavy duty semi-trailers, police cars, harbor cranes, container vessels and masked premiers.