Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 13, 2005

Is it even possible to guarantee a right to health care?

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:29 pm

Most of the debate over health care in the U.S. — especially when a “national health care system” is brought up — is about whether some policy or another would “guarantee” that everyone would get the health care they “need.”

Keith Devens has a “thought experiment” that shows that it may not even be possible to get everybody what they need:

What you have is a spectrum. All the way on the left side of the spectrum is the case where there is no illness, and the health care cost per individual is zero. All the way on the right side of the spectrum is the case where everybody has cancer and each person needs millions of dollars worth of medical treatment. Call the former ‘A’ and the latter ‘B’. If the world was like A then the government could clearly meet all of our health care costs with no additional outlay. If the world was like B clearly the government could never provide everybody’s health care.

This thought experiment is merely intended to show that it is not a foregone conclusion that it is even possible to provide every individual with the medical care he needs period, no matter who pays for it.

Furthermore, this assumes not only that the government actually knows how to provide health care, but that we know what health care is. If health care is provided for free by the government, people will try to define it to include as much as possible. (Eyeglasses? Toothpaste? Food? Water? Shelter? Gosh, you’d die without food and shelter, so they must be “health care” too!)

Speaking Foreign Words in English (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:47 am

Joe of Joe’s Dartblog responds to my response to his initial post on the language issue:

I do concede that very few people in America pronounce ‘latino’ as LAT-in-oh. But I would hold that that pronunciation is the proper one as far as English standards go: the ‘i’ cannot make an EE sound under normal circumstances. That foreign pronunciation permutation- while incorrect- is deeply ingrained, and there is little hope of exorcising it.

What about the “i” in “radiation”? Or in “beneficiary”? If there’s one thing that’s consistent about English, it’s that it’s vowels are used inconsistently.

Now, on the subject of Ms. Cindy Rrrrod-RRRRigeZZ, my least favorite WNYC beat reporter:

I’m sorry, I usually agree with Joe, but I have to disagree with that. I think people have the right to pronounce their names anyway they want. If she wants to pronounce it “Rrrrod-RRRRigeZZ” and spell it “Smith” that’s fine with me – as long as she doesn’t get insulted with people with toungues that can’t roll fast enough don’t roll them. In exchange, when you go to Cancún for spring break, you get to call yourself “Joe” or “José” – your choice, not theirs.

I have been to Mexico, and they call me José no matter what. Same in France: I become jo-ZEF, rather than JO-suf. I’ve no say, not even avec mes professeurs de Francais. But I do have to backtrack here: my critic is correct. The right to pronounce your own name as you see fit, and have others do so, is integral. But I wonder how he feels about the plainspoken anchors who use the same outragerous over-Spanish-ennunciation when tossing to Cindy?

I would say that if you are in France, and wish to be called JO-suf instead of Jo-ZEF by French speakers, they would be polite to try to accomodate you. And if you choose to accomodate them and ascede to Jo-ZEF instead, that would be polite, too. I had a co-worker once who was born in Florida of Cuban parents and his legal name was “Roberto.” But he always introduced himself as “Robert” and it was a while before I even know that was not his legal name. I think he was within his rights to use “Robert,” but would have also been within his rights also. If Cindy wants everyone to pronounce her name the Spanish way, I think she’s within her rights …

In earnest, there is one mitigating factor: that of consistency. I honestly would not mind one bit if she delivered her entire report with a Spanish accent; that’d be fine. But the problem is that she is from Texas and lives in New York. She has a sweet, clean, smooth-sounding voice. Perfect for radio, except she insists on her weird tony lingual demagoguery in her sign-off. The Rrrrod-RRRRigeZZ is entirely an affectation, and stops her overall delivery from gelling.

… even if it’s an annoying affectation.

By the way – how do you pronounce the name of that most American of cars, the “Chevrolet”? Because I think the French would pronounce it, “Shev-row-LAY” not “Chev-ROW-lett.

It should be shev-row-LAY. Chevrolet isn’t a word in French. ‘Chevre’ is ‘goat’. So I think GM, by virtue of its having invented the word, can determine how it should be pronounced.

This being the age of the Internet, I was actually able to find out where this name came from — something I’ve always wondered about but never bothered to lookup until this morning. The name comes from Louis Chevrolet (presumably Loo-EEE rather that LOO-iss!), a racing driver and autodidactic automotive engineer who was born in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland in 1878. He moved to Montreal in 1900, and New York six months later. According to brief biographies here and here, Chevrolet was hired for his engineering skills, but they put his name on the car because they like the way it sounded, and kept the name long after he left the company. (That second biography is worth reading just for the line, “Chevrolet drove a Buick in the first Indianapolis 500 … .”) According to a web page on the etymology of last names, Chevrolet means “little goat” and is the French equivalent of the English name “Kidd.” (Is a very little goat a “little kid”?)

The ultimate name story is that of lawyer-turned-reporter Geraldo Rivera. There is this page on snopes.com about the “urban legend” that his real name is “Gerry” but he changed it to “Geraldo” to sound “more Hispanic.” As is its custom, snopes puts in an extraneous detail and classifies the legend as “false” — but when you read the whole page it becomes obvious that it’s actually true. His father’s surname was “Rivera,” but his mother wrote “Gerald Riviera” (note the extra “i”) on his birth certificate. His school yearbooks spelled it both ways. His first name was always Gerald, his friends called him Gerry, and his father’s Puerto Rican relatives called him Geraldo. Then the news director of a TV station tried to hire him as a reporter. Here’s the account from his autobiography, as quotes on snopes:

I had an appointment with Al Primo, news director for WABC-TV, Channel 7, the ABC Television Network’s flagship local station. He was looking for a Puerto Rican to complement his already ethnically diverse on-air team. …

“By the way,” he said, shaking on our new relationship, “what’s Gerry short for?”


“Gerald?” he tried. “It’s not very Puerto Rican, is it?”

“No,” I said. “I guess not, but it’s better than Sidney.”


“That’s what my Jewish mother wanted to call me.”

He laughed politely at the exchange, but his smile seemed forced. I sensed he was disappointed. After all, he was going to some trouble to hire a Puerto Rican reporter; surely, he wanted to at least get his money’s worth.

“If you want something more Latin,” I suggested, “my father and his side of the family call me Geraldo.”

“Geraldo?” he said, and this time his smile was genuine. “Geraldo Rivera.” He tested the sound, rolling the Rs and learning what millions were about to, that the G in Spanish is pronounced H. “That’s better,” he said finally. “Let’s go with Geraldo.”

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