30 June 2007
Ahh, here we go with another wonderful CNN headline. If only it were so. The people vs the government. That'd get good ratings on TV, what with the bombings and shootings and such. Sadly the story itself seems confused (and much more boring), trying to show the two parties justifying their poor showing by blaming each other. As usual. I have a modest suggestion. FIND ANOTHER PARTY. These two aren't very useful.
29 June 2007
This is quite funny. Now the Celtics have Ray Allen, periennal all-star coming off ankle surgery and getting into the old part of a guard's career. At least he can still shoot. And Allen Ray, athletic guard of limited use last year. Wait, looking again. Yes. They have two players who have the same name reversed. High comedy. What would we call them as coaches? Hey Allen!, I mean, Hey Ray!. I mean. Damnit, new guy get over here. Damnit. Just plain stupid.
On a higher note, I did always like Ray Allen as a player (perhaps my second fav after KG), he's just getting old. I like the pure shooters. As an added bonus, he was in a Spike Lee joint about a decade ago which was perhaps not the worst Spike Lee joint. Good times all around. More comedy actually. His character was Jesus Shuttleworth, going to the place that refers to Larry Bird as the "Basketball Jesus". I'd have to say I'd be very confused if I was in Boston right now.
(boston has since waived Allen Ray, that's no fun. I had also forgotten about the porn stars in He Got Game, a scene which would be wildly entertaining if replayed on the jumbo-tron during timeouts)
28 June 2007
(I'll look for a link to the actual study, this will do for now)
This is odd. A Harvard polysci guy put out a study which came to the strange conclusion that diversity is bad, or at least can be (we're speaking cultural diversity here). I'm not very surprised that that was the result mind you (most studies would be a waste of money if I was around), rather that it was a Harvard polysci dept that released the study. I wasn't aware Harvard was still even doing anything up there that matters academically.
Back to the topic of the study. I'm inclined from my own observations to agree. While I'm far less afflicted with a cultural aversion than the common person, the people who are strangers in a strange land seem very inclined to this "turtle" effect. It's a classic pattern of immigration that these strangers cluster together to resolve into a sense of identity and heritage that they are comfortable with. This isn't the optimal situation, but I think we would find that cross-cultural boundaries break down naturally over time in a healthier fashion than the brute force efforts we're undertaking.
Besides this, it's intellectual diversity that is of paramount importance. Cultural diversity is presented by the vast quantity of 'cultural' choices we have only to avail ourselves of. Intellectual diversity is a resource of far less quantity. I'm not sure how we preserve it without engaging in an overhaul of our educational system. So long as conformity is the name of the game in schools, we're in deep trouble. People can easily dress however they wish and listen to whatever music they want, but argue with a teacher or professor and most people will become dismissive. That's a problem. Moving on.
One other more ominous point from the study made an indictment of social participation. By that I mean, fewer voters or socially aware/active people in a more diverse community. However cosmopolitan we presume these places to be from the diverse nature, it seems it breeds a hostile or at least indifferent attitude toward others (again, not personally surprising). This is in turn reflected in lower opinions of local leaders, lessened social (read: political) involvement, etc. Having fewer people inclined to voting and paying attention to the results of said voting with earnestness may be exactly what people in power want, but it's certainly not the ideal circumstance.
21 June 2007
This is kind of neat. Wyoming is still the 100th richest economy in the world, taken by itself. That's impressive with no more than 500000 people. Far fewer than Uzbekistan. Which is an interesting place with a brutal Soviet-era dictator we supported while we were allowed to use airbases there. Just enough support to get one over on Wyoming. Bastards! California, unsurprisingly, is the largest state, the 8th largest in the world just after France. Yet another reason to hate the Frenchies I guess.
"It would strip a requirement that employees present a federally standardized "REAL ID""-- However this is a good idea. We shouldn't need yet another worthless piece of identification from the state. I'm pretty sure homeland security doesn't need to know where everyone is.
20 June 2007
-- ...."But even our students who are graduating are often not receiving the education they deserve. In low-income schools, students have less than a 50 percent chance of being taught by a mathematics or science teacher who holds a degree in the subject he or she teaches, according to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. This explains at least in part why less than a third of our fourth-grade and eighth-grade students performed at or above a proficient level in math, and why American 15-year-olds fall below the international average in mathematics literacy and problem-solving in the Program for International Student Assessment....."
Back to my frequent points on education. Yes, I don't believe science is necessarily the be-all it's advertised as. But if we're going to hire teachers, they damn well better know the material. I've often wondered about education majors. What exactly are they studying? It amuses me the line oft quoted that education majors entering graduate school have among the lowest GPAs and lowest GRE scores. (Philosophy majors are the highest by the way). I'd much prefer that we hire people who have the education in math or science to teach. Some of them want to, some might even be good at it. There's much restriction on who can be hired, and how and what they're to teach. I don't think that's necessary. Teaching and learning is something that we can all do. Some of us are better at one or the other, but still. We can all learn how to teach because we do it ourselves. We teach ourselves things all the time. We show things to co-workers like little tidbits of information to make the work easier or less barren.
I don't necessarily believe either that what we teach should be so standardized. Past elementary school, there isn't much we studied that was in and of itself a necessary subject for general success in our adult lives. Maybe civics, if it was taught rather than imparted. What each subject allows is the exploration of types of learning, fields of study, and different disciplines of the language of life as it were. That we can point to our flagging education system and say blindly "we're not teaching enough science or math", isn't a manner of deducing the actual problem. The problem is the way we (as a society, teachers might differ w/ this) look at teaching as a whole. It's virtually assumed that teaching is a particular art that has specific characteristics that carry over the entire general population. But learning is a specific art to a specific person. It's even specific to the type of learning we're doing at the time. Why would teaching be any different? I don't get how standardizing the process is going to offer us a solution to this crisis of stupidity.
Somebody relatively important came up with a 10 point plan (sounds familiar from this guy, more on that later). I'm not concerned that it would pass (because nothing that makes sense to me ever does), but I felt given that the politicians have decided they want to do something else, that I'd comment on this one (since it mirrors some of my own conceptions).
Keep the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli commitment and control the border. -- I put the focus more on number two. But in practice, controlling the border is important. Further commentary in the original essay shows emphasis on walling and fencing, which is actually pretty unnecessary and a typically American mentality (close off the outside world!!). Think for a moment about the Great Wall. Why was it built? Did it stop invaders? No. In fact, the problem there was that the guards were often bribed by smugglers and invading armies (then of course killed). We have the same problems with some of our border guards. That's another place to start. Anyway, as I see it the line in Patton is most appropriate. Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of mankind. A wall is a type of fortification. It serves little purpose save to keep stuff in. Stuff that wants in will find a way around it or through it eventually.
Announce an immediate shift of Internal Revenue Service resources to audit companies that are deliberately hiring people illegally. ----- This is the point of the entire immigration problem. It isn't that people want to come here. We should want people to come and live and work here. It is that they're coming here and not tracked or processed, followed up on, etc. It is incredibly easy to stay here once someone gets here. We used to enforce credible laws on the books that punish the companies for hiring people they're not supposed to. Shifting the activity to controlling the border is the hideously expensive way of enforcement. In a sense, this is like my drug control issues. Shift to a 'treatment' mentality and it's much cheaper and has both short and long term effectiveness. Border control is nice for national security reasons, for the war on drugs, etc, but it lacks long-term punch. Punish the corporations and businesses that knowingly hire people that aren't legally established to work here. If we allowed/required local entities to cooperate here, we'd get this down to a science in a few years and most of the problem would go away naturally.
Focus deportation efforts on criminals. -- While there are plenty of ways we can depopulate our prisons without exposing ourselves to major crime waves (releasing sole count drug offenders would make it at least 1/3 of the way), we could start by deporting foreign 'fighters', as they're called in Iraq. Criminals are not something we should want to import. Get rid of them. If the homeland doesn't take them back, offer them a two way street. We'll give you police training assistance or help build crime labs CSI-style (so they can have CSI-Mexico City TV rights) if you take them. If you don't, we pull the plug on any foreign aid. The money for the aid is available in the federal budget, if someone would go through and pull out all the earmarks and pork. Honestly, some foreign aid now and then will help prop up some of these countries that either a) hate us, b) have so many poor people they export them as a commodity.
Cut off all federal aid to any city, county or state that refuses to investigate if a criminal is here illegally. --- Since the aid and footwork from local governments is something we should want, this is a probably a good idea to punish local governments who are uncooperative. I'm not sure it would make a difference in some places, but eventually some taxes would be levied that not everyone would like just to fill in some potholes and the like.
Offer intensive education in English to anyone who wants to learn English, and make English the official language of government. ---- I don't understand the need for English to become officially our language. It is unofficially. I don't necessarily understand the need for me to press 1 for English either. In Ohio. I've met and seen a fair number of migrant workers up here, but seriously. It's OHIO. How many people here can even speak regular English anyway? They speak American because they're never going to England. I think this too is a two-way street. We'd probably get some better receptions out there in the 'real' world if some of our people didn't need translators everywhere they went. Sure other developed countries learn English, but that doesn't mean we can't respect some linguistic differences now and then. Used to be that a mark of education was the ability to speak or write in several languages. Two would suffice; it's certainly better than the current zero.
Ensure that becoming an American citizen requires passing a test on American history in English and giving up the right to vote in any other country. --- I suspect that most American citizens couldn't pass a real test in American history, but nevertheless, there should be a bit more than repeating the oath to the Constitution to change one's nation. I do not care if someone could vote in another country, because many other nations recognize dual citizenship. A test is perhaps unnecessary but perhaps a few classes on civic duty (something average Joe America could use too). In practice, immigrants who have stayed and lived in America are perhaps its most dutiful and patriotic citizens. It's the born-again effect, sometimes it has uses. Its often annoying though.
Within the context of these proven changes, establish an economically driven temporary worker program like the Krieble Foundation proposals. -- The biggest part of these are 1) biometric data and 2) paying taxes while you're here. I can live with imported labor, but when it is considered that our economy no longer focuses on manufacturing or agriculture as a whole, I have to wonder why we need to import so much of it. I mean seriously are these people coming here to work at a desk and complain around a water cooler? No. So why do we need them? Ok sure, fixing roofs and lettuce and the like is important. But seriously, there aren't any regular citizens left who like hard work? We can't round up high school drop outs or other welfare receipients to go outside? I don't get it.
Create a special open-ended worker visa for high value workers who bring specialized education, entrepreneurial talent or capital that will grow the American economy and make America a more prosperous country. -- Ok this makes some sense. One big issue I've seen is that we're welcoming people illegally here who can't do anything but restricting people who have educations, etc. The free-market would do just fine to control the flow of specialized and professional laborers, thank you. I think they're small enough in number that we could test any ID system on them before it was deployed en masse.
Workers who came here illegally but have a good work relationship and community ties (including family), should have first opportunity to get the new temporary worker visas, but instead of paying penalties, they should be required to go home and get the visa at home. --- I don't know why the bills are called amnesty. They don't even seem to acknowledge a crime is being committed. I think you'd have to start with that premise to even introduce the idea of amnesty into a bill. This here idea isn't necessarily practical, but it does make some sense because it introduces a concept of rule of law. I don't think fines are going to provide necessary incentive to people 'coming out of the shadows'. I think a legal and recognizable process that is expedited in an efficient and practical manner would. Lots of immigrants come here because they like it here, or they think they will. I've no problem if they find ways to stay, but I'd prefer that we allow them to because they're following a process of immigration and at least moderate acculturation. Acculturation is a two way street. We didn't start out in America eating spaghetti dinners, pizza, burritos, and takeout Chinese food. Or listening to the Beatles. Americans have historically always liked to buy trendy ideas/objects from other countries. The fact that we think it works the other way now is ridiculous. We just export more crap. Well if by export we mean: produce crap in China so we can ship it to somewhere else. There's some lovely filth everywhere now thanks to American ingenuity.
Now the bad news. Newt came up with this list. I'm not sure if that means I'm idiot or our politicians are so devoid of reasoned ideas that people like Newt sound like they make sense again. It might mean both.
19 June 2007
It seems the weather monitor stations aren't being sited very well. Siting them next to buildings, airport tarmacs, and parking lots doesn't make for reliable or consistent temperature data. The one with the trash/burn can and dog poo station next to it is priceless.
I'd have to agree it's getting hotter out there (at least it was hideously so yesterday), but we should be able to run a study on how much and why without fudging up the data. According to the regulations on the weather monitoring services, these things are supposed to be well away from buildings, etc so they do not get cluttered up with UHI (urban heat islands). Asphalt, AC vents and concrete put out masses of heat. Some of the stations had light bulbs in them. Another no-no. Now I agree it's a problem if our cities are getting hotter, but that's not what we are trying to study or correct. We already know cities get hotter, you can see it on any infrared satellite image or even just a night shot. All those lights have to be doing something heat related. What we need is reliable data on actual climates, not the artificial ones we live in. Such data can be put to good effect, rather than the current effects like playing with the data so it fits the company line. Since the data appears to suck anyway, what difference does playing with it make?
14 June 2007
Based on my impression of what a president should be, our president should be a projection of American interests (all of them, not just the ones that happened to buy enough votes) and an arbiter of those interests on the international arena. In other words, all those excerpts of 'values' and 'character', whatever that means, aren't very important. I don't want another sound byte president, but the way our country is designed, we're going to be getting one. We shouldn't and probably won't agree 100% of the time with whoever is office, but we as a public should get someone we have some philosophical agreement with and who will still be able to represent us on the grander arena of foreign entanglements, rather than someone who intones on about freedom and terror.
This isn't the 18th century anymore. We aren't isolated. Our corporate entities and the evolution of a mobile society have made it impossible to go back to our isolationist roots. We are now part of a global society. Paul, of all the candidates (the dems don't seem to get it at all, they seem to be against the war simply because bush is for it, that's not ideological or sensical), at least seems to recognize our impact on the various players on that stage, but doesn't seem to want us to be on that stage ourselves. Which is at least understandable, if impossible. I don't think he has a chance, simply because the republican base is composed of evangelical morons, but if he runs independent, I have a definitive candidate. I always vote 3rd parties for major offices anyway.
13 June 2007
We have so much in common. Why should we be enemies?
12 June 2007
One of the more amusing aspects of celebrity culture is the people that somehow became famous, and the subsequent outrage in some people that they've done so. This makes it almost bareable that such things happen. Actually, no, not really. Bowen at least possesses athletic ability which could be regarded as a talent. At least it is something people pay millions of dollars for. I'm not sure his opposite in this particular fight has any appreciable effectiveness. Sadly, she's not alone in the quest to defy our sense of self by following people with no ability other than fantastic wealth and an underdeveloped sense of privacy and humility.
11 June 2007
One reason I have commented before on the advancement of sport in this country is the idea of roles. In the quest of achievement and success, defined roles and positions are accepted by the agents of a team. The team achieves through this self-division and occasional personal sacrifice greater successes, and the individuals are awarded correspondently greater acclaim. This is perhaps the one industry which I can point to publicly where the fusion of Eastern collectivism and Western individualism has gained merit and use. It is not publicly celebrated outside of former agents and commentators that this is the ideal form of a team's process, but it is in fact the ideal basis for my belief of fusing more social imperatives with our personal achievements.
Without this template for idealism, we are left stranded in an ideological no-man's land. Individuals left to their own devices in a collectivist dominated enterprise will undoubtedly become sullen and disaffected by the levels of appreciation and acclaim that are awarded to hard work or ingenuity. Concurrently without this individual drive and personal competitiveness, the collective often becomes tranquil and unproductive. Communist economics were trapped by this philosophical quandary, and instead of relying on liberalizing competitive drives, relied on autocratic routines. Demanding higher achievements and taking credit for them rather than assigning credit naturally through the accomplishments of free-enterprise.
We are little different in this respect for personal achievement and freedoms here. Credit and blame for the economy falls on the shoulders of our personal representative, the executive branch. No laudable gains are subtracted to the appropriate agent, the workers and consumers of America (or, on occasion, the corporations). Blame is likewise assigned, as though our economy was controlled by a giant stop light behind his desk. While this speaks solely to the economic realities, our personal endeavours are little different. Commentary often speaks to the effect of violent video games or music of a violent nature upon youth and the associated shootings to blame on these poisons. Commercials are blamed for our expanding wastelines. Cigarrette companies blamed for camels with sunglasses making teenagers smoke. While assuredly these things have their effects, can we assume that our own individual being is a mere spectator to this devastation?
These things are not monolithic in their effects. Our society is so complex and interactive that to assume a singular modifier will so disrupt and defeat our humanizing influences is foolish, perhaps even dangerous. Everything is constantly in struggle for the future of our behaviors and thus future interactions are determined by how we meet them now. To presume that we are independent actors in all of this is likewise dangerous. We must understand that our world is shaped by how we think of and describe it, as well as how we think of and describe ourselves. Much of the rest of the world makes the opposite fundamental error in presuming that 'objective' realities are of paramount importance. We in America take our individual supremacy too seriously in only this respect, blithely ignoring that the temporary constructs we are interacting in are not quite reality either.
Fundamentally, both sides are flawed. Fortunately, both sides are quite rarely followed to their letter, but when they are, there is great danger. Situations become untenable when both sides make such errors of assumptions on reality and fail to recognize that maybe somebody over there has a point, a need, or a want that must be addressed to resolve this situation. Concurrently this failing expresses the necessity of warfare, as to meet with such situations without a means of resolution may be equally dangerous as to patently ignore the other side of the fence.
09 June 2007
If patriotism is a love, then it should follow similar precepts. One of love's defining attributes is to say that if one is in love they should gladly sacrifice their own happiness and even their own life for the advancement of the object of that love. To serve one's country in this fashion is generally seen in the light of military service. This harkens back all the way to the beginnings of American history with the presidency of General Washington. Indeed most presidents have a degree of military service. Yet this is not universal. How could anyone hope to aspire to the highest of offices without fulfilling a patriotic duty? This would seem to be the suggestion of modern politics.
It is actually a recent development to link patriotism with service. It stems from the historical fact that America has been long involved in wars over the past century. Obviously a good sized portion of its citizens would be veterans of these wars. It would stand to reason that a successful politician should have at least the appearance of having fulfilled this civic duty to appeal to these voters. Up until 1940 with the institution of the first peacetime draft, Americans were not compelled to serve in the military as is commonplace in Europe and elsewhere. While volunteering for a term in the Army was an honored tradition for many prominent families whose ties went back to the Revolutionary War, it was by no means necessary that young men be challenged with their patriotism for not serving in the armed forces. I would not however endeavor to suggest that someone who serves is not patriotic, far from it. Instead I offer that it is not a requisite. It is merely a demonstration of love of country, but the not the only means to achieve this.
There is the additional problem of the advancement of the country. A war is not necessarily advancement. A war of aggression where there is a conquered enemy to take spoils from is, of course. A war where one country defends its allies is advancement in a certain sense as well; there is the benefit of a grateful foreign power. A war where someone defends his homeland is not. It is in that case more of a necessity or a natural reaction. Certainly no one would seek eagerly to flee from his ancestral lands and friendships, even in the face of a hostile invader. Yet it is often in these instances, where a country is attacked by another, that the appeal by leaders to patriotism is most vehement. Many Russians refer to World War II as the Great Patriotic War. Josef Stalin recognized the natural desire of Russians to repel invaders, particularly German ones, and appealed to this to fill the ranks of his army. The attacks on Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center likewise saw enormous volunteer enlistments by Americans immediately following these national tragedies. But in these cases it is for defence or perhaps even revenge, not for advancement, that people enlist. This is still patriotic to protect other's lives, but it in no way advances the lives of these others.
How then do people commit themselves to the advancement of a country? Here the task is less clear. There is the assertion that speaking ill of one's country is in someway unpatriotic. This is folly. Speaking ill without reason or cause may well be. But speaking ill to show weaknesses is not somehow unpatriotic or unfriendly, how else is a thing to be addressed and improved? As it would be in a relationship or friendship, issues arise that must be discussed, hopefully rationally, to resolve them. Demonstrations to show the levels of disaffection in the form of marches and pickets are a protected aspect of free speech in America. Despite the sometimes unsavory or unpopular nature of the marchers, the right to assemble and organize others to voice common displeasures is guaranteed in free societies. Without this guarantee, the civil rights movement would be a much more violent progression, more so even than the various riots and fire hoses that were encountered. It would be akin instead to the insurrection of Kansas prior to its statehood. Here thousands of pro-slavery and opposing abolitionist settlers flocked to decide by vote the matter of slavery. In the process the state was a microcosm of the coming Civil War, with gangs of settlers murdering and menacing the opposition in what is often referred to as "Bloody Kansas." Simply acting violently without regard to the target of destruction is not patriotic or even productive. But forcing others to pay attention and address the division over a particular issue is a necessary service of a disaffected people. There are but few diplomatic manners in which to speak on issues such as these and so often the nature of speech is violence. This is unfortunate as it compels a good deal of public indifference to the speech of a few more rational men. But the persistence of the assault on our conscience cannot be ignored forever. Eventually it should be addressed, in one way or another, for the advancement and protection of the weak and evidently the betterment of all.
Here is the nature of love at its fullest measure. A caring person tends to the object of their love with great affection, taking joy in their success and suffering at their side. Tender care must be taken to alleviate suffering, with attention to even the slightest detail necessary at times. Applied to a country we find that a person's civic duty is not merely to serve it in time of war; but also in peace. This service is not limited to a branch of the armed forces, but it is instead something simpler. Most of us have concerns over the nature of certain laws or the lack thereof. Sometimes it may be as simple as the need for a traffic light at a nearby intersection. In other cases, it is the disenfranchisement of an entire class or race of people. Things such as jury duty to help the state discern and punish the wicked and deceitful among us fulfill this duty in small measure. Marching with others who share the same concerns does so. And in fact, the simple act of voting does so. Speaking with a clear voice where it is believed the course of the country lies is the cause of a true patriot.
President Kennedy poses us the question, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." This seems at first a fine line between patriotism and fascism. Look closely however; there is a choice. We are told to ask. To look about our lives and wonder how we can make our own journey more tolerable. Where we are satisfied, then we are to look to others with the same questions. The civic duty of a citizen is to seek to improve individually, and then to look around to serve others who have needs, not to demand from the state these things unless it is the only the full power of an aggravated nation that can bring to heel the demons plaguing our lives. What is expected then of a patriot? This is the nature of patriotism: to love one's nation is as it would be to love one's family, particularly as regards children. There is the need for sternness and fondness. There is the need for affection and for patience at times. A measure of tolerance at misdeeds is expected, but a tolerance for injustice or egregious error by the state is not. The words and deeds of a patriot would suggest a genuine belief in the improvement of the country just as a parent seeks to guide a child. Protecting the country is of course an exemplary act, but is only as natural as a lioness guarding her cubs. To suggest that it is a necessity that one serve in such a fashion or have their love of country questioned is preposterous. It is rather a duty and attention to others that should have cause for patriotism. If this should find the patriot armed with a pen or a picket sign instead of a rifle, so be it.
08 June 2007
There is the contention of nationalizing or socializing the health care system so as to reduce the burdensome costs of health care. What must be examined and debated is whether this is in any way effective at actually producing a reduction of cost or if it is merely a manner of disguising the cost and, in the spirit of the medical tradition, not a treatment of the root of the disease itself. If it in no way reduces our costs but merely disperses them across our tax structure then of what use is this system. If it is ineffectual, then can we conceive instead of a manner that does reduce the overall costs of our health care system? Is it possible to conceive of a system which is less pervasive than an overall nationalized system and targets directly the root causes of our ever bloating health care bills? I believe that it is.
In order to decide what system would be effective, it is first necessary to ascertain the root causes of increasing health costs. The present costs are largely amassed not through the routine of a yearly checkup or other similarly mundane medical issues. In fact nearly all medical expenses are from complications or afflictions that ultimately end people's lives. Terminal illnesses and mortal injuries call for complex and expensive drug treatments or invasive surgical procedures that to attempt to repair or temporarily relieve the body's ailments. These are also situations that necessarily require at least moderately lengthy stays under medical care and supervision of some sort in addition to the actual treatments themselves, an additional expensive episode. The fact that these treatments are expensive is unlikely to be changed in the near future. It would be foolish if it were otherwise, to expect the medical field to reverse the causes of death cheaply. Therefore what must be examined is whether the demand for them can be reduced. Is it possible that our behaviors or environments are a contributor to the necessity of treating cancers and other terminal ailments? The answer for that is on the side of any cigarette pack purchased by any American smoker.
More moderate afflictions such as mental disorders or milder physical ailments, such as diabetes, which require continuous drug or other medical therapies to treat account for another significant portion of medical expense. Again, the cost of these drugs is unlikely to be immediately reduced without pressure. Here there is a positive solution which is readily apparent to any rational person but is not significant toward the possibility of nationalized care. It is obvious that there are alternatives to American pharmaceuticals available in other industrialized nations such as Canada or England. These alternatives could be introduced as they are very likely to have undergone similar rigorous tests to insure the safety of the drug as would occur here under the protection of American laws. Free market forces from competing drug companies would eventually force the lowering of prices for their products. Having the government pick up the tab for its citizens does nothing to make the drugs themselves less costly. We would instead have to be taxed additionally to assure that the drugs are indeed covered and paid for. Doing that merely conceals the high cost of our prescriptions from us and does not encourage them to become any more effective at treatments either.
Indeed this brings us our first and main detraction from nationalized care. The tax structure of countries which have such programs is significantly higher than here in America. The current American pays on average somewhere in the vicinity of 25 to 35 percent, with the highest and richest individuals perhaps paying a lot more; I'm not getting into that here. In Europe and Canada the average person pays at least 50 percent of their income to the government; in Scandinavia the rate has been as high as 70 percent. While there are other programs inherent to a more socialized system which account for some great expense themselves, the greatest portion of these government budgets emerges from health care costs. This is secondary to the more acute problem herein however. The principle that should be applied is does it reduce health care cost or merely hide it. As the tax is evenly applied regardless of health, if a person is in fact healthy they are subsidizing the less healthy persons. This is regardless of whether the infirm are so afflicted from advanced age, genetic flaws, or poor personal lifestyle choices. Thus without taking any other factors into account, there is no incentive for an individual to choose to remain healthy and in so doing not need to go to the doctor in the first place. If there is need only to go for a physical or some specific but regular checkup, there is very little cost relative to the overall bill. Even if there is only the need for a few tests to assuage the fear of a patient who has a slightly bizarre but by no means life-threatening condition, this is in fact a minor expense in the greater scheme. It is obviously impossible to remove all medical problems from age, injury or genetics entirely. Therefore it becomes necessary to reduce the costs amassed from unhealthy lifestyles.
What this suggests is that part of the reason for our bloated costs emerges from simple economics. People have greater need of medical attention today. Whether this is from general paranoia brought on from irresponsible media coverage and vague pharmaceutical commercials, or is in fact suggestive of a massive population of ailing people is another question, or all of these is another question but is for now irrelevant. If the demand for something is increasing, in order for cost to remain stable, the supply must correspondingly increase. This is of course the simple economics version that lacks government or cartel style price-fixing. The basic concept here is that in order to reduce our costs it is necessary first to reduce our demand for health care. The supply is relatively fixed as the arts of medicine and the application of healing is a mastery that few can attain properly. It would be entirely unseemly for our state medical licensing boards to allow the village idiots to poke around in an open chest cavity vainly trying to clean out clogged arteries and other similarly complex procedures. It is easier and safer to reduce demand than to open the faucet in this manner. Demand is down when our population is relatively healthy. Thus it is necessary to discern ways this happy circumstance can be creatively brought about by government influence. Simply paying for our indulgences by means of a blind tax does not in any manner reduce the cost. Someone will have to pay the doctor, and if it wasn't the patient directly, then it was the taxable public footing the bill.
Attached to this problem is that many people simply aren't paying the bill. Sometimes, in fact often, they are not capable of doing so, through lack of finances or lack of proper insurance coverage. I am not suggesting either of these is inherently wrong, merely that the poor or ignorant masses seeking medical coverage are not capable of paying for it once received. This was a topic of significant debate during the passage of the recent bankruptcy bill; people were amassing huge medical bills that they simply could not pay. Hospitals are businesses just as any other. But the employees who work are bound to a sacred oath to treat and cure the sick and injured. As such, doctors will treat and bind our wounds, but will expect some form of fiscal compensation for the expertise at doing so. This is entirely reasonable; doctors and nurses spend many years acquiring accreditation and training for what they do. This is a dedication to be rewarded. But what is unfortunate is that if people are unable to pay, and subsequently forfeit the debts via bankruptcy, someone else has to pick up the tab. A hospital isn't going to close ideally. Remember it's a business; it's going to raise prices on the people who do pay.
We have seen then the root causes of increasing price. It then appears the combat we must enter into is not merely to defray this spiraling expense account by socially paying for the bill, but instead to seek to ultimately reverse the spiral. The root causes of our unhealthy society are a hydra of sorts. There are in effect several lifestyle choices which weigh heavily upon a wave of subsequent ailments afflicting not only the body but also the mind. It is also no coincidence that precisely those people least educated in making healthy choices and concurrently least capable of making them in error are the people who undertake more dangerous paths toward long and healthy lives.
The Medicaid system reported that participants, who are generally required to be poor, were 50% more likely to be smokers (MMWR Report). And smoking appears to have the not only the largest direct fiscal effect on health costs but also the most visible warnings as to this effect. They are right on the side of the package:
"SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.
• SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.
• SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight.
• SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide."
That looks pretty concise with just the first line. Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. All of these are effectively terminal ailments, which we know to account for the largest portion of health care costs. The second line suggests that a smoker should quit, and to do so right now if possible. The third suggests that a certain vulnerable group, namely pregnant women and the associated fetuses, are at risk of still more ailments. Premature births and fetal injuries resulting in defects are accountable for all manner of chronic ailments which require long-term or even a lifetime of care. The fourth line is the most vague in its suggestion. Anyone who sits in a garage with a running car long enough can tell that carbon monoxide isn't all that fun to inhale, even if they do not know what it is. The Nazis experimented with carbon monoxide as a gas exterminator for the Jews of Europe. It was quite effective, judging by the millions who died in the Holocaust. The implicit suggestion herein is that the smoke itself is a silent killer of those around the smoker. In other words, people who don't smoke shouldn't be near the smoker by choice for a long time. Putting this into raw numbers; treating smoking illnesses, days lost from work and premature deaths caused by it, smoking accounts for at least one half of the federal deficit by itself, at least $200 billion, perhaps as much as $300 billion. One of every five deaths in this country can be attributed to smoking and it is said that smoking reduces a person's life expectancy by 14 years. Lung cancer will do that; it's around 80 to 90% fatal. Few diseases achieve this level of an effective death sentence, even in the cancerous realm. And yet smoking seems to be connected to some of the most dangerous. Pancreatic or esophageal cancers are actually somehow almost completely fatal, but fortunately less commonly contracted. Smokers will contract these types more often than other people. Additionally smoking directly suppresses the immune functions of the body, making it susceptible to infections of all types, not just respiratory ones, and therefore more frequent visits to the doctor. This must be the first target and it must be hit much harder than is being done currently.
But before we proceed to the method we find that there are other major causes of our detrimental health. We have ascertained that continuous mental disorders accounts for a significant portion of the budget. There is a root cause, either directly or indirect, for a good percent of mental defections. It's alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking has all manner of mental disorders associated with the repeated brain damage done by it. Even if it does not directly afflict the drunk, then it is the often abusive or violent natures of an alcoholic's relationships which will transfer disorders to others. Psychological disorders can emerge years later which require extensive treatment from the varieties of mental, physical, and even sexual abuse which are expounded by inebriated parents upon children or each other. The abuse can begin during pregnancy as alcohol contributes heavily to birth defects and miscarriages. Alcohol's distant cousins, narcotic drugs, are not innocent of such things either. But as they are generally illegal already, it is unlikely that any further government measures will be able to alleviate the costs caused by their abuse. Both combined are guilty of over half of all fatal traffic accidents, with alcohol alone making up almost 40% itself. Traffic accidents account for an estimated 50 billion dollars a year in the American economy merely for the treatment of immediate injuries, insurance claims, and auto repairs. This is to say nothing of the treatment of permanent injuries and loss of work due to disabilities or even temporary rehabilitation. The stereotypical alcoholic is the street wino. While this is merely blind characterization, the assertion is clear. Alcoholics, and other drug addicts for that matter, are statistically more likely to emerge from impoverished social conditions to begin with. Being unable through lack of means and education to personally combat this threat, it must be dealt with publicly. Even dealing only with the effects on traffic, such addiction is a significant problem. Taking in the whole pile of effects and the pervasive nature of alcohol as a cultural phenomenon, it must be changed.
There is finally another emerging threat to public health. It is not bird flu. It is obesity. The propensity of Americans toward a sedentary lifestyle which consists of a great buffet of snacks to consume is an overly simple explanation. What is important is that our growing national waistline will soon rival and even surpass these two champions of ill health. Billions of dollars are lost yearly in the quest for magical diets and machines to allow us to do as little as possible and still lose weight. I say lost because almost nobody actually uses these exercise machines and any diet generally does not "work" without some exercise in the first place. Almost $120 billion more is lost by the associated treatment of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other maladies commonly plaguing overweight people. Again, as before, the group most likely to be overweight is below the poverty line and the tab is picked up elsewhere. Healthy foods paradoxically are more costly than junk food. This must be changed. Poor families are more likely to be trying to work long hours to pay bills and must prepare lower quality meals, from a health perspective, or pick up fast food on the way home due to lack of time and energy. Trying to get out for a run or jog, the most basic form of vigorous exercise, is usually inadvisable in a poor neighborhood. The risk of injury from poorly maintained sidewalks and assault by random strangers is too high. As a result of these difficulties the poor are plagued with higher rates of human inflation.
America is no stranger to this growing girth, but only recently has public policy attempted to address it at all. The rate of growth is still climbing and we are already at 30% of the adult population. Combating this expanse must be done, and quickly. The immediate fatality of being overweight is not as apparent. But the fact that someone can live being so significantly distended is not a testimony to progress. It is rather an indictment for change. It is time to reduce our tolerance and sensitivity to this problem. Simply poking fun at the fat kid, as was done on the playground, does nothing productive either. But dancing around it politically does not make living with these plagues any cheaper for the rest of us or even for those afflicted.
There is hope. But it lies not in simply subsidizing the lavish and excessive lifestyle each of these evils commands. Governments have long known that if something is to be encouraged, it can be subsidized. If it is to be discouraged, it is taxed or in someway punished. This then is the role I propose for government in this great crusade. The government is not a hospital. It is not composed of doctors. Therefore it should not attempt to act as one. What it can do is to promote the general health of its citizens. This is done for the greater good of society. It is entirely just that the people who are more physically fit by virtue of a healthy lifestyle be rewarded by being freed from their bonds to those who have not this wonderful state. It is also entirely just that people who commit themselves to an excess that leads directly to adverse health conditions should be made to pay some compensation for this choice. It is necessary that it be an active choice to be healthy. No one is going to compel anyone to get up in the morning and immediately start doing pushups and run four miles. Neither shall it be compulsory to eat properly or to avoid smoking. But somewhere in the middle there is at least a satisfactory human being with a decent chance at a healthy, and hopefully happier, life.
Death is inevitable, but if we are to reduce the cost of living with it then we must make death as basic as possible. Natural deaths from advanced age or freak accidents are generally swift and tragic. The months of agony and suffering endured by a cancer patient are not. The principle I wish to apply here is simple. The basic idea of training is to set up a reward structure and a fear or punishment structure. Thus participants of unwanted excesses will be punished; while the desirous reverse healthy construct will be rewarded. The reason for this structure is simple as well. It appears clear that the people most likely to be unhealthy are precisely the same group that is unable to afford to be so poorly conditioned. Namely this is the poor, but also the elderly and the young, who are apt to be poor anyway. By protecting the poor from the self-afflicted wounds of excess, and leaving self-destruction to the less numerous rich, we would be better equipped to properly fund the remaining, and hopefully reduced, needs of health care. It remains to show how this could be done.
The punishment phase is most interesting to me, in part because in some places it has already begun. In many states, there are excise taxes on items like cigarettes. The purpose is to discourage the use and to collect monies for the indulgences of the citizens. In most states this was all that was done. However, Oregon passed a law recently which did something slightly different than the mere punishment of excess. In the war against smoking, a 15% tax was proposed. Any amount up to and over 10% has been shown to have immediate gains in converts of people who now chose to try to quit smoking out of ficsal frustration. So that was part one of the Oregon law; achieve a population who wants to quit. Part two is the "good" part. A significant portion of the money collected went to subsidize prevention and support programs to both limit future smokers through fear, and to promote quitting by making it an attractive and cheaper option. The idea was to make the quitters more permanent and to make doing so an attractive option.
Here in this law was the nature of prevention of excess. Many excesses come from people who do not care in the first place. This is true regardless of the economics involved. Rich or poor however, the disease is going to cost the same. Since the rich account for a small percentage of the population and can, if need be, pay for medical care, then the laws must unfortunately target the people who cannot pay and who are more numerous. What is necessary is twofold; one, get people to care about what they are doing by making effective and tangible change in fiscal cost. And two, educating them that either what they are doing is in someway unhealthy, or at least that there is a different and somehow better way to live healthy.
The adage goes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Therefore here is what I would propose: A significant national excise tax, something almost prohibitively high, on smoking and tobacco products, perhaps as high as 100% or even higher, probably gradually reaching that height over a decade. The money raised would go toward the immediate treatment of disease associated with these cancer devices and toward fanatical subsidizing for anti-smoking campaigns. Namely these would go to those associated with quitting, but also those which dissuade future smokers. There would be even more exposure to anti-smoking advertisements and greater inducements for the treatment of the addictions associated with it. The idea is to hit people squarely in the wallet while simultaneously offering the open doorway out of the danger zone. Under this premise the choice must be so obvious that there is little consideration for the alternatives. Smoking and illegal drugs offer little to no positive health benefits that cannot be achieved in some other fashion while at the same time offering death and serious illness to regular users. Continuing to tolerate and bear this cost is not tenable. It must be stopped or at least minimized, right now, in our lifetimes.
For drinking and for junk food, I would offer similar, although not nearly as severe, taxes. Moderate drinking has even been found to have some potential health benefits which, curiously enough, are almost opposite the negatives of heavy drinking. Whether these benefits would outweigh family histories of alcoholism or personal preference should be a personal decision, perhaps aided by consultation with a physician. Again the tax must go toward preventative programs and treatments of the associated ailments. There must be associated informative and communicative campaigns on the part of doctors themselves with the common patients who exhibit signs of substance abuse, including alcoholics, in order to find the people who crawl deeper into hiding. Alcohol or drug abuse and eating disorders which contribute to obesity are often strongly associated with severe bouts of depression as well. Dealing directly with this problem by offering more extensive psychiatric counseling cheaply to those who seek to change this unhappy circumstance must be done in concert with other means. Here again the advice and counsel of a family doctor would be useful in pointing people in this direction. Where a family doctor isn't available, generally in the poorest neighborhoods, free clinics must be placed with at least the basic services and information to attempt to promote the health of the denizens surrounding this new beacon of vitality.
The idea must be to discourage those who cannot control themselves and encourage them to seek levels of moderation. People who can contain themselves to a couple of beers now and then are not in our interest to punish if that's all they are doing. People who chug through a 12 pack in a couple of nights regularly are. People who frequent bars with the intent of achieving drunkenness are the issue. People who have a party now and then are probably not at issue. This is not Prohibition. The idea is to make it prohibitive, not prohibited. Alcohol would be treated more as a luxury for special occasions for example. Its consumption should not be taken for granted. The effect should be that some will seek help by realizing the economic damages of a habitual use. People who consequently moderate their levels of consumption will be left relatively unaffected. The net effect of reducing alcohol abuse would also have accompanying reductions in all manner of social issues not directly related to health costs; violent incidents, traffic accidents, spousal and child abuse, and mental disorders all have close ties to drunken buffoons. The reward here is less apparent. Responsible alcohol use is still legal. Anyone who can get drunk responsibly can still do so. I would be contented with that.
The same is true of food. A few chocolates are likely not going to kill someone; at least if that person isn't seriously allergic to the dark master of the American sweet tooth: the cocoa bean. But these sweets should be likewise viewed as a luxury type item. Perhaps I would waver and allow a "duty free" period surrounding traditional candied holidays like Halloween or Easter. But I can find little healthy benefit for candies and cookies other than that people, especially children, like to eat them. A similar tax should be applied to certain fast food offerings and greasy potato chips as well. No law I can conceive is going to force Americans start running around and working out. However using the "sweet" tax to subsidize things like dieticians or trainers for people interested and committed to healthier lifestyles might help with our sedentary lives. Some enlightened businesses have begun building gyms or supplying workout equipment at places of employment. The purpose is to provide free access to exercise for employees, while reducing the cost of health insurance for the employer. This sort of behavior should be rewarded and funded to make it more wide-spread. I would also propose that the tax would be used to provide subsidies to local produce farmers. Not to agricultural conglomerates as is typical now, but instead the little guys who are in competition and find themselves growing things like tobacco to make a living. The idea here would be to encourage people with substantial enough plots of land to grow some of their own produce from time to time and then to decrease the direct cost of a diet richer in fruits and vegetables. Studies show that as much as half the adult population does not consume the recommended daily 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. Following this recommendation coincidently happens to promote a healthy immune system, among other things. Eating junk food by contrast seems to promote poor dental health, diabetes, and clogging of the arteries.
As to rewards, a significant rebate and special rates should be required of a health insurance company each year to people with relatively clean bills of health. This would have the effect of greatly aiding the healthy poor as the funds returned are inherently more valuable to someone who has fewer fiscal resources. It provides an excuse and tangible reward for positive lifestyle choices, besides merely having a healthy body. I ask why not simply create a division between the groups of healthy and unhealthy where they truly and plainly exist and make the distinction a real and tangible one in the wallet.
I can conceive of no greater circle than to create a system which attempts to destroy the capacity of self-annihilation and replaces it with a better self-defence system on the individual level. This is a long-term solution we are looking for. We are not interested in robbing the piggy bank to pay for things right now. A nationalized system, even in the form of a prescriptive drug coverage plan, offers no incentive toward doctor and pharmacological competition which could naturally lower prices. It also, by itself, provides no motivation toward personal maintenance of healthy lifestyles. I do not see penultimate health care as a necessity of human life. Certainly some measures are expected in emergencies and traumatic circumstances. But it is ultimately our own personal choices in life that can lead us to have additional emergencies or to desire additional medical care. If a warning is not heeded then it is a choice to do so and a lack of desire to overcome this weakness. The sympathy of others must be stunted by the fact that a reckless lifestyle choice was made. The additional problem is that healthy people are not encouraged sufficiently by a system where the subsidizing flows from the desired to the undesirable. Nationalized health care is not the answer to naturally reducing health cost. What it does is convert the money from one source to another. If someone is physically fit and happens to be rich then it could be the intent to use this wealth to help others attain a similar constitution. But it should not be a requisite of social participation. On the other hand if people wish to make choices, then it seems fair and appropriate that we should not burden their minds with obtuse options. In fact since it is statistically likely that the "wrong" decision will be made often, it is necessary that we should ask the government to step forth and to help institutionalize the right one. Nationalized care is guilty of not achieving any of these positive enlightened aims on its own standing. A system very much like the proposal here would be needed anyway to achieve any appreciable effect on national health. Why not simply target the offenders among us, reduce them in number and effect, and make them take ownership of an often self-afflicted problem, in so doing resolve the root causes of our health epidemics.
05 June 2007
It's not definitive. But it does at least say in part that the FCC's regulation on 'offensive' language is draconian. Although the actual case seems to be based on flippant usage of offensive language, I can hope it will open the doors to a more coherent, sensible policy of censorship in general.
I love this quote:
"A year later, the FCC said the "F-word" in any context "inherently has a sexual connotation" and can be subject to enforcement action."
Not to sound stupid, but I wasn't aware that every use of the word 'fuck' is a sexual reference. In fact it is usually not used in a sexual connotation since people don't seem to know how to use it literally (I'm not even sure it has a literal use as it is a slang term). Besides that, I wasn't aware that people having sex was that offensive of a subject. Maybe we don't talk about it or shouldn't in front of little kids, but I'm not a parent so I don't care. Still, sex shouldn't be the most taboo subject in the world. I can think of a few dozen things that we do discuss or show on TV that 'offend' me on account of their rank stupidity. Personally, I'd say if people would discuss it, I don't know, perhaps they would be better at it? What a concept.
Continuing on my original point.. "....FCC's indecency test is undefined, indiscernible, inconsistent, and consequently, unconstitutionally vague." This is the big problem with censorship in general. In short the principle of censorship is based on defining what is considered offensive material or speech. But who defines this? In our country, apparently an unelected body of regulatory officials decide and appear to do so at the whim of a minority of rowdy uptight religious people. Not to put too fine a point on it, taking the religious animosity out of the question, I don't particularly care for bureaucrats making any decisions. It's not something they are very skilled or practiced at. Bureaucracy is a system, not a decision generator (that's called a coin flip). I would prefer that someone in a responsive elected office set forth a coherent policy on this. I personally would prefer almost no policy on censorship, but I can be reasonable if a parent or potential parent puts forth a good argument. Instead having government officials decide what passes the 'offensive' test and neatly sidestepping the First Amendment does not make any sense to me whatsoever.
My contention is that these words and actions exist. What we must do as responsible people is learn how and why they do, and perhaps learn better things to do instead. It isn't always necessary to drop f-bombs to get the point across, sometimes it helps though. I often recall a good line from Malcolm X at this point where Baines says "A man curses because he doesn't have the words to say what's on his mind." And I believe this is almost always true, though sometimes these words perfectly capture what is on someone's mind in a universally understood way. Teenagers (and others) seem to want to use such language anyway, so why not show how and when it is used to best effect? That would be a useful practice of regulation. It isn't prudent to pretend that these words and deeds do not exist, but rather that they do but aren't necessarily the best means available.
The final beef with censorship is that the TV, radio, and Internet have a built in parental control. It's called changing the channel. Radios have dials or buttons, TV has a big button on the remote and the net, well.. it doesn't really have anything. I guess you could use filters, but every kid who has grown up around computers knows how to bypass those. There was some talk of putting porn or other similar material into a seperate domain (like .com, .org) called .xxx. But since that would legitimize a multi-billion dollar industry based on sex and thus offend religious uptight people, that got canned. Even though it was designed to protect those religious uptight people from so-called objectionable material. In any other arena, people can make choices and choose to ignore material that they do not want to expose children or themselves to. I still think this is the most sensible form of censorship available. Even if something slips by once in a while, having adult conversations with children shouldn't be something we're adverse to. Maybe if they're treated like adults once in a while, they'll grow up faster and stop acting like spoiled brats who scream in restaurants and shopping centers. Or not.