April 25, 2005
Haven't had a chance to update lately. Still don't have the chance, but I wanted to post to explain why. Things have been very busy at my real job (you know, the one I get paid for) lately and it hasn't left me a heck of a lot of free time. Some of you know the reason for this; the rest of you will find out on May 12.
April 18, 2005
I seek a challenge
As a way of exercising the ol' noodle, I'd like to try to defend a position with which I disagree. I'm taking suggestions for topics; if you have a good idea, please post a proposition I despise in the comments and I'll do my best.
April 15, 2005
The right to privacy
So apparently, according to the Supreme Court, we have a Constitutionally-protected right to privacy. This right doesn't appear in the actual Constitution, mind, but it's there just the same. The founders surely meant to include it, they must've just forgotten. It's in one of those penumbra thingies.
And this right to privacy is broad indeed. Because we have this right, neither the federal government nor the state governments have the authority to proscribe or even limit abortion, nor to enact laws regarding sexual practices, nor, if you listen to some judges, to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.
I was thinking about this right to privacy today, as I was busy filling out detailed forms informing the government where and how I earned every penny of my salary, which stocks I've bought and sold, how much interest I paid on my mortgage, which charitable organizations I've supported, and how much money I've won gambling.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) apparently thinks that President Bush's proposal to allow workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in personal accounts is an impeachable offense. I wasn't aware that coming up with a political idea with which one disagrees is a "high crime or misdemeanor", but obviously I don't have the finely-honed political mind of a Rangel.
Rangel also played his well-worn race card, calling the struggle to ensure that Americans continue to have no personal stake in their own Social Security taxes "not only a civil-rights fight, but a fight for America." And of course there was the obligatory comparison with Dr. King's march from Selma.
Would anyone care to wager that Rangel's intemperate remarks will receive a lot less media attention than the remarks by some Republicans calling for the impeachment of judges for genuine abuses of power?
April 12, 2005
The basic issue of holding up judgeships is the issue before us, not the qualifications of judges, which we can always debate. The problem is it takes so long for us to debate those qualifications. It is an example of Government not fulfilling its constitutional mandate because the President nominates, and we are charged with voting on the nominees.
The Constitution does not say if the Congress is controlled by a different party than the President there shall be no judges chosen. But that is sometimes how the majority has functioned.
I also plead with my colleagues to move judges with alacrity—vote them up or down. But this delay makes a mockery of the Constitution, makes a mockery of the fact that we are here working, and makes a mockery of the lives of very sincere people who have put themselves forward to be judges and then they hang out there in limbo.
--Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, March 7, 2000.
There are still three very important nominees reported last year to be taken up. The distinguished majority leader and the distinguished minority leader had a colloquy last November 10 talking about them. I fully expect them to be voted up or down.
We should do our constitutional duty and vote up or vote down, not vote maybe. I am glad the majority leader has agreed to bring them to a Senate vote before the Ides of March. The nominees deserve to be treated with dignity and dispatch, not delayed for years.
The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said:
Some current nominees have been waiting a considerable time for a Senate Judiciary Committee vote or a final floor vote ... The Senate is surely under no obligation to confirm any particular nominee, but after the necessary time for inquiry, it should vote him up or vote him down.
Which is exactly what I would like.
--Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, same day
It is time for the Senate to stop abusing its power over nominations. Over 200 years ago, the Framers of the Constitution created a system of checks and balances to ensure that excessive power was not concentrated in any branch of government. The President was given the authority to nominate federal judges with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The clear intent was for the Senate to work with the President—not against him—in this process. In recent years, however, by refusing to take timely action on so many of the President’s nominees, the Senate has abdicated its responsibility. By doing so, the Senate has seriously undermined the judicial branch of our government. This kind of partisan stonewalling is irresponsible and unacceptable. It’s hurting the courts, and it’s hurting the country.
--Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA, same day
I say to my good friends, the distinguished gentlemen from New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, go to hell.
(Hat tip to Power Line for the first two quotes)
April 11, 2005
The trouble with health care
I'm a big fan of Ruben Bolling's comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug. Sure, his politics are way, way, way to the left of mine, but unlike certain other lefty cartoonists I could mention, Bolling a) is a highly talented artist, b) is wickedly funny, and c) isn't too much of a raving partisan to slam his own side once in awhile. For example, he's justly ridiculed the lynching of Trent Lott and those who claim the President should have been able to prevent 9/11 based on the PDB he received. (Links require paid subscription.)
I mention this because Bolling's comic of July 28, 2001 is a pretty good illustration of what's wrong with the health care industry in the United States and why we face ever-increasing costs and premiums.
(I assume that reprinting a four-year-old comic to discuss its political ramifications is a legitimate and unobjectionable fair use. If either Bolling or his syndicate has a problem with this, please contact me.)
Bolling hits closer to the truth than he might realize here; just look at what he compares health insurance to. A gym membership is not insurance. A buffet admission is not insurance. An airline ticket is not insurance. A parachute is most definitely not insurance. And neither, for that matter, is health insurance.
What we call "health insurance" isn't "insurance" in any meaningful sense of the word. Insurance is a device for hedging risk. Going to the doctor once a year to get poked, prodded, and have blood drawn isn't a risk; it's a regular recurring expense. It's something to be budgeted for, not something to be insured against.
Today's health care system, in which employers routinely provide employees with free medical care, is an artifact of government interference with the free market. In August 1971, Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls on the American economy in an effort to stem inflation. As with most governmental interventions in the marketplace this was a dismal failure and inflation went on to triple in three years, but during this period companies were faced with the problem of attracting quality employees without being able to compete on price. They solved the problem by competing on benefits, offering attractive health care packages in lieu of the higher salaries which were now against the law. The wage controls went on to the well-deserved dustbin of history, but the culture of employer-provided health care remains.
This health "insurance" system has the effect of totally divorcing demand from price. Just like the buffet line Bolling compares it to, consumers can consume all they want without seeing any increase in marginal cost. But while buffet food is cheap, doctor salaries and prescription drugs are dear indeed. The result of this distortion of the free market is to wildly inflate demand, driving real costs through the roof.
In the spirit of Bolling's analogy, I'd like to draw my own hypothetical comparison, this time to something that really is insurance. Unfortunately I'm not a good artist and I can't draw an amusing comic, so I'll have to make do with text.
IF AUTO INSURANCE WORKED THE WAY HEALTH "INSURANCE" WORKS...
- It would cover routine maintenance. Get your oil changed as often as you want, have your tires rotated weekly, and send the bill to someone else.
- It would cover diagnostics. If your car is making a funny rattle, or it seems a little sluggish in the winter, or you're merely pathologically lonely and enjoy the company of mechanics, just bring it in, and State Farm picks up the tab.
- If the insurance-paid diagnostics fail to discover a problem that later becomes worse, you can sue the mechanic and hit the jackpot.
- Because of the above, all diagnostic inspections would involve total disassembly of the vehicle and examination of every single part under a microscope. The cost for such a labor-intensive procedure would fall on the insurer.
- If a repair is botched despite the good faith best efforts of the mechanic, it's back to court for another jackpot.
- Not only would insurance cover gasoline, but there would be little or no difference in cost to the consumer between self-serve regular and white-gloved full-service premium.
- If somebody invented a new gasoline additive that marginally improved performance but cost $100 per gallon, all existing insurance policies would be required by law to cover it.
- If a person didn't have auto insurance, but his car threw a connecting rod and cracked a cylinder, mechanics would be required by law to give him a new engine for free. The cost would be passed on to consumers through their insurers.
Imagine what would happen to auto insurance premiums in the above scenario, and you start to get an idea of why health care in this country is so costly and is rapidy getting moreso.
April 08, 2005
Mind you, I think that Daniel Libeskind and David Childs's Freedom Tower is... eh... suboptimal. Oh, what the hell, it's hideous. I preferred Libeskind's original design, but I still wasn't terribly enamored of it. And the use of empty superstructure to create the "world's tallest building" is just plain bah. We're Americans. We don't need to cheat to set records.
No, the design that should have been selected, and whose nonselection constitutes a crime, is THINK design's Sky Park. I was in love with this design from the moment I saw it. It has everything.
A beautiful elevated garden, with tasteful memorials. A full street-level retail space on a newly revived street. The perfect symbolism of replacing the Twin Towers with three similar-yet-better buildings. Just look at them... shimmeringly transparent, revealing the solid core of the structural supports beneath, with three different designs in light and dark wending their way to the top. And one of those three buildings would legitimately be the tallest building in the world. The price tag for Sky Park would have been much lower than Freedom Tower's will prove to be.
What a waste! To think, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for this soaring work of art to be erected, and it's going to pass by. I dream about what might have been, and weep.
The Parable of Joe Demmy
Joe Demmy is a junior executive working for the Acme Corporation. Acme is a large conglomerate, with its fingers in a lot of pies. Joe is pretty satisfied at Acme, but he doesn't much like the corporate leaders, whom he views as incompetent and corrupt. Despite this, however, a majority of shareholders has voted to retain the board and the CEO.
One day, Joe learns that the directors of Acme are considering investing in a new type of widget. Joe absolutely hates this idea. He thinks that the new widget would be a terrible mistake for the company, that it would be doomed to marketplace failure, that it would drain the corporate coffers and distract it from investing in more worthwhile ventures. Being a conscientious employee, Joe makes sure that everybody is aware of his dissent. He sends out emails. He carefully marshals his arguments and makes them to anybody in earshot. He loudly and repeatedly makes clear that, in his opinion, proceeding with the new widget would be a grievous error.
But Joe is, after all, only a junior executive, and despite his counsel and after much deliberation, the board and the CEO decide to proceed with the new widget. Defeat, far from discouraging Joe, spurs him to new heights of action. While preparations are being made for the widget's manufacture and marketing, Joe tells the media what a boneheaded blunder Acme is making. He confidently predicts failure, and disaster for his employer. When the widget goes into production, and Acme's marketing division is trying to sell it, Joe tells everybody what a rotten widget it is, and fundamentally flawed. When some of the widgets turn out to have a manufacturing defect, necessitating a partial recall, Joe howls his I-told-you-sos at the top of his lungs. When good news comes in about the widget's strong sales and very positive customer satisfaction ratings, Joe is mute. At every step of the way, Joe exerts himself to the utmost to thwart the widget's success. As Acme slowly grows to dominate the widget market and evidence accumulates that the board's decision was maybe not so dumb, Joe sulks in a kind of grim funk, muttering about how certain he is that any day now disaster will strike. At no time does Joe show any sign of getting behind a decision that, after all, is not his to make, nor of biting back his dissatisfaction for the sake of company unity.
You're Joe's manager. You're writing his annual review. What kind of score do you give him for company loyalty?
The Republican Dictionary
The Nation is currently taking submissions for a "Republican Dictionary." Many of the current entries, in my prejudiced opinion, are rather subpar and don't read like dictionary entries at all. Examples:
ACCOUNTABILITY, n. Buck? What buck? (Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT)
FOX NEWS, n. Faux news. (Justin Rezzonico, Keena, NH)
TORTURER, n. 1) White House Counsel. 2) Attorney General. (Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT)
Nevertheless, the project seems like a good idea, so I created my own submission, although thanks to a clerical error I accidentally drew mine from the Democratic Dictionary instead:
U·NI·LAT·ER·AL, adj.: 1. Triacontapartite. "The thirty of us went on a unilateral excursion to Denny's." 2. Without the approval of France and/or Germany. "Every nation on Earth with the exception of France ratified the treaty, making it unilateral."
April 06, 2005
Rest in peace, Isaac
On April 6, 1992, thirteen years ago today, one of the finest minds of the 20th century was taken from us.
Isaac Asimov is primarily known to the masses as a science fiction writer, and while he was indeed a pioneer of the genre and author of many groundbreaking works, it does him a disservice to stick him in that niche. His body of nonfiction is even more impressive than his work in science fiction, and he touched on every subject imaginable. Reading an Asimov essay can teach you about the discovery of vitamins, Lavoisier's explosion of the phlogiston theory, the innovations of the Hundred Years War, or how the parable of the Good Samaritan has been tragically misunderstood. Whenever I'm in a used bookstore, I eagerly scan their inventory of Asimov to see if they have anything I don't. His essays are almost without exception entertaining, accessible, and informative beyond belief. I owe a large part of my knowledge to him. He wasn't a discoverer, an inventor, or a theorist, but what an educator!
Politically, Asimov and I would not have gotten along, but he came by his somewhat authoritarian beliefs out of a true conviction of what would be best for the world, and I can forgive him for that. It is a true tragedy that he didn't live to see the Information Revolution, for it would have delighted him and provided him with a whole body of new material to work with.
While undergoing heart surgery in 1983, Asimov received blood that was tainted with HIV. He died from complications relating to AIDS... but he kept his condition secret to the end, to avoid panic over the safety of the blood supply. Goodbye, Dr. Asimov. I miss you.