Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Secondhand Perspective on a Health Care Crisis

I was at my mechanic today, chatting up with the owner's daughter, only to learn the owner had been hospitalized today for a diabetic condition. Turns out the owner did not have health insurance, as the soaring costs of premiums had resulted in a tab of $2,400 a month for the four employees in the business. Why? Insurance companies do not want to accept customers with pre-existing conditions, and hence such patients are forced to fork over exorbitant premiums to participate in plans will allow them in.

Here is a businessman whose family has run this shop for decades, long enough to qualify to be a historical feature of the city. And yet we have a health care system than endangers the well-being of such a model citizen! For politicians to pretend that there isn't a crisis is disingenous, and while I don't believe in a huge government solution like some, government's got to be part of the solution.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tough Questions on Free Speech

It was a remarkable week for the idea of freedom of expression, and yet you saw precious little analysis of some of the tough questions surrounding free speech in the media. This should be a week we're all contemplating the limits of this issue, so I thought I'd open the floor to thoughts.

The first case involved a student who broke protocol and jumped ahead of a line after question time to ask a question of Senator John Kerry. While the senator appeared to be willing to answer the question, police attempted to escort the student out, and in what seems to me like antics for the camera, the student resisted and was Tasered.

The second case was an MIT student who wore what looked like a bomb under her dress to the airport to pick up her boyfriend, when she was instead picked up and arrested.

The third case is the brouhaha over Iranian President Ahmedinijad's scheduled talk at Columbia.

Depending on your political persuasion, some of these are slam dunks. Well, I beg to differ.

Start with the MIT student. It's obvious she was stupid to arrive in an airport posing what could be perceived as a security threat, and it's obvious that the TSA were quite right in arresting her. What we do need to think about is how far we'll take that argument in the future. A friend of mine told me some time back about a "Politically Incorrect" Halloween party they had, where one of the characters was dressed as a suicide bomber. May that be perceived as a threat when such a person walks on the street? My own university had an issue with a student facing civil and administrative penalties for practicing for a play with a fake gun.

My view on the Tasering of the student is that it was quite the right course. After all, here was a student who was being disruptive to an event and resisting eviction. But even that isn't as cut-and-dry in my mind. After all, this was a public university, and it's certainly worth discussing how appropriate it is to attempt to censor or regulate speech in such an institution.

Then to Mr Ahmedinijad. On the one hand, this is obviously a guy who could be our #1 enemy, and we are providing him with a platform for propoganda. And yet, how could we censor a man who we are critical of because he's against free societies. I actually applaud Columbia for negotiating the terms so that the Iranian president will have to answer any questions from the audience - sometimes the best disinfectant is sunlight!

But those are my views. You may have others, and I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Opinion of the Day: Ritzholtz on Social Networking

I'm waiting for a model to finish running, and need something to keep me awake, so here was an interesting piece from Barry Ritzholtz on why to pass on social networking sites. For full disclosure, I do participate in social networking sites.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Photo of the Day: China Congestion

Quote of the Day: Hamburger Offsets

Environmental humorist Lou Bendrick on the idea of buying carbon offsets to compensate for the global warming pollution caused by our actions:
You get to sin, but you get to buy your way out of it. It's sort of silly. It's like buying tofu offsets to be able to eat a hamburger.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rant of the Day: "Self Help"

One of my favorite places in the world is a bookstore, but if there's one gripe I have, it's the section titled 'Self-Help'. I mean, don't get me wrong, I have no problem with books from Dr Phil being labeled such, but the issue with this big sweep was that all manner of books are tagged as such. So you read a book on improving your productivity, getting more from life, being a better person ... Self-Help, Self-Help and Self-Help.

Now, I'm not normally one for tags. Readers of my ramblings know I'm not particularly PC. But I do object with the self-help tag. It suggests people who read these books are somehow flawed. Well, it's true, we're all flawed and imperfect, but that leads me to my gripe. By using a demeaning term as "self-help", it drives so many people from seeking to become better people. And thus, we have a society filled with people who are convinced they are perfect; that seeking to discover your flaws and insecurities is somehow an indication that you aren't quite right ... I've even had people brag about how they haven't changed since they were a teenager! Well, newsflash: if you aren't changing, you aren't growing!

A Lesson in Grit

Here's something you don't find a lot of on this blog - a personal story. I try to stay away from them, partly because I prefer my deepest emotions, thoughts and insecurities are better a private affair, and also because I think they have no meaning or relevance in another's life beyond watching a freak show. This time however, I was moved by the grit of an elderly lady to make my reflections public.

I injured my thumb last Saturday with an embarrassing fall on a dance floor caused by way too many inebriating fluids, as I took down a rather attractive lady who has innocently mistaken my newfound confidence as a measure of competence. The thumb swelled up, and as I struggled with the pain all night, I was in a rather whiny mood Sunday morning. I was staying with a friend's grandparents, and his grandmom did what all grandparents do - try to make me feel better both about the injury and the incident that caused it.

A little later though, she herself took a fall, and came crashing down. She was unable to get up, and we called the paramedics for help. As we waited for relief, here was on old lady with artificial hips, who could barely move her legs and who was clearly in pain, still laughing and joking, teasing me for rubbing off on her, and being so incredibly jovial. Through it all, not once did she complain, beyond calling herself a little silly; there were no screams of pain, and in fact there was a deliberate effort to conceal any she may have been feeling.

I wish I could say I was transformed instantly. Chances are I still will be a wimp the next time I injure myself. Maybe someone should show me this post when I do.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Say No to Biofuel

It's 3 am here at Portland airport, and even this cup of java can't trigger a very eloquent essay, but on my drive here, I heard a story I felt compelled to post here. Turns out rising commodity prices have caused rising pasta prices in Italy. Add that to the soaring prices of corn that affect the poor in Latin America, and you have a problem. While biofuel is not the only problem, this story emphasizes why biofuel is a sinful fuel, maybe even more than the much maligned petroleum sources.

Seriously, if you truly care about global warming, skip the touted technological solutions and focus on good ol' conservation. That's not to say solar and wind and whatever else don't have a place in society - just that it's silly to think they'll make a big dent in our "dirty" energy consumption or greenhouse gas loads any time soon.