Saturday, January 09, 2010

Morning Reading: Tea and Justice

A couple of days ago I wrote a bit about the relevance of the tea parties in the Republican Party, partially based off of David Brooks' column on the topic. NYT columnist Charles M. Blow has also joined this trend of analysis on the tea partiers, saying that "the attack on the Republican establishment by the tea party folks" represents "the desperate thrashings of a dying movement." I'm not sure that I would agree with him, although I would certainly like to. He points out that the demographics of the country are changing and that younger folks are getting more liberal, but I just wonder as compared to what, or when? Traditionally the younger generation is often the more liberal element of society, although I guess not always. Anyway, Blow's piece analyzes the goings-on in the Republican party in the view of the five stages of grief, which is interesting.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns violate the First Amendment. An interesting question-- does money = speech? Their decision could have huge ramifications in future elections, and speaking for myself I hope that the court will either tailor their decision very narrowly, or rule that the restrictions are constitutional. There is already too much money poured into campaigns, the last thing we need are less restrictive fundraising rules.

Sarah Palin is back in the press, unfortunately enough-- this time for declining an invitation to speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, widely perceived as the biggest must-attend event of the year for the conservative element. More to the point, though, even as she declined CPAC, she accepted an invitation to speak at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention. This of course has set off speculation that she is positioning herself as the movement's leading potential candidate for 2012-- speculation that I would not say is unfair. Not knowing anything about the governor's plans, it sure looks like she's trying to legitimize them and possibly take leadership. Or maybe she's just in it for the speaking fee, rumored to be in the low six figures. Incidentally, it's also worth noting that the tickets to this allegedly grassroots movement's convention are going for about $560.

Finally, thoughts and prayers to the family of Vice President Joe Biden, whose mother (Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan Biden) passed away yesterday at age 92.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Other Thoughts on Avatar

David Brooks of the New York Times did not seem to like James Cameron's Avatar quite as much as I did in my review a week ago. Or rather, he had a few more problems with the plot line. I can't say I disagree-- it's both cliched and kind of offensive-- but plot has, in my opinion, never really been James Cameron's strongest suit as a filmmaker. As I noted before (and as Brooks pointed out), it's really a rip-off of the plots of movies like Pocahontas. The plot is really just an excuse for Cameron to use a whole round-up of awesome effects and filming techniques.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tea, Anyone?

Anyone who has been paying even a little bit of attention to what's been happening on the political scene in the past year is probably aware of the rise of the so-called "Tea Party" movement, a group of conservative, semi-libertarian opponents of President Obama and the current governing elite in the United States. They first started making noise after the introduction of the economic stimulus bills, gained more notice during the health care debates of the summer, and backed a third-party Conservative candidate during the tumultuous race in the New York 23rd Congressional district.

David Brooks, one of my favorite columnists at the New York Times, has written a piece about the rise of the tea partiers, what they represent in American society, and how they could become a force to be reckoned with during the next decade (see: The Tea Party Teens). I think he will probably prove to be right, unfortunately. The tea party folks represent a loud and dissatisfied element of American society who fear that the country they love is shifting in a different (read: more centrist/leftist) direction. And they are afraid, and letting us all know.

I have a number of problems with the tea party movement. One of these is historical. They are invoking the memory of the Boston Tea Party...but the colonists weren't complaining about taxation. They were protesting taxation without representation. By those standards, only the residents of the city of Washington, DC have any ground to stand on.

My other major problem is that, as Brooks pointed out, the tea partiers are defined by what they are against. And they are against just about anything that the current administration comes up with. Rather than presenting meaningful alternatives of any variety, the movement seems to be all about complaining (often, in my opinion, on the basis of a flawed knowledge of the facts).

This movement is fascinating from an academic perspective, and it will probably wind up being quite important. It could-- and probably will-- cause the Republican Party to splinter, with parts moving to the extreme right and parts clinging to the center. But at the same time, I cannot see it becoming a viable alternative politically until someone starts coming up with ideas beyond the word "No." When that happens-- depending on how it happens-- the tea party could indeed be a force to be reckoned with, and possibly a dangerous one at that.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Morning Reading: Not Much Here

Have I mentioned how much I love the Garfield comic strips by Jim Davis?

It seems to be a bit of a slow news week, aside from the continued hullabaloo about the Christmas bombing attempt in Detroit. Janet Napolitano's been really getting slammed...which I suppose is the cost of being the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, the word of the day from yesterday was that the US Embassy in Yemen closed down due to increased threats of attack by Al Qaeda. A situation that of course bears further monitoring.

Paul Krugman has a good column out in the NY Times today, reminding us of the lessons of 1937-- that signs of short-term improvement in the economy are just that. We shouldn't take them as a surefire indication that things have turned around-- there is still work to be done. Optimistic, eh?

Much to the chagrin of my friends at myImpact, a recent study indicates that those who join up with Teach for America after graduating college don't necessarily do so out of a higher sense of civic duty. Although they often do wind up in an education-related profession, the love of teaching does not appear to translate automatically into more service-related engagement.

Yeah, not too much grabbed my attention in the news cycle so far today-- but I'm continuing to work on blogging over at Simply Millennial if you're looking for reading material. :)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year, New Blog

I decided that the start of 2010 would be an appropriate moment to start a new blog. Inspired by my perusals of Zen Habits and other simple living blogs, Simply Millennial will be my new home for thoughts on "searching for simplicity, productivity, and happiness in a Web 2.0 world." Not too much there yet, but I'll be working on it, and blogging there (and continuing to write here) regularly is one of my resolutions for the upcoming year. Check it out!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sure, maybe for YOU, Mr. Limbaugh...

On Wednesday, conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital near his hotel in Hawaii (where he has been staying for the holidays) with chest pains and a suspected heart attack. Today he was released, and announced that the US health care system works "just fine" and that he as a celebrity had received the same treatment as any other American who called 911 and got rushed into the emergency room.

I am sure that I will not be the only pundit-wannabe to point out the flaws in Mr. Limbaugh's arguments. Where to begin... First of all, perhaps he has a point in saying that he received the same treatment that anyone else would have gotten. I can't poke TOO many holes in that, because I don't know. It's very dependent on the hospital, the doctors, the nurses, and the state of the person who was calling for medical care. It's not unrealistic to think that a doctor might pay a bit more attention to Rush Limbaugh than to another Joe Schmoe...but it's not necessarily the case.

The main problem (in my estimation) is not in the treatment provided, but in how to pay for it. Admittedly, when the US system does work, it often works well. The US has some of the best trained doctors and nurses, superb medical technology and research facilities, access to the latest drugs. This does not necessarily yield results across the board, but it often makes for better outcomes. But at what cost?

Clearly Mr. Limbaugh is out of touch with the segment of the American population that lies outside the companies where employers provide health insurance; outside the bounds of Medicare or Medicaid or the military/veterans medical system; into the places where a parent has to choose between paying for family insurance at exorbitant prices and putting food on the table. For those interested in the numbers, that segment of the population hovers somewhere around 45 million Americans, a not unsubstantial amount.

Mr. Limbaugh's statement also roundly ignores those in the United States who go into debt or bankruptcy just paying their medical costs. These costs-- from the ambulance to the hospital, to ER fees, to administrative fees, to medicines-- must be paid out-of-pocket, which often forces horrible choices and can ruin a family.

In every other developed industrial democratic country in the world, this is not only considered simply unacceptable, it's considered unthinkable. People should not be forced to choose between their health and food, their health and education, their health and their job. And they should not be forced into bankruptcy to pay for their health care.

I wish Rush Limbaugh no particular harm, and I am glad he has had a positive experience with the US health care system. I too have had good experiences with the system, two of them major surgeries in 2009. But to take your individual experience with one particular hospital in the system-- especially when you ARE a celebrity and presumably either have or can pay for health insurance-- and apply it to a blanket statement declaring that the whole system works "just fine" for everybody, is foolish and appallingly small-minded. Look around. The whole US health care system cannot be (and in the minds of most sensible people, is not) accurately represented by the treatment given to one celebrity radio host in a luxurious area of Hawaii. Especially because he probably doesn't have to worry about paying for his care.

The First Post

It's a new year, and a new decade. Ten years ago, we all thought the world (or at least the technological side of it) were going to end with the Y2K issues...of which there were pretty much none. Last year, I had two surgeries, witnessed a presidential inauguration, read over fifty books for pleasure (not school), and wrote my record number of 188 blog posts. Now we're here in 2010, looking ahead. For me, the decade upcoming is one in which I will (next year) graduate from college and join the work world for sure...and in which many more things are possibilities.

Well, opening up my Google Reader this morning, as per usual I've picked out a few good articles. President Obama celebrated his New Year's Eve by hanging out with his family, going to see Avatar, and getting a lot of security reviews about the Christmas Day bombing attempt. Always fun to be the prez...especially when politicos start critiquing his governing style versus his campaign style, as they did in the "Top 10 Obama White House Surprises."

I have been increasingly impressed by David Brooks over the last year. As I've read his columns, I've grown more and more impressed by his articulate centrist positions, and his ability to analyze issues in a rational manner. Today's column is no exception, as he looks at how badly people have reacted to the Christmas Day bombing attempt by blaming the system. All systems created and maintained by human beings will at some point fail, which is a fact we need to deal with in a mature manner, rather than by playing a ridiculous blame game. Do make sure you read David Brooks's column for today, "The God That Fails."