Random thoughts, 12 June 2009

2009/06/12

First, a few thoughts regarding the health care overhaul proposals now under discussion in Congress. There appear to be several key questions from Democrats in Congress regarding the President’s specific goals for the overhaul. [1] I find myself unsurprised by this, given that the President’s SOP over the past few months has quite clearly involved supplying grandiose plans, while sidestepping that whole pesky business of details. As I have mentioned before, my chief concerns about any public plan are the potential cost of such a program, and the potential (and likely) inefficiency of any government agency that might be created to administer said program. And do not kid yourselves: there will be a new bureaucracy to handle this program, and it will cost money to operate – costs that will be in excess of whatever costs are required to cover the expenses of those who participate in the program. What worried me about McCain’s proposal to end the tax exemption on employer-paid health care premiums (which may be resurrected by the Congress) is that this effectively amounts to a penalty for those who choose private options (if such options still exist); while it is common to think of these employer payments as expenses on the company’s balance sheet (and they are), these payments are, in fact, part of the compensation employers provide for their employees. Strictly speaking, the individual employees still “pay” these premiums, just not on an individual basis. Adding taxes to these payments means that private plans will effectively become more expensive; one wonders if this will make it less likely that employers would be willing to participate in such programs, as a result. [2] I also worry that the new program will be no more efficient (or even less so) than current insurance methods. While the President and his sycophants are quick to assure the public that a government-run option will not amount to rationed health care, bureaucrats making health care decisions, rampant inefficiency, etc., the Federal government’s track record in administrative matters has not been stellar, particularly during most of the 20C. Maybe this time, things will be different; I, however, have long been out of the habit of taking optimistic claims on face value. As with the bulk of the President’s grandiose schemes, I suppose we will find out soon enough what the consequences will be. The hard way.

In other domestic news, the administration continues its efforts to assure us that they do not want to unduly influence the financial markets, that they do not want to replace the free market with a government-run economy, and that the government only intervenes when absolutely necessary. [3] One wonders if they have included the dismal performance of the ARRA ’09 in their calculations. Granted, the primary “selling” point of ARRA ’09 is that the market would not survive were it not for the lifeline thrown to it by the swift and decisive Federal intervention, but again, the market seems to be handling itself more or less okay all by its lonesome. Additionally, the President’s own optimistic estimates of the job savings resulting from ARRA are clearly more of a pipe dream than a realistic assessment of the situation. I suppose the administration will continue to push back the timetable for ARRA results such that when the economy has started recovery in earnest, they will be able to claim that ARRA was instrumental in said recovery. It won’t make such a claim true, but I suspect that administration officials will give themselves a collective pat on the back, nonetheless. Meanwhile, we taxpayers are out 787 billion USD that will need to be repaid. Somehow.

And continuing the political circus, Sarah Palin is in the news again, this time, reacting with hyperbole to a joke from David Letterman, which, to be fair, was in rather bad taste. [4] It is one thing for her to take issue with rudeness directed at her family (which, to my mind, is not an unwarranted position for her to take), but to argue that his comment amounts to tacit acceptance of statutory rape, and humorizing of the same, is a bit of a stretch, at best. To be fair, Letterman did not identify which of her daughters at whom his comments were directed, but he clarified his position and admitted his mistake. Is this not enough? I suppose not, given that the National Organization of Women has also joined in the overreaction. Alas.

In other domestic news, prior comments from Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor have some interesting implications regarding her stance on affirmative action. [5] Her argument seems to be that even though her actual merits were not sufficient to grant her entrance to the schools she eventually attended, affirmative action made it all better by allowing a sub-standard student to attend a school that would not otherwise have accepted said student. And this is a good thing? What about a more meritorious student who was subsequently denied admission because of this situation? I seem to recall this being one of the chief complaints leveled at affirmative action programs, specifically, that it actively denied opportunities to the deserving so that we could forcibly promote an agenda centered on “diversity” and its advantages. And Sotomayor seems to think that individuals of minority background should not be as concerned about their own abilities as they should be about pursuing coerced diversity; meanwhile, she also appears to disregard the legitimacy of test scores and such as an accurate indicator of individual merit. I will freely admit that academic tests are not the only means by which one may assess one’s merits, but this does not invalidate them as one of many means of making such assessments, nor does it mean we should simply ignore them to satiate our interest in pursuing a political agenda. And to argue that these tests are “culturally biased?” I suppose we will soon be arguing that there can be no objective measure of intelligence at all, that all measurements are irreparably biased, and that we should sweep them all aside. What good have standards ever done us, right? I think I’ll go bang my head against a wall for a few hours. That would likely be less aggravating than this.

And lest you prejudge my statements, keep in mind that I make them as an individual of minority background, myself. I have always consciously avoided taking handouts based solely on said status, however, as I felt that doing so rewards opportunism alone, and not truly meritorious qualifications. [6] That’s the way my siblings and I were raised. But I suppose that naysayers could simply argue that such parenting techniques are flawed, ignorant, and close-minded, and that, rather than focusing on improving our individual talents, our parents should have focused on indoctrinating us with a firm belief in the value of coerced diversity and instilling in us a strong sense of the entitlements our minority status should grant to us, simply for having the good fortune of being born as such. [7] Well, everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course – even the idiots of our society. Now, of course, to be fair to Judge Sotomayor, it is not entirely certain that her opinions in this regard will have any effect on her judgments in SCOTUS cases (if at all), so in some ways, this is not particularly relevent to the confirmation process. On the other hand, it always annoys me to hear such opinions from minority spokespersons who are clearly more interested in plugging the intangible “merits” of own minority status, and not on rational means of improving their lot in life, such as, say, improving academic performance. Or reinforcing the importance of stable and supportive family environments. Or instilling one’s children with a strong work ethic and a sense of pride in performing such work as one is able to do. The list goes on…

Regarding international affairs, it appears that Iranian voter turnout is extraordinarily high at the polls today. [8] This, of course, is good news for the people of Iran. One wonders, of course, if the vote counting procedure will be free from behind-the-scenes manipulations by TPTB, and/or whether or not the existing government will even bother to abide by the results of the elections, if said results do not reinforce their power. I hope for the best, of course, but keep in mind that the various Soviet satellite states often held “democratic” elections which were, in fact, anything but. To be fair, at least the Iranians allowed opposition candidates to appear on the ballots; this alone, however, does not guarantee that the ruling class will honor any results that favor said opposition. We shall see.

I also encountered a commentary focused on spurring honest internal debate about the future direction of Israel. [9] I am not well versed in the intricacies of regional politics over there, but it is an interesting read, nonetheless. As I have mentioned before, it is probably not strategically advisable for Israel to cede all of the West Bank territory to the Palestinians, as the remaining northern and southern regions of Israel would be left connected by a “bridge” that is a little more than 20 miles wide, at most. Given the history of warfare that Israel has suffered over the past six decades of its modern existence, this would be a dangerous strategic position for them to willingly accept. There are also questions about what to do with non-citizen populations within their borders, which, in an abstract sense, could just as easily apply to our own situation with illegal immigrants and whether or not we should extend the privileges of citizenship to non-citizen criminals. Clearly, we should be asking ourselves some of these very same questions, especially if we are interested in an honest, rational assessment of our current situation. We want that, right?

Meanwhile, the WHO has officially declared the Influenza A H1N1 outbreak to be a pandemic. [10] Time to panic, right? Not really. As mentioned before, the speed with which the virus spreads is impressive, and is probably the primary factor in calling the outbreak a pandemic; the mortality rate, however, remains quite low, even in less developed nations. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies have been hard at work trying to develop a working vaccine for the virus; [11] given the low mortality rate, however, it does not appear that exceptionally large quantities of said vaccine will be needed. Still, one can never be too prepared for the unknown.

On a completely unrelated note, shipping container homes are again in the news. [12] One of these days, I intend to do a brief analysis on the viability of the concept, if applied on a large scale (hopefully, though I make no promises). I have seen such proposals before, and I suspect that they will become more common as we move towards a more energy-efficient national consciousness. [13] Too bad we didn’t quite get there after the oil scare in the 70s. Ah well, better late than never, eh? There are also some downsides to using shipping containers, but I’ll save those thoughts for later; being a part of the building industry, if I start in on this matter, I may not stop after only a few brief comments. Still, it is interesting, and certainly a creative solution to our energy consumption issues, particularly if the figures recorded in the article are accurate.

Finally, for today’s WTF?!? moment, apparently, there are yellow lobsters out there. [14] Yellow. Sadly, we will not find out how tasty (or not) such specimens are. Still, it is rather interesting; I knew that there were blue lobsters out there, but I was not aware of alternate colors such as this. Neat.

Notes:

[1]: CBS News article, 12 June 2009.

[2]: The really, really cynical side of me wonders if this is not the point of such a program. I hope that this is not the case, but with those big-government advocates running the show, it is difficult to avoid this sort of conclusion.

[3]: Wall Street Journal Market Watch article, 12 June 2009.

[4]: Associated Press article, 12 June 2009.

[5]: CNN article, 11 June 2009.

[6]: In all fairness, I cannot claim that my minority status played no part in whatever accomplishments I may have had throughout my life; I am not privy to the decision-making processes involved in my college acceptances or those of my previous employers. I can say with certainty, however, that I have never used said status as a selling point, for my part; I have always insisted that whatever it is for which I am applying, my skills alone should be the primary determining factor. All other considerations are secondary, at best.

[7]: Much as it pains me, I am well aware of the shortcomings of the written word in some regards. Thus, for those of you who missed the obvious tone of these statements: sarcasm intended.

[8]: Los Angeles Times article, 12 June 2009.

[9]: Jerusalem Post article, 11 June 2009.

[10]: CNN article, 12 June 2009.

[11]: Associated Press article, 12 June 2009.

[12]: CNN article, 12 June 2009.

[13]: Note that I do make a distinction between energy efficiency, and Environmentalism™ as a whole. The former has very substantial strategic implications for us, and is thus very important; the latter involves hugging trees and preserving the habitats of animals that are incapable of adapting to changing circumstances, and is thus substantially less important to me.

[14]: CNN article, 12 June 2009.

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2 Responses to “Random thoughts, 12 June 2009”

  1. MI Says:

    1. That there can be no objective measurement of intelligence is a notion that often emanates from the left.

    2. Do you have any evidence that Sotomayor’s affirmative action views are reflected in her judging (e.g., citations from opinions she wrote or joined in)?

    3. My solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem remains, “Give War a Chance”.

    4. The performance of ARRA doesn’t seem terribly relevant to the question of whether the governmental interventions of the recent crisis will become permanent fixtures of our economic scene. While I’d prefer to see some of these disappear ASAP (e.g., TARP; the Fed’s expanded balance sheet; government ownership of GM/Chrysler), it’s not clear that now’s the best time to eliminate such things.

    5. A proper comparison of the energy consumption associated w/ shipping container homes would consider the energy required to construct conventional housing as well as that required to melt down a shipping container.

    • seeker312 Says:

      1. Yeah, I know. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop complaining about it.

      2. No, and as I mentioned above, this does not necessarily mean that her views will even have any effect on her judgements. Mostly, I was just annoyed by her statements, and given that she will likely be a role model for the segments of the population that the President was trying to appease (particularly if she is confirmed as a SCOTUS justice), it is that much more annoying. The last thing we need is yet another “role model” trying to convince the public that lowering or eliminating our standards is the only way to achieve the “dream” of diversity.

      3. “…war is not merely a political act, it is a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” One wonders if our modern society has grown too “evolved” to understand this…

      4. You’re right…I just like complaining about ARRA, particularly when one compares its performance thus far to the lofty language and goals that were used to sell the package. This is not so much a matter of saying we should get rid of it, as it is pointing out that it could have been much better, had it been structured differently at inception. Now that we’re stuck with what we’ve got, I’m still going to complain about it.

      5. See, this is why I haven’t tried doing this yet; the energy cost for constructing conventional housing is a complex issue, and difficult to quantify, given the numerous trades and materials involved. To some extent, it is also disingenuous to compare the two (conventional vs. shipping containers) as an either/or condition, since many of the same materials and trades would be involved in making a shipping container a occupiable space. Consider, for example, that shipping containers are simply corrugated sheetmetal boxes; they have no insulation, no electricity, plumbing, or HVAC services, no finished interior surfaces, etc. All of these would need to be supplied to make the space useable for housing; the same needs are addressed in conventional housing. Additionally, it may be more expensive (at least initially) to do this in a shipping container, as it is currently a non-standard practice. Some of this could be alleviated by assembling the units in factories, but since such factories are not widespread, either, it would still be expensive as a startup, and such startup costs would be passed on to the consumer. And while it could be conveniently shipped to most locations around the country, this would also entail substantial energy costs, given that it is a nine thousand pound steel container (and that’s minus any interior service and finish materials). I don’t doubt that it has the potential to become a cottage industry, but it is probably not nearly as ideal as the article presents – not now, anyways.


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