Random thoughts, 16 July 2009

2009/07/16

Yes, that’s right…the random brain-vomit is back! Okay, in truth, it didn’t actually go anywhere; I’ve merely been trying to suppress it, in favor of less divisive posts. Unless, of course, you take issue with photographs of dogs and flowers and such, in which case, what a sad little existence you must have. Anyways, on with the randomness!

First of all, the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor continue, though somewhat surprisingly, I find myself less critical of Sotomayor than I had originally thought I might be. The content of her responses seem to indicate that her position on the law is far less partisan than perhaps either side had thought. [1] Of course, history has shown that SCOTUS justices are just as likely to ignore their partisan “patrons” as they are to heed the intentions of the latter. Being a skeptic and a cynic, part of me also wonders if her responses have been carefully manipulated to portray herself as being primarily non-partisan. I’m not entirely sure that such underhanded methods would be necessary in this case, however. On the one hand, the preliminary hearings are held before a relatively balanced panel of Senators, so it might be in her best interests to do all that she can to convince them that she is non-partisan; on the other hand, there is little doubt that she will be confirmed before the full Senate, as the Democrats hold a bulletproof majority therein, so such machinations are wasted on the full body. If she sticks to what she has stated in these hearings, then I would put her nomination and confirmation into the “win” category for our Republic. Only time will tell, of course, how she will actually perform, but for now, I think it is especially telling that the most her opposition seems to be able to conjure up are the same old statements of hers that have clearly been taken out of context. Again, we shall see how this all turns out.

Meanwhile, the President is finally doing something that he’s good at! [2] Of course, these sorts of publicity events are part and parcel of being the most highly visible member of one’s chosen party, but I find it rather amusing, considering the amount of “campaigning”, er, I mean…no, that’s what I meant, he’s been doing on behalf of his own policies. Again, one wonders if his policies truly represented “rule from the middle,” would he really need to market them so aggressively? Or, perhaps, he is just getting an early start on the campaigning for 2012? Sarah Palin will likely be there, after all, so the President will need all the support he can muster!

Speaking of the President’s policies, the healthcare debate continues unabated; it appears likely that we will have some form of government-run program, regardless of whether or not such an option is a wise one. [3] The New York Times also has an interesting commentary regarding rationed healthcare, and the author makes the argument that, in effect, we already have such a system in place. [4] I’ll concede that many of the points raised by the author appear valid, but what I think this article (and possibly many other opinions) misses is that this is not entirely the point. There is a difference between rationed care that is individually motivated (e.g. by individual patients who refuse care or do not seek it when they need it) and having Fedgov make those rationing decisions for us all. To be fair, the latter situation is little different than a health insurance company deciding that they will not cover certain treatments or procedures (in effect, also rationing care), but it should also be noted that at least some of these such procedures are voluntary ones, and not ones of necessity. Again, there is a difference between an insurance company refusing to cover the costs of, say, cosmetic surgery and those incurred from an emergency heart transplant; one could argue, of course, that the latter may only be necessary because the individual in question led an unhealthy life prior to needing the transplant, but this seems as much a failure on the part of the individual as it is a failure on the part of the healthcare system to more aggressively pursue ongoing preventative care treatments. [5] This latter situation is certainly changing as time goes on, but it will likely take awhile before societal attitudes shift along with the evolution of the medical profession; as always, societal attitudes are notoriously difficult to change in a short span of time. In any event, a large part of what worries me about government-run systems is the erosion of individual responsibility that such agencies and programs represent: each aspect of our lives that we abdicate to Fedgov intervention (or any government intervention, for that matter) brings us one step closer to the nightmare scenarios of Orwell’s (and others’) dystopian vision of the future.

For his part, the President appears willing to attempt cost cutting in Medicare spending, even though it may be tantamount to political suicide to do so. [6] While opposition to such reforms appears to be widespread, this may ultimately prove to be necessary for our Republic’s long term financial health; given that Medicare (along with the other major entitlement programs) is going broke (and has been for some time), the program will eventually require more revenue in the form of higher taxes, [7] or cost-cutting to rein in the bloated expenditures that are currently funneled to it. I’m not entirely sure that the President will be able to extract the 500 billion USD he has stipulated from Medicare savings alone, but even one fifth of this amount (100 billion USD, for those of you who ain’t so good at math) is better than nothing, and certainly not small change, even in Washington.

Meanwhile, a case of assisted suicide is apparently resurrecting the debate on euthanasia in England. [8] Of course, this debate is by no means a new one; it is at least as old as Hippocrates himself. [9] For my part, I am not entirely sure where I stand on this matter; my personal experience notwithstanding, I can certainly envision cases where I would want to end my life prematurely (mostly due to medical conditions and the like, though not because I’ve become “bored” with life). Of course, this issue often evokes moral positions, and as such, is an intensely personal matter; honestly, that is where I prefer to see this sort of issue remain. That said, it would be prudent to have regulations in place regarding who may partake of such services; I am not entirely sure that government intervention is required for such situations, however. The medical profession, for example, could self-regulate such practices. Additionally, we often speak of the life expectancy as being a measure of the advanced state of our medical science; fair enough, but sometimes, this advance in years does not bring with it an attendant high quality of life. Again, this being a subjective measure, one’s perception of quality of life is a matter of intensely personal opinion, and it would be difficult to generate a universal standard that a government agency could adopt as its yardstick. This is yet another reason why I would prefer to not see any form of government mandate regarding euthanasia; what if the government “standard” indicates that my quality of life is such that I no longer enjoy it (by their measure)? What if I disagree with that assessment? On the other hand, what if, according to the generic standard, my quality of life should be sufficient to deny me access to assisted suicide, should I wish it; if my assessment if at odds with the generic standard, whose opinion takes precedence? As I learned during my Father’s protracted terminal illness, sometimes, our focus on preserving life at all costs sometimes comes at the cost of the patient’s quality of life; yes, he might have lived several more months, or even a year or more had he sacrificed everything in pursuit of this extension, but how much are those months worth, if they are spent in perpetual agony? Again, it is difficult for those of us who are “spectators” to such situations to see beyond our own perceptions of the same, and naturally, in the case of loved ones, it is difficult to simply sit by while said individual dies. On the other hand, I also think that there is something to be said for the civility, and yes, even dignity involved in the situation described in the aforementioned article; a peaceful passing may, in some cases, be preferable to one marked with struggle and pain. As stated, I am not entirely sure where I stand on this issue were my own life in question (don’t worry, it isn’t at the moment), but as this is an issue that is highly dependent on individual beliefs and values, it strikes me as appropriate that it be decided by the individuals involved, and not by some government agency.

On a more positive note, shipping container domiciles continue to enjoy time in the public spotlight. [10][11] As I have previously mentioned, I think it is an interesting concept, but I’m not yet sure that the logistics are sufficiently advanced to allow for widespread implementation of such systems as feasible alternatives to conventional dwelling solutions. Additionally, housing is also subject to societal conventions, and, as such, it may take time for such alternative solutions to gain popularity; the current housing crisis may have a substantial impact on this attitude, but only time will tell if this will actually happen. Still, it is an interesting topic, especially for those in the building industry.

Finally, Microsoft’s new ad campaign is apparently annoying its competitors over at Apple. [12] This does seem to be an especially pertinent observation on the state of these two competitors. From my own observations, PCs tend to be cheaper than their Mac counterparts, and I have always wondered if the higher prices Apple charges are due to superior technology, or if I’m being asked to pay more simply because their products are smooth and shiny. Being mostly a pragmatist, I am more concerned with the actual performance of the technology in question than I am with how pretty it is. To be fair, I also like shiny things, but the point is that this is less important to me than the actual utility value of the product in question. I know, I’m weird like that.

Notes:

[1]: CNN article, 14 July 2009.

[2]: CNN article, 16 July 2009.

[3]: CNN article, 13 July 2009.

[4]: New York Times article, 15 July 2009.

[5]: To be fair, this does appear to be taking place in the industry – now. My doctor was actually pleased to know that I was willing to commit to a regimen of preventative medication treatment for a chronic condition I have, rather than waiting the decade (or more) it might take before the situation deteriorates to the point that I need major medical care. And no, I’m not going to tell you what this condition is; the point has not so much to do with the condition itself, but the fact that doctors are now more aggressive in wanting to pursue preventative treatments, rather than waiting for the inevitable deterioration and its attendant high expenses.

[6]: Washington Post article, 15 July 2009.

[7]: Oh yes, I know…we’ll just keep taking from the rich, because, you know. They’ve got so much money to give. Eventually, however, like all finite resources, we’ll eventually exhaust that source, and where else will Fedgov turn to find the revenue it needs, I wonder? Watch your pockets, folks…

[8]: New York Times article, 14 July 2009.

[9]: See here for some pertinent historical facts regarding euthanasia, including Hippocrates’ mention of it.

[10]: New York Times article, 15 July 2009.

[11]: See here for the Container City website; Container City is a company that produces a modular system based on shipping containers, or so I gather from a cursory overview of their website.

[12]: PC Magazine article, 16 July 2009.

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