27 August 2009

Personally Responsible

Providing America with equal coverage in health care was the topic of the editorial in the Rutland Herald on Aug. 8, 2009 titled "All together now." One question the editorial presented is how President Obama is to persuade the majority of Americans who are not facing a health care crisis to support reform of the system for those who are in "dire straits." President Obama's answer is to show the majority of people that they too are in "dire straits" in numerous ways.

This approach attempts to appeal to citizens' self-interest and bring them into such a low mental state of thought to blur the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation is better off than many imagine, those whose visions have been potentially corrupted by President Obama's previous reform tactics. These tactics are part of the problem. Lowering America's mentality to bring America into this state of mind of helplessness has reflected in our stock markets and only foresees other future effects.

President Obama wants to create this unrealistic health reform in which all the people are covered all the time. Unfortunately, this is not the case, nor will it ever be. Close to 47 million people in the United States are uncovered by health insurance. However, about 250 million people do have coverage and they have worked hard for it. Why should the majority of the people care about the 47 million who are not? What is in it for them? This is the same question that President Obama is trying to answer. Although his intentions are credible, the approach has many challenges that require careful thought.

As a president, President Obama needs to look out for our nation on a whole and accept the fact that not all the people can be equally covered all the time. Yes, the health care reform is in the interest of each individual, but if people do not comply within the circumstances of reform, a reform cannot exist. This situation needs to be looked upon as an issue of balance and how to balance the needs of 250 million people to those of 47 million. The desirable balance is a point that provides the 47 million people with some form of health care while not sacrificing the quality of care of those currently covered or raising unacceptable cost to implement these laudable goals.

Although the editorial attempts to frame the issue to look after individuals who are vulnerable to disaster, it fails to touch upon the dimension of personal responsibility, a core component of our system. Personal responsibility has created a huge value by harnessing the individual drives of individual spirits. But in an effort to create broad-band coverage, President Obama is removing trust in America's system, making it only possible with more government aid. With that removal, also removed is the individual accountability factor needed to drive our future society.

Surely, this requires robust debate and deserves thoughtful discussions. Just because the Democrats have near absolute control until the next election is not a legitimate reason to rush into this. It is possible to reform our health care system, but we need to do it with the right intentions.

The intentions should include providing America with better quality and pleasure of life, not only for sheer change sake. President Obama's campaign platform included change from Republican and President Bush's policies and is almost cliché now; it is not a race to win any longer. Successful change may not be possible. However, if it is, we need carefully managed plans for success. But then again, change for change's sake has never been proven to be sustainable or always led to good outcomes.



There are many letters to the editor that get me all fired up. They inflame my liberal sensitivities, they inflame my inner grammar nazi, or they inflame that small part of me that optimistically hopes most people are rational by proving once more that most people are actually quite ignorant and in their ignorance just plain stupid. This letter didn’t do any of those things. It did touch upon a topic for which I have very mixed feelings: personal responsibility.

Personal responsibility is supposedly one of those American Ideals that makes America America. I can’t find any fault with being personally responsible for yourself and your well being, to the best of your abilities. However, I dislike how so many people fall back on this idea of personal responsibility to suggest that a person deserves any misfortune she suffers. The author of today’s letter uses personal responsibility to make it acceptable that 47 million people don’t have health care. He does so with a sentence that often inflames me: “However, 250 million people do have coverage and they have worked hard for it.” (emphasis mine). That seems to be the sentence of choice among those who argue against anything that would provide a boost for those who are less fortunate. They have worked hard for it. The underlying statement being, those who are less fortunate haven’t worked hard. In this case, the author is clearly saying the 47 million people without health insurance haven’t worked hard.

Surely that can be the only reason a person doesn’t have health care, because she hasn’t worked hard. While I understand this is obviously true, I’m going to ask you to indulge in a short foray into reality. I’m willing to bet one of the largest reasons a person doesn’t have health care is because her employer doesn’t provide it. I’d like to give you two specific examples.

Person M works full time for a small business in the agriculture field. The business doesn’t actually do anything traditionally considered agriculture, but because of some special rules is allowed to declare itself an agriculture business. M has worked full time at this business for at least 10 years. Previously, she worked at several other businesses in the same field. She has a college degree, albeit in an unrelated field. Person M’s employer only employs 20-25 people, most of them part time or seasonal, and cannot afford to provide health coverage to any employees. So, Person M doesn’t have health care.

Person L works full time for a very large corporation. She has worked full time for this corporation for one year. She had to wait six months to gain eligibility for health care coverage, and then accepted it. Six months later, for reasons completely unrelated to L’s ability to fulfill her responsibilities, her employer decided to change her position to part-time and hire more part time employees. As a part time employee, L is no longer eligible for health care.

So, here we have two instances of a full time (which is usually accepted as within the definition of hard working) employee who, through no fault of her own, is without health care. What are we to take from this information? Should M, in order to be personally responsible, have chosen to work at a larger company that could afford to offer health care? Even though L’s example shows that large companies are just as likely to avoid offering health care if possible? Should L have worked harder? Even though the company openly admitted the change in L’s position had nothing to do with her ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the position? In what way would this ideal of working harder have helped either M or L? In what way would this ideal of personal responsibility have helped either M or L? I guess all they can do is be personally responsible for not getting sick.

The author suggests that the problem with Mr. Obama’s proposed health care plan is that it undermines personal responsibility. But, I fail to see how that is true, or, more importantly, how being personally responsible helps maintain health care. I think the problem with Mr. Obama’s proposed health care plan is much less vague and immeasurable than the possibility of undermining personal responsibility. I think the problem is that Mr. Obama would let health care remain an employer responsibility. The above examples are clear proof that leaving health care in the hands of employers is a recipe for lack of health care. Employers will, again and again, find ways to avoid paying the high and growing higher cost of health care. Employers will refuse to offer health care, cut full time positions to lessen the number of employees who are eligible for health care, or pass along enough of the costs to make it unaffordable for employees. The way health care is handled now has nothing to do with personal responsibility, and everything to do with profitability.

13 June 2009

Iron Pouring

Take notice Rutland. I attended an event in Rutland this evening that was one of the best events I've attended in Rutland in a long time. The Iron Guild hosted a public Iron Pour at the Mac Steel scrap yard on North Main Street. I happened to see it mentioned in the Rutland Herald today, and it sounded so interesting that I made it a point to go over this evening. Overall, I think the evening was a success although there could have been slightly better planning for a few aspects.

I have to say, the event did not start well. We approached the Mac Steel yard from the south, which put the scrap yard on our right. As we approached the entrance, we could see people standing and vaguely directing traffic on both sides of the 4 lane road. It was not until we were upon the entrance that we noticed the large barrels blocking the driveway into yard. As we slowed, obviously confused, one of the men standing near the barrels pointed directly across the street into a large parking lot. We assumed he intended to communicate to us to park in that lot. We drove up the street, turned around and came back, only to discover a sign specifically saying no parking in that lot. This left us even further confused and now annoyed. We tried the next parking lot, but it was full. Again, we turned around, drove back to the driveway in which we had initially turned around, and hunted out a parking space. A much better plan would involved more clearly marked parking.

Once on foot and headed for the yard, we noticed a small sign attached to the large sign calling out the Iron Pour. The small sign noted that a $5 donation was suggested. There had been no mention of a fee in the notice in the newspaper, which left us feeling bad because none of us had brought any cash. Whether this was a failing by the folks organizing the event, or the Rutland Herald reporting on it, I can't say. But, I do wish I'd known about the donation request.

Further adding to the annoying aspect of the event was the weather: it was drizzling. Now, it wasn't particularly cold and it wasn't raining very hard, so we simply wore raincoats and hats. A good 50% of the other attendees brought umbrellas. Very large umbrellas. Umbrellas that blocked the view for many of us, and nearly injured not a small number of us. I, personally, was almosted poked in the face by two umbrellas.

As for the Iron Pour itself, it was amazing. The structure was reminiscent of a cathedral or castle. The molten melted sparking and splashing was amazing. Watching the guild members work in the middle of the sparks and pouring iron was both horrifying and intriguing. The piece they cast during the pour was their own guild mark, which you see on their website. They raised it above the whole structure part way through the pour and we were able to watch it cool. The only unfortunate part of the pour was that the two towers, which were stacked full of pallets, were obviously supposed to ignite and they didn't. Despite help from a blow torch, the pallets were too wet and poorly stacked to catch fire.

Now, the pour itself was great, but it is the crowd of people I would more like to comment upon. There was a very large crowd, especially considering the weather. And it was probably the most diverse crowd of people I've ever seen in Rutland except maybe for during the fair. There were people of all ages, from toddlers to folks in the 60's and 70's. There were people from all walks of life, from those obviously very well off, to those obviously not so well off. There were people I can only describe as from an "underground" type aspect of society. It was amazing to see this diversity present and awed by an event in Rutland. So, pay attention Rutland. Notice what just brought out all these people, not few of which I overheard mentioning that they came tonite specifically because they'd seen, and been impressed by, previous events. This could be something for Rutland. This sort of event is obviously a draw for people, and for people of all ages and walks of life. This could point to something that would bring life back to Rutland. Not to mention, that there is already the Carving Studio in West Rutland which seems to grow more and more each year. The Iron Guild specifically mentioned the Carving Studio as an ally in their venture. I would certainly turn out for another such event. And I'd be more than willing to contribute the $5 donation. Come on Rutland and let's do something good for the city.

Oh, yeah, and as a note to myself: next time bring the camera, stupid! The rain wasn't enough to be a problem, and the cell phone simply couldn't do this justice.

06 January 2009

yes, Yes, YES!

'Tis a new year. I was, this very evening, idly perusing my reading journal from last year. I was trying to find a way to summarize last year's literary selections to create an interesting entry for this very blog. What should fall out from the very first page of the journal, but a page of notes I'd written about one of the first books I read last year. You should know, I make it a habit to take notes whenever a book leaves me with a really important thought. In this case, the book was When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom. This particular book really stimulated my brain, and produced a hastily scribbled list of page numbers each followed by a partial quote and indication of where on the page it was. Some of them are still interesting, but perhaps I'll delve into them in a later entry.

This entry will be devoted to what I found on the back of that page: a couple paragraphs of random musings regarding how sex and sports are similar. I could not, at first, remember why I'd explored this particular line of thinking. Fortunately, at the end of my musings, I'd made a note about the catalyst for the thought. It turns out my mother had been downstairs watching a football game, and I overheard some very strange noises from where I was installed in my cave upstairs. The noises went something like this: Oh! Oh! Yes. Yes Yes Yes Yes! Go for it! You've almost got it! Keep going keep going! YES!!!

I trust you can see how I might have made the connection. I will mention, whether it is relevant or not, that my mother is not a sports fan. She rarely watches any sports at all, and has almost no working knowledge of the rules of most sports. And yet she can become passionately involved in any given game. I am also not a huge sports fan. If I get truly excited about any sport, it's soccer. But, honestly, I don't really follow soccer, and who can blame me. The US isn't exactly a powerhouse in soccer, nor are Americans particularly vehement fans demanding television coverage. Anywho, I have trouble understanding how people can become so worked up about a bunch of grown men running around chasing each other, clapping each other on the back, and slapping each other's butts. Aside from the all but required attendance at high school athletic games involving our Arch Rival, I've rarely felt moved to participate in the shouting that goes on at sporting events. You are not encouraged to infer from this anything regarding my sex life. So, here are my thoughts regarding the connection between sex and organized sports.

Perhaps the reason some people like sports so much is how similar the reactions are to a sexual encounter. We can get excited, passionately excited. We can scream, yell obscenities, or wave our arms about. We can hug people around us, give high fives, and do chest bumps. And while these are remarkably similar to behaviors exhibited in the throes of passion, no one finds any of this behavior strange, not even when exhibited in crowded, public spaces. We can also be totally disgusted with a favorite team or individual player. We can give corrections, point out flaws, and generally show our disfavor without causing hurt feelings. These are certainly things we can't do with sex. Just try giving a gentle correction and you'll spend the next week trying to gain forgiveness. How much more fabulous can you get. A venue that allows you to display the passions of the bedroom in open public, while also allowing you to give voice to frustrations without worry of a (long lasting) negative response.

That is as far as my contemplation went last year, but I think I'd like to add to it. I was going to say something about the length of a normal game in either of the favorite American Sports: baseball and football. I was going to joke about dispelling the myth of men not providing enough foreplay by pointing out that men allow themselves to get all worked up for hours watching a single game. I was going to try to offer advice to women based upon these observations. Then I remembered just why it is that I hate baseball and football: a short (seriously, in football we can be talking mere seconds) burst of amazing action, followed by a much longer stretch of nothing, and then another short burst of amazing action, before lapsing into another long stretch of nothing. If we want to discuss just football, I can even go so far as to point out that those long stretches of nothing involve lots of hugging and fondling and butt cheek grabbing that finally leads to a short burst of amazing action. Please tell me I don't have to be any more obvious. So, I guess I'm not going to dispel the foreplay myth. Sorry boys, you'll have to come up with your own argument for that one.

01 January 2009

As I promised myself I would do when the new year began, I have started research for my new Big Idea. This time, I might just be able to stick to it. What's different this time, you may ask. And I would answer you: the subject matter. My latest Big Idea will allow me to happily wallow in my favorite obsession: Vermont. What it means to be a Vermonter, what characteristics one acquires to survive in Vermont, why Vermont is the best place on earth. And, as if the cosmos are giving me an encouraging thumbs up, this morning Willem Lange had a wonderful little commentary on VPR. I highly recommend listening to it, if only for that little bit of Northeast Kingdom accent at the end.