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March 29, 2010

A friend in need is a friend in deed…

Filed under: Make the world better,Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 4:51 pm

An old (and former, to be honest) friend of mine used to say something along the lines of “you don’t see a person for who really are until you see them at their worst” (meaning seeing them in the worst circumstances – i.e. facing adversity).

I have never agreed with that statement, however.  I believe that how a person acts and reacts to positive situations is as important and telling as how they react when the chips are down.  And every shade of grey inbetween is also just as valid a reflection of hat person.

Some people respond well to stress and become “more than they usually are,” others, who excel on a day to day basis, shrink some from adversity.  Neither of these extremes is a blueprint for a better or worse individual, in my mind.

Having said all of that, I am still impressed when someone, facing a difficult situation of their own is able to look beyond themselves and think of others.

One of my online friends, known on the internet as Topsurf has recently stood out to me in this area.  Without going too far into her personal life, her father is suffering from a bout with cancer and has been receiving treatments.

In addition to love and support for her father, what has come from her time in the hospital is this

http://layersoflove.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/hello-world/

In short, she has started up a blanket drive to stock the shelves with fleeces (the preferred blanket of patients in treatment rooms, I have learned).  I’ll let you read the rest in her words.

Another old friend of mine, from high school actually, used to always say “a friend is someone who thinks of you, while others are thinking of themselves.”

Thanks Toppy… for being a friend to those nameless and faceless people you will never even know; but who will find warmth and comfort because of your efforts.

March 26, 2010

Where the rubber meets the road…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , — sbj @ 4:13 pm

The public and political debate on Health Care and the current related legislation, to me, really boils down to one single question. Is health care, in these United States, a luxury item or a basic universal service? The answer to this question, I believe, should dictate the role of government in the process.

The government typically handles (or at least regulates) basic services (social security, Medicaid, roads and other infrastructure, education, auto insurance, defense, etc.). By contrast the private sector typically handles “luxuries” (automobiles themselves, houses, life insurance, extended retirement planning ala 401k programs, etc.).

So the question is, which is it to be on health care? Is it akin to the roads on which we drive or the cars we drive upon them?

People say the United States has the best health care system in the world. However, that appears to be far truer if you are in the financial position to afford to operate within that system. If you are sitting anywhere below the middle of middle class, your ability to take advantage of this health care system becomes more and more compromised.

Statistics show that as incomes rise, uninsured status falls, and this has been the case for a long time

> $25,000 annual income 24.5% (23.9% in 1995) uninsured
25k – 49k annual income 21.1% (16.2%) uninsured
50k – 74k annual income 14.5% (9.3%) uninsured
75k or more annual income 7.8% (6.7%) uninsured

Reports also show that as incomes rise the number of people who could have insurance but opt out of it goes up proportionately. Therefore, those numbers are probably even more askew than they appear, given the number of people in the higher income categories that are uninsured by choice.

In my state of Idaho, as the Legislature positioned itself for a legal battle against the national government, members stated “we will take care of health care within state lines, we don’t need the federal government doing it for us.”

Why then, if this is a commonly recognized problem, haven’t they done it already?

Idaho is about in the middle of the pack on percentage of uninsured at 14.9 % (compared to roughly 15.3% nationally). We are far better than, say, Texas (24%) but also measurably worse than Minnesota (8.5%). However, in 1995 the number for Idaho was 14.0%, so while we haven’t gotten much worse in the past decade and a half, we also haven’t gotten any better. The top (Texas 24.2%) and bottom (Minnesota 8.0%) of the list haven’t changed much either over those 15 years.

In other words, there is nothing new going on here, and yet, nothing is changing. Nothing was being “taken care of within state lines” here in Idaho, or anywhere else.

If we accept that health care, and, specifically the number of uninsured people in our population is a legitimate issue. And if we can also see that it trends toward being a bigger problem as income decreases, and nothing was being done to correct that; it would appear to be a safe conclusion that the default position is (or at least has been) that health care (insurance) is a “luxury” item.

This is, I believe, where the rubber meets the road.

If that works for you – if you think of affordable health care as “the car” rather than “the road”; then opposing the current health care reforms (insurance regulation) makes sense. If it doesn’t work for you – if you think of insurance as being more “the road”, and not so much “the car”; then support seems to be the order of the day.

I’m a road guy myself… even if, as some recent public opinion polls would indicate, it currently appears to be the one less traveled by…

March 25, 2010

Know when to run…

A friend of mine came up to me the other day and lobbied me to lend my voice to the fight against nuclear energy.  She argued well that despite my beliefs that nuclear is the “bridge technology” required to get “us” from petroleum based energy consumers to renewable based energy consumers, nuclear energy may well not be the best solution.  Well enough for me to take a closer look, anyway.

First a little background.

My basic thinking going into the conversation goes a little something like this:

1.  Oil, as an energy source is simultaneously running out and necessary (for certain vital purposes). Not only should the use of oil be curtailed – for the sake of the environment etc. – but conservation of the resource should be a priority.  Therefore, some substitute must be put in place, and this alternate energy source needs to be implemented (or at least begin getting implemented) very soon.

2. Nuclear power, and related infrastructure, currently exists to a degree that can support the transition between petroleum and renewable energy sources.  Further (and possibly more importantly), the existing – non-depreciated – investment in nuclear energy, and the corresponding stakeholders interest in seeing their investment through to maturity, create a formidable barrier to entry for new technology.

3. I believe that ultimately, nuclear energy is not a safe solution for the planet.  Nuclear waste is unstable and dangerous for roughly 10,000 years (scientists tell us, obviously, this is an untested number).  On a planet with swiftly dwindling open spaces due to rapid population growth, there is no reasonable way to expect we will be able to co-exist with the volume of nuclear waste for the next few hundred years, let alone the 10,000 it will take before the first batch is considered a non-biohazard.  Further, based on the afore mentioned rapid population growth, non-renewable (i.e nuke) solutions are rapidly ceasing to be an alternative in long range planning.

As such, I have been left with my existing mindset that nuclear power is the logical bridge (but only a bridge (read: a transitory connector) to renewable energy).

The problem with my thought process and conclusion (in my mind), and the barrier to me really entering the conversation, is two fold.  First of all – and I can admit this – I am generally ignorant on the topic.  For the most part I am dealing with a very small sub-set of the data available on this topic.  Secondly… in a word… money.

I find it hard to believe the money necessary to implement a nuclear bridge will be invested in something that is a known temporary solution, making the entire idea of nukes as a bridge technology a non-starter.  If we start down the path of increasing the footprint of nuclear power on the national energy supply, I do not see that tack changing until forced by some critical, probably life threatening, situation.  This course, to me, is untenable based on point #3 above.

My uncle, one of the most intelligent people I know, once told me (and I have since heard the same thing said many times) that people will not make substantive change until there is an actual need to do so. Until a critical mass of people believe a problem has reached the point where it is a threat to them, that problem will not be a barrier to the status quo. (Note: that is my paraphrase of the concept, not a direct quote… sorry if I butchered your message Pat :) )

In just the past few years, we have seen this with the internet bubble and with sub-prime mortgages. Many argue we are seeing this very phenomenon at work as the world wrestles with global warming. While Just In Time (JIT) practices work well in some business situations I think it is pretty obvious that when the stakes are high enough, brinkmanship should not be the order of the day.

If Al Gore is right about Global Warming (and I’m not here to say he is or isn’t… that is a topic for another day), hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people may be put in harms way before we have time to react to the mess we are creating.

Nuclear waste gives me the same reason for pause.  Can we afford to be wrong about this?  Can we afford to wait however long it takes for a critical mass of people to be threatened by it? 

Being wrong about company valuations and mortgages cost people money; being wrong about the potential dangers of nuclear waste (or global warming) could cost people their lives.

I teach my kids the concept of the “one time mistake.”  The fact that there are certain mistakes that are so large, you only make them once… and then all (relating to that mistake) is lost.  When you face a choice that includes an option that, if you are wrong, is a one time mistake; you had better be damn sure you are right before following that path.

I fear that nuclear energy (specifically nuclear waste), en mass, might be such a mistake. I am not absolutely certain that we won’t contaminate our planet beyond habitability before enough of us even realize we are doing it to make a necessary course correction.

There is no one capable of deeming humanity “to big to fail” should we make a fatal mistake; there cannot and will not be any “bail outs.”  If we mess this up we live (read: die) with the consequences.  With that in mind, and knowing there are safe, sustainable, renewable options… does it really make sense to roll those dice?

I love to gamble, as an of my friends (especially the ones who have been to Vegas with me) can attest. However, as Kenny Rogers would say, “you gotta know when to fold ‘em” and when it comes to nuclear energy, I think its time to run…

March 22, 2010

This might be the funniest thing you ever see…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 8:27 pm

Do not look unless you are prepared to live the rest of your life disappointed ;)

demotivational posters

(Yes, for all those concerned I am joking, but… it is damn funny!!! :) )

March 10, 2010

At least they weren’t texting on a cell phone…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 5:44 pm

This morning, as I drove down the road going ~30 in a 30, I was passed like I was standing still by a motorist going what must have been 45.  This is not new, but there were a few interesting things about this occurrence that jumped out at me… and started me on a mental rant that I am going to continue here…

First of all, in addition to zooming past me at a half again the legal speed limit… this motorist gave me a “what’s wrong with you” look. As if I, (the guy going the speed limit, for those of you keeping score at home) was the bad guy for impeding their progress.

Because of said look, I was able to easily recognize my antagonist as one of my states publicly elected officials.

Which started me to thinking… when it comes to character, what makes one law more important than another?  Not getting caught, or getting caught and paying your fine, only to repeat the offense (most likely over and over again) is a poor proxy for doing the right thing.

And yet, I have heard this particular person pontificate on ethical and social issues, appearing to allege some sort of high moral ground.  How, really, is this person anything more than a common criminal.  And, again, most likely based on the entitled and frustrated look they gave me for going the speed limit, a probably repeat offender.

I see people consistently getting upset about or teasing others going too slow; when those others are going the speed limit.  I hear people justify speeding for well thought out reasons like “there is no way this road should be a 35.”  And I hear others agree with them, encouraging lawlessness.

I do it too, in jest anyway.  I speak of stop signs with a white border as being optional.  I try my best to actually stop every time, but, in joking about it, I recognize I am enabling and encouraging those who do not.  I am part of the problem.

So, how big is this problem?  Lets look at a few statistics (taken from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report:

  • The economic cost to society of speeding related accidents is estimated by the NHTSA to be $40.4 Billion (thats ~$77,000 a minute or nearly $1300 per second).
  • Speeding is a contributing factor in 30% of annual fatal car crashes (and lest you think I am comparing apples to oranges – roughly 30% of all fatal accidents occur in speed limits of 35mph or less – more like 45% of non-interstate fatalities)

So you tell me, am I being overly dramatic in calling this “lawlessness” or in identifying these people as common criminals?  Or… are you perhaps comfortable with people laughing about or even, at times taking pride in committing a crime that is responsible for nearly 2,000 fatal car crashes and costs society $40.4 billion a year?

By the way, they were also drinking coffee and subsequently driving one handed… but that’s a different story for a different day…

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