March 24, 2010

scary, confusing health care reform

The Kaiser Foundation polled 2,002 American adults in January on their feelings about the health care legislation being debated in Congress.  I think most of it's pretty useless, but this question in particular caught my eye:

As of right now, do you generally (support) or generally (oppose) the health care proposals being discussed in Congress? (Is that strongly support/oppose or somewhat support/oppose?) (ROTATE OPTIONS IN PARENTHESES)
Based on one-half sample (n=980)  01/10
Strongly support   19%
Somewhat support   23%
Somewhat oppose   10%
Strongly oppose   31%
Don’t know/Refused   16%
Support (42%) vs Oppose (41%) is pretty even, but intensity is distributed unevenly.  People who oppose the proposals really oppose them, and people who support the proposals just sort of support them a bit.

No doubt opponents of the legislation will latch onto that as "proof" that even people who like it don't like it that much.  I, however, don't think that's what this says at all.

Health care legislation is unbelievably complex.  Other than the military, I can't think of any other topic the government takes on that has more special interests entrenched in more ways, with more at stake.  It's an utter mess right now, and trying to fix it is like sending a rookie pet groomer into a small room containing all the animals from the San Diego zoo.  If the lions and gorillas don't get her, the snakes most certainly will.  (And watch out for that koala.  Seriously.)

Anyway, because it's so complex, no one really understands it.  I'd bet even the authors don't understand their own legislation fully.  (These are the same people, after all, that thought it important to rename "french fries" to "freedom fries" when the French declined our invitation to participate in America's worst foreign policy decision in history.)

The implications and ultimate consequences of health care reform, both intended and unintended, are unfathomable.  That makes it easy to oppose and difficult to support.  It's human nature to oppose confusing changes, even if those changes ultimately will be beneficial.  If the changes are confusing, it's hard to know for sure whether they're beneficial.  And all those entrenched special interests have an easy time making them seem ever more confusing and scary.

March 16, 2010

Mini Minion Meet

Almost a year ago, I traveled halfway around the world to meet Robin in person, along with a few other wonderful EE minions.  Today, I had the great pleasure of seeing Robin again, this time on her home turf, or very nearly, in Alexandria, Virginia.  I also met her husband for the first time (yes, lads, sorry, but Robin is married) and liked him a lot despite his being Welsh.  Or possibly because he is Welsh.  I've only known one other openly Welsh person, and he's a good guy.  So maybe that's it.

This mini minion meet--or, better put, a minion mini meet although neither Robin nor I is what anyone would call "NBA height"--occurred at an Irish pub because, I suppose, it is Saint Patrick's Eve.  Which sounds vaguely like a the name of a very bad idea from a feminine products company.  And also because Robin is Irish.  Or, Irish German.  Depending on whose facts you believe.

In any case, much fun was had by all even though not one of us drank Guinness, which surprised even me.  Robin and I talked about writing and many other things.  More important, since Robin's Day Job is actually related to my line of work, we discussed business.  In fact, we discussed business for a number of minutes, during which the waiter conveniently delivered the check.  And it should be noted that if I had ordered a room service dinner on this business trip, which undoubtedly I would have done had I not met Robin and her husband, the bill would have been far higher.

It is a pleasantly odd feeling to be meeting a person for only the second time in your life yet fall instantly into a comfortable banter as if you grew up together.

Unfortunately, Chris was unable to leave her Things unsupervised and make the 90 minute drive to join us.  Which I don't quite understand since her facebook status seems always to imply that the supervision she provides is not always relevant to their activities anyway.

Finally, a note to all reading this:  We must do this again soon, with a larger contingent.  Fellow minions, what say ye?

March 13, 2010

What did Bede know, and when did he know it?

Aerin never misses a chance to remind me I'm a nerd.  I admit, the evidence is relatively strong.  I have an engineering degree and know how to use the vi editor.  My preferred mode of humor is the pun.  And I played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid.  OK, and in college.  Yeah, even after I got out of college, had a job, and was married.  But by then it was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

Anyway, my love of D & D fueled also my love of Anglo Saxon history.  I think I own more books about the time of Alfred the Great than any other topic except perhaps writing.  So imagine my excitement to read this article about a new archaeological discovery of a mass Viking grave.  How cool!

You don't need to read the article.  You can just get the summary from the sidebar, which I've copied verbatim over there, below on the right.

  • 51 bodies were unearthed near the site
    of the 2012 London Olympics
  • On Friday, scientists announce the men
    were Vikings from the Dark Ages
  • The men, who were beheaded, were found
    near the Olympic sailing venue
But I think the scientists are chasing the wrong questions. It's all well and good to try to figure out where the Vikings came from using iodine or isotopes or dialysis or whatever it is they use. And to examine in tiny detail all the wounds they received, like some sick S&M history voyeur.

What I really want to know is, why were they executed near the Olympic sailing venue?  Why not near, say, the Olympic velodrome?  Or the Olympic fencing venue?  Science may never reveal the answer to this mystery.

March 11, 2010

phrases to fear

I once heard someone begin a speech with something like this:  "We all know the three biggest lies.  Number three is, of course, 'I'll respect you in the morning.'  Number two is, 'The check is in the mail.'  And the number one biggest lie is those three little words: 'I'll be brief.'"

We've all worked with people who start every conversation with something like, "I know we don't have much time, so I'll make this quick."  Then they talk for 20 or 30 minutes, making no progress and repeating themselves frequently.  Eventually we just sigh and roll with it because we're not rude enough to say, "Three minutes is quick.  You have three minutes."  And then hold them to it.  We're weak in that way, and we become the enabler when we should be sending them to On and On Anon, the 12 step program for compulsive talkers.

Worse, however, is a phrase I've begun hearing a lot and seeing even more as the subject of emails.  "Quick question," they write.  Are they being hopeful?  Evasive?  Or is it simply like knocking on a door, a generic sound that indicates they want to talk to you?  What I've found is that, yes, the question is indeed always quick.  Providing the answer, however, is typically epic in scope.  I imagine a White House email:
From:  Da Prez []
To:  Bernanke []
Subject:  Quick question
Ben, quick question for ya:  How should we fix this thing with the economy?
In the rare cases where the "quick question" has an answer at all, the answer is undoubtedly so complex and nuanced that it would make for a good PhD dissertation subject.  Or two.

But neither "I'll make this quick" nor "quick question," nor, for that matter, any other phrase uttered in English, can generate the kind of visceral terror resulting from these four words:  Dude, you're on speaker!

March 10, 2010

moms and dads

The fabulous Kiersten posted today about her young child wanting an ice cream cone for breakfast.  The post, and some of the comments, reminded me of a Bill Cosby story I'd seen him perform 25 years ago.  So I searched youtube and came up with it right away.  Having only about 35 hours of work to complete in the last 30 minutes of the day, I decided I had plenty of time to watch this 10 minute story.  (And blog about it.)

You should watch it now before reading further.  It contains great wisdom for the observant.

What, you ask, is the great wisdom contained therein?  The fact that mothers and fathers do not always see things the same way.  I have learned this over time myself, after becoming a parent.

See, moms care about things like nutrition, rules, conventions, and discipline.  Dads care about convenience, happiness, and... well, convenience and happiness.  When a dad imposes discipline--and it has been this way since caveman days--he does so for only one of two reasons.  The first and most important reason is that he is deathly afraid of the mom.  The second reason is that the discipline happened by accident.

There are no other reasons.  A dad may tell you he's got the children's best interests at heart when he makes them do their 15 minutes of homework before letting them play nine hours of Wii.  Even though they actually have nine hours of homework, which they "finished" in 15 minutes.  In reality, however, the dad is terrified of what the mom will say (and do) when she finds out that Wii was played without the homework being done.

The wisest of dads figure out early on exactly where the line is between frustrated mom-sighs and apoplectic rage explosions.  We can live with frustrated mom-sighs.  In fact, most husbands are entirely inured to frustrated mom-sighs since they occur almost every time a grizzled veteran mom encounters her husband.

Moms don't understand how dads can go through life appearing carefree and happy.  Here's the secret:  Dads are genetically incapable of understanding that something is undoubtedly about to go horribly wrong with the children.  Doughnuts for breakfast?  Moms see scurvy and rotten teeth.  Dads see happiness.  Video games?  Moms see a short community college stint followed by years of unemployable drifting.  Dads see development of eye-hand coordination, problem solving, and bonding time--along with happiness.

For all you new dads out there just beginning to understand this concept:  the trick is in finding that point where you do just enough.  Doughnuts for breakfast... with sausage and juice, maybe.  Video games after homework is "done."  If you can master the skill of doing just enough to keep from being run through with the meat thermomether, then you have a great career ahead of you in public service.

March 8, 2010

a crisis of faith

I have, for some years now, been a faithful but fringe member of the Church of the FSM.  OK, I might never actually have joined, but somehow I think the church leaders don't really mind.

But recently, thanks to author Stuart Neville (who may or may not be involved in this, but he posted something to his facebook status about it, and anyway you should check him out because he seems to be cool even though I've never met him and he lives on the other side of the ocean, but I digress), I've discovered a new belief system that has me questioning my faith in the FSM.

But really, is Pastafarianism incompatible with Dudeism?  This is a question that scholars will ignore for decades, if not centuries.  And that's just as it should be, man.