Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Daily Show flashback: John Oliver breaks down the stupid vote

As the Cubs' hopes for a postseason berth rapidly fade, I thought I would post what I find to be one of the funniest segments to appear on The Daily Show. In this segment, which aired October 7th, 2008, John Oliver breaks down the stupid vote.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Stupid Vote
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Voting against one's own interests

Read "Income Inequality Widens, Poor Take Big Hit During Recession" here.

Howard Dean is known for saying that the Republican party has been successful in manipulating working class voters, especially in the South, to vote against their own interests. Back in 2003 when he was running for president, Dean said:
I intend to talk about race during this election in the South because the Republicans have been talking about it since 1968 in order to divide us. . . . White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not them, because their kids don't have health insurance either and their kids need better schools, too.
Here is my rather sloppy take on this latest story about the victims of the recession: it was primarily republicans who deregulated the financial industry; this deregulation helped to cause the recession we're in; this recession victimized the poor and the middle class more than it did the wealthy; therefore, the poor and the middle class should not vote republican.

Talk to the Invisible Hand

Read "Talk to the Invisible Hand: The promises and perils of treating patients more like consumers" by Darshak Sanghavi here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sign the letter

Obama has finally put his name on a version of health care reform. Read about the Obama Plan here. If you support it, please sign the letter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Say "Hello" to my little friend!

(This was originally published elsewhere 30 June 2009.)

I just discovered that Rick Warren loves to quote Bertrand Russell.

According to Warren, Russell said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life's purpose is meaningless.”

This sounds like something Russell might have said at one time. Russell said a lot of things. I'm pretty sure that the set of all statements made by Russell isn’t logically consistent, in which case at least one of those statements is false. That should tell you something.

Warren does not cite the source of this quotation in The Purpose Driven (R) Life. This is unfortunate, since we do not know what the context of the quotation is. I was unfortunately previously unfamiliar with the quotation, so I haven't identified the source. When you fail to cite your sources, questions come up, you know.

So why does Warren use it?

I’m pretty sure he is offering an argument.

“Unless” statements are most straightforwardly translated as “or” statements. We may translate Russell’s statement as, “Either we assume that God exists or the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” Given what we know about Rick Warren, we may assume that he is arguing thus:
  1. Either we assume that God exists or the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.
  2. It is not the case that the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.
  3. Therefore, we assume that God exists.
Warren’s use of the quotation is amusingly diabolical because he is essentially appealing to the authority of Bertrand Russell, an atheist, to argue that God exists.

The argument I have attributed to Warren is deductively valid. Are the premises true?

Russell must deny the second premise. He has to do something, after all, since he rejects the conclusion. And the denial of the second premise seems consistent with what I know about his views at one point in his life.

But what reason do we have to assume that the first premise is true? Isn’t it possible that God does not exist and yet the question of life’s purpose is perfectly meaningful? I think so. Is it really plausible to think that all atheists find their own lives meaningless, or that their lives truly are all meaningless? I think not, on both counts. For example, it is possible to imagine an atheist who devotes her life to working for the poor, not because God requires it, but because she believes that she is morally required to do so. Because she does what she believes is morally required, she believes that her life is truly meaningful.

What reason does Warren give for thinking that the first premise is true? (I haven’t read The Purpose Driven (R) Life, so I can’t say.) Are we simply going to grant it, without argument? If Warren’s intended audience is the Christian community, then he probably won’t get many objections to the premise. But in that case, I think Christians themselves would do well to ask themselves what reasons they have to accept it.

It is more likely that this weaker claim is true: if we assume that God exists, then it is not the case that the question of life’s purpose is meaningless. This claim does not make God's existence a necessary condition for the meaningfulness of life. And it doesn't entail the rather absurd claim that the lives of Hindus, say, are meaningless.

Protect Insurance Companies PSA

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The $322 Lunch

(This was originally published elsewhere July 20, 2009.)

Republicans appear to be increasing their efforts to kill democratic plans to reform health care. You can read about the debate between Obama and Steele and DeMint and others here.

I don't know much about this debate. But I do have my own experiences with our health care system. Recently, I went into the hospital for an EGD, which is an outpatient procedure. My wife and I were shocked to find out how much this will cost us. Just to give you an idea, here are a few of the services for which we were billed 20 percent:
  • Before the procedure, I spoke with the doctor who was in charge of performing it. I estimate that I spoke with him for about three minutes. This cost around $90. So my doctor's time is worth $1,800 an hour, or approximately $3,600,000 a year. Why didn't I get into the health care racket?
  • After the procedure, I spent perhaps half an hour in the recovery room. There I was treated to a glass of water, a cup of coffee, a slice of toast, and conversation with one to three nurses who were less interested in talking than I was. This cost $322. No, that toast was not topped with gold leaf. No, the nurses were fully clothed. At that rate, they should have Bobby Flay in the kitchen making the post-procedure victuals and nurses who think that I'm the greatest wit since Oscar Wilde.
I have news for Michael Steele: our current decades-long experiment with health care is not working. If you want me to oppose a plan offered by Obama or other democrats, then tell me, what is so good about what we have right now? Or what do you suggest we put in its place?

Health care reform, abortion, and the already born

(This was originally published elsewhere August 5, 2009. It has been edited slightly.)

I just saw this headline today: "Abortion Coverage Allowed In Health Care Legislation."

Of course, if such coverage is stripped from the bill and it passes, those who join the new insurance exchange would lack coverage others have. And if this bill succeeds in making insurance available to those who cannot now afford it, then the have-nots get screwed yet again, ironically probably by those who say they actually care about the poor, i.e., religious persons.

I am certain that religious groups are already working to kill this legislation.

My problem with some of these groups is their combination of an overly narrow focus on abortion and contempt for human beings, especially those who they consider sinners. Let me explain.

I am willing to bet that most women who have abortions are not evil maniacs who thirst for the blood of the unborn. Most women have what they consider good reasons for aborting. And the fact that religious groups dismiss these reasons out of hand does not by itself show that those reasons are not good.

Some of their reasons undoubtedly arise from a desire to do the right thing. If a poor, unemployed woman finds herself pregnant and without health insurance, and the father is not willing to support her and her unborn child before and after birth, she might reasonably believe that abortion would result in the best consequences overall.

If you're pro-life, let me assure you that I agree with you about one thing: the fewer abortions, the better. The question is, how can we most effectively decrease the number of abortions? What we could collectively do is make it less likely that women who find themselves in situations like these choose abortion. We could do more to make sure that everyone in this country has health insurance. (In fact, if health care reform is passed and more people are insured, it might actually result in a decrease in the number of abortions!) We could do more to make sure that everyone who is employed earns a wage that makes raising children an option. We could do more to make sure that the needs of those who are unemployed through no fault of their own are met.

So here's my question: why don't those folks who so fervently promote the anti-abortion cause in this country also equally fervently promote the cause of economic justice? Compared to the attention abortion gets from the religious right in this country, issues of economic justice get relatively none, in spite of the importance Christianity places on economic justice. If we are to be pro-life in this country, we can't simply force women to complete their pregnancies and then turn our backs on them and their children once they are born. How can I take the pro-life community seriously when their focus is so narrow that they would allow the children they have fought for before their birth to live in squalor after? I think that this is a fair question.

And this is not purely an issue of personal responsibility. If we think we can convince human beings to abstain from sex until pregnancy is a real option, we are simply out of our minds. It's not going to work, ever. This is a fact that we have to deal with, and if we refuse to, we're being irresponsible. In addition, many people find themselves in dire economic straights through no fault of their own. This is plainly obvious once we pull the ideological shades and let the light of reality in.

Neither will the simple plea that woman place their children up for adoption solve this problem. The people whose babies are most in demand are the same people who tend to do better in this economy and are thus more likely to be able to afford abortion; this is the legacy of racism and sexism in this country, and that is a reality too with which we must deal.

Putting children up for adoption is only half the solution; the other half is that we actually adopt children, including those who might not look like us. The mere fact that an abortion has been prevented is not enough; ensuring that those fetuses that were not aborted go on to live happy and productive lives is also important.

Let us all think about this before we try to kill health care reform in this country.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Living High and Letting Die

Yesterday, Timothy Noah of Slate set out to explain how a reporting error he committed ended up in several of President Obama's speeches on health insurance reform. In that article, "My Mistake," he also apologizes for the error.

But I found one claim Noah makes in that article especially interesting. "People die every day from a lack of health insurance," writes Noah. "A new Harvard study says it's responsible for 45,000 deaths annually." That study, "Health Insurance and Mortality in US Adults," is to be published in the American Journal of Public Health.

One of the goals of health insurance reform is to insure millions of adults who now have no health insurance. The aforementioned Harvard study estimates that there are 46 million Americans without health insurance. Surely, many of them simply cannot afford health insurance. And without insurance, many of them cannot afford medical care, and many of them die as a result. Many of these premature deaths are the result of human inaction and are completely avoidable.

As Jacqueline L. Salmon of the Washington Post reports, many conservative Christians are opposed to health insurance reform. "A coalition of three dozen conservative Christian organizations, representing 5 million people and calling itself the Freedom Federation, announced its formation last month. It has taken on opposition to health-care reform as its first issue," Salmon writes. One has to wonder why.

Helping those who are in need is, it seems, an essential part of Christian doctrine. If one needs scriptural support for this claim, one need look no further than the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37):
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Jesus here commands us to make significant sacrifices to aid those in distress. There is also this passage from Philippians (2:3-4): "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Now, some might object to this by making what I think is an arbitrary distinction. Some argue that Christians do indeed have a duty to aid those who are in distress, but that it is wrong for governments to force people through taxation or other means to help others. In one bill being considered, people would have to choose between buying health insurance or paying a severe penalty. The idea, as I understand it, is that the more people who have insurance, the less that insurance will cost any one policyholder, and the greater their power to negotiate for lower prices. By requiring that more people share the risk, each person helps everyone else buy affordable insurance. Since this would force people to help others, however, some find it objectionable.

Why make this moral distinction, though? Conservative Christians in general show little tolerance for those who think differently, so they're probably not motivated by respect for libertarian views. We can do far more to help those in need collectively than we can as uncoordinated individuals. And lives are at stake, after all, which normally trumps everything else for Christians. Why doesn't it in this case as well? Some Christians seem to believe that it is more important that they be free to fail in their duties than it is that thousands of lives are saved.

Perhaps the real problem here is that it is actually a lot more difficult to be a Christian than is generally recognized. Christians now have an opportunity to make a morally significant choice. Let us all hope that they choose wisely.

(Living High and Letting Die is the name of a book by Peter Unger on the ethics of famine relief.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Take this fun quiz!

  1. What would Jesus do?
  2. Which cable package would Jesus purchase?
  3. Which game console would Jesus buy, and how many hours per week would he play?
  4. What fur coat would Jesus wear?
  5. Which SUV would Jesus drive?
  6. What factory-farmed animals would be Jesus’s favorite?
  7. How many mistresses would Jesus have?
  8. Which town hall meeting would Jesus disrupt?
  9. Who would Jesus deny medical care to?
  10. Which politician would Jesus destroy with lies and propaganda?
  11. Which public figure would Jesus ridicule with the use of racist stereotypes?
  12. Which corporation’s profit margins would Jesus protect at the expense of the working poor?
  13. Whose taxes would Jesus raise in order to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans?
  14. Which children of the Third World would Jesus allow to die of malnourishment?
  15. Which race or sex would Jesus discriminate against?
  16. What movies would Jesus censor?
  17. Which books would Jesus burn?
  18. What method of deception would Jesus use to win converts to Christianity?
  19. Which religion would Jesus vilify and encourage war against?
  20. How small and how thin would Jesus prefer the Arctic ice cap to be?
  21. What natural disaster would Jesus justify as God’s punishment for the sins of heretics?
  22. Which homosexuals would Jesus try to cure, assault, or kill?
  23. Which criminals would Jesus execute?
  24. What method of execution would Jesus prefer: lethal injection, electric chair, gas chamber, or firing squad?
  25. Which abortion doctor would Jesus murder in cold blood?
  26. Who would Jesus waterboard?
  27. Who would Jesus target for an airstrike?
  28. Which country would Jesus launch an unprovoked preemptive attack against?
  29. What city or cities would Jesus destroy with an atomic bomb?
  30. Which genocide would Jesus permit?
25–30: Think about it.
19–24: Think about it.
13–18: Think about it.
7–12: Think about it.
0–6: Think about it.

Doctors Like the Public Option!

It's true.

Robert Reich on the Public Option

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson