On Snyder v. Phelps

Have I trained this week? No. Am I twitchy? Well, as of about an hour ago…yes. We’ve been back from Vegas long enough that I can’t use jet lag as my excuse any more, but I’m not sure what’s up, other than I’ve felt sluggish all week. Tomorrow night, for sure, hot date with the fluid trainer.
I’m postponing sleep for a few minutes to render my entirely unremarkable opinion on the Supreme Court’s Snyder v. Phelps decision. To wit: I think the Supremes got it right. My agreement is based largely on some of the particulars of the case. Nina Totenberg totally gave me permision* to gank this from her article on npr.org:

The picketers followed their usual practice at the Snyder funeral. They alerted police in advance and followed instructions to set up their protest on public property, at a site 1,000 feet away from the church, near the vehicle entrance.
Though the protest was peaceful and ended before the funeral began, the picketers carried signs with messages offensive to many […]
Albert Snyder, the father of the dead Marine, did not see the signs until later when he viewed TV coverage. He says the picketers turned his son’s funeral into a circus, taking away his “last moment” with his son.

When I think about these protests, I usually get a mental image of a bunch of yahoos standing right behind the priest as the casket is lowered into the ground. That apparently wasn’t true, at least not in this instance. They were on public ground – just outside the church parking lot, sounds like – and were gone before the actual funeral took place. There was no personal contact with the family. I think I’d have a problem if that were somehow judged to be outside the bounds of the law. Certainly a $5 million judgement for emotional distress is way out of line, and that’s what the lower court awarded Snyder. As repugnant as this sort of thing is, I don’t think I want the supreme court saying it’s not OK for people to gather in public and say unpopular things.
Now let me state what should be obvious: like most people with a half-ounce of sense, I think Phelps and crew are somewhere between crazy and terminally cynical. I found this analysis of his behavior to make quite a bit of sense. The world would be a better place if this didn’t happen, and part of me thinks that by writing about it, I’m simply giving the situation attention it doesn’t deserve. But I don’t think it should be illegal, even though it would most certainly break my already broken heart should it happen to me.
Now, as a palate cleanser, go look at the coverage of the counter-protest at San Diego Comic-Con 2010.
* not really

Health care: why is it so expensive, anyway?

For various reasons, health care issues are seldom far from the front of my mind these days. There’s some good stuff in the “Affordable Care Act” that was passed earlier this year, but implementation takes place from now until 2014, and I’m skeptical that the measures will do much for cost control. Even if they do, ACA doesn’t do much of anything to fix some of the fundamental flaws in our health care system.
So why the heck are insurance premiums rising so much? The problem, as some medical types would put it, is multi-factorial. This isn’t really my area of expertise, either, but I’m trying to piece together some understanding. As I run across info, I’ll post here and ruminate a bit.
This article on the Washington Monthly’s website caught my attention this week. It describes the workings of Group Purchase Organizations (GPOs), and how the unintended consequences of some well-intentioned changes in regulation resulted in GPOs raising the cost of hospital supplies and reducing competition among suppliers. I suspect that at least one of the 2.5 people who will read this might know a whole lot more about GPOs than I do, so I invite comments with counterpoint.
I don’t mean to imply that GPOs are the biggest problem in health care. This is just a reminder that health care is a business and the profit motive is as alive here as it is in any other industry. That’s not necessarily all bad, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves that health care as a business has some moral imperative that insulates it from selfish behavior.

Hey, Massachusetts, what just happened?

I’m absolutely flabbergasted by the political events of the last 24 hours. Not necessarily Martha Coakley’s defeat; I kinda saw that one coming based on the number of Scott Brown yard signs that cropped up around town, and even in our former home of Milton (home town of Governor Patrick). Patrick Kennedy coming to town to rally for “Marcia” on Sunday kinda sealed the deal. With that kind of support, I bet even the hapless Jack E. Robinson could have defeated Coakley.
No, it’s the reaction of leading congressional Democrats that’s got my jaw on the floor. Barney Frank wasted no time in declaring that the current approach to health care reform is “no longer appropriate.” Harry Reid (D-Obvious) merely pointed out that “The election in Massachusetts changes the math in the Senate,” without ruling out some various parliamentary devices for getting the healthcare bill finished before the new Senatorial balance can interfere. For crying out loud, guys, do you think this bill is right for America or not? If you do, can you please stop wringing your hands long enough to get it done?
I’m not a fan of Brown’s healthcare position, or his support for Gitmo torture under color of law. But Coakley has all the charisma of a pile of wet newspaper. I mostly associate her with the mishandling of Gerald Amirault and the 2007 Mooninite “terrorist” case. I don’t think she’s capable of leading. Brown can lead, but I’m not sure I’ll like where he wants to go. I’m not exactly thrilled by his win, but I’m not heartbroken over Coakley losing, either.
However, we have to do something with health care. I am perhaps more aware than most that the current system is broken. The current bill is not perfect, but it will make things a darn sight better than status quo for a lot of people. Once our various congrescritters get over their gloating and moaning, I hope they can meet their obligation to serve their constituents and this country by passing healthcare reform.

I, for one, welcome our new Communist, crypto-Muslim overlord

In case there’s any doubt in your mind, let me state for the record that the title is a JOKE, a HUMEROUSHUMOROUS JAB at some of the more PATHETIC attempts at political smears. Besides, anyone that’s heard him talk knows that he’s a Setian.
I had no trouble exercising my francise today. Precinct 4 in Canton apparently didn’t get the memo about massive turnout. Or maybe all my neighbors decided to sleep in a bit. At any rate, I was in and out of the school gym in less than 10 minutes. I spent more time sighing over the uncontested state and Congressional races than I did standing in line.
As of this writing, the presidential race is unfolding more-or-less as expected. FiveThirtyEight.com projects more than 300 electoral votes for Obama, which shouldn’t surprise anybody. In the end, I voted for him. Well, it wasn’t so much a vote for him as it was a vote against the emptiness of McCain’s campaign. I think Obama will have trouble delivering on his promises, and the thought of a Democrat president with a fully Democratic congress gives me both the heebies and the jeebies. But after the last eight years, my bottom line is: bad Republicans, no White House.

Hi, 911? I see somebody using a map!

Dang, Chicago, I thought you were cool. Much cooler than Boston, which goes all flaky at the sight of illuminated cartoon characters.
Turns out Chicago is giving Boston a run for its money in terms of silly security. This Winter Holdiay Public Awareness bulletin reads, in part:

It is important to immediately report any or all of the below suspect activities…
Physical Surveillance (note taking, binocular use, cameras, video, maps) …

I’ll grant that some of the other stuff seems reasonable to report. But…c’mon…maps? This is just goofy. I’m tired of these petty attempts at turning normal urban people into a surveillance network. Those who should make our nation a beacon of freedom are doing the work of those who would see this nation fall. They should take a break, go watch Brazil, or read Farthing, and I hope the clue stick hits ’em on the way out.
And I should have known better about Chicago, after Daley had Meigs field bulldozed in the middle of the night back in 2003. Meigs lives on in my memory as the home field for the subLOGIC flight simulator that lived on the Commodore 64 in the basement of my youth. I kinda miss it, in all its 8-bit, 3-frames-per-second glory.
(A tip of the tuque to Boingboing for the security bulletin link)

God showed Eve to Adam, and asked him to choose a bride

This quote from a Time Europe column on the Russian presidential election applies equally well to my voting experience today. Of the 14 positions on the ballot, only the presidential election offered more than a single candidate. Here in Massachusetts, we can’t even complain about the evils of a two-party system. In fact, that would be a step up from the current situation.
This state does have open primaries, or at least if you’re registered independent you can select which primary ballot you wish to vote. However, that’s hardly real choice. In a state with a Republican governor and where it looks like Bush is going to poll about 40% of the vote, why can’t that party field more candidates in the state legislature and congressional contests?
Not that I’d vote for them necessarily, but I like to see incumbents earn it every once in a while.

Following the money

I know of two sites with more information on campaign finance than you’ll ever need. The first, opensecrets.org, takes a top-down view of political donations and expenditures, showing things such as the employers of top donors. I especially like the page describing donations and ambassadorships.
In contrast, fundrace.org shreds its data a bit more finely and has a GIS bent to it. One feature allows a user to search for individual donors by address or name. The “top addresses” feature is cool – how else would I know that people who claim the address of 975 Memorial Drive in Cambridge, MA (including someone who’s either unemployed or a housewife and another who’s a clergy spiritual counselor), have donated more than $100,000 to the DNC and Democratic candidates?
These are two more fine examples of the Internet giving new meaning to the term “publicly available data.” Maybe we can’t remove money’s influence from the process, but at least now we can see who’s buying access.