Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care

I have very mixed feelings about the whole health care issue, which is one reason why I've avoided the whole angry debate. On the one hand, I used to be a conservative with a libertarian streak, and still am sometimes, so massively expensive government social programs aren't normally something I instinctively welcome with open arms, to put it mildly. On the other hand, when peoples' lives are actually at stake, it seems cruel NOT to assist in any way possible. To me at least, human life and health are more important than almost any other consideration.

Still, I can't help but wonder how we (the USA) are going to pay for all of this when the government is already trillions of dollars in debt. This issue doesn't seem to have gotten nearly as much attention in the whole debate as it deserves. Health care for every citizen is an absolutely massive expense that the government is committing itself to supporting permanently.

I don't think that the examples of other countries are necessarily very helpful here. Don't get me wrong - I think that it's generally a good thing that people in pretty much every other developed country have government-provided healthcare. My brother, sister-in-law, and niece live in Germany (my sister in law is a German citizen, my niece has dual nationality), and one of the more important reasons that they chose to live there over the United States is because of the national healthcare coverage. The problem is that when it comes to funding, comparing the USA to any other developed country is an apples and oranges comparison, for a couple of reasons.

1. The USA has to support huge military expenses that other developed countries do not. Some people think that this is because the USA is an evil imperialist nation(TM). I tend to think that it's simply because other developed nations have pretty much thrown all of the military responsibility onto the USA.

2. The USA has a population that simply is less healthy to begin with, due to the lifestyles that many people lead. This isn't completely the fault of individual Americans - business and government in the USA made a long series of decisions over decades that favored turning the USA into a largely car-dependent, highly-processed-low-nutrition-food-eating nation. Now we have a couple of generations who have grown up knowing no other way of life, and we lack the infrastructure for good public transportation in many regions, and it will be extremely difficult to change. Unfortunately, this means that the population of the USA is likely to remain less healthy, with higher medical expenses, than those of most other developed nations well into the future. This means higher per capita medical costs compared to virtually every other country in the world.

Am I the only one who is nervous about taking on such a massive new expense when we already have a national debt that is larger than most people can even comprehend?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Early taste of late spring

When I went outside Friday and yesterday, I had to remind myself repeatedly that this is the second half of March, not the second half of April or even the first half of May. The temperature was around 70 Fahrenheit (21 Celsius), which is quite a bit warmer than we would normally expect for March, which is a month where we can normally expect temperatures a good 15 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit (about 10 degrees Celsius) cooler. The preceding several days were not as warm, but still warmer than average.

Plants are clearly responding to this unusually early coming of warm springtime weather. Normally, I can expect to see crocus coming up at the very end of March or beginning of April, and the daffodils and tulips following shortly in early to mid April - though only the crocus blooms almost immediately after appearing. Yesterday, though:

Crocus - already blooming!



And it isn't just the bulbs that seem are responding to the early warmth:

Some shrub - maybe some kind of honeysuckle?

The only snow I saw on a 3-mile walk was one pile of very dirty snow next to a school parking lot that had managed to hold out against over two weeks of rain and mainly above freezing temperatures:

Holdout snow pile, which is probably noticeably smaller today

Still, if you look really close at some of the trees in the background, you can see a slight tinge of red on some of them. That's a sign that they are red maples and that their first red flower buds are getting close to opening - probably some 2-3 weeks earlier than in an average year.

Now, what I'm really hoping for is that we don't get any long cold spells for the rest of the spring. Some plants can endure some real cold after they start growing leaves and flowers for the spring, others can't, and the latter will depend on the rest of the spring being free from serious cold spells.

I walked down a road that I haven't walked since last summer, and so from my point of view the plants weren't the only things that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. A new building had risen from ground that supported only trees last year:

I could be wrong, but this building doesn't look like it will be particularly attractive
when finished. I'm not sure what it's going to be - the area around it is entirely residential, but it looks
more like a small office building to me.

Well, it's cooler today, but still pretty warm. By late in the week, it's supposed to be getting down to near freezing at night. Hopefully it won't stay much colder than that for an extended period of time. Also, even if the spring temperatures decide to act like this is Georgia or something - the summer temperatures had better not act like this is Georgia! Part of the bargain of living in a northern state, IMHO, is that you accept a colder and longer winter in return for not having to endure as long or as hot a summer.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My brain has been blunted

Years ago, I aspired to enter the wonderful world of academia, specifically in the field of history. To make a long story short, I gradually realized two things during my 2 years of graduate school:

1. Actually being a good academic requires a large amount of diligence, persistence, good organization, and mental discipline, in addition to intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and good communications skills.

2. With the possible exception of intellectual curiosity and intelligence, I had a serious deficit in all of the above-mentioned qualities, at least compared to my fellow students who were at the same level of study. (I may have been lacking in intelligence and intellectual curiosity as well, but I'll hang on to those as exceptions to salve my ego for the time being.)

So after two years I took a Master's degree and left, not to return. From that point onward, history would be a hobby, perhaps an obsessive one, but not a profession. Still, I like to flatter myself that I have a pretty well-informed and critical mind when it came to history, even if it was far below professional standards.

Now that I work for a historical society and archive, though, I have my doubts.

The society that I work for is always host to at least a few professional academics doing research there on any of a variety of different fellowships. My particular job does not bring me into much contact with the people (academic or non-academic) who actually use our collections. We do, however, periodically have presentations where people who are doing research at the society present a summary of some of the information that they have found, and how it has affected their research. I sometimes attend these presentations, since I figure it's nice to get a glimpse of how people might actually use some of the material that I work on cataloging.

There is a downside to these presentations, though. They make me realize how blunt my brain has become. You see, way way back in my graduate school days, I might not have been one of the better people around when it came to doing research myself, but I could at least understand a lot of what other people were talking about. I could ask reasonably intelligent questions, even if I was on the lower side of the bell curve when it came to coming up with intelligent answers. Now, I can't even come up with good questions anymore! When I go to one of these presentations, I feel like I'm surrounded by people with minds as sharp as razors while my mind is about as sharp as that rusty old pair of garden pruners that hasn't been sharpened in years so that it can barely cut anything anymore.

Why this came as an unpleasant surprise, I'm not sure. After all, it's not just muscles that shrink and atrophy when they aren't used very often.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Up early this year

A couple of days ago, I noticed something unexpected outside. The perennial bulbs are coming up out of the ground already - crocus, tulips, and daffodils. I don't think that I've never seen them poke above ground this early in the year before. Typically, the end of March or the beginning of April are more typical, especially for the daffodils and tulips, which tend to be a little bit behind the crocus.

Winter started out cold and snowy in December here, but for most of 2010 it has not been very severe at all. While places further south or further west and north got clobbered with very heavy snowfall, we've had little. There is almost no snow left now.

Hopefully there will NOT be a really cold spell now that the plants seem to be starting up early.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Other news

My sister in law in Germany is doing fine after the surgery she had 10 days ago. It wasn’t that serious, and while she stayed home from work last week, she is returning this week.

There has been a mix of about 20% wet snow and 80% rain here since last Wednesday, with the net result that much of the older snow has been washed away along with the new snow. We are now in what I consider the ugliest time of year – everything still dormant from winter but not much snow to cover the brown muddy ground. I shouldn’t complain, though – further north and west and at higher elevations some places got all snow, which came out to about 3.5 feet over the last several days.

I have started waking up really early and not being able to get back to sleep, which is something that as far as I can remember has NEVER been a problem for me before in my life. Part of it is that I have been making a conscious effort to go to bed earlier, but the early waking up is often taking twice as much time from my sleep at one end as I am gaining at the other, leaving me frequently very tired.

As long as I can find the time, this spring and summer will be “garden simplification time”. For three years I have taken care of the sprawling and productive flower beds that Mom set up over the years, but now I will be moving at least a little further away, and Dad is not a gardener. In practice, this means that I need to transform beds packed with various perennials into beds with a few perennials or shrubs and everything else covered with thick mulch to keep out the weeds. It also means that I will have a whole bunch of perennials to try and give away to anyone who will take them.

what I know about real estate could be written on my hand

I am going to be looking to buy a (small) house of my own soon, and I have been browsing around online at houses listed in my area. Looking for a place to actually buy is something that I have no previous experience of, which for me means lots and lots of anxiety and awkwardness and possibly making a fool out of myself. All I know about buying houses now are a few very simple ground rules like "avoid adjustable-rate mortgages", "if a place is ridiculously cheap, there's probably a good [i.e., bad] reason for it", "don't have the inspection done by someone recommended by the seller", and of course the important "be wary of any place that is described in the listing as having 'charm', or having 'potential' - unless you want to spend most of your time and money for the next couple of years basically rebuilding the place".