Meaningful Choice

Saturday’s a day where the mind gets to thinking. Today, I’ve been about religion and politics; in particular, I’ve been thinking about legislating morality. This is something the Republican platform wants to do; this is something the Democratic platform eschews. The Republican platform is driven in their position by the religious conservatives — many of them orthopractic in various ways. But assuming you do believe in Heaven and “The Other Place”, is legislating morality the way to get there? Is prohibiting abortion, gay marriage, contraception, &c the right thing to do.

I can’t speak to the Christian viewpoint. I do, however, remember a sermon at some point where the Rabbi talked about the phrase in Deut. about choosing live and death, good and evil, and pointing out that what was important was making the right choice — and in order to make the right choice, you need to have the ability to make the choice in the first place. This is also captured in the SCJ FAQ where the Jewish concept of ha-Satan is discussed:

The word satan means “challenger”, “difficulty”, or “distraction” (note that it is not a proper name). With the leading ha- to make haSatan, it refers to /the/ challenger. This describes Satan as the angel who is the embodiment of man’s challenges. HaSatan works for G-d. His job is to make choosing good over evil enough of a challenge so that it can be a meaningful choice. In other words, haSatan is an angel whose mission it is to add difficulty, challenges, and growth experiences to life. Contrast this to Christianity, which sees Satan as God’s opponent. In Jewish thought, the idea that there exists anything capable of setting itself up as God’s opponent would be considered overly polytheistic—you are setting up the devil to be a god or demigod.

Note the notion of meaningful choice. If in order to do good… in order to get into Heaven… one must make the right choice and it must be a meaningful choice, then you would think the Orthopractic would embrace legal abortion, legal same sex marriage, legal pornography, and such. By having those things legal and supported, they could then make the meaningful choice not to have an abortion and to raise a child… they could make the meaningful choice to have a traditional marriage. By making those items illegal, we would be placing man’s law above God’s law, and not exercising the ability to “do the right thing” on our own.

[Of course, not legislating morality also permits those with different beliefs to exercise their beliefs, which is also in accordance with the constitution. Legislating one particular religion’s prohibitions over those of another appears to be implicitly establishing a state religion… but of those in favor of such prohibitions fail to realize that, because it is their religion that is being implicitly established.]

Music: Diamond Girl (Seals & Crofts): Nine Houses


Publicity in the Electronic Era

Last weekend at the MoTAS meeting (Men of Temple Ahavat Shalom), we were discussing publicity, what works and what does. It was an interesting discussion, so I thought I would expand on it a bit here.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: How does one cost-effectively publicize an event and get people to attend?

In the “old” days (read “less than 10 years ago”), the answer was that you would put articles in the event in your newsletters and make flyers. You would hand them out, mail them out, people would put them on their refrigerators, and (hopefully) attend. The physically printed flyer would serve as a reminder — something “in your face”, as it were.

But today, what do we do? We want to save trees, so we email our newsletters and have weekly email blasts. We set up web pages for our announcements. And do you know what happens? No one attends. They forget about the event; they don’t RSVP. The email and electronic communications are easily ignored and forgotten.

This isn’t just a synagogue problem. I see it at work, where they have gone to email announcements, a web page, and an online newsletter that no one reads. It affects conferences, where electronic calls-for-participation are easily ignored.

Paper has distinct advantages. It sticks around. You can put it on your refrigerator. You can give it to a friend or colleague and spread the news of the event. But it costs, and it isn’t green.

So what is the answer? How do we publicize in this modern era? Your thoughts are welcome.



A Song in/of My Heart

At noon (Pacific) in San Francisco, in honor of Valentine’s Day, there will be a concerted effort to get the entire city to sing along with Tony Bennett‘s classic “I Left My Heart in San Francisco“. I know this because the LA Times has a nice article on the effort, including a discussion of why “I Left My Heart…” is not the official city song (answer: because Quentin Kopp hates it). Now I’ve never heard of the song Kopp likes (something from a 1936 film), so I’d go with the Bennett standard myself.

Now, Los Angeles doesn’t have an official city song to my knowledge (although both Los Angeles County and LAX do, although I’ve never heard them). If LA did want a song, my vote would go for Randy Newman’s “I Love LA“, which I always thought should be our song.

So, here’s my question to you: Does your city/community have an official song? Is it the song you would pick? And in honor of Valentine’s Day, does it have to do with love?

[P.S.: From the grammarians out there: Should Valentine’s Day be like Caesars Palace, which eschews the apostrophe because Jay Sarno (its founder) felt that every guest was a Caesar, or should it it have the apostrophe because it is the day of [St.] Valentine, hence “Valentine’s Day”. By the way, the same question applies to the upcoming “Presidents”, or is that “President’s”, day.]

Music: Dueling Banjos (Eric Weissberg, Steve Mandel): Bugle Call Rag


Getting the Urge

On my desk, I have a pen that has a laser pointer. Everytime I pick it up, I get the urge to shine the pointer into my eye. But I don’t.

I have an iPod. Sometimes, when I pick it up, I wonder what it would be like to smash it to the ground. But I would never do that to my iPod. I love my iPod. But I get the urge nonetheless.

Driving home tonight, when I went from the northbound I-405 to the westbound CA 118, I wondered what it would be like to just sail over the ramp. But I didn’t; I arrived home safely.

Sometimes, driving the freeway, I get the urge to just keep going straight and run away. To Bakersfield. Or beyond. But I don’t.

Back in the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter gave an interview where he indicated he lusted in his heart. But Jimmy Carter was a family man, and to our knowledge never acted on the urge. Similarly, there are many people who look at pornography, fantasize, and remain faithful to their spouses.

Urges. We get them all the time. 99.999999% of the time, we don’t act on our urges. That miniscule percentage (which always seems to be when they put those nice chewy chocolate chip cookies out at an afternoon break) we give in. What is in the human mind that gives us these urges, even though we know we aren’t going to follow through on them? It is just our mind teasing us, saying “you know, you could.”

Yet some don’t seem to be able to stifle the urge. These are the ones that move from the evil thought to the evil action. We’ve seen far too many of these clowns on the news of late. I wonder: is there something in society that is making it harder for people to not act upon the urge?

To all my friend and readers: I hope you continue to find the strength to not give in to your destructive urges, except that occasional chocolate chip cookie.

Music: It’s Gonna Be Fine (Glenn Yarborough): It’s Gonna Be Fine


What Do They Say About You?

Today, after I received an email about having brokered a resolution to an issue, into my mind popped the thought “That’s why I’d like them to say about me: He cared about what he did.” That is my goal: I care about what I do and want to come to satisfactory compromises that help everyone.

So here’s my question to you: What do you want people to say about you?


I’m Sick of It

There are two interesting articles about healthcare in today’s LA Times (which I’m reading as I eat lunch). The first discusses the rise in the cost of employer provided health insurance and health insurance premiums: the net effect of this is that any raise you might see will probably be offset by the increase in your share of your insurance premiums. The second is that fact that primary care doctors admit that they are part of the problem, ordering unnecessary or defensive tests for a variety of reasons.

Were I to mention this to a “tea party conservative”, I’d likely get a rant about Obamacare. However, the Affordable Care Act (which is the real name of what was passed) is not behind the increase, other than some preventative care costs. The ACA does nothing to control healthcare insurance costs; indeed, if the mandate of the act to have every have insurance coverage comes into play, insurance costs (but not medical costs) will get lower simply because the pool of insured is lower. No, you can’t blame this problem on Obama directly*
[*: well, other than he wasn’t forceful enough to get Congress to do the right thing, but the right thing would have had the conservative right complaining more]

A series of recent Planet Moneys give some insight into this problem. First and foremost, our medical insurance system is broken, broken, broken. Trying to fix the problem within the existing system is difficult if not impossible. The Planet Money folks gave a good analogy: Supposed you had employer-provided food. You could go to specific stores, and for a $20 co-pay, get all the food you want. You would consume food without regard for the actual costs. You wouldn’t think twice before ordering the caviar or lobster. You would eat prime beef. As this happens, your employer’s food insurance costs will risk. The insulation from the actual costs of services leads to bad consuming decisions.

Secondly, how we pay doctors is broken. This is illustrated well by the doctors article. They are paid by how many people they see and how many tests they order, not for providing a good service with good outcomes. It is in the doctor’s financial interest to order more tests for a number of reasons: more income, better legal protection, and for enhanced diagnostics when they don’t have time to spend with you.

What’s the answer. One approach is cost containment. In this approach, you need an insurer large enough to dictate basic prices, and you need some gate keeping to have insurance cover only cost-effective and effective procedures. This is what has been termed “death squads” by those looking to kill it, but is really one of the hallmarks of a single payer or government run system. This doesn’t mean that other services are not available, mind you, only that insurance wouldn’t cover them or would only partially cover them. But such an approach goes against a lot of our well-financed special interests: drug companies, health insurance companies, and the medical establishment (who would have dictated rates).

Another approach might be tiered reimbursement. Known cost effective procedures would be reimbursed at one rate, and there would be increased cost sharing for more expensive procedures. This would at least let people know the cost of their services, although it would price some people out of the ability to get life-saving treatments.

Of course, underlying all of the health insurance debate is one question no one ever seems to bring up: What is the value of a human life, and are all human lives valued equally? This depends on who you ask. There are some folks who give the appearance of valuing the life of an unborn child much highter than the life of that same children when they are 25 and on welfare. There are others who value lives differently based on where you are in the social strata, or who your employer is, what you do, or how much you care about that specific individual. Ultimately, although we are loath to admit it, every life has a value. A hard cash value, which represents how much you are willing to spend to save that life.

Perhaps one reason that dealing with the whole health insurance muddle is such a mess is it forces us to face that question… and the answer exposes things we don’t want to admit publically. Your thoughts?


Unexpected Side Effects

Yesterday, I had the joy of going to the wedding of a dear friend. During the wedding, my thoughts turned to unexpected side effects of legislation… in this case, the legislation regarding light bulb efficiency.

Just think about the effect on Jewish weddings!

After all, quite often when you think a glass is being broken, it is really a light bulb. This is because most glass today is too thick to easily break when you step on it; further, a glass bulb makes such a nice sound. But what happens after our current incandescents disappear…

You don’t want to step on a CFL: that releases toxic mercury. Not an auspicious start to a wedding.

You don’t want to step on a LED bulb: I’m not even sure you can break one that way.

You don’t want to step on a Halogen: They have really thick glass, and typically don’t break that way.

I guess we’ll have to go back to stepping on glasses.


Thoughts from the Nightly News

I was just watching the news, and they did a report on all the destroyed homes in Joplin MO. Thinking about that, I wondered…. we have a glut of houses on the market, including a large number of foreclosures. I’m sure there are some in the Joplin area. Mightn’t there be a way to not rebuild the destroyed houses, and instead figure out a way to transfer the mortgages on those houses to the foreclosed houses. Get the foreclosed houses off the books, reduce the amount of excess housing stock. Might be a way to help the recovery on…