Sunday, March 26, 2017

I am always skeptical when someone describes a long-time practitioner of a craft who is destined for a leadership position in their as a "real nerd" for the craft. That always strikes me as something that should be a base-line personality trait for someone who seeks to lead or inform others of how to do their job. 

Imagine describing the conductor of a major symphony as a "music nerd", or referring to Einstein as a "physics nerd", or even the cardiologist who is set to operate on you described as a "surgery nerd". I think we'd find it a bit insulting, or a red flag that someone is over-selling it.

This recently came up in the discussion of Goreuch being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. His former colleague on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Michael McConnell, described Gorsuch - in fact most judges - as a "law nerd". 

Given that a "nerd" is someone who can be thought of as someone deeply immersed in and knowledgeable of the nuances, errata and arcane details of a subject, I think we'd all hope that those judges who are charged with deciding the fate of programs, policies and even lives, they would at least clear that hurdle. 

In this case, it's an effort to cheekily deflect legitimate questions and concerns about the judicial and political philosophy of the Republican nominee for the highest court in the land. As the author of the Hobby Lobby opinion and his position on a variety of other decisions regarding the intersection of religion and faith, he is decidedly on the side of those who agitate for a broader "religious" exemption from secular legal constrictions.

The freedom to believe and think what you will is an essential part of a free society. However, a case like Hobby Lobby is an illustration of where those secular/religious distinctions are purposefully muddied in order to redefine the secular/religious separations that have existed in law and in deed for - sometimes - centuries. Separations that protect the secular and devout alike.

It's a chip in the wall that Gorsuch authored and it's certainly a departure from mainstream legal thought. That alone makes Gosuch less like a nerd debating the detailed statistics of a sport to understand an outcome, and more like the coach trying to work the refs to get what he wants.

- Murphy

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Got Sick? No Worries!

Americans already have universal access to health care, say's Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), even if they didn't realize it. Thus President Obama can keep his meddling health care legislation out of Missouri and away from the greatest health care system in the world. Cunningham broke this news to listeners of KMOX this past Wednesday on the Hancock and Kelly show.

How can one access this hospital on a hill? Simple! Just drive on down to your local E.R. and sign up for a slot. As Cunningham explained, all hospitals are required by law to provide treatment to anyone who crosses their threshold.

How is it that this golden opportunity has been overlooked by legislators and advocates who have struggled to legislation that would protect the sick and give those who have little means access health care?

Well they haven't. In fact, the wave of uninsured patients who utilize Emergency Rooms as primary care facilities have been a major factor in the skyrocketing cost of health care. Every dime the hospitals spend on helping someone without insurance is tacked onto the bills of all of the other patients. Where do you think the $15 dollar Aspirin come from?

Not only does the use of hospital E.R.'s drive up costs for everyone, it results in worse health outcomes for those who do use it as a primary means of getting care. Monitoring personal health through preventative health care and regular doctors visits mean catching some health problems early or preventing the arise of others. Sicker people are more expensive to treat and when the untended-to uninsured finally do seek out care at the hospital, they are in even worse health and those additional costs are all passed on to the insured.

That a sitting State Senator would offer this up as a reason to reject efforts to make the health care system more equitable with better protection for patients and access for all Americans demonstrates how out-of-touch the opponents of health care reform truly are.

And yes, under the just-passed U.S. Senate version, all Americans would have access to the health care plans members of Congress currently have.

- Murphy

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Republicans on Education

The response from the DNC about wild-eyed Republican furor over Obama's education address is pretty funny (via Washington Monthly).

“What this absurd episode shows is that the GOP can in fact come up with new ideas. For example, it’s now clear that the new Republican education platform will argue against personal responsibility, hard work and staying in school.”

Cheeky it may be, but very appropriate for opposing a President who wants to talk to kids directly and encourage them to do well in school. It helps that it would have come from a President who didn't descend from a legacy or a well-heeled family.

Remember when having the President as a messenger of the positive effects of school was a widely accepted notion?

- Murphy

What Student Could Learn From the Education Address

There is certainly one aspect of this tempest in a teapot that students could benefit from, they have cat-bird seats for the decline of modern political discourse.

Now, American politics has always been a rough game. And the insults and accusations have even involved trading charges of adultery (see the war between Jefferson-Hamilton in those esteemed days of the founding fathers).

But the immediacy of modern communications, compounded by the declining standards of the major news networks, has allowed the sideshows of politics to be elevated to acceptable dialogue.

There have always been heated debates over contentious topics. These debates often draw in the fringe, like moth to a flame. It's why meetings about Airline security are interrupted by 9/11-truthers claiming President Bush was part of the CIA conspiracy. It's also why folks who claim the government will off everyone over 65 who gets sick show up at Congressional town hall meetings and work themselves into a froth.

Yet in the past these claims were treated for what they were: baseless accusations that evolve from an overheated imagination. The media would listen and even check out those things that could be checked out, even if it sounded outside the realm of possible ("It's true! The law says everyone will be required to donate one kidney. Everyone!"), and would dismiss the rest (trust me, if you have ever attended public meetings as a member of the media, you will meet no end of people with pamphlets and theories-all as convinced as former Governor Sarah Palin of their correctness).

Now, however, the fact that a charge has been made is reason enough to let it stand in the daylight. Engaging reason and asking for evidence draws accusations of bias-something no mainstream journalist is apparently able to stand up to.

To go even further, to stop providing a forum for those who consistently repeat false statements is apparently even more heinous, verging on black-listing. Just because it is a prominent figure blowing smoke, doesn't obscure the truth any less.

This is not to place blame on journalists entirely. Those with an axe to grind have found the modern media a fine whetstone. They have learned how to game the system and have turned its some of its fine attributes (openness and even-handedness) against itself.

Others have simply built their own Trojan horse and let it lose in the world of journalism. They can then reference their own broadcasts as justification for continuing the spiral. The ultimate in self-reference.

The ultimate in dust-jacket credibility.

If students of today are going to have a shot at having a future in which they can be proud to get involved in public life, they are going to have to learn the value of critical thinking, the skills to educate themselves about an issue, and the confidence to stand behind their ideas.

The current climate of public discourse is currently providing them with a template not for the rebirth of civil society but for its further cheapening.

- Murphy

President's Address Doesn't Pass the Test for Some Missouri School Districts

While I am sympathetic to the concerns of School Board members who don't wish to be drawn into a manufactured controversy, it is somewhat surprising that they aren't embracing an effort by the President of the United States to highlight education.

That said the one concern they seem to share, according to today's Post-Dispatch report, falls under the headline of "does it fit the curriculum." In a the modern public school world, educators have little time to do more than prep their students for the next round of NCLB-required tests and worry whether a small drop in performance will hang a scarlet letter around their otherwise acceptable curriculum.

It makes sense that rather than be drawn into some debate spurned-on by fringe-minded, conspiracy types, they would rather be left to teach their students.

While an address by the President lauding the benefits of education and encouraging kids to stay is school may not count as the standard supplemental materials, I think it certainly falls in-line with any good civics curriculum.

- Murphy

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gates Preps For Potential N. Korean Missile

While the most recent North Korean missile launch was notable for less for its aeronautics than its ability to broadcast underwater (the missile fell into the sea shortly after launch-despite N. Korean claims to the contrary), Defense Secretary Gates is giving the Norks the benefit of the doubt that they may achieve something closer to success in their next (rumored) launch.

The initial Japanese media reports that the N. Korean government has plans to test a ballistic missile was not a surprise, but its intended flight path-in the direction of Hawaii-was. 

Despite the lack-luster track record of N. Korean ballistic missiles, Gates is taking the threat seriously and has decided to deploy the experimental missile shield radar to Hawaii

Gates decided against deploying the missile shield during the March N. Korean missile test, despite some reports that he might due so for monitoring purposes. At least part of the evident reasoning was that it was in dry-dock for maintenance. The March missile's aquatic ambitions bore out Gate's decision.

Now however, the radar is out of the shop and while it is unlikely there has been no great advancement in N. Korean missile tech to point to any major concerns, the opportunity of another test plus the N. Korean threats certainly warrants a watchful eye.

The folks over at Arms Control Wonk have some great information on history of N. Korean tests, and will also be keeping a close eye on events (likely including some deep-in-the-details trajectory analysis).

- Murphy

Good Sources on Iranian Protests

The web has been a great source of stories, photos and video documenting the protests that have upturned modern Iranian society. The one issue is narrowing down the volume of information.

Here are a few good sources to start:

The Field: Al Giordano Reports America  - Giordano provides a mix of analysis with up-to-date reports. He has even gotten the early word on some important events, such as the unions declaring solidarity with the protestors.

Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan  - Commentator Andrew Sullivan has been keeping tabs on a variety of Twitter feeds and YouTube channels and reposting them on his website.

- Murphy

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Sources on Iran

- Murphy

The Twittering of Iran

The many tools of the internet have begun to demonstrate they are actually worth a least a portion of the praise heaped upon them by those who promise kittens and flowers and peace, if only everyone had high speed internet access available.

Even the lowly Twitter-which is actually an appropriate adjective to describe some of the most avowed acolytes of the tool-has shown itself to be a veritable life-line for many inside and outside of Iran.

Thanks to the distributed nature of its architecture, there is no single point for the Iranian regime to clamp down on, as when the blocked access to Facebook after students flocked to Mir Hossein Musavi's page (the former prime minister challenging Ahmadinejad for the Presidency). Their only recourse is to shut down entire networks, which it did to the text-messaging network on the day of the election.

While we are likely to quickly regret the proliferation of the term "Twitter revolution" there is little doubt that it and the proliferation of quick and comprehensive (text, voice, video) communication available through the modern networks has helped coordinate the efforts of the Iranian protestors as well as spread the word to the wider world.

Let's let the Iranians decide what to call their efforts. After all,  despite the integral role of pamphleteers in fomenting and organizing the American rebellion, no one called the War of Independence the "Pamphleteer Revolution".

- Murphy

Unions Add Their Weight in Iranian Protest

The Autobus Workers Union has joined with the Auto Workers Union in criticizing the ruling government's brutal crackdown of the students, shopworkers, businesspeople and parents who have taken to the streets in the wake of what many believe to have been a rigged election.

In a stunning rebuke to the threats issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini that the violence that meets the protesters will be of their own making, thousands have taken to the streets u. In doing so they will have to dodge the batons of the Iranian police and the bullets of the Basij-a brute squad made up of irregulars and thugs who form the steel toe of the ruling class.

In addition to the world-wide rebuke that would follow a violent suppression of the protests (which the already blighted regime may swat aside), the efforts of the industrial workers and others to cause slowdowns or even strikes may turn a protest into a full-blown revolution.

The people of Iran who have taken to the streets did not do so to overthrow the government, they merely wanted to see what little legitimacy existed return to the elective process. 

Mousavi, the man who challenged the sitting President Ahmadinejad, is known to be a hard-liner himself. In  his previous role as prime minister in the 1980's. Mousavi is believed to have given the approval to obtain the centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.

In the Iranian sphere, reformer is a relative term.

Yet the regime may have taken its game to far, tossing aside any pretense of self-rule. Thus, those who saw their country's future diminish under the Ahmadinejad presidency-the young, the reformist, the realists-saw the specter of their fate in the regime's meat-paw manipulation of the election.

- Murphy