Archive for September 2009
In his recent column in the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning Thomas Friedman points to the dangers of the increasingly shrill attacks on the President from the far Right. He draws a frighteningly possible parallel to the assassination of Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
The late Dominic LaRusso used to point out that anyone can attack any program or any person; the hard work was in proposing a better alternative. Attacking the speaker, as opposed to the issues, is the ad hominem fallacy, a flaw of logic so old that Aristotle named it. I challenge those who are criticizing President Obama to instead propose useful, practical alternatives to the positions he supports. Attack the issues, not the speaker. But because they have no ideas, they cannot.
History is instructive in this regard. After Senator Charles Sumner attacked slavery, South Carolina and slavery’s supporters in a speech from the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks assaulted Sumner as he sat at his desk on the floor of the Senate, beating him with a metal-tipped wooden cane. Brooks resigned or was expelled from the House of Representatives. But his supporters re-elected him the following year, and showered him with gifts of heavy wooden canes. Brooks died the following year. Slavery was abolished – albeit at an obscene cost – in 1864. And Senator Sumner outlived Brooks by 18 years. Brooks’ physical violence accomplished nothing of benefit to the South or the institutions he claimed to support. Other than to bring the day of the Civil War that much closer. And to give us an object lesson in the consequences of the failure of civil discourse.
The Birthers, and those who claim Obama is a secret Socialist, and those who claim he intends to seize all firearms and ammunition: these folks are the moral equivalent of Brooks flailing at Sumner with his cane. They accomplish nothing except to make compromise even more difficult. Their fear of any change is so great that, like Brooks, they can only flail at anyone proposing change. They succeed only in poisoning the atmosphere. Like Brooks, the issues and positions they claim to support will eventually fail. They succeed only in making that failure more painful and catastrophic.
Bradner might be a little optimistic about his view of the RCA. I’m not so sure they’ve woken up and smelled the coffee yet. But that’s the only faint sign of progress since I wrote my comment six months ago. That’s wasted time in a situation that only seems to be getting worse.
In the next few months, the American Ornithological Union (“AOU) will be deciding whether to “split” the Red Crossbill into two species: the Red Crossbill and the South Hills Crossbill. There is a strong case to make the South Hills Crossbill a new species, Loxia sinesciuris. The “Type 9″ Red Crossbill, it has the largest bills of the species group, evolved to manage the large, heavy Lodgepole cones.
So when the chance came, while we were visiting family in Boise, we headed down I-84 to Twin Falls, and then south along the Rock Creek Valley into the South Hills, a decent-sized set of hills south of the Snake River Plain, hard against the Nevada border. It was decent birding en route, including a nice cluster of Swainson’s Hawks and a good selection of sparrows.
The South Hills are suffering a plague of four-wheelers. They have torn up the hillsides, created erosion channels and blasted the understory in the Lodgepole Pine thickets. Red Crossbills are noisy birds, but it was hard to hear them over the ATVs. The motorcycle squad – 35-40 big Harleys – didn’t help, either. But despite the noise and dust, we found the bird. Specifically, a female or subadult – they look much the same – near the top of a Lodgepole at Diamondfield Jack Campground. Birding under adverse conditions, indeed.
Unhappily, the Lodgepole Pines in the South Hills are in serious decline. Changing climate have weakened them, and parasites like the bark beetle are wiping them out. Current predictions have the pines gone by the end of the century. With them will go the Southills Crossbill.
Fairbanks North Star Borough voters will select a new Borough Mayor on October 6. Among the candidates is former Borough Assemblymember Hank Bartos.
What Mr. Bartos hasn’t been talking about is his career as a real estate licensee and broker. That may be because he should be embarrassed about it. On June 18, the Real Estate Commission, which supervises real estate licensees and brokers, imposed a 60-day suspension, one year of probation, fines of $9,500, 30 hours of required professional training and a reprimand against the real estate license of Bartos, due to four violations of Alaska real estate law.
Based on an accusation filed by the Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing, and following a four-day hearing in Fairbanks in August 2008, the Commission found that Bartos, the broker at Century 21 and the majority shareholder in a corporation that owned both the local Century 21 and Coldwell Banker franchises, improperly employed the broker at Coldwell Banker (who was also his business partner and a minority shareholder in the same corporation) as his assistant at Century 21, and also improperly employed a Coldwell Banker salesperson as his property manager at Century 21.
The commission also found that Bartos failed to disclose a conflict of interest and a dual agency relationship in a transaction that involved both Century 21 and Coldwell Banker. Finally, the commission found that Bartos failed to properly supervise a Century 21 salesperson in a residential sales transaction to ensure that a property disclosure form – wherein the seller reported flooding and drainage problems – was reviewed and signed by the buyer at the time of sale. (The buyer, who was unaware of these problems, subsequently experienced severe flooding at the residence the buyer had purchased.)
The Commission justified the suspension and the probation, which were not part of the ALJ’s proposed decision, because of the number, the seriousness, and the pattern of the violations.
The Commission isn’t exactly known for its strict regulation of its members. Partly that’s because the majority of its members are real estate brokers and licensees. Only a small fraction of the complaints made are seriously investigated. It takes serious misconduct to get yourself suspended. Amendments to real estate licensee law in 2002 removed the protection of agency law for persons working with a real estate licensee. Almost any kind of conflict of interest is permitted now. Provided you get a form signed. The failure by Bartos to get that form signed raised troubling questions that the Commission felt had to be punished.
Mr. Bartos has appealed the Commission’s decision. The appeal is in its very early stages.
So what should we take from Mr. Bartos’s Real Estate Commission decision as he runs for Borough Mayor? How does the strong reaction of a generally laissez faire Commission to his misconduct bear on his fitness to be Borough Mayor? Will his inadequate regard for conflicts of interest and disclosure be reflected in his mayoralty, if he is elected? For me, it is a very significant red flag. His failure to recognize his responsibility as broker for the actions and inactions of the licensees he is charged with supervising is another significant red flag. We have a strong field of candidates for Borough Mayor. We can afford to be choosy. Choose someone else.
Just for the record: these are my own observations. I’m not paid by anyone. These are my opinions, nothing more.
I read your opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today, Sarah. You’re not even close. It isn’t that you have the issues wrong; you don’t even understand the issues. Time and space don’t permit a sentence-by-sentence rebuttal, because it takes far longer to correct a lie than to tell one. But let’s look at some of your claims.
You say, “Our current health-care system too often burdens individuals and businesses—particularly small businesses—with crippling expenses.” It’s pretty easy to tell you’ve never owned a small business that offered its employees health insurance. If a small business can’t afford health insurance premiums – and they are terribly high – it either reduces the level of coverage or simply doesn’t provide coverage. Small business isn’t crippled; employees of small businesses are either underinsured or uninsured. The high cost of insurance premiums tends to increase the pool of Americans without health insurance.
If small businesses do offer health insurance, they necessarily pay their employees less. Those smaller paychecks you worry about if there is federal coverage? Bad news, sister, employers already impose them to make it possible to offer their employees coverage now.
You also claim, “It’s true that insurance companies can be unaccountable and unresponsive institutions—much like the federal government.” Again, you betray your limited experience. Anyone who has dealt with a health insurance carrier knows that the “Explanation of Benefits” is a “Non-explanation of Non-Payment of No Benefits.” And there is no appeal; at least with the government, you can fight it. For pure bureaucratic, muleheaded idiocy, you can’t beat a health insurer.
Your “solutions” are even lamer than your non sequitur analysis:
- “Providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage.” You don’t understand that existing Medicare reimbursements to physicians are so low that physicians refuse to treat Medicare patients. How do vouchers solve that problem?
- “Reforming tort laws to potentially save billions each year in wasteful spending.” Alaska – remember Alaska? – has some of the toughest medical malpractice reform statutes on the books. It’s fairly easy to prove the tough “tort reform” in Alaska has increased patient risk for malpractice. But it hasn’t done anything to slow the increases in health insurance premiums. Alaska’s rates still climb at 15-30% per year, four or five times the rate of inflation. Alaska’s tort reform has lowered the quality of health care without lowering the cost of premiums. Oops.
- “Changing costly state regulations to allow people to buy insurance across state lines.” The health care industry is spending $1.4 million per day fighting the modest health care reform Congress is discussing. And you want to talk about “costly”? Setting aside the absence of evidence that state insurance regulation significantly increases health care costs, your claim implies premiums would be lower in a state like New York or Illinois or Washington, where many health insurance carriers are based. Yet they aren’t. Oops again. Moreover, given the triggers of the current financial crisis, perhaps this isn’t the best time to argue for less government regulation. Maybe some of us have learned that less supervision of oligopolies is a ticket to financial disaster.
Sarah, don’t cite to health insurance industry-subsidized “research studies.” It’s what we call a “suspect source.” And, please, let go of the “death panels” business. It’s at the same level as “birthers” arguments: embarrassing and delusional.
You can wrap yourself in Ronald Reagan and right-wing aphorisms all you want. But health care is broken. Your “solutions” don’t even begin to address, let alone solve, the problems we face, partly because you don’t really understand the problems. Do some homework before you try to talk about this issue: buy four books on the health insurance crisis, two written by Democrats and two written by Republicans. Read them carefully. Compare the analyses each makes. Then, and only then, try to talk about the complex crisis we face.
His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then he never claimed not to be a god. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be any benefit. Silence, though, could.
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
How can that opening line not hook you into a story? No science fiction or fantasy writer has achieved the consistent level of quality writing that graced Zelazny’s work. Zelazny died in 1995, but his collected works have recently been anthologized in six volumes (four published at this date). As you read them, you cannot help but be struck by the consistent high quality across the short stories and novels.
Zelazny won three Nebula Awards (fourteen nominations) and six Hugo Awards (fourteen nominations). He is probably best known for his Chronicles of Amber, ten novels set in two series of five, but his best work is Lord of Light, which is on most critics’ short list as one of the ten or so best science fiction novels ever written. Prolific, poetic, wildly imaginative and endlessly inventive, I read and re-read his novels and short stories with delight.
He had a strong influence on writers as diverse as Steven Brust, Walter Jon Williams, Joe Haldeman, Neil Gaiman and Robert Silverberg, and many more. But as much as I like those writers, none of them is quite as good as Roger Zelazny.
Among his many gifts as a writer was his ability to sketch in a world or a situation by hints, rather than exposition. An anti-Robert Jordan, he wrote vividly and precisely, but without indulging in a single wasted word. His writing was poetic but spare, earthy but concise. It is very hard to wade through the latest cookie-cutter plot, 900-page opus, after reading Zelazny.
There is no bad Zelazny. Read anything he had written and see if I’m not right.