Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Because I Can't Not Blog About Health Care Reform

Judging by the reactions of my Facebook friends and the people who leave comments on the blogs I read, people are pretty fired up about it. Some are fired up like the student section at a high school football game; and some are fired up like Peter Finch in Network. Here are my thoughts on some of the more interesting and controversial aspects of the legislation that the House passed late Sunday night:

  • The Overwhelming Positives
    Insurance companies will not be allowed to deny or charge higher rates for customers because of pre-existing conditions. That's fantastic. They also will not be allowed to establish spending caps. Great. Insurance companies will be required to cover certain services, including preventative care. Very good. The plan also will create health insurance exchanges that will provide better and more affordable options for those who must buy health insurance on the open market. As someone who once had the misfortune of buying health insurance on the open market, I applaud this. These provisions alone make this legislation worthwhile.

  • Abortion

    The government won't pay for elective abortions. But under the Senate plan, people will be able to buy insurance that covers abortion on the new health insurance exchanges, as long as the insurance company pays for the services with patient premiums, not taxpayer subsidies. Medicaid has an exemption for cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

    Even before the President agreed to sign an executive order saying that federal funds would not be used to cover abortions (the executive order that led to the bill's passing), the Senate bill already included measures to ensure that taxpayer money would pay for no abortion services (measures opposed by NARAL, NOW, and Planned Parenthood). Considering that abortion is a legal and tax-deductible medical procedure in the United States, abortion opponents should be pleased with the lengths to which both houses went to make sure that taxpayers will not be funding abortions.

    Also, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that "abortion rates declined during the first two years that Massachusetts implemented a near-universal health coverage program much like the [plan that the House passed on Sunday night]." So there's that.

  • Medicaid Expansion
    I would guess that my state representative, Susan Lynn, and I agree on very little pertaining to health care reform. But I share Rep. Lynn's concern about Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is a joint federal-state program. Many states devote a big chunk of their budgets to Medicaid funding, and some (including Tennessee) are struggling to meet their current obligations. Paying for an expansion will be especially difficult for these states. While I think that Medicaid expansion is important, it could cause serious problems if relief is not provided to the states. On the other hand, this provision of the bill will not take effect until 2014; and a lot can change between now and then.

  • Children Covered Until Age 26
    26 strikes me as too old to still be covered by one's parents' health insurance. Were I drafting such a provision, I would allow people to keep their parents' insurance for one year after completing or abandoning an undergraduate degree program or a trade school program, setting 26 as a maximum age. But I'm being picky here. Moving on . . . .

  • The Individual "Mandate"
    My initial reaction to the provision that taxes individuals who do not acquire health insurance, either through an employer or through the forthcoming health insurance exchanges: I'm not crazy about it, but I understand its purpose. I really need to do more research on this topic before saying anything more.

    The President rejected the idea of an individual mandate during the 2008 primary campaign (and I favored his approach to Hillary Clinton's). He flip-flopped. But I don't mind when politicians flip-flop, if they're honest about it and have good reason for doing so. Often flip-flopping is preferable to stubbornly refusing to change one's mind. I respect President Obama for being up front about taking a new approach.

  • This Is Nothing New
    Essentially, the health care portion of this legislation (as opposed to the student loan portion) does two things: 1) It regulates the health insurance industry. 2) It expands or modifies existing federal programs. The health insurance industry is by no means alone in being subject to federal regulation. The government already regulates agriculture, banking, tobacco, air travel, etc. And this bill does not create any new federal entitlement programs; it only adjusts programs that already exist.

    Contrary to many of the rumors and myths circulating about this legislation, it does not amount to government-run health care or a government takeover of the health care industry. The new American health care system bears very little resemblance to the health care systems in Canada or the UK. It is closer to the Swiss and German systems, but the plan passed by the House on Sunday is uniquely American. And, though this should be common knowledge by now, the bill does not create government panels that will decide what benefits or procedures individuals can receive (let alone the notorious "death panels" that will supposedly decide when to pull the plug on grandma).

  • The Will of the People
    Polls showing that a majority or plurality of the American people were opposed to this legislation led some Republicans in Congress to make the case that passing this bill would amount to going against the will of the people. These representatives failed to consider that a significant minority of those opposed to the plan opposed it because it didn't go far enough. For many of these people, passing a flawed or incomplete bill was preferable to doing nothing at all. And I suspect that another significant minority of those opposed based their opinion (at least in part) on falsehoods about death panels and publicly funded abortions. (But I'm just guessing.) At any rate, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released earlier this week, "By 49%-40%, those polled say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill." It's only one poll, but it should be enough to make one skeptical about claims that most of the American people did not want Congress to pass this health care reform package.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's a Fire, Started With a Single Match

I started this fire with one match (and no fuel that didn't come from a tree). That's not terribly impressive until you consider that I haven't successfully started a fire with fewer than five matches since I had to make a two-match fire at Boy Scout camp in 1989. (Featuring Grandma, Grandpa, Ashlee, and the kids.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God's Bracket 2010: Women's Edition

And here's a look at the teams from religiously affiliated schools in this year's NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament.

I'm getting ready to leave on vacation and won't have Internet access for a few days, so I don't have time to write any commentary. But I will say this: Regardless of your religious affiliation, you should pick Connecticut to win this tournament.

Here's the rundown:

Roman Catholic

  • Notre Dame (#2, Kansas City)

  • St. John's (#6, Dayton)

  • Xavier (#3, Sacramento)

  • Georgetown (#5, Memphis)

  • Gonzaga (#7, Sacramento)

  • Dayton (#8, Memphis)

  • DePaul (#11, Sacramento)

  • St. Francis (PA) (#15, Dayton)


  • Baylor (#4, Memphis)

  • Liberty (#13, Kansas City)

United Methodist

  • Duke (#2, Memphis)

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

  • Texas Christian (#9, Memphis)

Note: While not listed, Vanderbilt (#6, Sacramento) has historical ties to The United Methodist Church; Princeton (#11, Dayton) has historical ties to Presbyterianism; and Marist (#12, Memphis) has historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church.

See Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports for an appendix with a complete list of religiously affiliated Division I schools.

God's Bracket 2010: Men's Edition

Once again, here is my annual look at the religiously affiliated schools in the NCAA Tournament.

As usual the Archdiocese of Hoops dominates the field with eight Roman Catholic schools represented in this year's tournament, including second-seeded Villanova and third-seeded Georgetown.

But many United Methodist basketball fans were "strangely warmed" to learn that both Duke and Syracuse are the top seeds in their respective regions.

When Steph Curry left Davidson for the NBA, he took with him any hope of the Wildcats getting the Presbyterians back to the Big Dance after a disappointing absence last year. The theological heirs of John Calvin this year put their faith in preseason Conference USA favorite Tulsa. Alas, the Golden Hurricane was not predestined to be in this year's field.

Here's the complete rundown:

Roman Catholic

  • Notre Dame (#6, South)

  • Georgetown (#3, Midwest)

  • Xavier (#6, West)

  • Marquette (#6, East)

  • Gonzaga (#8, West)

  • Villanova (#2, South)

  • St. Mary's (#10, South)

  • Siena (#13, South)

United Methodist

  • Duke (#1, South)

  • Syracuse (#1, West)

  • Wofford (#13, East)


  • Baylor (#3, South)

  • Wake Forest (#9, East)

Latter-Day Saints

  • Brigham Young (#7, West)

Note: While not listed, Vanderbilt (#4, West) has historical ties to The United Methodist Church.

See Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports for an appendix with a complete list of religiously affiliated Division I schools.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"In Africa"

As an editor of religious publications, I frequently come across the phrase "in Africa": "HIV/AIDS in Africa"; "malaria in Africa"; "dehydration and a scarcity of clean water in Africa"; "poverty in Africa"; "hunger in Africa"; "hyperinflation in Africa"; and so forth.

OK. I can't write "in Africa" nine times and not stop to do this. (I don't blog as much as I used to, but when I do, I like to put in the extra effort.)

With that out of my system, here are my points:

  • Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent. It covers one-fifth of the world's land mass. It is home to 53 sovereign nations (including island nations and not including Western Sahara). And it is a very geographically and culturally diverse continent. Yet we speak of it as though it is a single country. (I suppose that we sometimes do the same thing with Europe, but Europe is much smaller, more homogeneous, and more politically unified than is Africa.) By using "Africa" as an umbrella term for so many different nations, we fail to take seriously the unique political and cultural dynamics of each individual country.

  • Problems such as HIV/AIDS and water scarcity have devastated several African nations. But these problems are not endemic to all countries in Africa. While even a single case of AIDS is one too many, Senegal and Tunisia and Madagascar do not have an AIDS problem the way that Swaziland and Botswana and South Africa have an AIDS problem. And countries such as Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Mauritius have been spared the poverty, hyperinflation, and corruption that have ravaged countries such as Zimbabwe and Somalia and Niger. Moreover, the problems most often associated with Africa are by no means limited to Africa. HIV/AIDS also is prevalent in India and in several Caribbean nations; water scarcity also is a serious problem in many Asian nations. Instead of talking about "__________ in Africa" we should consider problems facing individual countries, whether these countries are in Africa or another continent.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Grandma Made This for Meyer for His Birthday

Mario pad

Awesome, right? Here it is in context:

Mario pad in context

Mario sign by @neithercoast. And here are some more pictures of the closet that we turned into Meyer's new bedroom:

Meyer's roomMeyer's room

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Re: Stoning Whales

If you don't waste as much time on the Internet as I do, you may not have come across this piece of work by American Family Association blogger Bryan Fischer. Fischer argues that Tillikum, the Sea World killer whale who last week killed a trainer, should have been stoned to death back in 1991. Last week's incident was the third fatality involving Tilly, the first of which happened 19 years ago. Fischer says:

If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone's misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, "When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable." (Exodus 21:28)

Fischer continues:

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn't kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, "the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death." (Exodus 21:29)

In other words, when Tilly was involved in a second death in 1999, both he and Chuck Thompson (the Sea World curator in charge of animal behavior) should have been stoned to death.

(To be fair to Tillikum, the first death was entirely accidental. The second involved a man who snuck into Sea World after hours to go swimming with the orcas. Hardly Tilly's fault.)

The logistics of stoning a 6-ton sea mammal alone make me wonder whether Fischer is being facetious. But I've never known the AFA to have a sense of humor. So let's think about this.

Fischer argues that the Bible is clear that, if an animal belonging to a human kills a human, that animal should be put to death, by stoning. If you take literally the Scripture that Fischer cites, then this law applies only to oxen. It says nothing about whales. But even if one considers the spirit of the law, one could make a solid argument that this commandment applies to domesticated work animals and not to wild animals that have been captured, forced to live in the whale equivalent of a cupboard under the stairs, and coaxed into performing for tourists.

But let's say that the law was meant for any animal, wild or domestic, whom a human has claimed ownership of for any purpose. If, as a culture, we decide that fidelity to Scripture requires us to stone whales who are responsible for human deaths, it follows that fidelity to Scripture also requires us to stone disobedient children per Deuteronomy 21:18-21. And that wouldn't be good.

The Jewish tradition has compilations of rabbinic commentary that help unpack and interpret troublesome laws and stories. Christians use a different tool. We grant authority to Old Testament Scriptures that suit us and ignore the ones that don't. Christians of all stripes do this. If a law or story supports a social, cultural, or moral issue that we're passionate about, we cite it without qualification. If we find a Scripture problematic, we say that Christ rendered it moot or that it was specific to the culture of the ancient Near East and no longer applies today. We all do this, and I don't know that there's a solution to this problem. Maybe we all just need to be honest about our inconsistency.

This May Be the Most Profound and Provocative Article The Onion Ever Has Published

KENEMA, SIERRA LEONE—Standing waist-deep in one of the many gravel pits that surround the city of Kenema, and struggling to fight off the harsh African sun, local diamond miner Muwomba D'akari was deeply saddened Monday to learn of Linda Hines and David Meyer's recently canceled wedding engagement.

"Dave and Lulu? But that can't be," said D'akari, who in early 2009 awoke at dawn, dragged his meager frame eight miles to work, and spent half a day digging out the precious stone used by Meyer to propose to his then girlfriend. "The two of them, they were absolutely perfect for each other. David and Linda, they were so, so in love."

Read the entire thing. Please.