September 16, 2009

Straw Men

As a veteran of the Culture Wars, or, perhaps more appropriately, as someone who was raised inside of the Religious Right and was taught at an early age that the rest of society was "out to get us" and was pushing an agenda that was Not Right, I think I have a certain perspective on the insular nature of American Christians ... especially White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

It's not healthy.

By way of example, I would point you to a conversation I had recently along with several of my friends with an individual who honestly believes in the Birther Conspiracy. What's more, it is this individual's sincere belief that the news media is completely untrustworthy, except for certain stalwarts of Rupert Murdoch's empire, and these are 100% reliable insofar as they agree with the beliefs that this individual espouses.

How does one get to such an insular "Us vs. Them" mentality where one is able to so easily and readily demonize one's opposition and where straw men and the opposition are one and the same? It's easy if you've never been friends with the opposition.

Same thing goes for Us vs. Those Gay People. I would place a sizeable wager that the vast majority of the Religious Right has never even met a gay persion, much less befriended one and had a long-standing interpersonal relationship. Likewise for just about any other subset of the Left.

I'm not saying this to excuse the Left... far from it. And people like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher are every bit as insiduous on the Left as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are on the right.

The point is this: even the most caricatured individual on the opposite side of the aisle has a mother who probably loved him/her and probably several other people who concur. And by meeting with that someone, breaking bread and honestly getting to know him or her as a person rather than as a set of despised values, one loses the ability to demonize. Further, without the insane screaming and caricature that comes with demonizing the other side, one gets the advantage of a rational discourse with the opposing side and can (hopefully) avoid straw men altogether.

And perhaps even more radically, an important life lesson to me from someone on the other side is this: if you can reduce a complex or long-held disagreement between sizeable parties to a cut-and-dry solution that doesn't appear to brook any rational argument, you don't understand the opposition's viewpoint at all.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:00 PM | TrackBack

September 04, 2009

The Right to Healthcare

Because I hate myself, I'm going to go ahead and try to figure out how we need to reform healthcare. Yeah... this should go really well.

Before I do that though, I have a question that I think we need to answer: Is there such a thing as a "Right to Heathcare" ? I'm not sure that I have a right answer for this one.
There are two camps on this. It's pretty hard to advocate for the group that says 'no' on the basis that it doesn't sound very compassionate. At the same time, this sounds like the group that's doing the most thinking on the subject and realizing that there's such a thing as scarcity of resources and the fact that it's impossible to provide every existing healthcare option to every patient. Also, this group tends to be strict Constitutional literalists who don't see "the right to healthcare" written anywhere in the Constitution as guaranteed and thus, there's no such thing.

Before defending its logical basis, the second group would like to point out that a "right to healthcare" is something of a Universal Moral Imperative, regardless of how much it costs. That said, on the logical and Constitutional front, they would like to point out that when the Declaration of Independence advocates for "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness", it's pretty tricky to live or pursue happiness if you're dying of cancer. Also, for those of you who didn't have the benefit of memorizing the preamble to the Constitution, I'd like to print it out for you and see what jumps out. I'll even toss you a bone and highlight the relevant section

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

So basically, on one side of the debate we have the logical stance, albeit heartless and on the other side we have impracticality and compassion... but they really do have at least some leg to stand on in the realm of Constitutionality and "the will of the Founding Fathers."

Here's the problem: nobody on the anti-reform side of this is ever going to come out and say "guys, the problem here is scarcity... we can't afford to give healthcare to everyone." Sure, they'll say things approaching that and things in that general neighborhood... but there's no way to say "stop, we can't do that" without sounding like an asshole. That's just the way it is.

On the other side, you have the pro-reform side, and they're never going to explain how exactly we're going to pay for this. Because the other side is right... scarcity is a problem and you can't give everyone the option of all non-elective medicine without it costing you something. The numbers I've been hearing price it at somewhere around $1 trillion over 10 years for a really cut-rate plan and some estimates north of $2 trillion for the plans currently on the table.

And that's the part about this debate that really drives me ape. Because neither side will admit to the inherent issues of their debate, people are arguing past each other. And then Sarah Palin showed up along with the lynch mobs.

Actually, let's forget Sarah Palin for a minute* and focus on these morons screaming at the "town hall meetings"? Seriously? Is this the best we can do for a reasoned response? And the people supporting this nonsense want me to vote for them next year? Let's just take a pass on "un-American" as far as the screaming at politicians in town-hall meetings goes (though, really, I expect better from the 'Party of Lincoln') and go straight to "mouth-breathing, rabid moron with an IQ surpassed by some of the goo growing on the floor of a public rest-room." Have I sufficiently communicated my contempt? Good.

The thing that infuriates me the most about this whole "debate" is that the only people interested in having an honest and forthright discussion about health-care are the academics. The "loyal opposition" is far too busy talking about "pulling the plug on grandma," "death panels" and attempting to defend the patriotism of the aforementioned restroom stains. And, of course, the advocates of health-care reform want to breeze over the exponential expansion in the annual federal budget and do some magic hand-waving to explain away legitimate concerns about the costs.

Now, it actually appears that I've run out of space... so I'm just going to call this a rant and go back to the drawing-board, content that I've defined the beginnings of this debate, if only for myself.

*Because, really, she's an idiot... can we all just agree that she's an idiot and ignore her forever? Let's just pretend that John McCain found someone with a 3-digit IQ to be his VP Candidate and forget this ever happened. Is it honestly that hard to forget a VP Candidate who lost?)

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 08:08 AM | TrackBack

September 01, 2009

Qualitative Reviews

If you don't typically read Rands in Repose (and really, I recommend that you do, especially if you're an engineer and/or an employee of a large corporation), I would encourage you to go read his recent blurb on performance reviews. While it's guided particularly towards year-end reviews, it applies to some extent or another to pretty much any written review of work done by an employee/co-worker/student.

Oddly enough, we're getting on to that year-end review point ourselves any I've been going over my current accomplishments while, at the same time, trying to make a decision regarding my own placement at the company.

You see, right now, my manager is in charge of 30-ish people who are on, at last count, 8 different projects. And while some of them are similar, these are projects of at least 10 and as many as 50 people that encompass a VAST array of functionality, goals, development processes, development philosophies and even locations in the development life-cycle. To make a long story short, my boss is in charge of a team that would be hell to keep track of even if we were all doing the same thing with half of the people, and we're doing nothing of the sort.

And really, who wants a micro-managing boss? I love my hands-off manager... it helps me get things done, there's minimal interference and really, he's like artillery... he's there to provide heavy-duty support, but generally he leaves me alone until someone calls for him. But there's this problem of hands-off, and it generally involves a careful balancing act that, if ignored, leads one's boss having a very low-resolution understanding of all of the good things one is doing. Now, you hope that other people are calling in for support from time to time and he's getting a complete picture... but I really would prefer that my feedback come from time spent directly interacting with the guy who is my face to the people who are giving me raises and cutting my checks.

Setting aside the whole raft of political realities and re-orgs, the real question on something like this is to what extent I've been attempting to solicit verbal feedback in advance of something like a year-end or mid-year review. And in my case, the answer is that I've been too busy working. Which is just a terrible answer, because it means that this lack of communication thing is failing on my end. So without communication, in marketing-speak, my message is getting lost.

And, even worse, written reviews are political, no matter where you are... especially where one's career is involved. And if you don't understand the politics and aren't playing the politics, you're losing. And by not getting involved earlier and more often, I'm shooting myself in the foot. Because even if your manager is benevolent and favorably-inclined (as mine is, fortunately), your political game ties into a bigger political game and again, if you're not playing, you're losing.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:06 PM | TrackBack