The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Protest and Rebuttal

Depending on exactly which estimates you use, the various women's marches around the country last Saturday are the largest protest event in our nation's history. It comes as little surprise that those who disagree with the values espoused at those events have already started to spread counterarguments.

The most common seems to be that women in America are already equal and have nothing to be afraid of. To a certain extent this seems quite convincing, given the status of women's rights in the US compared to what one tends to find in the Middle East, Africa, or parts of Southeast Asia.

What this gets wrong, though, is that the existence of greater problems elsewhere doesn't render all other problems irrelevant until those are dealt with. That argument, when challenged that way, tends to shift, and add an extra clause: that because our problems are so much smaller, they do not merit this much effort spent on them.

Needless to say I don't agree. Some of those reasons have probably been heard before, such as:

The stats regarding sexual assault in the US - such as the estimates regarding unreported incidents - are still not encouraging, despite all of the progress we've theoretically made.

Neither are the numbers regarding the pay gap or women in leadership positions.

Others are a little more unusual:

Women who fight back against domestic abuse are routinely treated harshly by our justice system.

Female genital mutilation wasn't actually banned here until 1996 - hell, health insurance covered it as a medical procedure until the 1970s! Oh, and it hasn't gone away yet, either, even here.

And some are just frightening:

There are religious right leaders in the US talking about first-degree murder sentences for women who use an IUD or Plan B contraception.

There are also women in the US that have been arrested following a miscarriage.

Other nations might have worse problems, yes, and they need assistance. If anyone tries to tell me that we do not have serious problems of our own, though, then I'm going to tell them that they aren't paying attention.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Repealing Obamacare

As expected, the new Republican-controlled Congress has voted to repeal Obamacare - or, at least, as much as they can reach through the budget provisions. They've promised to introduce more bills quickly to replace some of what they can repeal and alter other provisions they can't affect with the reconciliation bill, although exactly what that would look like is still a little unclear.

Needless to say I'm not particularly happy about this.

The best case scenario I can see (at least for one side) involves the Republicans somehow managing to get their block grants, interstate insurance markets, high-risk pools, and insurance-related tax deductions through a Democratic filibuster quickly. (Given the number of people who have painted unhappy visions of a partial repeal, I don't think I need to cover those negatives, and I don't really want to spend too much time on that anyway.)

Even if I grant the assumption that they'll get it through quickly, and if my assumptions about what policies they'll pursue are correct, it still doesn't look good to me. Once insurers actually manage to establish the networks they need in other states (which will not be simple, easy, or quick), then they're just going to find the state with the least comprehensive requirements and operate there. That's fine if you don't need very much coverage... but with the reduction in the market for more comprehensive plans, those prices are going to go up, and many people who need more coverage are going to find themselves in trouble. And I doubt that any high-risk pools will have low enough prices to help, or that any of the incentives offered to offset costs will be anything other than a cut relative to what the ACA offers.

And yes, government spending will also go down... along with the number of people actually receiving assistance from Medicare and Medicaid, or the number of people receiving assistance to obtain health insurance.

So what I end up looking at is less coverage for our money, fewer people being covered, and probably no change in my taxes, since we're in debt either way. I see more people risking their health on more limited insurance, and I think many of them are going to find themselves worse off as a result. I see many people not being covered at all, and I know they'll definitely be worse off.

Somehow it seems just a little bit callous to be happy about those prospects, when my budget can easily survive the increases in taxes or insurance costs that keeping Obamacare would entail.

Monday, December 19, 2016

On Finding Something to Talk About

... If not for this post, I would be missing my second week in a row of blog posts. Given that this blog has lain dormant for months in the past, it's not like this is a new problem to have. This time, though, as I considered topics to write about, discarded them, wrote and re-wrote opening sentences, and otherwise got exactly nothing done, it occurred to me that doing a bit of self-reflection on what makes this difficult might be an interesting blog post on its own. So here we are.

Finding topics I feel strongly about usually isn't the problem. I can think of two or three right off the top of my head, and I think the people I've interacted with in debates can agree that I don't like to abandon an argument. Also, given that each draft I've got in my blog's list represents something I thought might be interesting to write about, the fact that I've added plenty of those in recent days supports the thought that I've got topics to write about.

Then again, that increasing number of incomplete drafts I have lying around suggests that figuring out how to properly express my thoughts may be part of the problem. It's a bit of a balancing act between worrying about the mistakes or misinterpretations I'm leaving open and worrying about making the whole thing too elaborate and hard to understand (never mind the inconsistencies that show up when I start being elaborate). It's great for thinking about my ideas, but tends not to produce anything I want to show to other people.

Not much for that but more practice and more confidence, though. Hopefully I'll have something to show for it next week.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Entertainment and Value

So far today, I've basically wasted all of my time bouncing around my favorite corners of the Internet - checking all of my favorite blogs, reading a couple webcomics, refreshing my Facebook page incessantly, etc. So a pretty standard weekend morning with absolutely no hint of any useful work done, right?

Well, one webcomic for today (Schlock Mercenary) indirectly refers to a nice little philosophical question about the nature of one's self, consciousness, and death. So maybe that's not quite so useless as far as interesting material to ponder is concerned. One of the blogs (Ask a Manager) focuses entirely on work-related questions and has a lot of useful advice for managers or really anyone dealing with interpersonal issues at work. So that's probably helpful too, in the long run. And, of course, there's still plenty of ranting on my Facebook page both for and against the Electoral College, and some people are referring to some pretty good articles and posts on the topic. That's probably also an important question to consider...

I've addressed this point before, of course, but moments like this only reinforce my conviction that if you can't think of the value derived from a given activity, the problem probably isn't that the activity is useless; it's more likely that you've failed to figure out what the benefit is. There are some activities for which that's not true, some activities that don't provide any benefit, but they seem to be the exception to the rule.

Of course, inevitably people will claim that you're not correctly judging the benefit, or that it costs too much, or that there's a more efficient way to get the same benefit, and so on. Some of these claims are valid. Many of them are not, though, and there are two major pitfalls that they usually run into.

One is comparing the efficiency of a given activity to some theoretical ideal without considering the costs of reaching that efficiency. Yes, I probably could become a better philosopher faster by taking college courses or joining a discussion group instead of reading webcomics. But given the effort it'd require to set the former activities up, are they really a realistic option for me? If the choice is between doing something to keep my brain active and doing nothing, then the benefit is a lot easier to see, and it makes quite a bit less sense to blame me for doing what I can.

The other is using the wrong standards to judge the benefit of an activity. There are plenty of college degrees that rarely pay for themselves on the job market, for example. Then again, when you read a work advice blog, you run across plenty of stories about people that are getting massively overpaid for crappy work, or massively underpaid for great work. Or we could just reflect on the value of good journalism and the impact the news media has on the world, and ask ourselves how many people are willing to pay for it. So it seems fairly clear that there are other ways to think about what value something has, and it seems fairly shortsighted to dismiss something as valueless because it fails only at one metric for determining value.

I'd encourage everyone to take a step back, think about something they see as useless, and ask themselves whether they're really made the right call there or not. If nothing else, finding more ways to get value out of your everyday life is something that anyone can benefit from.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

NaNoWriMo report

I think this blog going offline for the month of November has become a tradition all on its own. Hopefully I won't end up leaving it offline for even longer like past years.

At least I've got something to show for the distraction, since I just hit 50,000 words and won NaNoWriMo this year. I even actually managed to reach the point where I slap a "the end" onto the page and say that this is the last word in my novel! (In previous years, I've tended to stop writing at 50k and/or the last big climax and never actually finish wrapping up the ending properly.)

Perhaps better yet, the group of people I met while doing NaNoWriMo apparently will still meet for creative writing events even outside of November, so I've got a bit more hope than usual that I'll be able to keep some good habits going as far as re-writing and editing some of my older projects is concerned. (Or this year's. It certainly needs it.)

Anyway, I am going to be doing that, and I'm also going to try and get back into the weekly blog post habit as well.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Analyzing the Ballot

Anyone who has been paying attention to my Facebook page or this blog probably knows or can easily guess exactly how I'm going to vote, so little of this should come as any surprise.

Still, in case anyone wants a quick look at how I'm deciding between the various candidates that will be on my ballot (specifically: Calvert County, Maryland), well, here you go. I'm drawing most of my information about the candidate's positions from the Baltimore Sun's guide and from the information available at www.vote411.org.


I probably don't need to belabor this one too much. I don't really like Clinton's character. I think she's demonstrated that she's not very transparent, is willing to say whatever she needs to, and is very good at coloring the truth without ever telling an actual lie. The email server, and the way her reaction to that has evolved, is merely the most recent instance of this.

Basically, she's a politician, and while I understand the pressures they face and the requirements of their job, I wish it was easier for that sort of person to be honest.

But she's very intelligent, is willing to publicly commit to positions I agree with on almost any issue, I want her to select the next Supreme Court justices, and my complaints about Clinton's character are minor compared to my complaints about Trump's.

US Senate

As I go through their answers to the Sun's questions, I was surprised by some of Szeliga's (the Republican). There were several points for which they were similar to Van Hollen's, mostly on minimum wage and financial regulation. Of course, she also supports increasing charter schools and vouchers, which I oppose. And her answer on Iran and foreign policy was not good - I don't understand why people are willing to uncritically accept what amounts to enemy propaganda when deciding what effect the nuclear deal has had.

I did also look at Flowers (Green). While she has some ideas I don't mind, many of them are too ambitious to be workable, and her anti-nuclear positions aren't good.

US House - MD District 5

In this case, there was a very clear winner - the difference in details provided versus empty rhetoric was incredibly obvious when comparing Hoyer and Arness. Or maybe that's just because I think the latter's pro-life, IRS revocation, and incredibly hard-line anti-Russia and anti-ISIS positions are poorly thought out, at best.

In this race the third party candidate is Summers (Libertarian). Who wants a complete withdrawal from all overseas bases, believes the free market can handle environmental costs, and doesn't even support any national effort for redistricting reform - all positions I disagree with.

Judicial Elections

To be honest... I don't know enough about any of these people to want them out of their seats.

Calvert County Board of Education

I can add another source to my list for this one - MSEA's recommendations.

The problem is that they're not very detailed regarding why a particular candidate was recommended, which makes it difficult for me to decide whether I'm willing to trust their word or not.

For District 1, I think Balinski's greater detail about what improvements need to be made and her experience makes her a better choice than Jones. For District 2, Highsmith and McGuire seem to be just about even in my opinion of the policies they promote; some issues present minor differences, but overall I like parts of both their stances. MSEA's recommendation for Highsmith ends up carrying the day there. And for District 3, the problem is that I have lots of information about Knowles' positions and none about McConkey's, but McConkey has MSEA's recommendation. In the end, I think I'm going to go with MSEA.

MD Constitutional Amendment

When I first saw the "require the Governor to replace the Attorney General or Comptroller only from the same party", I was wondering why the hell we needed a restriction like that.

However, given that the voters select those two positions, it seems reasonable to find some way to honor the voters' choice of party, at least. Maybe not required, given that the voters also selected (and hopefully trust) the judgment of the governor, as well, but not an unreasonable restriction.

And I do like the special election provision in the amendment.


... As I said, that shouldn't have come as any surprise. It is an interestingly annoying exercise, particularly since I'm sure I could (and probably should) care more and do more research on the down-ballot races, but either way, here's where I stand.

Monday, October 24, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016

So, I'm doing National Novel Writing Month again this year.

It'll be an interesting challenge, particularly when I compare it to last year's victory. I'm fairly certain that being underway for the entire month actually helped me win. Making time to write might be a little harder than usual, but making it a part of an established, heavily regimented routine was much easier than coming up with a daily routine that included the writing. No outside Internet probably cut down on the distractions, too.

Also, last year's story allowed me to focus heavily on world-building and dramatic battle scenes. In fact, it now needs what amounts to a complete rewrite, since I completely ignored my nominal protagonist in favor of writing cool things about the battles going on around him. I debated making that rewrite my project for this year, but I'd rather write something new from scratch than wonder whether deciding to include entire paragraphs from last year allows me to add those paragraphs to my word count.

Which doesn't mean I'm completely abandoning last year. I'll finish that rewrite eventually (maybe), and I'd always intended to use the fantasy world I created as a setting for more stories in the future. So, I get to take one of the minor characters from last year and write a prequel that talks about their backstory... and adds more details about multiple universes, and the magic system, and other things that have always been part of how I looked at this world, but weren't relevant last year. That's the fun part.

The challenging part is that this is a much more character driven story than last year. Basically all of the conflicts I've got right now are internal affairs or personality driven - I doubt I can even get much in the way of personal combat out of this, never mind the fleet combat that drove up last year's word count. Writing about personal trauma and how people react to it is... certainly possible, but it also makes me quite a bit more likely to question how well I'm doing or agonize about minor details of word choice and reaction. Which isn't good when you're trying to get lots of words down quickly.

Also, is it too much to ask for my favorite authors to not release new books in their series during November? I don't need more distractions... (and I'll probably happily read them anyway).