The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Healthcare, the battleground

Thursday 13 August 2009 at 10:47 pm

So the last few weeks have had America see a meteoric rise in largely-but-not-entirely manufactured outrage about the President’s plan to create a public healthcare system.

Well, that’s not true — it’s not the President’s plan, it’s a plan devised by (some of) Congress. That’s one of several steps Obama’s people took to try to avoid a repeat of Clinton’s failure in 1993, but (as one talking-head I saw tonight said) maybe they’re trying too hard on that front. The Democrats (for this issue has become painfully partisan) have failed miserably at selling their plan to ordinary people who see themselves as having to pay for it, and not having Obama to do his draw-people-together thing certainly didn’t help. Trying to rush the bill was also ill-advised.

And so the far-right were handed the perfect opportunity to jump into the void and spread fear, misinformation, and more fear. Hence the (not even extreme) examples of Sarah Palin’s dodgy remarks, and the editorial in an (admittedly half-rate) business paper panning on Britain’s NHS by saying Stephen Hawking would be left to die were he treated publicly. Even without facts, this tactic is brilliant; who’s gonna worry about the plight of others when fearing for your own life?

If only the plan were easy enough to comprehend that people could make up their minds for themselves. Oh wait, the current draft is a complicated mess.

If reform actually happens, it ought to be the high point of Obama’s term in office. But right now, I’m not holding out hope.


State got no money again?

Tuesday 30 June 2009 at 2:56 pm
  • Sometime tonight, the government of California will either reach a budget agreement, or (far more likely) continue in stalemate and stop paying creditors just like they did in February. The funny thing is that literally everyone who’s involved or watching agrees it’s a terrible train-wreck of a situation, and yet there are scant few people interested in addressing root causes like unsustainable spending growth ten years ago, or the state’s ridiculous limits on tax increases. (Oh, and this is a fun exercise …)
  • Meanwhile: late last week, slipping under the media radar courtesy of Michael Jackson (and Iran’s mild case of unrest before that), the US House passed a bill to establish cap-and-trade emissions controls not too far removed from Kevin Rudd’s plan for Australia. I’ve seen a few different places make this out as a big thing (heck, even the Fox News anchor last night was freaked by it). Yet this decision is nothing, because the law still needs to pass a hostile Senate — so, months at the very least. Given current conditions, I’ll be surprised if the US government actually implements any action on global warming before Obama’s term expires in 2012.

Voting for hope and change and stuff!

Wednesday 5 November 2008 at 2:39 am

It wasn’t a close race, in the end, but none of the Obama supporters I know felt comfortable until it was finally, definitely confirmed.

And how! Dripping with symbolism and references to the past, I thought the victory speech was amazing (did he sound more like Martin Luther King, or more like John Kennedy?). It was delivered with a skill of oration that few other world leaders could ever match, and was dignified far beyond the weakness of McCain’s concession speech.

I was particularly interested in how the Internet played out in the victory! Within minutes of the “Obama’s won” announcement (led by CNN pretty much on the dot of west coast polls closing), my Facebook news feed was filling with celebratory status messages, nevermind expected channels like Twitter and the blogosphere. Everybody I know of used the Web to keep up with results. And the Obama campaign sent a thankful e-mail to everyone on their list ten minutes before his speech!

Amidst all of this, my housemates were entertaining to watch! It was one thing to see people holding signs at traffic lights and train stations saying “vote Obama” or “yes on proposition 8” (see below), but it was quite another to see otherwise sensible people go insane with cheering and dancing and other expressions of having their faith restored, simply because a different party won an election!

(Although I was in Sydney and Melbourne during the last rounds of the campaign — both of which showed me an awesome time, yay for walking the bridge at 1am! — it didn’t seem to matter that I missed them. As far as I can tell, the biggest factors were losing trust in the Republicans because of the financial crisis, and never having gained trust in Sarah Palin.)

But California, oh, what were you thinking? Counting is incomplete but it looks like the vote is for a ban on gay marriage?! (The county map is telling: “no” votes centre entirely on the Bay Area …)


Sculptures, fluoro lamps, and foreign policy

Wednesday 21 February 2007 at 6:33 pm

I am disorganised, which means it’s time for another potpourri list.

[Sculptures at Werribee Park, near Melbourne]

  • This is a cool idea and probably worth supporting. The report in yesterday’s West Australian says it’d be an “Australian first”, which hardly sounds right — I took the photos above in a similar sculpture park in Werribee, Victoria.
  • Valé Elizabeth Jolley. Tis always a shame when an author on my “need to read more of” list passes away …
  • Good ol’ IMDB finally has a new design. About freakin’ time.
  • The Federal Government’s plan to outlaw incandescent globes is a bit of a shock and reeks horribly of taking an easy political target just to seem clean and green. It’s a good measure, to be sure, and should prompt innovation among fluoro manufacturers, but it’s not the panacea that it’s being talked up to be. The thing with most ‘environmentally friendly’ technologies is that they’re a case of lesser of two evils — and in this case, compact fluoros are filled with mercury, thus creating a bunch of disposal headaches. It’s a manageable problem, of course, but one that needs to be considered when saying things like “800 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide saved”.
  • Since I don’t exactly have a copy of The Diplomat in my back pocket, I can’t read the exact words of Kevin Rudd as he was reported last week. Apparently he is interested in being both an ally and constructive critic of US policy, which reminds me of a Kim Beazley speech I heard some years back: “Australia should be the friend America needs, not the friend America wants”. But he also talks about APEC and seems to criticise John Howard for supporting the East Asia Summit. I’m commenting on fragmented quotes, but he may be quite wrong, since APEC has thoroughly lost its way. His talk of revitalising APEC is good, as long as it involves reform, but I doubt it’s achievable — the Sydney meetings are straight before the election. As for the EAS, Howard deserves congratulations (not criticism) for representing Australia at a meeting that has much better prospects for earning long-term relevance.

Airliners, crackpots, bird flu and phones

Saturday 13 January 2007 at 11:48 pm
  • The best news I’ve heard so far this year: Tiger Airways, a Singaporean discount carrier modelled after Air Asia, is starting flights to Perth in March. And just like Air Asia, they have ridiculous discounts: $20 one way to Singapore, plus (obscene) taxes, on selected dates until October. This more than plugs the hole left when Valuair stopped its Perth flights after a merger with Qantas (mutter grumble), and makes it wonderfully cheap to travel around Asia. I’m already planning a trip to relatives in Penang for about $400, less than half the current cost. Hopefully this will also be a good thing for West Australian tourism — the State government had better take advantage of it!
  • Who decided that this guy was so important anyway? (Just like Christianity, Islam is divided into different factions and schools of thought, and he’s only one mufti …) I don’t think we should ban him from returning or revoke his citizenship (now that’s a horrid idea: how do you decide who’s a bad citizen?), and he’s entitled to freely travel and express his views. But if I flew overseas and told some people that all Australians are idiots, somehow I doubt there’d be such a swarm of coverage. The media need only stop paying attention in order to transform him into Yet Another Harmless Crackpot.
  • The ASEAN summit in Cebu, postponed from last December, has just started. Impressively, our government has used this as a chance to pitch in a $5m donation to combat bird flu, which gives some meat to the rather hollow Declaration from the last East Asia Summit, and fits in nicely with the argument made on page 29 of my thesis ;-)
  • Finally, after more considered analysis, I’m not sure the iPhone is as awesome as it first seemed. It’s far and away the best phone interface ever, that much is certain, but it won’t be able to run 3rd-party software (perhaps not even Web 2.0 apps), we know little about the camera, and there’s a case to be made that hardware keyboards are better (they’re good for blind people — such as me, when SMSing while half-asleep). Speaking of which, this is an awesome response to everyone’s reactions.

Some Americans went to ballot boxes yesterday

Wednesday 8 November 2006 at 11:40 pm

And to think, my American politics lecturer said that mid-term elections were always boring.

The House of Reps is in Democrat hands for the first time in ages, the speculators are saying the Senate will fall the same way, and voter turnout is up by a reasonable amount. Wow.

Even more interesting than party control in Congress are the referenda about abortion and gay marriage that were attached to the vote in some states. While some of the results were thoroughly predictable, there were quite a few that caught me by surprise, such as in Arizona. Among the flood of blog posts about the election, Pandagon does a good job covering these issues (also pointing to how a Republican “oh no a woman will be Speaker!” campaign backfired).

So now that it’s clear that G.W. (or maybe just the protracted Iraq war) is unpopular among a good chunk of the folks who voted this time around, I wonder if that sentiment will be sustained up until the next presidential election? Or maybe this result is just because a greater proportion of left-leaning Americans got fired up enough to vote in this “small” election, and come 2008 the vote for president will lure out an equivalent number of Republican supporters …

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