Archive for September 7th, 2009
The Federal Times has provided a disturbing example of government waste. Situations like these cause many people to distrust the federal government (except, of course, when the government is invading another country with government employee-soldiers).
The U.S. Postal Service, struggling with a massive deficit caused by plummeting mail volume, spends more than a million dollars each week to pay thousands of employees to sit in empty rooms and do nothing. It’s a practice called “standby time,” and it has existed for years — but postal employees say it was rarely used until this year. Now, postal officials say, the agency is averaging about 45,000 hours of standby time every week — the equivalent of having 1,125 full-time employees sitting idle, at a cost of more than $50 million per year.
According to Federal Times article, mail volume is way down (largely because of the Internet), and the USPS can’t keep all of its employees busy. This article states that union rules prohibit layoffs or re-assignment to locations that do need workers. Federal Times reported that postal officials admitted that 15,000 postal workers did least some “standby time” last year, many of them spending entire shifts in break rooms where they do crosswords and personal reading, and some even sleep through their shifts. The article notes that letter carriers are not among the affected employees; letter carriers are being kept busy due to reduced numbers of those positions and increasing numbers of addresses to service.
Speaking of mail volume being way down, my letter carrier tells me that almost everything he delivers is advertising, magazines, bills or greeting cards. People are squawking about closing some post offices, but shouldn’t there be even a bigger cost-saving move to reduce deliveries to three per week? Couldn’t I possibly wait an extra day for that magazine, for that bill or for that mailer worth 15% off on my next delivery of pizza? Think of all the fuel and money taxpayers could save if we delivered mail to residences only every other day instead of every day . . .
80-year old Paul Kurtz is still upbeat about civilization. Kurtz, “the father of secular humanism,” should probably be considered one of the “old atheists.” For decades before anyone ever heard of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Kurtz worked tirelessly to promote the virtues of secular humanism, the duties each of us owe to our communities and the need for critical thinking and skeptical inquiry. In addition to being a prolific author and philosophy professor, Kurtz is also founder and chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism (publisher of Free Inquiry Magazine), and the Center for Inquiry.
Kurtz coined the term eupraxsophy (originally eupraxophy) to refer to “philosophies or lifestances such as secular humanism and Confucianism that do not rely on belief in the transcendent or supernatural.” As the foundation for the practice of eupraxsophy, Kurtz stresses that it is not a simplistic pitting of religion against science. Though scientific reasoning is a cornerstone of his world view, Kurtz also designates three basic virtues: caring, cognition and courage. One of his biggest concerns is that many religions have lost faith in the ability of human beings to identify and solve the problems facing them, causing them to attempt to look beyond the real world for real-world solutions.
“Secular humanism” is often criticized by people who have never studied it’s guiding principles, which includes the need for a common moral decency and deep caring for the welfare of others. If only the critics of secular humanism would actually take the time to consider the principles of secular humanism, most of them would find substantial overlap with their own guiding principles. Consider these principles of humanism:
- We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
- We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
- We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
The overlap among the religous and the non-religous goes far beyond enumerated principles, however. In the August/September 2009 issue of Free Inquiry, Kurtz eloquently pointed to the locus of the meaning of life from the perspective of those who don’t believe in God (and, arguably, for those who do). Here is an excerpt from his well-written essay:
[W]e create our own meanings. The meaning of life is not to be found in secret formulas discovered by ancient prophets or gurus who withdraw from living to seek quiet release. Life has no meaning per se; it does, however, present us with innumerable opportunities, which we can either squander and retreat from in fear or seize with exuberance. These can be discovered by anyone and everyone who has an inborn zest for living. They are found within life itself, as it reaches out to create new conditions for experience.
The so-called secret of life is an open scenario that can be deciphered by anyone. It is found in the experiences of living: in the delights of a fine banquet, the strenuous exertion of hard work, the poignant melodies of a symphony, the appreciation of an altruistic deed, the excitement of an embrace of someone you love, the elegance of a mathematical proof, the invigorating adventure of a mountain climb, the satisfaction of quiet relaxation, the lusty singing of an anthem, the vigorous cheering in a sports contest, the reading of a delicate sonnet, the joys of parenthood, the pleasure of friendship, the quiet gratification of serving our fellow human beings—in all these activities and more.
It is in the present moment of experience as it is brought to fruition, as well as in the memories of past experiences and the expectations of future ones, that the richness of life is realized. The meaning of life is that it can be found to be good and beautiful and exciting in its own terms for ourselves, our loved ones, and other sentient beings. It is found in the satisfaction intrinsic to creative activities, wisdom, and righteousness. One doesn’t need more than that, and we hope that one will not settle for less.
The meaning of life is intimately tied up with our plans and projects, the goals we set for ourselves, our dreams, and the successful achievement of them. We create our own conscious meanings; we invest the cultural and natural worlds with our own interpretations. We discover, impose upon, and add to nature.
In the following video,Paul Kurtz discusses eupraxsophy in greater detail, as well as the alleged inability of non-religious persons to base their actions upon a legitimate moral foundation:
The raging health care debate “debate” is almost entirely devoid of facts, an issue on which I’ve previously posted. Instead of discussing fact, then, we tend hurl vague accusations, like calling the reformers “communists” (and you’ve GOT to see this).
I “blame” Obama for this lack of specificity, but I realize that the vicious opposition mounted by huge self-interested insurance companies and health care providers might require that he not play all of his cards at this point.
But isn’t it odd that our politicians aren’t at least clarifying the term “health care coverage” when they refer to national health care coverage? Defining this term would make a huge difference to the public reaction to any national plan. Here are two possibilities (though there are others):
A) The national plan will offer gold-plated coverage much like the expensive United Health Care coverage I buy for my family through my employer. For the record, the pre-tax cost of this coverage is about $20,000 per year for my family. Is the Obama proposal to provide every citizen with this kind of coverage? If so, I can see why there is massive resentment to the proposal. Many working people can barely afford health insurance coverage at all, and the coverage many people do purchase is not nearly as comprehensive as the expensive coverage I purchase. Of course people who can can only afford to buy their own rudimentary policies will resent that the government might buy gold-plated policies for everyone else, including many highly irresponsible people.
B) The national plan will offer a rudimentary coverage only. It will cover x-rays and casts for broken arms, but not heart transplants and expensive drugs that only marginally increase one’s chances of surviving an illness. It wouldn’t keep people suffering from terminal illness on life support when there is no reasonable chance that they would ever leave the hospital. It would cover only a small subset of the treatments covered by gold-plated policies. It might be akin to the Oregon Plan.
I believe that there would be massive resistance to the national coverage described in A) but far less resistance to the coverage described in B).
At least Oregon’s legislators had the cajunas to specifically state what was covered under their plan and what was not (Oregon’s prioritized list is available for all to see). Oregon had the fiscal responsibility to make certain that they could afford the level of health care to which they were committing. Oregon dealt head-on with the accusation that they were “rationing” health care; absolutely they were, just like private plans ration health care only to those who pay those high premiums. Both responsible and irresponsible health care plans “ration” health care. Therefore, it is not a criticism of any health care plan that it “rations” health care. Here are the guiding principles to the Oregon Plan:
In 1987, the Oregon Legislature realized that it had no method for allocating resources for health care that was both effective and accountable. Over the next two years, policy objectives were developed to guide the drafting of legislation to address this problem. These policy objectives included:
• Acknowledgment that the goal is health rather than health services or health insurance
• Commitment to a public process with structured public input
• Commitment to meet budget constraints by reducing benefits rather than cutting people
from coverage or reducing payments to levels below the cost of care
• Commitment to use available resources to fund clinically effective treatments of
conditions important to Oregonians
• Development of explicit health service priorities to guide resource allocation decisions.
Our national conversation regarding health care is so dysfunction on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll make only one more point in this post, however. Opponents of current proposals often make accusations that there will be “death panels,” indicating that some sick people will be allowed to die. As a nation, we need to grow up and deal with the fact that this happens every day in every hospital in the country: we shouldn’t be allocating huge amounts of money to maintain pulses in people who have become living corpses. There are some families who “can’t let go” no matter what (e.g., Terry Schiavo), and our national plan needs to have specific guidelines for these situations. In fact, every private insurance plan should have guidelines for determining when further treatment is likely to be futile and a provision for ending coverage at that point. The alternative is to make policies so horrifically expensive that many people can’t afford policies that cover tratments likely to make an immediate positive impact on their lives.
Only when we put these issues clearly on the table can we begin to have a real conversation.