Universal Health Care?

September 28, 2009

As it happens, in 34 years of driving, I have never had a car accident.  This is in part due to dumb luck over Divine beneficence, but no matter, my insurance company charges me less because I haven’t cost them much.  Like you in the United States, I am mandated to have proper insurance, but I am also able to choose from a plethora of providers competing to offer me affordable options to secure my hard-earned finance.

Being a minister in a 4-congregation Australian parish, and having once lived for five years in a single-payer health care system, I was able to observe, at very close range, hundreds of folks from every age and walk of life, undergoing all manner of successful procedures, from brain surgery to bypass.  In part, because of living overseas, but also because of what I think the United States should represent at home, I believe every American citizen should have access to quality essential health care.

In other words, like education, I believe adequate and basic health care is a right, not a privilege. 

Consider, while we might easily leave primary school participation for children entirely up to their parent’s initiative and ability to pay, this approach would definitively compromise individual God-given potential and it would seriously undermine the common good for all.  While upper echelon private schools are available, solid public education for everyone is a social necessity and a moral obligation.  I view health care in much the same way.  If we understand and accept the wisdom in enhancing the national brain power, how can we not apply this approach to our bodies as well?

As we move one way or another to address this issue, and costs have risen far in advance of actual inflation, we have the opportunity to assess what works best in other countries in the attempt to meld foreign approaches with innovations uniquely our own. 

Certainly we all want to avoid creating a massively intractable and frighteningly inefficient bureaucracy. Therefore, taking advantage of the powerful engine of free enterprise, private corporate competition across state lines, guided by federal law, should be a key component active at all levels.  In addition, there ought to be some economic onus or pressure on each of us to take personal ownership of the system, being reasonably responsible for care of ourselves and thus destroying the expectation that the government should have to compensate for any and all habitually careless or reckless behavior.

Above all, I believe children should be afforded automatic access to what many of us take for granted, without having to be treated at an Emergency Room for whooping cough or bronchitis. 

Across the political spectrum many perspectives have been put forth in the media, and without getting into which may be more or less valid, let’s be mindful that no ideas will be perfect and no approach will come without real expense.  In addition, apart from tangible dollars and cents, let’s not forget that the fear of losing insurance creates a background radiation of real and deep anxiety that also has a definite cost.

In a number of ways, my leanings tend to be proudly conservative.  Still, I believe every American has the right to benefit from a sturdy national defense, a strong national education, and a sympathetic national care for their health.  We can bring the finest brains in the world to bear on this issue, but we can only do this properly if our hearts and souls find themselves in the right place as well.



September 24, 2009

Astronomy teaches patience.

You anticipate a once in a decade (or lifetime) celestial phenomenon for weeks, months or years.  And then it rains.  Or it’s cloudy.  Or you have a pressing engagement that can’t be missed.

Last Sunday, in these parts, conditions were magnificent in their eminent stability.  So, setting up my telescope, I took a gander at my old friend Jupiter.  And wow!  There, in royal stripes, attended by several brightly diminutive orbs, the Jovian majesty shone as I’d never seen before.

Cloud belts festooned with swirls, the King of Planets stood in silent glory.

From a shoreline perch, I’d taken a journey of some 390 million miles.  In 42 years of looking, I had never seen this gas giant looking so crisp and clear.

It was worth the wait.

Life on other planets?

September 2, 2009

Perhaps best known for his unique articulation of the phrase “billions and billions”, in 1974 Carl Sagan postulated that there could be a million civilizations in our Milky Way Galaxy alone!  This notion was largely based on something called the “Drake Equation”, and it is at the foundation of common sensibilities giving rise to the cultural icons of Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens and The X-Files.

However, since the 1990’s, and especially after the dawn of the New Millennium, we have seen the emergence of the field called Astrobiology.  This is an endeavor that gathers and gleans data from all of the sciences related to this planet and brings that awareness into direct dialogue with what we know about the rest of the Universe, from which all galaxies and planets were called into being.  Because of this relatively new convergence in conversation, it is now known beyond any shadow of doubt that the emergence of higher life forms cannot at all be assumed simply when we see that a given star has a few planets revolving around it.  Alas, Drake’s Equation has turned out to be far too crude.

Thus we are in a position today, where it is being increasingly confirmed and more widely assumed that while microbial forms of life might abound in the Universe, the existence of complex life, like animals and sentient beings, is exceedingly and inexpressibly rare.  Perhaps microscopic, one-celled organisms could be found across “billions and billions” of galaxies, but for advanced life forms to emerge, a whole host of factors have to be brought into very close proximity, within profoundly tight, and unlikely, tolerances.

In other words, in order for people like you and me to be reading this, we need to be in the right and relatively quiet position in a galaxy having all of the required elements necessary for planetary formation. 

We need a planet with an eminently and unusually stable sun.  We need a moon, just the right size, in just the right location, slowing our rotation so our daily wind speeds won’t average 200mph, keeping us on a stable axis for balanced seasons and tidal variations, shielding us from too many disaster inducing impacts.  We need a uniquely protective barrier surrounding our most improbable planet out in space, that keeps us from being burned to a crisp by solar radiation.

Not nearly finished, in order to avoid seasonal mass-extinction, we also need a very large orb, like Jupiter, again properly placed, near enough to act like an asteroid vacuum, yet not close enough to cause fatal orbital eccentricities. 

You may ask, “Really now, when was the last time Jupiter was smashed by something that would have spelled instant calamity on Earth?  A million years ago?”

Well, actually, it was last month.  And the resulting collision left an Earth-sized scar on the Jovian “landscape”.  And if the object causing this damage had hit us, while it’s true we would no longer be worried about the deficit, we would also not be worried about anything else, ever again.

Let’s keep going, we need plate-tectonics (unique in our solar system) to act as a thermostat, rendering just the right amount of CO2 so Earth does not come to resemble our nearest and utterly barren neighbors Venus and Mars.  We need water, but nary too much nor too little. 

Indeed, we must have all of these factors, and others, to remain in close concert for millions and billions of years in order to move from paramecia to Picasso, from simple bacteria to Britney Spears.

Thus, both scientifically and theologically, every second of our lives in this world is a most uncommon gift, fully deserving inclusion into the category called, “The Miraculous!”

Indeed, we are wonderfully and fearfully made, a uniquely special expression of Creation that should never, ever be taken for granted.

Seeing who and what we are, how then should we act? 

Astrobiologically speaking, intelligent and faithful life is probably most rare in the Universe.  Let us strive as a people most remarkably alive to make sure it is not also unusual here on Earth.