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a blog by ken pardue

Archive for March, 2010

An Open Letter to President Barack H. Obama

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

March 23, 2010

Dear President Obama,

Well done, sir.

Sincerely Yours,
Theodore Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard M. Nixon
James E. Carter
William J. Clinton

cc: William H. Taft
Warren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert C. Hoover
Gerald R. Ford
Ronald W. Reagan
George H.W. Bush
George W. Bush

God Bless the United States of America!

Giving credit, this was a comment on Digg.

Pins and Needles

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Those who know me know that I am a supporter of reforming the healthcare industry and support the current reform bill to do so.  While there are some parts of the bill that I think could be improved, I see it as being the best option for the first steps in fixing a broken system that we’ve seen in the near-century since Theodore Roosevelt began trying to reform the system in the 1910’s.  There are those, not least of which are for-profit health insurance companies, that don’t like to recognize that the world is changing.  It is becoming a more humanistic place where we as a species don’t have to subscribe to the Darwinian philosophy that only the fittest survive; we fully have the resources, technology, and means to lift up those around us.  That’s what the rest of the world is doing, and it is a social responsibility for us to do the same.  I am only as good as the rest of us, and I am who I am because of who we all are.

I firmly believe that in a modern society affordable healthcare should be a right.  After all, we have the right to public education, the right to public police and fire services, and the right to public libraries.  I believe, though it is unfortunately not a part of the current legislation, that we should also have public healthcare.  It’s ridiculous that a fire truck will come to my home and put out a fire and I can have my belongings replaced by (required) home insurance, but I cannot be guaranteed that an ambulance will come to my house and save me from having a heart attack without financial ruin.  It’s kind of silly that health insurance is so predicated upon one’s employment.  That system arose almost by accident during the World War II years where employers were limited on how much they could offer new workers for salaries.  In lieu of the ability to offer workers financial incentive, they offered them healthcare incentives.  That practice has somehow stuck around and been perverted into what we have today.  There’s got to be a better way.  I’m hopeful that the legislation will pass and that in time there will be room for universal healthcare and a requirement that health insurance companies and hospitals be not for profit.

That said, the whole process of developing healthcare legislation has frustrated me.  It’s remarkable how the Republicans have utterly deadlocked Congress over the past year, using the filibuster twice as many times as the Democrats did when they were the minority.  It’s remarkable how they can rally their entire party to subscribe to a single, unwavering position rather than encouraging their party members to think for themselves and make their own decisions for the legislation.  I suppose that it’s easier to do that when your party is, to a considerable degree, payrolled by the health insurance industry.  It’s remarkable how the Right has taken every opportunity to hatefully associate buzzwords with the legislation without either addressing the bigger picture or acknowledging that the Republican party itself has used the very same techniques to pass its own quasi-controversial issues.  Republicans fired the parliamentarian in 2001 to pass the Bush tax-cuts; it was used by Republicans in 1996 to pass the welfare reform bill (which was incidentally considered to be major systemic reform).  While I’m not saying that the legislative process doesn’t need to change, don’t call a technique dirty, evil, and anti-American when you yourself used the same technique and praised its virtues just a few short years ago to pass legislation.  It is the pot calling the kettle black on an epic scale.  It just as improper for Republicans to completely deadlock the United States government  using the filibuster.  It was never intended to be used to that extreme degree.

The healthcare industry needs reform.  It has been demonstrably shown that since it was deregulated under Reagan in the 1980’s it has not only not become nimble and competitive, but has led to a decline in quality of healthcare compared to the rest of the world while increasing costs.  Capitalism, which not only promotes but rewards unbridled ambition and the crushing of others through fair or unfair means, makes for a terrible steward of such services.  I would also maintain in this respect that it’s Unchristian-like.  I cannot imagine Christ chanting, “no more handouts,” to the underprivileged or using a person’s pre-existing condition as justification to maintain profit while that person’s health continues to decline.  It’s time to play catch up with the rest of the world.  It’s time to regulate and improve the industry.  It’s time to offer something besides profit as the motivating factor for healthcare insurance companies to function.

Crowdsourced Mapping: A Historical Perspective

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

As an open source advocate, I generally find it worth my time to donate time or money to Free (as in speech) projects and services.  Anything that serves for the benefit of the common good is worthwhile in my eyes.  Unfortunately, for the most part I can’t contribute programming skills to projects for the lack of free time on my part, but there is one project that requires low mental investment and delivers instant gratification to boot: OpenStreetmap.  Basically, OpenStreetmap is a wikipedia of maps.  Anyone can sign up for an account and edit a collective map that is instantly rolled out to millions of users.  Since OpenStreetmap only uses information in the public domain, data from commercial mapping services like Navteq cannot be used.  However, years ago the developers did a massive import from the TIGER dataset released by the U. S. Government.  In many places it was outdated, in most others it was innacurately placed.  Fortunately, Yahoo! released a set of satellite maps into the public domain that the OpenStreetmap developers quickly placed in their editing application

One can spend a near-infinite amount of time going through the locale and lining up the roads (ways) up with the satellite image, adding special use data, or tracing out uploaded GPS tracks to form brand new roads and subdivisions.  As a result of the work I’ve put into the Alexandria/Pineville area, the local area (at least in parts) is far more accurate than Google Maps or Bing Maps.

Some recent additions I’ve made to the area include adding the taxiways, aprons, and gates to Alexandria International Airport reflecting the layout of the new terminal and tower.  I’ve also added the golf resort at AEX.  I’ve also done the same for Pineville Municipal airport at Buhlow Lake.  Another thing that I’ve added is accurate railways for the area.  Instead of stopping at a single mainline headed through Alexandria, I’ve actually traced in all 21 tracks from the rail yard in Alexandria, making the map more complete than Google’s or Bing’s portrayal of the railroad system.  While a friend pointed out that this will only be a marvelous tool if he’s ever driving down the railroad tracks or if the train gets lost and needs GPS directions, I find it a source of pride to know that our Alexandria now has more complete crowdsourced maps than it once had.

I would highly encourage anyone who has even a small amount of spare time to get involved with the OpenStreetmap project.  As illustrated above, the scope of OSM isn’t just on roadways, though that is the most practical application, but also points of interest, hiking trails, locations of public facilities such as fire and police departments, libraries, and schools.  The list could go on indefinitely.

One side interest that my recent work with OSM has piqued, however, is that of local history.  I was looking through the old Camp Livingston area at how little remains of the original encampment since it was deactivated in 1945.  65 years of neglect has erased most everything of the original roadways, even though 500,000 troops trained their over the facility’s commission.  It’s almost something worth filming for an episode of Life After People.  It’s interesting to note that one of the very first Japanese prisoners of war, one of the men inhabiting a midget submarine that went aground at Pearl Harbor, were kept at Camp Livingston, and that there was a P.O.W. cemetery at Camp Livingston; the headstones were moved to a different location long ago, but the bodies remain in the graves, unmarked.

I find it intriguing to look at aerial photography, such as that provided by Microsoft’s Bing Maps, to look over the area and survey such remnants.  One thing that I found fascinating was the level of rail traffic that once came through Alexandria.  The Missouri Pacific Railroad expanded into Alexandria in 1892.  At some point, the path of the railway was changed through to a more indirect route into the city, roughly paralleling I49.  However, the original path of the railway can still be seen.  Most of it is overgrown with grass, though the path of the track is still uncovered by trees.  The rails still appear visible in many areas.  Other areas have seen the rails paved or redeveloped over.  Some parts of the original Missouri-Pacific rails still remained in the old TIGER data.  I’ve completed the missing segments of the railway from the Alexandria levee to west of Willow Glen where it would have joined with the still-used railway, and marked this area appropriately as abandoned rail.  What other interesting historical elements could be added to the map?

The main point is that it’s fascinating to see towns reinvent themselves, even small ones such as Alexandria.  In fact, I suspect it’s even more fascinating in said small towns, because small-scale reinvention often leaves behind visible evidence of the town’s history and the times and industries that it suffered through.

I find a sadly small amount of information about such things on the Internet.  I’m sure that Alexandria Daily Town Talk has much of these events in its archive.  It’s a shame that the paper, in its losing struggle to remain profitable in a New Media era, will likely never invest in digitizing its historical catalog.  If such a thing were to become a volunteer effort, I would gladly spend time transcribing the microfilm copies of the newspaper, which actually goes back to about 20 years after the Civil War, for online consumption.