July 31, 2012

Yeah! What They Said; or I Can Stop Now, Right?

I was recently reminded that Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution got together a while back and wrote a book about how truly f@*%ked up Washington is right now.  Their editor chose an appropriate title for the book, and it says it all:
It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

The book lines up quite closely with the general thesis of this blog.  At least the more politically minded posts, anyway.  (I don't think messrs Ornstein and Mann have a lot to say about Quantum Mechanics, or fart jokes in their book.)  So, if you are looking for reasonable solutions to the morass that we find ourselves in, but want it in book form written by actual writers with actual things to say, this is the book for you.

What I, and surely many of you, find somewhat comforting, is the fact that these two gents are employed by the favorite think tanks of both the left - Brookings - and the right, AEI.  Maybe there is hope yet that calmer, more rational minds can come together to find the areas of common ground between D's and R's.

Here they are being interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, or you can get a distilled version of the book from their eminently reasonable May 14th op-ed in the Washington Post (Note that they dismiss the idea that a third party can save us, too.  Though, I probably like the idea of four parties a lot more than they do.)

So, I can stop bemoaning how awful Congress is, right?  This book will trigger a wave of reasonableness and cooperation, right?  Does publication of this book mean and end to DI? When, however, I step back and observe that Mann and Ornstein are of a certain age, are life-long pundits, and have been tight with lawmakers for decades, it occurs to me that their book won't get a lot of traction among the readers of RedState.com nor DailyKos.com, let alone regular viewers of Fox News and MSNBC.

I suspect, therefore, that there will be a few windmills left to tilt* at, even if these guys stay at the top of the Amazon and NYT best sellers lists for months.

*Those of you at home playing the fun new DI drinking game: Trav Makes a Don Quixote Reference can now raise your shot glasses and toss one back.

*New* Distasteful Inelegance Drinking Game; or It's a Running Gag, We Get It Already

Frequent readers of DI have surely noticed the frequent overuse of the phrase "tilting at windmills" in our posts.  It has been suggested that we turn this from a negative - tiresome repetition of a literary allusion to a rather tortured metaphor - to a positive: drinking game.  Every time you spot a reference to Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, or just "Man of La Mancha" take a shot of your favorite beverage.  It needn't be alcoholic, but we're sure it helps.  For rules, and information on how to play the meta-drinking game go to this page.  Fabulous prizes are possible, but unlikely.  -ed.

July 27, 2012

Hey! Look, It's Technorati; or Naked Self-Promotion

This little blog is now on Technorati, and we have some "Authority" now.  So, that means you have to listen to what we say.  Well, since we currently only rank 31,220th (Hey, but we're #1161 in US politics, though.), maybe you don't.  Anyway, there we are stop by and say hi if you are in their neighborhood.

Technorati - Distasteful Inelegance

Link Hive #4, or We Are Now Living in the Future

It's been a while, so no doubt you are eager for another...

How'dya like our new "Link Hive" logo?  It took us literally minutes to create. - ed.

You, dear reader, may have guessed that I run with the science and math crowd, and you'd be right to a certain extent.  Way back when I was just a meager grad student trying to establish myself as a legit "smart guy" I remember a fellow student giving a presentation of his proposed dissertation topic to a group of faculty, post-docs, and researchers.  (This is going to fly over many of your heads, so I apologize in advance.  But, don't worry it flew over my head the first time I heard it, too.)  His proposal: firing laser pulses lasting only a femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second, that's 10(-15)seconds, or just a couple of wavelengths long) into a gas to interact with individual atoms, producing detectable scattering of the light due to the motion of electrons by a method known as Raman spectroscopy.  In effect this would allow him to "see" the quantum mechanical motion of electrons.  This student was a particularly brilliant lad, so naturally the faculty told him his idea would never work.  They were clearly threatened by his genius. (My proposal for monitoring epoxy curing in-situ by evanescent wave spectroscopy via embedded fiber-optics was politely encouraged.  Meaning it was so obvious an elementary that it was beneath them to ridicule my proposal.  Kind of like patting a four-year-old on the head for coloring inside the lines for the first time.)  Well, the joke's on them, because it has been done.  This article, Imaging the Quantum Motion of Electrons, that appears in the Physics arXiv1 Blog from Technology Review shows results from a similarly conducted experiment.  It may not occur to many of you how groundbreaking it is to actually be able to image quantum motion, but let me assure you that it a very big deal.  Almost Higgs boson big.

Speaking of doing awesome (in every sense of the word) things with light, I give you the relatively new field of optogenetics.  The headline of this story says it all: Scientist control monkeys' brains with light.
For the first time, scientists have been able to affect the behavior of a primate using optogenetics—a technique by which genetically modified neurons are made to fire with light. The study, published today in the journal Current Biology, sets the stage for using this powerful new tool to study how the brain enables complex primate cognition and, more distantly, for using the technique to treat disease.
We are living in the future, my friends.

If, however, you are more comfortable living in the past, here's an awesome video full of classic 80's fashions/hairstyles/orthodontia.  Thanks to the wonderful Make Blogthis blog, we are treated to this anti-porn seminar put on by your favorite evangelical gadfly, Dr. James Dobson, titled Pornography: A Winnable War.  This is the height of unintentional comedy and dramatic irony given what we know about the porn industry today, but that's not why it's so much fun: sweater vests, huge eyeglass frames, and mullets, lots of mullets.  The reaction shots are just precious.

1If you didn't immediately grok that arXive = archive, then breathe a sign of relief, because you are not a gigantic nerd.  Only a a scientist/engineer/mathematician to instantly get the pun: "X" is also the Greek letter "chi" (pronounced: ki').  We suppose you could be fluent in Greek, though.. - ed.

2Apparently this wasn't supposed to be posted to the Make Magazine RSS feed.  Mark Frauenfelder is a naughty, naughty boy.  The post was taken down quickly after posting, but thanks to the internet that mistake will live on forever.  Good thing we've never make a mistake...oh, wait. -ed.

July 24, 2012

Context Is Key, or I Can Edit You To Sound Like An Asshole Too

As you, dear reader, have no doubt deduced from many of the posts on our little blog, one thing that is quite irksome to me is people proffering opinions based on incorrect information or bad assumptions.  Most of the time those opinions are simply parroted directly from some information-free cable "news" source.  (BTW, all of you failed fact/opinion tests in your logic or philosophy courses in college, didn't you?)  Further, when I am having a discussion about public affairs with someone I know (or more likely someone I don't know on a Facebook comment thread) there will almost inevitably be the adamant assertion that [insert name of public figure] is a scoundrel.  The basis of that assertion?  Often time it is inaccurate facts, or nearly always a carefully edited soundbite from said cable "news" source that appears to "prove" [insert name of public figure] is a horrible person espousing a monstrous ideology.

This selectively edited photograph
shows R's and D's seeing eye-to -eye
I was particularly reminded of this recently when I was out playing a round of golf with some old pals.  We were waiting to tee off when my good friend recited the oft repeated and incorrect quote attributed to President Obama, "you didn't build that."  He then spent some minutes incredulously opining about how awful it is for the President or the government in general to take any modicum of credit for the success of any hard working business.

Now, I know my friend quite well.  My friend also knows me well,  and I'm sure he was mostly trying to get a rise out of me (the Brits use the phrase "taking the piss out of ye", which is the perfect description), but I took the bait and wasted a few minutes trying to rationally point out that the line was grossly and intentionally taken out of context by Fox News, or the Romney campaign, or whomever he heard it from, because you can't have heard or read the actual speech and drawn that conclusion.  And that the President was just trying to counter the conservative cause celebre that government doesn't do anything constructive.  And that Mr. Obama is correct to give examples of how the economy has a solid platform of government support to build on.  And....well I wasted many words out on the teebox that day.

But, I do know deep down that my friend is a smart guy, and can make an informed opinion on his own.  So, for his benefit and for the benefits of many just like him, here is the entire, unedited passage of the President's speech from July 13th that I found here:

[THE PRESIDENT:] ...Now, one last thing -- one of the biggest differences is how we pay down our debt and our deficit.  My opponent, Mr. Romney’s plan is he wants to cut taxes another $5 trillion on top of the Bush tax cuts. 
AUDIENCE:  Booo --
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, like I said, the only way you can pay for that -- if you’re actually saying you’re bringing down the deficit -- is to cut transportation, cut education, cut basic research, voucherize Medicare, and you’re still going to end up having to raise taxes on middle-class families to pay for this $5 trillion tax cut.  That’s not a deficit reduction plan.  That’s a deficit expansion plan. 
     I’ve got a different idea.  I do believe we can cut -- we’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts.  We can make some more cuts in programs that don’t work, and make government work more efficiently.  (Applause.)  Not every government program works the way it’s supposed to.  And frankly, government can’t solve every problem.  If somebody doesn’t want to be helped, government can’t always help them.  Parents -- we can put more money into schools, but if your kids don’t want to learn it’s hard to teach them.  (Applause.)
     But you know what, I’m not going to see us gut the investments that grow our economy to give tax breaks to me or Mr. Romney or folks who don’t need them.  So I’m going to reduce the deficit in a balanced way.  We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts.  We can make another trillion or trillion-two, and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more.  (Applause.)  And, by the way, we’ve tried that before -- a guy named Bill Clinton did it.  We created 23 million new jobs, turned a deficit into a surplus, and rich people did just fine.  We created a lot of millionaires.
     There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)
     If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
     The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires. 
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
Pretty funny how this passage gets distilled into "you didn't build that".  What's even more f&%king hilarious is that the first three paragraphs that I've quoted here could come right out of the mouth of a center-right Republican.  Obama says things in this speech that are both very sensible, and also right in line with probably 80% of Republicans.

(This is how Obama talks when he is addressing his core supporters at a rally.  Most. Reasonable. Politician.  Ever.  Someone needs to give him lessons on how to better pander to his base with batshitinsane accusations and demagoguery.  Paging Mrs. Bachmann...)

I happen to know a lot of Democrats that would bristle at the sentiment expressed by Mr. Obama, but in the hands of selective, irresponsible, manipulative editors it's some socialist, anti-commerce screed, right?  That's just as accurate as when a movie poster quotes critics referring to some piece of crap Hollywood film as "...A masterpiece..."

But, we can't have people, especially independents and centrist Republicans, agreeing with the President can we, Mr. Gillespie?  Mr. Rove?  It's more important to demonize the President than to solve real, systemic problems with our public policy and with our economy in an intelligent, reasonable way.
Ok, how about we do it to the other guy now?  Thanks to this post on thinkprogress.org*, I can legitimately claim Romney is a communist who hates the US Olympic Team.  See, he once said, "You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power...All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them.  Let’s also cheer...communities."  There.  Comrade Romney wants us to cheer communities, not Olympians.

Or should we just point out that The Mitt said exactly the same thing about businesses that Obama did: “I know that you recognize a lot of people help you in a business. Perhaps the bank, the investors. There is no question your mom and dad, your school teachers. The people who provide roads, the fire, the police. A lot of people help.”


*Hat tip to the always smart +Steve B. and other of my Facebook and G+ pals for sharing that post.

July 23, 2012

The Debate Over Firearms, or Let No Tragedy Go Unpoliticized

Maybe it was out of respect for the victims of the shooting spree, but the knee-jerk reactions and posturing from both sides of the gun "control" debate seemed to be a little later in coming that usual.  But by Saturday afternoon you had all manner of positions being taken and the media soup they spawned populating your RSS and Twitter:

From the reasonable,

To the silly, misguided cop-outs,

To the truly monstrous

Try to filter out all the nonsense.  We should remember to not let tragedy define us.
Cornel West has put it best in his tweet:
"The only countermovement against catastrophe and trauma is never forgetting the catastrophic and yet still attempting to triumph."

Switzerland: reasonable
Still, one hopes that we might create a culture that is a more enlightened about guns.  We may never be like Germany (no guns, very little violence) or Switzerland (guns everywhere, still no violence), but perhaps we could learn a lesson or two from events and move beyond the screaming match between the NRA and the far left.  It's long past time to have a serious conversation about what is a reasonable firearm policy.  If not we are sure to continue to let unreasonable people hijack the debate forcing the conversation to devolve further into the false choice between the Yosemite Sam vision of the wild west or perceived tyranny.

Time to grow up.

July 17, 2012

2012 Campaign Spending, or An Economic Stimulus for Ad Men

Here's a quandary to get you tied up in knots on a Tuesday morning.  As you, dear reader, have likely heard reported ubiquitously, there has already been a pant load of money raised this year by political campaigns all across this great land.  (In fact, the story of campaign spending has been reported so widely and so breathlessly that I shouldn't need to have written the last sentence.  We could have just looked each other in the eye, and nodded in unspoken agreement.)  The unprecedented level of spending directly on campaigns, and indirectly on super-PACs, has caused a not insignificant amount of hand wringing about its impact on our democracy.  Me?  I am deeply conflicted about it.  To wit:

Larry Lessig, writing in the The Atlantic, argues that the way our campaigns are funded ultimately disenfranchises the vast majority of voters, and renders the country ungovernable.  Any small group can mobilize opposition to any candidate or issue rendering it virtually impossible to make progress on just about any problem you can name.  I don't think any sensible person would seriously contest the merit of Lessig's argument.  There is obvious peril in seeding influence to so few. 


Well meaning Congressmen have tried passing campaign finance reform legislation, and the Supreme Court just keeps volleying it back down Capitol St.  The constitution grants the rights of free speech and assembly, which has been (rightly) extended to cover organizations.  Plus, there is already well established legal precedent protecting the ability of corporations and interest groups to raise funds and speak out independently.  I can't imagine how these groups could be written out of the political picture without some serious constitutional gymnastics.
Which describes my ambivalence about the current state of campaign finance.  On the one hand, as a democracy we must defend anyone's right, as an individual or as an organization, to speak his mind.  (I won't get into the anonymity debate here, but let's just say I think is contrary to a free an open discourse to have people lobbing grenades from the shadows.)  If that means having to raise a lot of money to be heard widely, so be it.  On the other hand, it is clear in the days of an overgrown K St. and super-PACs that elected offices are being sold to the highest bidder to the detriment of our democracy as a whole.

First, we must all accept that neither party is going to give up corporate campaign contributions, nor stop courting wealthy donors of its own volition.  Next, we can't and shouldn't limit the rights of corporations and individuals to support what causes and candidates that they will, no matter how unseemly it may appear.  Just because we don't like what somebody, some group, or some corporation has to say, we can't keep them from saying it.  That is the trap that otherwise intelligent people fall into repeatedly.

The real solution to getting the democracy that we all SAY that we want is to neutralize the affect of money in politics.  If it is the obscene spending on campaigns that we all dislike so much, then the only answer is to make money irrelevant.  The only way to do that, it seems, is to tie electoral success to winning in the marketplace of ideas.

Exactly how that is even hypothetically possible is a topic for another lengthy post.  So, while you are waiting for that to become fully fleshed out and unleashed, just look on the bright side.  If all of this spending on campaigns is making you uneasy, just think of it as an economic stimulus for campaign staffers, ad copy writers, and super-PAC attack dogs.

July 11, 2012

Why There Isn't a Party for Most of Us, or It Only Pays to Like Donkeys in Tijuana (Allegedly)

In a post from a little while back I shared that the Pew Center for Research thinks I am a "Solid Liberal".  That may be true - though they are vastly oversimplifying - but I also mentioned that I'm not a member of the Democratic Party.  Why, you ask?  It's simple, and it has nothing to do with the silly stigma against the term "liberal" that the screaming morons in the far-right media have engendered.

The reason: Team Donkey is the most disappointing, frustrating political party in the long and disappointing history of disappointment.  What self-respecting, responsible citizen would sign on to board the Titanic of politics?  Por exemplo, I sight the party that was too fractious, too disorganized, too timid to take advantage of the historic opportunity presented by the 2006 and 2008 election cycles.

What opportunity was that?  Well, after the first five and a half years of the W Administration, the general opinion of the Republican Party was at it's lowest in my memory.  Years of moving farther to the right began to really piss off sensible people.  By early 2008, the Dems controlled Congress by electing center-left candidates from predominantly red states, plus then-Senator Barack Obama was beginning to explain the vision of his presidential nomination campaign.  Candidate Obama was raising gobs of money from an army of mostly middle class donors giving modest sums.  He was talking about building a government from the center majority.  He was, in short, generally doing everything possible to convince us that he was a new breed of leader.
Team Donkey's official mascot
So, the pieces were in place for the Democrats to come out of their post-Clinton cocoon and be reborn in a form that could build a permanent majority based on a coalition of moderate, centrist, middle-class voters.  They were going to fix healthcare, invest in technology and clean energy to create a future-proof economy, and set the country on a path to lead the world throughout the 21st Century.  This was all just a pipe-dream, in retrospect.  Oh, and that pesky financial crisis didn't help matters, either.

As we all now know, once in power the modern Democratic Party was destined to self-immolate.  It's not that surprising, really.  Here is a short list of the satellite factions whose internal competition ultimately unhinges the whole progressive caucus:

The Labor Movement
Poverty and social justice crusaders
Civil rights crusaders
Blue Dogs
Charles Rangel

Each in turn confounds anything like a coherent message or mission from the party as a whole, thus ensuring no way to convince the public that they know how to govern themselves let alone a country. So, naturally they were routed in the 2010 midterm elections.  Now here we are left watching the Congressional Democrats, responding to the continuing swift march to the right by Team Elephant, move sharply to the left like a stubborn child shouting, "He started it!"  The middle of the electorate is left to look on in horror and disgust.

Except that the middle is not looking on politics at all.  They have largely turned away preferring to ignore the silliness and mud-slinging and vilification in the hopes that somehow Congress will fix itself in their disaffected absence.  That is what we call wishful thinking, and while sensible people turn away, the two parties are further incented to pander to the base and increasingly radicalize.

Team Elephant's official mascot: a canned ham
At this point in the discussion someone - this has sometimes been me in the past - will come along and propose that a third party can fix our politics...I'll wait while you stop laughing.  Assuming for a second that it could raise enough money AND convince voters to actually elect it to a plurality in Congress, a single party in the middle won't work.  They would be constantly bombarded from both sides with silly, but impassioned attacks from the two extremist parties.  Ask Barack Obama how that's working out for him.

What we would need is for there to be four parties.  In order to successfully marginalize the screaming morons on the far right and the far left, there would have to be two parties in the middle - a center-left caucus and a center-right caucus - to play off of one another.  Counterpoint is often necessary in properly articulating one's message to voters.  Likely, neither of the center parties could generate a majority on it's own, which would regularly force the two to work together to get things done.  Heaven forbid!

(There may actually be good news on that front.  If we go back and look at some of the last votes in the House before summer recess we see a kind of de-facto four party system.  The tea-baggers rebelled against nearly everything that the Boehner-leadership team tried to get done, leaving the majority dozens of votes short of passage.  So, majority whip Kevin McCarthy would have to go make friendly with Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats in order to find the needed votes.  This shocking example of bi-partisan cooperation actually led to a slight but real moderation in the House recently.  If only, we could count on that continuing, which we can't in the new reality of gerrymandered congressional districts.

But I digress...)

So, here we are again.  The opportunity for one party to sweep up the vast majority of voters is presenting itself once more.  We know there are huge swaths of voters ripe for the taking.  After all, something like 88 - 91% of those polled disapprove of Congress, and a little over 50% disapprove of the President.  By my math, that is an awful lot of people that really dislike both parties.  The danger is that disaffected middle is more swayed by Fiction-Based Truth of the Rove-led super PACs, than the timid reasoning and pleading from Dems, and we are plunged back into the Bush years.


July 9, 2012

An End to Housekeeping?, AND a Call for Input

The new (old) design for the blog was unveiled to the world this morning.  (Ta, da?)  As some of you may have guessed, the picture in the background is the view out the window of a plane.  The visual joke being somewhere between the gremlin episode of The Twilight Zone, and the notion of my self-important rantings hanging-out limply, among the clouds, only visible for brief periods to the jet-set.

I think I have the new formatting sorted with better usability for you, dear reader.  The ad widget went a little haywire for a bit, but I think I have that sorted.  Please leave a comment to let me know how the new format is working for you and if you see anything weird or broken.

Update 1
In a humorous postscript to this, we surfed over to our actual blog pages - we normally just see the text editor panel, not the actual site - and know what we saw all over the ad panels?  Ads for Mitt Romney's re-election campaign.  Through the vagaries of the Ad Sense auction system, their bots must have clued into some keywords in our posts and placed ad units on our site.  They clearly didn't read our blog first.  The Romney ads are gone now.  They must have read our blog in the interim.  Too bad.  We would have likely made more revenue with Republican ads. - ed.

Update 2
Ha! They're back.  Please, please, please go click on one of Romney's campaign ads.  We would love it if there was a campaign staffer sitting in some cramped little cubicle somewhere pouring over the ad placement stats seeing a big spike in traffic sent from our little blog.  What an unpleasant shock it will be when he punches distastefulinelegance.blogspot.com into the address bar in IE6 (yes, that is what we imagine the Romney campaign uses) and pulls us up. - ed.

Monday Morning Hilarity, or We Are Officially Through the Looking Glass

Thanks to Johnatan Chait writing in the New York Magazine blog "Daily Intel" I was clued in to an article in the NYT by one of my new favorite journos, Robert Draper.  (He wrote this book about the 112th Congress that I recommend you read.)  It's a long piece about the mismatch in super PAC fundraising efforts between the two parties.  The focus is on Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, the two guys running the super PAC supporting Obama's re-election efforts, Priorities USA Action.  It's an interesting read mostly about the existential crisis Democrats are having with the realization that they need to fight super PAC fire with super PAC fire, and the ways in which Burton and Sweeney have attempted to define the public characterization of Mitt Romney.  I recommend reading the entire thing, but here are by far the most simultaneously fun and distressing tidbits from the article:

While conducting a different focus group — this one with non-college-educated Milwaukee voters on the eve of Wisconsin’s April 3 primary — Burton and Sweeney were surprised to learn that even after Romney had spent months campaigning, many in the group could not recognize his face, much less characterize his positions.

Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.
Or as Chait paraphrases in his blog post:

[C]utting Medicare in order to clear budgetary headroom for tax cuts for the rich, while an accurate description of the Ryan plan, struck those voters as so cartoonishly evil that they found the charge implausible.

I can't see how I can possibly top that, so I'll just close this post by sighing audibly and inserting this picture from the past that may also signal our country's future...
Willard "Mitt" Romney: "All your money are belong to us."

July 6, 2012

Link Hive #3, or Good Housekeeping Is a Constant Battle

Brace yourself, it's time for another installment of the Link Hive...

(get it?)

...but first a little housekeeping.  As we noted earlier this week, this little blog has surpassed the 1000 pageview milestone.  Thanks to everyone again for visiting.  Now that there is something like an audience, it seems prudent to announce there will be some changes to design of this site.  Up to now, I've been using one of the canned dynamic templates that Blogger provides.  It is cleaner and definitely looks a lot better than the typical vertical scroll layout that is the hallmark of blogging.  I'll be rolling out something new in the next few weeks.  I know this is probably a futile request, but leave a comment if you have an opinion about the new or old design.

Now onto the links:

It's a podcast.  No, it's a video.  You're both right.

TWiT (This Week in Technology) - if you are interested in the latest personal technology, but can't stomach the countless hours of reading geeky-fanboy gadget blogs, then TWiT has what you need.  Leo Laporte moderates a weekly panel dissecting the latest news from the world of tech in his entertaining, irreverent, every-man style.  TWiT has blossomed to include an entire network of technology focused shows.  I recommend the original, TWiT, and This Week in Google, which is a good review of internet and cloud-based services.

For the science and nature minded:


Evidence indicating that the Higgs boson does exist may (or may not?) have finally been found at the Large Hadron Collider experiment.  Why is this cool, you ask?  The Higgs boson is the fundamental particle of mass in the universe, and tends to confirm the Standard Model of the Univer...HEY! Stop snoring!  Fine.  Moving on.

Neutron detectors at the South Pole could potentially predict solar storms...ok, ok I'll leave the quantum physics stories alone for now.  It's Friday.  Enjoy your weekend.

July 4, 2012

Listening to Smart People Again, or YOU Are a Job Creator

In the post about the healthcare decision, I mentioned in passing that if people aren't spending most of their income on healthcare they can go out and consume more stuff.  That reminded me of a notion that Nick Hanauer puts forth in his talk at last spring's TED Conference.

Actually, that's not fully accurate.  I was first reminded by simultaneous posts on Google+ by two really smart people that I follow.  First, my old pal, music critic Danny Johnson (go encircle him now, especially if you like to read about opera), posted a link to an excellent piece in GQ by one of my favorite journos, Jon Ronson.  It is a great portrait of income disparity in our country.  (Go read it now.  I'll wait.)  Hanauer is one interview subject in the piece and he essentially lays out the skeleton for his TED Talk thesis.  So, his idea was doubly on my radar when Tim O'Reilly (go encircle Tim on Google+ now, especially if you like to read about the notion of government as a platform, a.k.a. Government 2.0) posted Hanauer's TED video.

Nick nicely weaves to together some threads that have been loose in my head for a while now.  The idea that we need to keep taxes low on the rich has always seemed foolish to me.  We are a consumer driven economy now more than ever.  So, if we remove many of the impediments to consumer spending, there will be more consumption and more jobs.  One way to free up more disposable income for the middle class is to remove the burden of healthcare from the millions of uninsured Americans, and a fair way to pay for that investment in job growth is to go back to the Clinton Era tax rates.  Quit whining rich guys, you are only paying capital gains tax anyway...and that is a topic for another post.

Now, I don't think it is very wise to go back to the punitive tax rates of the 60's and 70's either, but when the top earners complain about taxes being too high I want to laugh, or cry, or puke, or all three simultaneously.  That the Elephant-based party is so enamored of the fallacy that low taxes create jobs is just another reason to question their grasp on reality. Wait, no, they have a firm grasp on the very real checkbooks in their wealthy donor's pockets.  The Grover Norquist tax-pledge is doing just as much to raise the national debt as is Medicare.

July 2, 2012

1000 Pageviews, or People Are Reading This Crap?

Just peaked at the blog stats and the page view counter just ticked over 1000.  Not that it's a lot of traffic in real internet terms, but it's nice to know that this little blog has an audience.  Thanks for coming by and having a look.  Feel free to post a comment, question, or constructive feedback.  It will help improve the quality of the blog over time.  Please keep it civil.

(Would it kill you people to click on an ad or two?  Just kidding, Google.  I'm not really asking people to click on my ads.  But, if you should like the look of an ad, maybe a click or two wouldn't hurt.  Just saying.)

Healthcare Is Not a Marketplace, or Don't Repo My Kidneys Please

This post has been brewing in the back recesses of my gray matter for quite a while, but in light of SCOTUS's decision on the Affordable Care Act last Thursday it seems like the proper time to unleash it on you, dear reader.
Here comes a post about healthcare...

First point: the Democrats, and the Obama Administration specifically, have done an awful job of educating the public about the Affordable Care Act.  The results of this poll from Reuters and Ipsos proves how misinformed the general public is.  The Republican strategy of fiction-based truth strikes again.  The fact that a majority of Americans oppose the act on the surface, but overwhelmingly support the provisions therein shows how Republicans have successfully spread enough FUD, misinformation, and outright lies to hoodwink the country into opposing something that is ultimately in it's best interests.  That is weak, Dems.  Here, let me help you get started: How Today's Supreme Court Decision Will Help Unleash American Innovation - Technology Review

(That the Republican Party is so bent on obstructing the Obama agenda they would make it their primary mission to fight a healthcare reform structure that is both popular and identical to the one their own presidential candidate enacted in Massachusetts is a separate post entirely.  Your intrepid blogger needs to focus the outrage machine on a single target from time to time...

...but I can't resist letting the cross-hairs wander for a second.  This begs the question: if the Republicans oppose this version of healthcare reform that is chock full of compromise and ample protection for private insurance companies, then WTF do they support?  So, we had Marco Rubio swearing up and down to Jon Stewart that Senate Republicans really aren't obstructionists, but the True Alternative Party, and it's the mean old Democrats that won't let him bring the Republican's alternative healthcare plan - the one that totally exists wink, wink - to a vote.  What?  You've never heard of their totally awesome alternative plan?  Well, according to this Forbes article, their plan is nearly identical to the Affordable Care Act.  Hey, it turns out the Republicans also noticed that eliminating discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, covering children up to age 26, etc. are popular among voters.  But, we already knew that.  Or are they just going to reprise their Medicare part D expansion routine, a.k.a. the Giant Taxpayer Funded Giveaway to Big Pharma...)

Ok, I've gone a little astray from the main goal of this post, which is to set forth this thesis:

Healthcare - or the practice of medicine by doctors to heal sick and injured people and prevent disease - is not a marketplace.

Obviously, we can be absolutely certain it is not a free market wherein transactions are unregulated.  Having worked for a sports medicine company in the recent past, I can assure you that nothing happens unless it's covered by Medicare.  Not even the private insurers will authorize something not reimbursed by the government.  We already have a de facto national health care plan.  But, every time we hear one of the Alt-Party demagogues decrying "Obamacare" on TV, he always says something like, "there is a free market solution to healthcare reform."

Yes, in healthcare services are rendered, and often goods are purchased.  However, the fundamental quantity involved in the transaction, health, is difficult to place a value on, if not utterly priceless.  For there to be a market for health both parties involved in the transaction of goods or services need to agree on the value.  That is next to impossible to do when we are talking about the state of your health.

Not convinced?  Let's look at it from this perspective.  Let's say you are the recipient of a transplanted kidney, and are unable or unwilling to pay the price demanded by the surgeon.  What happens next?  Do they come after you and repossess your new kidney?  What about if you can't pay the hospital bills for the birth of your child?  Do you have to return your little bundle of joy?  Ok, that is a bad punchline to an overwrought setup, but you get the point.

Dammit, Jim!  I'm a doctor, not a businessman.
Here's an even better example taken from experience.  The amount that the hospital invoiced my employer's insurance company when our son was born would have bankrupted just about any household.  There were a lot of unforeseen expenses due to an unpreventable emergent situation, which led to hospital stays for my wife and our son.  Our household is technically in the top 10% of income in the country - though living in coastal San Diego County takes a very large bite out of our earnings - and if not for medical insurance, this would have crippled us financially.  Like contemplating Chapter 11 crippled.  We did not choose to rack up a bunch of charges for unnecessary tests and care.  The decision to perform services was not a choice at all.  Lives were at stake.  It's not like I had the chance to go shop around at different hospitals to find the price for service that most closely matched the value I put on my wife's and son's life.  See, not a marketplace.

Besides, we already know what free-market health care looks like, and "HMO" is a dirty word as a result.  Or just go read anything by Dickens if you want to see what real Capitalism is like.  None of this modern social safety net coddling for you, young Master Twist.

The profit motive does not work in medicine.  (See also: How the U.S. Health Insurance Boondoggle Stifles Innovation - Technology Review)  The sooner we all recognize that, the better we all will be.  It's about priorities.  We can choose as a nation to keep people healthy.  You know, so they can go do things like earn a paycheck, buy stuff, not go bankrupt, and all those nice things that grow the economy and create real jobs.*  I'm quite sure there is a ton or research out there showing that it's much cheaper to keep our citizens healthy than to go kill the citizens of another country.  There are plenty of time-tested examples from around the world of what works, and what doesn't, in universal healthcare.  We are smart enough to figure it out.

*We are hatching another post about who the real job creators are.  Stay tuned...