Thoughts on Health Care, Pt. 2

Posted in Economics, Social Issues with tags on August 19, 2009 by wafflewarrior

For all of the bickering and arguing that goes on in this debate, the one unifying statement between the two sides is that healthcare costs are too high, and that something needs to be done. If you ask me, this is a question that can’t really be answered through healthcare reform; it has more to do with the poor lifestyle choices of most Americans, and the fact that as healthcare continues to get better with further technological breakthrough, costs are rising at a very high rate. People put a very high premium on the preservation of their own lives (go figure), and if you want good care, you’re going to be paying the price.

I also think that the way to save the most money through reform is through the single-payer system. If one says that we absolutely must get more of the uninsured, high risk Americans insured, a single-payer is undoubtedly more cost effective. If we mandate that healthcare-intensive Americans must be insured under the current private system, companies would have no choice but to greatly increase insurance premiums to cover unprofitable customers. However, if everyone in America were pooled into one bucket of resources, the increase in price people would have to pay for higher-risk people would be much less. A single-payer system would also make it easier to pass reform to cut administration costs, and marketing costs could be easily cut as well. Again, I don’t think there will be huge cost-cutting breakthroughs from either system, but if there will be any at all I think it would be under the single-payer system.

One of the more popular arguments for a single-payer system is the fact that Medicare is already a government-run health insurance system, and most people on Medicare have a favorable opinion of the system. It covers everyone over 65, and everyone in society contributes through the Medicare income tax. The only problem is that Medicare is running out of money very quickly, and the only solutions (if you accept that the cost-cuts simply don’t exist) are either cutting Medicare benefits or raising taxes in some fashion. Of course, we could end Medicare, but then the healthcare-intensive senior citizens will be forced to find private health insurance. If then can ever get covered at all after this, given that they will probably create a loss for insurers, everyone else covered under that insurer will end up paying even more. Thus is the reality of the situation; if you want to cover everybody, it’s going to have to be a single payer system, and you don’t want to cut coverage, taxes will have to increase somehow.

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Thoughts on Health Care, Pt. 1

Posted in Economics, Social Issues with tags on August 17, 2009 by wafflewarrior

Well, it’s been almost three solid months since the last post. I find that Altiora is the only place I can write these things these days, and it’s always closed by the time work is over. Coupled with numerous weekend projects, and you end up with zero blog postings. Now that work is over, I’m finally chilling in the only place in this world where everything is right, and everything makes sense.

Early on this summer, the topic of health care became a very hot issue within the American political realm. You couldn’t turn on the news (much less cable news) without someone shouting at you about health care reform. Loads of ideas and discussion came out on the issue, with all of it leading to the usual hill of beans within the legislature. When this summer started, I knew very little about the health care subject. But as the summer went on, and as Fox News owns a monopoly in television time in the geographic region of My Basement, I began to pick up bits and pieces on the debate. Now, I can’t even stand to hear about the subject, but I have a much clearer understanding on some of the important issues.

I don’t think I could possibly write all I’d like to say about health care in one blog post, so I’m going to segment it over the course of several days. Today will just be a basic introduction to my ideas.

It seems to me that the core component of the health care debate is the same idea that is at the heart of every economic problem; how do we go about allocating the limited resources we have amongst members in society? Since the end of the feudal and mercantile ages, there have been two popular choices. One, resources are allocated based on price. This is a simple, logical choice that has been, throughout history, applied to resources from apples to sex with remarkable efficiency. The other option is that resources are pooled by one entity, and then distributed to others based on need. This choice has done a good job in some realms of the economy, but has failed spectacularly with other resources.

And so we have the current situation with health care. I realize that the idea of a government health care option is souring, even in Washington, but the central idea is still this; would the current health care rationing mechanism (by price) be better or worse than one with greater government involvement (by need)? Clouded, the answer is, but I personally think a government run health plan (single-payer system) would be a better system than our current one.

And so we have the current situation with health care. I realize that the idea of a government health care option is souring, even in Washington, but the central idea is still this; would the current health care rationing mechanism (by price) be better or worse than one with greater government involvement (by need)? Clouded, the answer is, but I personally think a government run health plan (single-payer system) would be a better system than our current one.

To start off, I think we need to make a realistic statement; neither option is perfect (if it was, the answer would be obvious), and regardless of which option succeeds, people will still be clamoring that it doesn’t work. This is because both plans have winners and losers, and it’s more of a personal issue of who you think should win or lose when picking the answer. With the private system, the winners are people that can afford to pay for care and people whose insurance plans can be profitable for insurance companies. (No profit-seeking corporation would insure someone if they absolutely knew their care would create losses. This is why Medicare exists for the care-intensive elderly.) In the single-payer system, the winners tend to be those that the government, using a cost-benefit analysis, has deemed likely to benefit from further care, regardless of ability to pay.

Now, neither of the two above statements sound totally fair, but after reading the second statement one’s mind seems to directly leap to some nightmarish scenario where the government decides the allocation of every resource.  This seems to be a product of the American culture, which is very much centered around free-market idealism and a deep distrust of government involvement in personal affairs. I am, generally, an advocate of such a cultural view. But in the case of a government-run health care system, the fears and presumptions of the livid crowds at all of the recent town-hall meetings are simply unfounded and untrue.

The next post will focus on healthcare and cost control.

Writers I Enjoy

Posted in Politics, Social Issues, Writing on May 23, 2009 by wafflewarrior

Everyone here pretty much knows that I’m quite a fan of newspapers. As a result of my diligence with reading these papers, I’ve come across a couple of writers over the years that I’ve consistently enjoyed following. They all have very different opinions and political alignments, and they all have unique writing styles. I usually don’t agree with most of the opinions presented in their columns, but they’re all written and presented so well that I certainly respect their opinions.

The first writer I’d like to talk about, and one of my earliest favorites, is Leonard Pitts, Jr. Pitts writes for the Miami Herald, won a Pulitzer in 1994, and like almost everyone else I read is nationally syndicated in dozens of newspapers across the country. Pitts is a very passionate writer, as some of his favorite topics are very personal to him; he often writes about racial relations in America, being black himself, and in particular writes a lot about the problems of fatherless families in black and American culture, as he grew up with an abusive father in an impoverished section of L.A. He’s a very liberal writer, he’s a little too generous with writing about President Obama, and can occasionally send one too many pot shots at conservatives, but I still very much enjoy his work. His writing is both emotional and logical, and he does a great job of expressing his opinion. 

Probably my current favorite writer that I follow is Kathleen Parker, who writes for the Washington Post. She is a conservative writer, but is just as critical to the GOP as she is to the Democrats. Much less emotional than Pitts, but I enjoy her work a lot because she is definitely less bias. She is also probably the writer whose opinion I agree with the most. Like Pitts, she is a strong advocate of fathers in families, and writes about general social and political issues of the day.

One of the most polarizing writers I follow is Walter Williams. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University, but writes a weekly column that is syndicated nationally. I obviously enjoy his work because of the economic influence, but he more often than not writes about political and social issues. I have a love/hate relationship with his writing; on one hand, I can’t stand how incredibly ideological his viewpoints can be (he is a strict laissez faire capitalist and a very staunch Constitutionalist), but on the other hand his writing style is so logical and, in my opinion, oftentimes genius that I regard his writing with incredible respect. I oftentimes find myself changing my opinion on certain issues after reading his columns; he is that good.

Then there is Derrick Z. Jackson and George Will, two men who could hardly be any more different. Jackson writes for the Boston Globe, and Will for the Washington Post. Jackson is extremely liberal, oftentimes writing about problems with the GOP and on environmental issues, while Will is extremely conservative, oftentimes writing about the problems with the liberal agenda in every way. Neither of these guys have anything good to say about the other side, while they rarely criticize their own side. I usually read these guys so that I can think about their opinions and think about how I would critique their writing, or I read them so that I can get a very wide range of opinions on issues.

There are a couple of other writers I follow occasionally, but none regularly, and I’m sure I’ll pick up other interesting writers as time goes on. Also, some writers, such as the blogs of economists Greg Mankiw and Paul Krugman, I follow very closely, but their writing is oftentimes too economic-based for the general public. I do, however, encourage you guys to check out any of the five writers I mentioned before, and maybe comment on some writers or columnists you guys follow.

Note: You might have to setup some kind of account with the Washington Post and New York Times to view some of these; if you want to take about fifteen seconds to do that, it’s super easy, and doesn’t send you any kind of email for it or anything. I just did it to get access to the columns. Not much of a price to pay for great writing.

The Kindle DX

Posted in Books on May 14, 2009 by wafflewarrior

I wrote a blog post about three months ago about the Amazon Kindle. I said that I thought it was an incredible idea, and that I had a couple of beefs with it that I believed could be corrected in the coming years. I said that this could definitely become an important tool in keeping newspaper relevant,a nd that I look forward to it growing in popularity.

Well, I decided that I really cannot wait; I want a Kindle this summer. Hopefully I can pull in some birthday money, and along with some funds from my summer job get enough disposable income to afford the pricey e-reader. Now, something new has developed and added some extra thought into my decision: Kindle DX.

The Kindle DX has addressed a concern that I had about the product, but didn’t really realize it was a concern until I saw it. The Kindle DX is larger, but the key is that a larger portion of the surface area of the front is the screen about (60% of the front) compared to the smaller Kindle (which was about 40% of the front). I think this is what I was originally thinking when I was talking about how I wish the Kindle was wireless, but didn’t really think that a Kindle that was more screen would have solved my problem. This plays a huge role in my decision of whether I want a Kindle DX or the original. 

Also, the larger screen makes it much more newspaper-and-textbook-friendly, increasing interest in several more newspapers around the US about converting to a Kindle edition. In fact, several newspapers around the country are discounting a Kindle if one buys a year subscription to the newspaper along with it, and several major textbook publishers have agree to start publishing Kindle versions of textbooks. This is great news for the future of newspapers and students. TECHNICALLY, this should dramatically drop the price of textbooks, but Amazon has already shown that it has not made very large drops in the price of books sold on the Kindle, despite that fact that the marginal cost of producing them is almost zero. It’s quite a ridiculous profit margin on these e-books.

The big problem with the DX: The price tag. It’s $498.00 for the DX, compared to $360.00 for the original Kindle. That’s a major jump in price; maybe the price goes down in the coming months, but it’s not something I think can be expected. Is it worth paying $500.00 for simply the device, not to mention books or newspapers that I might want to buy and subscribe? I was having second thoughts about the first one just based on the price. We’ll see what happens in the coming months with that.

A couple new features of the DX: content on the display auto-rotates between portrait and landscape depending on how you are holding it, holds 3,500 books compared to the paltry 1,500 of the original, and reads PDF’s without having to convert them like the original. This could become an important learning and recreational tool for me. The only question is if that “could” can become fully realized, and it ends up outweighing the steep price.

Love and the Laughing Lovers

Posted in luv on May 11, 2009 by wafflewarrior

Michael decided I should write something about Love, so thats what I’m gonna do.

I recently just got done watching the movie Good Will Hunting (pretty solid flick, not especially wowing, but not bad either). The main character (Matt Damon) is a genius, but does not take advantage of his talents on any level. Eventually, some MIT professor finds him and attempts to tap into his talents, and requires him to see a therapist (Robin Williams).

Now, the Robin Williams character lost his wife to cancer a few years prior to the movie, and is still extremely sensitive about it. He was an extremely devoted husband, and gives many chunks of wisdom about love to Will, who was abused as a child in many foster homes and is incapable of getting close to anyone. Thought I’d share a few:

This one really starts around :40, but there’s a slightly funny crude joke at the beginning:

 

This is probably about to become the worst piece of philosophy ever written.

So, what is love to me? Certainly there’s the physical and biological drive to procreate to carry on one’s genes, and I’m sure there are evolutionary reasons to become emotionally attached to others in efforts to pool resources. These are the subconscious ends to interpersonal attraction; I don’t think we can really choose we we become attracted to, but we can definitely decide who we love.

Call it the economist in me, but I find that in pretty much every realm of my life I think in terms of cost and benefit. If you use this thinking in terms of love, it raises some interesting questions in terms of what the definition of love is. Are there different levels of value when it comes to love? Can I love someone more than I love someone else? Can love be quantified or priced? Is the idea that I can only love one person enough to marry them simply a social construct? Can there be marginal benefit to having two, three, four, ten wives?

If you can answer “yes” to some of these questions, then one’s definition of love is rather murky. I think this stems from the fact that the English word “love” is used to encapsulate many different feelings and emotions. I think the Greeks had it right with the multiple words for love. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to just describe the love one generally has for a spouse.

After a bit of thinking, I decided that my basic definition of love for a spouse is to unconditionally care for someone, and for that someone to have absolute value to you (meaning that it is impossible to put a price on that person). It is the ability to act on another’s behalf without a clear personal benefit. Although it is very cliche, I think St. Paul says it very clearly in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” 

But is it possible to love more than one person as a spouse? I say yes; I don’t think there was made one person for each of us to love, and that who we end up marrying is mostly based on circumstances and cultural rules. Since what we value is all subjective, I can place whatever value I want on whoever I want. It’s not that I’m attempting to diminish the value of the institution of marriage; I think that love takes time to discover, and that marrying is the institution that allows us to find who we love. However, I feel that the idea that we couldn’t possibly find the same kind of spousal love in other people if given the chance is a myth.

Of course, if I wanted to write everything I feel about love, it could take forever. This was just a little snapshot of some of my ideas. I hope you enjoyed it.

Britney Spears Is One Hot Zombie

Posted in Music on March 23, 2009 by wafflewarrior

I hope this post can be as intellectually stimulating as Annie Nutter’s discussion on the hierarchy of education…

So, let’s talk Britney Spears. No, not anything related to the Former Mrs. Alexander/Federline’s social life; we’ll only focus strictly on her music career. 

First off, we can separate her musical career into three rather distinct parts: her earlier,  teen-pop years ranging from ’99’s “Baby, One More Time” to 2001’s “Britney”, to a more mature, sexual singer with 2003’s “In The Zone,” … and to sex-pot-next-door with 2007’s “Blackout” and beyond. In between 03 and 07, Britney transforms from a musical artist with a lot of media attention to the biggest media target on the planet. This all more or less began with the Madonna kiss, and probably came to a zenith with the head-shaving.

 

Cutie

Cutie

Sexy

Hottie

 

Brains?

Brains?

I’m convinced that somewhere between 03 and 07, Spears got her brain eaten and became a zombie. It shows in her music as well. Take the beginning of her career; in these early albums, every song’s focal point is Spears’ vocals. The verses were generally just bass and drum backing the vocals, and the choruses had layers of vocals so they could transcend over the backing music. These songs don’t really work without the vocals, and even though her voice isn’t that great in most of these songs, the songs are better because of the melodies she sang.

On her past two albums, however, her presence has clearly taken a backseat to the dance beats and synths that dominate the songs, almost pushing her voice back into the distance of the song. They’re dance club songs, but she seemed to be able to sing these types of songs from previous albums fairly well (a la “I’m a Slave 4 U” or “Boys”); now, her voice sounds like it’s being mixed into the back of the song.The songs themselves aren’t bad, but she seems to sing them with no personality or flair. The songs really need the Britney label to give them any kind of interest and relevance behind them. Zach Smith said it best: other pop singers must hate Britney, because she doesn’t try to sing live and puts no effort into her music, and everyone loves her. And this is coming from the biggest Spears fan I have ever known.

Britney’s fading presence within her own material is also apparent in her album covers (appearing in order):

 

...Baby One More Time

...Baby One More Time

Oops!... I Did It Again

Oops!... I Did It Again

 

Britney

Britney

 

In The Zone

In The Zone

 

Commence Brain Eating….

 

Blackout

Blackout

Circus

Circus

Britney’s body and clothing clearly contrast with the pink background or …Baby One More Time, one can’t read Britney Spears’ name on Oops!… I Did It Again without passing over Britney’s body in between the words, her image is purposely contrasted yellow and clearly stands out on her self-titled album, and her face takes up almost the entire album cover on In The Zone.

Then, she goes insane, joins the living dead, and comes out with Blackout. Her complexion is way too bright, the lines in the background tend to distract from her body, and her image almost looks fuzzy in the picture. The hat and black hair make it hard to tell at first if it even is the same person. On Circus, the background, her hair, and (to a lesser extent) her skin tone all seem to blend in with each other on the cover; her name and the border tend to distract the viewer much like Blackout’s wavy lines did.

Here, we see that  in practically every aspect of her musical career, her singing and even her own image has become secondary to her brand and production.

After a bit more research, I went out looking for the most respectable Britney songs:

Luke’s Top 5 Britney Spears songs:

5) Oops!… I Did It Again

4) …Baby One More Time

3) Stronger 

2) Toxic

1) Lucky  

Luke’s Top 5 Britney Spears Music Videos:

5) Stronger: Meh, couldn’t find a very good fifth video, but didn’t want to make it a Top 4. It’s okay. The dancing around the chair was pretty good.  She and Yi Jianlian ought to work together sometime.

4) …Baby, One More Time: The 90’s in a four-minute song. There was a school-wide “talent” show when I was in the fourth grade, and there were four groups that did this song.

3) From The Bottom of My Broken Heart: Completely ridiculous video, but features Britney at her most innocent. Big fan of the curly brunette hair and green hat in the video. I was surprised to learn that Britney is a natural brunette:

My Favorite Britney Incarnation

My Favorite Britney Incarnation

2) Oops!… I Did It Again: The stuff involving the Mars exploration and the Titanic is actually chuckle-worthy. Likin’ the red jumpsuit as well.

1) Break The Ice: The only redeemable song of Britney’s last two albums has a music video that features Britney as a kickass anime chick. Need I say more?

And that’s about it. I don’t know why I decided to write about Britney Spears, but I did. Now I have posts about Liz Phair, Hilary Duff/ Miley Cyrus, and Britney. I think I’ll save Shakira for a rainy day.

Twitter has finally added value to my life.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 5, 2009 by wafflewarrior

That’s right. I’ve had Twitter for over a year now, and I could just as well have lived without it as with it all this time. Mostly I just Twitter because everyone else does, and I don’t want to miss out on anything too important. Sometimes I’ll post something interesting, sometimes I’ll read something interesting, but it had never really been something I would consider valuable to me, until now.

I’ve been reading the newspaper since I was about twelve; starting with the Comics, then moving on to the sports section, and finally reading it all, finding any kind of interesting story I wanted to read.I remember in high school I would really be depressed if the newspaper hadn’t arrived at my house by the time I woke up in the morning. It was an important part of my routine in the mornings, and I loved reading whatever I couldn’t finish in the mornings after school. It helped me relax from the rest of my world.

Now, I think a lot of you guys know about my little fit with the demise of the newspapers; they’re constantly losing money, many are closing down nationwide, they’ve cut the size of almost every newspaper I’ve seen, etc. If Western Civilization were charted on a graph (Y-value: Level of Civilization, X-value: time), then it would be an upside-down parabola, with the decline of newspapers being the maximum point. It’s all down hill from here.So yeah, I complain about it, and unless the Kindle can really do a great job at creating a newspaper-like experience, or if a newspaper’s website can learn to stand on it’s own, it’s gonna be a really terrible day when the newspapers die. 

I’ve been trying to substitute the Cincinnati Enquirer with the online edition ever since I moved to college, but it has never been the same. Newspapers make it so easy to access the information, whereas, unless you know what you’re looking for or the front page has the information, you can’t really just grab the news stories. It sucks, and I complain about it.

In comes Twitter. I’ve just recently started following CinciEnquirer over the past couple weeks, and suddenly I love coming to Twitter to check out if @Cincienquirer has linked to any good stories from the Enquirer’s webpage. Combining the two technologies has really done a great job at giving me a similar level of satisfaction I enjoyed with the paper edition of the Enquirer. I’ve also begun following JohnFayMan, who does Reds articles, and suddenly I’m kept up-to-date on games and news about the Reds (even more than I would have from the paper).

Instead of formerly feeling pessimistic about the web’s abilities to translate a newspaper-like experience, I feel that it may be able to really turn the corner if the right kind of people can combine ideas from these different communication streams.

Alas, the last part is easier said than done. Although my beloved Enquirer is doing a great job of integrating new technologies into the news, One of my favorite newspaper opinion columnists, Leonard Pitts Jr., is a Twitter nay-sayer. It’s funny, because if you read some of the comments below the story on the same page, you see many people saying that they’re only reading this because they saw it on Twitter, or would have never heard of Pitts if not through Twitter. These communication outlets have the ability to transform newspaper websites, increasing their web traffic, which in turn increases their advertising revenue. Couple that with the practically non-existent marginal cost of having another person read a website, especially compared to the cost of created one extra newspaper, and you have a communication medium that is just waiting to be exploited.

I do have one idea, though: build a webpage that is simply an online copy of the newspaper, exactly as it would look in print. You could make it a .pdf if they wanted to, or just a linked-to page. For me, this would create almost the exact experience I could receive from the print edition, but without the cost of printing it or delivering it. You could give it out in this format along with the current newspaper-website format, and the reader can pick what how they want to read the news. Doing it this way couldn’t possibly cost as much as the current system, I would love it, and would help those readers that are unfamiliar/hostile to the internet transition to a totally-online edition of the paper.

I really hope that newspaper establishments realize the value of the internet as a viable way to make money reporting the news.