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June 26, 2009

something pithy about ageing?

Yesterday about 10 minutes after the death of Farrah Fawcett was reported, I got about 200 words into a post about how I'm a bad person because I frown upon the RIPs in your Tweets and your Status Updates.  Just me being cranky and pretending that I have decorum in some aspect.  And now looking at the entirety of the day, I'm really glad that I didn't.  Because, for this guy right here, Farrah and MJ were two cultural immovable objects of childhood, and I presume the same holds true for the rest of the cathode-ray set (thanks, JessicaD).  So, especially for we navel-gazing types, yesterday was alarming as measurable percentages of nostalgia real estate -- entire towns -- were obliterated.  And it kind of left me feeling, "Well, are you grown up yet?"

Actually, probably not.  But hey, what a day, huh?  I start complaining about questionable news pushing the rest of the news off the front page, and now more legitimate non-news does so.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

June 25, 2009

ezra klein on health insurers

It's useful sometimes to find the sober equivalent of what I'm trying to say, because I tend to spin out of control with either rage or whimsy.  Or both!  Or beer/cheese!

Ezra Klein on why insurance companies are not necessarily the entities we want safeguarding our health:

The issue isn't that insurance companies are evil.  It's that they need to be profitable.  They have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit for shareholders.  And as [whistle-blower Wendell] Potter explains, he's watched an insurer's stock price fall by more than 20 percent in a single day because the first-quarter medical-loss ratio had increased from 77.9 percent to 79.4 percent.

That ratio referred to there represents the amount of money spent by the insurer on health care costs -- payment to your doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, etc. -- compared to the aggregate income of the insurer.  So, the more they pay for our health care the worse it goes for them.  The takeaway from that seems pretty obvious.

And this is Klein on the free market argument:

The reason we generally like markets is that the profit incentive spurs useful innovations.  But in some markets, that's not the case.  We don't allow a bustling market in heroin, for instance, because we don't want a lot of innovation in heroin creation, packaging and advertising.  Are we really sure we want a bustling market in how to cleverly revoke the insurance of people who prove to be sickly?

Well I don't know, not me.  Though I would like to congratulate Klein for the comparison of health insurers to heroin pushers, though I could think of worse.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:58 PM

a queer way of ignoring sanford

I logged on last night, after a pleasant evening of cheese/beer tasting at Sycamore, to see what kind of legs this fascinating/scary story had and I found out that it had NONE AT ALL because Gov. Sanford not only managed to apologize his way into the hearts of a news-hungry America but also managed to let some third party release his mash notes to the adulteree, which I would not read for all the cheese/beer tastings in the world and which dominated every inch of available newsspace in the universe.

Even the usually redoubtable TPM was not only drenched with steamy Sanford, it even ran a post yesterday afternoon using Sanford to make a Where We Are Now observation:

If you read only the print edition of the New York Times, you would still not know anything about the Mark Sanford saga, according to my search of the paper's archives.

Yes, true that, as the NYT is printed in the middle of the night before, so things that happen after printing has occurred generally don't make the edition.  Also, the sweep of irrational Sanford exuberance wouldn't have yet been in the newsweeklies, the Atlantic Monthly, novels or major motion pictures -- we get it.  (Though, it was on the NYT website, so I'm not sure what the point is other than "rotary phones were cool but doomed".)

But, maybe there is a segment of the reading public that would actually prefer to have a Sanford-free zone, a place where the reporting of the news is a little less hysterical.  The instantaneity of web news coverage is an awful lot like I remember high school -- shrill, foolishly self-assured, blithely fad-adherent, gossipy and subject to wide behavior swings and cognitive self-deceptions thanks to buckets of hormones flooding through everyone.  Now, I remember high school fondly, and I enjoy and treasure my website news portals, but I don't recall anyone yesterday stopping and asking themselves, or the world, if Schadenfreude and prurient interest constitute newsworthiness.  Because they don't.  Another governor cheated on his wife (albeit spectacularly).  Give it a paragraph, move on to the news, and let the Perez Hiltons of the world wallow in the details.

Or don't.    Who am I to say?  Maybe my reluctance to care about another man's dirty-talk emails make me wrong, and I do not plan on ever being unaccustomed to being wrong.

The fascinating/scary story referenced above, by the way, is about geothermal energy, and how a by-product of geothermal energy is seismic activity, and how they want to drill a geothermic well two hours from San Francisco.  It's countless hundreds of words long, and it's worth your time.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:45 AM

June 24, 2009

bla bla sanford bla bla

Say what you want about the serial apologizing of Governor Mark Sanford, but give him this: he has successfully hijacked the news for another twenty-four hours.

It seems like an awful lot of effort to do so, but I guess he might've been frustrated that his continued efforts to deny bailout money to the people of South Carolina weren't gaining enough traction.  But, way to take one for the team.

Oh well.  If we hunker down and watch a ball game tonight, this should all be blown over by tomorrow lunchtime.

And a confused nation asks: "Wait, there's a South Carolina?"

Posted by mrbrent at 3:31 PM

cannot help self from north korean laffs

My first instinct is to write about all the whack-ass shit North Korea is threatening exactly because it's whack-ass.  Wipe the US off the map?  Dudes, better people have tried (including some Americans), and it's just not as easy as it looks.  Sure, the tech is out there, but once everyone figured out that MAD stood for "mutually assured destruction" the bloom left that rose behind, and those that welcome mutually destruction generally can't afford the tech.  Even without the tech -- look at Europe.  European cities were been obliterated over and over again for centuries, and they're still there.

But I'm noting that the splash of the headlines, the placement of the articles, is starting to resemble a small-scale frenzy that I hope does not blow up into a large-scale frenzy of alarmism over the North Korean threat, just cuz we do not behave so well under conditions of frenzy.

So to counteract I will continue with mocking and derision: North Korea couldn't wipe us off of an actual map, even with a case of white-out and a day to read the instructions.  (I know -- it's all real funny until we're all speaking Korean.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM

mark sanford: as long as they spell his name right

It's not a story of vital interest or anything, but the saga of the runaway governor is now officially weird enough to merit the consumption national journalistic resources to uncover the particulars of why a man elected to governor of a moderate-sized state would disappear, in general.  And maybe why he would hire a staff so incompetent to lie about his whereabouts in such a bald fashion as to guarantee that they would get caught.  The wife stuff, that's between she and the governor -- though, as a married man I can only imagine how my beautiful wife might react if I went to Argentina (or Newark, for criminy's sake) without telling her.

Sure, it's eating up the newshole that could be occupied by actual news, but at least it's not a couple hundred words on whether the president smokes or not.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 AM

June 23, 2009

obama on health care

I'm very accustomed to linking to the words of someone else as an example of what I'd like to say were I better spoken.  But I'm not used to doing so with the words of a politician, let alone a president of the United States, as I am with this, President Obama's thoughts on health reform vs. free enterprise:
Why would it drive private insurance out of business?  If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government -- which they say can't run anything -- suddenly is going to drive them out of business?  That's not logical.

The complaint that a public option would threaten free enterprise is actually a more whinging complaint that a government-provided health insurance would threaten the monopoly that private insurers now enjoy.  It's a tacit admission that private insurers cannot compete, because private insurers take their profit motive more seriously than the service they provide.

Which is why I continue to hope that the private insurers do indeed get run out of business, because health care is too important to the well-being of a community to be entrusted to entities so nakedly trying to make a buck off of it.  Consider it an infrastructure issue, or a utility.  There is nothing in our Constitution, or in good common sense, that demands that every element of society must turn a healthy profit for people that do nothing more than provide capital; there are only rich people saying that.

And to eliminate the profit motive from one industry does not threaten every other industry.  There are plenty of more honorable ways to make a buck, like despicable reality television shows.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:00 PM

now i can't even enjoy non-panicking hawaiians

How far out of shape is that TV reality show that I won't mention again bending me?

Well, there's a story in the NYT about how Hawaiians are not panicking over North Korea after all, which ordinarily is a topic I'd find worth talking about, as obsessed as I am with North Korea's whimsical antics, and panic.

But sadly this story is backed up with interviews with actual Americans who live in Hawaii, and how can I give credence to the actual thoughts and words of a people that care about that show that I absolutely don't want to talk about?

Not that I was ever a fan of the quoted wisdom of the man on the street, other than in the sense of wondering how hard the editors had to work to wring them into complete sentences.

This terrible television reality show featuring two bad people who have been inspired to further bad behavior by the success of the television show is sucking the fun out of my life like a vacuum.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

jon & kate plus eight!!

My antipathy for "Jon & Kate Plus Eight", or just "Jon" and/or "Kate" if you happen to be anywhere near a newsstand or grocery check-out, is so great that I need to put it in writing.

You wouldn't be able to tell if you were actually in the same room for me.  I won't bring the topic up, and if anyone brings up the topic, then I will sneak out of the room quietly when no one is looking.  Like, my not-caring so overwhelms me that I don't even want to roll my eyes or glare and shake my head or wheel out a TV playing a perfectly good, scripted, writer-employing television show to purge the crap reality garbage out of the brains of those who have viewed.  So just this one mention, just this once.  For the record.  Urgh.

Reality shows were one thing.  Performers being slung-shot into global celebrity overnight was another thing.  Reality show participants being slung-shot into global celebrity overnight is where I have to draw the line.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:33 AM

June 22, 2009

marco rubio: guns solve everything

So some GOP rocket scientist (FL GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio) twitters about how the Iranian people would benefit from the right to bear arms, and TPM's Eric Kleefeld notices:
Now on the one hand, it is true that things would probably be different right now if Iranians were heavily armed.  But a) this is just one of many rights they don't have, and b) don't American conservatives usually oppose the heavy arming of people in that part of the world?

Good point, but allow me to go a different direction.

I accept that it is all of our tendencies is to superimpose our ideological preferences over the events of the day (i.e., I think the embrace of non-violence by the Iranian opposition is smart and life-affirming), but should not the wise observer wait for an event of the day that actually fits with the particular ideological preference espoused?

In other words, implicitly advocating an Iranian civil war is not just another colossally stupid schoolyard solution to a discrete problem, it is antithetical to the goals and tactics of the protesters.

Obviously Mr Rubio is not running for election in Iran, but he certainly must have Florida's "violently stupid/stupidly violent" vote locked up.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:10 AM

hello goldman sachs

Here is me, starting the old work week, sincerely hoping that after a frustrating week of minor bad news and an even more frustrating weekend of wondering why on earth anyone of my species would point, let alone fire, a loaded weapon into a crowd of unarmed people, the first online story I give full attention to is this one:
Staff at Goldman Sachs staff can look forward to the biggest bonus payouts in the firm's 140-year history after a spectacular first half of the year, sparking concern that the big investment banks which survived the credit crunch will derail financial regulation reforms.

A lack of competition and a surge in revenues from trading foreign currency, bonds and fixed-income products has sent profits at Goldman Sachs soaring, according to insiders at the firm.

God dammit, I thought that we spent four or five months agonizing over the causes of the recession that have made all of our lives less convenient and tenable and that these lessons might have gained some traction amongst those who needed to learn them.  Fortunately my next four or five months are not entirely spoken for.

Two questions:

First, this "lack of competition" -- to what extent was the US Department of the Treasury responsible for this, directly (allowing competitors to fail) and indirectly (ensuring insurance payouts by floating AIG)?

And second, if you were a shareholder in Goldman Sachs (I'm not), would you think that handing out barrels of money to employees is the best use of that money?

Just asking.  It's going to be a good week no matter.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM

June 21, 2009

north korea: now a comic diversion

A small diversion in a big news weekend -- North Korea took a pause from doing the Curly Shuffle long enough to wave their arms menacingly and imply that they would lob a missile in the general direction of Hawaii (even though a NKorean missile would need a whole lot more than a running start to reach Hawaii).  And Hawaiians, as any good Americans would, are panicking.
Retiree Mae Dong, a Honolulu resident of more than 50 years, said the United States must remain resolute in the face of any North Korean aggression.

"It's disturbing," she said Friday.  "We cannot run.  We have to fight them."

I don't know if all Hawaiians are that colorful and good with a quote, but if they are, then there's a good chance that we could win the escalating War of Crazy Things To Say with North Korea.

In the meantime, I heard that sometimes people in Brooklyn carry unregistered handguns -- I'm never leaving my apartment again.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:48 AM