It’s the providers stupid (and I do mean stupid)

I like to think that liberals are generally smarter, appreciate more nuanced thinking, and are less paranoid than conservatives.  Actually, I still do think that, but damn if the liberal fringe isn't doing their best to disprove all that lately.  They've come out in force in the comments of all my favorite bloggers (e.g., Drum, Klein, Yglesias, Cohn) who have been arguing smartly and strenuously that the current health reform, though lacking, will be a huge net positive.  The latest liberal bugaboo is the individual mandate that requires individuals to buy insurance.  Apparently, they believe we shouldn't require people to buy something from only private companies (hello, auto insurance?).  As anybody who gets health policy will tell you, the whole system of near-universal coverage falls apart without an individual mandate and costs go way up for those who actually do have insurance (Great explanation by Ezra). 

One thing that is clear to me in reading all the comments from enraged liberals, is that very few have a meaningful grasp of the fundamental problems with the health care system in this country.  All they want to do is blame the for-profit insurance companies.  They are certainly part of the problem, but the truth is that the providers, especially hospital networks, have huge leverage and are able to charge prices far out of line with the rest of the world.  (Here's a very nice explanation in a health policy journal, also check out this great podcast from This American Life).  The Senate legislation is attempting a number of features to try and address this problem.  (Check out Atul Gawande on the matter).  Yes, for-profit insurance companies can be very evil, but the legislation quite pointedly addresses the worst of these evils.  Real cost control ultimately depends on addressing the prices providers charge– a strong public option (never going to pass) would be great for that, but the key is not whether we go through for-profit or public insurance, but that we find a way to keep these provider costs down. 

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King of Wolfblogs?

So, I thought I'd do a little blogging from the public library (I came here to grade and save myself a 30-minute round trip before heading back to Evan's pre-school for his Christmas concert in) and since Wolfblogs is not bookmarked here, of course, I just googled "wolfblogs."  As on many sites, the most popular subpages show up immediately under the main link.  In this case, "Getting Started," "Information for faculty," "Examples," and yes, right along with all those, this very blog, "shgreene."  I would be a nobody on blogspot, but at least I'm a somebody on Wolfblogs :-).

 

Liberals can be nuts, too

It's been really interesting to see the more hardcore liberals (i.e., the Daily Kos and Firedoglake types) all up in arms about the current state of the health reform legislation, whereas I don't want to say the more pragmatic liberals, but rather the liberals who actually understand the details of the policy and policy-making process in the US Congress (i.e., Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Jonathan Cohn) realize the bill is far from perfect but are damn happy to get it.  Obviously, by my choice of words I am putting myself in this latter camp.  Would a strong public option be great? Or Medicare buy-in?  You betcha– but you are simply not going to get Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman to vote for these things– that's life in the real world.  Given the constraints, I actually think the legislation is looking surprisingly good.  Ezra Klein makes the great point that we can quite realistically expect this legislation to save somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,00 lives.  Seriously.  That's what expanding health insurance does.  He also does a nice job laying out all the good that this bill can do.  Kevin Drum also has a great summary of what's at stake.  There's a nice little maxim about the perfect being the enemy of the good, and it seems to be very much in effect in the far left of the liberal blogosphere where, sadly, many seem to be just as immune to fact and reason as you typically see on the political right.  

 

Favorite TV of the 00’s

For my TV list, I'm going to be a little more straightforward and go with plain old "favorite TV shows" of the aughts.  In order of preference:

  • The Wire.  Best TV show ever.  If you have seen the Wire and deny its brilliance, don't bother discussing TV or movies with me.  
  • The Sopranos.  Could be up and down at times, but generally terrific.  I'm a sucker for moral complexity and the Sopranos excelled at it. 
  • Arrested Development.  2nd funniest TV show I've ever seen (I suspect nothing will ever replace Seinfeld in this opinion of mine).
  • Lost.  Yeah, I know it can be imperfect and hokey at times, but I love the mind-bending premises and the terrific cast.  The pilot was about as good as TV gets. 
  • Curb your Enthusiasm. Well, I don't have Seinfeld anymore, but Larry David's willingness and ability to use himself as the butt of the show's humor is unparalleled.  Some of the episodes had me laughing as hard as anything I've ever seen on TV. 
  • Office (UK Version).  Love the US office, but the British version is incomparable for its dark and subtle humor.  Definitely a more intelligent, realistic, and darker version the the US show.  Plus, I'll never forget "Free love on the freelove freeway." 
  • Eastbound and Down.  6 episodes of perfection about an egomaniacal washed-up major league baseball player who ends up living with his brother and substitute teaching school in rural NC. 
  • Battlestar Galactica.  Much more uneven that I would like, but at its best, it achieved what all great science fiction does and holds a mirror to our own times and humanity better than any "realistic" fiction.  The third season where you realize you are essentially identifying with the analog of the Iraqi insurgents is brilliant.
  • 30 Rock.  Really smartly written and Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are incredible. 

Summary comments: Wow, it really is not just TV, it's HBO.  Without HBO originals, this list would be impoverished.  There's some other really good shows I'm sure I failed to mention, but that book list was already way too long.  On HBO, I also really liked 6 Feet Under, Big Love, Flight of the Conchords, and the much-under-appreciated, the Comeback.  shows I intend to catch on DVD one of these days: The Shield, Mad Men, and Dexter.  Modern Family is only 9 episodes old, but it's as good a first nine as almost any on this list. 

Spank your kids? You probably voted for McCain

One of the more interesting features of modern American politics is the way in which authoritarianism has gone from being an entirely non-partisan personality trait to one overwhelmingly on the Republican side of the partisan ledger.  A couple of political scientists, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler (Marc is a great guy and super smart, one of the few mistakes OSU made when I was there was not hiring him; I don't know Jonathan), have done some really interesting research on this topic in recent years.  I haven't read their book yet, but I'm got a really smart student turning in a paper on it this week, so that should last me for a while.  Anyway, they discussed some of their findings recently at TPM Cafe.  They start things off with this intriguing graph:

In states with lower percentages of people that endorse spanking and
washing kids' mouths out with soap, which is the case in New England
and much of the Middle Atlantic, Obama did very well.

I cannot say I've been averse to a good swat on the bottom every now and then, but washing kids' mouth out with soap?  People still do that?  Anyway, here's the nice explanation for what's up:

Of course, we don't think that spanking kids causes people to vote
Republican. We do, however, show in the book that those who view the
world in hierarchical terms, a worldview consistent with using physical
means to discipline children, are now much more likely to vote
Republican. In contrast, those who view the world in more horizontal
terms favor Democratic candidates. The psychological terms that match
these colliding worldviews are authoritarianism and
nonauthoritarianism, which we measure by asking people about their
child rearing preferences. Those who favor obedience over self-reliance
and respect for elders over independence score high in
authoritarianism. Those who favor the reverse are the
nonauthoritarians.

If you are intrigued, you can listen to the authors here.

Most memorable books of the 00’s

Okay, time for my list of books of the decade.  Favorite seemed a little too ordinary, so I decided to go with "books that have stuck with me the most."  That is, books that I still think about a lot after I read them.  Of course, all of them can be food on my full reading list.  I've got a favorites list, but I make that at the time of the original review.  Some of those books I hardly think about any more and others that did not make the list still stick with me.  I just looked through my full list to see how much I've read in the past decade– damn that's a lot of books.  Anyway, so here's the books I read in the 00's (many were also written this decade, but many are older) that have stuck with me, in rough chronological order (damn there's a lot of really good ones):

  • Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.  The 2nd work in Simmons Hyperion cantos remains for me the most engrossing and thought-provoking of any science fiction I have ever read. 
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  A near-perfect novel.  When asked to name my favorite book, this is always right at the top of my list.  Perfectly nails the interior lives of his characters and one of the two funniest books I have ever read (the other being Richard Russo's The Straight Man, which I read in the 1990's).
  • We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families by Philip Gourevetich.  Tells the story of the Rwandan genocide in heartbreaking detail.  Hard not to have a lasting impact from this subject matter.
  • As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto.  Tells the true story of a boy who was raised as a girl after a horribly botched circumcision.  This book, as much as any, really got me thinking about the biology of sex and gender identity, a subject I remain fascinated in.  
  • Carter Beats the Devil by Glenn David Gold.  Quite simply as entertaining a novel as I've read. 
  • Base Instincts: What makes killer kill by Jonathan Pincus.  Tremendous insight into the biological and sociological sources of violent crime.  I come back to the ideas in this book a lot.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Not the most entertaining, but I think the best of the HP books.  I loved the way JK Rowling was not afraid to take her hero and make him a brooding, annoying teenager.  Rowling's great achievement in the series was making the characters so utterly real and familiar in an enchanting and fantastic world.
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.  I still eat meat after reading this book, but I'm not happy about it.
  • Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection by Deborah Blum. If you've ever learned about the famous wire mother monkey experiments, here they are in all their disturbing detail.  A good, but not great book, but very memorable to see how far we've come in understanding the nature of love and affection. 
  • Overdosed America by John Abramson.  Terrifically details the evils of the pharmaceutical industry and how it harms the health of Americans.  If you've ever heard me rail against various pharmaceuticals (and if you know me, you probably have), this book is why.
  • The Ha-Ha  by David King.  The narrator of this book is incapable of speech due to a brain injury and thus treated as an imbecile, but looked inside is a pained and thoughtful man.  Terrific reading.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  Best.  Novel.  Ever.  Don't be afraid of the length or the fact that it's Tolstoy.  He is a very accessible author who has the best insight into the human condition of any author I've ever read.
  • Courtroom 302 by Steve Borgida.  Amazing tale of just how much injustice there is in America's justice system.  I'm assigning it to my Criminal Justice class next semester.
  • Oblivion by Peter Abrahams.  Surely my favorite mystery/thriller I read over the decade.  Everything a novel should be.  I love a really intriguing unreliable narrator.
  • The Omnivore's Dillemma by Michael Pollan.  Another book that totally changed the way I look at food.  The first section on our corn-based food system is a non-fiction tour-de-force.
  • The Subtle Knife  by Phillip Pullman.  How unusual for the middle book of a trilogy to be the best, but I loved this middle work of Pullman's acclaimed trilogy– so thought provoking– the others were just very good.
  • Good Germs, Bad Germs by Jessica Snyder Sachs.  I'm full of all sorts of great bacterial anecdotes thanks to this book
  • How to Read the Bible by James Kugel.  I've long been since to modern biblical scholarship, but I was still amazed to learn so much of the story behind the Old Testament.  This book has quite strongly influenced the way I think about religion.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I think I may have loved this book more than anything I read this decade.  Simply brilliant.
  • Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.  Why we drive the way we do.  I think about lessons from this book practically every time I am on the road.  
  • Outliers  by Malcolm Gladwell.  A very powerful argument for really understanding the role of context and chance in explaining individual success.  Something I know think about a lot more.

Congratulations if you made it through the whole list.  Wow, I've been influenced by a lot of books.  I even had to leave off some great ones because this was getting way too long, but you know where to find them. 

 

What’s up with Joe Lieberman

So far the evidence that Joe Lieberman has acted in bad faith to kill health care reform strikes me as quite persuasive.  I'm definitely of the opinion that Lieberman is a sanctimonious blowhard who is just a complete jerk.  Anyway, Ezra Klein does a terrific job deconstruction Lieberman's changing positions on health care reform and makes a compelling case the Lieberman's central motive is pissing off liberals (if people die from lack of health insurance, so be it in Lieberman's world).  Pretty hard to argue with Ezra's conclusions.   In a somewhat complimentary post, TNR's Jon Chait argues that we strongly need to consider the fact that Lieberman is just plain stupid.  Actually, I think they are both right, as Chait makes the point in his conclusion:

I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of
a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers. Trust
me, it's not true. If Senator Smith from Idaho was angering Democrats
by spewing uninformed platitudes, most liberals would deride him as an
idiot. With Lieberman, we all suspect it's part of a plan. I think he
just has no idea what he's talking about and doesn't care to learn.
Lieberman thinks about politics in terms of broad ideological labels.
He's the heroic centrist voice pushing legislation to the center. No,
Lieberman doesn't have any particular sense of what the Medicare buy-in
option would do to the national debt. If the liberals like it, then he
figures it's big government and he should oppose it. I think it's
basically that simple.

Joe Lieberman: unprincipled and  stupid.  Works for me.

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