Thank God For Biden
January 31, 2010, 8:16 pm
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I wonder why nobody has mentioned the most important aspect of Year One of the Obama Presidency, which is that (thankfully for the U.S., and for the world, and humanity in general) it has meant that the Vice President is Joe Biden rather than Sarah Palin.

As you recall, had the 2008 election gone the other way, Sarah Palin would have ascended to the Vice Presidency, i.e. the most important and most crucial position of power known to humankind. Right-thinking people the world over gasped in horror because they recognized what a disaster that would have been, given the unparalleled importance of the office of the Vice Presidency. With Palin at the reins of the Vice Presidency, humanity probably would have been doomed. Because of all that stuff she would have done as the Vice President.

But instead, we got Biden pulling those powerful strings. And we’re so much better off for it with Biden (I’m pretty sure that’s his name) doing all that important Vice President stuff this past year, and for three more. Go Biden! Keep doing all that hugely pivotal and noteworthy Vice President stuff you do so well. I, and the world, thank you for it.

The Real Pigs At A Trough
January 31, 2010, 2:43 pm
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The idea is once again making the rounds in the blogosphere (see this BBC article, via Cognitive Science Blog) that plebes aren’t smart enough to vote their own self-interest.

This is a puzzle that has plagued caring, magnanimous lefty thinkers for ages: since lefty ideas are so obviously beneficial and salutary for plebes (indeed, as illustrated by the BBC article above, this can just be taken as a given: no argument for it is even necessary), why won’t the dumb plebes just pull the lever for them and let lefties do whatever they want?

I think this blog post from some time ago covered the response pretty well. Boy that’s a good blogger. (All right, yes, I admit, that’s a link to my own blog.)

But seriously, the fact that lefties continually see this as an inexplicable puzzle to be solved says a lot not merely about their own arrogance regarding the obviousness of their ideas, but more importantly, about how they view democracy and voting.

We are learning in a backhanded way that the lefty model of democracy is that people are supposed to vote, always and unfailingly, to maximize their wallets. Any deviation from this, lefties find inexplicable. In other words, lefties actively encourage (and see it as a ‘puzzle’ that needs ‘studying’ when it doesn’t happen) the notion of democracy as each person voting to do what’s best for Me, Myself, and I. The stereotypical/Adam Smithian homo economicus was never so simplified and extreme!

If Politician A promises to steal $5 and give it to me, but Politician B promises to steal $6 and give it to me, I’m supposed to vote for Politician B. And if I don’t, it’s puzzling. Hard to understand. This is seriously what lefties think.

The reason I seem to be belaboring this point is that it’s really quite striking: this attitude is a double-whammy of insult. Because the fact that lefties have this attitude shows contempt not only for the plebes whose interest they pose as defending (like that excellent blogger linked about said: that they are all just pigs at a trough), but for democracy itself. Their continued trotting out of this ‘paradox’ is a tacit admission that lefties see democracy according to the old adage: two wolves and a sheep, voting on what’s for dinner.

A final note, given that this is how lefties see the world and democracy, what does it say about their own policy preferences? Last time I brought this up I was roundaboutly sarcastic, but let me say it in a straightforward way: if this is what lefties think democracy is about, maybe it’s time we started examining lefty policies with a critical eye towards whom those policies will benefit – i.e., lefties. Often, upper class lefties.

Plebes may not reliably vote their own self-interest, but billionaire Al Gore certainly seems to.

Seriously, How Many Times And How Many Different Levels Of Sarcasm Am I Going To Have To Employ In Order To Say This?
January 30, 2010, 12:59 pm
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Ok, let me just say what I think plainly:

The guy (guys?) who keeps releasing these “audiotapes of Osama bin Laden” is not Osama bin Laden.

It’s just some fucking dude speaking into a tape recorder, and sending the tape off to fucking Al Jazeera, via which it apparently passes directly through to our media completely uncritically. Notice once again how every single news story about these things contains a passage like

The new message, the authenticity of which could not immediately be confirmed,

Read that. And think about it. Please! I challenge anyone, anywhere to explain to me just exactly why the hell they think the dude speaking on this tape is Osama bin Laden.

More to the point, I challenge our own news media to do their fucking jobs and investigate to confirm just exactly whether there is any factual basis whatsoever for believing this guy is Osama bin Laden. There’s a damn Pulitzer in it for the first reporter who embarrasses the entire Western media by proving that for the past four years they’ve been publicizing free of charge the wacky views of some random Chomsky-loving global-warming-believing Yemenite (or whoever he is) as the views of Osama bin Laden. Why won’t anyone do it?

Out Of One, Many
January 29, 2010, 3:30 am
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I still always get a chuckle when I hear someone (an individual, singular) referred to as “diverse”.

(One of the bosses told someone on the trading floor that their next new hire should be someone who is “diverse”.)

Health Care As A Utility
January 28, 2010, 11:45 am
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I complain a lot about how medical ‘insurance’ is used in this country, and about how its (mis)use betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of risk. But I don’t offer any solutions!, you chide.

Well, this post is not going to change that. But I did have some additional thoughts that may be more constructive.

Of course my basic complaint is that the role of insurance – hedging against large, surprising costs due to risky events – has gotten all mixed up and intertwined with the concept of a payment plan – regular payments designed to smooth out costs and perhaps benefit from package discounts. Seems to me the fact that ‘insurance’ has turned out this way must, on a fundamental level, mean that people just really want to buy all their medical care with payment plans.

Indeed, one of the most common complaints and fears people seem to have is paying for medical stuff ‘out of pocket’. Imagine someone needs a pill daily that costs $10 per dose. Listening to the average person on the subject of health care, it’s easy to come away with the impression that people would much much rather have a ‘plan’ that ‘covers’ that pill for $300/month than to have to buy that pill daily for $10/day. Even though the cost to them is the same either way (ok, pretend all months have 30 days for the purpose of this discussion). Doesn’t the $300 exit your pocket monthly either way? Actually, I suspect that the average person would actually be happier having a ‘plan’ that cost $350/month to ‘cover’ those pills than to have to (gasp) buy them ‘out of pocket’. People seem to value ‘plans’ so much, and fear this ‘out of pocket’ thing so greatly, that one gets the impression they’ll pay a premium for a ‘plan’.

People want to pay for their medical care via payment plans. They don’t want to have to see numbers when they’re actually at the doctor or pharmacist. They don’t want to be confronted with cash registers at the doctor. Rightly or wrongly, it’s pretty clear that’s what most people want.

The result is the system we have, and the constant politicizing of the so-called ‘insurance’ industry, pressure to ‘cover’ more and more things, to pay ‘out of pocket’ for less and less, and to get the government all involved and mixed up with what is ‘covered’ and who decides. In other words, the result is the intermingling of true insurance with buying routine medical care via payment plans. And this is what people like me don’t like. I wish I could buy an insurance policy that was just insurance for catastrophes/large costs, and then deal with other medical care – routine checkups, needed drugs, health maintenance, etc. – some other way. Whatever way I felt like, or thought was most economical, or most convenient. You know, like how I buy virtually all other stuff.

But let me try to meet everyone halfway. Because actually there’s nothing wrong with a payment plan per se. I do understand the appeal of it. And there are many, many other things we do buy on payment plans – an important subset of which we call utilities.

Take your cell phone, your land line, water, garbage, electricity and gas. Essentially we buy all these things on payment plans: we get billed once a month, and we use the things (or not) throughout the month. Although our bills can vary with the amount of usage (typically the bills are of the form base fees/taxes + a cost that scales with usage), we certainly don’t get ‘billed’ with every single usage – we don’t have to break out the credit card and pay ‘out of pocket’ for each flick of the light switch, each fill of the bathtub, each call to the friend down the block. And what a pain in the a** it would be if we did! There’s a fundamental logic in how these things are paid for – even I can understand that.

And so maybe people just fundamentally want their health care to be the same way – something you use, because it’s an ongoing human need, but you don’t have to break out the credit card for each time you use it. In other words: fundamentally, basic health care (if not emergency health care) is a utility. So let’s treat it like one.

Note that this approach is neither left-wing nor right-wing. It doesn’t necessarily mean government takeover of health care, but it doesn’t necessarily not mean a government takeover. The question is just what works better. Some utilities are essentially government monopolies, but others have been privatized to at least some extent, and some utilities have shifted back and forth between the public and the private. Electricity is typically quite public; in the case of cell phone companies, you are basically dealing with private companies.

Some benefits of this approach: it would leave room for shopping around (like people do with their cell phone plans). It might also make people stop and think, a little bit, about their seeming obsession with paying for things via ‘plans’. Notice that most people aren’t really all that happy about how cell phone plans work – signing lengthy contracts, paying high monthly fees whether or not they use it, etc. I submit that the way we pay for health care has a lot of the same problems (and more – after all, at least the government doesn’t incentivize our employers to garnish our paychecks to pay for our cell phone plans) – but people just don’t notice it because they don’t think about health care the same way that they think about their cell phone plans.

They should. And if Basic Health Care was essentially a utility, a monthly service, like cell phone plans, then maybe they would – and maybe they’d stop and see that what they’re asking for when they clamor for government to ‘reform’ ‘healthcare’ is the health-care equivalent of asking the government to take over Sprint and then force everyone to sign up for 50-year cell phone contracts in which the government has the power to limit the number of minutes.

Maybe people would stop asking for stupid, self-defeating things, in other words. Hey, I can dream.

Slang and Skin and Other Observations From A “Tea-Bagger” (?)

One of the more bizarre moments in Keith Olbermann’s bizarre rant against Scott Brown (deftly ridiculed by Jon Stewart) was when Olbermann called Brown “tea-bagging”. What the heck does that even mean? Brown is a “tea-bagging” so-and-so? As in, he likes to “tea-bag”? “Tea-bag” as a verb? And the act of “tea-bagging” is what, exactly, Mr. Olbermann? (Yes, yes, I am aware there is such a slang term that refers to something sexual, not exactly sure what, but I want to know what it’s supposed to mean in this context.) One of my pet peeves is slang shorthand, evidently from the internet, that literally doesn’t mean anything but enters the political lexicon.

Hate to break it to you lefties, but “tea-bagging” (or, being a “tea-bagger”) – to imply that someone “tea-bags” – just doesn’t actually really mean anything, yet in certain circles people say it to each other and nod knowingly and think they are communicating something. Other examples that come to mind: a couple years ago when lefties adopted the word “truthiness” from some other Comedy Central show and started splashing it around, thinking they were communicating something meaningful about President Bush; or the more generic, but equally meaningless, use of the word “wingers” – as in, lefties calling a conservative or a right-winger a “winger” (which still makes no sense to me – how/why is the word “winger” supposed to specifically connote right-wingers but not left-wingers?). In all these cases the only thing the use of these meaningless insidery-slang terms really communicates is ‘I read way way too many echo-chamber left-wing blogs’. It’s the political equivalent of dropping phrases like ‘all your base are belong to us’…just makes me want to back away, slowly.

Speaking of geniuses in the media, Chris Matthews just said he “forgot” Obama was black during the President’s State of the Union speech. Doesn’t this imply that prior to that, Obama being black had been in the forefront of Matthews’ mind?

Regarding President Obama’s appearance, the one thing I will say is that he has aged a lot. He now looks significantly older to me than he did just a year ago. Grayer hair, ashen face, sunken sockets. This is a known phenomenon that happens to all Presidents during their time in office, but I am a little surprised it’s taken only a year to affect this President. I wonder what he’ll look like three years from now.

This has been a bunch of shallow observations by your friendly neighborhood,
Sonic Charmer

Workplace Lessons
January 26, 2010, 3:54 am
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Lessons from a ‘fat cat’ grunt in the heart of President Obama’s favorite punching-bag industry….

  1. When someone senior to you says “we”, that means “you, not me”. As in: “We need to build a model to calculate such-and-such” or “we need to get data from so-and-so”. We meaning you. The person saying this will do no such thing, i.e. no thing, i.e. nothing.
  2. Whatever model/calculation/analysis you’ve been asked to do, when you’ve done what you were asked, and so (understandably) you think you’re done done, and you send it off, you’ll inevitably be asked to do it over again. Just with, like, one of the difficult-to-change parameters changed. “Yeah, this is great! But can we do it assuming that a year has 17 months?” (Corollary: Always do everything in the most generic way possible, assuming you’ll be asked to change everything, up to and including “# of months in a year”.)
  3. Senior people see no contradiction whatsoever between (a) not giving you all the data/info you’d need to model something 100% rather than 95% and (b) being surprised that you made assumptions regarding that 5%. “What?? We need to get the rest of that 5% of data”, they will say. And for what they mean by “we”, see #1.
  4. New hires to your team, somewhat paradoxically, mean more work for you. If they’re junior to you, you’ll just end up having to do everything yourself anyway. If they’re senior to you, they just become yet another person who gives you grunt work (and thinks they’re the only one giving you grunt work). If they’re roughly the same level as you, you’ll have to show them the ropes about, like, everything, they’ll be flooded with work at the start, and so will never have a chance to get up to speed to the point where they’re not relying on you. Any way you slice it – more work for you.
  5. Managers who are smart but don’t know how to navigate the politics well inevitably think the answer is more conference-call phone meetings. Long, drawn-out conference calls, full of people with accents who mumble.
  6. The lower someone is on the food chain, the less likely their email is to get to the freaking point and state what they need and who they need it from. A high-up person might send an email to one person (Jimmy) saying “Jimmy I need you to XYZ”, or (at most) Cc one other person, perhaps subconsciously so that the other person is a ‘witness’. A lower-down person meanwhile will forward an email chain to Jimmy, eight other people, and Cc’ing seven internal mailing lists saying only “Can someone please advise on the below?”


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