Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: July 2010 (page 2 of 3)

Why people who are against health insurance reform can go to hell

I know a lot of people are unhappy with health care reform, either because it didn’t provide a public option, or because they’re OK with how health insurance works in this country right now. The truth, though, is that it doesn’t work. Tonight we got an email from the patron of one of our favorite restaurants. Her husband is the chef, but has been diagnosed with cancer, and now they’re putting on a series of benefits to pay his medical bills. This is from their Web site, friendsforhamid.blogspot.com:

Hamid Mohajer Chef and co-owner of Mo’s Diner was recently diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer which has spread to his bones. His wife and co-owner Holly had insurance through a second job, but unfortunately the insurance has capped. Since May they have been paying out of pocket for his health care. The bills are mounting weekly.

If you live in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, you should really consider attending one of the benefits. Hamid and Holly are incredibly nice people and they run a great little restaurant.

The other point, though, is that the health care reform bill will, in time, eliminate both of the problems they’re facing financially. Holly wouldn’t have been forced to take a second job just to get insurance (she is already incredibly busy running a restaurant on her own), and there wouldn’t be a lifetime maximum on her health insurance. It’s bad enough that Hamid is fighting cancer, but our broken, awful health insurance system puts them in a position to face financial ruin as well. If you’re OK with that, it just means that you haven’t known anyone in a similar situation.

Nudges won’t save us

Few theories have grabbed my imagination the way behavioral economics has, and I’m not alone in that. One of the big stories when President Obama was elected was that his administration was going to use behavioral economics to painlessly solve a variety of problems. Last week, economics professors George Loewenstein and Peter Ubel wrote an op-ed for the New York Times throwing some water on the idea that we can nudge our way into solutions for big problems. Here’s the conclusion:

Behavioral economics should complement, not substitute for, more substantive economic interventions. If traditional economics suggests that we should have a larger price difference between sugar-free and sugared drinks, behavioral economics could suggest whether consumers would respond better to a subsidy on unsweetened drinks or a tax on sugary drinks.

But that’s the most it can do. For all of its insights, behavioral economics alone is not a viable alternative to the kinds of far-reaching policies we need to tackle our nation’s challenges.

For what it’s worth, studies show that taxes are more effective than subsidies in changing people’s behavior.

Links for July 15

Links for July 12

  • Bruce Schneier explains why the Internet kill switch is a bad idea.
  • Yahoo’s UI group did some research and figured out the size limits on mobile browser caches. At the end they have some recommendations for people who create mobile content.
  • Andre Torrez thinks we should be able to define date formats using examples rather than tokens. Someone should create a Web page that lets you pick a language and enter a date, and returns the appropriate formatting string.
  • Frequent rc3.org commenter Jacob Davies posts some ideas for stimulus over at Obsidian Wings. Many billions of dollars could be productively spent on upgrading water infrastructure alone. Having millions of people out of work is an incredible waste of resources.
  • Best flow chart ever.
  • Ian Betteridge notices that all of those iPad killers Apple’s competitors were talking about aren’t being produced.
  • There’s something fishy going on with WikiLeaks.

Consumer Reports on the iPhone antenna issue

Consumer Reports cannot recommend the iPhone 4 due to the antenna issue:

It’s official. Consumer Reports’ engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception. When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side—an easy thing, especially for lefties—the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal. Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.

We reached this conclusion after testing all three of our iPhone 4s (purchased at three separate retailers in the New York area) in the controlled environment of CU’s radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber. In this room, which is impervious to outside radio signals, our test engineers connected the phones to our base-station emulator, a device that simulates carrier cell towers (see video: IPhone 4 Design Defect Confirmed). We also tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

Aside from that, it’s their highest scoring app phone. Apple’s claim that the problem is the signal strength indicator isn’t going to cut it.

Links from July 10

  • Terrance Aym thinks that the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico could release a giant methane bubble that ends life as we know it. He wins the “most extreme hypothetical” award.
  • Zonal Marking previews the final game of the World Cup.
  • Federal prosecutors want to charge ticket scalpers with a felony under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for bypassing CAPTCHA to purchase tickets in bulk.
  • Oh, and if you are bypassing CAPTCHA on Web sites, the NSA is setting up a surveillance program that will probably catch you in the act.
  • In the UK, the new conservative government is giving up anti-terrorism powers, just as it promised. Police officers will no longer be authorized to stop and search people without probable cause.
  • Rich people are walking away from their mortgages at a greater rate than poor people. That’s why they’re rich, I guess.
  • Etsy engineer Mike Brittain explains how they resized 135 million images in 9 days.

Links from July 9

  • One thing I noticed about this list of Popular Rounded Sans Serif Fonts is that none of them are on TypeKit.
  • The US government has lost 75 percent of the habeas corpus cases brought by detainees at Gitmo, and yet we’re asked to trust them with the authority to detain people indefinitely without putting them on trial. There are still 181 detainees at Gitmo. All the action is at Bagram in Afghanistan, now.
  • Gaia Vince reports that Seed, the company behind ScienceBlogs, has a history of compromising on ethics in the quest for revenue.
  • Adam Serwer writes about the degree to which Americans have allowed fear to undermine our principles.
  • A lot of people propose to reduce the future obligations of the federal government by raising the retirement age. Put me in the group who sees this as another example of the callous disregard for people whose work involves manual labor on the part of the rich and coddled.
  • David Galbraith has figured out exactly when and where the Web was invented.
  • The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson explains what we’ve learned about current trends in soccer strategy from the World Cup.
  • The State Department has denied a visa request by Colombian journalist Hollman Morris based on some language about “terrorist activities” in the Patriot Act. Hollman has won a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard but is barred from entering the United States. He has been a persistent critic of human rights violations by the Colombian government, which is allied with the US.

Two companies that seem to have learned a lesson

Good thing I wrote about Blizzard and ScienceBlogs’ identity management problems on Wednesday, because both of them have already reversed course.

Seed removed Food Frontiers (the Pepsi blog) from ScienceBlogs after some of their higher profile bloggers started abandoning ship.

And Blizzard has cancelled its plans to publish the real names of posters on its forums. It is still using real names in the Real ID system, which I think is a mistake. Screen names are the answer, Blizzard. Trust me.

One proposal to fix the federal budget

University of Delaware economics professor Laurence Seidman has a proposal that’s too sensible to ever be adopted for fixing the federal budget. Here’s his description of the problem:

The worst federal budget policy is the one we’re now following: ignoring the looming large future deficits while refusing to enact temporary fiscal stimulus to combat the recession. As long as Congress and the president refuse to tackle the large looming future deficits, financial markets and the public will rightly stay nervous.

He suggests three things, the first is a “normal unemployment balanced budget rule” for Congress. It would require the annual federal budget to be balanced if the unemployment rate is 6%. The second is a set of changes to entitlement programs that would avert their future budget-busting growth. And the third is a set of stimulus programs pegged to the unemployment rate:

At the same time, Congress should enact a set of temporary tax cuts and expenditures to stimulate the economy. This legislation must contain a phase-down schedule so that these temporary measures are phased out as the unemployment rate, which is currently over 9 percent, falls below 9 percent, then 8 percent, then 7 percent, and are completely terminated when the unemployment rate falls to 6 percent. Note that these temporary measures would have no effect on NUBAR, because they would be completely terminated when the unemployment rate falls to 6 percent.

It’s the kind of idea that would work if we had two parties that were interested in restoring economic growth and fixing our future budget problems. Instead we have one party that wants the economy to stay broken for political reasons, and another party that prioritizes avoiding perceived political risk over actually fixing problems.

Links from July 8

I’ve been posting links to Twitter and Pinboard, and I’m going to try to start collecting them here as well:

  • Bradford Plumer explains to a sceptic why we should act now to mitigate climate change.
  • What science tells us about how to get the most out of a vacation.
  • Fake is a browser automation tool from the creator of Fluid (the single-site browser tool) that I’m playing with. Seems great so far.
  • Internet Explorer 9 incorporates some cool new performance measurement tools.
  • Eric Meyer argues that CSS vendor prefixes are a good way to allow browser makers to innovate, and should not be discouraged. I agree.
  • Maciej Ceglowski looks into Legacy.com, the site that provides online obituaries for many newspaper Web sites, including the New York Times, and finds a business that is built around cynically exploiting the bereaved.
  • There’s evidence that exercise helps prevent the effects of aging on your brain.
  • If companies really want to save money, they should offshore the executive suite.
  • Steve McCurry digs into his archive for soccer photos.
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