Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bye bye, Texas!

I have relatives in Texas, whom I love. I also enjoy traveling internationally, so bye bye, Texas!

Couldn't have said it better!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chaperone Fun

Tonight I chaperoned the annual Spring Fling dance at the high school where I teach. While playing the role of bouncer at an exterior door, sitting next to a student teacher studying education at a nearby university and doing her time at our school, I got to enjoy watching the following exchange over the course of the evening:

A student obviously lacking in social skills came up to the female student teacher and asked her to dance. Or, rather, he came up and just started doing crotch thrusts in her direction. She simply shook her head. Then he tried to flirt by asking what she would do if he poured her soda on her head. 'Cause, you know, women love that. Trying to make clear that she is faculty rather than a student, she said, "Then I would flunk you."

"Not here," he said.

Due to the loud music, he thought she'd said, "Then I would f*** you."

I came over and he took off.

A couple minutes later he came back and asked her to dance again.

Before he left, he came up and asked her for a hug. Considering what he'd heard, his persistence is understandable. She offered to shake his hand.

As he walked off, confused and disappointed, I nearly fell on the floor.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Buy American" is Unpatriotic! And Socialized Medicine is the Capitalist's Choice

I've always felt that the notion that Americans should favor goods is inherently unpatriotic. If capitalism is to be our economic system, then we should follow the fundamental guiding principle by which prices are determined: the market. Americans who value this principle will buy American-made goods when they are the best options. To choose to buy an inferior product because it's made in America is to concede that American companies and American workers can't truly compete in the global market; it's an individual version of a totalitarian state's isolationist trade policy. Well, I was very glad to hear that the new CEO of GM, Fritz Henderson, not only shares this view, but was willing to articulate it clearly and boldly this last weekend on NBC's Meet the Press.

"MR. GREGORY: Do you expect and would you like to see President Obama encourage the country to buy American cars?

MR. HENDERSON: No, actually. I, I, I think the consumer should buy exactly what kind of car they think meets their needs and that excites them. And as I look at it, it's our job to make sure we provide that, not necessarily have it mandated or otherwise encouraged. I think we have fantastic cars and trucks. We're going to win in the marketplace and not necessarily because--just because we're a U.S. company."

Personally, I have no dog in the fight, but if the CEO of a major US corporation is willing to forgo the possible reward of "Buy American" campaigns because he genuinely believes in the quality of the products his company makes, that gives me far more confidence in the products than any speech about how we should buy American products just because they are made here. Way to go, Fritz!

Now, on that note, I should add that there are limits to my devotion to capitalism. Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko, in the movie Wall Street, famously said, "Greed is good." Sometimes that's true, but it's what Augustine would have called a "lesser good". When the profit motive overtakes human decency, capitalism can quickly go from the best economic system to the absolute worst, at least for its victims. A great example is our health care system. Lots of people die in this country because a few people want to make a lot of money (not just make a living, but a huge profit) by treating only those who can pay for it.

Luckily, as Timothy Noah points out here, we have a solution that can satisfy everyone but the greediest among us: an optional public insurance. Rather than a government mandated system, which could benefit from economies of scale but which also might lack quality, flexibility, and inventiveness, or our current system which has those qualities at the expense of a lot of lives, not to mention great additional cost, let's give people the choice of a public plan or their private one. The public plan would have a huge advantage on price, but it would still have to compete to offer comparable care. The private plans would hold on to the upper-end of the economic ladder as niche products but they could drive the rest of the market with their quality and inventiveness. The big losers would be the current health care insurance conglomerates which would be down-scaled to boutique businesses, but if they have any foresight they'd see they would be better off that way than to be completely eradicated in a complete government takeover.

Once upon a time, industries like the automotive industry sided with the health care insurers against the government. Now they've come around and are begging for a public option in order to compete with countries which provide socialized medicine. The market has spoken, and in this case, it's opted for socialism. The health care insurers are on the wrong side, not only of history, but of capitalism, and they stand to lose everything if they don't adjust. They can choose to side with the crack-pot talking heads on Fox News, and so can the ignoramuses who still give credence to anything anyone says on that station, but a good capitalist economist would tell you not to: The Fox News blowhards have every economic incentive to rant and rave, and no price to pay when they lose a political battle. They just get to go on raving. The insurance companies run the risk of pushing the country beyond the point of a public option, to the point of a public mandate that wipes them out. And as for the viewers of Fox News? They could very well end up bedridden and uninsured, nodding in agreement with the fools on their screens, while dieing of some treatable disease and crying, "Those damned liberals want to take away our choice!"

Take it from the CEO of GM: If you can't win in the marketplace, you won't have any choice at all.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Turns Out Smoking IS Good For Us!

Not for you. Not for me. But for us.

The funny thing about this is that Adam Corolla, in his great new (free) podcast made this same point before the data was out. I was sure he was wrong. After all, one would assume that when health care professionals, congressmen, reporters, and every smoker's concerned mother makes the same point about smoking costing a society money, somebody, somewhere, would fact check that. They'd run the numbers and see if maybe there's a net saving from people dieing from smoking before they can become the really expensive burdens on society we all long to be when we're 95 years old. Someone would make sure these people aren't pulling the wool over our eyes with their common sense. Well, as usual, by virtue of everyone's certainty, we were all wrong. Check it out:

April 7, 2009
FACT CHECK: Do smokers cost society money?
Associated Press Writer

Smoking takes years off your life and adds dollars to the cost of health care. Yet nonsmokers cost society money, too — by living longer.

It's an element of the debate over tobacco that some economists and officials find distasteful.

House members described huge health care costs associated with smoking as they approved landmark legislation last week giving the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. No one mentioned the additional costs to society of caring for a nonsmoking population that lives longer.

Supporters of the FDA bill cited figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that smokers cost the country $96 billion a year in direct health care costs, and an additional $97 billion a year in lost productivity.

A White House statement supporting the bill, which awaits action in the Senate, echoed the argument by contending that tobacco use "accounts for over a $100 billion annually in financial costs to the economy."

However, smokers die some 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, according to the CDC, and those premature deaths provide a savings to Medicare, Social Security, private pensions and other programs.

Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.

"It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it's not a good thing that smoking kills people," Viscusi said in an interview. "But if you're going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed."

Viscusi worked as a litigation expert for the tobacco industry in lawsuits by states but said that his research, which has been published in peer-reviewed journals, has never been funded by industry.

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

A Dutch study published last year in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal said that health care costs for smokers were about $326,000 from age 20 on, compared to about $417,000 for thin and healthy people.

The reason: The thin, healthy people lived much longer.

Willard Manning, a professor of health economics and policy at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy Studies, was lead author on a paper published two decades ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that, taking into account tobacco taxes in effect at the time, smokers were not a financial burden to society.

"We were actually quite surprised by the finding because we were pretty sure that smokers were getting cross-subsidized by everybody else," said Manning, who suspects the findings would be similar today. "But it was only when we put all the pieces together that we found it was pretty much a wash."

Such conclusions are controversial since they assign an economic benefit to premature death. U.S. government agencies shy away from the calculations.

The goal of the U.S. health care system is "prolonging disability-free life," states the 2004 Surgeon General's report on the health consequences of smoking. "Thus any negative economic impacts from gains in longevity with smoking reduction should not be emphasized in public health decisions."

Dr. Terry Pechacek, the CDC associate director for science in the office on smoking and health, said that data seeking to quantify economic benefits of smoking couldn't capture all the benefits associated with longevity, like a grandparent's contribution to a family. Because of such uncertainties the CDC won't put a price tag on savings from smoking.

"The natural train of logic that follows from that is that then anybody that's admitted around age 65 or older that's showing any signs of sickness should be denied treatment," Pechacek said. "That's the cheapest thing to do."

-Okay, I'm not saying we need Logan's Run-style suicide centers for the elderly, but this does throw a wrench in the rationale for anti-smoking campaigns as a cost-savings measure. So, next tome you see a smoker, instead of faking a cough to show your disdain, consider walking up and thanking that person for saving you money.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Coolest Cat Ever?

When Paige told me she wanted a second cat, and that her aunt had very cute longhair kittens, I was more than a bit skeptical. I knew longhairs can easily turn into the feline version of that nasty white blond chick with the trust fund who decides she's a Rastafarian while she's in college (some friends of mine have dubbed them Trustifarians). The long-haired cats can look just as bad, and smell just as bad, too. Well, sure enough, Xeno (we name all our pets after philosophers. That's what happens when two philosophy majors get married) turned into that nappy co-ed cat, and we needed to shave him. It would have cost a pretty penny to have it done professionally (Hazzard pay. He was gross) but Paige's uncle is a vet, so he generously agreed to knock Xeno out and let me use his clippers to shave the cat. Not only did it serve as a kind of bonding experience, making me feel more attached to the cat than I have since he was that little puffball kitten, but it gave me a chance to give him a haircut I wish I'd had the courage and opportunity to pull off back when I had hair. That's right; I gave my cat a Mohawk. He is much happier with his stinky, probably painful matts removed, and now I not only like petting him or having him on my lap, but I crack up every time he saunters into the room. Behold, Xeno, the coolest cat ever!

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"You lookin' at me?"

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Showing it off.

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On the catwalk.

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Makin' love to... the camera?

Oh, man, I just realized I'm blogging about cats. If I become any more of a cliche I think... I splode!