Thursday, 16 February 2012

In which I risk seeming in agreement with Rick Santorum

It seems to me that if one’s goal is to reduce the escalating costs of health care (or at least reduce the rate of escalation of those costs), it would be rather counterproductive to increase people’s consumption of health care resources. Yet a number of policies, all implemented or encouraged by the present administration, have done so:

  • Obamacare proper required all health care plans to get rid of co-pays for many routine office visits to physicians.
  • The DEA‘s War on Meth and People with Colds has pushed two states (Mississippi and Oregon) to the point of requiring a prescription for dispensing any effective cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, and many other states require it to be controlled behind the counter. Already one idiotic prosecutor has gone after someone trying to evade this silly requirement. Ten years from now, if not sooner, I have good money that says the feds will be going after “meth doctors” who are “overprescribing” pseudoephedrine, à la Oxycontin, and pharmacies who are “oversupplying” it.
  • Now, we have the administration requiring health care plans to provide women with birth control without a co-pay. Never mind the evidence that women on the pill have worse taste in men.

I get that these things are politically popular and/or support politicians’ desires to Look Tough On Drugs. I also get that women who cannot afford birth control probably should have that expense covered in full. What I don’t get is why these mandated “no-co-pay” coverages aren’t means-tested in some way to at least try to keep costs under control for the large share of the population who can reasonably afford some out-of-pocket health care expenses—indeed, our entire federal income tax system is structured, in part, around the idea that 7.5% of your AGI is expected to be dedicated to health care and thus cannot be deducted, even if you itemize deductions.

Finally, I conclude with the following two necessary caveats: (a) I have no particular truck with the moral positions of the Catholic Church or other churches with similar positions on birth control, and think if they want to employ people they can either provide health care coverage or pay the fines/taxes for not providing it, and (b) employer-based health care in general is a stupid way to accomplish universal coverage, and given that we seem to have decided that universal health care coverage is desirable it follows that some form of single-payer or government-subsidized system is preferable, particularly if you’re going to have a nominally private system that is totally loaded down with mandated coverages (aka unfunded mandates), must-issue rules, and uniform premiums. Hence I think some sort of subsistence level universal government-paid system, with rationing-by-queueing and ward-type inpatient service, is inevitable (if not desirable), and as long as individuals are free to pay (or buy supplemental insurance) to upgrade their place in line and to the Beyoncé Birthing Suite, I can’t say I have any particular problem with it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Perusing the shelves at Wal-Mart this weekend I picked up Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level, which is a very long-winded title for something relatively simple: a three-episode preview of the upcoming Blu-Ray transfers of the series. Unlike TOS, where they took the original film and replaced the model work and primitive effects shots with modern CG elements, here CBS has mostly recomposited the original film and model-based effects shots, so basically what you’re getting is a much clearer picture of what was originally shot—instead of copies from the broadcast master tapes at 480i60, you’re getting scanned film at 1080p24. Everything basically looks great.

The episode selection is pretty decent, as well, although two of the choices are relatively light on effects shots. First you get the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” squished together as a single episode (as originally aired? I’ve never seen it except as a two-parter), in all its glory—including the near-legendary cringe-worthy overacting from Denise Crosby, Marina Sirtis, and Michael Dorn. Granted, all three (Sirtis in particular) are saddled with some pretty terrible dialogue to begin with; indeed, almost surprisingly, Wil Wheaton and Jonathan Frakes are the only actors whose dialogue generally works throughout, while Patrick Stewart at least manages to ham up some of his more absurd dialogue to the point it works (for example, his expository announcements to nobody-in-particular on the bridge before they get to Farpoint), and Brent Spiner’s Data at least is decently-written when he isn’t on the bridge. Nobody’s going to accuse this of being great television by the standards of 2012, although with some judicious editing you might be able to come up with a 90-minute episode that made sense. Obviously this is the most FX-heavy of the episodes included, and it looks great, even if it’s the worst Trek pilot ever (including both TOS pilots—for my money, DS9’s “Emissary” is historically the best).

You also get season 3’s “Sins of the Father,” which benefits more from the transfer quality than you might think; the second half of the episode, set on the Klingon home world, where every set was dimly-lit, always looked like a dark mess on TV, but here everything is clear. It’s also a far better-written episode, which makes it a rather less painful experience for repeat viewing, with some nice humor (much of it stemming from Kurn’s fish-out-of-water status on the Enterprise) despite the dark subject matter. Even if Picard does still send the Enterprise to the “first city of the Klingon Imperial Empire,” which is just a little bit redundant.

Finally you get season 5’s “The Inner Light,” a legendary TNG episode. I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, but as one of the great real science fiction stories (as opposed to space opera stories) in Trek it’s one I’m really looking forward to, even though again it is not a particularly effects-heavy outing.

At retail I think it might be a little over-priced for what you get—but then again compared to a new-release Blu-ray movie $15ish isn’t bad for essentially three hours of entertainment, albeit three hours you’ve probably seen before. I can’t imagine myself splurging for the whole collection but hopefully the transfers also find their way to Netflix and other online streaming sites in due course.

Friday, 3 February 2012

On false equivalencies

A public service announcement, in absolutely no way inspired by the current debate over Komen’s funding of Planned Parenthood, follows:

If you are comparing your contemporary domestic political opponents (say, pro-choicers or pro-lifers) to the Viet Cong, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, or the Taliban, it seems to me that one of two conclusions obtain:

  1. You should be willing to support the same level of political violence against the contemporary domestic opponents as you would against the other actors. For example, a pro-lifer who believes that Planned Parenthood is morally equivalent to the Nazis who would support assassinating concentration camp guards should also be willing to support assassinating doctors who perform abortions; similarly, a pro-choicer who thinks someone who supports sonogram bills is the moral equivalent of the Taliban, who supports the targeted killing of Taliban fighters in AfPak, should also support killing politicians who support sonogram bills.
  2. Or, if you are unwilling to take your positions to their logical conclusion, you should tone down your rhetoric so that the apparent equivalency you have expressed is no longer seen by external observers as an equivalency. Or, if you are unable to do so, just be quiet.

This might, for example, also apply to anyone who argues that supporters of Voter ID laws are channeling the spirit of Lester Maddox, or anyone who says that people who support socializing the costs of medicine are latter day Che Guevaras.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

You had me until the last paragraph

This NYT article on Pomona College dismissing 15 workers who were unable to present evidence of their legal presence and right to work had me mildly sympathetic to the various workers’ plight, until the second-to-last paragraph rolled around and I had a “WTF?” moment:

Still, it does little to reassure Carmen, 30, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of alerting immigration officials. Carmen had worked at the college for 11 years, using the money she earned to put herself through a public college. But she never looked for another job, fearing that she would not be able to produce the proper documents. For years she made about $8 an hour, but in recent years raises had increased her wages to nearly $17 an hour. She and her husband bought a modest home in nearby Pomona this fall and moved in just two weeks before she was fired.

“I really don’t know what I am going to do,” she said, adding that her options were to look for work that paid in cash or move back to Mexico with her 2-year-old son while her husband, an American citizen, stayed here. “I’m still in shock. This is the only thing I’ve really ever known.”

So, to review, Carmen is legally married to a U.S. citizen, and presumably has been for a while. Thus she is eligible to legally emigrate to, and then legally work in, the United States, and presumably has been for a while. According to the government, she may not even have to leave the country to do so.

Again I accept, and even sympathize with, the argument that many people come illegally (or, almost as commonly, overstay their legal immigration visas) in part because they are ineligible to “stand in line” for legal status because they lack citizen immediate relatives, or would have to wait for years under the quota limits for relatives, as Greg Weeks often points out. But in the cases of people who are eligible to immediately normalize their status and comply with the law, as it appears this particular individual is, and apparently just can’t be bothered to do so, my sympathy meter is pretty much pegged on empty.