Monday, January 23, 2012

On vacation

I am off to Italy for the next eight days so blogging will be light to non-existent.

Go G-Men!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Wire Rules All

First we had this guy doing his best Jimmy McNulty impression, and now, new Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is doing his best Tommy Carcetti impression. I hope it doesn't end the same way.

So far all of my Wire references in this blog have alluded to the few white guys on the show (welcome to Suffolk County everybody!). Please God, I hope I won't have to write a post about Herc...

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Whore Epidemic

It's important to remember that men can never be whores, only women.

It's almost as if men weren't involved in the procreation act at all!

Another billionaire, another self-deluded whiner

Are there any billionaires who aren't delusional sociopaths? I mean besides Bill Gates and Warren Buffett? Today's whine of the day comes from "The Man Who Owns L.A.", aka Tim Leiweke, the latest con man trying to extort a city for a publicly-funded stadium intended to line his own pockets with billions of dollars of taxpayer money. Here, in The New Yorker, he complains that Barack Obama hurt his fee-fee's so he's taking his ball and running home:
"Look, I personally came from nothing," he said. "Someone making me look like a bad guy because I'm making money now? I resent that. I'm really upset about the way he is positioning this now about protecting the rich. I was never rich in my entire life! I earned everything, built my life from the ground up, and never got one damn break in my life! I resent the fact that when my mom was sick, and my dad had to pay for her treatment, it took every dime from my dad and broke him as a human being and he was never the same. And then, after we have overcome that, now to make me look like I'm bad, I'm evil, I'm greedy, I don't give. Terrible!"
God, there is so much delusion in this statement its hard to figure out where to begin. First, the statement that he was "never rich in his entire life" must, for some reason, omit the fact that he has been extremely wealthy for the last two decades of his life. Funny that. It's also humorous how he's suggests that he "never gotten a break in his entire life" - I suppose the City Council's decision to seize thirty acres of public land through eminent domain and give it to Leiweke to build the Staples Center wasn't a break for some reason. I wonder how lucky the citizens and businesses evicted from their homes felt about that.

But the most unfortunate rant concerns his feelings about his mother getting sick when he was younger. By his own admission, the experience broke his father. And yet, in the very next sentence, he attacks the very people who would fight to ameliorate this healthcare disaster. I'm not sure what interpretation of this cognitive dissonance would be worse. Does Leiweke think that Americans need to individually experience catastrophic personal and financial loss in order to rise above and achieve great economic success (i.e., "How dare we spare the poor this essential life lesson!"). Or is Leiweke, this "modern-day Horatio Alger", too dumb to understand that he is attacking the very politicians and policymakers that would have supported the healthcare reforms needed to spare his mother and father this life-altering calamity?

God I just can't deal with these assholes. I'm pretty sure if I was ever invited to this man's house, and he started spouting nonsense like this, I'd nod politely, go pound some more of his booze, and then take an "upper decker" in the main bathroom.


This blog is on Twitter now - follow me! Now damn it!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Only Giants Hold

You know, small sample size and everything but still:
The most noticeable change is the lack of holding penalties. Only seven were called in the eight games played, and five of those were against the Giants in their two games. Three have gone against Giants guard Chris Snee.
Heh. I don't think a lot of Giants fans would be surprised by this statistic. The calls made by officials in the last two Giants games have been egregious. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Better Financial Reporting Please

One policy area I'm admittedly not very well-versed in is financial industry regulation. When we first started to hear about the need for bank bailouts and TARP, I went along with the recommendations even though one of the few risks I did recognize was the moral hazard associated with bailing out the banks for their reckless behavior. I didn't really dive into the evidence for or against the need for the bank bailout because the people I trusted on economic matters generally agreed that it was a necessary evil - people like Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, even Paul Krugman (who I hold above all others on economic matters). However, rightly or wrongly, people on both the left and the right really did punish candidates on both the left and the right for voting for TARP. In fact, while I think most political commentators are buffoons when they suggest that an alliance can be forged between the left and the Tea Party on financial issues, there does seem to be some convergence on the concept of "bank bailouts." That's why you'll sometimes see Paultards at Occupy Wall Street rallies, even though libertarian polices would substantially exacerbate the very economic and political inequalities the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are said to be fighting. While I'm personally satisfied to rely on the recommendations of my economic betters, this has not satisfied the opinions of the public at-large. A public that wildly reviles TARP. A public that believes that TARP was ineffectual (it was not) and cost the US a trillion dollars (it did not). A public that thinks, due to Republican lying and the media's deference to Republican lies, that the economic stimulus was a failure. It most certainly was not. There is a rundown of the economic literature on the stimulus here. The reason why people think the stimulus did not work, and that TARP did not work, and that Obama has failed the economy, is because the economy still blows. It is still choking the middle and lower classes to death. Unemployment is still sky high. These facts are indisputable, but I promise you this - it would be much, much worse, if these steps were not taken.  I cannot even imagine what kind of grotesque economic nightmare we would be living in if John McCain was elected President. Or if the Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress these last four years (let's remember that Republicans in Congress and in the Executive branch created this mess in the first place).
This is where the financial analysis, has, ultimately, failed us - not necessarily on the internet (where one can type in "Did the economic stimulus work?" and get hundreds of well-researched, and well-cited literature on the topic), but in the more traditional forms of mass media. Let's face it, analysts and experts on TV and in the newspapers do a very bad job at explaining alternate scenarios or counter-factuals. For example did anyone (the Bush administration, the Obama administration, finance industry experts, etc.), even attempt to explain why TARP was necessary? Like I said, I deferred to my experts of choice who told me these actions were necessary. But I still don't know why these actions were necessary. I mean seriously, who gives a shit if we let Lehman Brothers fail? Who cares about Bear Stearns? I'm still not sure how the success of failures of these mega-rich banks affect me. That's what I mean about better financial reporting please - we need better talking heads on TV and in USA Today. On the cable networks and in the pages of Newsweek. I mean, Paul Krugman (who does a wonderful job), can only be in so many place at once. We need the Brad DeLong's, and Michael Lewis', and Felix Salmon's out front and center on these topics. We need Matt Bai and David Leonhardt to explain these things to people. We need (shudder) Tim Geithner to explain these things. Because right now they are not doing it. And this contributes greatly to the bewildering public clamor for the creative destruction and economic austerity that underline the conservative agenda and assure the utter destruction of our middle and lower economic classes.

On Corporate Personhood

If corporations are people, can I marry a corporation? Does it have to be a female corporation? Or can I join a civil union with a same sex corporation? What determines gender when considering the sex of a corporation? Is it customer base? CEO/owner gender?

This is a serious question because I suspect the tax benefits of marrying a corporation would be pretty substantial.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pineda for Montero?

So far, the reviews of the Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero have been pretty positive for the Yankees - here, here, and here. I'll have to think on this for awhile before I decide if I like it or not. In the meantime, I can say for sure that I'm a bit disappointed that I won't get to enjoy the Jesus Montero experiment.

Rick DiPietro

I won't post about hockey too often, so let me take this opportunity to take another shot at the man who owns the worst contract in professional sports history - yup, Rick DiPietro. Turns out he's out-for-the-season! Who woulda thunk it? Fortunately, the silver lining is that the Islander are a better team without him.

Thank God there are only 9 years left on that $67.5 million contract!

I don't think that graph means what you think it means

Since I don't think I'll find many opportunities to disagree with political scientist legend Larry Bartels, I'll use my feeble blog to briefly do so now. Bartels posts the graph below to argue that Mitt Romney might have a sincere wealth problem:

As Bartels explains, this graph demonstrates average ratings on a 100-point “feeling thermometer” for a variety of social groups. He adds, "A rating of 50 is supposed to reflect neutral feelings about a group, so numbers between 50 and 100 reflect varying degrees of net favorability". These ratings are from the 2004 National Election Study survey. We see "Big Business" at the very bottom, even lower then "People on Welfare" and "Labor Unions". So does this mean that Americans really hate the big bad businessman? I think this survey question says nothing of the sort. Or rather, I suspect this survey question doesn't tell us anything about the mindset of the American voter. First, very few Americans aspire to join a labor union (speaking anecdotally as a union member, even my fellow union members can view their own unions as wasteful and untrustworthy). Second, no American aspires to join the welfare ranks. But how many people aspire to join the ranks of business tycoons? A substantial majority I suspect. All those favorably viewed "working class" and "middle class" people would trade positions with Mitt Romney in one second. Furthermore, most Americans, rather naively I would suggest, believe they will join the ranks of the super wealthy, believing unequivocally in the myth of economic mobility in the United States (in reality we trail most developed western economies on measures of economic mobility). I mean, did you know that 2 out of every 10 Americans (20%) think they will be millionaires in ten years? Compare that to the reality that only 1 in 20 HHs (5%) in 2010 were millionaires. This sort of economic optimism is clearly ludicrous but also, and I would argue unfortunately, an essential component of the "American Dream". Despite Bartel's interpretation, I don't think this specific graph is ultimately a condemnation of Romney's electoral perceptions. I think he's much more perceptible to the attack that he is of inherited wealth and that he is a "vulture capitalist," rather than abstract feelings about "Big Business" in America.

And I'll end this post by saying that none of this shit matters and the winning candidate will entirely be a reflection of the growing or stalling economy. The end!


The persistence of Newt Gingrich in the Republican nomination battle has been a boon to Democrats. I mean, attacking Mitt Romney from the left! Wonderful! I'm not even sure the Obama administration would have had the balls to do this in the general election battle, but this opens that very door. Even Nate Silver, the world's best electoral analyst and most cynical Democrat, concedes that a capitalist critique from both the left and the right on Mitt Romney can give credibility to the charge and it could inflict long term damage to the Romney brand. Apropos of this observation, I stumbled upon this picture of Newt Gingrich.

Newt spends the holidays with a close relation.
This reminded me of the time I saw Newt Gingrich at the NYC Museum of Natural History near the dinosaur exhibit. This was funny because I would have just assumed that it was canon in Republican orthodoxy that dinosaurs never existed - or if they did, the skeletons should be staged in musuems fighting battles with Adam and Eve or being ridden like horses by Moses and Jesus. However, this wasn't the worst of it. Gingrich was actually waiting in line for the (fee additional) Darwin evolutionary exhibit! Does Gingrich believe in evolution? Apostasy! Perhaps instead he was there to point out the theory's inherent flaws to museum curators? I wanted to take a candid photo of him but it felt a little creepy. Alternatively, I was considering approaching the speaker and a) challenging him on evolution and global warming or b) cordially addressing him as Mr. Speaker and making small talk. You know, just to tell people I met Newt Gingrich. Instead I chose c) ignore him completely. That blowhard didn't need another person reinforcing his continued relevancy!

Also, too, I was probably just too intimidated to do either a) or b).

Friday, January 13, 2012

When information is not very useful

One thing that always annoys me about calorie counts in articles, websites, apps, etc. is that they never reflect the way people actually eat food! I'm going to pick on this Yahoo article as an example. I don't eat a lot of fast food, even though, I won't lie, it is convenient, it is cheap, and it is delicious. But this article on the best and worst fast food picks, while not meaningless, is still somewhat divorced from how people actually eat food. Every time you see calories or fat counts in food like this (or any food really), it always assumes the person eats more economically and efficiently than real people eat. These articles always give dumb examples like this:

Deluxe Breakfast, with a large biscuit and no syrup or margarine (1,150 calories, 60 grams of fat) 

Well who the fuck is ordering the deluxe breakfast with no syrup and no margarine? Or ketchup? Nobody! Why even give those calorie counts? Why do they give calorie counts for burgers without ketchup? Salads without dressings? Sandwiches with the healthiest breads instead of the more popular breads.  If you want your intended audience to lose weight (as these types of articles are presumed to do), they should err on the high side of calorie counts. They should assume that customers are drowning their McDonald's french fries in ketchup or BBQ sauce, or Honey Mustard sauce. I mean, they give calorie counts on mozzarella sticks without the sauce - what's the point? Who eats mozzarella sticks like that?  If we really want people to lose weight, we should overestimate their calorie counts and let the customer adjust their intakes in other meals.  Otherwise, people who are attempting to diet presume their are ingesting a lot less calories than they really are.  Many times I think these articles are actually designed to simply make people feel better about their own eating choices. In that regard they succeed, but they do a very poor job of actually explaining to the public why they can't seem to lose any weight.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Looking to a do a good deed?

If you are on Long Island and you are looking to do a good deed, you should think about stepping up and temporarily adopting this young woman's pit bull so it does not need to be euthanized. In case the link is subscriber only, I'm going to copy and paste the entire Newsday article below because I think it serves the greater public good. And yes, I get to make those decisions from time to time. It's good to be the king (of this blog).

Samantha Garvey was overjoyed. She didn't think a kid living in a homeless shelter would have a chance in the national Intel science competition, but the 17-year-old Brentwood High School senior was named a semifinalist Wednesday.
Garvey, who spent 2 1/2 years on a marine-life study, is one of 61Long Islanders with a shot at Intel's top prize: $100,000.
"It's amazing," she said, after learning of the award. "I can't believe it. I was thinking about it the other day and said, 'Nah, it's not going to happen. They pick people in RoslynGreat NeckJericho . . . people who have it all.' "
Garvey -- who lives in a Bay Shore shelter with her parents and her brother and sister, who are 13-year-old twins -- said her family's setbacks are a source of motivation, not just despair.
"I want better, so that's why I do well in school," she said.
While the recognition from Intel surprised the teenager, her mentors said she is a standout.
"The drive she has is unsurpassable," said Garvey's guidance counselor, Karin Feil. "She has overcome more obstacles than any other student I have seen. She takes advantage of anything offered to her."
Garvey's family first became homeless when she was a little girl, she and her father said. She switched elementary schools three times in a single year.
The Garveys' circumstances eventually improved enough for them to live in the same home for several years. But her parents, Leo and Olga, missed work and lost income after a car accident last February. On New Year's Day, behind on their rent, they were forced out of their house and spent a week in a hotel before going to the shelter.
Garvey acknowledges the trauma of being uprooted and the family's financial stress can make it harder for her to focus on school and her goal of becoming a marine biologist.
"You think about what is going on, where you are going to be, off in the middle of nowhere, stuck in a shelter and it worries you," she said. "The house we were living in had a dog, a cat, turtles. Then one day someone turns around and says, 'You have to leave.'
"What are you going to do with your animals? Yourself?"
The dog, a 4-year-old pit bull named Pluga, is in the pound and will likely be euthanized, Garvey said. The cat is staying with a relative and the turtles are at her cabdriver father's dispatch office. She's hopeful that her parents might find a new home within a month. She's not sure what will happen to her pets.
Still, she presses on, maintaining a 3.9 grade-point average and her faith that education will bring her -- and her family -- a better life. She is president of her school's chapter of the National Honor Society and is applying to Brown University, among others.
Rebecca Grella, her science research teacher, mentor and friend, said Garvey will make her mark.
"She is one of the most inquisitive, thought-provoking, respectable minds that I've met," Grella said. "She is willing to accept when something needs to be changed. She is more than humble."
Garvey's Intel project focused on predators' effects on ribbed mussels.
Garvey was named a semifinalist in the national Siemens competition in math, science and technology in October 2010 and started studying mussels in 10th grade. Her findings, which focused on mussels' effect on the health of salt marshes, were published in the Journal of Shellfish Research last summer.
Despite her family's tribulations, Garvey continues to help others in need -- bringing food to school for the hungry and presents for special needs students. She is cheerful and charismatic, Grella said.
"She is steadfast and determined not to be a victim," the teacher said. "She will not complain. She has been a gift and a light in my life."
Feil, the guidance counselor, said she's ranked fourth in a class of 433. Garvey's course load is heavy; she's enrolled in Advanced Placement courses in biology, statistics, literature and composition, and politics. She's also studying Italian and playing the violin.
She and Grella credit her parents for encouraging her and for driving her wherever she needs to go to complete her research.
Leo Garvey said his daughter has pushed herself all her life.
"I'm always bragging about her," he said. "She sets her mind to something and she goes for it. She amazes me all of the time."
Samantha Garvey's study
Samantha Garvey's Intel project focused on the effects of predators on ribbed mussels.
Garvey used a laboratory at Stony Brook University to expose the mollusks to the Asian shore crab, an invasive species that can be found all along the Atlantic coast, including Long Island.
The results showed that mussels exposed to crabs grew thicker, heavier shells to protect themselves.
Mussels are critical to marshes in part because they filter contaminants out of the water and excrete valued nutrients. The marshes serve as an essential barrier between the ocean and Long Island and also provide nurseries for myriad fish and other sea life.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On the meaning of words

This is probably one of the posts that will get me into a lot of hot water one day, but what the hell...

I hate the word "whore". I won't pretend that I never use the word, but my usage is pretty limited. If I use the word, it's usually as a modifier to some other hobby or vice like "fantasy football whore" or "pop music whore".

The first thing I hate about the word is the gender-based double standard imposed upon it. Now, one can apply the term "whore" to men, but let's be honest. It doesn't cut a man they way the slur it is intended to cut a woman. Calling a woman a "whore" is intended by the name-caller to be one of the most insulting terms one can use.

Secondly, I hate when women call other women a "whore," because it underscores the dynamic by which woman always seem willing to undermine other women. Within gender groups (stereotype alert, stereotype alert), woman-on-woman hostility seems much more prevalent than man-on man hostility. Women, whether they are friends, enemies, or frenemies (a word clearly invented for female relationships), always seem willing to go the extra mile to attack other females. I've never really understood the intense female perversion to cut down other females (though I'm sure men have played no-small role in fostering this in-group animosity). Men do this within their own gender, but it is much less frequent.

I particularly hate it when a man calls a woman a "whore". Hopefully, I don't have to waste too many words explaining the horrifying misanthropy and misogyny associated with the male-usage of this term (not to mention the previously established double-standard). But I also hate it for more self-interested reasons. Strategically speaking, men should not be discouraging promiscuous behavior. We should be encouraging it! Why oh why have we decided as a gender to disparage in the females species the very behavior which we desire the most? I don't know about you, but as a single guy, I really like promiscuous women. A lot. They are my favorites. (This aside certainly won't, and shouldn't, shield me from any female criticism, but I'd like to point out that I've never not called a girl because she slept with me too "quickly". The converse, sadly, is probably not true). I have no idea why men seem intent on stigmatizing this behavior. And yet it happens all of the time. How many times do you see assholes talking about the "slut" or "whore" they slept with recently? Why do these assholes do this (and why do these assholes get laid in the first place)?  Jesus fellas, if you are going to be grade A assholes, can you at least act strategically?

But I'm not here to talk about whores. I'm here to talk about the definitions of words. Well okay, I'm writing to talk about the definition of the word "whore." Let me explain.

As per Webster's, the traditional definition of the word "whore" is:
a woman who engages in sexual acts for money
But in the modern sense, "whore" is not really used that way. In fact, the more common modern usage of the word "whore" is to describe a promiscuous woman. In fact, when the word "whore" is used, we specifically think of women having a lot of sex and not getting paid for it. I don't think its unfair to suggest that society seems to have more respect for the "prostitute" who receives money than it does for the "whore" who simply "gives it up for free." Given the evolution of its meaning, how should a responsible dictionary define "whore"? I mean this question sincerely. When the definition of a word evolves, does the dictionary owe its allegiance to the traditional definition, or to the more frequently used modern version? In the case of the word "whore", the two definitions might even seem antithetical. How do we reconcile this divergence? To which definition does the dictionary owe its allegiance? Which definition should be listed first when some curious fifth grader looks up the definition online?

In any case, when it comes to the correct definition of the word "whore", I'll defer to the edition, which has the added benefit of explaining some of the personal animus behind the male usage of the word.

whore16363 up2905 down
A woman that sleeps with everyone but YOU!!!!!

Beat the Idea, Not the Man

Speaking of political advertising, I think this anti-Mitt Romney ad below, which the liberal blogs seem to love, misses the mark:

I don't think you are going to be able to convince voters (independent or otherwise) that Mitt Romney is some kind of evil corporate overlord, single-mindedly driven to extract American resources in order to improve his own personal bottom line. I just don't think that pitch will sell - people see pictures of Mitt Romney and he's a well-mannered, good looking dude, and that impacts their personal assessments. [There is a ton of political psychology research on how personal attractiveness impacts political perceptions]. But I think you can use similar language to paint Mitt Romney's behavior as a corporate raider as evil. This in turn underscores the larger, and more important point, that his economic worldview is fundamentally flawed and likely to lead to increased unemployment and American poverty. Mitt Romney thinks that Bain Capital and its devious squad of financial titans can improve the effectiveness of already functional and successful American companies. In reality, Bain and its ilk are corporate raiders. They find competently managed and well-financed companies, slay their employees, raid their coffers, and leave the ship to the rats as it slowly sinks into the bottom of the ocean. Romney and his frat brothers make millions and get out before the company goes under. Unfortunately, the boat would have been just fine if it wasn't looted and incinerated by pirates!

I know Mitt Romney is supposed to be robotic and aloof and unlikable but these perceptions (which I believe to be overstated) won't make a lick of difference if people think he can turn the economy around. We need to run ads (and feel free to use the fine gentlemen above), that demonstrate that Mitt Romney's economic theories are going to create a lot more unemployed people. Counting on rich people to come in and save our economy is not going to work. And that's what Mitt Romney proposes. He proposes tax cuts and subsidies for the richest Americans. Rather than hiring additional Americans, the "captains of industry" are much more likely to layoff Americans, particularly if it means gains in short-term personal wealth. It's 2012 but unfortunately we, meaning Democrats, still need to beat the economically defunct but politically robust theory of trickle-down economics. "Job creators" will not save us. The only way to stimulate the economy is to put money into the hands of people who will spend it (i.e. the poor and middle classes).  It doesn't work if we continue to funnel the money into the hands of people who will just save it, shelter it in tax havens, or use it to drive up the price of high-end luxury goods (paying $4 million for a yacht that cost $2.5 million two years ago does nothing to stimulate economic growth). But Mitt Romney doesn't see it that way. If we are to beat him in 2012, we need to beat his economic messaging, not the personal candidate. We need to demonstrate, in our writings, in our editorials, in our debates, and in our commercials, that tax cuts for the wealthy will not work as economic stimulus. Nor will debt reduction or a dismantling of the social safety net. We need to prove that Republicans are bad for the economy. And we need to start doing now.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Graphs and Ads

I'm probably wrong about the potential efficacy of this strategy, but if I was copywriter in political advertising, I would use a lot of simple, factual, easy-to-read graphs in my TV ads. I mean a lot. And if I was using graphs in the upcoming election, and I wanted to tout Democratic economic effectiveness, I would use some version of this graph in every single ad I ran.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I shouldn't make this joke but...

Has anyone seen Jimmy McNulty around?

Aligning incentives

Economist rock star Brad DeLong writes here about how healthcare companies essentially waste tons of money in the provision of healthcare services, all in the name of "free market efficiencies". Those familiar with the healthcare debate probably already know that approximately 25% of all healthcare costs are administrative - that billions of dollars are wasted in the U.S. healthcare system filing paperwork, contesting coverage, and shuffling responsibilities between different providers and insurance companies. DeLong doesn't offer a lot of new information, though he does cite some important data provided by Blue Cross. Instead, his more substantiative contribution is the insight that vast healthcare spending on adminstrative costs is the theoretical equivalent of lighting money on fire, at least as far as healthcare provision is concerned.

Now God knows I've made my fair share of poor political prognostications. And I will continue to do so! One such prediction, which I even went as far as to lecture my students on several years ago, was that I believed we would have universal healthcare in this country within 10 years because, ultimately, the Walmarts, and the Best Buys, and the Verizons, would realize that they are wasting billions in the healthcare provision business when they could cut their costs substantially, and increase profits radically, if the government took over these responsibilities. Why should Ford be in the healthcare provision business? Why should Exxon? Why should they need to employ an army of human resource employees to navigate our byzantine healthcare insurance system? But companies have not aligned themselves in battle to reform U.S. healthcare, for reasons, to be honest, I still don't fully understand. And given the last healthcare battle, which only marginally expanded healthcare access in this country and in no way whatsoever introduced a "socialization" of healthcare [I suspect 90-95% of both public citizens and elected officials could not accurately define "socialization"], they seem very unlikely to do so. So I seemed destined to blow yet another prediction. Again, I could not say why. I have no idea why doctors oppose healthcare reform - do they really enjoy the administrative headaches associated with filing insurance claims? Do they enjoy paying the extra salaries needed to file all of this paperwork? And what about the larger corporations - those Walmarts and Verizons I mentioned previously? How come they are not on the reform bandwagon? It is to my bewilderment that the Chamber of Commerce opposes federal government reform that would improve the bottom lines of 90% of their member organizations, but there you have it.

DeLong links to an article in the Washington Post which breaks down how our healthcare dollars are spent.  He finds:
The thing to focus on is the $0.13 of every dollar that Blue Shield spends on "administrative costs"--i.e., trying to make sure that they don't pay for sick people.
To which I would add - well, how do we convince the insurance companies themselves that there is real money to be saved and presumably (har, har) passed on to the rest of us by reducing these administrative costs? I mean, why does Blue Cross BlueShield want to spend $0.13 of every dollar on administrative costs? Why does Wellpoint? Clearly there is money to be saved here! Clearly there are opportunities for efficiencies! There is no money to be profited when Unitedhealth tells the Kaiser Foundation, who tells Aetna, who tells the doctors, who tells the pharmacist, who tells the pharmaceutical companies, who tells the X-ray technician, what will be covered and who will be covering it - these inefficiencies are deadweight losses! Isn't there some kind of political agreement to be forged whereby the government and the insurance companies agree to find ways to substantially reduce those 13 cents? Even if only 2 cents goes back to the consumer, and 8 cents goes back to the insurance companies, isn't that a win for all of us. Why can't we bring these groups together? Our interests would appear to be aligned.

I think I know the answers to some of these questions. 1) I think insurance companies (perhaps rightly) suspect that any government sponsored healthcare reform is really a ploy to begin the process of nationalized healthcare provision. This suspicion is probably not too crazy, but the healthcare industry has proven itself powerful enough in the past to grab subsidies and tax credits for themselves without losing too much political and regulatory control. 2) I think this is an ideology question. The Chamber of Commerce in particular has proven itself to be a greater slave to ideology rather than the bottom line. Because if it cared about the bottom line, it would support Democratic candidates. As I've posted previously, and Larry Bartels has demonstrated in "Unequal Democracy", the economy always does better under Democratic administrations, for rich and poor alike. 3) The "masters of the universe", perhaps blinded by ideology, really don't know what's best for themselves. Again, this is perhaps a function of ideology, but CEOs, bankers and Chicago-based economists almost seem to presume that the status quo is at its profit-maximizing optimization point, merely by virtue of being at that point.  Believing in a "perfect market", rational decision-making, and full information, our Randian overlords are not allowed to believe that markets can be inefficient. If Exxon could have made more money, Exxon believes they already would have made more money! The fact that they didn't make more money is evidence, ipso facto, that they are operating at full profitability. Clearly this is delusional thinking, but I don't think it's difficult to find individuals in high-ranking positions that act and believe this way.

I'm not sure how to overcome these barriers. I don't think, believe it or not, they are impossible. However, I do think it will take some kind of grand CEO to be elected president to grant the other financial and political elites the ideological space needed to overcome these biases. What I mean is that eventually we are going to need a "Nixon goes to China" moment. We will need to elect some unimpeachably brilliant CEO President (don't worry, it won't be Mitt Romney) who will come forward (Bloomberg maybe???) and say, "well of course, businesess can save a shitload of money if we reform healthcare. Of course the government and the taxpayers could save a lot of money if we blow up the current system!" Will this happen within my 10 year timeline? Er, probably not. Will it happen in my lifetime? Well, I'm still betting on that...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Losing Weight

The one sin for presumably I will never be forgiven is the fact that I ballooned in weight my first year of college. My freshmen year, I essentially tripled the "freshman 15" and put on about 40 pounds.  I topped out at 195 lbs, which is considered obese for someone my height. Previous to my freshman year, I was always in very good shape. I don't think I ever weighed more than 154 lbs. But once I had access to an "all you can eat" meal plan and I started to drinking "the alcohol", my weight exploded. I did go on a crash diet my freshman year and I was able to drop 30 of those pounds in about one month, simply by not eating.  I mean that literally - I would eat roughly a slice of bread or a couple of slices of tomato over the course of the entire day. I was able to get back down to 165 lbs, but my weight pretty consistently climbed over the years and I usually weigh between 180-184 lbs.  That is still scientifically considered to be "obese" for my height, but let's be kind and call it "overweight". From time to time I'll go on one of my extreme diets and drop 20-25 lbs but I'm fucking miserable the entire time. It's a rough life. Once the diet ends however, the inevitable crawl back to 184 begins.  Currently, I'm embarrassed to admit, I'm at a new all-time high. Something like 195-197 lbs, depending on what time of the day you weigh me. So I'll go on my crash diet now and the cycle will repeat itself....

We all know people who eat and eat and eat, and never gain a pound. We hate these people, but we acknowledge they are anomalies, and we move on with life. What we never really consider is that certain people can diet and diet and diet, and not be able to keep off weight. This is why we all hate fat people - it's the one socially acceptable prejudice remaining (I guess hating atheists and rednecks is okay as well).  We mock fat people who say they are "big boned" or that they have "slow metabolism." But these are actually real things. These are real maladies. While I'm sure many, many, fat people are overweight because they are lazy and they eat a lot, a substantial percentage of them are simply genetically predisposed to larger body builds. Not all mind you, but some. I am probably one of the healthiest eaters I know - I don't eat junk food, almost never buy fast food, don't east desserts, don't drink sodas, I cook many of my meals, I enjoy fruits and veggies etc.  I am also more active than most of my family and friends - I do many outdoor activities (basketball, biking, hiking, swimming at the beach), and I go to the gym frequently (3-4 times week). Now, I do binge drink (mostly beer) on the weekends and I drink lots of juices during the week (OJ, AJ, ice teas, Gatorades, etc.) so that can explain some of my weight problems, but so do many of my friends and family members and I weigh more than all of them. I look around and see people that eat more than me (quantity), eat worse than me (quality), are not active, and weigh 40 pounds less than me.  This is, you can imagine, extraordinarily frustrating.

That's why it was encouraging/discouraging to read this weekend's NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story asking, "Do You Have to be Superhuman to Lose Weight?" written by Tara Parker-Pope. The article cites numerous scientific studies explaining that there are measurable genetic differences that predispose us to obesity. This isn't so surprising. What is surprising (though I often suspected myself), is that people losing weight must be much more hyper-vigilant about their diets than those who never had to lose the weight to begin with. As the article explains,

Muscle biopsies taken before, during and after weight loss show that once a person drops weight, their muscle fibers undergo a transformation, making them more like highly efficient “slow twitch” muscle fibers. A result is that after losing weight, your muscles burn 20 to 25 percent fewer calories during everyday activity and moderate aerobic exercise than those of a person who is naturally at the same weight. That means a dieter who thinks she is burning 200 calories during a brisk half-hour walk is probably using closer to 150 to 160 calories.
 The article adds,

The research shows that the changes that occur after weight loss translate to a huge caloric disadvantage of about 250 to 400 calories. For instance, one woman who entered the Columbia studies at 230 pounds was eating about 3,000 calories to maintain that weight. Once she dropped to 190 pounds, losing 17 percent of her body weight, metabolic studies determined that she needed about 2,300 daily calories to maintain the new lower weight. That may sound like plenty, but the typical 30-year-old 190-pound woman can consume about 2,600 calories to maintain her weight — 300 more calories than the woman who dieted to get there.

Again, I think the non-obese population would find this information shocking . To me, these findings are not shocking in the least bit. But they also suggest a pre-determinated obesity that I find discouraging and conscious alleviating. It's discouraging because, in practical terms, there is little I can do in a sustainable manner to keep off my weight gains.  I know how to lose weight - it's just that kind of lifestyle is fucking terrible. I can do it for a month or so - just starve myself and sustain a diet of about 500-750 calories a day for about a month - but that is no way to live, I promise you. It sucks. And it's frustrating. My brothers could eat and drink all the crap food and alcohol in the world and not gain any weight. But when I work out at the gym, I only cut 20% of the calories of the woman running next to me. When I eat, I need to eat 12% less than the man sitting next to me.  And that's just to sustain my current level of obesity! With those kind of odds, it's no wonder I'm consistently overweight.

Of course, these realities are why I refer to my "freshman 40" as my unpardonable sin. The one prolonged streak of obesity consigned me to more than a decade of struggling with weight issues. I'll be honest though, Reading studies like these does alleviate my conscious a bit.  It sucks to consistently think of yourself as a lazy fat-ass. "I can't get laid because I'm fat," or "I suck at rugby because I'm fat" or "I get winded riding my bike because I'm fat." I mean, don't get me wrong! Those things are true! But it makes me feel a little bit better to understand that a) there is a some biological determinism going on here and b) a massive number of like-minded fat-asses share my frustration.

Anyway, this is just something to keep in mind next time you see me gasping for air during a basketball game. Trust me, I really want to be skinnier than this! I'll get skinnier in the short-term. I'm starting my crash diet now until I land in Italy on January 24. But when I put back on all those pounds in the succeeding months, I hope you understand why.