Saturday, 27 June 2009

Greatest Musician since Elvis?

Michael Jackson died at his rented Los Angeles home on Thursday afternoon. It doesn’t make me happy when anyone dies, particularly if they’re younger than I am. Death is a normal part of life, but any individual death is an upsetting experience and I wish that everyone might be spared from death in their families that comes before the appointed three score and ten years.

Still, I’m not really mourning the loss of Jackson. Not because of his celebrity, or his bizarre life choices, or the possibility that the child-molestation charges were actually valid. The problem is the number of messages I’m seeing about how he was the greatest musician since Elvis. I assume they mean since the time of Elvis, because I hardly see Elvis as having a major place in the pantheon of music.

Jackson was one hell of a showman, right up there with Elvis and Liberace. But as far as I can tell, none of them contributed much to the music. (Dance steps and costuming are something else.) If I Were King I’d have time to put together a more comprehensive list, possibly find some subjects who could add a few names from genres I’m not particularly familiar with. These aren’t all artists I enjoy particularly, and all the artists I enjoy aren’t on this list. It’s just a list of musicians in my lifetime that have had significant influence on the music of our time. Few of these sold albums at the rate that Jackson or Presley did, but that’s not my litmus test of a great musician.

Ian Anderson, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Patsy Cline, Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Chick Corea, Ray Davies, Miles Davis, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Ian Hunter, Mahalia Jackson, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Quincy Jones, B. B. King, Carole King, John Lennon, Taj Mahal, Graham Nash, Willy Nelson, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Thelonious Monk, Odetta, Roy Orbison, Robert Plant, Todd Rundgren, Carlos Santana, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Stephen Stills, Sting, Pete Townshend, Mary Travers, Stanley Turrentine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hank Williams, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Steve Winwood, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa. All of these have, in my ever so humble opinion, a move valid claim to being the greatest musician since the time of Elvis than Michael Jackson.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Motivation

In A Pound of Cure, published in the July/August MIT Technology Review, Andy Kessler challenges the possibility of addressing the cost of health care without addressing the motivations of the health-care industry. He references the recent Dartmouth College study that suggests, based on analysis of 4,000 hospitals, that eliminating 30% of the resources committed to Medicare patients would be possible, those resources having contributed nothing at all to the outcomes of the patients. He doubts that the $19 billion for health-care IT projects included in the $787 billion Obama stimulus package can accomplish anything.

Elsewhere I have stated my opinion that fully 50% of all health care spending could be eliminated with a combination of electronic records and diagnostic software. Electronic records would make it easy to use data-mining software to evaluate the success of different treatment regimes for various ailments. (If a patient knew there was an 80% probability of success with a $1,000 treatment and an 80% probability of success with a $1,000,000 treatment, which one would they choose?) Diagnostic software would help focus diagnosis, eliminating billions in wasted tests.

But as Kessler points out, the health-care industry makes more money when it consumes more resources. The bias of practitioners with an economic stake will always be to spend more. There are few, if any, practitioners with no economic stake.

This is, and will remain, a stubborn problem. If I Were King it would be no different. Better health insurance will not help, that just means that each patient has more resources available. The only thing that has a chance is a combination of patient understanding of the costs and benefits of different options, and an economic stake in choosing among them.

Should we spend a million bucks to keep Mom on life support for another six months? What if that means that nobody in the family will see a dentist for the next ten years? Clearly there are times when heroic (read: expensive) efforts are worthwhile, and times when they provide no more benefit than burning the same amount of currency.

We need better understanding of the costs and benefits, which open electronic records will enable, and then we need to empower patients and families, consulting with health-care professionals, to make judgments about the resources to be used. The industry’s motivation will always be towards growth in spending, I see no reason why we can’t cut that spending in half in the next ten years.

Enemy of the State

In an article in today’s New York Times entitled Iran Stepping Up Effort to Quell Election Protest today, Nazila Fathi and Michael Slackman said, “The nation’s leadership cast anyone refusing to accept the results of the race as an enemy of the state.” I can live with that.  I cannot accept the election results released earlier this month, there’s no way I can even believe them. I am proud to be a declared enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Arrest the Cops

I’m not sufficiently informed on Iranian politics to know if Mir Hussein Moussavi is really a huge step forward over the raving, intransigent incumbent, but the people of Iran certainly think so. I’m not certain that the US should take a strong position in support of Moussavi, the risks of appearing to meddle in local affairs are too great. But when the electorate knows the results are fraudulent, because they’re the ones that cast the ballots, the government that refuses to honor the actual ballots cast loses all legitimacy.

They are, in essence, no longer a government but a gang of thugs wearing uniforms. The police forces dispatched by such a government have no moral standing, and that includes the vicious Basij militia, only moreso.

The one thing I believe the US government should do, and I would welcome all other legitimate governments to do the same, is to identify every internet project that assists users in getting past government censorship online and providing cash, technical support, and backup equipment to make sure that there is enough bandwidth for all those that need to communicate when the authorities try to block it.

I also think the Iranians disappointed in the outcome of this election should simply arrest the police. There may be a lot of Basij terrorists (a more apt term than “militia”, I suggest), but their numbers have to be small in comparison to the population. No matter how well armed and macho any individual Basiji might be, with three or four Persian women clinging to his back he’s going to go down. Strip him of his weapons, tie his hands behind his back, and stash him in a warehouse somewhere.

With a quarter of the cops taken out of service, the rest will be cowering in the station houses or burning their uniforms and denying they’d ever heard of the units that issued them. The current government would be gone within days.

If I Were King it would be grossly offensive to me if my security forces were treated in such a way, but it would be my first obligation to rule in such a way that it would never be necessary.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Racism and the Supreme Court

In a recent post, Republicans, Obama soften court debate, the Swamp summarized the most egregious comments by the right wing about Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the high bench:

Conservative Republicans have attacked Sotomayor over the comment, with radio’s Rush Limbaugh calling her a “reverse racist,” former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado saying it appears to be a racist comment and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggesting that if a white male had said something similar, he’d have to withdraw from consideration for the court.

Are these people really as stupid as they seem? Here’s her actual comment:

I would hope that a wise Latino woman, with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Well, duh! The American legal system is the domain of white males. Yes, there are ethnic minorities practicing law, and some females, but that’s a recent development. Through the history of American history and English Common Law before that, most laws have been written by white male legislators and interpreted by white male jurists. The law texts have been written by white male professors, and that’s who has taught most of the courses at law school. These white males have predominantly been upper class property owners. So even a Latina or a black woman practicing law today has been steeped in a legal system that is culturally white, male, and propertied.

Anybody who brings additional perspective is likely to “more often than not” reach better decisions. Sure, there are white males that have spent time in the Peace Corps, struggled out of disadvantaged families, or overcome handicaps. They get extra points as well. As long as the members of the court are qualified (they know the law, understand the rules of logic, and can read and write the English language); the greater the diversity of background on the bench, the better justice will be served.

If I Were King I’d do exactly what Obama has done here. I’d take every opportunity to increase the diversity among federal judges. I’d probably be harder to please in some other ways (to my mind, logic trumps the letter of the law, for example) but that’s where I’d start.

Storage

Okay, there’s almost nothing there yet, but this morning the owner of A-OK Self  Storage at Freeland (South Whidbey, Washington) called. I’d had a chat with the on-site manager on Monday when I was paying the bill for our 10×10-foot storage unit, and we talked just a bit about how a small website could augment their small yellow-pages presence. On Tuesday she called back and wanted me to send some links of sample sites to the owner. From the time we got off the phone to the time the site was visible, including domain registration, DNS setup, server creation, and uploading a simple tombstone, was just over an hour. By the time the search engines get it indexed, we’ll have a real site attached to it. The royal household is big on stuff, so we always have one or two storage units, and we’ve been happy with the service here. Doubly happy now that they’re a client as well as a supplier!