Daily Archives: July 20, 2009

UPDATE: Reform Continues to Struggle, Faces New Threat

Reports today are that health reform legislation is not making much headway all of a sudden. Last week saw the House bill pass through 2 of 3 committees, but now the Blue Dog (moderate-to-fiscal conservative) Democrats are starting a fight over the need for better cost control measures. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the finance committee continues to encounter problems reaching a consensus. The Obama Administration, too, appears to have backed off of its strict pre-August Congressional recess timetable.

Now, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea to take the time to consider things carefully, but I do worry that as the effort loses momentum, the likelihood of passage decreases.

At the same time, a contentious moral issue has crept its way into the debate. There is talk that the public plan option would include coverage for abortion services. Of course, this is an unfavorable notion to many people. I’m torn, myself. While I support a woman’s right to choose from a medico-legal perspective, because I don’t believe that morality can be legislated, my personal values hold that all life is sacred. On that basis, I rather support the third option that Obama mentioned during the Faith and Values Forum last fall. To paraphrase, “We should stop talking about pro-life vs. pro-choice and start talking about something that we can all agree on, and that’s focusing on reducing the need for abortions.”

The question is: Given that abortions are legal in this country, should they be included as part of a standard government benefit package, or, would this equate to government sponsorship of a practice that both Republicans and Democrats would like to eliminate the need for in the first place? In the latter case, abortion would remain perfectly legal, but would be treated as an elective procedure–the responsibility of the individual making the choice, rather than a government benefit. So, which (if either) position do you support and why?


Posted by on July 20, 2009 in Uncategorized


Wright’s Law of the E-Death Spiral

I lead off this week by coining a term–a theory really–which I’m calling “Wright’s Law of the E-Death Spiral.” The law states that the volume of ridiculous, unverifiable, but overwhelmingly opinionated e-mail one receives is directly proportional to the force of a political reform effort divided by the average level of public understanding regarding the issue. (Note: Force of political reform, much like physics, equals mass (size of the proposal) times acceleration (how quickly the proposal is picking up speed as it moves through Congress)). In practice, Wright’s Law explains the reason why, as legislation that few people understand and that would overhaul the U.S. health care system picks up steam, I (and probably you as well) end up getting flooded with forwards and spam the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Assuming that the goal is to reduce the volume of unwanted messages, we can look to Wright’s Law to suggest ways to accomplish this goal. V = B((M*A)/K). That is, the volume equals some constant, times the product of mass times acceleration divided by public knowledge. Recalling our basic mathematics, we see that we can reduce the volume of unwanted e-mails either by reducing the numerator (i.e., mass and/or acceleration) or increasing the denominator (i.e., public knowledge). Ironically, many of the folks who send out the unwanted messages mistakenly believe that they are serving to increase K. In fact, their heavily biased content tends to obscure much of the accurate information, leading to a further decrease in K, and perpetuating a rise in V. Soon, we’ve entered into a version of Stiglitz’s famous “death spiral” and the only means of saving ourselves is to chuck our laptops out the window or trip a breaker at the office.

We need to accept the fact that we’re not going to have much ability to influence the size and scope of proposed legislation, or, for that matter, to slow down a bill’s progress on the Hill. Indeed, our complex system of committees, subcommittees, checks and balances, and the like, already makes the journey of that poor bill from Schoolhouse Rock so tedious. Didn’t you ever notice how mopey he seemed? Rather, we should focus on the aspect we can do something about, and that’s public knowledge.

As I see it, there are three steps to handling one’s personal responsibility (you’re welcome, Republicans) in this area. They are (in no certain order):

1. Educate yourself – This means becoming a critical consumer of information. Don’t just assume that something you hear or read is true. Check it out. Verify its sources. Google is your friend in this regard. Make up your own mind about things. Don’t just parrot what you’ve been fed.

2. Forward the Good – Now, what is or is not “good” is still open for some debate, but essentially what I mean here is that you should only share objective facts with others. It isn’t your place to attempt to persuade them to believe one way or another. Simply present others with accurate information, and let them reach their own conclusions.

3. Delete the Bad – The point here is to minimize the promulgation of false information. When you get an alarmist email, check out the accuracy of its content before sending it on to anyone else. Remember: Once you hit forward, you’ve decided to put your name on something that could come back to bite you, and once it’s “out there” you can’t get it back.

If everyone would strive to practice these three habits, individuals and, in turn, the collective public would become more knowledgeable about the issue(s), and the e-mail death spiral can be reversed, which should make everyone’s lives at least a little bit better.
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Posted by on July 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

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