The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Economics/Business ... Public Policy ...

MY HEALTH CARE REFORM PLAN, PART II: In my last entry, I described my scheme for health care reform, based around a federal health insurance voucher system (not unlike the idea of local governments issuing school vouchers to parents for the education of their children). Today I want to follow up on what could happen on the supply side, under such a scheme. To cut to the chase, I believe that a lot of good things could happen on that side.

My initial assumption was that when a citizen received their annual health voucher, good for so many thousand dollars worth of coverage as determined by Congress, that citizen would use their voucher to purchase a one-year health insurance policy which meets minimum federal coverage standards and regulations. I assumed that a number of different health insurance companies would offer a number of different policies tailored to customer preferences. The market would be nationwide, so that the barriers in our present state-by-state system would be removed. This would provide everyone with a range of competitive choices, similar to what exists for most other kinds of insurance products (life, auto, home, business, etc.).

Hopefully the insurers will compete based on quality of customer service,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, August 28, 2009
Economics/Business ... Public Policy ...

I decided to take up the intellectual challenge of designing a health care reform package. Yes, I finally put together an answer to the perpetual question, “what would you do?” I’ll explain in a minute. But first, let me say this: when you actually try to put a health care plan together, you soon fathom just how complicated the whole thing is. There are a lot of conflicting interests; improve one thing and you potentially cause disaster regarding something else (e.g., you can make the system fairer and more accessible to the less fortunate, but you then reduce the incentives for life-saving innovations and cost-containment efficiencies). Once you start designing an answer to the health care crisis, you soon see that there’s no way to do what President Obama says that he and the Democrats will do. Sometimes you hear people say “the health care situation is really very simple, all you have to do is . . . ” And their solutions sound good for a half-hour or so, until you think through what would could go wrong. The general answer is, a LOT could go wrong with any simple solution to the health care crisis in America.

The first principle of my own reform plan is HONESTY. I would tell America this about my plan: it would seek to control costs, maintain affordability, and guarantee access to health care for everyone while fostering personal freedom, a range of consumer choices, and incentives to continue developing new life-saving drugs and other treatments. But it will NOT guarantee that anyone below the $100,000 income limit will get medical coverage at least as good as they have today for not a penny more. It will not insure that everyone can keep their present insurance plan and doctor if satisfied (which around 80% of people are). For some people, perhaps many people, it might mean additional financial burdens in terms of medical care payments, insurance fees, or taxes.

I can reasonably claim that in the long term, more people in America  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:37 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Science ...

I read an interesting perspective regarding the evolution of living species today. It was by Walter J. Freeman, in his book “How Brains Make Up Their Minds”. Freeman expends many words in this book on how modern systems-dynamics theory, including chaos theory, describes the operation of the brain and mind. As a side note, Freeman said that most people (other than Biblical fundamentalists) think of evolution as synonymous with “survival of the fittest”. Not so, says Freeman. Natural selection is certainly a big part of the process of species evolution. However, it is not necessarily the determinative and driving factor.

As with the mind, evolution is a complex, non-linear dynamic process that in effect takes on a life of its own. Events at the “micro level” such as animals with different characteristics fighting each other for food and mates help determine the characteristics of the species; but dynamics on the “macro level” also shape what these animals will be like and what will come of their struggles. The effects flow in two directions. Thus, change comes slowly and unevenly, and doesn’t always make immediate sense. Sometimes a species that seems more suited to thrive under changed conditions loses out to another, because of “macro factors”, such as the fact that there are more of the less advantaged species or that species bands together to support each other more than the seemingly better species.

The “system effects” of evolution are harder to see and study;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:26 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, August 21, 2009
History ... Science ...

We’ve had a bit of a heat wave in my region over the past week, and I haven’t had much inspiration to write anything, other than a comment on “Doctor Happiness’s” blog about how karma might stem from and reflect the formation of strange attractor patterns amidst the complex wiring of the brain, and likewise on the higher but still complex plane of human society.

Recall from my last blog post that strange attractors are wobbly and yet stable patterns (or “vibrations”) of activity and relationship between the various factors that define the “state” of an organism, be that organism an ant, a human, a colony of ants, or a society of humans. Strange attractors are known to be rare, and yet rather robust and self-sustaining once started. So perhaps karma is explainable in terms of chaos theory. The concept of fractals and of sensitivity to initial conditions can help one to understand what the eastern sages say about karma, especially how little things can cause big effects and how patterns shown in little things teach us about the patterns of much greater things.

But otherwise, about the only thing on my mind (other than the whole health care reform donnybrook along with the daily concerns of work and family relations)  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:37 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Psychology ... Science ...

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to learn about chaos theory using a method that almost no one else uses. The people who are interested in chaos theory are generally mathematicians, scientists, information/ciber-theorists, and philosophers. The math and science people take graduate courses that use highly abstract paradigms involving matrix math and complex multi-dimensional geometries. This stuff takes many years to learn, even if one has the time, interest, and the right kind of brain. Being young helps; old people have a harder time climbing the mountains of abstraction involved, and usually have day jobs and intricate family issues to compete for their attention.

The philosophers have their own forms of abstraction, based around words. They would grasp chaos theory in terms of layers and layers of speculative ontological and epistemological concepts, around philosophies of science and the nature of knowledge. Then there are the “new age” people who have heard a bit here and there about chaos theory and think that it represents a triumph of nature and “the feminine” over the logical, paternalistic structures of science. They see it as a growing wisdom affirming reality as “a dance” on the stage of mystery, a mystery that can only be plumbed through contemplation and intuition on the part of a few wise “mystagogues”.

I’m trying to get a feel for chaos theory the way that a child tries to get a feel for riding a bike.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Politics ...

PROFILES IN POLITICAL COWARDICE: OBAMA, PALIN and HEALTH CARE. It’s a bad sign that the media continues to take Sarah Palin seriously. Perhaps she still has a following; perhaps she’s not through with politics yet. Not a good thought.

Ms. Palin recently kicked the already overheated health care debate up a notch with her comment about “death boards” and how Obama’s reform scheme might result in the denial of care to her son with Downs Syndrome. The President responded to Palin at his recent town hall appearance in New Hampshire, when he denied that his plan would involve any form of triage or rationing and asked that we “disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations” (i.e., the death boards). Palin seems to have struck a nerve with Obama. Another not-so-good sign.

Unfortunately, what Palin says is not entirely devoid of merit (although the way that she says it definately is). I believe our President when he says that there is no mechanism in his health care plan to decide who gets what level of care. On the face of it, that statement is true. HOWEVER, Obama’s plan will involve the federal government in the health care and insurance industries to such a degree that it will not be able to avoid making decisions that have a life-and-death impact on individuals.

Obama is trying to craft a plan that can run between the Scylla and Charybdis  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:48 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Politics ... Public Policy ...

I’ve been following the political dust-up regarding Section 1233 of the proposed health care reform bill (HR 3200, the current version in the House of Representatives). This is the famous (some say infamous) “Kill Granny” provision. It would allow doctors to charge Medicare for their time if once every five years they take a half an hour or so to inform Medicare patients about advance care planning, i.e. about setting written limits on the amount of life-sustaining care that is to be provided in situations where the patient’s quality of life and life expectancy are diminished.

The prime example of how a care-limitation order can help involves brain-dead patients who could be kept alive for many months or years on life support, but have no chance of ever regaining conscious awareness. Most people would agree that they don’t want to be kept alive in such circumstances; that situation, pardon the pun, is a “no-brainer”. So why not let the government pay doctors to help people who might face a similar situation to put their intent into writing, so that our base-line social ethic of preserving life at all cost can be short-circuited? Again, most of us would agree that there are situations where that base-line moral rule should be put aside so that a person can die more quickly.

The Republicans, in a battle-move typical of what we have come to expect  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:35 am       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, August 6, 2009
History ... Religion ...

I’ve been studying up on the Civil War lately, and I just learned of an interesting character from the Confederacy (there were plenty of interesting rebels, but this fellow happened to raise my eyebrow). He was a general in the Confederate Army and his name was Leonidas Polk.

General Polk had a colorful nickname: “The Fighting Bishop”. Aside from being related to former US President James Polk, General Polk was actually a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Early in his life he went to West Point and then served the US Army for a while as a lieutenant, not seeing any hostile action. Interestingly, while at West Point he had studied moral philosophy along with the usual military stuff. He also formally converted to the Episcopal religion while there. Well, all that moral philosophy and religious sentiment caught up with him and he soon quit the Army and went to theology school in Virginia, as to become a priest in the Anglican Church. He worked his way up and by the time of the secession, he was the Bishop of Louisiana.

Bishop Polk, however, still had some military blood flowing in his veins,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:00 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, August 3, 2009
Politics ... Society ...

Yes, I know; another article about what the outcome of the 2009 Presidential race meant is not exactly what the pundit-universe needs today. There are hundreds and hundreds of articles out there about this.

But please allow me to air my belated thoughts on this subject, based upon six months of actual governing by the winner, Barack Obama. FIRST: in terms of long-term significance, the race wasn’t between Barack Obama and John McCain; it was between Obama and the previous President, George W. Bush. SECOND: Obama won! Not a big surprise, given that the economy under President Bush was visibly collapsing during most of the election campaign. THIRD: The Democrats also had big Congressional wins. This indicates that the public had given Obama a mandate to move away from Bush’s neo-conservative policies, especially regarding domestic and economic issues, allowing him to implement the more government-centered, welfare-focused programs favored by liberals; FOURTH: Obama is an extraordinarily talented orator, and many American voters feel good about such orators. FIFTH: What I believe, however, is that the biggest significance of the 2009 election is that the public had tired of Bush’s intellectual aridity and wanted a highly intelligent man in the White House.

President Obama appears to believe that the THIRD factor is most important.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:17 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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