photo by EfrankE

Friday, April 30, 2010

Conversations with My Barberette

Photo from better hair times...

Some time ago, in another place, my hair limitations started becoming evident.

Woman hair stylist: So, how do you want it this time?

I: Make me look like a movie star.

Woman hair stylist: (After studying me with pensive frown) Hmmm,…Gene Hackman okay?

For the last ten or so years, I’ve been getting my hair cut by a different woman. She’s a trained, experienced hair stylist too . Styling seems too grandiose a term for what is possible with the hair I can now offer to work with, so I simply refer to her as my barberette.

In the earlier part of the new millennium, we did ponder the possibilities together.

She: So, what would you like today?

I: A haircut that makes me the desire of women and the envy of men.

She: So, clean up the sides and a little off the top?

I: You’re the expert.

Another time:

She: So, how do you want it this time?

I: Make me look like a rock star.

I: (After she finishes): This supposed to be rock star?

She: Phil Collins!

I: Actually, I was thinking of something more like Jon Bonjovi but, yeah, I guess I can see it.

And another time:

I: I gotta say it kinda hurts to see so much inter-spatial hair-gapitis after you finish.

She: What? You’ve still got lots of hair.

I: I only look like I have hair to people who are shorter than I.

She: **snort**

My barberette does excellent work, yet, I’ve reached the point where the possibilities are so limited that she no longer asks how I want it “this time.” Apparently, the only remaining solution manifests itself without requiring verbal description - a case of simplicity over style with, sadly, a dearth of substance of the top-hair variety.

Somehow, life still goes on.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The First Step is ...

... admitting you have a problem.

New York has had mandatory pre-existing condition coverage in its health care insurance system for over 15 years. Here's a report from the New York Times which, perplexingly, is not a subject of national coverage.

New York ... became one of the few states that require insurers within each region of the state to charge the same rates for the same benefits, regardless of whether people are old or young, male or female, smokers or nonsmokers, high risk or low risk.

Healthy people, in effect, began to subsidize people who needed more health care. The healthier customers soon discovered that the high premiums were not worth it and dropped out of the plans. The pool of insured people shrank to the point where many of them had high health care needs. Without healthier people to spread the risk, [odd choice of terms to me - ed.] their premiums skyrocketed, a phenomenon known in the trade as the "adverse selection death spiral."
In other words, healthy people who don't need insurance must buy insurance at significant cost to help pay for the treatment of people who live in poor health.

Wouldn't true health care involve not settling for "spreading the risk" but, rather more beneficially, lowering the risk?

For a long time now, the government has created special income tax breaks for whatever, ostensibly, it deems important behavior ( e.g., buy an infant car seat, install a solar hot water system, give to charities, subsidize farmers, fishermen or multi-national corporations, et al.). Yet, contrarily, the health care bill ignores responsible behavior and treats everyone the same - an active twenty-year old of normal weight will incur the same premium costs as a four hundred pound 55 year old couch potato.

If congress applied the same taxation logic to health care as various existing special interests, there should be significant tax breaks for people of normal, age-appropriate weight, blood pressure and fitness. So, I ask you, why is this not the case?

Without a productive change in behavior, the health of a high-risk individual cannot improve. Some people would rather continue in self-destructive eating behavior. I say that is their right. But, the rest of us should not be taxed to subsidize their laziness and foolishness. Risky behavior, in any form, should not presume public subsidy.

Some people don't care about their health anyway, until it becomes a matter of life and death.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How Guys Connect with Each Other

“…it’s a mistake to judge men’s interactions by assuming we need to be like women.”

-from an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that focuses on what guys look for in friendships.

Some excerpts:

“Men generally resist high-maintenance relationships, whether with spouses, girlfriends or male pals. When picking friends, ‘men don’t want someone who is too needy’…a third of the men…said they learned positive things from female friendships, but 25% had a negative impression of women as friends, citing issues such as ‘cattiness’ and ‘too much drama’ [see this previous post]. And women are more likely than men to hold grudges toward friends, according to Dr. (Geoffrey) Greif’s 2009 book, Buddy System.”

Researchers say women’s friendships are face to face. They talk, cry together, share secrets. Men’s friendships are side by side: We play golf. We go to football games.

“Our conversations deal with the doing of things rather than the feeling of things…”

“In his poker game, [Dr. Greif] says, if a man were to reveal that he lost his job or that his wife left him, the other guys would say, ‘Gee, dude, that’s too bad. Want us to deal you out of this hand?’

If you are interested in the subject of male friendship and how guys derive support from one another, you can read the whole article here.

A personal reminiscence on the subject:

A little over twenty years ago, I was backing out of the garage in a stick shift to head to work while holding a mug of steaming coffee in one hand and steering with the other, trying to see through the rear view mirror to avoid hitting the center post dividing the garage opening. A slight hand slippage caused the car to veer sideways, bashing in the door trim and drywall next to it. Admittedly, I shouldn't have been wearing sunglasses in the darkened space.

A buddy happened to call later that day to ask what was new. I mentioned the early morning mishap in the course of the conversation. He didn’t ask me how I felt about it. What would have been the point? But, early the next morning on his way to work, he dropped off at our house some pieces of drywall, tape and mud, taping knife and painting tools for me to use to make repairs.

Now, that was a guy friend.

Friday, April 16, 2010

California Confronts Tax Revenue Shortfall

From Bernie:
The financial crisis is forcing California agencies to make some tough decisions.
(click on image to enlarge)

"There's a real risk that we may have to lay off Jose."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It’s All Play Money Now

Things to think about on Tax Deadline Day:

1. The U.S. national debt is approximately $12 trillion.

2. The approximate yearly GDP of the U.S. (entire economic output) is around $14 trillion.

3. The “M0” money supply (total of all physical bills and currency, plus the money on hand in bank vaults and all of the deposits those banks have at reserve banks, according to the Fed, was about $908 billion, as of mid-2009 [or about 7-1/2% of $12 trillion].

4. Since the start of the recession, the U.S. has lost $17.5 trillion in household wealth, according to a report from the Secretary of the Treasury.

5. According to the 2008 Financial Report of the United States Government, the total liabilities of the United States government, including future social security and medicare payments that the U.S. government is already committed to pay out, now exceed $65 Trillion, close to the GDP of the entire world. Does anyone else wonder where this money will come from?

6. Subsequent to the report, congress and the president passed the health care reform bill, which will become the biggest tax increase in American history.

7. According to the same report, the budget deficit for 2008 was not $455 billion, which was derived by cash accounting, but $5.1 trillion dollars using the government’s (and Wall Street’s) GAAP accounting. That’s a spending deficit of $5.1 trillion for the one year of 2008!

8. According to the Government Accounting Office, “Absent a change in policy…the interest costs on the growing debt together with spending on major entitlement programs could absorb 92 cents of every dollar of federal revenue in 2019" (nine years from now).

9. In 2008, banks were holding $62 trillion dollars outstanding in credit default swaps alone (I don’t have the current figure).

10. With the fractional reserve banking rules in the U.S. banks have lent out many times more money than they have on deposit or that the FDIC can cover should there be a wave of defaults. As of early this month 41 banks had failed since the beginning of this year.

11. Late last month, Fox News reported that 79% of voters polled (72% of Democrats, 84% of Republicans and 80% of independents) believed it possible that the U.S. economy could collapse.

12. When the Federal Reserve (an elite, private, international banking cartel) creates money (introduces more money into the economy), it is loaned to the U.S. government at interest. To pay for the interest, the U.S. government must borrow more money from the Fed at interest. Every time the U.S. does this, the debt gets bigger. This is, by the Fed’s intention, a perpetual cycle of increasing debt.

The question is when can the debt to the Fed be retired? The answer is NEVER. It is mathematically impossible! The house of debt cards will continue to be built higher and higher until it collapses under its own weight – unless the debt is forgiven by the Fed, or repudiated by the U.S. government. There are no other ways.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fixing Women's Problems

As a natural born and always-have-been male, I always assume that when women share their feelings they are looking to me for advice as to how to fix their problems. Often, I’m able to do this in a quick sentence or two while rapidly switching between the three or four TV programs I’m watching all at the same time.

Amazing as it sounds, sometimes I can come up with advice before a particular woman has even finished speaking. Why waste time if the solution is obvious, right?

This extraordinary gift, which should be revered, seems to generate little gratitude in response. Baffling as it sounds, anger is the most frequent follow-up response I get.

I guess the only thing I could compare to it would be the response on the part of the populace to the passage of the health care reform bill.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Middle Class Tax Cut Increase

Sometime in my early twenties, my dad hired one of his doctoral students with the appropriate job experience to lead us in re-roofing the house he and my mother had recently moved into. I think the three of us completed the entire job in one day, two at most.

This student recounted how in his youth he had worked summers for a man who solicited clients for his re-roofing services by going door to door in the rural south. The student explained to us that this business man-of-one for whom he worked told him it was a waste of time asking people whose roofs were deteriorated if they wanted to contract for a new roof, because obviously, as demonstrated by the condition of their roofs, they were too poor to afford a new roof. It was more profitable, business-wise, to sell someone who already had a decently appearing roof a newer one, since he could likely afford a new roof.

Most people by now have seen the report that 47% of American households pay no income tax - that nearly half of the population rides on the back of the other half, against whose income is charged the costs for the expenditures of the U.S. government.

Columnist Mark Steyn quotes these statistics: “The [mere] top 5 percent of taxpayers contribute 60 percent of revenue. The top 10 percent provide 75 percent. Another 40-odd percent make up the rest. And half are exempt.”

So, where will the money be acquired to fund the increasing cost of entitlements, further compounded by health care obligations?

The poor don’t have enough money to tax significantly. Neither do the wealthy, there aren’t enough of them. You’re probably familiar with the statement that if the government confiscated all of the wealth of the richest 1% of Americans, it wouldn’t even fund the expenditures of the government for one day.

No, the group most capable of providing the means through taxation to fund Washington’s incessant appetite for greater and greater spending is the middle class, let’s call them “new roofers” for the sake of descriptive simplicity.

The President promised that those making under $250,000 per year would not see their taxes increased one thin dime, I believe was his terminology. Since average national income has dropped 3.2% since his election, that promise is helpful, if not entirely reassuring, speaking from a “new roofer’s” point of view.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Essential Serious Tone and Posture

Two minute video. Far too many interviews with notable people are just like this. Pick your own analogous situation - politicians caught in scandal, the Fed under examination for its monetary practices, teenagers with dog-eaten homework excuses - they often end up sounding about as credible as this.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Grammar & Punctuation, Part 3

Probably due to inadequate hand washing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Grammar & Punctuation, Part 1

...and they say men never listen!

h/t to Skip Tucker

Monday, April 5, 2010

Looking to Take Up a New Sport

I jumped back in at playing soccer about 3 weeks ago. It was fun while it lasted, but I've again come to the conclusion that having to walk as stiffly as Frankenstein for the two or three days of needed recovery afterward is an impractical price to pay for a sport at this stage of life.

So, I'm once again searching for a more age-friendly replacement sport. No doubt my quest will lead away from wall flipping, but I would have liked to have taken a shot at it three decades ago. Have a look.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Health Care as a Command Product

Henry Ford was reported to have said of his Model T car, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it's black." This was an economic limitation of assembly line production for reasons of efficiency (and by extension economy): Black was the fastest drying paint color.

Limiting available options of a product is inherently cost-efficient (cheaper & more affordable) since set-up, breakdown and modification, to use fabrication terms, are minimized. It also facilitates maintenance & administration, reducing paperwork and information flow to produce cost savings.

Ford approached the Model T as pretty much of a one-size-fits-all offering, since the assembly line and mass-production brought in the Model T at the most affordable option for the greatest number of people. Ford's early profits were realized through a broad-reaching market strategy, not a specialized one. A black, assembly-line produced car was the most affordable car.

In a free-market economy, as prosperity increases, market demand gives rise to innovative and personalized products as people can afford to obtain desired goods and services beyond mere cost criteria. A product's Increased value can demand an increased price if such value is also affordable to buyers who desire that value. This demand defines specialized markets. Responding to such demand has been somewhat characteristic of private insurance coverage - lots of options in a range of prices.

A commanded, public insurance option must necessarily be the Model T of insurance policies: The most efficient price point with limited options. Why such type of coverage cannot already be provided by private insurance companies is perplexing, unless external regulations make it impossible.

Commanded health insurance products are readily available as examples. Canada has one. So does Cuba. Canada reportedly has long treatment waiting times due to suppressing market supply through regulation and price controls. Castro's approach to caring for poor people has been to make more of them - leveling the playing field, so to speak - and spreading the wealth around until there wasn't any of it left. These are generalizations to be sure, but Canada artificially suppresses the supply of services while Cuba artificially inflates demand.

When governments try to artificially influence the supply of a scarce resource or its demand, over time the outcomes might be expected to vary from unsatisfying to disastrous. In economics, scarcity, like water, naturally seeks it's own level of equilibrium.