Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A late in coming conclusion

Tonight I was reminded of a time in school when I gave a presentation on US health care regulation. I tried to lay out its forms, vehicles, and operations. It was such a complex topic that I struggled greatly to adhere to the time limit. In the end it was a pretty pitiful performance. Not one of my better efforts, but in truth I didn’t feel anyone would appreciate it even if it was. At the end of the presentation I was asked if I had a conclusion. “No not really.” I stammered. “It’s an important issue and it is important to be informed”—was all I could muster.

Although I did have a conclusion. However, I was reluctant to give it since its presentation would reveal my bias which could question the integrity of my research. (I think I have learned now that we all have a bias and not to reveal it is the real signal of questionable integrity). So if I had the question again the following would be my answer.

My research was presented with the intention of drawing a focus to the myriad of regulatory complexities that our health care/health insurance industry is riddled with. The chief effect of this regulation is a loosening of the association of cause with effect. It is through clear feedback mechanisms that intelligent beings are able to change a course of behavior in hopes of creating improved outcomes. Just as punishment of a dog an hour after it has overstretched its bounds is futile, paying for health benefits through tax revenues and insurance programs also confuses the costs of prior behavior. The regulatory complexity removes health decisions from the universe of practical everyday decisions. These sorts of decisions are feasibly within human abilities. Granted errors are made constantly, but on average people are able to decide which products work best for them; and in the process reward those goods and services that hold value. This simple, but essential mechanism is constantly under attack in the realm of health care.

But you say: “Health care is different from other goods. We NEED it. Without it we would die.” Would you die without food? shelter? clothing? And if so are you able to reliably find those goods with high quality and at low costs? And what sort health care would you really die without? There are rare incidences when people suffer from a critical circumstance, but every trivial health benefit is covered in these third party plans; and the benefits are growing all the time. And what does “need” mean anyways? Does need mean if it was cheaper you would consume no more of it? Does need mean that you would sacrifice literally everything you own to obtain it? With any procedure there are costs and benefits, but we seem to be unable to consider the alternative that for any procedure the cost could exceed the benefit. Yes, these procedures still have the same costs no matter who pays for them. It’s a scary thought to think of someone empowered with the ability to consume without any regard for the costs. But a scarier thought is that this disincentivizing trend will continue and we will fail to reward innovation that leads toward health care advances.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hidden Gem

I confess a bit of a music obsession. I have consumed a good proportion of my life randomly following my melodic interests. Typically the search isn't completely random but confined to my usual time period (around 1966 to around 1972). I'm pretty biased towards this time period. Really enjoy blues music and its initial fusion with rock to make the greatest of all genres: blues rock. Big fan. Of course within this genre there a tons of styles.

One of the better bands that I have become familiar with recently is called Free. I'm sure this name isn't news to anyone with much interest in the period. This was Paul Rodger's band before he started Bad Company. "All Right Now" is the familiar hit. So the band isn't so much of a hidden gem, but I'm going to make the case that their first album is.

The album is called "Tons of Sobs" released in 1968. In many ways it is a typical bluesy release that many bands were putting out around this time. In fact it may have been a bit behind the curve. Not exactly original or highly creative. But what I am praising here is just plain blues rock excellence. I guess it all starts with Paul Rogders. He has a nice soothing voice if you'll remember from Bad Company. Sounds nice, maybe a little plain, and even though he is British sounds pretty American (that is the description that comes to mind when I think of Bad Company). But if you take Paul Rodgers for granted you might miss something. When he lets it loose he's amazing. I will say that I actually know nothing about music. However, his voice seems capable of great range while maintaining depth, and it just sounds really nice everywhere. But more than that he sings blues how (I think) its supposed to be sung. You really understand while listening to this album how blues grew into hard rock. Its loud, emotional, and perhaps honest. See blues music has more of an honest feel to me than other music from the era in contrast to psychedelic influences. Don't get me wrong I love psychadelic music and am all for mixing it up and creating new sounds, but I will always be drawn to the honest simplicity of blues music, its pureness of expression.

Other highlights of the group include the guitarist, Paul Kossoff, and the bassists Andy Fraser. Simoun Kirke is the drummer who also stayed with Rodgers through Bad Company. Kossoff is real good. His guitar is high flying. He was your typical drug and alcohol shitshow, and sadly his life ended early because of it. Andy Fraser was 16 when he joined the band and released this album. Before joining the prodigy was the bassist for (the great) John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. What's even more impressive about him though was that he was the group's chief song-writer at such a young age. Although he contributed on only three songs on this album he quickly established himself as the main lyrical force in the outfit. Another impressive fact about this album (especially for blues music) is that all the material is original except for two covers "Goin' Down Slow" and "The Hunter" (which are both great).

If you listen to one song on this album listen to "Walk in My Shadow" and for Godsakes play it loud.