Friday, February 03, 2006



I’ve got a few nuggets of ideas floating around, but they don’t seem to be entire blog entries unto themselves. This has been too rough a week to give them the time they need, and it’s good to clear the slate from time to time, so here goes:

- Bush says we’re addicted to oil. He also says we have to drill in ANWR. That’s like telling a pothead he can kick the habit by growing his own.

- Is Kevin Federline entirely necessary?

- I didn’t know this until recently, but The Carpenters’ classic slice of American cheese, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” was actually a cover! A Canadian band called Klaatu did it first. (Does that make it Canadian cheese?) That means that the Carpenters heard it and decided to do it themselves. Why? Why?

- Single-payer health insurance IS pro-business. Lots of people who would like to start their own businesses don’t, because they don’t want to lose their employer-provided coverage. If coverage came with citizenship, they could leave their corporate gigs to start their own businesses. If it’s true that entrepreneurialism drives economic growth, single-payer is a pro-growth idea. Why doesn’t anybody ever mention this?

- Ford cars suck. Mazda cars are quite good. Ford owns Mazda. Couldn’t Ford, say, ask Mazda how they do it? For that matter, couldn’t Ford put a Ford nameplate on a Mazda? I’m perplexed. Ford insists on turning out ugly, unreliable, steaming piles of crap, even while owning a high-quality import brand. Meanwhile, tens of thousands get laid off. I’m at a loss.

- Back in the 80’s, Apple changed the computer industry by putting out a superior piece of hardware (the Mac) that used superior software (the gui). It refused to license Mac clones, lost market share due to price, and nearly died. Now, Apple changed the music industry by putting out a superior piece of hardware (the Ipod) that uses superior software (Itunes), and it refuses to allow the Ipod to use music subscription services or to allow other mp3 players to use Itunes. Has Apple learned nothing? Sandisk now has a 4 GB flash player a hundred dollars cheaper than an ipod nano with the same memory, and it’s compatible with multiple subscription services. How long before Creative or Sandisk eats Apple’s lunch?

- I propose a Constitutional amendment limiting the State of the Union address to 15 minutes. Enough already.

- With the advent of hands-free cell phones, I don’t always know if the guy talking to himself in the hallway is on the phone or insane. This is vaguely unsettling.

- As a kid, I was addicted to “In Search Of,” with Leonard Nimoy. (I know, I know…) One episode that really stuck with me was about killer bees. We were supposed to be inundated with killer bees by the year 2000. What happened to the killer bees?

Back to the salt mines…

I totally hear you on the hands-free cell phone thing.

The line between insane and industrious is getting blurrier and blurrier.
1. Are there any countries that have single payer health insurance that have proven to be hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurialsim? People don't make your arguement because they don't have evidence for it.

2. The conventional explanation for Ford's crappy cars involves three words: United Auto Workers. The high labor rates of American car companies have been well documented for years, and these costs may have crowded out R&D that could have led to better cars.

3. Apple's eventual experiment with permitting clones was not successful. Its resurgence is closely identified with the return of Steve Jobs, the return to a focus on great products, and to a proprietary strategy that prevents those products from becoming commodities. I would suggest that Apple has in fact learned a lot from its experience.

Base upon the market's reaction to Apple's offerings, they seem to be doing something right, and they are not sitting on their hands.

4. I missed the State of the Union, that is, I reduced the impact of it all the way down to zero. So the Constitutional amendment may not be needed.
I enough of a geek that I actually know the answer to the killer bee question. The African bees made it to the US in the 1980's, but they had interbred so much with native bees of a more mild disposition that they ended up being merely aggressive as opposed to "killer". (My dad kept honeybees when I was a kid. Before the "invasion" our honeybees were so docile I could feed them sugar-water from my bare hands. The faux-African ones on the other hand would start stinging if you came within three feet of the hive.)

As to the iPod question, I think the difference between then and now is pricing and ubiquity. Even though there are cheaper MP3 players out there, people are willing to deal with proprietary hard/software if it only costs a couple hundred bucks and the software is free. But they will jump ship if the price difference gets too great -- which evidently $100 is not.

As to single-payer health insurance, isn't the issue that having it would entail higher taxes, which affects the bottom line of businesses more negatively than offering their own health insurance (which they at least would have some control over)?
(An inelegant, rushed reply to a marginal point)

On the Killer Bees...

One possible answer:

We wisely dropped the *African* killer bees title, when we realised it was a bad idea to relay racist ideology through insect migration.

Combined with another theory:

The insect migration caused inter-species breeding through which domestic bees and "killer bees" became a more "balanced" bee -- more agressive than they used to be here, but not so agressive as the killer swarms of the 70's. My understadning is that the "killer bees" were just honey bees with an adapted behaviour issue.

Just theories.

But the association of "African" with "Killer", bears some conceptual relation to the contemporary naming of "Asian" bird flu, and the "Shnag-Hai flu" of 1991... That is: when something is nasty, it must be especially nasty because it came from those "other" people (rather than from a geographic location and climate that has an influence on the manifestation of disease resulting from viral infection).

Another example: "West Nile Virus" -- is sure to kill you, be afraid... bla bla. Well, yes, WNV can be devastating in North Africa, Egypt etc., but it has hardly turned out to be the new epidemic that would wipe out central North American populations. Alterations in climate, and in general population health are likely influences on outcome -- but that "West Nile" nomenclature sure makes it sound scary hunh?

Oddly, the reality that it can be devastating elsewhere, and relatively unremarkable here has not made the general public any more concerned about global health inequities.
Ok, to bring the level of discourse down about a hundred notches: Yes, Kevin Federline is totally necessary. In exactly the way that Kato Kalin was necessary. K-Fed rocks!
I watched "In Search Of" all the time as a kid! And it freaked me out, too. I was terrified of killer bees. I was also terrified of fireants, after an episode that pointed out a fireant swarm could kill a small dog. My parents had a tree put in at one point and I was convinced that the huge pile of earth from the tree-hole being dug was actually a fireant nest/hive/whatever you call it. (Yeah, this was in New England.)
I know nothing about bee biology, but all I can think of when someone says "Killer Bees" is John Belushi in a bee outfit.

I think they lost something of their cultural force when Belushi died?

Or, to be more biological, perhaps the Africanized bees don't compete quite as well in areas with colder winters, so that's slowed their progress more than some scientists predicted, AND, perhaps, gave time for more interbreeding of populations, making them somewhat less aggressive?

Or, perhaps, the media overplayed the whole thing in the first place?

I found your question about the health insurance interesting. Of course, we CAN buy single person health coverage, separate from jobs. There's a historical connection to jobs based on wage-fixing laws around WWII, when companies could offer benefits to compete instead of greater wages. I think, the problem for now with single person coverage, is that it's REALLY expensive compared to "bulk" coverage.

This results from the sense that insurers have that low risk individuals go without health insurance (and thus wouldn't pay into the pool, or would choose only high deductible catastrophic coverage), while higher risk individuals want to buy insurance. That's one of the critiques of the health savings idea: it will really benefit healthy YOUNG people, and taking them out of insurance pools will make insurance costs higher for "older" people, or people who have greater health risks.

(I think "single payer" is usually used in the sense that the "single payer" is a single large agency paying for health care, rather than a single person paying for insurance. So that may be confusing.)
oops, I misread what you meant by "single payer," sorry. You used it correctly, and I misread. Apologies!
On the single-payer thing, I was reflecting on Scandinavia and its leadership in mobile phones and similar technologies (ericsson, nokia, etc.) I could be wrong, but I've met a number of people who hold onto 'safe' jobs with benefits, rather than striking out on their own, due largely to health insurance. Is some of that simply an excuse? Probably, but not all of it. Would most of them fail? Probably, but not all of them.

I know the UAW takes the blame for a lot of things, some of which are valid, but it doesn't explain why Ford can't simply ask Mazda what it's doing in terms of design.

The point about Apple is interesting. I may be misreading the company. I see it as wanting to be large, rather than a boutique provider; perhaps that's wrong. Maybe it wants the high end to itself, and wants to stay out of the low end. Point taken.

On the bees -- thanks! Actually, I have hopes for that sort of thing for people, too. Over the long term, I have great faith in the power of sexual attraction to break down racial barriers. Get enough globalization going on, and some people are going to start pairing off. They just will. Some of them will even pair off with K-Fed, however inexplicable that might be...
The thing I love about K-fed is that even the entertainment programs (which usually slather praise on everyone) refer to him as skanky. I think he gives hope to all the American Idol rejects that they too can have a career in mooching if they are lucky enough.

Didn't the killer bees become a wrestling tag team or something? ;)
The high labor rates of American car companies have been well documented for years,

Well, they've been claimed, but not documented as such. Let's keep in mind that Honda assembles its cars here, same as Ford, no?
I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with rambling thoughts.

the cell things: well I'm more concerned about how I must look when my favorite song comes on the radio and I'm really into singing along. Then people really know I'm insane. Also, in our state people ignore the headset law so I know they're on the phone and usually driving too slow.
Actually some Mazdas are manufactured in the U.S. as well. By UAW assembly lines no less. It's not the unions' fault, it's Ford/Chrysler/GM's fault that their cars suck compared to the imports.

As for single-payer, it's the rule for the industrialized world that's not the US. It will come about in the end, because big business will demand it. Note that every labor dispute over the past few years has come down to health care. Take that out of the employer/employee relationship and we'll gain productivity overall.

I agree with equality about Apple though. What killed them in the late 80s/early 90s was product stagnation and what Steve Jobs brought when he returned to the company was innovation and excitement. Hell, when the iPod first came out, my thought was that it was going to be a big failure. What I see on campus now is a huge fraction of my students with iPods and despite the fact that they're cheaper, almost nobody has a non-Apple MP3 player. It's not just the tech, it's the brand mystique, which is a HUGE factor.
i'tunes was suprior but has so many problems running on pc's that it leaves a big opening for any knock off who can develop a data base type program to work well on the pc to take the market
On killer bees: Back when I was a cub reporter in Long Beach, CA, one of my first assignments was to cover the discovery of killer bees in the city (on Killdee St., believe it or not--almost as if the damn things could spell). So they are here, just not epidemic.

A few things I learned from the city health experts about the bees:
1. Anything can set them off: wearing perfume, running a lawnmower, lifting a garbage can lid if they're swarming inside the can.
2. You can't hide underwater from them. They wait for you.
3. If you're being attacked and you hide in your car, you need to close the vents. Because they'll find their way in.
4. They go for the eyes.
5. If all else fails, cover your face with your jacket and run in a zigzag pattern for at least 1/4 mile.

But really, I was told, there's no need to panic. Whatever.
Oh wow, I loved "In Search Of...," too! And I remember the killer bee thing. Interesting to read all the comments about them.

And K-Fed, as he's called, should fall off of the planet.
I love your blog. I learn so much and you also hit the points I agree with....the UAW....well..., and K-Fed....should go....nuff said....
"As a kid, I was addicted to “In Search Of,” with Leonard Nimoy. (I know, I know…) One episode that really stuck with me was about killer bees. We were supposed to be inundated with killer bees by the year 2000. What happened to the killer bees?

Just saw a blurb on CNN this evening that they were running a report on the RETURN of the killer bees. I always thought that it was all media hype.
Then I have to pay a self-employment tax on top of that.

That has nothing to do with the color of your state, merely the fact that it was admitted to the union. That's the employer portion of Social Security, and you'd better believe that the employer passed that tax on to you your entire working life in the form of decreased wages. Payroll taxes are borne essentially entirely by workers, one way or the other.
Although I placed the blame for Ford's poor cars at the feet of the UAW, I didn't mean to absolve management. They were party to the contracts that lead to the burdensome labor and health costs, and they should have foreseen the consequences.

BTW, I drive a Saturn, my spouse drives a Dodge Caravan. I've never been able to reconcile liberals' advocacy of unions with their preference (in my admittedly limited experience) for foreign cars. I always ask, "What's the matter, the product of the American workingman's labor isn't good enough for you?"

Were I a member of the UAW, I'd advocate higher wages too--though I might be eager to accept more flexible work rules.

Here's the thing. My Saturn is 8 years old, built at the Spring Hill, Tennessee factory built from scratch for that purpose. I like it a lot, it has almost 180,000 miles on it and is going strong, with an excellent repair record. I don't follow these things closely, but my understanding is that some years ago GM decided it was time for a 6-cylinder Saturn. The folks in Spring Hill lobbied hard to be the ones to assemble it, but at the behest of the UAW the new line went to another location. That was the beginning of the end for Spring Hill and its "non standard" operating procedures.

Thus, although the UAW doesn't design the cars, it does exert enormous influence over the success of the companies. And many (most?) of the foreign car assembly plants in the U.S. are non-union.
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