Archive for April, 2010

WoD – The Ten-ish Commandments

[From frog fungus to the Old Testament – we take on all comers here at our little WoD…]

We have Ten Commandments.  Why ten though?  (I love the Mel Brooks scene where he is Moses and has three tablets with fifteen commandments and says, “I have FIFTEEN Commandments!” then drops one and says “TEN!  Ten Commandments!”

But what might have been the eleventh Commandment?  I’m curious, what was the one that got left on the cutting room floor?  Thou shalt not ridicule?  Thou shalt not stereotype?  How different (perhaps more tolerant!) would the world be if one of these had made it in as a “Commandment”?

Actually, what would the world be like if we only have 9?  And let’s say the one that we didn’t have was “thou shalt not commit adultery?”  Because let’s face it – this one is not really upheld all that well as it is.  So, what if it never even was a cardinal sin?  Perhaps it still would have been perceived as not such a good thing by society, and still therefore frowned upon.  But perhaps things would have evolved where marriage as we know it may not have come to pass.  Maybe people would have had multiple relationships, like they did have way back then anyway, and it would have been more or less societally fine.  Who knows.  Perhaps something to think about.

(Personally, I think civilization might have been a whole lot better off over the past 3,500 years if we did have that third slate with five more Commandments…)



Don’t you dare!

Azas! I’ll die if you tell him I said that!


WoD – Frog Fungus

So I was watching a little Nature show with the kids on frogs the other night.  And it was talking all about a newish fungus that is affecting frogs across the world, killing them in droves.  So many scientists are studying this and working desperately to stop the die off.  Poor frogs!

I actually think frogs are quite critical to the whole food chain, and they may actually have important scientific properties to help humankind, too.  But I was left wondering about the fungus.  Isn’t that nature’s way?  If a species gets massively (and negatively) affected by something like this, should we take mitigative action?  Or should we just leave it alone and let nature do its thing, even if it means the potential extinction of many whole species’ of frogs?

I don’t want to see frogs wiped out – I really don’t.  But might intervening on a global scale just mess up nature and evolution in a potentially opposite sort of way?  What if this is nature’s way of reconstituting the world’s house fly population, or some such.  One thing I do believe is that we humans don’t take into account or think nearly enough about the Law of Unintended Consequences in our actions.

So: when does helping a frog, hurt the planet?   Poor frogs…



I wish he were here

Your zeyde would have been so proud of you. Halevay volt er do geven.

WoD – Healthcare, Part IV

I am motivated to send out a quick WoD due to a little service I signed up for, at  StickK is kinda cool – it is a way to set up a “commitment contract” to do things like lose weight, stop smoking, commit to exercise, etc.  And I committed to sending out some WoD’s.  But the hook is, you can pick a charity you absolutely detest – something that goes against your moral fiber – and if you don’t do your commitment, it sends a donation out (in the denomination of your choosing) to that charity.  I won’t reveal my anti-charity to you, but let’s just say, it is highly motivating!  I have a basement filled with water and still felt compelled to send out a WoD.  My mentioning is almost a WoD in itself.  But onto something else more meaty…

I saw this article from a few months ago and thought it raised a good point no one was or has talked about much.  Namely, how much ‘access to health insurance’ affects our decisions.  I bet many of you out there at first may think this isn’t a big deal and perhaps not a “central issue”; but for a moment I want you all to think about if you lost your job, or maybe your significant lost theirs – I guarantee one of the things that quickly would enter your mind is from where would you get health insurance.  Would you jump to a very small company and take some risks (for bigger payouts) or even start your own endeavor?  But what if that meant no health insurance for you or for your children?  We all would think a lot about going and just “working for the man” instead, in order to have this insurance.  I can attest to it first-hand – thankfully we have insurance, otherwise I would be a lot less free to do some entrepreneurial things right now.  Ok nuff said – take a read, it makes decent points.  (And if you don’t agree, write the author, not me…)

If Health Care Reform Fails, America’s Innovation Gap Will Grow

By DAVID LEONHARDT, Published: December 15, 2009

Greg Woock is the chief executive of Pinger, a fast-growing Silicon Valley company that makes iPhone applications. So Mr. Woock spends a fair amount of time interviewing job applicants. In almost every interview, he told me recently, the applicant asks about Pinger’s health insurance plan.

Now think about that for a minute.

In the cradle of American innovation, workers are making career choices based on co-payments, pre-existing conditions and other minutiae of health insurance. They are not necessarily making decisions based on what would be best for their careers and, in turn, for the American economy — that is, “where their skills match and where they can grow the most,” as another Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Cyriac Roeding, says. Health insurance, Mr. Roeding adds, “is distorting the decision-making.”

It is impossible to know how much economic damage these distortions are causing, but they clearly aren’t good. Economic research suggests that more than 1.5 million workers who would otherwise have switched jobs fail to do so every year because of fears about health insurance. Some of them would have moved to companies where they could have contributed more, and others would have started their own businesses.

This link between insurance and innovation isn’t relevant merely for the obvious reason that Congress is in the late stages of debating health reform. It is also relevant because the United States is suffering from an innovation deficit.

Even before the financial crisis, the decade that will end later this month was on pace to have the slowest economic growth of any since before World War II. The No. 1 reason, I’d argue, was our innovation deficit.

For most of this decade, the rate at which companies eliminated jobs was actually lower than in the 1990s (despite the stories you sometimes hear about the United States having entered a new era of economic instability). The problem was that companies weren’t creating enough new jobs. The rate at which existing companies added jobs declined 14 percent from the end of the 1990s to 2007, according to the Labor Department. The rate at which start-up companies created jobs fell even more: 24 percent.

Given the consequences of the innovation deficit — slower growth, fewer jobs, lower living standards — you would want to look for every possible solution, wouldn’t you?

You’d want to allow more talented immigrants to become citizens, so that the next Sergey BrinLiz Claiborne or Andy Grove, immigrant entrepreneurs all, didn’t end up starting their companies elsewhere. You would want to clean up the tangled corporate tax code. You would want to finance more basic research.

And you would want to make people feel confident that they could take risks — start a new company or join a young one — without worrying about whether they would still receive adequate medical care.

Congress is now close to passing a very promising health reform bill. Neither the bill that the House passed last month nor the bill being debated in the Senate is good enough yet. But they are close.

Ultimately, health reform will be judged by two yardsticks. The first will be whether it begins to shift medicine away from the corrosive fee-for-service system that leads to uneven results and soaring costs. The second will be whether people can easily buy insurance even if they don’t work for a large company or qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

Silicon Valley, with its network of venture capital backers, figures out a way to get most of its workers some kind of health insurance. But many other entrepreneurs have a harder time of it. Only 46 percent of companies with three to nine employees offer health insurance, down from 56 percent a decade ago, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why? The administrative costs of insurance are high when they aren’t spread over a large group of workers. Insurers also know that the individuals and small companies who sign up for health plans tend to be the ones with the most medical problems, pushing premiums for such plans even higher.

So unless the government steps in to create a large pool of workers who can then buy insurance more cheaply, many small companies will go without it — and some workers will find themselves tethered to the safety of a big company.

As Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, told me, “There clearly are people who choose to stay in their jobs due to the fact that they don’t have insurance portability.” Just consider the economic research showing that people married to someone with health insurance are more likely to work at small companies than people who aren’t so lucky.

The path to a health bill that begins to solve both core problems — access and cost — is fairly clear, numerous health economists say. It involves combining the Senate provisions on cost and quality control (and, ideally, strengthening them) with the House provisions on insurance access. Ezra Klein, the blogger and health policy writer, refers to it as a “health care reform fantasy draft.”

The House bill does a good job of creating affordable insurance plans for the uninsured but does little to attack fee-for-service medicine. As a result, medical costs are likely to stay high for everyone.

The Senate bill, by contrast, has the “essential elements of a successful, fiscally responsible reform strategy,” according to a recent letter from 26 economists, including four Nobel Prize winners and two former directors of the Congressional Budget Office. But the Senate plan is too rough on the newly insured. It would force many of them to pay thousands of dollars a year out of pocket, on top of their premiums, for care.

“Take the Senate on cost control and the House on affordability,” Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T. argues, “and you’ve the best possible bill.”

And what if Congress — distracted by hot-button issues like drug imports, government-financed abortions and the so-called public option — produces something short of best? Should we then hope that it gives up and take another crack at health reform in, say, 2025?

Well, remember that this process was never going to be easy and was always going to be messy. But in the coming days and weeks, the choices before Congress will be straightforward: How can the bills still be improved? And once all the negotiating is over, will the final package seem likely to do more good than harm?

Last week, Medicare’s chief actuary came out with a report that offered some useful guidance on that second question. The report became fodder for critics of the bills because it estimated that the current Senate plan would raise national health spending slightly. Without health reform, the country would spend $4.67 trillion on medical care in 2019. With it, we would spend $20 billion more, a total of $4.69 trillion.

If you dug into the report, however, you discovered the main reason for the projected increase. Vastly more people — about 33 million — would have insurance if the Senate plan passed. “There are more people insured, and more people getting treatment,” the actuary, Rick Foster, said.

Yet health spending would rise by just 0.5 percent. The cost of insuring a given individual would be significantly reduced, in other words, and millions of people would no longer have to worry about whether they were insured.

Maybe one of those millions will end up starting the next great American company.



Bad taste (literally: my grandmother’s taste)

Don’t let her decorate your house, she’s got mayn bobes tam!

WoD – “Movie” Movie

Just some humor to brighten your day…




What a yoyvl we’ll have when our youngest daughter gets married.

WoD – Looks Can Be Deceiving

Something to think about today…

Washington DC Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007.  He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  During that time approx. 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.  After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar.  A woman threw the money in the till and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:  A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:  A 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly, as the child stopped to look at the violinist.  Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time.  This action was repeated by several other children.  Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.

After 45 minutes:  The musician still played.  Only 6 people had stopped and stayed for a while.  About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.  He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out an entire theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story.  Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.  The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?  Do we stop to appreciate it?  Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be, if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments… how many other things are we missing?

[And for those who may be wondering/doubting if this is, in fact, real – I even looked into it myself, and it checks out fully:]



Family status or prestige

As long as he has good yikhes: a rabbi’s son would be nice.

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