My Favorite Albums pt. 7 of 10

Today’s album is probably my favorite jazz album of all time.

I originally bought this album based on recognizing the name Sarah Vaughn and loving the cover. Having recently “getting” Jazz for the first time via Cookin’ by the Miles Davis Quintet I was hot to get another cool cool jazz record. Much like my very first album I ever bought I got lucky with my second jazz album completely by chance.

I had listened to Ella Fitzgerald and enjoyed her stuff well enough but found her scat soloing tiring after a while. Sarah Vaughn’s singing relies much more on color and tone rather than Ella’s riffs and runs. Vaughn’s perfect phrasing created what I consider canonical versions of several jazz standards like Lullaby of Birdland, September Song, and Jim.

The other musicians are in fine form as well. In particular Herbie Mann’s flute, Paul Quinichette’s sax, and Clifford Brown all put in understated, classy performances. The sound is warm and lush and in my mind epitomizes everything good about mid-50s jazz.


My Favorite Albums pt. 6 of 10

Here is day 6 of my favorite albums in no particular order. You can start at the beginning of the list here.

Today’s album is the last one ever made by this artist.

Glenn Gould caused a sensation when he recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 1955. Gould re-recorded the piece in 1981 and I believe it is far superior to his first try. That, in turn, means that the 1981 version is the best one you will ever hear.

Casals’s renditions of Bach’s Cello Suites were what opened my ears and brain to Bach but it is Gould’s 1981 Goldberg variations that opened my heart. Five notes into the initial “Aria” and I was captivated. The rest of the 30 variations spill out effortlessly and captivate me every time I play them.

This album gives you two geniuses at once, Bach and Gould. Both shine through and I believe this recording will be held up as authoritative as long as people listen to Bach. It is brainfood of the highest order, it refuses to stay background music. It demands to be listened to and will command your attention. If you only ever listen to one classical album this should be it.


Most Important Albums to me 4 of 10

This is the 4th in a series talking about my top 10 most important albums. You can see the beginning of the series here.

Today I’m sharing one of my favorite rock albums of all time.

This is the first album by the White Stripes. Plenty has been written about them, both good and bad. What people tend to hate about the group is what is seen as artificiality. I don’t agree with that assessment at all. The look is calculated but so were Bowie’s. I have no problem with bands managing their look and presence, especially when they have the musical chops to back it up.

This album is rock and roll stripped down to its most basic. Most of the songs are just a guitar and drums. Meg White’s drum playing has been widely criticized but I think that criticism is off base. Jack White has said that she played drums like a cave man but that wasn’t criticism. Her simple beats are the perfect foil to his huge blues riffs. Criticizing her because she isn’t Neil Piert or Buddy Rich just shows how little you understand the band.

In my opinion this may be the best sounding rock album of all time. The live experience of feeling the drums and having the guitar envelop you typifies the rock concert experience and solidifies the feel of the music. This album was recorded in such a way that you can feel like you are at a live show. Yes, the music is simple and not very deep but it feels incredible. I turn to this album whenever I want to feel alive and have a rock and roll experience.


Most Important Albums to me pt 3 of 10

This is my third album of my top ten most personally important albums list. You can see the start of the series here.

Today I’m highlighting an album that has opened a lot of doors for me.

I first heard Ravi Shankar’s The Sounds of India in a music class in college. I recognized the sound of the sitar from various Beatles songs but I had never heard a proper piece of Indian classical music before. I promptly went out and bought the CD and listened to it repeatedly.

For those of you that have never listened to a raag (westerners seem to call them ragas but the Indian musicians call them raags) they are intricate, subtle, complex, and organic. The Hindustani raags place a heavy emphasis on improvisation inside of tight musical framework. To this day I can’t say I really understand the music but it makes sense to me.

In the years since I heard this album I have continued to dive into the unlimited depths of Hindustani classical music. If this was the only impact this album had on me I would still consider it incredibly important to me. What this album actually did for me was to open my mind to enjoying other “world” music. I have since gone on to enjoy Flamencao, Bulgarian, Argentinian, Balkan, and music from who knows what locations. My life is much better for this album opening the world’s music to me.


Most Important Albums to me 2 of 10

Continuing a listing of the 10 most important albums in my life in no particular order. See the beginning of the series here.

Today’s album is the very first one I ever bought.

I was living in the suburbs of Richmond, VA in 79 or 80. I can’t remember if I had saved up my allowance or if I had gotten some money for a birthday or something. In any case, I was taken to a record store called Peaches and was allowed to pick what I wanted.

I don’t remember the decision process involved. I was too young to really know about albums other than the ones I already knew. I was also too young to really have favorite contemporary artists. My gut feeling is that I had been brought up listening to oldies in the car and I simply knew that I liked The Beach Boys.

Whatever the reason I lucked into a great LP. It’s only 34 minutes long but it is as good an example of American pop rock as you can find. As an 8 year old I was delighted and I still have a soft spot for it now. It isn’t just nostalgia either, I really think that it is as solid a pop recording as anything the Beatles ever did. The last three songs on the first side (Do it Again, Wake the World, Aren’t you Glad) in particular are gold. They were true pros at this point, probably the height of their appeal and talent. You can hear 15 years worth of singing about girls, cars, and surfing in Mike Love’s singing on Do it Again and it is glorious.

Yes, two of their worst hits (Barbara Ann and California Girls) are on here as well but they are bearable because of the strength of the rest of the album. There is a great horn section (!) and the harmonies are on point. I will always hold this up as the epitome of great pop rock and will always make me fell like I’m 8 again.

It’s a well rehearsed performance and super tight

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Most important albums to me pt.1 of 10

My brother shared a cute Facebook thing were we are supposed to share our favorite 10 albums over 10 days. The idea is to just post the album covers and not really editorialize about them. Well, I take this stuff too seriously to let it go like that. Here are my 10 most important albums in no particular order, one day at a time.

First up is the album I played through all of my childhood.

I’m willing to bet I played Abbey Road more often than any other LP in my life. I don’t know how young I was when I started but I’ll say this, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was the very first non-kids song I ever knew all the words to. My parents owned some interesting records by some interesting bands like CCR, The Association, Jefferson Airplane, Isaac Hayes, and other albums by the Beatles but Abbey Road was the one I came back to again and again, for decades.

Really though it was the first side that captivated me as a kid. I think that as a little kid I really liked the sing song tracks like Octopus’s Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer but as I got older I appreciated the weirdness and heaviness of I Want You and Come Together. I absolutely adored the abrupt end of I Want You, it seemed so absurd to me.

For whatever reason I didn’t really appreciate the second side until my teenage years. Maybe because that’s when I started to play music loud. The entire medley and especially The End just sounds so much better loud.

Years later I learned that Abbey Road was essentially the death throes of the band and was essentially recorded without Paul and John working together. That broke my heart. Still, the album is a masterpiece by any measure and was the first album to pop into my head with this album challenge.


Net neutrality was overturned by the court, not by the FCC

On May 1st 2017, the US court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had the authority to name ISPs Title II organizations. This meant that ISPs had to abide by the rules pertaining to net neutrality.

What often goes unreported is that the court also held that ISPs could opt out of this arrangement by telling customers that they are not an unedited conduit to the internet.

“While the net neutrality rule applies to those ISPs that hold themselves out as neutral, indiscriminate conduits to internet content, the converse is also true: the rule does not apply to an ISP holding itself out as providing something other than a neutral, indiscriminate pathway—i.e., an ISP making sufficiently clear to potential customers that it provides a filtered service involving the ISP’s exercise of “editorial intervention.”

They also added:

“…That would be true of an ISP that offers subscribers a curated experience by blocking websites lying beyond a specified field of content (e.g., family friendly websites). It would also be true of an ISP that engages in other forms of editorial intervention, such as throttling of certain applications chosen by the ISP, or filtering of content into fast (and slow) lanes based on the ISP’s commercial interests. An ISP would need to make adequately clear its intention to provide “edited services” of that kind…”

These quotes were taken from pages 15 and 16 of the majority opinion in the case.

The reality of the “Net Neutrality” rules is that there was nothing stopping ISPs from throttling, blocking, or offering different tiers of service as long as they made it clear to consumers that they were doing it. On top of that, the court ruled that ISPs were able to do it under 1st amendment protections so the FCC is unable to override it. The FCC was only able to enforce net neutrality as long as the ISPs claimed to be an unfiltered conduit to the internet. The good news is:

“There is no need in this case to scrutinize the exact manner in which a broadband provider could render the FCC’s Order inapplicable by advertising to consumers that it offers an edited service rather than an unfiltered pathway. No party disputes that an ISP could do so if it wished, and no ISP has suggested an interest in doing so in this court. That may be for an understandable reason: a broadband provider representing that it will filter its customers’ access to web content based on its own priorities might have serious concerns about its ability to attract subscribers. Additionally, such a provider, by offering filtered rather than indiscriminate access, might fear relinquishing statutory protections against copyright liability afforded to ISPs that act strictly as conduits to internet content.”

In other words, if the ISPs do decide to start filtering content in some way they will open themselves up to litigation for what they do allow access to. They filter at their own peril. This makes it unlikely that the current players will do so.

The important thing to remember is that ISPs were able to filter before the recent action by the FCC and they can now. Title II status does not protect against ISPs filtering, blocking, or throttling despite popular opinion. The rules did not apply the way the public thought they did.


Health insurance can make health care more expensive

We all know healthcare is expensive. The question is why is it expensive? The typical answer is that it is all down to “greedy” insurance companies, drug companies, and even doctors. One of my favorite economics aphorisms is that blaming greed for high prices is like blaming gravity for plane crashes. The fact that, as a whole, individuals and companies always try to do what’s in their best interest isn’t very instructive. We need to look at the rules of the game in order to figure out why things end up the way they have. The current state of health insurance actually encourages people to spend much more than necessary. That in turn leads to higher costs for healthcare. As weird as it sounds, health insurance as it is currently thought of may be contributing to one of the biggest problems of health care, the cost. Here are three examples from my own life.

I had just moved back to the States and was trying to get to the bottom of what was wrong with me. I had gotten an insurance plan but it didn’t cover pre-existing conditions. When my doctor told me I needed an MRI, I was shocked at what they cost. The hospital told me that it would cost $2500. Of that, I guess that insurance companies would probably pay $1200-$1500 because of pre negotiated rates. I found what is essentially Priceline for MRIs and was able to get the MRI done for $650. That’s less than what the insurance company would have paid and probably less than what my deductible would have been as well. By being forced to look for a deal far less money was spent than usual. 

I take a pill twice a day that helps me walk better. The active ingredient has been known for many years and is available through a compounding pharmacy. I would have to take 4-5 a day and a month’s worth of pills would run me around $40-$50. A company saw these results and made a timed release version so you only have to take two a day. My insurance pays $2200 a month for those pills. My copay? $30. Why does the company charge so much for those pills? Because they can. How can they? They were given a monopoly on the sale of the pills for 15 years because they jumped through the hoops and paid the costs of getting FDA approval. So I pay less, take the pill less often, and $2150 more a month is spent than necessary. 

I take a medication once a month that is supposed to stop the progression of MS. It’s expensive, my insurance pays $7200 a month for it. The company that makes it offers a copay assistance program. They pay the copay and I pay nothing out of pocket. They were having some trouble getting it set up through my insurance company though. They informed me that if they couldn’t get it sorted out I would qualify for the free medication program. I really wanted the copay assistance instead. Why? Because my maximum out of pocket expenses per year is $5000. With the copay assistance, the drug company would pay all of my out of pocket expenses for the year. They essentially put $5k in my pocket but it is the most expensive option in the end. 

The way health insurance is set up, we are incentivized to game the system, sometimes without us even being aware that we’re doing it. The thing is, right now nobody that has health insurance knows or cares what drugs and procedures cost. Doctors don’t either. Price awareness and the necessity of comparing prices brings discipline to markets. That discipline is what keeps prices down. If we’re not going to do single payer healthcare, and I don’t think that’s likely, we need to overhaul the incentives that people face if we want to get the prices down. What might that look like? I’ll dive into that in the next post.


Why Healthcare Can Never Be A Public Good

Should health care be a public good? What does that mean? For most people the idea of a public good is simply something that is a good thing for society. Along those lines it is also assumed that the price of that good, if it is thought about at all, is low and made available to everyone. As it turns out there is more to it than that.

If we think about an actual public good we can get a feel for one of the basic requirements. Once a street light has been installed, anyone can use it at any time without any additional costs. It doesn’t matter how many people are on the street or looking from buildings along the street. In theory, someone from space could see the light from that streetlight. Regardless of the number of people, they will be able to use the illumination from that light.

Economists say that the light from the street lamp is non rivalrous. Just because one person is using the light doesn’t mean someone else can’t. Now contrast that with health care. It’s different because every minute of a doctor’s time, every hospital bed, and with every bandaid, if someone is using it no one else can. This is why health care can never be a public good. Unlike light, there is a finite quantity of health care available and each additional bit that is used has an associated cost.

That doesn’t mean that the state can’t provide that service but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a reason that system is called a “single payer” system. Every aspect of health care has to be paid for and allocated. While what is and isn’t a public good may sound like an issue of economic semantics, it is vitally important to internalize the difference if we want to improve healthcare in the US.

Both the ACA and whatever it is that Republicans are proposing are about health insurance not healthcare. The underlying problem is that healthcare is too expensive, of course insuring against that will be expensive too. Policy targeting insurance accessibility does nothing to address the actual problem and will actually make things worse. My next couple of posts will be personal examples of that. While I am showing how current expectations of health insurance and the incentives they set up are making things worse, just keep in mind that all aspects of healthcare are personal and all need to be paid for somehow. We need to think about lowering costs, accessibility will follow. Stay tuned for some practical examples…


Standing for the anthem, a couple of questions

There are two questions I have about the not standing up for the national anthem brouhaha that I have not seen addressed. First of all, why do we play the national anthem at a sporting event at all? I understand why it would be played at official national or military ceremonies, that makes sense. But a football game? Imagine playing the anthem before a church service, that’s how out of place it feels to me. Am I the only one that feels like this? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone else questioning why we play the anthem before sporting events.

My second question is for the athletes not standing for the anthem. Police brutality is out of hand and they are not being held accountable. That’s the reason given for not standing. OK, got it. At what point will you stand again? Will you ever? What will be the indicator that you are no longer ashamed of the entire country?

Confusing incidents perpetrated by a few people with the state of the entire country is a pretty common problem. Whenever something terrible happens there is inevitably someone on my Facebook time line saying, “I don’t know what is wrong with this country,” or something along those lines. The fact that most people in this country react with horror at the terrible thing goes unnoticed because they are too busy throwing the country out with the bath water/under the bus/ to hell in a hand basket. The fact that black folks have been killed by police without repercussions for the entire history of this country has never fazed any football players. Of all of the times to choose to be ashamed of the country, he has chosen the one time when millions of people are agitating for justice over the very thing he’s worried about. If anything, now would be the time to be proud of “the country,” or at least of the people in it. So does he start standing when go back to not caring? I don’t get it…