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

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.

Talking to political opponents Pt. 1: Fear

If we want to advance our political viewpoint we will have to start convincing people that we don’t agree with. Even if you don’t win them over to your side you can at least establish a sensible basis of communication. That could come in handy when you need to work with them on a goal you can both agree on. In the shorter term I would just like to see less screaming at each other.

Arnold Kling is my inspiration when it comes to talking about politics. The tag line of his blog is “Take the most charitable view of those that disagree.” I think that is the key when it comes to talking to political opponents. I’ll talk about how to do that in another post but I will talk about why in this one.

So why take the most charitable view of political opponents? Because they are worried if not scared outright. The more strident the objection the more fear I hear. Unfortunately, the typical reaction to that fear is to become fearful in kind. That leads to harsh responses and the fear spiral is well on its way. Welcome to the current political climate!

I really think that recognizing fear is the key to starting actual discussions as opposed to yelling at each other. You can’t help but temper your response once you see fear in the other person. Only a psychopath would egg on fear once they detect it.

My suggestion for engaging with political opponents is to recognize and address their worry/fear. And no, calmly informing them how wrong they are is not going to accomplish that. There have been plenty of studies showing that people that have their views challenged with “facts” only makes them entrench further. I think this is because the underlying fear that motivated the outburst has gone unnoticed. If it is brought up they are told that their worry/fear is evil, wrong, or just stupid. Having what motivates you dismissed only reinforces the fear. Hence, the person giving out “facts” just doesn’t get it and is clearly an opponent to what is true and right.

If you really want to talk with your opponents, and I think this is a very good idea, you will need to do it in a way they understand. That means you will have to actually understand where they are coming from. You will have to know and understand them to the point that you could pass for someone in the same political camp as your opponent. Stay tuned for my next posts about the Three Languages of Politics and Political Turing Tests for some ideas of how to do that.

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…

Preemptive Supreme Court ruling post

I have already heard some preemptive wailing and gnashing of teeth over the possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down parts of the ACA as it is being implemented today. As always, when a ruling goes against a group’s beliefs, political motives are blamed. Of course if the ruling goes in favor of your beliefs, the court is held up as being wise and truly understanding the law. This really doesn’t seem like an overly political issue though. Everything I’ve read makes me think this case is about implementing the law as it was written. Sure, political motivations are what brought to the case to court but that’s beside the point.

If the court does rule against the status quo, I hope there are some lessons learned. One, you actually have to implement the law that is passed, not what a lot of people think it means. Two, super complicated bills make it difficult to understand what you’re actually passing into law. And finally three, if you have to make the bill super complicated in order to get it passed at all you aren’t doing yourself any favors and the bill probably shouldn’t be passed.

I’m fully anticipating the court ruling against the Democratic (with a capital D, the party) way of thinking. I’m also anticipating a public backlash blaming conservative judges for striking down a law they don’t like. The irony of course is that they won’t be striking down a law, they will be ordering it to be implemented correctly. That is not a political decision, it is a legal one.

The Internet, social media, and me.

I have had three distinct relationships with the Internet. I started using it back in the early 90s. The World Wide Web had not come into existence yet, everything was text based. I mostly trawled music and photography listservers for information. When I got my own computer in the late 90s, there were actual webpages! Most of my internet use was centered around music (I loved Napster!) and reading about photography. It was still mostly a passive thing though. I’d order stuff and read newsgroups but that was about it.

Things changed dramatically in 2004. My friend Jenny inspired me to get a LiveJournal account and I started blogging. That quickly led to me getting my own website so that I could post pictures, papers, and other things along with my blog. I distinctly remember the thrill of creating content for the web. Suddenly I was part of the Internet, not just someone that read it. I put my thoughts, my pictures, my life on the web under my name with my own address. I was a creator, I had carved out my own space and made it mine. I was pretty good about keeping that up through about 2009 or so. While I still posted blog posts and pictures after that, my frequency slowed considerably. Why? Facebook.

I joined Facebook in 2003 I think. At the time I did it just to keep track of my cousin while she was at school. I didn’t really start using it till the middle of 2007 when my fellow students in Yemen encouraged me to. It was an easy way to keep track of people I knew from all over the world and it helped me reconnect with friends from high school. By 2009 I was very busy on Facebook. Keeping up with friends is addictive, especially when you had so much catching up to do.

When 2012 rolled around, I had started to get a little weary of Facebook’s shenanigans when it came to privacy, the ads, and general ickiness. That’s when app.net was launched. The goals of the service resonated with me. No ads, users were the customers, not advertisers, and developers were given free rein to use the service in any way they saw fit. The main use was microblogging (similar to Twitter) but there were a lot of other services being built around it like blogging and podcasting. This coincided with my first stint on disability so I had a lot of time to invest in the service, and invest I did. App.net became my primary social outlet despite the fact that I didn’t know anyone on it when I signed up. It was such a compelling experience that I spent a ton of time on it. I was really excited about the possibilities that the platform offered beyond microblogging and couldn’t wait to see what else developers were going to make of the service.

Unfortunately, app.net has devolved into what I had so strenuously denied it being for so long, a paid Twitter clone. Microblogging is really the only thing it is used for now. Sadly, the people that are invested in the service continuing are only interested in microblogging. I still use it but only because I’ve met some really cool people there and I like talking to them.

My use of Facebook really slacked off while I was using app.net heavily. Now that I’m trimming back on app.net, I don’t have a big desire to invest as much time in Facebook. When I look back at all of the energy and information I put into my social media presence, I’m struck by how little I have to show for it. Yes, I have a bunch of stuff in my timelines on both app.net and Facebook but what good is it? Can I find the interesting link I shared or mini exposition on whatever it was I thought was interesting at the time? Not a chance. Can someone else come across what I’ve written and start up a conversation? Will anyone ever Google an explanation I’ve given and be helped by it? How could they?

When I look at my posts on my blog from 11 years ago I feel as though I’ve lost something vital to my writing because of social media services. My posts on my site resonate with me much more than my posts on Facebook do. And that’s assuming that I can even find my posts on Facebook. What I realize is that I no longer feel like a creator, I’m back to feeling like a passive user. It’s not that I don’t make things and put them on the Internet, but I don’t feel as though I own them. They don’t feel as though they are mine. I am making content that either is transitory by design in the case of microblogging, or enriching a company’s product. The feeling of ownership is a subtle and tricky idea, especially when it comes to things on the Internet, but I miss it.

So what to do? I miss the old feeling of accomplishment of making something on the web. I want to feel like a creator again so I’m coming back home. I hope to make this site my primary outlet on the web. It is a place that anyone could come across. I am able to search it for previous writing and I have total control over how it looks and how I present it. I’ll still use social media to be social. Both app.net and Facebook are great for conversations but anything I make will be here.

Here’s to my fourth relationship with the Internet, hope you’ll come along for the ride.

[mailchimpsf_form]