Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bipartisanship should be an effect, not a cause

Matt Yglesias got me thinking about this fascination with "bipartisanship".

Apparently, Congress and pundits favor "bipartisan" legislation, that is, bills you can get members of both parties to sign on to. Rhetorically I ask, but why? Surely we can all dispense with the naïve notion that the best solution, or the one most desired by the people, lies at the mean between the party positions. There are at least three reasons off the top of my head proving the preposterousness of that notion, and you can probably come up with more than me.

Really, bipartisanship is supposed to be a reflection of the value of a bill. The bill's not good because it's bipartisan; rather, the bill's inherently good, so good that people want to publicly support it, even if it's not what their party came up with. A bill might be bipartisan because a priori it's good.

Lack of bipartisanship is generally framed as a negative for the bill's originator: "Obama has failed to deliver on the promise of bipartisanship for his agenda." But there's a perfectly good converse view. If a bill's good, or popular -- the health care public option, for example -- opponents of the bill would be right to fear the lack of bipartisanship. If they're too dumb or stubborn to back what's good, then they're useless to their constituents.

An agenda setter should put good legislation out there, with no compromises solely to garner support from across the aisle. If it's good enough, and popular enough, then all the Congresscritters in vulnerable seats are under pressure to back it. Bipartisanship is an indicator that the bill was good in the first place; but it is only a correlated side-effect, not a necessary (or sufficient) condition for good legislation.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mystery photo entertainment

From Picasa

What's going on here?

Field Trip Friday

Katherine came for a visit and so I took Friday off from work and we went to see the butterfly exhibit at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. It was awesome. So many cool butterflies. The day was stiflingly hot, but the gardens were still pretty.

Monday, June 22, 2009

TNC cannot stop talking about slavery

If you read only 200 things Ta-Nehisi Coates writes this year, this should be one of them. Also, you will only have read about a fifth of the great stuff he writes.

Insightful, as always, but I don't think TNC is quite right here. Or perhaps he is overall, but some nuance is in order.

Specifically, I think there's a historical line that goes like TNC says "We tend to think", namely that slavery was kind of this regrettable cruelty that the world in general was tolerant of, until we got civilized and disavowed it.

But there is at least an acknowledgment, in the historical line I was taught, that America (like always) was exceptional. That line says, what with the explosion of cotton (which Eli Whitney's invention contributed to), the economy of the South became completely dependent on slavery as an economic fuel, kind of like we talk about being dependent on oil today. And that dependence shifted the culture, both toward a vigorous defense of the economic interests in slavery and toward dehumanization of slaves on a scale and to a degree beyond whatever the barbaric practices of yesteryear had been.

But that's just my impression from my history classes. I'm not sure there's a shared "American" conventional point of view on this.

Where I feel TNC has it right is that "we have never grappled with this," `this' being that most of the culture of America is formed from the fractious and unresolved shards that remain from centuries of dehumanizing black people, and the struggles both violent and nonviolent to erode and destroy them.

Again, referring to my own education, the mythology of America is the "melting pot" notion of disparate cultures coming together and peacefully sharing the opportunities of a new land. But this, it seems to me, is a gloss, a "and they all lived happily ever after" resolution of the unresolved issue that defines America. We (which of course is not really "we", since we weren't there, but the imagined "we" of this country) invented a new kind of racism, and have never been able to put that dire genie back into the bottle.

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Opinion and Policy on Gay Rights

There's a great chart displayed over at fivethirtyeight.com with public opinion on various gay rights questions by state, including whether those policies are actually adopted as law in those states. The original PDF is available here.

I'm struck by how consistent the popularity ranking of the issues is across states. With a few quibbly exceptions, from most popular support to least the issues are:

  1. housing antidiscrimination

  2. hate crimes protection

  3. job antidiscrimination

  4. health benefits for same-sex partners

  5. civil unions

  6. 2nd parent adoption for same-sex couples

  7. same-sex marriage

It's also interesting, but not surprising, to see that adoption of these policies is not nearly as widespread as their popularity. The most widespread policy by far is hate crimes protection, which is the unsurprising one. But there is no state that offers housing antidiscrimination (super-popular) that does not also offer jobs antidiscrimination (third most popular) AND the far less popular 2nd parent adoption -- 20 states have all three of those. Seven of those 20 states that provide those three do NOT provide health benefits for same-sex partners, even though it's much more popular than 2nd parent adoption.

I wonder if adoption policy has sort of gone "under the radar" and the decisions have been made based on what's best for adopted children, rather than traditional family stereotypes. I also wonder if partner health benefits might have a lot of "bang for the buck" in the sense of being politically achievable in the short term, and really improving the lives of many couples.

Provoke your thoughts -- about health care

This has been recommended by a bunch of bloggy people and eventually I broke down and read it:

Annals of Medicine: The Cost Conundrum: newyorker.com
(Shared via AddThis)

It is definitely worth reading and thinking about. And analogizing to, say, education.

The question it provoked most in me is, well, the question of capitalism. Go read it, and tell me if you think he's sort of saying "to get good, cheap health care, we need to reward doctors for acting in non-profit-seeking ways." How does that work, exactly? Do you reward them with money? Is he saying that we need doctors to not act in their own self-interest -- to be suckers? Or that the free market is not a good system for health care?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Secret Compartments

These are a couple of pictures of our most recent basement demolition. The wall at the front of the house was actually wood paneling over a rather nicer paneling, which had some built-in shelves. The open area at ground level is the access to the main water line. The open area next to the small shelf is -- I dunno. Maybe a window to the view of the brick wall?

Animation: Why Americans Need Health Reform

Short, cute, educational! Go watch this!

Animation: Why Americans Need Health Reform

Note: "health reform" isn't about changing health care practices; they mean changing how health care gets paid for.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cucumber Festival

It was a muggy day, but the Farmers Market was packed. There was a cucumber festival today. We didn't hang around for the cucumber eating contest, but I will stage my own at home. I planning on making some bread and butter pickles today.

In other news, my tomato seedlings had survived and are finally starting to flower. I may get a tomato yet. Note to self: start seeds in January next year!

UPDATE: Amy's cucumber won the costume contest! Very exciting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Click-throughs guaranteed!

How agency will protect consumers | Marketplace From American Public Media:

"HOBSON: Well, one administration official I spoke to today said there will still be fine print. But it'll be the kind of thing like on the Internet when you click the box that says, 'I agree to the terms and conditions,' and you click 'OK.' It will actually be OK, you won't have to worry that something in the fine print will trap you down the road."

I think (and hope) that Jeremy Hobson of Marketplace didn't intend this to mean what it sounds like. To me, it sounds like he's asserting that click-through agreements are nothing to worry about, that clicking the "OK" button will actually be OK. If there's a consumer protection agency vetting the click-through agreements, please let me know!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

California Adventure

Bob and I just returned from visiting Sarah and David in Fullerton. We had a great time. Highlights include a scavenger hunt on Hollywood Boulevard, dinner at Lance and Gordon's (forgot to take pictures), trip to the Getty Center, and a trip to San Diego to visit the Wildlife Park and the zoo. I separated out the pictures from the zoo.