Friday, March 27, 2015

The sick health care market

Here's a great reminder that the health care market is not very comparable to traditional markets:

The charge for a lipid panel ranged from $10 to $10,169. Hospital prices for a basic metabolic panel (which doctors use to measure the body's metabolism) were $35 at one facility — and $7,303 at another ... Hsia's previous research looked at the cost of an appendectomy in California and found similarly gigantic variation. For an appendectomy with no complications, she found that hospitals in the state would charge anywhere between $1,529 and $186,955.

Different grocery stores tend to charge different prices for my favorite Haagen Dazs ice cream (chocolate chocolate chip). But the price varies from about $4 a pint to $5 a pint, not $4 to $4000. And if there was such a difference, I would be able to easily tell because the price would be indicated on the product before I bought it. And unlike an appendectomy, I could choose not to purchase it and still go about my day not dying, despite what my stomach is telling me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nashville's traffic problem

If there's a hell it will probably feature me sitting in traffic for eternity. It's personally soul-crushing, economically annoying, and environmentally unhealthy. Nashville isn't the worst city for traffic, but it's bad. And expecting population growth to continue, the problem seems to be destined to get worse in the coming years. The city's mayoral candidates at least acknowledge there's a problem, but offer few potential solutions. Here's a few could help a bit:

Mayoral candidate Linda Eskind Rebrovick, a former business executive, has discussed practical measures like the installation of real-time adaptive sensors on traffic lights that respond to sensors on roadways to trigger them to green or red. She suggested the city could also offer new cell phone apps to direct drivers to available parking downtown and elsewhere.

You might have noticed that app idea from somewhere:

Knew I should have trademarked that. the traffic light sensors aren't already a thing is beyond me. Sitting at a light while there is no one coming the other way is a waste. So that could help a bit with congestion. The parking meters should help with that too, though I'm not sure there's enough supply to meet demand. Either that or it's just price gouging.

The rest of that article is light on actual proposals. Here's David Fox:

"Just think how awesome it would be to have a light-rail system where you could come in from Williamson County or Rutherford County and go to downtown on existing right-of-ways that are already there?" Fox said. "You don't have to fight these legal battles to get the property."

Sounds nice, but expensive. And good luck with getting the funds and the political support need to do it (see Amp's failure). Even if you could fund something like that I'm not sure how far it would go in solving the problem. There would still be the massive number of people who live in Davidson who drive on the ridiculous interstates, which seem inherently inefficient. Everything merges into everything else with very few lanes devoted to the merges. It's not like you can just add lanes or tear it up and start over again, at least not on the cheap. Assuming light-rail isn't very realistic, the main arteries flowing into the heart seem mostly clogged without relief.

So without a clear way to relieve congestion with the current number of cars on the road, it seems the only way to make improvements is to cut down on the number of cars on the road. Increasing the routes and efficiency of the existing public transit seem like very minor improvements. Busses can only hold so many people. And I doubt they could reach the suburbs cost efficiently, even if people wanted to abandon the cars they're paying loans on.

Where bus improvements could matter is in the downtown area and it's immediate surroundings. Being more densely populated, it's easier to get around without a car and more efficient for busses to have to travel over shorter distances. The problem is that it's really expensive to live in these areas. The difference in expense could be mitigated by not having a car note and the gas bills that go with it. But renting/purchasing an apartment or house in this area imposes huge up front costs that many people can't afford. So while in the long run it might be a wash or cheaper to pay $1200 a month to live downtown without a car compared to $800 a month in the suburbs, it the short run it's more expensive to pay first and last month's rent and a security deposit. It's just really difficult to save up enough to afford those up front costs (That's why people opt for the iPhone plans that are more expensive in the long run but have less up front cost).

As with many cities, the rent is too damn high. Building bigger complexes instead of these smaller luxury ones that only trust funders can afford would help keep prices down and encourage more people to move out of the suburbs and use their cars less. If there's a better way to solve the traffic problem than getting more people to live closer to the city I'd love to hear it. In fact, it's one of the main issues I'll be considering when it comes time to vote for Nashville mayor.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Greatest QBs of all time

Inspired by this post at Football Perspective: Wanted to post it here because for some reason I can't submit a comment on the site. I'll probably go into more detail on each one in a bit. But I posted some of my overall thought process below.

1. Dan Marino
2. Peyton Manning
3. Brett Favre
4. Fran Tarkenton
5. Johnny Unitas
6. Steve Young
7. Joe Montana
8. Tom Brady
9. Dan Fouts
10. Ken Anderson
11. Roger Staubach
12. Sid Luckman
13. Sammy Baugh
14. Len Dawson
15. Aaron Rodgers
16. Sonny Jurgensen
17. Norm Van Brocklin
18. Otto Graham
19. YA Tittle
20. John Elway
21. Drew Brees
22. Joe Namath
23. Boomer Esiason
24. Kurt Warner
25. Terry Bradshaw

My baseline was Chase's posts ranking QBs. Quantifiable production is very important (though not something like wins or rings, obviously). And since I'm not terribly old I have to trust era adjustments for the QBs I never got to see. From there I moved guys up and down based on my knowledge of who they played with and what system they played in. For instance, I dock Montana and Young a bit for getting to play in an innovative offense and a lot of talent around them. In relation to that, as kind of a way to split hairs, I like to do a thought experiment where I take X QB and place him on an average or even a bad offense (system and talent). How would X QB play? Marino is #1 because along with his production, I think you could put him in any offense and he'd produce. He's just slightly above Manning because I think he's physically more able to produce in any offense, and he played with what I think is less talent than Manning. My big outlier is Aaron Rodgers. He doesn't have the overall production yet. But with his overall skill set I think he could play anywhere at anytime.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yes, I am alive

I haven't posted anything basically since I got a new job almost a year ago. That's mostly because the job has kept me busy. But it's also because it's not always wise to post political opinions to the public while holding a job in politics.

But I figured I'd break my silence today and encourage everyone to vote. Don't fall trap to thinking only the president matters. The president can't do much without Congress. And now that Republicans will probably take control of the Senate, not much will get done at all at the federal level. At the state level, it's important to vote as well because state legislatures and governors can do some crazy, harmful stuff. So please help mitigate the damage and vote.

I also wanted to post because I realized that I hadn't commented (aside from Twitter) on the big Batman news of the past year. That, of course, is the fact that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the movie "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice". It will be a follow up to Man of Steel, which I mostly enjoyed. And Batman will be an older version, at least loosely based on the type of Batman in the comic "The Dark Knight Returns". The movie will also feature in some manner Wonder Woman and Aquaman and will be directed by Man of Steel director Zack Snyder.

Everyone who knows I'm a Batman fan has asked what I think of the choice of Ben Affleck to play the Caped Crusader. I don't have a problem with Affleck. He's got a good look for both Bruce and Batman. He showed in Gone Girl that he can be dark and brood, which is key to playing Batman/Bruce. I'm not really concerned about Affleck being able to handle the role. I'm pretty confident he can.

I'm concerned about the script. Because that will ultimately determine how good this incarnation of Batman will be. Snyder will likely make a visually interesting movie. But it's up in the air as to whether the script will come through and give Affleck anything to work with. If they tell an interesting story with interesting characters it will all work out. It'll be a long wait until 2016.

Don't make Batman sad. Go vote.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My annual "What's wrong with Duke?" post

I could just repost every Duke post I've ever written as an explanation for why they lost just about any game. Coach K has the same issues every year. For all his greatness, he has several blind spots that get exposed by good teams or bad match-ups. Their two losses this year haven't been bad losses like we've seen in the past. And the team is built a bit differently than most recent Duke teams. But even their wins have exposed some serious problems for this team. In short, Coach K doesn't value rebounding enough and falls in love with his "scorers" even when they aren't shooting well. Let's look at the 3 close games they've played so far to see how this plays out.

First, the way this team is different than previous years is that Duke finally has not just one, but two very talented small forwards in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. This position has been a black hole for production recently. So Coach K is justifiably excited about those two guys and wants to play them together as much as possible. That's smart. But he's putting them at the wrong positions when they play together. Parker tops out at probably 6'9 and isn't very wide or muscular. Hood is about the same size, but probably a bit thinner and not was wide.

They are fairly prototypical small forwards. But Coach K puts Parker at power forward and Hood at small forward instead of Parker at small forward and Hood at a shooting guard. This forces Parker to play more around the basket than what is probably natural for him. He's talented enough to do it offensively, though posting him up in order to get him the ball slows down the offense. Defensively he can hold his own at times. But he has trouble moving bigger guys around, instead relying on his athleticism to make up for it. Why is this a problem?

Duke is 211th out of 351 in total points given up per game. That's terrible regardless of what pace the offense is playing, which is probably pretty fast considering they are 19th in total points scored per game. They gave up 90 points to Vermont at home. That shouldn't happen, even against good teams. Vermont only made 4 threes and shot 30% from three. But they shot 75% on 2 point FGs. It wasn't a rebounding problem. They just flat out couldn't stay in front of the ball and keep them from getting good shots. Kansas shot 56% overall and out-rebounded them 36 to 21. Duke's two big men combined for 3 rebounds in 54 minutes. And that's their only role on the team, to play defense and rebound. The only legitimate center on the team, Marshall Plumlee played 3 minutes. He played only 1 minute against Arizona last night. And to my knowledge he is healthy. So I have no idea why he doesn't play more.

Consider the Arizona game last night. Hairston and Jefferson, Duke's "big men", got a combined 7 rebounds in 39 minutes. Arizona's Aaron Gordon had as many rebounds in 8 fewer minutes. I'm focusing on rebounding because while we don't do a great job of guarding the ball, we are only allowing teams to shoot 45% against us, 27% from 3. So aside from Vermont, it's not like every team is getting layups against the defense. The problem is that we are 294th in total rebounds. So when the other team misses a shot on offense, we aren't getting the rebound often enough, thus giving them another opportunity to score. And when we miss a shot on offense, we are letting them get the ball too often, thus giving them more opportunities to score.

When the offense is playing well this isn't a big deal. But when we aren't scoring well it makes it even harder on the offense because they aren't going to get the ball as often as they should in order to make up for inefficient shooting. And that brings me to Coach K's other flaw aside from not valuing rebounding enough, and that's deference to the "scorer". Jabari Parker is this year's "scorer". He's the Kobe Bryant of the team. He can "create his own shot". The problem with this traditional thinking is that it often ignores how efficiently the "scorer" is shooting. Michael Jordan wasn't a great offensive player because he took a ton of shots like Kobe or Carmelo Anthony do. He was great because he made half the shots he took, whereas guys like Kobe and Melo only make about 45% of their shots.

When Parker is playing well offensively he can be efficient. But being a freshman, he doesn't always have good shot selection, forcing up difficult shots that will likely not go in and end up in the hands of the other team. When Coach K lets Parker take inefficient shots he is not only making it harder on the defense because of the other team getting the ball without us gaining points, he's taking away shots from other players. And when Rodney Hood is on your team, it's a bad thing when he isn't allowed to take a more efficient shot than the ones you're letting another player take. Hood is shooting 62% on the year. That's insane, especially considering he takes almost 3 three-pointers per game, of which he's making an insane 63% of. Hood shoots that well in part because he's good at driving and getting a shot close to the basket, which is the most efficient shot on the court, depending on how well you can shoot the 3. He can do this because he's more athletic and stronger than many of the players defending him. So when Parker isn't shooting well or taking bad shots, it's not like Coach K doesn't have other options.

So what should Coach K do different in order to avoid the problems the team has had so far? The thing he has the most control over is who is on the court and at what time they're there. I think Marshall Plumlee has to play more, assuming he's healthy. He isn't as athletic and strong as his brothers were. But he's very tall. And while you don't have to be really tall (in relative basketball terms) to rebound well, it certainly helps. It's worth a try considering Hairston and Jefferson hasn't shown the ability to do it. Though, while I don't love those two players, I would still play them a significant amount of time, but mostly at their more natural power forward position instead of at center. At PF they won't be at as many size disadvantages as they are at center. If for some reason Plumlee just sucks, then I'd play Hairston and Jefferson at the same time more often, placing more emphasis on rebounding instead of playing so many guards and small forwards at one time.

This would allow Parker to move to his natural small forward position and Hood to shooting guard when he'd have an even bigger advantage than he does at SF. This would also keep the very inconsistent Sulaimon and Thorton off the floor more often. Neither has a consistent shot and I don't think they're that good defensively. So my main players who get full time minutes would still be Parker, Hood and Cook. But I'd give Plumlee at least 20 minutes a game (more depending on how well he plays) and I'd cut down on Sulaimon and Thorton's minutes. I think this would directly improve our rebounding (it can't get much worse) and overall defense and indirectly improve the offense by giving it more opportunities to hopefully not let Parker jack up bad shots.

But if Coach K doesn't do this or figure something else out this team will continue to struggle against both good overall teams and teams that can rebound well. And that will lead to another good but disappointing season for Duke, one which largely wastes the talent of a very good player in Jabari Parker. The weird thing is, Coach K should have already learned this lesson when, during the middle of the season, he started playing the 7 foot Brian Zoubek more. Once Zoubek got more playing time the team immediately began playing well and rode it all the way to the national title. I'm not sure Marshall Plumlee is as good as Zoubek. But we won't know until he actually plays.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Contraception coverage will go to Supreme Court

I've been retweeting some good questions that news of the SC deciding to hear a case about mandated contraception coverage by employer-provided health insurance. The basic story is that a corporation like Hobby Lobby thinks it's a violation of its religious freedom to have to provide contraception in the health insurance they give their employees. The questions I've been retweeting deal with what could happen if the court agrees with Hobby Lobby and lets any corporation do whatever they want based on their religious beliefs:

We could go on and on with these types of questions. And that's because you can claim anything is your "religious belief" and try to claim protection for implementing that belief under the 1st Amendment. I somewhat jokingly tweeting that it's my religious belief that incomes over $1 million shouldn't pay under 60% in income taxes. Seriously though, why isn't that a "religious belief" in the same way Hobby Lobby is claiming opposing contraception is their "religious belief"?

The pope actually wrote recently about how the rising inequality being fostered by economies around the world is bad and that we should be doing more to help the poor. So if I were still catholic (or even if I'm not), couldn't I legitimately claim that my religion dictates that high incomes can't be taxed below a certain level because God mandates that we have to give X amount to the poor?

I doubt the court will address the question of what dictates a religious belief and what doesn't. It will probably just address whether a corporation is entitled to the same 1st Amendment religious protections as an individual. And even though many of the conservatives on this court are Tea Partiers in disguise, I think at least Kennedy and the liberals will rule that corporations don't get 1st Amendment religious protection. It's uncertain, though. And that's scary because if the court rules in favor of the likes of Hobby Lobby it could have huge ramifications for a number of issues and the sanctity of the 1st Amendment.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Being a man and being a feminist

Ta-Nehisi Coates had a typically great post about the appropriateness of certain words. For the most part he talks about the word "nigger". I don't have anything to add to that discussion. But TNC mentions the word "feminism" in the post and then addresses it more at length in the comments:

To pick this up, I have no issue with the word "feminist." I think people who try to get cute and pretend that if we invented a new word, sexism would be easier to confront are delusional. Feminism has the connotations it has because it is a movement opposed to people with power. This is not a naming issue.

But I also think it's important for people to have a space of their own. I don't really have to be in that same space to agree and sympathize with the movement. Susan B. Anthony and Ida Wells are heroic to me. I'm suspicious of a need to obviate the differences in who we are in order for me to say that.

And those differences are important. If I am honest, I must admit that a significant portion of my brain is on "How you doin...." time. A good part of my work in attempting to be an honorable person is making sure I don't interact with women from that space--that I see everyone as whole and complete human beings, not simply as attractive bodies. That's my fight. It's part of who I am. It feels somehow false to stand in a space and speak on my belief in liberation, while half of my brain is...what, shall we say, carnal?

I don't think women should have to deal with that. And maybe, more honestly, I don't want have to deal with that. I know my heart. It is not clean. There something about calling myself a "feminist" that feels mad self-congratulatory. Truthfully, whenever I see heterosexual male writes calling themselves "male feminists" alarm bells go off. That may not be fair. I don't know. I know dudes. I know what I am.

My support for reproductive rights really comes out of that knowledge. It comes from knowing my own impulses and imagining what I might do if there were no break on those impulses. I don't know much about intersectionality. But I believe empowered women--actually empowered, not "strong women" cliches--are essential to a democracy. I'm sympathetic to feminism, not out of any bleeding heart sentimentalism, but because I think that it is imperative that women have power to protect themselves from men. And I don't just mean "those men over there." I'm a man. I am part of what women need protection from. Given absolute power, I have no idea what I would do. Calling myself a "feminist," just feels pretending away something that is very real.

Women should have spaces where they are free of my BS. I don't need to be everywhere to be in sympathy.

That's where my brain is as well. The impulse seems natural. How we choose to act seems very socialized. Whatever guys want to call themselves, it's on us to not define women purely sexually. It's a battle. But it's one that can and should be won.