Tuesday, April 6, 2010

62 - Answers

Editor's Note: Tim has been very busy during this little unannounced two-month vacation from his Ask Mitssob duties. He has been filming and editing for his video production company, he's written a music video for his old band, and he's working hard on a new first draft of his novel. In short, Tim's got a lot on his plate, but that didn't stop me from sending a stern reminder that his legions of fans are eagerly awaiting their answers. He didn't believe me, but he put out these answers anyway.

Q: Bill - What's your favorite elemental?
A: The four elementals are earth, fire, water, and wind. Of the four I think that water is my favorite. I've always enjoyed spending time on the beach either swimming in the ocean or just sitting and enjoying the sights and sounds. Plus I love seafood, and seafood is impossible without water.

Of course, as a guy there's a special place in my heart for fire. But that's true of all guys.

Q: Bridget - Where and how can I get cheap plane tickets or save money on flying somewhere?
A: When I have to book travel for myself outside of work I've used Orbitz and have been pretty happy with them. I'm also a fan of the aggregator site Kayak. Finally, there's the William Shatner supported Priceline, which should earn your business for no other reason than it keeps William Shatner off the mountain.

Q (Part 1): Matt - This is going to be similar to the question I asked about the Tiger Woods saga. I haven't been paying much attention to the whole healthcare debate. Can you give me/us a brief rundown of what is being proposed, who the proposed changes will affect, and why it seems like everyone and their brother is against the legislation? Also, if you have any ideas of your own regarding what should be done, I'd be interested to hear those too.
Q (Part 2): Adam - I would also like to hear your thoughts on the health care legislation, but I would like to hear a bi-partisan version of the "overview" first. I'm not saying you'd be biased, but in the interest of education, I'd like to hear the big picture.

A: This question is the reason it's been so long between answers. Normally my editor would be providing excuses and/or insults but this time I wanted to do it myself. Every time I've sat down to answer this question I find myself going off on tangents about the nature of the American system of government, constitutional conservatism, and other lofty topics. It's taken me a long time but now I think I'm ready to provide some thoughts on this topic. It's not as complete as I'd like but it'll do for now.

Unbiased Overview

The Wall Street Journal had a good year-by-year breakdown of the healthcare bill as it currently stands, which can be found here. Another interactive guide was put together by USA Today and can be found here. Finally, the Washington Post has put together a nice "look ahead" here. Together these guides provide a better unbiased review than I could so I'll defer to them for this part of the answer.

Biased Thoughts

First, I can't speak for "everyone and their brother" on the issue of opposition to the bill. I think that the primary source of opposition to the bill is the feeling that an intrusive federal government meddling in the lives of citizens, but that's really a topic for another question and another time. Speaking for myself, the real problem that I have with Obamacare can be stated in two words: unintended consequences. The minute that the government tries to fix something that it perceives as broken there are a whole new set of problems created. I gave this example a few answers ago but I'll use it again: President George H.W. Bush increased taxes on luxury yachts as a way to tax the rich, but instead caused thousands of workers to be laid off. There are hundreds of examples like this. When the government tries to solve something it invariably creates more problems than it solves.

So what are the unintended consequences of a bill as complex and cumbersome as Obamacare? For an interesting read on just a few check out this article in Fortune Magazine. It outlines how big companies are considering dropping health coverage for employees since it'll be much cheaper to just pay the penalties. Now was this the intention of the bill? Of course not, but companies are going to act in their best interests despite the best intentions of the government. And any bill as massive as this one is going to have reams and reams o unintended consequences. I'm sure we're only just scratching the surface.

Dr. Mitssob's Solutions

Now that I've rambled a bit what would I like to see done? Below are three quick ideas I'd like to see implemented.

1. Restore the original definition of "insurance" - The basic concept of any insurance is that you pay a small amount on a periodic basis which covers you against a loss. Does that sound like health insurance to you? No, it doesn't, because "health insurance" now means "health care." An example I like to use is this: do you have insurance for the spark plugs in your car? How about for oil changes? No, of course not. Those things are to be paid for out of pocket as part of the care of your car. You have insurance for when you are involved in an accident. The term for this is catastrophic insurance. If you are in an accident the the costs of that accident are covered by your insurance. A side effect of this is that your premiums will go up because you are deemed a bigger risk. That's life. Getting back to the health side of things, if I get hit by a rental car bus on my next business trip then my insurance will pay for the costs of my hospital stay. As a result of this my insurance premiums will go up. You know what? That's also life. If you have demonstrated risk in your life then you're going to get charged more to insure your health. That's just the way that it is.

This is why the talk of "pre-existing conditions" during the debate about Obamacare made me shake my head in frustration. The rules that the government wants to put in place would let you buy insurance after you're sick, and then not have your premiums increase. That does not make sense from a business perspective. You can't buy retroactive car insurance that covers you after you've had a crash, and you can't buy homeowner's insurance while your house is on fire, so why should you be able to buy insurance after you break your leg? If you force insurance companies to do things that make no business sense then the insurance companies are going to fold. Period.

In short, pillar one of Dr. Mitssob's Healthcare Plan is to return to a normal insurance model. You want a doctor's appointment? Good for you, you get to pay money for it out of pocket. The result is that doctors will compete for your service, similar to how Jiffy Lube and Midas compete for your service when it comes to oil changes. Costs of routine visits will go down and the quality of the care will increase.

2. Leave drug companies alone - There's another side to the health care debate and that is the business side. It's very fashionable and chic to demonize and blame both insurance companies and drug companies for health care woes. Just take those "huge profits" away and life will be better for everyone, right? As I covered in a previous answer, drug companies make drugs by investing money in research and development. So where does that money come from? From selling drugs that people want. That means that erectile disfunction medication pays for research into new cures for cancer. Yes, it's a weird world, but the profit motive of the drug companies does far more good than politicians and activists do. Name me one drug that a politician created. Go ahead, I'll wait. Done? When I hear about the government wanting to cut into drug company profits or forcing drug companies to sell drugs for less I get worried. If there's no money to develop cures for cancer or new arthritis medication or whatever else we need then those drugs aren't going to get made. Think of that the next time drug company profits are mentioned.

3. Decouple insurance from employment - Want a historical example of unintended consequences? After World War II General Motors started offering health insurance as part of an employee's compensation so as to get around wage caps that the government put on companies. Eventually those wage caps went away but companies continued to offer health insurance as a perk to attract employees. What I'd like to see is a move towards an individual system. Let people purchase health insurance (or not) without input from their employers. That way when you change jobs the insurance moves with you, and employers have the burden of providing insurance to their employees removed. It's a win-win in my opinion.

So what's my final answer? Is there hope? Are we doomed? I honestly don't know. I'm lucky in my life to be healthy and have a job that provides me with good health insurance. If tomorrow I find out that I've got cancer or some other terrible disease then my insurance is going to cover me. And I'm happy about that. But that doesn't mean I'm satisfied with the health care system. I think improvements must be made but that market-based improvements are going to do a hell of a lot better than the government.

Q: Eric - I would like to hear mitssob as Glenn Beck on healthcare. Then again as Michael Moore
A: I would too. Unfortunately I don't pay enough attention to either of those personalities to properly "walk in their shoes" so to speak, nor do I have the time or desire to learn.

Q: vanessa - How many mistresses do you think will end up coming out about sleeping with Jesse James?
A: The count as of this writing is 5. They are:
- Michele "Bombshell" McGee
- Melissa Smith
- Brigitte Daguerre
- Unnamed Woman #1
- Unnamed Woman #2

The last of these was exposed (as it were) at the beginning of April. I'm tempted to say that since no others have come forward in the past two weeks that we're done with this sad, sorry story. However, these things are never over until they're over so I'll say that one more woman will be found.

Q: Sam - Why does the sun shine?
A: The sun shines because of a variety of nuclear reactions taking place in its core. These reactions are outlined quite well here and mostly involve hydrogen and helium.

In my first of two random asides, while researching this question I did what I normally do: type the question verbatim into Google and see what comes back. A few links down I found perhaps the least helpful answer I've encountered in my years of doing this exercise. [Ed: You mean other than the answers you come up with? One of these days I'm going to turn this column over to you and we'll see just how good you are at this.]:

"The Sun shines because it sends out energy in all directions as radiation. This radiation takes the form of light and heat. Almost the same amount of radiation leaves the Sun in all directions. It takes about eight minutes for the light from the Sun to travel to the Earth."

Thanks for playing, windows2universe.org.

Bill: The sun is a ball of something something gas.

The song is called "Why Does The Sun Shine?" and it begins "The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace." A full version performed by They Might Be Giants can be found by clicking on the question itself.

This answer gives me the chance to share one of the more surreal episodes in my life. The summer between Junior and Senior years of high school in New Hampshire students can apply to be part of the Advanced Studies Program at Saint Paul's School in Concord, NH. You take one "college-level" course plus a writing course. The course I chose to take was in Astronomy; at the time I was more of a science nerd than I am now and had dreams of becoming an astronomer. Anyway, one afternoon our class had to stand in front of the gathered masses in the lunch hall and sing that very song. It was, in a word, weird.

The sun is a miasma
Of incandescent plasma
The sun's not simply made out of gas
No, no, no

The sun is a quagmire
It's not made of fire
Forget what you've been told in the past

Electrons are free
A fourth state of matter
Not gas, not liquid, not solid

The sun is no red dwarf
I hope it never morphs
Into some supernova'd collapsed orb
Orb, orb, orb

The sun is a miasma
Of incandescent plasma
I forget what I was told by myself
Elf, elf, elf

Electrons are free
A fourth state of matter
Not gas, not liquid, not solid

Forget that song
They got it wrong
That thesis has been rendered invalid

Thanks, Gobe. As always a nice contribution.

Q: vanessa - Whats the difference between a waspand a hornett? Please provide pictures/links. Thank you.
A: Basically a hornet is a kind of wasp, similar to how a golden retriever is a kind of dog or a square is a kind of rectangle. More precisely a hornet is a social, nesting wasp. The main distinguishing characteristic is that a hornet constructs its nest out of wood pulp. Below are pictures of wasp and hornet respectively:

More information can be found here, here, and here.

Q: Michaele-Lynne - Cornetto
A: What is a frozen ice-cream cone brand? [Ed: When did this become Jeopardy? I'm not sure. Maybe ML mistook me for Alex Trebek. It's easy to do.]

Q: Karyn - Is there any way to get some of those (good) virtual console/wii ware games for free? Are there any that are actually worth what they charge?
A: To do the things you describe you have to hack your Wii, which is something that sounds scary but is actually pretty simple and painless. I'd been thinking about doing it for a while and I used your question as an excuse to do it this afternoon. The goal is to get the "Homebrew Channel" onto your Wii. I started with these instructions I found on my new favorite website Lifehacker. Unfortunately they didn't work for me. I have 4.2U software which for some reason didn't work with the files provided with the instructions. I ended up finding a custom version of the files through these YouTube instructions.

Once the Homebrew Channel is on your Wii there there's one more step. The Homebrew Channel runs off of an SD card. To work on the Wii the card must be formatted as FAT and have a directory called "apps". The first app you need is the Homebrew Browser put out by the good folks at CodeMii. Put it into the apps directory and run it from the Homebrew Channel to get access to all sorts of cool stuff. When you download apps they are placed on that card and you can also go get custom apps off the Internet. Once you have everything installed I recommend reading this article for some tips and tricks about what to do with your newly-hacked Wii. For example, to run emulated games (which is all the Wii's Virtual Console is) you just download an emulator and put the ROM for the game onto that SD card.

As for the last part of your question I can't say whether any of the old games are worth the cost since I haven't bought any yet. Partly this is because I'm a cheapskate but it's also because I have a backlog of actual Wii and GameCube games I'm working through. In the Wii-Ware realm I have played a trivia game and a beer-pong game over at Bill's place and they're pretty entertaining and probably worth the few bucks they cost.

Q: Phil - Will it snow again in Potsdam before graduation this year?
A: Yes. There is typically a spring snowstorm in Potsdam and this year will not be an exception.

Q: Todd Nielson - What do you use to get something you post to, say, Twitter, and have it show up on Facebook, too?
A: I haven't done this in a while, but if I remember correctly it involves linking your Twitter account in Facebook. Check this link for instructions on how to do that. I had the two sites linked for a while but ended up disconnecting them since they serve two different purposes in my life.