Sunday, September 23, 2007

Big Changes

After two years and change, the weaning process has finally - finally - begun. (I don't say that with any impatience. I'm just stunned that she's still BFing him. Although it's just before sleep and during the night, she's still keeping at it.) He's getting cow's milk now before his nap and before bedtime, and the only time he nurses is in the middle of the night. I think even that's cut down to once or twice, and I think she's hoping that her milk will just go away.

The first couple of times when he had cow's milk at night, Mrs. B explained that her breast milk (she uses the euphemistic and onomatopoeic term "nummies") was going away soon. Then, every night for a week, he'd take his sippy cup of milk and repeat, "nummies going 'way!" Which would bring tears to her eyes, every time.

We're also transitioning away from the goddamn red balance ball, after seventy gazillion years. Gaah! He's got the big boy bed, but we've still been bouncing him to sleep by cradling him in our arms and bouncing up and down on the Balance Ball of Despair. I've been waiting anxiously for this moment for a long, long time. Too long. Forever, perhaps.

So about two weeks ago, we started changing the routine. It happened by accident, and then suddenly it was just our routine. Now we lay down next to him on his bed and after fifteen or twenty minutes of thrashing and jabbering, he just drops off to sleep. It seems so dignified. It seems so easy. Like, why didn't we think of this eons ago?

And yet, still somehow I'm sad to see it go. It's all big changes right now, the end of several eras all at once. The kid's growing up, right before our eyes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Clinton and Edwards on Health Care

So I've skimmed Hillary Clinton's health care plan and I've skimmed John Edwards' plan. I'm not an expert on this issue, so I'm not going to pretend that I'm analyzing every single point. What I've done below is to pick out several important differences and highlight them. It should be fairly clear where my loyalties lie by the end.

It's important that both of these proposals are just that - proposals. None of the current proposals are binding in any way, but they can be legitimately seen as statements of principle - where a candidate takes a stand and where they waffle or compromise.


There's several significant differences in the plans. You can start with the titles of the plans. Clinton's plan is titled the "American Health Choices Plan: Quality, Affordable Health Care for Every American." The emphasis seems here to be on choice, and rather than use the phrase "universal health care," she uses the awkward phrase "quality, affordable health care for every American." The difference is significant.

The document outlining Edwards' plan is titled "Universal Health Care Through Shared Responsibility." He pointedly uses this quote to introduce the plan:
“We have to stop using words like ‘access to health care’ when we know with certainty those words mean something less than universal care. Who are you willing to leave behind without the care he needs? Which family? Which child? We need a truly universal solution, and we need it now.”
Expanding Government Plans

Edwards' plan relies on an expansion of government plans that already cover millions of Americans: Medicaid and SCHIP.

Edwards' Plan: Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) play essential roles in helping low-income Americans getting the health care they need.

Edwards will strengthen the federal partnership with states supporting these programs, committing the necessary federal resources to allow states to expand Medicaid and SCHIP to serve all adults under the poverty line and all children and parents under 250 percent of the poverty line (about $50,000 for a family of four).

Edwards' approach calls for a new "public insurance plan modeled after Medicare, but separate and apart from it. Families and individuals will choose the plan that works best for them. This American solution will reward the sector that offers the best care at the best price. Over time, the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan."

Clinton's plan offers no significant expansion of health care plans. The only concession is a vague line "fixing the holes in the safety net to ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive affordable, quality care." While this may result in expansion of coverage, she does not use that term and I will also not use the term in regard to her proposal.

In the Clinton plan, government's primary responsibility is not to offer expanded health care coverage, but to 'ensure' that private health care is kept affordable and to "implement reforms to improve quality and lower cost." Again, they're supposed to lower cost on private health care plans, not expand the plans that currently exist.

Clinton's plan:
will ensure that health insurance is always affordable and never a crushing burden on any family and will implement reforms to improve quality and lower cost.

At one point, Clinton does seem to offer an expansion of coverage - or rather, the creation of a new health care plan, similar to Edwards' plan, that is not Medicare. Individuals will be offered the option of keeping their health care coverage or choosing from a list of private health care options modeled after Congress' current options for health care. She makes no mention of an eventual goal of single-payer coverage. The term "single-payer" appears nowhere in her plan.

[...]the Health Choices Menu will also provide Americans with a choice of a public plan option, which could be modeled on the traditional Medicare program, but would cover the same benefits as guaranteed in private plan options in the Health Choices Menu without creating a new bureaucracy. The alternative will compete on a level playing field with traditional private insurance plans. It will provide a more affordable option, in part through greater administrative savings. It will not be funded through the Medicare trust fund.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Both plans appear to ban discrimination for pre-existing conditions.

Edwards' plan: Edwards will require insurers to keep plans open to everyone and charge fair premiums, regardless of preexisting conditions, medical history, age, job, and other characteristics. No longer will insurance companies be able to game the system to cover only healthy people. Several states – including New Jersey, New York, and Washington – have led the way on similar community rating and guaranteed issue reforms. In addition, new national standards will ensure that all health insurance policies offer preventive and chronic care with minimal cost-sharing.

Clinton's plan
: By creating a level-playing field of insurance rules across states and markets, the plan ensures that no American is denied coverage, refused renewal, unfairly priced out of the market, or forced to pay excessive insurance company premiums.

Sticks and Carrots for Business

The Clinton plan offers tax incentives for small businesses. By offering a number of schemes to trim bureaucracy and create health are efficiencies, she suggests that she can make health care more affordable and more efficient. She proposes this as an incentive for businesses to offer health care for their employees.

In return, large employers will be expected to provide health insurance to their employees or make some contribution to the cost of coverage.

"Some contribution" is a meaningless term. Similarly, Clinton does not explain whether employers would be offering subsidies to their employees to buy private health care coverage, or whether they would be recompensating the government for the cost of providing health care for their employees. There is an important and frustrating lack of specificity here.

Edwards' plan: Businesses have a responsibility to support their employees’ health. They will be required to either provide a comprehensive health plan to their employees or to contribute to the cost of covering them through Health Care Markets. In return, the Edwards plan will make it easier for businesses to offer insurance by reducing costs and creating new choices. Covering all Americans will eliminate the cost of uncompensated care. Businesses can also choose to purchase care through Health Care Markets, which will offer quality plans at low prices and with minimal administrative burdens.

The approach is similar, but Edwards is more clear about what businesses' obligation will be if they do not offer health care for their employees.

Individual Tax Credits to Buy Coverage

Both candidates offer tax credits to help individuals pay for health care coverage. The tax credits would be refundable. The Clinton plan would index tax credits to ensure that "health premiums never rise above a certain percentage of family income. The tax credit will be indexed over time, and designed to maintain consumer price consciousness in choosing health plans, even for those who reach the percentage of income limit." The Edwards plan would offer tax credits on "on a sliding scale to middle class families and refundable to help families without income tax liability." The approaches are nearly identical.

The Mandate

I've seen more than one person say that Clinton's and Edwards' approaches are similar in that they would both require individuals to carry coverage. Indeed, Clinton's plan would require individuals to carry health care insurance.

Individuals: will be responsible for getting and keeping insurance in a system where insurance is affordable and accessible.

And ditto Edwards.

Once insurance is affordable, everyone will be expected to take responsibility for themselves and their families by obtaining health coverage.

So are the two mandates identical? Hardly. Edwards mentions a mandate at the end of a long list of goals for improving health, which include:

First: Business Responsibility.
Second: Government Responsibility.

• Offer New Health Insurance Tax Credits

• Expand Medicaid and SCHIP

• Require Fair Terms for Health Insurance

• Secure the Health Care Safety Net

Third: New Health Care Markets.

Only after all of the previous steps are achieved does he call for a mandate to carry health care coverage. He makes it clear that individuals can only be required to insure themselves after the market is made more fair and more affordable and new plans are offered by the federal government.


Edwards proposes to cover every American by 2012. Clinton does not include a timeline in her plan, but has said publicly that she hopes to implement her plan by the end of her first term - 2012. She does not say whether every American will be covered by then, or if the plan will merely be in place by then.

There's lots more here than my tired brain can cover. Go look at the plans yourself. Clinton's is here. Edwards' is here. Make up your own mind. But as for me, I prefer Edwards' approach. He is unafraid to call for an expansion of government plans, and he clearly aspires for single-payer coverage. Indeed, his plan deliberately puts public and private plans against each other, with the expectation that more people will eventually choose public plans if given a fair choice on a level playing field. It's a smart idea - allowing the public to lead themselves toward universal single-payer coverage.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yes, You're a Nerd, but What Type?

I didn't realize it was possible to calibrate the type of nerd you were. But the numbers don't lie.

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Social Nerd

You're interested in things such as politics, psychology, child care, and peace. I wouldn't go so far as to call you a hippie, but some of you may be tree-huggers. You're the type of people who are interested in bettering the world. You're possible the least nerdy of them all; unless you participate in other activies that paled your nerdiness compared to your involvement in social activities. Whatever the case, we could still use more of you around. ^_^

Drama Nerd
Literature Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Anime Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Even More Dopey Internet Quizzes

Friday, September 14, 2007

Little Car, We Hardly Knew Ye

The Damage Done
Originally uploaded by Sky Bluesky
The little car is dead.

Our little green Ford Escort (what Oliver calls the "little car", to distinguish it from our "big car" Scion xB) got hit while it was parked in front of our house. The person who hit it was blinded by the sun, and literally never saw our car before he ran into it.

Thankfully, after the accident, he came right to our front door, apologized, and gave us his insurance info without hestiation. (Kudos for him for his top-notch behavior. But next time, wear some sunglasses when the sun's out.)

This doesn't look like a lot of damage, but it was done to a twelve-year-old Escort. The repairs would exceed the market value of our car, so his insurance company totaled it. We're getting a check for $2000 and change, and tomorrow we're going out to look for a replacement car. But I'll miss the little beast.

This was the car we used to drive Oliver home from the hospital.

This was the car I used to shuttle dozens of people to Olympia to lobby their elected representatives. It drove hundreds and hundreds of miles around King and Snohomish County for events, rallies, protests, and visits in living rooms and coffee houses.

This was my little go-getter car. For a while, it was our big car, our only four-door vehicle, and the one that Oliver would travel in. It was the car we took on our honeymoon in 2002 down the Oregon coast. It was our #1 car for years until we finally traded in our #2 car (bizarrely, it was another '95 Ford Escort) for a Toyota Scion xB.

And I still drove it when I had to use a car for work. I drove it to four visits to donors in the last month. I drove it and drove it, and I always said I would keep driving it until the wheels fell off. I guess I was close.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Lucifer Effect

Mirrored sunglasses.

Billy clubs.

Surplus army uniforms.

That's all it takes to turn a "normal," healthy college kid into a marauding warrior, an intimidator, a menacing figure that strikes fear into the prisoners he guards.

Who were also college kids.

It doesn't take much to tip the average human over from sensitive to insensitive, from feeling to unfeeling, from human to ... no longer human.

I just finished reading The Lucifer Effect by Phil Zimbardo. Zimbardo was the man who designed the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, during which two dozen Stanford students were divided into groups of "prisoners" and "guards" - selected by random - and installed in a makeshift prison. The experiment was scheduled to last for two weeks. Just two weeks. But after six days, the "experiment" had turned into chaos.

Guards tortured their prisoners, forced them to do humiliating and demeaning exercises, threw them into solitary confinement for arbitrary reasons, did everything they could do to crush the spirits of their captives.

The prisoners resisted, fought, attempted to escape, mounted hunger strikes and civil disobedience, went mad, sunk into dangerous depression, and convinced themselves they would never be released. Some were released for their own protection, for the sake of their rapidly deteriorating health - after two days. The remaining prisoners - fueled on their own paranoia and fueled by the behavior of the guards and the prison's "supervisors" - decided that the experiment was real, that they were prisoners in a genuine prison, not college students being paid $15 per day to participate in an experiment.

Everyone - the guards, the prisoners, the psychologists who videotaped and recorded and watched the "prison" - went mad.

The experiment lasted for just six days. Finally, someone - someone who had not been part of it, had not been watching and soaking in the toxic atmosphere, someone who had fresh eyes and could see clearly what was happening - blew the whistle. Christina Maslach, a graduate student (who went on to marry Zimbardo), surprised herself by insisting that the experiment was not an experiment, was not in fact moral. It was a torture chamber that had to be shut down.

Zimbardo takes the lessons learned - including his own complicity in the events of the Stanford Prison Experiment - and explores how ordinary men can turn evil, given the right circumstances and the right supervision - or lack thereof. He sees parallels in the experiment, conducted in 1971, and the recent revelations of torture, abuse, and even homicide in the Abu Ghraib Prison. In both places, a lack of responsible supervision, dehumanization of both the guards and the prisoners, and an overall atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness inspired the abuses. Evil, postulates Zimbardo, is not something that only happens to certain "bad apples." Evil can happen to any of us. Anyone can turn, given the right combination of circumstances and inner makeup. It's not about bad apples, it's about bad barrels that rot the apples within.

But the converse of this is what gives us all hope. "The banality of heroism" is a true corollary to the much-discussed banality of evil. Just as anyone can sink into the depths of madness, tormenting and dehumanizing his fellow man, anyone can rise to become a hero - one who can cry for fairness and justice, despite the behavior of those around him. Anyone can become a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Joe Darby. We just need the right combination of circumstances and inner makeup. The right stuff, as it were, combined with the right opportunity to rise. We can all be heroes.

These issues - the nature of evil - is something that's fascinated me since I was in college. One of these days, I'll share the story of how it all started. But I've been reading books like this for a very long time - about evil, about Nazi psychology, about war and the warrior mentality, about the darkness that lives in your heart and mine. But this may be the best of them, and certainly it is the most hopeful about the nature of the human spirit. Read it.