Monday, November 27, 2006

Satellite Radio

I am a technology junky. I admit it. I bought my first DVD player two months after they came out in the US (and spent about a year hoping I didn't buy a $600 CD player). I build computers for fun and I try to follow the new technologies coming out in that arena. However, for all of that, I also hate paying subscription fees. I canceled my cable because I thought paying for TV that I didn't really watch was a waste (my "rabbit ears" work just fine), I used a free dial-up account for internet because broadband was too expensive, I love the Tivo concept but can't bring myself to pay the subscription price. So it was quite a surprise to quite a few people when they found out that I do subscribe to satellite radio.

My road to satellite radio started out like any new technology, I saw an article about it and thought, "this is really cool!", followed by "if only it wasn't so expensive!". That's the way things stayed for a few years. Every now and then I'd check up on it to see how it was doing but it always ended in "if only it wasn't so expensive!". Then some things changed.

The first change was my growing frustration with regular radio. I have about a half hour commute each way (give or take 10 minutes, depending on traffic) and, in the entire Phoenix metro area, I only found one station that I liked. It seems that 80s music isn't as popular as I had hoped (I also found a classical music station but it suffered from poor reception so I didn't listen to it very often). As time went on, however, the stations mix included less and less of the 80s music in their lineup as well as longer and longer commercial breaks. I was not happy spending half my commute listening to ads and the other half with music that was less and less of what I wanted to hear. It was frustrating.

The other change came when I shared my frustration with a coworker who suggested, rather enthusiastically, that I try satellite radio. He was a long time subscriber and he couldn't say enough about how cool it was. He touted the specialized channels and the commercial free music. That got me really, really interested. I found out that both of the major satellite radio providers, Sirius and XM, have free trial periods so I tried them both out. I spent a couple of evenings listening to internet broadcasts from both and decided that I liked Sirius better, that commercial free music was awesome, and that having a station that only played 80s music was really cool. I was hooked.

Then my lovely wife stepped in and decided it would make a great Christmas present. So she hooked me up with a car reciever and a subscription to Sirius. Since then I have been a very happy listener. I get content that I would never get on regular radio, including an all 80s station, 3 classical music stations (with good reception), a kids music station, news stations from cnn, fox news, npr, etc., and even a station dedicated to the classic radio shows of yesteryear. I've found that, whatever my mood, there's almost always something on the radio to complement it. For example, from now until Christmas there are three stations playing different types of Christmas music 24/7 (classic stuff, pop, and country). There's always something on and, when it's music, there are no commercials (unless you count the 30 second or so ads for other Sirius stations that come up occasionally).

So yes, I do pay for satellite radio. However, for my money I get many stations that I actually like, commercial free music, and the same lineup no matter where I am in the US. For me, it's worth the money.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Political Issues: Healthcare

Healthcare has been a big issue for a while. It's frightening to see how much healthcare costs nowadays. I don't have some super plan to fix everything but I have a few ideas that may help.

1) Court reform for malpractice suits - Malpractice insurance pays out millions, if not billions, for punitive damages and I fear that many people think of it as winning the lottery. So, in order to make it more just, less prone to abuse, and less of a burden on all doctors (who have to pay the awards out of their malpractice insurance premiums), I would make a few changes.
A) Forbid punitive damages from being paid for by insurance. The whole point of punitive damages is to punish the perpetrator and is it really a punishment if insurance pays for it? This would have the effect of lowering insurance rates for doctors as well as making punitive damages an actual punishment.
B) Make punitive damages payable to the state and not the victim. This may not seem fair at first but the victim and/or the victim's family is already getting paid for legal fees, all of the medical treatment, and lost wages (past and future depending on the nature of the lawsuit). They shouldn't be pursuing punitive damages as a way to get lots of extra money. If the doctor really deserves the punishment, then it should be pursued but not for selfish reasons.

2) Real Medical Savings Accounts - I think Medical Savings Accounts should be available to everybody. If you allowed them as tax free payroll deductions and then partnered with a major credit card company so that your MSA could be used by a doctor's office, hospital, pharmacy, etc. as easily as a credit card. This would be both convenient and very helpful. I would also make sure that the money never expired. It would sit in your account until used. I think this is an idea that would save people and the medical industry a lot of money in the long run.

3) Create pricing rules for medical services - Have you even recieved an insurance statement that give a charge amount of $150.00 and an allowed amount of $42.70 or something like that? That means the uninsured are getting charged three times more that the insured. That's just wrong. I would create some regulations that would have the uninsured and/or those not using insurance charged and the lowest allowed amount (the lowest price any insurance company would have to pay). Medical services should cut the most slack to the uninsured, not the least.

4) Create a unified medical records system - I think this is already being done to some extent but a lot of money could be saved if all medical services used the same computerized format for medical records. They could be sent and recieved without the office staff having to manually enter information, billing would be simplified, and records would be more consistent. This would reduce overhead saving offices money which, in turn, would save patients money.

5) A universal health insurance system? - I'm not sure about this one but I do see the benefits of making sure all citizens of the US at least have catastrophic insurance coverage (have a $2000 or so deductable that could be paid with a medical savings account - heck you could even have an private insurance policy that covers the deductable for you). If this were the case, those who need intensive medical care can get it without hospitals have to raise fees in order to pay for what their patients can't afford. I think if this were implemented well, it could be a very good thing, if implemented poorly, I think it could be disaterous. So, while it's a good thought, the jury's still out on whether it is practical and/or workable. I guess that's what feasibility studies are for...

Well there's my overhaul of the medical system. Some of the changes would have a fairly quick effect while other may take years to see the benefits. I don't know if my ideas would do enough to help with medical expenses but I think it would put us on the right track.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Political Issues: Iraq

Let me start by saying that I'm not a general and so speculating on strategy and deployment changes that would improve the situation in Iraq aren't going to be useful. However, I do have some suggestions for things that may help our troops on the ground.

The first thing I would do is have every soldier who is or may end up serving in Iraq start learning Arabic and Iraqi culture. Our troops' main mission is to keep the peace in Iraq. If they all had a better understanding of Iraqi culture as well as the ability to understand and communicate with Iraqis, I believe our troops would be better accepted, less likely to be attacked, and would be able to better deal with their day to day duties.

I would also try to do something economically. I heard that Iraq has around 60% unemployment. People who can't find jobs tend to get depressed and frustrated and depressed and frustrated people are easier for militias and terrorists to influence. Hard-working, happy people tend to be supportive of their government and not tolerant of anti-government forces. We need the people of Iraq to be gainfully employed and supporting their families. I believe this would cut down on violence a lot better than just sending in more troops.

How does one go about creating more jobs? The country is in shambles and we're pouring billions into contractors to try to clean up. Well could we use locals? We could hire people to clean up streets, repair buildings, provide more security for markets, perhaps get some manufacturing going, etc. I think there is work enough to do, we just have to organize it and, at first, fund a good deal of it. Will it work? I would hope so and I think it's worth trying.

I think if we stop focusing on killing the bad people and start building up the good people, we'll see most of the problems start to take care of themselves. It's human nature.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fantasy Congress

I found an interesting new online game the other day. It's called Fantasy Congress. It works like Fantasy Football or any other fantasy sports game. You simply draft a team of legislators (Senators and Congressmen) and you get points when your team submits bills, amends bills, and/or gets their bills signed into law. I tried it out and had a lot of fun.

The game follows the actual sessions of congress (the next one starts in January) so you don't know what's going to happen before it does (unless you call up your team members and ask them). It's fun that it creates a game out of congress but it's also educational in that you can see what really happens with legislation and you start to learn who is authoring it and how far it gets. It's a lot of fun and worth a look for anybody who wants to dabble.

So many things to do online...