Thursday Sense of Obligation Blogging

A couple of things that I’m not excited to blog about, but sort of feel like I ought to say something about:

1) The Washington Monthly article about StraighterLine, an online program that lets you take college courses for $99/mo. The article is all breathless excitement about the revolutionary transformative power of technology, but it leaves me cold.

The stories of working people putting themselves through accelerated degree programs through self-study are inspiring, and all, but there’s nothing really new here. There has never really been any question about whether hard-working and motivated students could learn at their own pace– these stories pre-date the Internet. The history of science is full of brilliant auto-didacts who learned their subject from public libraries and the like, and anybody who has spent any time in higher education has encountered somebody who was self-taught or home-schooled who blew away all their peers.

The question has always been whether self-paced online education can work on a mass scale– for people who aren’t motivated to put in 18 hours a day studying toward a specific goal. I don’t really see anything in the article that addresses that question. I think this has the potential to be a great deal for people with a strong sense of self-motivation and good work ethic, but I suspect they’ll end up making lots of money off people who start classes, and then lose interest, but never get around to officially dropping out.

(Memo to self: Cancel Netflix subscription, already. The DVD’s are gathering dust by the tv, and haven’t been looked at in months.)

2) The Big Health Care Speech: I actually watched the last half-hour or so of this last night (after seeing references to it on Twitter– I’d forgotten about it). This is THE topic of the morning in blogdom, but I really don’t have anything much to say about it. Obama gives a good speech, Joe Wilson (R-Hooterville) is an ass, and nothing at all has really changed. The health care proposal is a centrist and technocratic thing that won’t make strong partisans on either side of the political spectrum happy, but will probably be better than what we have now, whenever Max Baucus stops farting around and sends a bill to the floor.

There’s a sort of depressing inevitability to the way the story will unfold today: Democrats will snark mightily about Joe Wilson, Republicans will weep crocodile tears about the oh-so-shameless invocation of Ted Kennedy, and crazy people will continue saying crazy things. Wake me when they’re ready to vote on something.

Happily, I have another project that I really need to work on today, so I will be shutting down Google Reader for the rest of the day, and burying myself in the ArXiV. Don’t worry, you’ll get your Baby Blogging tonight, but I’ll be mostly offline until then.


  1. #1 Jamie
    September 10, 2009

    Re: NetFlix.

    Who cares about physical DVDs? I watch movies via NetFlix on the 360 all the time. The only time I worry about physical media is for stuff that’s not yet available via Instant Queue.

  2. #2 Uncle Al
    September 10, 2009
    Go ahead, put Washington in charge of your IV line.

  3. #3 ADD
    September 10, 2009

    The health care proposal is a centrist and technocratic thing

    As far as I can tell, there is no concrete “proposal” on the table but a bunch of vague suggestions and promises.

  4. #4 CCPhysicist
    September 10, 2009

    Two things changed.

    1) Obama went on the record that a certain statement was categorically false concerning his plan, which meant that the Republican response started with a flat out lie. He also called those lies what they are, lies. The debate would move even further along if talk show hosts would mute any guest who starts telling a lie, sort of like on Pardon the Interruption.

    2) There was a point in the speech where Obama tossed out a line about this plan offering people the same sort of care that Congress gets. This drew reflexive applause from the Republicans, who apparently didn’t realize that they were applauding Government Run Health Care.

    One thing has not changed: Uncle Al hasn’t gotten the Republican talking points. The Republican position is that it is much better for the elderly to have Socialized medicine (Medicare) than to have the death panels in private insurance companies in charge of your IV line. The Republicans wildly applauded Obama’s plan to keep everyone over 65 in a government run socialized medicine program.

    Uncle Al’s argument is based on the premise (generally valid) that most people don’t know that Medicare and the VA are run by the government.

  5. #5 Josh S.
    September 10, 2009

    The speech was all about rallying the troops. I don’t think anyone really expects it to shift public opinion. Those in favor get to applaud and talk about the president “taking it to ’em”, those against get to pick the speech apart for ammunition, and those who are unsure probably weren’t watching anyway. After all, if they’d been paying serious attention, they’d have an opinion by now.

    The real story is the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing with the Blue Dogs and pro-life Dems in the House, and the moderate Republicans in the Senate. Whether they can pass a bill or not hinges on getting those folks on board without alienating the liberal wing. Of course, we won’t know if it worked or not until the voting starts.

  6. #6 katydid13
    September 10, 2009

    CCPhysicist, the health care that member of Congress and other civil servants get isn’t really government run health care in the sense that Medicare or the VA is. It’s a bunch of private plans competing to cover federal employees within certain guidelines. They compete over price, service, and benefits offered.

    The competetion is very real. Some of it is probably a huge waste of money like the metro stations blanketed with ads, the stress balls, tote bags, and little first aid kits littering my office. Some of it is very real and useful. Several of the HMOs offer dental benefits that fee for service plans don’t. At least one HMO will cover your dependents until age 25 if they are students.

    I changed plans during open season because the customer service at my old plan had gotten so bad. The final straw was not being able to get someone to see that the fact that their database turned up no places to get an MRI anywhere in the DC metro area might be a mistake. My favorite arguement was that maybe we just didn’t have an MRI equipment.

    I also have no problem finding providers who take my insurance which I know can sometime be a problem for people with Medicare or Tricare.

    We also can choose the level of coverage we want. Some of the really young, healthy people choose plans that are pretty inexpensive, have limited perscription drug coverage, but a nice cap on out of pocket expenses if something serious happens. Some people choose significantly more expensive plans with excellent perscription coverage and no in network/out of network provider designations.

    All of this is to say that we federal employees get a pretty good deal with more choices than someone who uses only Medicare or the VA.

  7. #7 CCPhysicist
    September 11, 2009

    Katydid13: What you write is mostly true (the government does run it by selecting the plans that are offered and managing the contract for you), and yet the Republicans are attacking a plan just like it as “government run health care” that is “Socialism”. What you describe is the difference between “government run” and “single payer”. Rhetoric that deliberately confuses the two is what has been properly called a lie.

    Even then, Medicare is closer to “government run” than “single payer” because of the many options available to those eligible for it, particularly when you look at the way individual premiums are deducted from Social Security. (Medicare beneficiaries also have the right to choose different levels of coverage.) Only the VA is actually socialism, because its doctors work for the government.

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