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Friday, Feb 17, 2006

This Washington Post story details Bush’s latest attempt—weirdly enough, at the headquarters of a fast-food chain, Wendy’s—to promote “consumer-driven health care,” which amounts to foisting more responsibility onto the sick person for decoding Byzantine health bills and for deciding which corners to cut in their efforts to get healthy. Because if there’s one thing you want to be tight-fisted about, it’s your own health; that’s second nature, right? And of course, we all feel comfortable telling our doctor that we don’t trust her, and we don’t really think that MRI she’s advocating is necessary—after all who knows your body better, you or some stupid doctor?

The main problem with the consumer-driven scheme is that for many Americans, price signals quality, and they will always choose the more expensive option for their health as long as they can afford it. We learned from the Clinton health-care-reform attempt that American’s are afraid of rationing; Bush has made each of us our own rationer and calls it freedom, and perhaps to some people it is. People should be free to die when they can’t afford health care.


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Friday, Feb 17, 2006

A bold statement from Brainwashed and they want your help.


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Friday, Feb 17, 2006

Here’s some support for my contention that taste in music has less to do with what the music itself sounds like than what sort of social capital you are trying to accumulate. This Boing Boing post reports on a research project that sought to investigate social influence on music choices and found that a group whose choices were isolated from other members made a completely different set of songs popular than the group who was able to see what everyone else was listening to. The point is, we listen to pop music for a sense of belonging—to our time and to a specific culture—as much as for sensual enjoyment. Taste is so nebulous and amorphous that we immediately look to others to tell us what sort of attitude to take toward something. So what it means to like a song may be that we can imagine others liking it, and us liking them. This is why we can rely on musical taste to suggest what a person is like—pop music’s primary function is to signal precisely that. If we don’t have people to guide us in our judgment of music, we can turn to the music press for some corroboration. Absent that, we fall back on comparisons with music we already know or on our inherent tendencies to be positive or negative—progressive or conservative—about change and novelty. Hence “personal taste,” independent of social factors, relies on having had exposure to lots of music; its depth corresponds to the information base it can draw on to make comparisons. Taste is a kind of personal history that is dynamic, evolving over time. I know, no duh, but many people tend to assert or a tleast imply that their tastes are static and absolute and in-born. Perhaps people who feel that way, who are aboslutists about what they like, are actually just being especially protective of the social group that they think such tastes give them entry to, a social group whose parameters are so precious, or so dubious, that they can’t bear direct examination.


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Thursday, Feb 16, 2006

A dollar is dollar is a dollar—until you think about it for a moment. This article by James Surowiecki, from an otherwise disappointing Forbes package about money as concept, details some of the ways we weight money differently according to how we come by it and the various ways it acquires taint—a process he calls “mental accounting.” Money we earn through a paycheck is different, say, then money we earn selling our old junk on eBay. We’re more willing to spend the latter on impulsive and capricious things, where as we tend to preserve the paycheck for mortgage payments and necessary sundries. To hard-core economists, this is a species of irrational thinking that creates waste and missed opportunities, but it nicely illustrates the fetishism of money that Marx credits with distorting our view of the true nature of social relations. Money is never a transparent instrument, instead it’s a blank slate that we are forever writing our ambitions and our hopes and our fears on, allowing it to transmogrify and take the shape of those things in their most concentrated abstract form. It’s conceptual malleability allows it to reify the most nebulous and intangible things. Money remains potentiality, but a different potentiality depending on context—the potential for leisure when it’s inhereited and set aside as cash, the potential for medical disaster when it takes the form of an HSA. It seems like one of the most concrete ways to undermine the ideology and fetishism associated with money is to resist sentimentalizing it and regard it as sheer quantity at all times; in other words, to think like a hyperrational economist whenever possible. But Surowiecki sees mental accounting as an irrational way we protect ourselves from even more irrational behavior. We build hierarchies of spending and then budget across that hierarchy according to a whimsical, emotionally freighted process. Would a robotically rational process intent on maximizing utility be superior? It seems more likely that the flexibility of expression involved in mental accounting allows one to conceptualize goals that are more important to individuals than making the most money possible. It may be the more we freight money with sentimental significance, the more we undermine the logical underpinnings of capitalism that otherwise straiten our motives.


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Thursday, Feb 16, 2006

Especially since they were responsible for my favorite single of ‘05 (”No Meaning No”), I thought I’d pass along some news from the good people at CCmixter.


“Creative Commons, along with filmmakers Kembrew McLeod and Ben Franzen, today announced that due to overwhelmingly positive response, the Copyright Criminals Remix Contest has been extended by two weeks, ending on March 14. Additionally, new vocal samples from influential rapper Chuck D (of Public Enemy) and pioneering funk musician George Clinton (of Parliament-Funkadelic) have been made available for use in the competition.”


For more info, see their website at http://www.ccmixter.org.  If you don’t already know about this org, you should.  Unlike Disney and their spineless servents in the U.S. Congress, this group is looking for a creative way to deal with copyright laws so that artists’ rights are protected and other artists who want to incorporate their work can do so within mutually agreed-upon bounds.


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