Feb 032014

Yesterday’s Super Bowl was a dull affair, as were most of the ads. But this Microsoft ad featuring a former NFL player living with ALS caught my attention:

Two things: First, people actually use Surface tablets? Second, when did the Surface get eye-tracking functionality? Because that seems like something Microsoft might want to start incorporating in other products, like the Kinect.

I did get a little misty watching the hearing-impaired woman cry when she heard the words spoken to her. Don’t hate me, deaf community.

Jan 292014

Republicans finally got around to releasing a concrete alternative to Obamacare and it’s kind of awful. It reduces eligibility for subsidies to purchase insurance and does away with most of the Medicaid expansion. Even better, it eliminates the requirement that insurance companies cover individuals with pre-existing conditions. Finally, it pays for the whole thing by making employer health plans taxable, an idea that has already proven wildly unpopular.

None of this has a chance of becoming law anytime soon. But as Sarah Kliff notes, the most interesting thing about this plan is what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t completely scrap Obamacare. It doesn’t envision a pure free-market solution and it doesn’t take away coverage from everyone who currently has coverage under Obamacare. To a degree, this plan accepts the status quo and recognizes that we can’t return to the health insurance regime of 2009. As more people gain coverage under Obamacare, it will probably become even more difficult to propose more limited alternatives. The plan put forth by the GOP presidential nominee will likely be even more moderate. And that’s a good thing.

Jan 272014

I’ve written previously about Jillian Mercado, a fashion blogger who also uses a wheelchair. Mercado recently applied for a modeling gig on a lark, so she was more than a little surprised when she got the job. Mercado is featured in Diesel’s forthcoming ad campaign, which will run in magazines like Vogue and Interview. Here’s the photo of her and artist James Astronaut:

Mercado looks amazing and I suspect she’ll get many more gigs as a result of this campaign. More importantly, her experience is a powerful antidote to the low-expectations game that so many of us gimps play. We are often hesitant to put ourselves out there because we fear rejection and/or looking silly. But as Mercado demonstrates, sometimes just showing up leads to the completely unexpected. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must submit my resume to Ezra Klein’s Project X.

Jan 242014

The Mac is celebrating its 30th anniversary today. While I’m primarily a Windows user now, a Mac Plus was the first computer that I could control with head movement. I spent a lot of time doodling with the drawing program and playing primitive arcade games. And now, I own a tablet from the same company that I can control with a single switch behind my ear. That realization is both amazing and a little disorienting.

Jan 212014

Frequent readers know that I’m a fan of Ezra Klein and his Wonkblog at the Washington Post. It offers thoughtful and well-written ¬†analysis on complicated policy issues like health care, economics, and the environment and it has become a formidable driver of traffic to the Post‘s website. But it seems that Klein may have become a bit too high-profile for the paper’s liking. At least, that’s one way to interpret the news that Klein and some of his Wonkblog colleagues are leaving the Post to start their own wonky news venture.

Klein is just the latest high-profile New Media personality to depart a traditional news outlet in favor of opportunities that offer more creative control and, possibly, richer rewards. Political blogger Nate Silver will soon be re-launching his 538 site as part of the ESPN empire. Blogger Andrew Sullivan just took his website independent, supported only by reader subscriptions. These moves are a loss for the news conglomerates that fostered their talent, but these new efforts by Klein and Silver will be a boon to us policy and stats nerds who can’t start our days without reading two thousand words on the latest federal budget compromise. I’m excited to follow Klein’s new venture and I’ll continue to visit Wonkblog for Sarah Kliff’s invaluable health policy reporting.

Jan 162014

The Atlantic examines how Obamacare could drastically improve the lives of former prisoners. Many will be eligible for Medicaid if they live in a state that has chosen to expand the program, while others may be able to purchase subsidized coverage from the exchanges. Most of the people coming out of prison are men without children at home who, in the past, would not have qualified for any public health care program. They often had access to health care only when they were incarcerated. A significant percentage of this population suffers from mental illness and chemical dependency, access to health care in the community could go a long way towards reducing recidivism rates. As the article notes, it may be challenging to actually connect former inmates to health care services, but that’s a better problem to have than a total lack of coverage options.

Jan 142014

Now that Disney holds the deed to the entire Star Wars universe, it can do as it likes with the place. For starters, Disney has announced that it will take a lightsaber to the vast wasteland that is the Expanded Universe. The EU is the collective term for every bit of narrative detritus that isn’t part of the actual movies–books, comics, videogames, and so forth. The grand moffs at Disney will decide which bits are worthy of being designated as canon while the rest will be left to rot in the garbage compactor of some distant space station. Since nearly everything in the EU is execrable drivel, little will be saved. This move will give Disney plenty of room to tell new stories without worrying about whether it’s in conflict with some terrible paperback tie-in published in the 90s.

Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn make an appearance in one of the sequels. He may be the only character from the EU worth preserving.

Jan 102014

The annual Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up in Vegas and the tech press seemed determined to convince us that 4K televisions will soon be replacing our current HD TVs. I can’t help but think that 4K is a desperate push by the electronics industry to revive flat TV sales. Such high resolution detail can only be appreciated on screens that are 70 inches or larger. Some people might have room to accommodate such a monstrosity in their living rooms, but my 46″ TV still seems gargantuan to me. I’m sure my next television will be both thinner and larger, but only because that’s where the market is heading. Hopefully, I won’t need to knock out a wall to enjoy season 10 of Game of Thrones.

Jan 062014

As you may have heard, it’s particularly cold here in Minnesota today. I debated braving the elements to commute to work, but decided to play it safe and work from home (thanks, Internet!). It won’t be much warmer tomorrow when I need to attend some meetings, so I’m not getting a total reprieve from the cold. I hope my fellow Northerners are holed up somewhere warm.

And here’s a good article reminding us that a cold snap doesn’t give us permission to ignore climate change.

Jan 022014

A new study in Science finds that expanding Medicaid increases emergency room visits, undercutting previous claims from lawmakers and policy wonks that expanding Medicaid would decrease ER use. these findings shouldn’t be a complete surprise to those who are familiar with the program and the people it serves. Many of those who are newly eligible for Medicaid likely have medical conditions that have gone unadressed for long periods of time. They also didn’t have an existing relationship with a physician, which probably explains why they turn to the ER as soon as they have coverage.

These findings shouldn’t be interpreted as a reason to not expand Medicaid. Access to Medicaid results in better mental health and increased financial stability, which are no small things. But as health economist Jonathan Gruber notes, making people healthy shouldn’t be framed as a cost-saver. States should expand Medicaid because it’s the right thing to do. And perhaps state Medicaid programs can do a better job of connecting new enrollees with primary care physicians.