Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm going to live forever, etc.

I may be a very unreliable blogger these days, but at the very least, I always link to this kind of good news.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lost thoughts

Spoilers, naturally.

It was deliberately conspicuous that MIB gave Ricardo instructions on how to kill Jacob that mirrored Dogen's instructions to Sayid on how to kill MIB.

But nota bene that Ben did not get the same instructions before actually killing Jacob. Specifically, Ben heard Jacob talk, and killed him anyways, whereas both Sayid and Ricardo are told that if they let their target speak, it'll be too late.

I think this supports seeing Ben as exceptionally free-willed, outside the direct control of either side. He may well have a Gollum-like role to play in the final denouement. He's the only character we've seen who was ever under MIB's sway and then came back to the other side-- this could set up a Gollum-like re-fall from grace (with unpredictable consequences). But my guess is rather that Ben's real proof of the ability to go on choosing.

Ben chose darkness a long time ago, in arranging for the Purge. He lied to the Others for years, claiming to speak for Jacob but never actually meeting the guy. He visited the cabin in the woods that was probably holding MIB prisoner, but on his own telling he never saw anyone in it, so he never spoke with MIB either. (We don't yet know whether Richard knew Ben was lying and let him get away with it, or for some reason was kept in the dark.)

Ben's spent decades nursing nasty grudges-- killing dozens to get even with his father, overthrowing Widmore and starting a bitter long-term war on that front. He resented Locke for being chosen leader and for getting to talk with Jacob. And he killed Locke out of petty envy-- then was easily manipulated by Flocke into killing Jacob with petty resentments. We'll find out that much of the Survivors-Others conflict of the first few seasons was just what it first appeared to be: Ben's own nastiness, with Jacob just serving as a religious pretext.

But after all that, even Ben could repent-- on his own, with neither Jacob nor any of Jacob's representatives leading him there.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A health-care reform thought

The rightward shift in crime policy and welfare policy of the mid-1990s-- basically, welfare reform plus all the Giuliani-era policing improvements-- ultimately benefited Democrats. They stopped the fearful exodus of whites from the party by undermining the two great pathologizing narratives about blacks.

I wonder whether something similar could happen with health care reform. One important source of working-class and middle-class resistance to creative destruction and freer markers over the past couple of decades has been the terror of losing health insurance along with a job, especially but not only for those whose families include someone with a preexisting condition. If a period of unemployment or self-employment lasted longer than COBRA benefits, it became very frightening regardless of savings in the bank or the profitability of the new self-employment; and any job turnover at all was very problematic for those with pre-existing conditions.

I wonder whether health care reform will take some of that fear away, and so make the prospect of turnover seem less like a potentially-mortal threat. No one's going to welcome losing their jobs! But the intensity of opposition to, say, free trade agreements might diminish.

Notice this is not a story about Republicans benefiting because of a backlash against the bill; rather, it assumes that the bill, like all entitlements, will be untouchable and will therefore fade into the background.

Update: Another, ;largely-unrelated, thought, about the relationship between the new law and the insurance industry's self-interest.

This turns the US health insurance industry into something a lot like the water, gas, phone, and electricity utilities in the US between the Progressive era and 1980. They're private and more or less guaranteed a rate of return to capital, but the terms on which they provide service is much more tightly regulated, and will approximate being universal. This is a somewhat unappealing model for lots of reasons; it manages to be pro-business and pro-capital while also being anti-innovation and anti-entrepreneurship. The moves of the late 70s and early 80s away from this model were largely desirable. But the utility model has its (so to speak) utility; it provides private capital for the industry, provides widespread coverage for consumers, and provides at least a little competition and innovation. Indeed the health insurance version will have somewhat more competition than the post-Progressive Era version, since it will lack the enforced protection of allegedly-"natural" monopolies. Insurance industries will still be in competition with each other, albeit in a more constrained way.