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Sunday, July 08, 2007

S-CHIP reauthorization stalled by Sicko?

That what this item at OpenCongress seems to be suggesting:
Health care reform is abuzz, in presidential politics, in the movies, and, most immediately, in Congress.

It's perfect timing. The initial 10-year authorization of one of the government's biggest health care initiatives, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, is scheduled to run out on September 30th, and Congress has been working behind the scenes to reauthorize it.

SCHIP is designed to provide health care for children whose families make too much money to receive Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. The Senate Finance Committee, who is responsible for approving a reauthorization proposal for the whole Senate to debate, hoped to have decided on a proposal before the Independence Day recess. They didn't. Because of factors including the recent release of Michael Moore's film 'Sicko,' the issues surrounding the reauthorization bill have blown up and the discussions have come to a grinding halt.

So - by raising the profile of health care and health insurance issues, Sicko might be motivating the anti-healthcare forces (like good ole' "patriotic" CIA-agent-outing Robert Novak) to use the successful S-CHIP program as an example of "socialized medicine" that must be fought because, you know, there's that word "social" as in "socialism." Never mind that it's a highly successful program that helps children - you know, those little folk who didn't get to choose their circumstances, who could hardly "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" by living with more "personal responsibility." Children. But you know, it would be wrong to help them because that would be helping their parents who are adults and by golly that's socialism and...


Okay, yeah, in all honesty, Novak is stressing that as currently formulated and with changes being proposed in the negotiations of reauthorizing S-CHIP, some - gasp - adults are being helped directly by the program. And of course that is a big huge no-no. We can spend hundreds of billions destroying other countries, but heaven forbid we spend a few billion on helping some disadvantaged people in our own country have a better life. Nope, can't have that!

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Jon Udell: Motivation, context, and citizen analysis of government data

I ran across this blog post by Jon Udell on del.icio.us and I think Udell and Willinsky are on to something here:
...these are only views of data. There’s no analysis and interpretation, no statistical rigor. Since most ordinary citizens lack the expertise to engage at that level, are governments that publish raw data simply asking for trouble? Will bogus interpretations by unqualified observers wind up doing more harm than good?

That’s a legitimate concern, and while the issue hasn’t yet arisen, because public access to this level of data is a very new phenomenon, it certainly will. To address that concern I’ll reiterate part of another item in which I mentioned John Willinsky’s amazing talk on the future of education:
Willinsky talks about how he, as a reading specialist, would never have predicted what has now become routine. Patients with no ability to read specialized medical literature are, nonetheless, doing so, and then arriving in their doctors’ offices asking well-informed questions. Willinsky (only semi-jokingly) says the Canadian Medical Association decided this shouldn’t be called “patient intimidation” but, rather, “shared decision-making.”

How can level 8 readers absorb level 14 material? There are only two factors that govern reading success, Willinsky says: motivation, and context. When you’re sick, or when a loved one is sick, your motivation is a given. As for context:
They don’t have a context? They build a context. The first time they get a medical article, duh, I don’t know what’s going on here, I can’t read the title. But what happened when I did that search? I got 20 other articles on the same topic. And of those 20, one of them, I got a start on. It was from the New York Times, or the Globe and Mail, and when I take that explanation back to the medical research, I’ve got a context. And then when I go into the doctor’s office…and actually, one of the interesting things…is that a study showed that 65% of the doctors who had had this experience of patient intimidation shared decision-making said the research was new to them, and they were kind of grateful, because they don’t have time to check every new development.

When your loved one is sick, you’re motivated to engage with primary medical literature, and you’ll build yourself a context in which to do that. Similarly, when your neighborhood is sick, you’ll be motivated to engage with government data, and you’ll build yourself a context for that.

Web 2.0 already is putting government data in reach of the person who is both educated and motivated - think GovTrack, OpenCongress, WashingtonWatch, and even the staid Thomas. Blogs and the state of the world are adding some motivation - is it enough? Even if it is, in his happy embrace of Willinsky's thesis, Udell does gloss over one of the points in the example - that the patient was able to build the context that enabled them to access the more technical and demanding research only by first finding more accessible articles from lay sources, that they could then build their context from. And then the patient goes to the expert - the doctor - to finish out the knowledge-building that they need to satisfy their concern.

So what does this mean for civic engagement? Of course motivation is a crucial ingredient, and access to accurate, timely information is essential. But, as Udell's post suggests, the bridge from motivation to the successful construction of knowledge for effective action, will require a gateway to context-building - the accessible lay articles that can get the motivated citizen a foothold for the climb.

Clearly, blogs can contribute to that gateway role, and some bloggers certainly do. Whenever a blogger points directly to a bill on Thomas (with a working link, ahem - the badge of the true wonk being the ability to make a working link to Thomas, heh), they are opening the gate for their readers. Hopefully, more and more political and civic bloggers will start thinking consciously about their gateway role, and how they use Web 2.0+, creativity, and anything else to open that gate wider and make it more enticing for their readers to walk through.

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Cheap solar on the way?

The fossil fuel industry won't like to hear this:
Within five years, solar power will be cheap enough to compete with carbon-generated electricity, even in Britain, Scandinavia or upper Siberia. In a decade, the cost may have fallen so dramatically that solar cells could undercut oil, gas, coal and nuclear power by up to half. Technology is leaping ahead of a stale political debate about fossil fuels.

Anil Sethi, the chief executive of the Swiss start-up company Flisom, says he looks forward to the day - not so far off - when entire cities in America and Europe generate their heating, lighting and air-conditioning needs from solar films on buildings with enough left over to feed a surplus back into the grid.

The secret? Mr Sethi lovingly cradles a piece of dark polymer foil, as thin a sheet of paper. It is 200 times lighter than the normal glass-based solar materials, which require expensive substrates and roof support. Indeed, it is so light it can be stuck to the sides of buildings.


The "tipping point" will arrive when the capital cost of solar power falls below $1 (51p) per watt, roughly the cost of carbon power. We are not there yet. The best options today vary from $3 to $4 per watt - down from $100 in the late 1970s.

Mr Sethi believes his product will cut the cost to 80 cents per watt within five years, and 50 cents in a decade.

Could be why the oil and coal moguls have been trying so hard to extract all the hydrocarbons they can from the ground (by, e.g. drilling in ANWR, ripping tops off mountains) while the profits were still good?

And this isn't coming just from a guy marketing his company's product, and there is reasonable to think it could happen, if we want it to:

Michael Rogol, a solar expert at Credit Lyonnais, expects the solar industry to grow from $7bn in 2004 to nearer $40bn by 2010, with operating earnings of $3bn.

The sector is poised to outstrip wind power. It is a remarkable boom for a technology long dismissed by experts as hopelessly unviable.

Mr Rogol said he was struck by the way solar use had increased dramatically in Japan and above all Germany, where Berlin's green energy law passed in 2004 forces the grid to buy surplus electricity from households at a fat premium. (In Britain, utilities may refuse to buy the surplus. They typically pay half the customer price of electricity.)

The change in Germany's law catapulted the share price of the German flagship company SolarWorld from €1.38 (67p) in February 2004 to over €60 by early 2006.

The tipping point in Germany and Japan came once households twigged that they could undercut their unloved utilities. Credit Lyonnais believes the rest of the world will soon join the stampede.

Hmmm... maybe if net metering laws are made more favorable to the consumer across the US, we will see a similar motivation for building owners to install solar.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day - and the birth of a new blog!

Today, July 4, is the day we say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH" and begin to report news that has an impact on our daily lives. So, on our nation's 231st birthday, we celebrate our own. We celebrate the American patriot whose vision and values most closely match our own: John Kerry.

Nicely done site, good video work. I do, um, know some of the folk involved, and they were nice enough to include this blog on the blogroll (despite my once-per-month-or-so posting rate) so I thought it would be nice to give them a mention. (Right before I go over and add them to this blogroll, for what that's worth.)

Anyway, Happy Independence Day, everyone!

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Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration's public statements on Iraq
The Bush Administration's
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