Fact: Obamacare is failing

Some sad facts on Obamacare (that is, this isn’t up for debate):

Average premium increases above 25%, roughly one-third of U.S. counties projected to lack any competition in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges next year, and enrollment less than half of initial expectations provide strong evidence that the law’s exchange program is failing. Moreover, the failure is occurring despite massive government subsidies, including nearly $15 billion of unlawful payments, for participating insurers. As bad news pours in and with a potentially very rough 2017 open enrollment period ahead, the Obama administration signaled on Friday that it may defy Congress and bail out insurers through the risk corridor program.

More from the Mercatus Center.

Online search comes full-circle

From Matthew Capala at TheNextWeb.com.

In his recent takedown of tech culture, Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble, Dan Lyons writes about blogging purely for SEO optimization — basically, great content that is devoid of value but stuffed full of buzzwords to fool Google’s search algorithm.

It’s a funny and probably overblown passage, but it raises a serious point for content marketers; in the past, they’ve had to write around keywords, often at the expense of creating content and telling stories people want to read. The introduction of Google’s Rankbrain could put an end to all this, once and for all.

With it’s honed ability to collect and interpret massive user data from Google.com, Chrome, and Android, Google now allows readers to give feedback — in the form of bounce-backs, click patterns, pogosticking, and click-through-rates — on whether your content piece actually does what it promised to do.

So if you wrote a compelling, educational piece, including a lot of research and diligence, you’re in the clear; but if you wrote a piece that didn’t provide enough value, you could easily lose the top spot if enough readers felt like you were wasting their time.

In short, keyword search is maturing. Google is getting smarter, and “hacking” content to boost its search engine rating isn’t going to work anymore.

In a sense, this is web search coming full-circle. In the very near future, online content creators aren’t going to worry about keywords. They will worry only about providing actual value to real human beings with their content. They won’t think anymore about the medium – AI is taking care of that – and won’t have to optimize their content for anything other than their audience’s preferences.

This is the web, in a sense, becoming “invisible.” The medium of the internet will be harder and harder to detect in the future. I don’t mean we won’t need to connect to WiFi or that we won’t ever have problems logging on. I mean our interaction with web content will be more intimate. There will be less and less “calibrating” that goes on between us and the content we’re consuming. It will speak to us more clearly and more directly.

The effect of this type of AI extends beyond our life online. It affects the evolution of our language and how we communicate with each other. That’s another topic, but suffice it to say that as AI improves our experience consuming web content, which interplays tremendously with language, we’ll see changes (improvements, I think) in language itself. For example, we may search for X, but AI means Google knows that information on Y is actually what we want, even though we don’t know it, and gives us information on Y. This changes the way we think about X and helps us understand better just what it is we’re all trying to get at, and thereby, just what words we really ought to be using.

 

All is speculation

From Philip Carret’s The Art of Speculation:

It is unfortunate that the word “speculation” immediately suggests the word “stocks” to most people. When his neighbors gather at the 19th hole of the local country club and discuss the apparent prosperity of Henry Robinson, the local miller, their natural comment is that Henry is a shrewd businessman. It occurs to no one to say that Henry is a successful speculator, though the flourishing state of his business may be due far more to his correctness in judging the wheat market than to his skill as a manufacturer or merchant. Though the speculation involved in the miller’s operations is incidental to his main business, it is speculation nonetheless.

It’s important to consider the extent of any action’s speculative aspect in light of a risk-reward paradigm. Is something more “speculative” or riskier because it entails a higher likelihood of major loss? It’s likely that such an action also entails a higher likelihood of major gain. This is about expected outcomes – if it’s no lower than alternative, less risky investments, then is it any more “speculative”?

Go with the flow

An interesting selection from Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

For Csikszentmihalyi, the signature experience of experts is flow, a state of complete concentration “that leads to a feeling of spontaneity.” Flow is performing at high levels of challenge and yet feeling “effortless,” like “you don’t have to think about it, you’re just doing it.”

For example, an orchestra conductor told Csikszentmihalyi:

You’re in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. … My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out by itself.

And a competitive figure skater gave this description of the flow state:

It was just one of those programs that clicked. I mean everything went right, everything felt good. …it’s just such a rush, like you could feel it go on and on and on, like you don’t want it to stop because it’s going so well. It’s almost as though you don’t have to think, everything goes automatically without thinking.

Csikszentmihalyi has gathered similar first-person accounts from hundreds of experts. In every field studies, optimal experience is describes in similar terms.

Hedge funds love Hillary

From yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Owners and employees of hedge funds have made $122.7 million in campaign contributions this election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics—more than twice what they gave in the entire 2012 cycle and nearly 14% of total money donated from all sources so far.

The lines around what constitutes a hedge fund aren’t always clear in the data, or in the financial industry. But the numbers are stark. The top five contributors to pro-Clinton groups are employees or owners of private investment funds, according to federal data released last week and compiled by OpenSecrets.org, the center’s website. The data show seven financial firms alone have generated nearly $48.5 million for groups working on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf.

The total for Donald Trump: About $19,000.

Some efficiency tips for noobs

My biggest pet peeves are clutter, unnecessary details and logistical messes.

I hate digging around for things in my own home. I can hardly stand watching someone try to find some important “lost” file on their computer because they weren’t thinking when they saved it the first time. I go crazy listening to people stress out while making last-minute decisions about where to eat, which route to take or who’s picking up which kid with which car from which friend’s house.

These things drive me nuts – more than they should, probably. I’m self-employed, which gives whole new meaning to the phrase “time is money” – if I miss a day of work, I miss a day of pay.

So in my never-ending attempt to avoid these frustrating situations, I’ve learned a few things about how to declutter and organize modern life. The three tips below barely scratch the surface of what’s needed to truly be organized and efficient, but they are three things most people don’t do that would otherwise massively reduce their day-to-day stress levels.

Use one digital ecosystem.

I don’t have experience beyond Microsoft and Google (I guess that leaves out Apple), but going all-or-nothing with one company’s solutions is really the only way they will help you, rather than cause frustration and anxiety. For example, I use Google almost exclusively—Gmail, Calendar, Chrome, Maps, Drive, Play, etc. Because these apps are all under one umbrella, they talk to each other. They coordinate events on their own in ways that make life easier for me. After a while, Google even starts to predict my behavior and informs me of things like traffic on my morning commute and weather on days I plan to fly.

ecosystem

Speaking of flying, I booked a flight last week on Expedia. Gmail “noticed” the email was a flight itinerary, so it “talked” to my Calendar and automatically added the flight to my calendar. And the day of the flight, Google will send me a note about when to leave my current location to get to my flight on time.

These things would not happen if I used, say, Microsoft for email, Apple for calendar and Yahoo! for maps. Instead, I’d have frustrating coordination problems that have me spending valuable time copy-pasting information from one app to another.

Use a calendar religiously.

I use Google Calendar for everything—work, personal and whatever falls in between. Both my wife and I update it immediately upon scheduling any appointment, which means we can see the future in real-time—we don’t have to call back and forth to confirm with our respective doctors, employers or family members when we’re available to do something.

calendar.png

Sound cluttered? It can be. But what’s great about most calendars is you can code events to appear on one calendar or another (work vs. personal, mine vs. my wife’s) and filter your view to see as many or as few calendars as you want.

For example, I regularly block off most weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on my calendar as “Work.” I code this as “Personal” so my wife can see it. Inside these blocks, I add my work meetings, calls, etc. But I don’t share these items with my wife. I share with her only what she needs to see in order to know when she can, say, schedule a massage for herself (i.e. have me watch the baby). She sees that I’m working that day without having to sift through dozens of me-exclusive items that don’t affect her, and I see what I need to do at work that day without having to manage separate calendars.

Make use of Sunday evenings.

I suspect Sunday evenings are down-time for most people – time to catch up on TV shows, recoup from a fun weekend, or simply zone out before the work week.

But taking just 15 minutes on Sunday evenings to review your upcoming week can make all the difference in the world. Review your schedule for the week and be ready for what’s coming ahead of time. You may even find yourself needing to look at your calendar less often during the week. I do.

My Plan

If you’re married or living with a partner, sit with them while you review your week. Then you can ask questions about confusing calendar items or tentative plans right then as they come up, instead of playing phone tag later in the week just to learn some annoyingly tiny but vitally important detail about some evening plan or another.

My personal gains from these 15 minutes, in terms of reduced stress and time saved during the workweek, are immense. I have avoided entire hours of coordinating and logistical planning. And I’ll bet the returns on this time grow exponentially as family size grows and the number of soccer practices, piano recitals, play dates and other engagements increases.

Jesus as salesman. Relatable Jesus.

We really don’t know much about Jesus.

To show that, here’s a perspective on Jesus from Bruce Barton – a critical dissection of his method that, for unclear reasons, I don’t think Christians are usually willing to entertain:

Finally he knew the necessity for repetition and practiced it.

It has been said that “reputation is repetition.” No important truth can be impressed upon the minds of any large number of people by being said only once. The thoughts which Jesus had to give the world were revolutionary, but they were few in number. “God is your father,” he said, “caring more for the welfare of every one of you than any human father can possibly care for his children. His Kingdom is happiness! His rule is love.” This is what he head to teach, but he knew the necessity of driving it home form every possible angle. So in one of his stories God is the shepherd searching the wilds for one wandering sheep; in another, the Father welcoming home a prodigal boy; in another a King who forgives his debtors large amounts and expects them to be forgiving in turn – many stories, many advertisements, but the same big Idea.

Another selection:

His language was marvelously simple – a second great essential. There is hardly a teaching which a child cannot understand. His illustrations were all drawn from the commonest experiences of life; “a sower went forth to sow”; “a certain man had two sons”; “a man built his house on the sands”; “the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed.” The absence of adjectives is striking.

Jesus used few qualifying words and no long ones. We referred a minute ago to those three literary materpieces, The Lord’s Prayer, the Twenty-Third Psalm, The Gettysburg Address. Recall their phraseology:

  • Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.
  • The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  • Four score and seven years ago.

Not a single three-syllable word; hardly any two-syllable words. All the greatest things in human life are one-syllable things – love, joy, hope, home, child, wife, trust, faith, God – and the great advertisements, generally speaking, are those in which the most small words are found.

Irreverent to speak of Jesus as marketer? Was he simply an advocate of a “big Idea?” Is it right to consider and judge his method, even if we find it flawless?

On that note, here’s another selection to consider – this time from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark:

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

I’ve read this over and over. I think it shows just how little about Jesus we really know.

As a kid in Sunday School, I remember watching animated movies about this episode — of Jesus calling his disciples to “follow me.” In them, he walks about seemingly unknown to the hoards of people living around the Sea of Galilee. He walks up to random young men that he seemingly didn’t know beforehand. He asks them to drop their things and follow him.

They obey.

If you really think about it, there are only a few explanations for this. People do not randomly leave their families and livelihoods behind to follow a stranger. Have you done this? Has anyone you know done this?

Even cult leaders develop a relationship with their followers before leading them away from their families and livelihoods. Perhaps they wrote a book that their followers have read. Maybe they demonstrate powerful understanding of things their followers care about. Whatever it is, cults don’t appear spontaneously–their leaders possess some characteristic or history that lends them influence in their followers’ minds before they make the decision to leave everything behind.

On that note, I see two possible explanations for Simon and Andrew’s bizarre behavior.

  1. They were influenced by some supernatural power to follow a man they knew nothing about.
  2. They knew something about Jesus that quelled their natural, healthy hesitancy to follow him anywhere.

The first one is, I think, the most commonly-believed explanation. Movie depictions of this episode often entail some majestic-looking bearded man walking, trance-like, toward Simon and Andrew, and calling their names in a hypnotic voice. They, also trance-like, drop their things and follow him as he continues walking down the lake-shore.

I can’t prove this explanation wrong. It’s plausible. It is, however, lazy. It forgoes any more relatable explanation, or one that might be more useful to one with a healthy skepticism of random, supernatural events. I don’t like such explanations. They don’t jive with what we know to be true about the human condition.

The second one is interesting because, if it’s true, it opens the door to further knowledge about Jesus’ life and influence prior to the beginning of his ministry. We don’t know much about Jesus’ twenties except that he was a carpenter. We don’t know if he had friends, where he lived, or how he spent his time.

Extra-biblical depictions of Jesus during this time tend to skim over it, often alluding to twenty-something Jesus as a sort-of “man in waiting” who knew his ministry was not to begin until later.

But such a depiction isn’t necessarily true. It’s conjecture. It’s possible that Jesus had a full life and was very influential among his contemporaries. Perhaps he was a profound speaker. Maybe he was exceptionally strong or tall or boisterous. Maybe he was a genius (see Luke 2) and engaged others with deep insights about God and the Torah.

What I’m really getting at is the possibility that Jesus was very relatable, and that we really know very little about him. Christians believe he is God, but they also believe he is “fully man.” So could others see in him a person they wanted to be? Could they relate to him? Did his boldness inspire them to live better lives? Did they aspire to be more like him? Did they even think that was possible?

Yes, I think, on all points.