David Brooks’ Shifting Opposition to Obamacare

David BrooksDavid Brooks has a new reason to be disappointed in Obamacare. The problem is not so much that the new law has done bad things — he concedes that it has insured 20 million people — but that it was sold on a false basis. It is mostly helping poor people obtain insurance, he observes sadly, rather than overturning the entire system. “[T]his is not bad. But we’d have had a very different debate if we knew the law was going to be a discrete government effort to subsidize health care for more poor people,” writes Brooks in his column today. “For one thing, Democrats would have probably paid a much smaller political price if their effort wasn’t billed as an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health care system.” This is a great point. Why, exactly, did the Democrats decide to advertise their plan as an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health-care system? That turns out to have been a really poor choice!

Oh, wait a second. They didn’t. A close inspection of the public record actually reveals that it was the Republicans who described Obamacare as an extravagant government takeover. The Democratic message was just the opposite. President Obama proposed a plan that would create subsidized insurance for those who were too poor or too sick to buy it on their own while also introducing a wide range of reforms designed to bend the curve of long-term cost growth. He repeatedly and explicitly made the case that his plan would leave the existing system in place for people who already had employer-sponsored insurance…

Brooks always took pains to make it clear that he was not one of those Republicans who opposed universal insurance on principle. It was just the costs that concerned him. “Health care reform is important,” he wrote, “but it is not worth bankrupting the country over.” Today, Brooks complains that the program is not too lavish but too stingy: “The subsidies are too small. The premiums are too costly. The deductibles are too high,” he writes. It’s almost as if Brooks decided to oppose health-care reform and then filled in the specifics of his argument later.

—Jonathan Chait
Why Did Democrats Promise a Big Government Health-Care Takeover?

You Don’t Know What an Editor Does

What an Editor DoesI’ve noticed that most people don’t know what an editor does. They almost always think that an editor is a copy editor. That means that they think what editors do is work their way through a writer’s text and replace “than” with “then” when the need occurs. And this is an important job that is done less and less. Who has time for copy editing when you have to get an article out on the results of National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius within five minutes of its release? It’s a now, now, now world — and I’m just trailing behind it.

I’ve known a couple of great copy editors in my life. They are amazing. Copy editing is like playing music: you can study and get good at it. But some people just have the mind for it. I was not born with this gift. But I’m an okay copy editor because I’ve developed a few tricks. But I never do any copy editing here. It’s hard enough to get myself to do a quick read through of an article after I’ve taken the time to write it. If I happen to read an article I wrote a long time ago, I always find errors. And roughly half the time I can’t even be bothered to fix them then.

Editor Ecosystem

It’s not surprising that people think editors are all copy editors: it’s so concrete. What’s more, “editor” is not actually a job title. The editing process is so vast that calling yourself one is like calling yourself a scientist. Sure, if you were a theoretical atmospheric physicist, you might tell the prols you were a scientists just to avoid getting a bunch of questions. But you would think of yourself as an atmospheric physicist because your job doesn’t involve a white lab coat or the use of a pipette.

At big publishers — book, magazine, website — you will have layers of editors. You have editors who screen material and send it on to other editors. You have development editors who work with known writers to come up with in-house projects. And you have content editors, who actively work with the writer throughout the project. But these are only used when publishers think they have something big — generally when they have a famous non-writer creating something. I don’t live in that world and I never have.

Now, of course, the title “editor” has lost much of its meaning. Brian Beutler is Senior Editor at New Republic. I would be shocked to learn that he sits in on editorial meetings and works with writers. Beutler is one of the most senior writers at New Republic. He is also pretty much their best. But I guess at a lot of places, an editor is a step up from a writer. So if a writer becomes too dear, they become an editor, even if they are doing the same thing they were doing before.

The Ginsu Knife Editor

The name for what I do is “line editor.” It sounds like an intense copy editor. But it is actually a jack-of-all-trades editor. It is the editor that small companies have because they don’t have enough work to split the job up. So here are the main things that I do, more or less in the order of importance:

  • Mother: I make sure the writers are happy. I try to get them to do more work. And I advocate for them. I also tell them (in the nicest way possible) about various hard truths of life. This is easy for me, because I’m older than everyone else and I genuinely like my writers.
  • Develop: I get a constant stream of requests for articles that will fill some need. It’s often quite a lot of work to figure out what that article should be and how to communicate it to the writers. This last part is key. I don’t want writers wasting their time (And mine!) writing about the wrong thing.
  • Edit: this is mostly copy editing. But it involves a fair amount of content editing. It also involves fact-checking.
  • Publish: there are a lot of different parts of this. It ranges from typesetting to finding graphics to pushing things live. Interestingly, it’s both tedious and terrifying work. It’s also great, because it is the end of a project — in some cases, one that took over a year to complete.
  • Write: when I don’t have a writer for a particular task, I have to write it myself.

Editor as Generic Middle Manager

There’s no doubt that I do much more than that. At the end of any day, I’m not usually sure what I got done. I feel like I’ve spent the whole day playing Fruit Ninja (which I only know about because of work).

There are many kinds of editor. But being a line editor (“lone editor” would be a better term) is very much like being a middle manager at any other company. There are people, they do work, you try to keep it all flowing while maintaining an acceptable level of quality. Oh: and you try to remain calm.

Odd Words: Allochthonous

Allochthonous - Stone Formation in WaterPage eight of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition is an odd one. In the first column, I knew perhaps half the words. I knew all the words in the second column — except for one that I’ll come back to in a moment. In the mean time, get chomping on “allochthonous.”

American Plan?!

There is this thing in the hotel business called “American Plan.” It is a system where you pay a single rate for your hotel and meals. I’ve traveled quite a bit and stayed at a lot of hotels. I’ve never even heard of such a thing. I guess cruise ships work that way. But I always figured that if you didn’t keep people on a ship constantly busy eating, drinking, and watching banal entertainment, they would realize just how awful they felt about spending thousands of dollars to be stuck with all of these people for a week!

Allochthonous and Others

I’ve noticed this before: words I don’t know come in clumps. I assume it is because there are a bunch of specialized words that are based on the same foreign root that I just don’t know. But I can’t say for certain. Doing so would require that I do a bunch of work. And I’m really tired and just want to get this post done!

Here it is; the word you’ve been waiting for: allochthonous:

Al·loch·tho·nous  adjective  \ə-läk’-thə-nəs\

1. not native to the region where found.

Date: early 20th century.

Origin: it comes from two Greek words: allos (other) and khthōn (earth).

Example: The nitrate assimilation rate has been examined to determine new production because nitrate is considered the major allochthonous source of nitrogen, supplied to the euphotic zone from deep water.Shiozaki, et al

It seems to be a geological word. But it would be a great word to have for invasive plants. I suspect there is a different word for that.