Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dealing with Cuba isn't a great deal for Cubans (and it's terrible for us)

This from Breitbart:


Before someone reflexively shouts "Breitbart", yes, the story appears to be accurate as reported by the Cuban government in Granma.cu. Of course, the Cuban government describe it thusly:
"Everything is convenient as the worker will receive his salary doubled in national currency, with 9.09% deducted for holiday pay." 
(My translation. Somebody please check me.) 
By simply doubling the number without regard to the actual exchange rate they are attempting to spin 90% confiscation as a good thing. And of course, along with this draconian confiscation is the realization that workers have to pay for their vacation time out of what remains.

Raul Castro
The only winner
In the comments on Granma.cu there is some mention of the exchange rate. Originally the workers expected to receive 10 Cuban pesos, and someone complains that at two they're losing 8 pesos; with the government responding that this is fair because the exchange rate is actually two pesos (which it's not... the rest of the world knows the exchange rate to be 1:26.5). The government's answering comment is tricky, so again another translator would be welcome, but it appears to me that they're concerned with inflation: if they don't artificially hold down the wages, then higher prices will result in the future.

So instead they choose to withhold that money from the people so it may not be injected into the economy and may not raise the standard of living for all Cubans.

Of course, they could have simply capped salaries, but why do that when you can suck currency for free out of American companies who are willing to pay competitive wages to the workers? Again, this leaves out an important "exchange rate". While American companies are willing to pay fair wages to the workers, I hope that they're far less willing (read "not at all") to pay those same wages to the Cuban government for the privilege of oppressing workers. If Cuba wants to keep their workers down, I don't think they need our help.

Zamira Marín Triana
Cuba has responded in advance to these criticisms. Granma reports that Vice-minister of Labor and Social Security, Zamira Marín Triana claims that the 1:2 exchange rate they're enforcing represents a "significant increase". This in itself is not particularly impressive. As the Havana Times reports, "It is the custom in Cuba that if a foreign firm wants its employees to be productive they must pay them an additional amount of hard currency under the table, since the amount they officially receive after the government takes the lion’s share is not a living wage."

In addition to the lion's share of the workers wages, the Castro government will receive a 20% "negotiator's fee". for providing the labor.

America, just because something is profitable it doesn't follow that we must do it. Communists have learned to bait a hook in such a way that idiot Americans fall for it repeatedly. We have been presented with the illusion that we are benefitting oppressed Communist workers before, in China. The billions that we pour into our economy has made little difference because it's diverted into a foreign regime where it simply stops. Yes, the labor is cheaper, even though they get about 10% of the lower wage you pay them. So companies export the jobs, and with it the tech and the equipment. Then we wind up depending on relatively cheap foreign labor to the point where many U.S. companies could not be self-reliant if they had to. They become American in name only. I live in what was a textile mill town. I've seen it happen. We don't have to do that again.

References:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

One more reason to stay out of jail.

From the Boston Globe:

Reverses ruling in 2012 Kosilek case; Sex-change surgery funding is at issue

Robert Kosilek murdered his wife and is serving a life sentence. Now 65 years old and known as "Michelle", she wants the millions of citizens who did NOT murder their spouses to foot the bill for sex-change surgery.
“It’s a tragic decision on a personal level for Michelle Kosilek,” her lawyer said. “But on a more global level, it’s a horrendous decision for many reasons. . . . It invites the Department of Correction to hire outside experts [to testify against an inmate] whenever they want to deny a prisoner medical treatment.”
If only she were half as uncomfy in prison as she is in her skin. There is an assumption that it is the body and not the mind of the murderer that needs to be changed. Either might be the case. Or in the interests of "fairness" should we extend this principle to other inmates who are uncomfortable with their appearance? Tax-funded surgery for those who are born in bodies shorter or taller than appropriate for "who they really are"; or those in need of nose jobs, liposuction, and tummy-tucks to match their self-image; or facelifts for those who are distressed by their striking resemblance to their own photos on a post-office wall; or skin-bleaching for Blacks who wish they were born Caucasian? Should we blame "the State" (which is in reality the aggregate of citizens like you and me) for the chromosomes a person carries, foisting upon the citizenry some hitherto unrecognized "responsibility" for natural genetic recombination?

If Michelle Kosilek experiences "cruel and unusual punishment" due to gender dysphoria, it is not at the hands of the State; rather, it is at the hands of Providence, which has seen fit to equip her with exactly the body dictated by the genetic blueprint she carries in her DNA. And it is at the hands of herself. Since the question proposed by her legal team is one of "who she is", the answer is "a convicted killer", who could readily have financed this surgery herself had she not committed the murder that landed her in jail. Being in prison is no one's fault but Kosilek's alone. There are a great many goals in life that a conviction for murder will prevent you from realizing; this is just one.

No matter how earnestly you WISH you were born white, or black, or male, or female, or Koozebainian, there is nothing medically wrong with being what you are. The court, I think, made the right call.

---===//oOo\\===---

I have some experience now with those who read what they want to instead of what's written, so for them, here's what I'm not saying: I'm not saying that people with gender dysphoria are predisposed to be killers. I'm not saying that it's not okay for them to seek gender reassignment surgery should they care to. I'm not saying that all gender dysphoria should be treated with psychiatry, though in some cases this is probably true. I'm not making any judgement call whatsoever as to the morality of gender dysphoria. I'm not even sure that "morality" applies: morality is not about what a person is. It deals with behavior, and I have no interest or business in how others behave toward toward themselves or other consenting adults.

  • I am making a judgement call on the morality of murder. It is wrong, and you give up a ton of rights when you commit it.
  • I am saying that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being who you are, as you are. I learned this from Mr. Rogers.
  • I am saying that I am not morally, ethically, or financially liable for your dissatisfaction with who you are. That's your problem to deal with. I have my own, as does everyone else.
  • I am saying that if you want the freedom to go where you want, be who you want, or become who you want, then you need to keep your ass out of prison. Once you've put yourself there you will be denied a great many opportunities for self-actualization. Poor you.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Meandertory Fun

When I was a kid, here's how we took a family vacation:  we'd pile into my stepfather's station wagon, pick a direction, and start driving. We'd stay off the Interstate highways, would eat at locally owned restaurants, talk to people, and go pretty much any place they told us was interesting. The "plan" was simply to see what we could see until the money ran out save for enough to see us home.

One such vacation landed us at Disneyworld in Florida; but also took us to Silver Springs and to numerous roadside museums and attractions... the kind of "see the two-headed snake" tourist draws that haven't survived the decades. Another such vacation ultimately took us to Mammoth Cave. Along the way we lingered in the Blue Ridge mountains and Gatlinburg Tennessee; we visited the Oak Ridge facility where the atomic bomb was conceived; and made our way through the bluegrass hills of Kentucky.

Years later, when I lived in England, my parents came to visit. As was our habit, we piled into the car (in this case my Ford Grenada) and drove in a generally northwest direction from my home in Oxfordshire. Our path wound through the Rollright StonesBanbury Cross; Stratford-upon-Avon; Ironbridge Gorge;  Kenilworth and Warwick castles; and the Roman city Viroconium Cornoviorum (now known as Wroxeter). As usual we made no reservations. We never had a schedule. If something struck our fancy we went there. If, when talking to a barman in a pub we heard of something interesting, we went there. I had a membership in English Heritage, so a lot of it was free or reduced entry. (English Heritage was fairly new at the time, so I'm pleased to see the improvements made at many of these sites in the intervening years.)

A Serendipitous Event

We took it into our heads on this trip that since we were so close to Wales anyway, we should go and visit Offa's Dyke. But it was late in the day, and the hills of Wales to the west brought the sunset a little sooner than we'd anticipated. Also, we weren't prepared for how utterly bereft was this portion of England of amenities like pubs, petrol stations, and restaurants. We found ourselves on a long section of the A4110 with nothing on it but hedgerows and silence. And overcast night gave us pitch blackness save for the twin pools of light cast by the headlamps of the Grenada. Grateful for a small sign that read "Farmhouse B&B", we coasted to a stop, hoping we'd have enough fuel to get us to a town the next day.

The B&B was run by a former London clockmaker and his wife who had retired to the country. The farmhouse was huge, with a fireplace in which you could easily roast a pig. Upstairs were overstuffed feather beds, of which we thankfully availed ourselves after a quick bite graciously prepared on short notice by the lady of the house.

Wigmore Castle
Stronghold of the Mortimers, now a romantic ruin. 
A truly inspired restoration a few years ago 
left the site looking exactly as it did before the work began.
  © Copyright Philip Pankhurst and licensed for reuse 
The next morning when my wife and I awoke, the fog was just beginning to lift; another 10 feet and you could begin to call it clouds. As it was, it actually formed a perfectly flat misty ceiling just even with the top of our bedroom's southern-facing window. Below that ceiling the air was perfectly clear and evenly lit by the diffuse morning light. And below that window was a gorgeous garden of roses. To our left this gave way to truck garden that provided the vegetables for our evening and morning meal. As we were admiring this view, the clouds continued to ascend, and we could see the Welsh hills rising to our right; and as the clouds cleared them, they unveiled the ruins of a castle atop the hill.

You could not have planned this. You could not have properly appreciated it if you had planned it. It's the kind of delightful surprise that you can only achieve through sheer dumb luck. The castle, we learned, was Wigmore Castle, once besieged by Henry II. At the time of our visit it was for sale and unimproved. All that remained a few free-standing wall fragments among debris and sediment and a bit of dungeon. From the English Heritage site I see that it's much the same today as it was then. We clambered up the hill and took some photos, one of which framed the B&B through one of the few remaining windows. When it was developed, my stepfather sent it to the owner of the place in the form of a postcard. I'd post a copy of it here for you if I had it.

A Contrast of Style

That's what I grew up appreciating: unplanned, spontaneous fun. And once you have had a taste of real freedom, there's really no suitable substitute.

I've been on other vacations of the sort that I'm told that normal people take. The kind where plans are made, reservations are booked, and schedules are kept. The kind where a checklist of events is kept and meticulously attended; where a time-boxed quota of fun is allotted for each event, and if you miss a checkbox you are not only off-schedule, but you've lost fun. The kind where you can measure and precisely describe the amount of fun you will have missed out on should you not keep to the schedule. The kind where you can't just go where whim and curiosity would take you. The kind where the allotment of fun must be adjusted by a factor representing the stress induced by keeping to that damnable schedule. The kind with no genuine wonder and no genuine surprises.

The kind that feels a lot like a job.

It's not just holidays and vacations that can be like that, you know. It's parties, too. My idea of an ideal gathering is one where there might be a purpose and some general idea of getting together, and maybe even a few planned events; but the bulk of which is largely unstructured so as to allow people to mingle and converse and do and go where they will. The kind with a buffet and few rules.

I'm not nearly so fond of those where there is a schedule that says you must arrive at such-and-such a time sharp and finish your meal, ordered well in advance, mind you, at just this time so that you can take part in this specific set of activities with this particular group so that we will all have carefully constructed and managed fun. "Mandatory fun" (a phrase we first used in the military, but which has since spilled into business). I know that a lot of people like it, and that I am probably quite atypical and anti-social. I'm sure I must have some deep-seated psychological disorder that gets me focused on my dislike of the format and keeps me disengaged. Basically, it's a lot like work to me. As you might surmise, when it comes to my entertainment I'm more into meandering than traveling with purpose... "Meandertory fun", if you will.

And that's why I'm writing this instead of attending the company Christmas party.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Mind Unused

It's been a while since I've gotten to trot out the Junk Science label. Usually I do it for mainstream media programs, but this evocative headline is currently making the rounds:
It's from a site called "themindunleashed.org". It SHOULD be called "themindunused.org". And let's give credit where it's due: the source of this article is Jim Stone [note 1].  This is the epitome of a conspiracy theorist's article: full of crap, bereft of fact-checking or anything much in the way of facts of any kind. Everything you need to know about the conspiracy theory proposed is pretty much contained in or implied in the headline, but here's "Cliff's Notes" summary:
This car represents the current state of what's practical in automotive technology. It's an affordable, spacious, roomy, heavy vehicle that gets 300 miles per gallon without any real need for exotic lightweight materials. It could be on the roads of America practically "as is" were it not for the intervention of the Big Oil Companies.
Oooooo..... Ahhhhhh.....
What a big, lovely car!
Sure, read the article. Then read a few more, like Car & Driver. Or the USA Today article, which notes:
Barely a real production model, it's made in a factory, but largely by hand. It couldn't meet U.S. safety rules and needed changes in German rules to be on the road there.
This car isn't for sale in America because it's about the SIZE OF A GO-KART + engine compartment, and because it violates innumerable basic safety regulations to get this mileage. This is deftly hidden in the cherry-picked and sometimes-distorted photos, but easily seen in the video and the few candid shots that include people for scale and don't carefully choose the perspective. The XL1 is about waist-high to an average height male, and not much broader. It has no side mirrors. It has no rear window at all: the engine is where the rear window would be. It's not been crash-tested because the result is a foregone conclusion: it has no crumple zones. It's so narrow the seats are staggered. It cannot clear a speed bump.
Wait.... WHAT?

Not a scale model.
Yes, it gets gobs of miles to the gallon. But Honda built a two-seater back in the 70s that did respectably well, too; powered by a motorcycle engine. And the BMW Isetta (a true production car) was hitting 94 mpg using a 250 cc engine in 1955 using the same design mantra: build tiny, build light. The "300 mpg" estimate for the XL1 is in an ideal scenario. The USA Today test drive puts it at 200 mpg, but I'm not going to quibble... that's still a damned respectable rating.  But that's not the be-all and end-all of consumer driving. You still have to carry people and their stuff around, and mass takes energy to move. Contrary to the Stone's rabid ravings, the expensive and exotic materials used are not just "bunk". They are in large part how the mileage is achieved. 795 kg is feather-lite for an automobile though in his ignorance the Stone attempts to make it sound massive. And despite the theory pulled from a tin foil hat, the oil companies have absolutely nothing to do with VW's production line.

VW know their market. This is a great technology showcase and conversation starter, and a limited run of 250 (NOT 2,000) at a price of $150,000 each (NOT $60,000) is just enough so they can lay claim to it being a "production vehicle" for PR purposes. But when the technologies are scaled up to road-worthy, practical-sized cars with safety features like firewalls and airbags and crumple zones, a lot of that mileage disappears. Nevertheless, something's better than nothing, and some of this tech will be applied to cars like the VW Golf. There's certainly no conspiracy going on.

As reported by Autoevolution.com, here's an example of VW using the "production car" label in an actual Volkswagen press release, demonstrating that the value of this exceedingly limited run is for promotional purposes.
Futuristic-looking TDI® Clean Diesel plug-in hybrid nets 261 mpg on the European combined fuel economy cycle

• XL1 can operate as a pure EV for up to 31 miles
• Two-cylinder TDI engine displaces 0.8 liters, makes 48 horsepower
• Best aerodynamics of any production car: Cd of just 0.189
• Super-low weight of 1753 pounds achieved through extensive use of carbonfiber, aluminum, and magnesium
• 250 will be built at Volkswagen’s Osnabrück factory in Germany

New York - New Yorkers got a glimpse of the future this week, as the Volkswagen XL1 arrived in the City as part of a month-long American tour that took in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and the Big Apple.

In case you missed it, this is a VW XL1, on the street in New York City.
"Not allowed in America"? Really??
 


In the end, I can't give Jim Stone the Junk Science label because he's a not a scientist. He's just another blogger: one who's really bad at math and science and who chooses not to check his facts. I probably should have a label for that, but in the meantime I'll award him this really bitchin' magnet he can use to deactivate the government microchip in his head.





  1. Yes, I had to wrestle with myself over giving a link and a paltry few views to Jim Stone, Freelance Journalist, but in the end I did because you should know where this crap comes from. Besides, I had to laugh out loud at the page header. The "Jim Stone, Freelance Journalist" title of his blog should really be pronounced like a comic-book logo, with hands on hips.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gambling Against Yourself

Note: I wrote this ages ago... before the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA, a.k.a. "Obamacare") came into effect. I never got around to clicking "publish", probably because I hadn't finished marking it up with links. I'm not going to do that now, but I might at some point. Some of the explanation of "how things are" apply to that point in time and may now be obsolete. I'm posting it now only because I wrote it and I'm taking ownership of my statements. 

The nature of insurance is that people who don't use it pay premiums that are used to pay off the bets of the people who do. 

Waitaminnit.... did you say BETS?

Sure. At its core, insurance is an elaborate betting system.  For instance, take term life insurance... every month you bet the insurance company that you're going to die. They bet you won't. Now, if you don't die then you've lost the bet and your stake (the premium). However, if you do die, you win the bet and the insurance company pays off on the odds, which are usually pretty good. Unfortunately, you're dead, so the payout goes to your heirs (the beneficiaries). The difference between "insurance" and "gambling" is that in insurance you're always betting against yourself. It's always in your best interest not to win. I didn't make that up. If you win and it's determined that you have a vested interest in winning, then you have committed "insurance fraud". For instance, you buy fire insurance with the understanding that the continued existence of the building is worth more to you than the payout. If those values are inverted, then you might commit arson and burn down the building for the insurance money. What was a perfectly legal bet now becomes a crime.

But insurance isn't exactly the same as gambling, though it is a bet. As with all bets, the odds are adjusted in accordance with the likelihood of the event. In gambling events, like horseracing, it's typical to fix the betting amounts: you place a $2 bet at the window. But in insurance it's typical to buy according to the value of the payout: you buy a $250,000 life insurance policy. But the odds are still respected, and serve to adjust the other end of the equation. If your horse is likely to win, the payout will be smaller. If you're likely to die, your premium will be higher. But in insurance this is less likely to reflect the actual odds. People with a very low chance of payout will pay statistically higher premiums so that people with a higher chance of payout will may pay statistically lower premiums than they otherwise would. This keeps the range of premiums within a psychologically acceptable range aligning with peoples' perceptions of equitability or fairness, while still allowing the "house" (the insurance company) to make it an economically viable bet. Basically, they spread the costs around. This is called an "adjusted community rating".

Healthcare 'insurance' is interesting because it typically includes features that have nothing at all to do with the actual insurance (the "bet"). For instance, when you buy auto insurance, it's restricted to specific events: accident, theft, etc. It doesn't include regular maintenance. The owner of the automobile is expected to change the oil, transmission and steering fluids, keep the radiator in good repair, regularly replace the belts and tires, keep the windshield clean and unobstructed, make sure the lights and horn work, etc. These are the owner's responsibility alone. Even though it could be argued that it is in everyone's best interest to institute some form of prepayment, and for convenience's sake tack it onto the insurance policy's premiums to encourage the owner to take advantage of "free" maintenance, this isn't commonly done. Regular maintenance is accepted as a normal and responsible part of automobile ownership. Some companies now offer prepaid maintenance plans that are separate and distinct from insurance policies.

Prepayment plans encourage you to do things in your own best interest that would cause the insurance company to lose the bet. They're literally there to pay for services that you expect to use rather than those you hope never to need. Blue Cross began as a prepayment plan, encouraged by American Hospital Association (AHA) in the Great Depression, so as to maintain a more steady flow of income. At that time, people were not likely to utilize their services, and the relatively painless small payments, coupled with the allure of low-cost visits, encouraged increased healthcare spendingThat's what prepayment was for. It was later marketed as preventative medicine for cost-cutting. http://www.cfeps.org/health/chapters/html/ch1.htm

Blue Shield began as a similar prepayment plan dealing with individual physicians, and merged with Blue Cross in 1982. For a long time both were non-profit and tax-exempt, but that changed with the tax reform of 1986. These use community ratings to spread the costs a single risk pool and thus charge everyone similar rates.

As you could work our yourself from the very concept of an "adjusted community rating", prepayment plans are a really good deal if you're going to be using a lot of healthcare. Not so good if you're very low risk. The yearly costs of a good prepayment plan can very widely exceed the out-of-pocket costs of several routine office visits per year paid in cash. Also, the costs associated with routine visits are inflexible and fixed ONLY when billed through insurance because they're governed by contract. A doctor is free to negotiate payment for those who are self-pay, usually to the patient's benefit. Some doctors set up their own prepayment plans at a deep discount as a means of establishing recurring income and patient loyalty, as well as a nice way of providing for those patients for whom commercial insurance is too expensive (much as the original Blue Shield did). For the young, healthy individual it is almost always cheaper to buy classical insurance at a very low premium for hospitalization and catastrophic events, and to pay out-of-pocket for routine maintenance, as you would with auto insurance. Health savings plans recognize the fact, and encourage their own use by being tax exempt. However, they're often "use it or lose it"; you must use the money in the plan before the expiration of term. The advantage to the term administrators is that they get to confiscate a lot of unused money every year. If you're really not paying out that much in healthcare, you're still economically better off just banking the money and paying the taxes, and using it when it's actually necessary. The one way to make that untrue is to remove the option and force prepaid insurance. That's what the ACA does.

The reason the ACA enforces participation in plans that are plainly economically detrimental to the individual is because it is necessary when Adjusted Community Rating is factored in to make it "fair" (by which is meant "equitable", and which disguises the true goal of making it economically sustainable). Such a scheme cannot survive in a commercial environment if you have a lot of people sucking benefits out of a system without a whole lot of young, strapping people pumping more into it than is being sucked out. So for it to work at all they have to make people buy plans that make no sense for them to buy. Now, a friend of mine describes this as follows: "Mandatory insurance, therefore, is just to prevent freeloading or gaming the system." But note that actually paying your doctor real spendable cash and discharging your debts can hardly be described as "freeloading". What he calls "gaming the system" can just as readily mean "making sound economic choices".

But what about the poor?

In a free market system, every doctor does a certain amount of pro bono work. The cost of doing this is borne in small part by the doctor himself, and in large part by his other patients. They pay higher costs, and the increased disposable income allows the doctor the financial latitude to provide that pro bono care. Is this perfect? No. Doctors aren't evenly spread geographically, and those that practice in poor areas have few insured and/or wealthy patients who can offset the costs. Also, doctors are physically limited in the number of patients they can reasonably accomodate. The overflow of patients (with insurance or without) go to hospital emergency rooms. As you can read just inside the door of every U.S. hospital that accepts Medicare and Medicaid funding, the facility is required by law to provide emergency treatment to patients regardless of their ability to pay, and regardless of whether they have insurance of any kind. This has been the case for decades.

But this isn't perfect either. An emergency room is there for emergencies, and they're only required to give you treatment to stabilize your condition so you can find a doctor for your (stabilized, non-emergency) condition. Most reasonable people would agree that a cold or minor ailment isn't really an emergency. After all, a cold is going to go away in seven to ten days no matter how you treat it. Nevertheless, emergency rooms are filled with uninsured patients with minor ailments. Part of this is because they don't have any place else to go, if their local doctors are not taking patients. But part of this is because we force them in there with stupid regulations. For instance, schools require a doctor's note to excuse an absence, though every parent knows what a cold looks like, and that the child shouldn't be in school. Nevertheless, this regulation forces people into expensive medical appointments for no more reason than requiring a rubber stamp approval to stay home. And since (as we've already noted) doctors have busy schedules, they find it difficult to work such appointments in on short notice. Where are you going to go? To the E.R., of course. Thus the educational system, by distrusting parental judgement, causes the cost of healthcare to rise. This is government in action. Almost all multi-symptom cold medications contain the same four-or-so ingredients. Mom didn't need a doctor to tell her which one to buy, and little Johnny is going to be at home regardless. The only thing the school has done is to force someone to drop $100 into the doctor's bank account.

In either event, the number of people who don't have insurance does not represent the number of people who can't simply can't get healthcare even though that's what ACA proponents want you to believe. A large number of them don't buy it because they don't want it; it's not an economically sound bet. Some are small business owners who would rather just pay the doctor cash for service. Some people would rather take the risk and bank the money. Some are foolish, and take the risk, spending the money rather than banking it. And a statistically smaller percentage are people who can't afford healthcare and need the insurance and can't get that either. However, a statistically smaller percentage is still a large number of people, so there can be no shortage of "personal stories" to put on display.

Note that the free enterprise system addresses the problem by shifting costs. The ACA addresses it the same way. The big difference is how the costs are shifted. Instead of doing it at the point of service, where a doctor can determine how much it costs for him to meet his expenses and stay in business, the ACA forces all the people who don't want insurance to buy it. It also forces all of the people who can't afford to buy it to buy it anyway. Of course, since they can't afford to buy it, the government offers "subsidies", which are actually pulled from the premiums of the people who can afford to buy it (meaning that their premiums are necessarily inflated), and in "fairness", to keep the premiums on any tier roughly equal, they pull more money than necessary, in order to meet the inflated premiums caused by the subsidies. So we can expect more money to be shifted than is technically necessary to cover the shortfall. The end result: everyone's premiums go up. Period.

What they'd vastly prefer is a single payer system, where there's one insurer (and that's the government or a government sponsored entity that's indistinguishable from the government) into which everybody pays and which pays every healthcare provider. In this sort of system the costs are fixed. They pay what they pay, and since they're the only legal payer and they write the rules, if you're a doctor who wants to get paid you shut up and take the money. That won't fly politically, so what they have is far from perfect.

For one thing, the penalties are lower than the insurance. So people aren't going to buy in. So everybody else's premiums go up (again) because budget expectations aren't met. You won't get punitive "taxes" (those are really fines, Supreme Court), until about the third year, so you get a couple of rounds of increases before people are actually forced into it, which means that by the time they actually try to buy insurance, the stuff they couldn't afford before is really unaffordable. But in actuality, you don't get punitive fines ever. In 2016, if you're a small business owner making $100 grand a year, your fee/tax/penalty will be $2,500 for the year. Divide it by 12. That's $208 and change per month. After all of the rigamarole and cost increases, it will always be cheaper to remain uninsured. So the only people who have incentive to buy into it are those who can't afford it and are subsidized. Where the subsidies would come from, God only knows, because nobody else really needs to buy in.

So the ACA doesn't just shift the costs, it shifts the entire problem. The "insured poor" become the "how-the-hell-do-we-pay-for-them poor". The "uninsured poor" becomes "the uninsured middle class", and they won't even qualify for subsidies. And the penalties won't cover the amount of the shortfall. And penalizing someone still won't make them insured. And because they're penalized, they are less able to buy insurance than they were before the penalties. Meanwhile, the system still won't be able to afford to cover the people it's intended to cover; but this time, the providers can't adjust the costs, because they're fixed. Goodbye common sense, hello underground healthcare system.

There is nothing "affordable" about the Affordable Care Act. Nothing. It doesn't mathematically add up. There will be some kind of forced change to the system, because as it stands it's just dumb and will collapse on its own anyway. Understand that I'm not saying that people shouldn't have healthcare. I'm saying that this law is just a really bad way of going about it. A system that can't pay for the poor and can't get sufficient money out of the middle class is worse than what we had.

Remember, for the populace this whole thing was a gamble. We weren't allowed to see what was in the bill until it was passed. If insurance is gambling against yourself, our country just rolled the dice and got snake eyes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson Burns to Prove... Something.

It's amazing (actually it's not) that it's nearly impossible to find unbiased coverage of the grand jury decision in Ferguson. All of the coverage is of the REACTION to the decision, with very little dispassionately reporting the details of the actual decision. THIS is why I dropped out of Journalism... it's not about news, it's about schadenfreude and entertainment.

However, at this point, the story is the reaction. To get you up to date, here's this from NBC: Ferguson: Businesses Ablaze, Bullets Fly in Overnight Mayhem Over Grand Jury

This isn't Ferguson, it's Kiev. I'd show you a pic of Ferguson if I had one
that's covered under a Creative Commons license.
Regarding that reaction, I can spin editorials as well. Here's a Right-wing rendering of what the Liberal commentators won't say:
We have learned that the Black community of Ferguson and its environs feel that they can send a message about one of their own being treated as a thug by demonstrating en masse that they are thugs. To this end they whip out the guns and torches and burn down the buildings where they buy their bread and clothing and other supplies. Tomorrow, they will cry to the government over the lack of bread and clothing and other supplies, thereby demonstrating that thugs are stupid and short-sighted. The Leftist Executive will wail about what a tragedy it is that the innocent people of Ferguson have no bread and clothing and other supplies, while he and other Liberals plan on compassionate relief efforts that will cement these citizens' dependence on government salvation from... er... government oppression.
Meanwhile, the smarter business owners of Ferguson -- those who kept their insurance policies maxed out and up to date in anticipation of this most predictable event -- will take said insurance money and run as fast as possible to some other, more stable area to re-establish their businesses. These will NOT be in Black neighborhoods, and you can be certain that the Liberals will point out that it is despicable Racism and not the blatant brutality of the "victims" themselves that is to blame.
The Boston Globe published this story yesterday: Ahead of Ferguson decision, an education in nonviolence. Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou traveled from Boston to his hometown of Ferguson to conduct nonviolent civil disobedience training. Obviously, the lesson didn't take with nearly enough people.

For the record, you cannot make a valid argument against an unjust system by being unjust. Gandhi's lesson in non-violent protest makes it clear that you must be obviously right, and allow your oppressors to be obviously wrong in order for such protest to work. Then those who have no interest in the matter other than their desire to see justice prevail will come to your side.

In the present case, a police officer who responded to a call with what the grand jury determined to be prudence, just as many other cops of all races have done in many other jurisdictions in cases that have not been protested. The officer may have been wrong. The prosecutor may have been wrong in not pushing for a particular outcome. The grand jury may have been wrong in their conclusions. All of that may have been wrong, but the end result is that the judicial process was followed. If the outcome is wrong it is not the fault of your grocer or your local cell phone salesman. And one case of injustice against one person... even if that's what it was... does not justify thousands of cases of injustice and violence perpetrated as a result. To do so is counter-productive in the extreme. The cop reacted as if the citizens of Ferguson were inherently dangerous. Today, the citizens of Ferguson proved the officer absolutely right. They didn't have to. It never works. They did it anyway, despite logic and sound reason and education. That's sad.

In a Denver Post article, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock had this to say: "Whatever the grand jury decides in the Ferguson case, my hope is that this community, and our larger American community, will keep in mind that our response sets an example for our children." 

Well, yes. Exactly. One cannot take the moral high ground while acting like a petulant spoiled infant, throwing his bowl when lunch was not to his liking. When my children did this they got nothing to replace it. They quickly learned to eat what they were given and bear disappointment with calm. Imagine what terrible people my children might have grown up to be if I didn't teach them that... if their every disappointment was allowed to be met with a tantrum and violence? I don't have to imagine. I saw it on the morning news.

Obviously this doesn't apply to all the people of Ferguson, Missouri... just those with the torches and pitchforks. It's clear that these protests, or ones like them, would have happened whatever the jury decided. This isn't about Michael Brown, and hasn't been. It's about a political opportunity. And sadly, any positive political change is undermined by the hamfisted way in which this was carried out. They did it as badly as it could possibly be done. They don't have a Gandhi. They don't have a Martin Luther King. And they don't want to hear any of that non-violent message either. The 'leaders' they have don't know what they're doing. There are victims, but they're not Michael Brown, and they're not just in Ferguson, and it's not the authorities who just did the victimizing.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Digital Dark Age

With apologies to St. Benedict
I've often had the thought that in the distant future, archaeologists who investigate our civilization will be perplexed by the "fact" that at the very height of our civilization, the human race simply decided to do away with writing. As everything gets moved to impermanent media, should our civilization fall into ruin (or simply evolve into something quite different) it will appear to future historians as though writing itself became relegated to ceremonial use only, labeling public buildings and tombstones. Now that someone has invented the digital tombstone, even that use may disappear.

I'm not the only one who's had these thoughts:


There's even a Museum of Obsolete Media. Of course, it's a virtual museum, stored on digital media, so eventually it may experience the ultimate irony when it becomes obsolete.

I'm old enough and came into computing early enough that I've personally used punched cards, paper tape, paper print-outs, magnetic tape, 8-inch floppy disks, 5.25-inch floppies, 3.5-inch floppies, Zip disks, CD, DVD, external magnetic hard drives, solid-state drives, and a variety of USB flash drives to store my data. ALL OF THEM DEGRADE OVER TIME. EVERY SINGLE ONE. The books and the paper documents that we have have turned out to be far more durable than any of the digital media that we've yet devised, and even those pages will rot over time.

Nothing endures. Depending on what happens in our society, in a couple of thousand years, all that may be left are the stone engravings of previous eras... but the kicker here is that our own archaeologists have dug them up, removed them from their historical strata, and entrusted their provenance to the same impermanent media that will render our deeds invisible to future generations. Should we lose our own history then we will have killed the memory of everyone before us.

I'm currently in the laborious process of recovering data from a 2 terabyte drive that recently bit the dust. I'll be doing that for a long time. That is, of course, the impetus for this little missive. But the reason for it is, in the spirit of advocacy, spell out a few important lessons I've learned in the 35 years (or so) that I've been computing. So, in the order that I thought of them...
  1. Back up your backups. When you first get an inkling that a medium is headed for obsolescence, get everything that needs to be saved off of it. I thought that this large-capacity drive would be more reliable than it is. In the future I'll budget for two, of compatible size though different manufacture.
  2. You don't really need to back up everything. Sometimes, programs are truly obsolete. They've been replaced by something far better and you don't really need it anymore. Sure, it may have done the job then, but you haven't used it for years and have no data that requires it. Learn to let go.
  3. Use open formats. In other words, make sure that your data don't require particular programs to run. As an example, ODF documents can be read by any number of programs... StarOffice, OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice, Symphony, etc., and may even be opened and largely understood by unzipping them and reading the XML files. Old WordStar documents are mostly marked-up text, and I've found that they're actually pretty readable on their own. But proprietary formats suck. When the program is gone or can't run on your platform, the data are useless. Free (libre) software require no software keys or activation codes, and your access to those programs will never be cut off. For my personal computing I switched to free software in the late '90s and haven't missed the proprietary stuff at all.
  4. Emulators rock. When you're stuck with data that can be read by only one program, and the program can only run under a legacy system, then emulation may get you there IF you can get the data off of the medium.
  5. Legacy media readers rock. I still have an Iomega Zip drive. AND a 3.5" floppy drive. AND an external CD/DVD reader. I also have a nice, cheap external hard drive dock for SATA and IDE drives. And they ALL are accessible through USB or through a RS-232 to USB converter. While it's a good idea to get the data off of those formats as soon as you can, you have to remember that it's not only your media, but your computer itself that can become obsolete, and it may die unexpectedly. It's a good idea to have an external reader for every ancient format your prior machine could read, just in case.
  6. Disk images rock. Often, a program expects data to be on not just a disk, but a particular type of disk. While the programmers who made those assumptions should have been drowned as children, you're left to deal with that problem. I deal with it by making ISO disk images of the media, which I then mount as a virtual drive. This can be done in a number of ways. In Linux I use a program like AcetoneISO to mount the drive directly to my file system. In Windows I use PortableWinCDEmu for the same purpose. But push comes to shove I can mount the image as a drive in an emulator or in VirtualBox to be read by the (emulated) hardware or OS that supports it. Disk images cannot be scratched or misplaced. They can, however, be lost if the media on which they exist dies, so point 1 above is hugely important. I can't stress it enough.
Up to now I've been a data hoarder. I don't really "do" traditional photos and I've even digitized a great number of my books (and no, you can't have copies unless they're in the public domain, in which case you can probably find them no Project Gutenberg). The record of my life is basically on digital media. But experiences like this have me wondering whether I should just embrace the ephemeral nature of Life and live in the moment. A thousand years from now it may all be gone anyway.