Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Love and Hate

Many people believe that the opposite of Love is Hate. I don't think it is. The true opposite of Love is nothing at all. If you have ever felt the empty, bland not-caringness of ceasing to love someone without hating them, you have some idea of the truth of this. Where there is both Love and Hate, when the Love is gone, then Hate is exposed, naked. For this reason, people believe them to be opposites.

Hate stems from the perception of being hurt or wronged. Hate, properly applied, has a positive purpose. Consider this passage from C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, in which Professor Ransom is wrestling with the Un-Man:
What was before him appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself to which will was attached only as an instrument. Ages ago it had been a Person: but the ruins of personality now survived in it only as weapons at the disposal of a furious self-exiled negation. It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for.
Why would an almighty God allow such a thing as hatred...? Because it has exquisite, necessary utility. Love is the condition by which we care for others more than we care for ourselves. Unalloyed Love leads us to allow evil without opposition. We become the unwitting tools of evil. We become enablers. Hate, properly applied, motivates us to combat evil. In the presence of Love, Hate gives us the strength to act where we might otherwise consider only our own survival. It keeps us from being cowards.

Hate becomes a problem in the absence of Love.

Without Love... putting others first... we make ourselves the center of everything. Every matter of ethics and morality becomes relative and subjective. We focus only on the offense that we take, without considering whether offense was given. Thus, we are offended by everything and we hate freely. And because admitting to our hatred would damage our self-image, we cannot bring ourselves to do that. Instead, we justify our selfishness using the language of emotions we do not truly feel. Not necessarily toward everyone... but certainly toward those who don't bolster our self-image... those who are not useful to us.

Look around. Look inside. Judge for yourself.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump Frenzy Continues

Judging from the Liberals on my Facebook page, they just can't get enough of Trump. It's a parade of all-Trump, all-the-time, and for the next 3-1/2 years personal lives are something to be neglected to the point of atrophy.

Ah, well. Today I saw a rather long list of possibilities for the demise of Trump's term in office. According to this armchair pundit, Trump has in the neighborhood of a 1-in-16 chance of finishing his first term. I say this because the other 15 options revolve around some ignominious removal from office by impeachment or resignation.

By the way, I'm 100% behind Richard Dreyfuss' non-partisan initiative to bring Civics education back into grade school curriculum.

If my left-leaning friends applied Civics to the issue, they'd remember that it is not illegal for the President of the United States, who happens to be the Chief Executive... top kahuna of the executive branch of government... to fire someone in his employ. That includes the FBI Director. Their dislike of the timing of it does not make it a high crime or misdemeanor. Their disagreement with his operational decisions do not constitute grounds for impeachment.

If my left-leaning friends applied Civics to the issue, they'd remember that it is not illegal for the President of the United States, who happens to be the countries chief diplomat, to talk to the leaders of other countries or maintain friendly relationships with them. Their fantasies of traitorous subterfuge does not make it illegal for world leaders to meet, talk, tell jokes, laugh, etc.. Even when those leaders have substantive differences of policy, they can still be cordial and civil. A joke shared between adversaries does not make the policy differences disappear.

Unfortunately, many (and by no means all) of my friends and acquaintances on the left have no comprehension of this, having lost the ability to disagree cordially themselves. They just can't do it. It has nothing to do with politics, really; if you're bad, everything about you must be bad. Whatever you sell is bad, whatever you like is bad, and your every purpose must be nefarious. All it takes is one opinion. Ask Laci Green. A die-hard feminist, all she said was that the other side had some valid points and that she'd continue to be open to conversations about opposing views, and she got lambasted for it by her leftist "friends". I've found that there is a large group of people on that side for whom "friendship" is a truly foreign concept. There are people who are useful to them, and there are enemies. And this is a lop-sided criticism, yes. I personally know many people on the left who are like that, specifically about interpersonal relationships. I personally know no one on the right who is. I disagree strongly on a number of the talking points of both sides, and that's my experience.

For the record, I strongly suspect Trump is acting the way he is because he has no intention of running for a second term. You're used to analyzing the actions of politicians, whereas this is not a politician. This is someone who thinks of himself as a great negotiator, and that's how you need to analyze his actions. Misdirection and manipulation. Put on a little circus over there so you can get some stuff done quietly over here. Over-ask so as to more readily "settle" for what you wanted in the first place. For instance, people forget all about whether there should be a Wall if they spend 100% of their time arguing over who's going to pay for it. See? It's a completely different conversation.

So at this point my thought is that Trump's going to finish his full term, and he'll do it without impeachment or resignation. Resignation will never even be on the table. And he will continue to operate in a way that completely baffles the left, even when he delivers many of the things they actually want. And the left will continue to oppose him on those items, even though they formerly wanted them. Go figure.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

On Pre-Existing Conditions

There are a lot of folks protesting right now about the fact that the GOP's proposed healthcare law does not force insurance providers to cover pre-existing conditions. The fact that they're out there protesting tells me that they don't know a whole lot about insurance.

I'm going to start with this and then give some alternatives. Perhaps after that you'll understand the insurance company's position (and it isn't "greed").

Pre-existing conditions should never be a part of any insurance plan. 


Because if you allow pre-existing conditions, it's not insurance

At its most basic, insurance is a bet. Let's take something other than healthcare as an example to remove the emotion from the equation. Every month, I bet State Farm that my car will be wrecked. Every month, State Farm takes that bet. Both of us ante up: my ante is called a "premium", which is set according to the odds; and State Farm's ante is held in their liquid assets... cash on hand for the purpose of paying off such bets. If my car isn't wrecked, I lose the bet, and State Farm keeps my premium. If my car is wrecked, then I win the bet, and State Farm pays the cost of repair or replacement.

That's very simple, right? Almost indistinguishable from gambling. Now there are a few things that legally differentiate this bet from gambling, but I'll focus on just two to start: One is the idea of "insurable interest". As the insured, I have to suffer loss in order to win the bet. The other is the idea of "proximate cause". That is, the the reason for the loss must occur within the term (the effective dates) of the policy.

That's because insurance is a hedge against uncertain loss. Take away the loss or the uncertainty, and it's not insurance.

And again let's compare it to a bet so you can see it clearly.
1: Tim flips a coin and covers it so no one else can see it. William bets you even money that it's heads. Is that a fair bet?
2: Tim flips a coin and then shows it to William. William then bets you even money that it's heads. Is that a fair bet?
Of course you wouldn't take the second bet. No one would. That's because the state of the coin is a pre-existing condition. It is something that you personally would never accept if you were offered the wager. You wouldn't even pretend otherwise.

But that's a bet. Now, with insurance:
3: You buy insurance, then wreck your car. You file a claim about the accident. The insurance company pays you and you use the money to fix your car.
4: You wreck your car, then buy insurance. You file a claim about the accident. You've committed insurance fraud and you are arrested.
The reason for the insurance fraud in 4 is that the auto damage is a pre-existing condition.

This is completely straightforward and logical and fair. Obviously so.

Now let's look at a third legal point: mitigation. The insured person must treat his property as if it were not insured. In other words, he's required to take steps to avoid damage that would cause a payout. So if you own a car you have to drive safely, service it regularly, make sure it has oil and other fluids in it, keep the brakes in good repair, etc. This is your responsibility, and is not part of insurance. It also means you can't cause an "accident". You can't deliberately set fire to your property or fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent it from catching fire, etc. Otherwise the insurance company would not pay out, and would prosecute you.

If these restrictions did not exist, it's blatantly obvious that anyone could simply wreck their car, go to the insurance company, plop down a premium... say a couple of hundred bucks... and buy a new car at someone else's expense. The insurance company would be paying out far more than they get in and would soon go out of business. In order to prevent that, they would first raise their premiums in an attempt to cover the losses. This would cause their legitimate customers to defect to other companies and hasten the demise of the idiots who allowed payouts without proximate cause. Since this is obviously detrimental to society, insurance fraud is illegal.

Healthcare Insurance 

The exact same thing is true of insurance when applied to healthcare. You're still making a bet, you're still hedging against uncertain loss, and the insurance company must still remain solvent. If you screw with any of that, then your premiums for legitimate customers skyrocket, their deductibles increase, and insurance companies are forced out of the market.

This is exactly what we have seen happen in practice under the Affordable Healthcare Act... "Obamacare". It is not only mathematically inevitable, it is completely predictable, and in fact was predicted by many people in many places, including on this blog. And they were absolutely right.

Part of the problem is clarity of language. Although much of what is lumped together as healthcare insurance is actual insurance, much of it isn't. Rather, it's a pre-payment plan. This isn't fiction. Read about the formative history of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations and you'll see that these plans were created to increase the profitability of hospitals and doctors, respectively. It was to encourage people to use those services when they otherwise wouldn't have in the money-tight years of the Great Depression. So there are expenses included that are not the result of actual loss. These are are things like regular checkups or preventative medications and supplements. They are maintenance expenses that would mitigate actual insurance payouts. But because these prepayment plans are lumped in with insurance coverage, we've gotten used to calling the whole lump "healthcare insurance".

Until the last few years, pre-existing conditions were still disallowed, for the same reasonable and fair reasons that it's disallowed in every other insurance venue. It is only in the emotionally-charged case of healthcare that people fail to call insurance fraud what it is and actively insist that insurance companies fall victim to this cheat. I'm using my words carefully here. If you want pre-existing conditions to be covered by insurance, then you explicitly endorse fraud and cheating. If this bothers you, it's not because you're upset by fraud; you're upset at being called out for it. I'm not saying this to insult you; I'm saying it because you need to think in new ways... ways that actually address and solve root causes.

Fixing It

Consider this: no one ever buys a drill because he wants a drill. A person buys a drill because he wants a hole. When you consider the actual problem, it's clear that it doesn't matter whether you gain the hole by owning, renting, or borrowing a drill; or by lasering, sandblasting, punching, or pre-forming the hole. So long as you get your hole, the mechanism doesn't matter.

Likewise, you have to ask yourself whether you want healthcare insurance coverage for every possible healthcare expense, or affordable, accessible healthcare. If you can pay $4/month at Wal-mart for maintenance medication, do you need to pay $50/month so that it's "covered" and paid for by an insurance company? If you could visit a doctor for a $50 office fee, do you need to pay an additional $200/month so that two checkups a year are included in your "coverage"? Should you force someone else to pay those maintenance fees for you?

Just because something isn't paid for by insurance, that does not mean that it shouldn't be treated, or that people should be allowed to die, or that people who want a robust and viable insurance industry want you to die. None of those things need be true.

It simply means that we should find a different way of paying for it. You have to think about the actual problem. And the problem is not insurance. And if it were, institutionalized insurance fraud is not the way to "fix" it. Rather, it's a guaranteed road to a permanently broken system.

There are multiple ways of addressing the actual need. In socialized medicine, it's simply payed by taxes. You could put the providers on the government payroll and pay them a salary. Now you're not limited by the payments, but by the number of service providers, hours in the day, and demand. Obviously this raises taxes, but it does not require you to pay for everyone. We currently have single-payer means-tested social medicine programs in the United States in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. And for decades, no hospital that accepts government funds in this country has been allowed to turn away a patient in immediate need of care. That's the law, and it's posted at or near the entrance of your nearest emergency room. Go look. That's the truth that's swept under the rug. But rather than focus on improving these programs -- which are literally intended to solve the very problems that the ACA attempts to address -- the architects of the ACA instead decided to break healthcare for everyone. That was just flatly stupid.

In addition to these programs, there are other workable solutions. One way is through privately or publicly funded charities.

We know this is possible because we do it today. The Shriners famously operate 22 children's hospitals. Only about 15% of their budget comes from public grants. The rest is derived from dues willingly paid by Shriners and by voluntary contributions to their fundraising efforts. No child is ever billed for their services. Not directly, and not through their insurance companies either. The same is true of RiteCare provided by Scottish Rite masons for preschool children with language disabilities. Not one cent is ever demanded from a patient. The same is true of St. Jude's Children's Research hospital. The point is that we know that alternative methods work and that they are viable and that they solve the actual problem of health care for their patients.

Innovative solutions like these and others are overlooked in the broader healthcare market because people have been trained to jump blindly past the issue of whether breaking private insurance is a good idea to focus on how to break it in the most egregious manner possible. They don't think of it that way, but that's what they're doing. Furthermore, many people have been taught that it is not their responsibility to look after their own bodies... that they have a "right" to have someone else do it for them. They actually take more personal responsibility for their cars than they do for their lives, and they think this is somehow normal. That's a societal illness of its own, and it needs to be fixed as part of the overall solution.  Of course helping people is a priority; but "help" requires some personal accountability by definition.

Insurance is one of the most historically precise industries there is. Actuaries account for everything, be it cause or correlation. When they set odds it's because that's what the odds are. The wishful thinking of government legislators cannot change them. The wishful thinking of people who desire free money cannot do better. Honestly, I think the best thing we can do about private insurance is leave it alone and address the problems of the uninsured independently. That won't happen until you recognize what those problems actually are.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Commentary: Inside the Box

"Inside the Box" is the first piece of fiction I've written in a while. I know a lot of people like to let their work stand for itself, but I like to at least keep track of what I was thinking at the time. So this post is really just for me. But if you want to be less confused, read the story and come back. I'll wait.

Working in IT as I do, I'm constantly barraged by advice to "think outside the box", and truth be told, that's mostly how I make my living. Last week I was driving home, passing the Belk distribution center as I have done uncountable times before when the phrase popped into my head. Here's what I saw:

"The Box" - The Belk distribution center in Jonesville, SC

My basic inspiration isn't terribly mysterious, is it?

I started to think, what if the box weren't a metaphor? What if someone actually lives in a box? And that's all he does... live in the box and think about the world outside of it? I thought about why he would live in the box, and say why in the story... the Calvin and Hobbes comic is real, and I remember having felt a fleeting moment of vertigo when I first read it. The strip I'm referencing was similar, but not identical, to the comic at the right, here. I can't find the actual strip, but I'm not terribly surprised. Bill Waterson re-visited this concept several times during the course of his career. Here's another example, below:

As irrational fears go, this takes the prize. So I used it with attribution.

To build such a thing as the Box you have to be wealthy, so I made Foster wealthy. That wasn't such a great stretch of the imagination. I actually knew a millionaire recluse named Foster. He didn't live in a box, but he did have a small house on a lake, and he did keep exotic birds. So I used his first name and his birds.

I purposely kept the original source of Foster's wealth vague, because it's a short story, and that's an unimportant detail. It is solely intellectual, however; and Foster is completely a self-made man. The story doesn't allow the reader to know much about his background other than that. His race, ethnicity, favorite foods, etc. are up to the reader to fill in as they prefer. If you were to ask me why didn't I include a Black transgender character in this story, I'd respond that Foster is obviously Black and transgender. Or not. That's subject to your bias, not mine.

Politics enters when Foster cuts off personal ties to the outside world. Now that is subject to my bias. I'm vocally Libertarian, and the news of the world is somewhat scary these days. You have left-wingers and right-wingers running around attempting to control other people, protesting their success or dictating their actions. The Box is a sanctuary from all of that. It's a little microcosm where the delineation between "my space" and "everyone else's space" is physical.

I'm also a capitalist who knows how capitalism actually works in the modern era. In today's world, success is no longer tied to labor, but to perceived contribution. Ideas, not sweat, are the fuel of the new economy. The scope of that success is a matter of scale. If a lot of people pay you a little bit each because your ideas are valuable to them, you will become immensely wealthy. That doesn't mean you cheated anybody, or that you rose on their backs by depriving them, or that you are obligated to "give back". You got wealthy because you gave in the first place. Value for value. That's the thing about capitalism that no socialist on Earth truly comprehends. You provided the people of the world with a valuable product or service, and they gave back to you in the form of voluntary payment. The obligations are necessarily met by the free market. Everything else is charity or theft.

To be sure, most right-wingers get it wrong, too. They don't comprehend the vast difference between accounting and economics, which is why they wish to run government like a business or bring back the restrictive gold standard. Only when wealth is based on labor does this make sense. Gold is a limited resource, as is labor. It's perfectly reasonable in such a world to tie the monetary supply to the effort involved in producing some scarce resource. But that's not our world. In a world like ours, where ideas are the prime commodity, money itself is merely an idea. It still must be controlled... you don't have money just because you wish to have it. And labor still does have value. But money isn't a limiting factor to innovation.

In a short story, points are exaggerated for effect. In this story, Foster has limitless ideas with practical applications, so I tweak income inequality heavily in his favor. In practical terms, "income inequality" is a talking point reserved for the jealous who have not learned that their success should be measured against their comfort based on their efforts to leverage equal opportunity. In practical terms it means very little. It . An individual can only consume so much. Give enough people enough resources, however, and they can consume everything.

So I made that happen. Foster's life is dictated by his guilt and fears. Agoraphobia forced him to withdraw. Fear of a jealous populace who would "Occupy the Box" forced him to batten the hatches. Fear of those same people led him to give those same people whatever they wanted without effort on their part, and without restriction. Traditional capitalists brokered the process.

Foster ultimately becomes a god, of near limitless power. He thought he had the answers. Untouched by the consequences of his power, and indifferent to the limitations of the world, he thought his power could be given to mortals without consequence. He didn't consider that the most radical consequences are inevitable and unintended. So the Left and the Right conspired to petition this small god for the means to destroy themselves, quite successfully. And to be sure, I don't limit my satire to them. Foster himself represents that brand of thinker who would rather retreat from the world or solve their problems for them (he is both at once), who is equally culpable.


There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Short Story: Inside the Box

When the world is free from want, what is there left to want?

By David F. Leigh

Foster McFarland lives inside the Box.

Technically, he lives inside a house. But the house is inside the Box, as is a lawn, a small lake, and the tiny forest that comprise the thirteen acres of prime real estate within Foster McFarland’s Box.

Foster McFarland thinks inside the Box.

When people outside the Box had problems in need of outside the box thinking, they took their problems inside the Box to Foster. Foster had a reputation outside the Box for outside the box thinking. The people outside the Box never thought as far outside the box as Foster thinks inside the Box.

The first problem Foster McFarland solved was that of his agoraphobia. He wasn’t always irrationally frightened of open spaces; but he once read a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which young Calvin imagined that his father had forgotten to pay the gravity bill. As Foster considered the panel in which Calvin was swept into the vast empty sky, he pondered what such a thing would be like. He looked up at the vast, empty sky above him, dropped his newspaper, ran inside the house, and never looked at that sky with his naked eyes again.

It didn’t matter. Inside the house, Foster has a television, and a telephone, and a computer, and the Internet. He continued to think outside the box, and soon amassed a number of patents. These made him extremely wealthy, and he had the Box built around him. He likes Nature, and built the Box big enough to hold enough of it that he would be able to enjoy the outdoors indoors. Inside the Box he built the brilliant Sun and the illuminated Moon that track across the azure ceiling that is his sky. Bright birds paint their colors across his sky and nest in the trees of his forest. They share the trees with squirrels and other wildlife. Foster enjoys their company, secure in the knowledge that should gravity ever fail, he will not be swept away.

At first Foster had food and consumables delivered to him from outside the Box. But as time went on, he watched the news of the world on his computer and satellite television. He watched as people became more tribal and divisive and violent. He saw them become petty and jealous. He saw them riot in the streets. This began to frighten him. What if someone outside the Box -- a delivery person, or a visitor -- were to become jealous of him in his Box? Would they turn their violence towards him? What he needed was self-sufficiency.

So Foster McFarland, intrigued by the new technology of 3D printing, set about improving it. He devised machines that print with proteins and starches, ceramics and metals. He learned to print all the things he might need… cakes and pies, beef and lasagna, clothing and shoes. And lest anyone be jealous, he shared his knowledge with the world through more patents. These made him astonishingly wealthy, and even more afraid.

He needn’t have feared. People loved Foster’s devices, even though the majority of them had no knowledge of the man behind the patents. But Foster didn’t know that, taking his information from news feeds and blogs. So he locked the massive door of the Box and remained inside, enjoying the bright sunshine and pH-balanced rain of his computer-modeled, climate-controlled personal space.

But as time went on, he continued to watch the news of the world on his computer and satellite television. And it seemed to him that despite all of his work, the world was as bad off as it always had been. Certainly, the people who could buy his devices had seen their lives improve, and you might think that the things they didn’t consume because of his inventions would have gone to those less fortunate. Real beef should be poverty food, he thought. But the proteins and starches that were the raw materials of Foster’s machines had to come from somewhere, and the policy makers who used his appliances loved animals far too much to raise them for food when they no longer had to. Even as they raised fewer animals, consumption remained high, and they bought more and more of Foster’s machines. This made Foster ridiculously wealthy.

So Foster began giving his money away. He gave it to the poor. He gave it to the third world. He gave it to the communists, and the socialists, and the populists. He gave it to everyone who could not afford his devices. And they all freely gave his money to the capitalists to buy more devices, and the money flowed right back to Foster, and he became ludicrously wealthy.

But the devices required energy, and there wasn’t enough to go around. Guilty of the privilege granted to him by ability and success, Foster McFarland looked for some way to free the grid of his power-hungry Box. And he finally did. For ages, people had dreamt of zero-point energy; clean and inexhaustible. However, dreaming isn’t the same as thinking, so they had always failed to make it a reality. But thinking is something Foster does very well, and outside the Universe is as far outside the box as it is possible to think. He created his generator; and for an encore, he upgraded his devices to print with the stuff of Creation. Now he didn’t even need raw materials.

Then Foster disconnected the Box from the world. Before he did, he gave the world his new creations. He didn’t even patent them this time. He already had more money than he could spend. What could he use it for? What did he need it for? Anything he could ever want was his to be molded from quarks and empty space.

Foster retired. He turned off his computer and his television, and fished on the shore of his mirror-perfect pond. He communed with Nature beneath his fake Sun and faux Moon. He left the world to his own devices.


One day… much, much later, Foster was lying in the cool grass of his little world, and once more thought outside the Box. How nice the world must be now that any person could have anything he ever wanted at a whim! The planet was free from want and need and even entropy. It was fueled by the very fire of Heaven itself; limitless power pulled from the space between Spaces. He would see that world. Perhaps the people of the world would even recognize and welcome their savior. He thought about his agoraphobia, and concluded that it was a laughable thing. Just a momentary childhood fear, really; one that he should have easily overcome years before. And so Foster stood and traversed the long, overgrown path to the door of the Box. He tried to turn the handle, but it wouldn’t turn; and he remembered that he had locked it long ago. Fishing around in his pocket, he found a key.

Foster opened the door on the world he had made. Outside the Box, red dust flecked with ash drifted across parched red dunes under a dim, steel grey sky. Foster knew it was either night or day, but he couldn’t say which. There was no real Sun, no real Moon to be seen. If there were clouds, they were fleeting, ghostly things formed from the moisture pulled from his skin. They raced upward to blend seamlessly into the featureless grey firmament. Having done the math, Foster knew the wavering horizon was about three miles away. But with nothing to break the monotonous landscape it might have been three hundred miles. It might have been three feet. The end of the world, right there at his doorstep.

For the first time in his life Foster McFarland thought inside the box and remembered that the fires of Heaven burn with the fury of Hell. Even clean energy creates heat. And an inexhaustible supply...

Well, he thought, that didn’t work.

Retreating inside, he shouldered the door closed, and didn’t bother to lock it.

Foster McFarland thinks inside the Box.

Tell me what you think in the comments. If you want to know far too much about what was going through my head when I wrote it, I have posted some commentary here.

INSIDE THE BOX ©2017 by David F. Leigh, All rights reserved.