Monday, August 31, 2009

Mount Wilson Observatory Threatened

Mount Wilson Observatory, outside of Los Angeles, was the place that Edwin Hubble discovered the redshift-- it taught us that the universe is expanding; one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

Now, it's threatened by the Station fire. (Updated) The picture, above, seems to be the last webcam photo available, from just before 5 am, Sept. 1. I finally got it to load.

Please be safe, Observatory.

At 6 in the morning, Sept 1, as shown in the picture above, the Observatory looks safe, but the right-hand side glow from the fire looks pretty menacing.

Here's a site with time lapse photography of the fire approaching.

And here's the Mount Wilson Observatory webcam site. You might get through. It could happen.

Meritocraty for the Ruling Class

More on class mobility in the US, from someone in the trenches. Precis: If you're born into the upper classes, 'meritocracy' means your parent's friends getting you really totally groovy jobs. Fer reals. Those of us that don't have prominent parents, it's obviously our own fault.

I remember back in the late '90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. It was a great lecture, made more so by the fact that the class was only about ten or twelve students and we got got ask all kinds of questions and got a lot of great, provocative answers. Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. "I oppose it", Irving replied. "It subverts meritocracy."

I found this here, after being sent by Glenn Greenwalds's commenter macgupta, here.

You see? In America, land of the free and home of the brave, it's not about how hard you work or how smart you are, it's just about who your daddy was. But as a bonus, you then get to pretend that, yes, work and smarts matter. But we know the truth.

An Iowan Shares His Opinion

Breaking: US has less freedom than Socialist countries

I have heard the argument that providing a public option for health care will somehow reduce "our freedoms." I confess confusion. However, I've tried to wrap my head around what people might be talking about, and decided to figure out what might be meant by "freedom." This is what I've come up with. Part of American Exceptionalism is the Horatio Alger myth; that is, a poor boy, through the judicious use of his own bootstraps and a medium-to-heavy application of cliche, can become rich. This freedom is the freedom of self-creation. But it's not true. Almost half of an adult's wealth is dependent upon his parents' money. Half. In Denmark (socialist, scary), in contrast, only 15% is. What does this mean? There's way more social mobility in pretty much every other Western European country other than Great Britian, the one with the hereditary ruling class.

Here's the numbers from 2006, (found here.) 1 means the children's monetary worth is 100% dependent on their family's monetary worth; 0 means that how well the children do is completely independent of the family of origin. Denmark's .15 indicates that only 15% of a child's success is dependent upon the family of origin. In Denmark, people are self-made. Contrast that with the .47 in the US; a full half of a person's success has to do with the family they were born into. As an example, what, exactly, did Jenna Bush do to get that sweet, sweet gig on the Today show. Oh, wait, I think I know.

Denmark 0.15
Norway 0.17
Finland 0.18
Canada 0.19
Sweden 0.27
Germany 0.32
France 0.41
United States 0.47
United Kingdom 0.50

Things weren't always this bad in the US, as can be seen here. The '70's were more equitable than the 80's, which in turn were more equitable than the 90's. I'm guessing the '00's are even worse.

There's this myth afoot in the land that somehow if you're poor you're by definition undeserving, and shouldn't be helped. But there's actual evidence that what help does is lift people from poverty. This chart shows that people stay poor for shorter periods of time in Scandinavian countries where they're given help, and poor for longer times when they're not, like here. So, being mean just increases the misery of the poor, being nice lifts people out of poverty. Remind me again of what the problem is with peace, love, and understaning, please.

Real Ignorance-------Prepare To Be Really Ashamed

The ignorance on parade in this clip is so profound that PZ Meyers thought it was likely a spoof. I checked. It's not; these arrogant American bimbos are for real.

Watch them display a complete ignorance of geography and foreign culture, and then try to convert a Hindu to Christianity. Chances are you won't be able to stomach this whole clip. It's really hard to listen to so many cringe-worthy statements and such vacuous blather all delivered in such substandard English. Gird your loins before attempting to view!

"You're not Hindu; you just think you are." (t=5:25) Wow!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lobster for Dinner

For kerfuffler. And crustaceans everywhere.

A Hundred Year Old Dance Reinterpreted

New lighting technology and color film allow the artist's original intentions to be more fully realized. In the original film from 1896, each individual frame had to be painted with color allowing the colors to shift over the course of the dance.

On the other hand, in the new version, the need to stay directly over the light source inhibits motion. I'd say the trade off is worth it seeing as how most of the motion is really about the swirling fabric catching the light. In the original, Fuller does not move around much either. The costume uses about 25 yards of white silk.

The new version is performed to the piano music, Night Winds, composed by Charles Griffes around 1913-1916.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fight the Scourge of Socialism

For too long, a highly trained and organized group of Americans, armed with axes and powerful hoses, has been imposing socialist firefighting upon our citizenry!

" departments across the United States have been SOCIALIST organizations, resulting in TAXES on the American people.

FACT: Most Americans never use the socialized services of the fire department. The Obama administration has been very clear about keeping the status quo when it comes to taxpayer-funded fire departments.

It is time to open the fire department up to private industry. We have the best fire departments in the world in the US, but that doesn't mean that anyone (even non-US citizens) should be able to dial up and have fires put out, etc. There are private companies (Halliburtion, Etc.) who could step in tomorrow and take over every fire department in America and charge the consumer directly.


"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in asbestos and carrying a fire hose."

Join us in fighting the stranglehold that this socialist organization has on firefighting in our society. Let's let the free market work.

Fearmongering Blather

What's really "scary" is that Beck has as many viewers as he does. How many are watching to laugh, as opposed to falling for his nonsense?

Check out Beck's spelling in this clip, and take note of the utter vacuousness of his commentary.

I hope Beck continues to lose advertising sponsors-----he has lost plenty since accusing Obama of being a racist.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Fresh Outrage In The Campaign Of Deception

A new poll sent out as part of a national Republican fund raising effort features the following question:

"It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

Oh, really? Suggested by whom? Was this before or after they doffed their protective, foil headgear?

For Steele to release materials like this suggests to recipients that there is a legitimate reason for people to worry about this issue. This is how these crazy rumors get started. People at the very top of the Republican party are orchestrating this frenzied panic over the possibility of healthcare reform using horrific and baseless lies.

The fact that they won't discuss the options honestly and openly reveals their lack of any ability to attract voters to their side with the truth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another Day, Another Lying Republican

Now Steele joins the procession of Republicans using scare tactics and outright lies to smother healthcare reform. Frankly I have misgivings about the implementation of a European style healthcare system here only because I suspect that we would bungle it. (I agree that their programs are much better than ours.) But I don't want the American initiative to be torpedoed over a bunch of lies. I want the kind of honest debate that would spur the development of a system that could work here.

Watch Steele claim that veterans here are given pamphlets encouraging them to commit suicide. Why don't republicans seem to care that their leaders are such brazen liars? The pamphlet to which he refers makes it clear that suicide is illegal in this country, and encourages the readers to make clear what their choices would be in a variety of different circumstances-----one of the options presented was even to have one's clergyman contacted to make sure what choices were consistent with one's religious principles.

Now that there are machines that can keep people alive fairly indefinitely, it is important for people to understand how to make their wishes for end-of-life care known. Having doctors discuss these issues with patients helps people to control their own situations; labeling them 'death panels' is a dishonest misrepresentation.

If the White House were to support an initiative to help Americans lose weight, no doubt the Right would describe it as a campaign of forced mass starvation.

Lobster Debacles

I just saw the movie Julie and Julia this weekend, and watching Julie agonize over steaming the live lobster reminded me of a disastrous experience I once had with a lobster. I had decided to try a recipe where you broil it, but to do this you must kill it first.

I read instructions directing me to insert a knife into the head between the eyes to kill it quickly. I steeled myself and stabbed accordingly. The lobster went limp, so I flipped it over and started to slice the tail lengthwise. Just as I inserted the knife into the tail, the tail curled up vigorously and rhythmically. This was no mere twitching. That tail fought hard to escape. And it startled the heck out of me because I thought I had already succeeded in killing it, and there it was writhing and flapping about like the creature in the horror movie 'The Tingler'.

I felt horrible that I had not managed to dispatch the poor thing with a minimum of suffering. But it turns out I am not alone in having trouble killing lobsters swiftly. A quick scan of u-tube entries shows that in most cases, the lobster keeps moving significantly after the "fatal" blow. I suppose the 'nerve center' (a few paired ganglia) of a lobster is quite miniscule, so it is easy to miss. Also, since their nervous systems are so simple, they seem to keep functioning even after taking major damage. They are arthropods after all; just think how insects can keep moving after dismemberment.

There is disagreement in the scientific community over whether or not lobsters experience pain. None of their nerve cells appear to be 'pain receptors', but at the very least, the nerves in the tail I tangled with were saying, "Get me out of here!"

Lost In Translation

I heard recently that viewers of the show 'The Wire' in the UK used subtitles to follow the Baltimore gangsta slang and even the cop jargon. I feel like I could have used subtitles myself, but I did get a little better over time at understanding the local cant.

I suppose this is what it might have seemed like like if they had dubbed it instead of merely providing subtitles.

"Aw hell no, did you end a sentence with a preposition?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Really Do Love America

"It's time to let mighty eagles soar once more."

I present the iniminable John Ashcroft singing a song he wrote and sang all by himself. Such great flag shots; I'm such a patriot.

ps. Iraq had a free health care system before our invasion. Now it's in shambles.
[In Iraq] the UNICEF/WHO report noted that prior to 1990, 97 percent of the urban dwellers and 71 percent of the rural population had access to free primary health care; just 2 percent of hospital beds were privately managed.

Why Insurance Companies will always suck with bonus 9/11 numbers.

(Ok, ok, unless kept firmly in check by anti-Reaganesque onerous regulations, and even then I have my doubts.)

BECAUSE IT COSTS MONEY TO TAKE CARE OF SICK PEOPLE! (Ahem, please forgive the caps.)

If you have a preexisting condition, you simply cannot get insurance to cover it. This is not a difficult point. Why should a rational for-profit entity give you coverage? This is why it makes no sense (to me) to have our health care rationed by for-profit institutions. You get sick, they get busy finding a way to deny you coverage. The worse they treat you, the more money they make. Yahoo! Martinis and stock options all around.

How many people are uninsured? In 2007, it was 27% of the population under 65. (Because we already have socialized medicine for the 65 and older set.)  On edit:  New numbers from 2009 paint an even darker picture.  45,000 unnecessary deaths per year; that works out to a 40% greater risk of death if uninsured. Wow. 

What happens when you don't have health care? 13,000 people between 55 and 64 died in 2002 because they didn't have health insurance. (As an aside, the study that gives the 13,000 number is great. It looks at about every confounding factor you can imagine). Just since 2002 (without adjusting for anything), that's a death toll equivalent to 24.5 World Trade Center bombings (for only a slice of Americans). I seem to recall that we've racked up $1.6 Trillion and over 5,000 American lives to pay for the War on Terror. How much is health care supposed to cost? About a hundred million a year.  Less than the War on Terror.

What's our problem? I guess it's the Quentin Tarantino effect--no chases, plane wrecks, explosions to show on TV, so it doesn't register in the popular imagination.  People without health care die quietly off-camera, but they still die.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Big Lie -- Health Care Edition

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over” Joseph Goebbels

Kill your grandmother.
Limit your choices.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Secrets of Health Insurance

Or, why I pay too frickin' much, even though I (currently--crosses fingers) have Insurance.

From commenter Emily Waters on Orac's inestimable blog.

I once trained at a call / claims processing center for a health insurance company, and the policy was in fact to automatically deny care for many, many procedures. They said that most of these procedures were in fact covered, but that the patient had to call and contest it. Since many people were too sick / confused by the system to do so within their window when you could appeal, they got out of paying many legitimate claims, thereby improving their profitability.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The NIH Fails To Kill Someone

A rather distressingly large portion of the US electorate, including the editorial staff of Investor's Business Daily seems convinced that the British nationalized health care system kills people that it judges to be less than worthy. Not so.

On edit: the offending portion of the editorial has now been removed. It said that Stephen Hawking (famous British citizen with ALS) "wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless".

Andrew Davis, here, discusses the astonishing range of benefits provided for his profoundly disabled step-son.

My fiancee has a son from a previous relationship. He has lissencephaly: one of the proteins in his brain didn't fold right during his gestation, so the surface of his brain is mostly smooth. As I understand it, not being a neurologist, it's in the wrinkly bits (see my mastery of the technical terms!) of the surface of the brain that all the clever stuff happens. He's also epileptic, since apparently brain defects are like chocolate coated coffee beans, you can't have just one (I know this sounds tasteless, but faced with bad luck on this scale you've got to laugh or cry and there's only one sane choice there).

So, this little lad has no language ability, virtually no motor control, no social bladder and bowel control. Life expectancy at birth, based on worldwide statistics: two years. He's just had his sixth birthday, and is very pleased with his new drum. There is no way at all he's going to make any economic contribution to anything, if all we're going to do is count the beans. He's certainly not going to make breakthroughs in theoretical physics, he's not even terribly reliable on the concepts of 'up' and 'down' (although he's bang alongside the concept of icecream and mashed banana).

So, right, according to the opponents of sane healthcare in the US, our Horrid Meanie Socialist NHS is just going to let him die, right?

Except, oops, no, he's not dead. He's currently at three times his life expectancy at birth.

His mum, my fiancee, gets:

1. Free prescriptions for him for life.

2. Quarterly appointments with a neuro specialist for his epilepsy (who seem to have finally dialled in on the right combination of meds for him, he's been fit free for a couple of months now, and a lot less sedated than he was on the last combination.

3. Free wheelchair. A pretty spiffy, brand new paediatric wheelchair. Downside here is because it's NHS property I'm not allowed to mod it for the little lad, otherwise his mum'd be pushing him around in the kind of wheelchair Bond would get off Q.

4. Free epilepsy helmet (my suggested addition of viking horns for it has been vetoed by my fiancee.)

5. Free splint to correct the tendon problem in one of his fingers that resulted from his lack of motor control, one of his fingers is twisted out of shape and he wears a splint at night.

6. Monthly deliveries of free nappies for him (which started after some defined age before which a parent is expected to pay for their child's own nappies).

7. Free spectacles (I'd love to know how the optician figured out the prescription)

Ok, so that's the healthcare.

Now, the personal care and living assistance. This doesn't come out of the NHS budget, it comes out of the local government social care budget.

Under this head (and forgive me if I don't include everything here, this is just the main points):

1. Her home adapted for disabled care. Hoists installed in littlun's bedroom and in the living room, a wheelchair lift between the diningroom and his bedroom, a ramp up to the back door, the backyard paved with a wheelchair friendly surface, the bathroom completely fitted out with disabled modifications. The bathroom includes a shower chair for him.

3. A motorised bed, a kiddie sized hospital bed basically, which raises and lowers for sleeping and dressing purposes for him. It also includes a set of blocks and bumpers that keep him in a good sleeping position, because he never walks unaided he tends to get twisted up in his sleep so there was a risk of spine damage.

4. All the doors widened in the house for wheelchair access.

5. A special school for kids with special needs (the local one is very good, their annual prizegiving day is a hoot, everyone gets a prize and you'd have to have a heart of stone not to get the warm fuzzies off watching the Downs kids punching the air and whooping it up off getting their prizes. My stepson-to-be got a prize for 'purposeful grasping', if we ever get an institution of secular sainthood I'll be bribing the personnel department at that school for a nominations list).

6. A wheelchair adapted car for which she has to pay the petrol and a nominal contribution to the insurance. (I think this one is under a separate scheme than the local authority).

7. She gets paid income support, unemployment benefit, housing benefit and carers' allowance. She also gets let off some local taxes. She has to budget a little, but she, her son and the dog are all healthy and well fed and she has a little extra to contribute to the band she's in. She sings and plays bass and sax.

8. She'll soon be getting funding for a couple of nights a week respite care, essentially state funded babysitting so she can have a bit more of a life than she does at the moment. Littlun goes to stay with his granny and grandpa at the weekends but they're getting on a bit.

Basically, Hawking doesn't need the charitable foundation care, it's there for what I suspect will be little extras. My fiancee gets things like that from various charities for the little extras: the little lad has a trike he can ride around on (it's steered by the bar at the back you use to push it, he can't pedal but his legs get exercised as they go round and it gets him out in the fresh air where little old ladies can coo and make a fuss over him), a vibrating massage mat to help his muscle tone and a small selection of toys.

Things that come out of our own pockets: the rest of his toys, the adaptation so he can play flash games written for disabled kids (it's a big red button he can whack on), the disabled adaptation of his other toys (I do these, a few cheap parts and some solder installs a socket to plug in a big button for him.) and the IR camera and timelapse recorder I set up so she could monitor his night time seizures (most of that system got built out of odds and ends from mine and my techie friends spares boxes).

Yeah, socialised medicine lets useless mouths* die. Really. You have to be rich and famous to get proper care. Right.

*The fact that these rightard vermin think there's any such bloody thing as a useless mouth tells me all I damned well need to know about them. Upon my oath I am not a violent man, but anyone willing to tell me to my face that that little lad is useless had better have a good dentist on speed dial.

Can you imagine such a level of care in the US? Neither can I. You can get Social Security if you're totally disabled. Totally. Disabled. The definition is unable to earn $980.00/month doing anything. It's pretty much impossible to reach.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tired of health care? Swedish breakdance, uh, break

It starts out a little slow, but about three minutes in ....

Thanks to my beloved Apricot Blossom for this link.

Working hard and failing to find something wrong with Canadian health care.

John Stossel, in a 20/20 piece attempting to find something wrong with the Canadian health care system came up with the following
The town of Norwood, Ontario, has only one family doctor available to serve the entire community. To ration the patient list, the town clerk holds a lottery once a month, drawing a few names out of a box that contains all of the people hoping to get on the doctor's patient list. She calls the lucky winners, but everyone else must continue to wait.

Altogether now: clutch pearls!

Mr. Stossel has proven that there is one Canadian town with a shortage of doctors. That's all.

How are we doing in the US? I've had trouble finding exact numbers, but rural Kansas has a severe doctor shortage: "state health officials say about 90 Kansas counties do not have enough physicians," as does rural Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, rural Wisconsin (there's a two-year wait for child psychiatric services), rural Mississippi, 152 counties in Texas have no obstetrician, and 21 Texas counties have no doctor of any type. I think you get the idea.

Let's look at some overall numbers--
Number of Americans that don't have health care. 47.5 million
Number of Canadians that don't have health care: 0

U.S doctors per 1000 people: 2.56
Canadian doctors per 1000 people: 2.14
US nurses per 1000 people: 9.37
Canadian nurses per 1000 people: 9.95

Found here.

A comprehensive study of the difference between Canadian and US health care finds:
These results are incompatible with the hypothesis that American patients receive consistently better care than Canadians. Americans are not, therefore, getting value for money; the 89% higher per-capita expenditures on health care in the United States does not buy superior outcomes for the sick.
Canadian health care has many well-publicized limitations. Nevertheless, it produces health benefits similar, or perhaps superior, to those of the US health system, but at a much lower cost.

John Stossel should be ashamed of himself for such a deceptive report. What's the matter with the truth?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Insurance Industry Funded Facism.

The title phrase is from Frank Schaeffer. He and his father created the unholy alliance between evangelicals and the right wing in the 1980's over the issue of abortion. Remember waaay back in the day when abortion clinics weren't bombed? Abortion was not such an explosive force until the Republican party figured out they could use it to win elections. Frank Schaffer has now repented of his former activism and is now, in his own words, a right-wing turncoat.

In this fascinating essay, Mr. Schaeffer discusses how his old friend Dick Armey and their evangelical minions are up to :"If they can't win then everyone must go down."

Here's the emerging American version of the fascist's formula: combine millions
of dollars of lobbyists' money with embittered troublemakers who
have a small army of not terribly bright white angry people (collected over
decades through pro-life mass mailing networks) at their beck and call, ever
ready to believe any myth or lie circulated by the semi literate and completely
and routinely misinformed right wing -- Evangelical religious underground. Then
put his little mob together with the insurance companies' big bucks. That's how
it works -- American Brown Shirts at the ready.
At a town hall meeting with the local House representative in Tampa, the brown shirts showed up in force, and created a near-riot. Here's a personal account of someone who attended. A taste of what the evening was like is quoted below.
As one Ms. Coe stood to explain that as people have lost their jobs -
people have lost their health care. The response by the Shouters? "Be more
responsible!" One woman shouted out "Responsibility, Oprah!"

I'm going to finish up this little post with a nugget of wisdom from Sarah Palin
"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

What is she talking about? Who knows? Perhaps voices in her head told her about the 'death panel' because it certainly has nothing to do with the health care bills.

On edit, (I'm ashamed to say) What Is Sarah Thinking? There is no way in, uh, double toothpickland that any health care program would touch her son Trig with a 21 foot pole. He's such a preexisting condition; private insurers don't cover those. She couldn't get health care for him on the private market. Good thing her book deal came through already. Looks like those 'death panels' exist today with no help at all from that evil government.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Your health insurance can be cancelled if you get sick.

If you're one of the 17 million Americans covered by private insurance.  The cancellation is retroactive, meaning you're required to pay for all the medical procedures you have already received; but they do return the premiums you have already paid. This is called recission. You can see how this might be a problem if you're in the midst of treatment for something serious.

What is your actual chance of recission? This brilliant article by a statistician named Taunter shows that people with private insurance have about a 50% chance of being rescinded when they actually come down with something serious. Pretty troubling. Why so high? Because a person's chance of getting serious illness is about 1% a year, of those 1%, about half of their policies are cancelled--.5%.

In one of the healthcare hearings before Congress, the CEO of one of larger insurance companies said:
Rescission is rare. It affects less than one-half of one percent of people we cover. Yet, it is one of many protections supporting the afford ability and viability of individual health insurance in the United States under our current system.
Richard Collins of UnitedHealthgroup said:
Less than one half of one percent of all of our individual insurance contracts in 2008 were terminated or rescinded.
What triggers recission?  Here's the statement of a woman whose insurance was rescinded when she did not include a condition that a doctor had written on her chart; the doctor never told her about the condition and she was never treated for it. Here's another example of a man's coverage being retroactively cancelled during cancer treatment for a condition that he knew nothing about.

How important is recission to insurance companies? According to the LA Times:
One of [California's] largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved.
Blue Cross Blue Shield ties employment evaluations to quantity of recissions.

During the House health care hearings in June , 2009, each of the four CEO's answered "No" to following question "Would you commit not to rescind any policy unless there is intentional fraudulent misrepresentation?" No. No. No. Reading further in the transcript, one of the insurance companies has 1400 medical diagnoses that trigger a recission investigation, one company has 2000 diagnoses, and one company doesn't seem to know what its algorithm is.

What a great business plan!  Take a person's money when they're healthy; if they lose the lottery and get sick, kick them out.  No wonder health care companies are making out like bandits.