Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

To most people, science is magic—Saturday, September 20th, 2014

“Intellectuals of all persuasions love to claim the banner of science. A vanishing few do so properly.”

‘So let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That’s the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet. But what almost everyone means when he or she says ‘science’ is something different.

‘To most people, capital-S Science is the pursuit of capital-T Truth. It is a thing engaged in by people wearing lab coats and/or doing fancy math that nobody else understands. The reason capital-S Science gives us airplanes and flu vaccines is not because it is an incremental engineering process but because scientists are really smart people.

‘In other words—and this is the key thing—when people say ‘science’, what they really mean is magic or truth.”

(Hat tip to Ace at Ace of Spades HQ.)
If you like your health insurance, you can go screw yourself—Monday, September 15th, 2014
If you like your health plan…

I’ve been expecting this letter ever since I signed up for private health insurance under the wire last December. President Obama and the Senate refuse to work with the House and Republicans to allow people to keep their insurance plans as promised. The president issues his edicts outside of the legislative process, and the Senate refuses to hear any fixes. This means that, no, I don’t get to keep my plan if I like it. Unless the exchanges have changed considerably since I looked at them last year, it also means my insurance premiums are going to nearly double—assuming I don’t decide just to take the tax penalty.

New Affordable Care Act (ACA) changes are here, but you can keep your Aetna health plan through December 31, 2014

In 2013 we told you that you’d need to move to an ACA-compliant plan when your current policy ended in 2014. We’ve since extended your policy. This allows you to stay in your current plan through December 31, 2014.

This is nice, but not that nice. Without the extension, my current plan goes through December 15, 2014. I deliberately moved to Texas in mid-December last year in order to get in under the ACA wire and have good health insurance for as long as possible before the ACA mess kicked in. But Obama wants to get even with me.

The letter continues:

Good news! There’s nothing you need to do until the 2015 Open Enrollment period begins.

Key points to note

  • Your monthly payment will stay the same.
  • Your deductible, out-of-pocket costs, and benefit limits remain the same and will not reset.
  • If you have previously received a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC), it lists the benefits available through December 31, 2014.

On reading this, I thought, even though I had been expecting this letter, that somehow insurance companies were allowed to continue existing policies indefinitely and I hadn’t heard about it! Then I realized, on reading the next paragraph, that this applied only to the 15-day extension.

While your current plan is available through December 31, 2014, it cannot be renewed. All new policies must be ACA-compliant for the calendar year 2015. Open Enrollment for 2015 will run from November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015. Before your policy ends, you will get information about plan options available to you.

That is, my monthly payment will not remain the same, nor will my deductible.

The dark side of bureaucratic health care—Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

There’s a well-known problem with studies on humans. While we’re willing to let rats and even monkeys die in order to learn more about the mysteries of life and health, we aren’t willing to increase the risk of death in humans. Good studies even have to be double-blind, which means that even the person providing the new procedure or medicine doesn’t know what which group each patient is in: if they’re giving some people a new medicine and others a placebo, even the doctor doesn’t know which patients are getting medicine and which patients are getting the placebo.

Studies that start killing people will be halted before the study is complete. That’s human nature, and it’s good.

But human nature has its dark side, too, and that dark side tends to show up in government bureaucracies. That’s the tendency to hide people behind paperwork, and the tendency, when their programs run up against reality, to treat reality as defective. And when people start questioning decisions that deviate further and further from reality, to obfuscate and hide their true intentions.

That’s what struck me about the SUPPORT1 study by the National Institute of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services:

Medical personnel routinely give supplemental oxygen to babies who are born with immature lungs. Too much oxygen can cause severe eye damage, including a blood vessel disease and blindness called retinopathy. Too little oxygen can lead to brain damage and death.

The NIH-funded experiment used the test babies in an attempt to find the sweet spot for preemies yet to be born: the lowest level of oxygen that would preserve vision, yet be sufficient to prevent brain damage and death.

To get the answer, researchers arbitrarily assigned infants to either a high-oxygen or low-oxygen group. Because, researchers say, all oxygen levels fell within the generally accepted range, they argue the babies received the same “standard of care” as babies not in the study. None of the consent forms mentioned a risk of death from the oxygen experiment.

The problem with the standard of care argument is that it was untrue. In real life, babies don’t get a single oxygen level throughout their time on life support. Their oxygen level is varied depending on their response to it. This is because too much oxygen can blind them, and too little can kill them, and every baby is different.

This study not only did not allow varying oxygen levels, it hid the restriction from doctors! The machines were altered to display changes when no changes were occurring. The medical staff thought they were working to save the babies, when in fact their efforts were blocked and the feedback faked so that they wouldn’t know.

It will thus not come as a surprise that the study found that high-oxygen babies ended up with more serious vision disorders, and low-oxygen babies were more likely to die.

The Vintage Mencken—Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

In The Vintage Mencken, Alistair Cooke gathered “mainly to introduce to a generation that never read him a writer who more and more strikes me as the master craftsman of daily journalism in the twentieth century.” On the other hand, this could well be an “I compiled this not to praise Mencken but to bury him” sort of deal, only this time honestly. “Mencken’s thunder,” after all, “issued from an unmaterial mind, but also from a full stomach.”

This collection stresses “the newspaper pieces that had outlived more pretentious stuff”, and I’m not sure but I think Cooke means Mencken’s more pretentious stuff. For Mencken “was overrated in his day as a thinker” but “underrated as a humorist”.

Here are a few of the quotes I’ve added to my quotes database from The Vintage Mencken:

If I had my way no man guilty of golf would be eligible to any office of trust or profit under the United States…

In the whole realm of human learning there is no faculty more fantastically incompetent than that of pedagogy.

The great combat is ending this afternoon in the classical Democratic manner. That is to say, the victors are full of uneasiness and the vanquished are full of bile.

If revenge is really sweet he was sucking a colossal sugar teat, but all the same there was a beery flavor about it that must have disquieted him.

He sailed through American history like a steel ship loaded with monoliths of granite.

We suffer most, not when the White House is a peaceful dormitory, but when it is a jitney Mars Hill, with a tin-pot Paul bawling from the roof.

Frankness and courage are luxuries confined to the more comic varieties of runners-up at national conventions.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

Many of these are out of context; Mencken is at his best when taken out of context. Cooke recognizes this, and many of the articles are abridged. Reading this, I can’t but get the feeling that Cooke’s ambivalence about Mencken carried over into his choices; Mencken is a legend, but these articles seem to qualify Mencken for the Order of Cantankerous Emilies, Litella Class. The strangest is a nearly incomprehensible diatribe sarcastically proposing civilian awards for overzealousness (honest and cynical) in wartime, riffing off of the proliferation of fraternal orders at the time, the Elks and such. It almost makes more sense as if Mencken were making fun of opinion pieces rather than any topic therein. The ideas are only thinly connected and Mencken has, at least, a better reputation than not to realize that in satire and sarcasm the links must be strong to hold.

A tale of two keyboards: iwerkz and Logitech K760—Friday, August 22nd, 2014
Logitech K760 solar keyboard

The K760 can quickly switch between up to three devices, such as the iMac and iPad here.

Since I already had an Apple wireless keyboard for my iMac when I started traveling with the iPad, I generally brought the Apple keyboard with me on trips. The Apple keyboard is nice because it’s compact; the only real problem was that when I returned from a trip I needed to reconnect with the iMac and have the iPad forget it. It wasn’t reasonably possible to use the Apple keyboard at home with both the iPad and the iMac. I was always waking the wrong computer up.

My Apple wireless keyboard is old—it actually came with my previous iMac, and I kept it for use with my current iMac when I bought it about five years ago.

About two years ago, I unpacked the keyboard after a long trip to discover one of the keys missing. Fortunately I was able to find the missing key in the bottom of my luggage and it snapped back in fine. But I decided it was time to start looking for a good portable keyboard that I could dedicate to the iPad. Unfortunately there just didn’t seem to be anything out there. The roll-up keyboards seemed nice, until I was able to try one out. The display model at Brookstone worked only sporadically, which didn’t bode well for surviving the rigors of travel.

I continued to use the Apple keyboard, taking extra care to pack it safely. But about a year ago another key fell off, and while it snapped back in it didn’t work. It was the backslash/pipe key. I tried to get by without it—I use Python at home most of the time, which doesn’t use the pipe for or, so mainly I used it on the command line and in Perl. In those circumstances I pulled up the onscreen keyboard palette. Which is as annoying as it sounds—probably all the more annoying because it happened so infrequently I never remembered, and was usually several lines down before I realized there was an issue.

Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father—Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

David Goldhill begins Catastrophic Care by saying “I’m a Democrat and once held views about health care common in my party.” He isn’t lying: he is far to the left in his worldview: businessmen are evil and exist to screw the average person. But he is also a businessman, so he recognizes that even the evil businessmen have an incentive to not screw the average person, and that these incentives don’t exist in the health care industry:

Every business would like to get away with high prices, poor quality, and miserable service, but this behavior carries an unacceptable cost: lost customers, lost revenue, lost profits. In health care, bad behavior doesn’t produce these bad results; bad behavior is often rewarded with additional revenue, and efficiency is penalized with less.

As a leftist, he idolizes health care businessmen above other businessmen; as a businessman, he recognizes that they respond to the same incentives other businessmen do.

All of the actors in health care want to serve patients well, but understandably most respond rationally to the backward economic incentives baked into the system.

In fact, quite a few businessmen started their business to provide a service, and many, despite all of the regulatory incentives to not do so well, still strive to provide good service.

His dual, almost dissociative, worldview causes him to make extraordinarily conflicting sentences:

In a system burdened by complexity, bureaucratic explosion, and lack of innovation, the ACA paves the way for even more rules, many of which are merely mandates for future rules and ever more committees and commissions. The problem with the ACA isn’t that it represents “government takeover of health care” or “socialism” or even the famous but nonexistent “death panels.” The problem with the ACA is that it’s so old-fashioned.

The problem with the ACA, in other words, is not that it’s old-fashioned. It’s that it’s old-fashioned. Top-down, government controlled, filled with committees and commissions to determine what life-saving care will be allowed, that’s what old-fashioned means. But as a leftist, he can’t quite get to admitting that socialism is an old-fashioned solution.

Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg: The Star of the Anointed—Saturday, August 16th, 2014
Rosemary Lehmberg falling-down-drunk

I’m not drunk, officer. I just don’t stand for anything.

A Bob Filner or a Ted Kennedy can be tolerated because he is part of the anointed—their intentions are good, so their actions are interpreted in that light. Someone who is not part of the anointed—who does not share their policies or who persists in doing what works rather than what is well-intentioned—must have bad intentions, and their actions will be judged in light of their bad intentions.—Jerry Stratton (The Vision of the Anointed)

On the night of April 12, 2013, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, head of the Texas Public Integrity Unit, and Democrat, blew a .238 blood alcohol level after being stopped by police and then arrested. Her blood alcohol level was almost certainly higher while she was driving: she refused to take the test, even refusing to take the field sobriety tests; so her BAC wasn’t tested for over an hour after her arrest. In video, she can barely stand; when driving, she weaved so far that she entered both the bicycle lane and the oncoming traffic lane. She lied to the arresting officer about her drunkenness, tried to convince every officer she came in contact with that her political stature and connections entitled her to be let go, and threatened that she would use her office and connections to punish them if they did not.

Don’t you know who I am? I’ll have you all in jail. I’ll have all your badges.

Common sense says that such a person should not lead the state’s Public Integrity Unit, and, conversely, that a Public Integrity Unit with such leadership is rudderless and corrupt, and should be disbanded. Common sense says that such a person is unfit to decide who gets charged and who goes free under the state integrity laws.

…the very commonness of common sense makes it unlikely to have any appeal to the anointed. How can they be wiser and nobler than everyone else while agreeing with everyone else?—Thomas Sowell (The Vision of the Anointed)

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business—Sunday, August 3rd, 2014
Amusing Ourselves to Death Television cover

Television, according to Postman, is emblematic of all electronic media.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is extraordinarily sloppy. On the very first page, he writes about a statue of a hog butcher that may or may not exist in Chicago. That may have been poorly-worded sarcasm, but on the next page he speculates that because President Richard Nixon—after resigning—advised Senator Ted Kennedy to lose twenty pounds if he wants to run for president,

…it would appear that fat people are now effectively excluded from running for high political office. Probably bald people as well. Almost certainly those whose looks are not significantly enhanced by the cosmetician’s art. Indeed, we may have reached the point where cosmetics has replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control.

Now, the conclusion may be true. But it is worded in such a passive-aggressive manner as to be near-useless. The evidence given—a disgraced politician’s dieting advice to a man whose biggest impediment to national office was not weight issues but leaving a woman to drown slowly overnight—simply doesn’t make any sense except as sarcasm. And not only was Kennedy’s weight not the biggest roadblock keeping him from the Oval Office, but the leap from Nixon’s advice on weight to baldness is done without any proffered evidence. And yet, this is not sarcasm: this is the thesis of the book, that appearance has become more important than substance.

He speaks a lot about Aldous Huxley in this book, contrasting Huxley’s vision of the future with George Orwell’s. But even that is impossibly vague, starting right in the first chapter when he writes that “We are all, as Huxley says someplace, Great Abbreviators…”.

He describes his purpose at the start of chapter two:

It is my intention in this book to show that a great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense. With this in view, my task in the chapters ahead is straightforward. I must, first, demonstrate how, under the governance of the printing press, discourse in America was different from what it is now—generally coherent, serious and rational; and then how, under the governance of television, it has become shriveled and absurd.

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