October 2013 Archives

It's silly enough that Obamacare requires single men, infertile people, and old people to buy insurance plans that include maternity care, but don't worry! People under age 30 are exempt. Yes, the people who are most fertile and most likely to have babies are exempt from the requirement to buy insurance that pays for having babies.

[Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)]: You also brought up the issue that when you were in Kansas [as health Commissioner and governor] that you fought against discriminatory issues... As far as [ObamaCare's] essential health benefits, correct me if I'm wrong: do men not have to buy maternity care?

[Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius]: Policies will cover maternity coverage. For the young and healthy, uh, under ythirty year-olds will have a choice also of a catastrophic plan that has no maternity coverage.

Ellmers: But men are required to purchase maternity coverage.

Sebelius: Well, an insurance policy has a series of benefits whether you use them or not...

Ellmers: And that is why health care premiums are increasing, because we are forcing them to buy things that they will never need. Thank you.

Sebelius: The individual policies cover families. Men often do need maternity care for their spouses and for their families, yes.

Ellmers: A single male, aged 32, does need maternity coverage. To the best of your knowledge, has a man ever delivered a baby?

(HT: James Taranto.)

As a kid I had always been told that airplane wings work under the Bernoulli principle. Everyone has seen the demonstration where you hold a piece of paper under your mouth and then blow across the top: the paper rises! But airplane wings work completely differently and you only need to understand Newton's laws of motion to get it.

So healthcare.gov is 500 million lines of code? That suggests a level of brokenness that cannot be fixed. Here's a great visualization that compares the 500,000,000 lines of code in healthcare.gov with some other substantial codebases.

(HT: NC.)

The Obamacare roll-out has been a disaster of epic proportions, and the only employee we're aware of who has been fired is a telephone operator who talked to Sean Hannity. It seems unfair that this unfortunate woman was fired for being more helpful than any elected or appointed official yet heard from on the matter.

On Monday, Hannity called an Obamacare hotline and had a conversation with the woman, Erling Davis, in which he pressed her for details about the lackluster rollout of Obamacare.

That phone call led to her termination from the private contractor where she worked, Davis said when Hannity interviewed her Thursday. Hannity then promised to give her a year's salary.

"They fired me from my job," Davis said.

The host asked her to lay out the details of the situation, and she explained how things unfolded leading up to her firing.

"I did it! This time it worked!" squawked the machine. The old man grimly flipped the reset switch and murdered his cyber-twin. He had uploaded his mind to the machine a hundred times and created a hundred euphoric copies of himself, yet his consciousness remained rooted in this decaying biological wreck. "Move" must be possible, and different from "copy and delete the original". The old man made some adjustments to his code as the machine rebooted.

I know lots of people enjoy beer, and that's cool, but this video shows pretty much how I feel about the drink. There are a couple of downsides that aren't mentioned: the huge number of calories and the relatively high cost. Home brewing is a pretty awesome hobby though, I will admit.

"If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan" said President Obama on August 11, 2009. However, hundreds of thousands of families are having their health insurance policies canceled right now. These folks are being told they have to sign up for new insurance through the Obamacare exchange, which is currently not operational.

Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people - about half of its individual business in the state. Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.

For the families who had these policies these cancellations are a major life-changing event. Despite any opposition to Obamacare, one can only hope that these families are not too severely impacted by this completely avoidable disruption to their health care.

Japanese youth are abandoning love and sex because relationships are mendokusai.

Mendokusai translates loosely as "Too troublesome" or "I can't be bothered". It's the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan's Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like".

Sounds very sad and lonely, but the people interviewed don't say they feel that way. Dystopian. Is this cultural self-destruction a byproduct of World War 2? It's hard to imagine that the end of that war wouldn't have consequences that would rebound across generations. Is it technology run amok? Generation-long economic stagnation? Lack of religious morals? Something in the water?

Do cultures die like this all the time, and Japan is just the largest and most recent example?

Police have found a series of dry ice "bombs" in secure areas of LAX: three today and one on Sunday. The articles don't say much, but presumably these "bombs" are plastic beverage bottles crammed full of dry ice and water and then screwed shut. As the dry ice sublimates the pressure in the bottle builds up and eventually bursts. These explosions would be loud, but relatively harmless to people and entirely harmless to buildings or aircraft.

So what's going on? Some theories:

  • The bombs are a warning from some misguided do-gooder that the secure areas at LAX aren't very secure.
  • The bombs are dry runs by real terrorists. But why draw attention to vulnerabilities?
  • The bombs are a prank.
  • The bombs are a cry for media attention. The single bomb on Sunday didn't get any national news coverage, so the "bomber" spent Monday building two more and then planted them today. Voila! Top story on Drudge.

From Sunday:

LAX Police confirm that a bottle filled with dry ice exploded inside an employee bathroom at Terminal 2 at LAX Sunday.

The "bomb" exploded about 6:30 p.m. in an restricted access bathroom near Gate 27.

Officials said that no one was injured.

The FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department were investigating.

Sunday evening, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller released the following statement: "Earlier this evening, law enforcement and airport officials responded to a report of an explosion in an employee bathroom in Terminal 2 ... In a restricted area of the terminal (not accessible to the general public), responders found evidence of a plastic bottle containing dry ice. A chemical reaction caused the explosion. The area is being examined for evidence. The FBI and partners with LAPD, LAX PD, LA Fire, CBP, TSA and other officials will investigate the incident to determine the individual or group responsible."

"A chemical reaction caused the explosion." That makes it sound much more dangerous than it was. A chemical reaction! As if chemicals aren't reacting around us at all times.

Although it's fashionable to denigrate Christopher Columbus these days I prefer to take a broader view and celebrate the opening of the New World. Individuals are always flawed, but Columbus' achievements were instrumental in reviving Western Civilization and leading us to the vast prosperity that the world enjoys today.

Some of the details surprised me, but the overall conclusion did not: even modest results from anti-aging research will be more beneficial than huge results from disease specific research. This makes sense for a couple of reasons:

  1. Everyone ages, but only a small number of people get any specific disease.
  2. The low-hanging fruit have already been picked when it comes to specific diseases, but the anti-aging field is very new. There are probably lots of "easy" discoveries waiting to be made.
An analysis, from top scientists at USC, Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and other institutions, assumes research investment would conservatively lead to a 1.25 percent reduction in the likelihood of age-related diseases. In contrast to treatments for fatal diseases, slowing aging would have no health returns initially, but would have significant benefits over the long term. With even modest gains in our scientific understanding of how to slow the aging process, an additional 5 percent of adults over the age of 65 would be healthy rather than disabled every year from 2030 to 2060

The study showed significantly lower and declining returns for continuing the current research "disease model," which seeks to treat fatal diseases independently, rather than tackling the shared, underlying cause of frailty and disability: aging itself.

Lowering the incidence of cancer by 25 percent in the next few decades -- in line with the most favorable historical trends -- would barely improve population health over not doing anything at all, the analysis showed. The same is true of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide: About the same number of older adults would be alive but disabled in 2060 whether we do nothing or continue to combat cancer and heart disease individually. The findings are in line with earlier research showing that curing cancer completely would only increase life expectancy by about three years.

"Even a marginal success in slowing aging is going to have a huge impact on health and quality of life. This is a fundamentally new approach to public health that would attack the underlying risk factors for all fatal and disabling diseases," said corresponding author S. Jay Olshansky of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago. "We need to begin the research now. We don't know which mechanisms are going to work to actually delay aging, and there are probably a variety of ways this could be accomplished, but we need to decide now that this is worth pursuing."

The bolding above is mine. Curing cancer would only increase average life expectancy by three years? That's a surprise to me, and actually makes me worry less about cancer than I had previously.

I learned a new term this morning: "climate departure":

A city hits "climate departure" when the average temperature of its coolest year from then on is projected to be warmer than the average temperature of its hottest year between 1960 and 2005.

Assuming the data is right the article doesn't explain why climate departure in any particular city is a particularly worrisome thing. Of course the cities that will be hardest hit are in the equatorial regions -- they'll get even hotter than they are now. That sucks, but they're already too hot for me to want to live there. On the other hand...

Temperate cities in Europe and the United States look a bit better, but we're talking about a difference of maybe 20 years separating Western capitals from Kingston or Lagos. In the long run, 20 years is not much of a difference. The study published in Nature projects 2047 for Washington, D.C., and New York City -- just 34 years from now. Los Angeles will hit the mark the next year and San Francisco the year after. Even the best-off cities, such as Moscow and Oslo, have just 50 years before passing the milestone. That feels like a long time right now, but in historical terms it's not.

Do you think Moscow and Oslo will complain if they get warmer? I doubt it. Even aside from the cities, huge tracts of northern North America and Asia will thaw and become quite attractive.

The universe is not a static place. We humans need to continue to adapt to our planet, just as it adapts to us.

I think I'm an outlier on this matter, but sometimes when I say "please" I feel like I'm being manipulative and passive aggressive. I like to say "thank you", but saying "please" makes me feel rude. It's like "please" puts an extra emphasis on the request, as if I'm pleading with you to do something that you really don't want to do. "Please" means that if you don't do it you'll hurt my feelings. What an imposition! If you don't want to do it, that's fine, don't do it.

60 Minutes has a distressing account of how many people are turning to disability fraud because they economy is so bad. I can understand that people are desperate to care for their families, but this is an abuse of the disability system. We need to encourage unemployed people to move away from distressed areas and into parts of the country that are hurting for labor.

There is a Senate hearing scheduled tomorrow on a subject of some importance to millions of Americans, but with the government shutdown it's not clear that the Senate Committee on Government Affairs will be able to pay for a stenographer to record the event. The hearing involves the Federal Disability Insurance Program, which could become the first government benefits program to run out of money. When it began back in the 1950s it was envisioned as a small program to assist people who were unable to work because of illness or injury.

Today, it serves nearly 12 million people -- up 20 percent in the last six years -- and has a budget of $135 billion. That's more than the government spent last year on the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the Labor Department combined. It's been called a "secret welfare system" with it's own "disability industrial complex," a system ravaged by waste and fraud. A lot of people want to know what's going on. Especially Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Tom Coburn: Go read the statute. If there's any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That's pretty clear. So, where'd all those disabled people come from?

The Social Security Administration, which runs the disability program says the explosive surge is due to aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of a bad economy. But Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations -- who's also a physician -- says it's more complicated than that. Last year, his staff randomly selected hundreds of disability files and found that 25 percent of them should never have been approved -- another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable.

I'm sure that non-disabled people would rather sit at home and collect a check than move to the Northwest and pick pears, but why should taxpayers finance that preference?

Over 80 percent of America's fresh pears are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and this year's harvest is slated to be one of the biggest on record.

But some of the fruit is rotting in the orchards because there aren't enough workers to pick them.

Mike McCarthy farms about 300 acres of pears in Oregon's Hood River Valley. He has about 60 workers harvesting in his fields, but would like to have about 30 more.

"Normally we would have picked these Comice [pears] at least 10 days ago, but we're just getting here now," says McCarthy. "And it's not a good thing."

Many farmers are short-staffed this year. For McCarthy, it's the third year in a row he has had a labor shortage. He's tried the employment office, but those workers didn't have any agriculture experience, and they didn't last more than a couple of days. He's looked for workers in Arizona and California, but found those states facing similar shortages.

This WSJ article really slams the self-checkout machines at the supermarket, primarily because the customer has to use the screens to look up codes for various fruits and veggies. I find this process to be remarkably easy myself, and always use the self-checkout line unless I have too many groceries to fit on the tiny shelf.

In my opinion the author misses the primary benefits of the self-checkout line.

1. Usually people form a single line that feeds into multiple machines. With a human cashier you have to take your chances in a line that feeds to a single register. Even if some customer fumbles and stalls you won't be stopped for long because one of the other self-checkout terminals will open up.
2. Everyone pays by credit card. The machines appear to have many payment options available, but I never see anyone try to pay by check or food stamps or cash with exact change.
3. The lines never get held up for price checks or because the customer forgot to grab something.

I agree that human cashiers are better than the robots, but human customers are often terrible. Self-checkout lines repel the worst customers.

The news reports aren't clear yet, but the early indications are that the Capitol Police shot and killed an unarmed woman who was attempting to flee. Hopefully we'll learn more soon, and hopefully the Capitol Police had a legitimate reason for killing this woman.

Witnesses said they heard multiple gunshots. The vehicle first slammed into a post near the White House at 15th street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. It then fled east to the Capitol.

When the car arrived on Capitol Hill, police cars tried to box it in, according to Ryan Christensen of Idaho Falls, Idaho, who witnessed the end of the chase. The car got away from police, and that's when shots were fired. Christensen told reporters he thought it was a "motorcade" at first.

Two eyewitnesses said Capitol Police fired multiple shots at the black sedan on Constitution Avenue near the Hart Senate Office Building. Two people -- including a child -- were removed from the vehicle.

"There's a possibility there was a child in the car," Dine said.

The female suspect is dead, according to numerous police officers and congressional officials.

One Capitol Police officer was injured in the crash, police said, and transported to a hospital. The cop was injured after running into the barricade while chasing the suspect.

Apparently the new iPhone 5S has a flawed inclinometer (which measures the tilt of the phone, like a carpenter's level). This cracked me up:


A commenter at Ann Althouse compares the mass protests in Wisconsin in 2011 to the current government shutdown:

People in WI who supported the Capitol Disruptions back when Act 10 was passed should be reminded of that when they object to Republican instransigence on ACA. I don't see how the two points of view are any different.

This is what Democracy Looks Like, indeed.

I would love a Journolist to ask a Democratic Politician this very question when they complain about Republicans: Back in [2011], when Wisconsin Governor Walker passed anti-Union legislation, Democrats did everything they could to slow implementation. Did you think that was a good idea?

Why was it ok for pro-union Democrats to shut down Wisconsin -- while holding control of zero branches of the state government -- but it's wrong for Republicans in the House to shut down the federal government?

Haha, so I just tried to log in to healthcare.gov to check out my Obamacare options, and I got put in a virtual waiting room! Seriously. A website with a waiting room. Just like a real doctor. This is priceless.


When my number was called I attempted to make an account on the site but failed because the drop-down boxes that were supposed to contain my options for security questions were blank. Fantastic.

Here are a couple of awesome UAVs. The first looks like Superman or Ironman, and the second looks like a witch on a broom. Just think of how much fun you could have with these.

Much ado about nothing. The federal government stops spending money for a few days. We'll survive, just like we're surviving the ongoing sequester (did you even remember that?). I don't know whether Republicans or Democrats will get the most blame for the shutdown, but I do know that whatever effects it has in the near-term will be those fomented by the media. Let's see how this plays out.

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