Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thinking About the Health Care System, Part 1

According to my records, I have written about the general topic of health care in this blog 30 times in the past 12 years. It's a topic I care a lot about, for a lot of reasons: for one, I have a large family with a lot of children and grandchildren, some of whom need various types of special care; for another, I'm getting old ... and we all know that as we get older, things start to go expensively wrong, no matter how well we've tried to take care of ourselves along the way.

Most people would agree that America's health care system is a mess. We have some of the best doctors in the world, supported by fantastic equipment, state-of-the-art facilities, and safe and powerful drugs. Unfortunately, too many ... if not most ... of us can't afford the the level of care that's available. Why is that?

I believe there are several major reasons why our health care system is such a dumpster fire. In this post, I'm going to talk about one of them; in a subsequent series of occasional posts I'll discuss the others, and then culminate with my proposal for a total reform of the American health care system. Stick around for the whole discussion before you tell me how little I understand about the real world and how stupid and un-American I am.

Here's the first of my theories about why our health care system is messed up:

We are conditioned by our history to stress individual responsibility and self-reliance. A real American takes care of himself and does not expect others to carry his weight.

This is essentially the same argument used to justify unrestricted gun ownership and open carry/concealed carry laws - you can't count on the police (or anyone else) to protect you, so you have to be prepared to protect yourself at all times. In the health care context, it means that if you get sick, it's your own fault because you didn't take care of yourself. Nobody else is responsible for taking care of you ... you need to plan to pay for whatever treatment you need to recover from the results of your failure to maintain your health.

This emerges from the doctrine of rugged individualism, defined* as

"The practice or advocacy of individualism in social and economic relations emphasizing personal liberty and independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, self-direction of the individual, and free competition in enterprise."

This is the quintessential American approach, in which the individual is of primary importance and the country was always meant to be a land of rugged individualists - people descended from the tough men and women who conquered an untamed wilderness armed only with grit, guns, and self-reliance.

Thus, focus on individual responsibility is the first of the key elements that has shaped the American approach to health care.

That's Theory #1. Number two will follow in a few days.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* In my trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Murder in the Digital Age

* Update: I wrote this post several days ago. Yesterday, this story appeared on CNN: Uber Pulls Self-Driving Cars after First Fatal Crash of Autonomous Vehicle ... 

One of the stock scenes from old murder mysteries comes when the suspects are all assembled in the library of the old manor house. While a storm rages outside, the detective talks his way through the crime and the clues and - at just the right moment - he whirls about and stabs an accusing finger at the murderer, announcing in his sternest voice that "The butler did it!"

Well, perhaps it wasn't the butler. Maybe it was the maid. Or the gardener. Or the ne'er-do-well son. You get the idea, though.

But the traditional unmasking of the criminal may be very different in the not-to-distant future, when we learn to our horror that the evil villain is not human, or even a trained animal (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles or Murder in the Rue Morgue) ... but a machine.

The idea of murder by machine is not new - Jefferey Deaver's novel The Steel Kiss has the murderer using his computer hacking skills to turn common products into murder weapons. But what if there's no human involved at all?

This is the point of a fascinating article I read the other day titled, When an AI Finally Kills Someone, Who Will Be Responsible?.

If a driverless car runs down and kills a pedestrian, who is at fault?* If a complex power distribution grid managed by an artificial intelligence (AI) program suddenly shuts down power to a hospital and patients die, who is responsible? Is it the programmer? The builder of the AI system itself? The builder of the car or the designer of the hospital systems? Can the AI system itself be held criminally liable for its actions? If so, how would it defend itself? How could it be punished? Here's a quote from the article:

"If an AI system can be criminally liable, what defense might it use? ... Could a program that is malfunctioning claim a defense similar to the human defense of insanity? Could an AI infected by an electronic virus claim defenses similar to coercion or intoxication?"

This is not an angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin philosophical discussion, because the need to consider these things is now upon us. As we've already seen with the advent of e-mail, cell phones, and similar things, our laws governing privacy and the criminal use of communication devices are woefully out of date.

As if you didn't have enough to worry about in the Age of Trump.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins, March, 2018

You may recall that I've written many times in this space on the subject of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins - Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Envy, and Wrath. I think the topic is fascinating, and it's the hook for one of my favorite movies, Se7en.

I last wrote about the Seven Deadly Sins late last year, and in reading the news, I thought now might be a good time to take another look at how our national leaders reflect them:

Pride – Perhaps it’s normal to enjoy seeing your name in giant letters on everything you own ...

Greed - Forbes Magazine estimates Donald Trump's net worth as $3.1 billion. That's quite a bit of money, particularly for someone like me living on modest investments, Social Security, and a military pension. But don't you dare imply that Mr Trump is not a billionaire: in 2009, he sued a writer who claimed he was only a millionaire, not a billionaire. I'd say that qualifies as greed.

Gluttony - We tend to think of gluttony in terms of gross overeating, but it's more than just an overfocus on food ... it's an inordinate desire to consume more - of anything - than that which one requires. It's the state of always wanting more, of never being content with what one has. Go back and check that Forbes Magazine estimate I linked above.

Sloth – As of March 3rd, Donald Trump has played golf at least 79 times during 94 visits (at public expense) to his own golf resorts. Now, the job of president is not an easy one, and I would never begrudge the incumbent some down time to relax from the pressures of the office ... but we need to remember that this is the man who repeatedly berated former president Obama for golfing during his presidency, and who famously said during the campaign that "... I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me. Believe me, folks." Here's a reminder.

LustStormy Daniels. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” ‘Nuff said.

Envy - God forbid you should have to live in a world marked by the accomplishments of a better man ... get rid of everything your predecessor did so that your own meager record won't have to suffer by comparison. Here's a partial list of the things undone (as of December 15th last year).

Wrath - "Lock Her Up!" "Build the wall!" 'Nuff said.

The Seven Deadly Sins are still with us and are being well-fed by He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Have a good day. I will not be envious or wrathful if you do.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Musical Sunday

It's said that nostalgia isn't what it used to be, and it's true. I still love this great song by the Statler Brothers, anyhow ...

Have a good day. Remember the good times, in the hopes that they'll come again.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cartoon Saturday

Just when you thought it was safe to peek your head out from under the covers ...

Legendary French haute couture designer Hubert de Givenchy passed away this past week, as did renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking; Donald Trump unceremoniously sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet, and after months of tweet-stormed criticism from Trump, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was fired ... two days before he could have retired with his full pension; at least six people were killed and many others injured when a new pedestrian overpass collapsed onto a busy highway in Florida; United Airlines continued to go to the dogs with the news that it had accidentally flown a family's dog to Japan rather than its intended destination of Kansas ... this followed another incident in which a family's dog died after a United stewardess told the owners the dog had to be stored in an overhead luggage bin for the duration of the Houston-to-New York flight; and Donald Trump named Larry Kudlow, a conservative television commentator with no education, background, or experience in economics and a track record of wildly incorrect economic predictions, to be his senior economic advisor.

Speaking of going to the dogs, I thought some cartoons about banks, investment, and the economy would be appropriate ...

I think that's a reasonable training requirement for investment advisors nowadays ...

You've just gotta watch out for yourself ...

Finally, an understandable economic benchmark ...

It's only fair ...

Them. Not you ...

This sort of puts it in perspective ...

I've often wondered how that works ...

But how do you discuss economics without crazy talk? ...

That seems like a typically political approach ...

Funny how that works, isn't it? ...

And there you have it - this week's collection of ya-ha's to help you recover from the past week's drumbeat of bad news. 

I hope you have a good weekend, and are ready for the next potential snowstorm ... which we here in NoVa may get by midweek. This is ridiculous ... I've got a garden to plant, for Pete's sake!

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts coming tomorrow with Musical Sunday.


Friday, March 16, 2018

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2018

It's time once again for that exercise in futility known as the biweekly announcement of an Ass Clown Award winner.

I must admit to you, Dear Readers, that I'm starting to regret having begun presenting this award. Not because there are individuals and groups out there worth the distinction, but because it's become such a depressing exercise in wading through the miserable, reeking cesspool in which those individuals and groups bob to the surface in horrifying numbers. When I can no longer present the award to an individual because he's won it so many times that I decided to give him a lifetime "achievement" award and remove him from future consideration ... and when that individual is the President of the United States ... and when he works overtime to merit additional awards ... I have to shrug my shoulders and mourn for the future direction of the nation.

But regardless of how much our embarrassing leader continues to make our once-great nation an international laughingstock, ignored by allies and enemies alike, I have to hold to my decision and find another nominee ... and so I have.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, it is with a sigh of sadness and a toast of milk of magnesia that I announce

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2018

And the award goes to

The Republican Members
of the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI)

This past Monday, the Republican members of the HPSCI unilaterally announced that they had found no evidence that Donald Trump or members of his campaign had colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 election, or that the Kremlin sought to help the Trump campaign. As has been very widely noted*, this conclusion is, at best, premature, and is at odds with the opinions of the committee's Democratic members** and with what appears to be the building consensus of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation***.

The work of the committee has been woefully undermined by partisan rancor, and by the evident refusal of the Republican members to do any investigating that might reflect poorly on the GOP in general and on Donald Trump and his the legitimacy of his election in particular. Rather than conducting a serious, open investigation to determine the truth, the HPSCI's GOP members have conducted a brazenly obvious whitewash that reflects badly on them and on their regard for the truth.

It remains to be fully determined whether or not there was any formal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian entities, or whether the Trump supporters were duped and used by foreign elements a lot smarter than they were. That determination will not be made on the basis of a willfully incomplete GOP "investigation," but on the basis of professional work done by adults in the Senate and on the staff of special counsel Mueller who care more for the security of the nation than the bruised ego of a thin-skinned chief executive.

The GOP members of the HPSCI are presented a group award as the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2018. Nothing more need be said.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. We all need it.

More thoughts then.


* Except, of course, on Faux News.

** Who were, of course, not consulted before the announcement was made.

*** And with the unanimous judgement of the entire US Intelligence Community.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Emergency Codes

I ran across an interesting article from not long ago - 10 Common Emergency Codes That Most People Don't Recognize. The article notes that "all sorts of organizations speak in codes to keep from alarming the public—or simply to communicate quickly. Airports, police departments, and public transportation hubs all have their own special lingo, and it's often impenetrable to the uninitiated."

This is true, of course. We all know about the "10-codes" used by police departments, of which the best-known is probably "10-4," which means "message received and understood." But there are a lot of other 10-codes that would cause us great concern if we heard them, such as "10-34," which warns of a riot in progress. You can read the whole list here.

Agnes and I enjoy going on cruises, and cruise ships have their emergency codes as well, one of which is "Operation Rising Star," which tells crew members that a passenger has died. And we occasionally shop at Wal-Mart, where an announcement of "Code Blue" evidently means that a bomb threat has been received.

You can read the whole article for yourself and learn about all sorts of emergency codes now in use. But it got me to thinking that we probably need a whole new range of emergency codes for you and I to use in the current social and political environment*. Here are a few suggestions:

Code Ananias - Donald Trump has told another ludicrous whopper;

Code AR - a person with a grudge and a high-powered semiautomatic rifle is on the loose;

Code Youlose - Congress has passed new legislation friendly to business, but bad for consumers;

Code Musical Chairs - Another White House reorganization;


Code Voteski - Russian trolls are working with clueless Americans to undermine our democracy and civic culture.

Those are my suggestions ... do you have any? Leave a comment so we can share the collective angst.

Have a good day; more thoughts tomorrow.


* In addition, of course, to my already well-established National Stupidity Index (DUMBCON). As a reminder, we have been at DUMBCON Minus 3 since June 5, 2017.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Post Number 4000

Yes, Dear Readers, today I have reached a milestone - this is my four-thousandth post!

Yes, Post Number 4,000!!

I created this blog twelve years ago, after I was asked to leave an online discussion group whose members thought I was insufficiently conservative. My first post was published on March 8th, 2006, and I have posted more-or-less regularly since then.

As you know, my topics vary depending on what interests me at the time I start writing. Over time, I've established certain "regular" posts: Cartoon Saturday appears weekly; Great Moments in Editing and Signage and the Left- and Right-Cheek Ass Clown Awards appear on alternate Fridays; and Sundays alternate between Poetry and Music. The rest of the time, it's whatever I feel like writing.

Many of you have been with me for a long time, and have tolerated (if grudgingly) the full range of my random thoughts; some posts are, of course, better than others, but I think that all have something worthwhile (or at least, entertaining) to say. Here are links to a few of my favorite posts from the last twelve years:

Don't Dig Here! As a linguist, I'm fascinated by the uses and designs of language and communication, and in this post, I looked at the challenges of designing warning signs for radioactive waste dumps that will be deadly for tens of thousands of years.

Another Word for "Hero." I wrote this post after the death of American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon; it was based on a speech I gave to my Toastmasters Club in 1977. The bottom line was that we don't need another word for "hero;" we need men and women who can live up to the meaning and expectations of the word we have.

The Ways We'll Be Remembered. This genesis of this post was a quote from a book I'd been reading - "Most human beings have vanished into the past without leaving a trace of their existence." The author's point was that few people leave anything of themselves behind after they die, such as diaries or letters to families and friends, and so there's nothing for future generations to remember them by. I think that's sad beyond words.

DUMBCON 1. This was the post in which I introduced my concept of the National Stupidity Condition (DUMBCON) based on the military's system of "Defense Conditions" (or DEFCONs). My original construction, like the military system, had five levels; I have updated and revised the system a number of times since then - it now has nine levels to accommodate the ever upwardly-spiraling level of national stupidity, and we have been at the new highest level, DUMBCON -3 (Minus Three), since June 5th, 2017.

Thoughts About Flags. On July 7, 2015, I wrote a post about the principles of flag design, and what makes a particular flag meaningful and memorable. I proposed a revision of the American flag to change the outdated symbolism of 50 stars and the red-white-and-blue motif to reflect modern American values. Check it out.

Celebrating a Life. My father passed away in January of 2015, and I wrote this remembrance of his life and the lessons he tried to teach me.

When Walls Don't Work. This post from two years ago was the latest iteration of my detailed plan for solving our contentious immigration debate. Most of you liked it as written or posed valid and well-reasoned issues; I also sent it to all of my elected representatives, who replied with the usual "thanks for your interest" form letters and went back to talking past each other.

Okay, that's enough self-congratulatory back-patting. Go back and look at those posts if you're new to the blog, or are interested in golden oldies, or just want to kill some time. And keep coming back - you're always welcome.

I want to close by thanking each and every one of my just-dropping-by readers and my regular readers and friends, some of whom I've been lucky enough to meet in person: John, Mike, Andrea, Amanda, Kathy, and Buggie, among so many others. You make writing this blog worthwhile every day.

Have a good day. Lots more thoughts coming!


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Shirky Principle

Clay Shirky is an American writer, consultant and teacher who specializes in analyzing the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, and his name has been applied to one of those "laws" that the world seems to follow without realizing it.

The "Shirky Principle" is fairly straightforward. It reads,

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

For instance, an organization that wants to simplify its procedures forms a committee or stands up a new office to figure out how to simplify things. But adding the extra layer of bureaucracy maintains the already-complicated nature of the organization.

A recent example of the Shirky Principle in action is the announcement by the Trump administration of a commission chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to recommend policy and funding proposals for preventing school violence*.

By the way, the announcement of the establishment of this commission comes less than a day after Trump told a raucous rally in Pennsylvania that, "We can't just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees," because they do nothing but "talk, talk, talk."

No chaos, nothing to see here, folks, just move on.

I believe the Trump administration's constant rollback of environmental regulations and restrictions on the financial services industry, and its gutting of the Affordable Care Act, are also prime examples of the Shirkey Principle. After all, if you do something that makes a problem go away, it's bad for the people with a vested interest in perpetuation of the problem ... and that's bad for the political and financial support you get from those interests.

Have a good day. Watch the Shirkey Principle in action around you, and cry.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* It goes without saying that restrictions of any sort on firearms or the ownership thereof are not on the table. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Were I to Run ...

Every so often after one of my ranting posts, someone leaves a comment along the lines of "Bilbo for President."

While I appreciate the sentiment, I really wouldn't want to be president. I think I'd do a better job than Donald Trump, but that's a pretty low bar to clear ... as was evident if you listened to the bizarre speech he gave in Pennsylvania last Saturday evening. I'd rather be the trusted advisor to a president who knew he wasn't the smartest guy ever and was willing to listen to advice from people who live in the real world.

All of that being said, in the unlikely event that I found myself being elected President (hey, it worked for Trump), here are a few of the policies you could expect me to champion:

Immigration: my plan is already on the table, and it doesn't include stupid walls.

Trade: I believe in free trade, but I also realize that each nation must look out for its own interests. My administration would enter into fair and equitable trade agreements with any nation or group of nations. Tariffs and taxes on imports would be imposed only as a last resort in response to egregious abuses by specific trading partners. Foreign-owned businesses seeking to operate in the United States would be subject to the same restrictions imposed on US firms operating in their home nations*.

Guns: let's get serious and quit the stupidly apocalyptic arguing on all sides. The Constitution, as interpreted by the courts, gives "the people" the right to "keep and bear arms," independent of any membership in a "well-ordered militia." Whether or not this is a good idea in a 21st century where a single private citizen can own an arsenal more powerful than that of some armies of earlier centuries is questionable, but the truth is that it's a Constitutional right enshrined in law, it would require a further amendment to the Constitution to change or revoke that right**, and no US government is going to take away the tens of millions of guns now in circulation. I advocate the following: a nationwide ban on sales of guns to individuals under the age of 21 who are not military veterans; funding studies by the CDC to obtain hard data on the role of guns as a public health issue; a ban on sales of guns to any person convicted of a felony, under the care of a mental health professional, or on a terrorist no-fly list; a ten-day waiting period for the purchase of a gun unless a specific exemption has been provided by the local police department***; a ban on dangerous enhancements to weapons (such as "bump stocks," semiautomatic-to-automatic conversion kits, large-capacity magazines, and silencers/suppressors); registration of all guns (including documentation of the rifling marks on a bullet recorded after a test-firing of the weapon); and mandatory additional prison sentences for crimes committed using a firearm.

Health Care: I support a national single-payer medical insurance system paid for by a separate health tax, with Medicare and Medicaid made a part of the program. Every citizen would be required to pay into the system, and every provider would be required to accept the national insurance. I haven't completely thought through this one, and there's more detail to come. All I know is that we have what is potentially the world's finest health care system, and Real People can't afford it.

Education: I support mandatory publicly-funded education from kindergarten through grade 12, with private school at one's own expense as an option. We need to bring down the cost of a college education, but I'm not quite sure yet what the best way to do that is ... more on that later. And we need to recognize that there are a whole lot of essential jobs for which a college degree is not required, meaning that we need to invest in vocational and technical training and, perhaps, a traditional apprenticeship system like much of the rest of the world.

Those are a few things to start you thinking whether or not you want to endorse Bilbo for president. And as Groucho Marx once said, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others."

Have a good day. Invest your vote wisely.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Are you listening, China?

** Unlikely in the extreme ever to happen.

*** This protects persons who wish to purchase a gun in response to a specific, demonstrable threat.

† In addition to whatever the normal sentence for that crime would be. Say, an extra five or ten years, the number depending on whether anyone was injured or killed.