Friday, February 25, 2011

Daily Report: Shuttle Launch

I drove across the state of Florida today to watch NASA's Discovery STS-133 take off from Cape Canaveral. Fantastic thing to do once... and you've only got 2 more chances to see a shuttle lift off. (After that, you'll have to settle for watching standard rockets going up.)

I got video... but it's tough video to take: You're zooming in over 12 miles... and the shuttle moves up so fast it's really hard to stay zoomed in and keep a good picture. (Add to that the fact that I had 2 videos going and was snapping away with a camera too.)

To top it all off, I missed the first seconds of the launch: A guy next to me was using the internet to count down, thinking that it was real time. Nope: He said the countdown was at 2 minutes when somebody said, "Oh! There it goes!" So it was just as the shuttle started going up that I hit record, instead of when the countdown reached "10" like I had hoped.





Also, I do have to say: Video and photos do not compare remotely to the real thing. The huge bright flames; the scale, height, speed, and distance of the launch; the low, almost-subsonic sound... it's all too impressive in real life to be captured adequately on film.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Daily Report: Stupid College Tricks

I went to State College of Florida's get-to-know-us presentation on their Radiography program, which I'm interested in taking. I might actually have trouble being accepted to the program: 10 years of working in the medical industry? Don't even consider it. The fact that 20 years ago I was a "B" student in college while working on degrees in Economics, Business, and Statistics? Of utomost importance. "B" is the cutoff GPA for accepting students.

Not to smart in retrospect: When I was in college, I used to take 18 or 21 credit hours per semester... my normal courseload, plus I threw in French, German, and Portuguese, plus piano performance classes, which I did because enjoyed them... like my passtime: They were free and fun. Why not right? I didn't bust my ass on those courses though and they brought my GPA down... but I graduated with almost 200 credits in 10 semesters of college. (Triple major, triple minor, me.)

Well, I'll try anyway... hopefully I get in to this radiography program. It's a 3-year associates degree.

Daily Report: Boring Dialectic About Mystery Fat

I've gained 10 pounds since I got back to America. I'm trying to figure out what the culprit is.

In the morning I used to have 2 packets of Nestl├ę 4-in-1 (about 120 calories), and now I have a mug of coffee with sweet-and-low and about 4 tablespoons of sugar-free Coffee Mate (60 calories).

For lunch, I used to have a meat-with-rice dish of some sort (let's say 500 calories). Now I have a fruit smoothie (500 calories).

For dinner, I used to have something from the lechon stand... either pork or chicken (about 800 calories) plus a bottle of San Miguel Pilsen (450 calories). Now I have whatever my mother cooks (about 800 calories) and a snack during work (250 calories or less). No beer or drinks anymore, except once or twice a week.

Basically, I'm not eating more now than I was in The Philippines. I'm not moving around a whole lot less either: I'm going to the pool every couple of days, moving around the house about as much as I used to (though no stair climbs a couple of times a day). I drink only diet soda now, whereas I used to sip iced tea.

Oh... I know what it would be: Cocktail hour. That damnable microwaved popcorn that I eat several handfuls of every day. I'll bet that's doing it; that's where I'm going over. It's the fault of my sneaky parents and their socializing that is fattening me up.

I really should start counting calories: I'm sure I'm missing other stuff that I'm eating and not counting. God, that sounds a bit effete though, counting calories: A manly-man should just eat one less serving of bar-be-que, drink light beer, and go out and chop wood to stay thin, right?

Interesting Point On Wisconsin

Andrew Sullivan makes an interesting observation: If the Governor of Wisconsin simply rescinded the tax cuts he passed on couples earning over $300,000 per year and individuals earning over $150,000 per year, that act alone would balance his state's budget.

Instead, he decided to lay most of the burden on government workers and their unions — except for those government workers and unions who supported his reelection: they retain all of their union capabilities and privileges.

Tomm, in the comments section in the previous post about Wisconsin, makes good points about public sector unions, and I've learned quite a bit about them while watching this all unfold. However, the two facts above — that repeal of tax cuts for the wealthy would solve the budget imbalance just as (if not more) easily, and that those government unions supportive of the incumbent politician are not subject to curtailment while all others are — makes this whole thing smell awfully fishy to me.

In other words, each of Governor Walker's budget-balancing proposals standing alone seem reasonable on their own merits. However, when grouped together as a whole, when compared to alternative methods, and when the preferential for-some-not-others considerations are made: the Machiavellian underpinnings really start to shine through. At the end of it all, I can only conclude that Governor Walker's primary goal here is to hamstring the government workers' unions that do not support him politically, and it is only his secondary goal to reduce his budget's deficit.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Curious About Wisconsin

It seems the people are protesting in Wisconsin because the government is trying to take away their employee union's ability to engage in collective bargaining.

Is that even possible? For the "management" to just come in and say to a union, "you can't negotiate with us anymore"... I mean, obviously "management" can try to do whatever it wants... but is the union somehow obliged to listen or act in accordance?

Comments from anybody who knows about this would be welcome.

p.s. Here is a good article for and a good article against the proposed union measures. My personal opinion is that the increases in Wisconsin's federal employee contributions to pensions and health insurance are reasonable in the scope of austerity and budget-balancing measures. But I do not see the benefit of removing the employees' union's ability to negotiate those increases in the future... which is essentially what the government of Wisconsin is trying to do.

Friday, February 18, 2011

No, They Won't

Republicans today voted to continue funding the Pentagon their annual $7 million to sponsor NASCAR teams. "The Army spends $7 million a year on its NASCAR team, and sees it as a useful recruiting tool. The Army picked up 46,000 recruiting leads in 2010 through its racing team."

(In case you are wondering, that is about $150 per "lead".)

On the same day, the same politicians voted to strip Planned Parenthood of all its federal funding.

So, government funding of NASCAR racing teams in these tight economic times? Still on. Government funding of family planning and OB/GYN services targeted for low-income women? Gone.

And just because it probably needs to be said: I don't mind cutting Planned Parenthood, but only inasmuch as Planned Parenthood can be cut and still provide its primary function under austere and minimized conditions... which, if that could be done with a 100% cut of federal aid — approximately one third its budget — is fine. (Although, color me doubtful, I strongly suspect Congressional Republicans did not bother to determine whether or not that was the case.) I'm more curious as to the mindset that those zealous budget-slashing-or-die-trying Republicans had to be in to conclude, "but spending $7 million taxpayer money to race in NASCAR is fine."

History Of Hello

Here's an interesting little linquistic tidbit: If you walked up to George Washington back in the day and said, "Hello." George would have looked at you and said, "Huh-what?"

The word "hello" was first used in 1827, and then it was only used the way that we use "hey!" at the beginning of a sentence... to get attention, or like "whoa!" as an expression of surprise.

Hello only gained popularity due to Thomas Edison, who encouraged it's use when picking up the telephone.

(Goodbye is much older, dating back to just before 1600. It started off spelled as godbwye... "god be with ye".)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Daily Report: Successful Attempts

I've been to the pool 2 days in a row... a little sun, a little swimming, a little soak in the hot tub. The gelid depths February in America... who knew?

Tonight, I tried making chicken and dumplings after watching Alton Brown make it on Good Eats. I can't say I failed in the attempt: Mom and Paul finished what I served them. It wasn't hard to make either.

I'm going to try to spend more time focusing on meals from scratch like that. Food prices are going to be going up astronomically this coming year, and I imagine that the pre-packaged stuff is going to be the most notably inflated. Doing meals from scratch and saving a few dollars per person per meal will not just make economic sense, but it should be fun honing my culinary skills, and obviously healthier as well.

I've been watching "Jeopardy: IBM Challenge" on television, where a computer is competing against two trivia masters in the word-tricksy, aphorism-laden, double-entendre-filled question-as-answer quiz show... and it's simply kicking ass. You humans should be embarassed.

After that was the Westminster Dog Show, which I watched on the TV next to my desk as I worked. Beautiful creatures, though I must say not as well trained as I would have expected — some jump-ups, lots of shaking of fur, lots of being distracted. That Scottish Deerhound as Best In Show was an easy pick though: it's bouncy prance and an seemingly self-assured comportment was really the only feature on all the finalists that stood out for me. I imagine that every time that golden doggie whelps over the next decade, the owners will make a fortune.

I finished the second book in the series "A Song Of Fire And Ice". Then I went online to read about the rest of the series. It looks like the author might have given up on the series or something: The fifth book was finished 5 years ago but still has not been released. The sixth and seventh books haven't been started yet. You'd think that if HBO came along and was making a TV show out of your books, you'd want to be able to give them an ending. (You'd think HBO would have taken that into consideration when buying as well.)

Now I'm going to put more of my attention towards my Dostoyevsky... another 500 pages to go.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Prettiest Wife Ever

Just one guy's opinion.




I miss you Sunshine! Especially today.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

10 Pictures In 10 Minutes

Neighbor Bob feeds the birds, so they hang out in his garage.

Juice factory.

Back yard.

Bungle O' Jil.

The 'Hood.

Lonely Path Through The Jungle.

Beware Of Alligators.

Locals.

Pool Resort.

Park... ish.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Simple Things

I always like it when somebody takes a simple thing and, with a bit of imagination and talent, turns it into something wonderful. Here are 2 great examples:


Epril's Day

My wife's day (again), as seen through a web cam.

1. Wake up with a smile, as per usual.

2. Type "Good morning honey ko!" to me on the laptop.

3. Get morning bedside visit from friends and cute babies.

4. Get up and do happy dance.

5. Eat breakfast.

6. Nap.

7. Eat lunch.

8. Watch TV.

9. Eat dinner.

10. Send text messages.

11. Miss husband.

12. Listen to husband sing her a lullaby over the internet.

13. Go to sleep.

Daily Report: Blown

I see that Egypt has finally succeeded in their revolution. That went well, all things considered: No military crackdown (imagine the reaction to "American tanks and American helicopters and American guns" (note) engaging in a Middle Eastern version of Tienanmen Square), and extra-importantly almost no "intifada" stuff seen anywhere. Think about it: A revolution in the Middle East and not a single person exploded into little pieces. Impressive, no?

The new microwave has gone wrong: It trips the circuit breaker. The old stove hood exhaust fan lead that the microwave is now plugged in to is on the same electrical line as the rear two bedrooms of the house (where an additional 1200 watts of computers and stuff are running). So the 1,100 watt microwave added to the existing 1,200 watts going through a 14-amp fuse equals "pop!" (I didn't know any of this... I got my lesson in Home Electrical Systems 101 from Stepdad-├╝bernerd-engineer Paul, who — having designed parts on the experimental fusion reactor at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — can easily suss out a blown fuse. Unfortunately, the wire on the circuit is the wrong thickness, so we can't upgrade the fuse, which means... inevitably... drilling holes in things to get the new microwave connected to a "proper" electrical source.

I did a bit of shopping today. I bought some frozen fruit bits to make smoothies... specifically strawberry/pineapple/banana with orange juice from the tree in the back yard. It will be my late-night after-work treat, a smoothie. It's my effort to cut back on the alcohol a bit: The martini at cocktail hour is fine... but the 2 beers / glasses of wine / margaritas / alco-whatevers I drink after work every night in addition to that martini is a little much. (And yes, my party-hearty friends in Thailand, I know what you are going to say; we were much younger and wilder then.)

I'm going to drive across Florida in 2 weeks to see the shuttle launch. I'm told that it is actually possible to see it standing in front of this house, 200 miles away here on the West Coast of the state, but (a) since I'm nearby, (b) since shuttle launches are going away soon, and (c) since I've never seen one before, I'm going to take the day and go see it. My cousin, Uncle Bob's daughter, lives just south of Cape Canaveral, so I'll pop in to see her in the process.

Mike Bird (my "second-cousin-in-law"... my wife's mother's cousin's daughter's husband) was here working in Florida, up by Orlando, for a month. I kept trying to get him to come down for a day but time never permitted. Then, apparently, the work went away and Mike is now off to greener pastures up north... and rather bitter about the entire State of Florida. Interesting how Mike and I got polar opposite opinions regarding the people of Florida. All of the things he commented upon, I have never seen here, and all of the things I have ever mentioned, he had never experienced. But then, I think Florida exists in 2 parts: The retired and the working. I'm in one, Mike was in the other. That might explain things.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why So Long For A Visa?

A commenter asked, and led me to wondering as well: Why does it take so long to get an immigrant permission to come and live in America?

First off, it cannot and is not a function of being short staffed. Here is how you can tell that: Look at these 2 charts borrowed from the excellent visa site, VisaJourney.com. It shows how many days it is taking for fiancee visa applications and spouse visa applications to be processed:




Now, if the USCIS were short staffed, the lines on the graphs would be travelling constantly upward; the wait would get longer and longer as they got further and further behind. So that's generally not the case, especially with the K1 visa, and obviously would not be a sustainable situation. The variations (especially with the K3 visa) would probably be more of a function of an increase in the number of applications submitted 300 or 280 days prior that are causing the increase in waiting time for visa processing.

A second query is — assuming that a visa application submitted to the government obviously is not immediately taken care of upon arrival... in other words, the government does not actually require 284 days of work to process my wife's visa application — how long does it actually take to process a visa application? How long does it take, from the moment my wife's visa application is opened to be considered and processed by some lady sitting at a desk to the moment she slaps a big "approved stamp" on it? Hours? Days?

Of course, I think it would be safe to also assume that there is some waiting-in-line time while background checks are done on my wife that takes a few days or a week or two. But really, no matter how you look at it, it is not hard to figure out that my wife's visa application will be sitting in the USCIS In Box for the better part of 3 or 4 months before anybody takes more than a cursory look at it.

So, the question to be asked is: Why does every visa application sit around for 3 or 4 months before being processed? It's not a function of "being behind" because the USCIS is not falling behind. They are obviously at a visa-processing equilibrium; they just keep a 3-month-tall pile of visa applications on hand all the time, apparently on purpose.

According to RapidVisa.com, there were approximately 13,000 K3 and 28,000 K1 visas issued in 2009. Based on a 5 day work week (260 days per year), that is 50 K3 and 108 K1 visas approved per day. Assuming a 3 or 4 month backlog (65–87 business days), you are talking about a total backlog of 10,000 to 14,000 K1/K3 visa applications nationwide.

Really, is such a large — but consistent and purposefully maintained — backlog of visa applications necessary? The USCIS people obviously are not doing it for job security reasons. I doubt they are worried that they might suddenly run out of applications and have to leave work early, such that they keep a backup in case there is a 3-month gap where nobody wants to come to live in America.

It really must be simple government bureaucracy. Willful, carefully maintained, pointless, government bureaucracy.

Well, anyway, let's just hope that I got Epril's visa in quickly enough before Congress sacks 3 or 4 visa processors and the time I have to wait to welcome my wife to America with a big hug goes up another few months.

Daily Report: Sun Run

Nice day today for the simple things: Chatted with the neighbors in the side yard, watched the dogs play, read the news, videoed my wife, had a neighbor drop off a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice from the tree in her back yard, enjoyed cocktails with family, and gathered around the table for a fantastic dinner (I made the salad).

I got half as much accomplished today compared to yesterday, but it felt like so much more.

Puppy Gracie and her Aunt Martini waiting for a treat.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Daily Report: Busy-Lazy

I was up nice and early today. I really should stick to my stop-smoking pills because of how well they work on my sleep (or need thereof) and work (or amount thereof). I had stopped taking them (I do only smoke 1 or 2 cigarettes per day now, and have for a year or more) for a couple of weeks and my sleep and work both suffered as a result. I went back on the pills and voila, my work production went back up by about a third, and the amount I was sleeping went down by 2 hours. Funny though: The drug is "Zyban", which is the same as "Wellbutrin", which is a psychoactive drug. But it honestly has no discernible effect on my mood or emotions that I have ever been able to detect.

So I spent the day preparing and sending out Epril's I-129F. (I left the "F" off the last time I mentioned it, which — as Sgt Mike pointed out — is a different visa application, leading to his asking if I was sure what I was doing.) The I-129F was actually quite similar to the I-130, if not even a bit easier to assemble. The excellent website visajourney.com, recommended to me by a reader here, helped me calculate that Epril will have her interview at the American embassy in Manila in the first half of September... 7 months away from today to be exact. Sigh. I miss my wife. I figured 120 days or so that I'd be gone, but instead I've decided to stay here and that stretches things out a lot. Well, hopefully Epril will be here for our anniversary on September 27th.



The new microwave above
the stove. It probably will
hold 2 turkeys.

"Here's flat rat. Now where's
my treat?"
I helped Paul install a monstrous new microwave above the stove today. I also taught Gracie how to dance around on her hind legs, and how to fetch "flat rat", a toy of hers that looks like roadkill.

After that, I watched a bit of Top Gear. That show is starting to wear thin for me: A lot of the comedy is a bit contrived and some of the childish behavior and archness starts to seem forced and formulaic. But I still love watching the cars.

We went next door for cocktails tonight... pretty much everyone who lives on the cul-de-sac was there. (About half of the retirees are from New York State, the other half are from Massachusetts.) Puppy Gracie (and her aunt, Martini, belonging to Uncle Bob) ran around the yard frolicking, while we humans talked mostly about living in Florida, real estate, and stuff like that.

Then mom cooked an excellent chicken breast dish, we watched the news and Jeopardy, and then it was off to work for me.

I actually, at the end of the day, felt like I had wasted the day in a way: I never took the time to sit down and read my novel or study my anatomy terms, which was definitely on my list of things to do. It felt a rather incomplete day because of that.

The Average Filipina

Somebody took a bunch of photos from girls of countries and then did some kind of "averaging" thing to come up with what an "average" girl from that country is supposed to look like. Here is the "average" Filipina.

Honestly, I think whoever did this was selecting photos from the internet not as randomly as one would like to believe: The girl from South Africa below is white. It might be just "South African girls' photos on the internet"... a visual amalgam of FaceBook profile photos would be my guess.
Original photo here. I don't know who made it or anything, so I can't give credit. If anybody finds the owner, let me know so I can link to him/her.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Daily Report: Superbowl Patriotism

I picked up Ednel's knives from the flea market today. I also did some work on Epril's visa too, since the U.S. Government has now officially moved us on to Stage 2 of the great visa hunt: The "I-129" is next up to tackle. Finally, I watched a couple of hours of "Top Gear" on BBC America — my only consistent peccant passtime... my days otherwise spent in reading novels, studying anatomy, and watching the occasional documentary. Well, I suppose training and playing with Gracie could count as empty time too, depending on the measuring stick.

I was out with my cousins tonight to watch the Superbowl at a local sports bar. We had big 4-liter personal taps of beer on the table; ate Buffalo wings, nachos, and chili fries. The four of us actually won three different door prizes... not bad. I won a Coors T-shirt and Budweiser ball cap.

This lady in the bar apparently had won a refrigerator (a small one) that she didn't want and was going round to the tables near where she was sitting trying to find somebody who would buy it from her. She found no takers at our table, but she continued pursuing her conversation with us instead of moving on.

"I was angry at you guys earlier."

Oh Lord, I thought. This is not a conversation I want to be in.

"Oh?" my cousin Jonathan asked, looking concerned. "Why is that?"

"None of you stood up during the National Anthem. It was disrespectful."

I remember glancing at this lady, standing at the corner of the bar, looking rather smug and self-righteous with her hand over her heart as the Star Spangled Banner played.

I replied, "Didn't you notice that nobody in the bar stood up during the National Anthem other than yourself?"

But it was at that moment that I quickly realized that if this lady was stupid enough... or drunk enough... or rude enough to toss such a ridiculous and unwarranted criticism in our direction, she wasn't worth talking to at all, and I immediately withdrew my attention and went back to watching the game. Jonathan, however, took the lady up on her challenge to a debate on who was most patriotic, and delivered a pretty decent smackdown all in all, as I kept an ear on the conversation while I watched the game. An absolute and utter flake, this lady was. She eventually wandered off.

From my time in Asia — and before that my time in New York City — I never ran into an American like that, although I knew they existed: An American who could go all sans culottes on a total stranger in a bar like a homespun Columbia exorcising the demons of wishy-washy American fervor out of her slacking compatriots.

Yes, note to all non-Americans reading this blog: There really are holier-than-thou Americans who will lord their patriotism (and/or more commonly, their religion) over people in order to better reinforce their own sense of propriety and moral certainty. I apologize in advance should you ever encounter one of these Americans, and recommend you just run away without hesitation.

Ugh. I commented recently on this blog about talking to crazy people in bars (don't). Y'all thought it doesn't happen. First time in a bar since coming back to America? There it was. (And yes: I consider going around to tables in a bar to individually accuse people of unpatriotic behavior to be a sign of mental instability. Call me touchy.)

Anyway, other than that foolishness, it was a grand time. I had originally planned on staying only until the end of halftime but stuck until the end of the game (or, more accurately, the inevitability of the outcome of the game). After that, it was back home to work.

Oh: In an effort to avoid getting behind the wheel with alcohol in my body, I spent the last half of the game drinking O'Douls non-alcoholic beer. First time. It wasn't awful; I might try it again even.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Four Loko. Whose Fault If It Is Good?

I was out at the 7-11 buying some eggs and I saw this stuff being sold in giant cans that I had never heard of... apparently some type of alcoholic beverage called "Four Loko". Curious, I bought a can and took it home with me. It was okay... tasted a bit like a wine cooler. Everybody at home said, "Oh, that's the stuff they are trying to ban." I looked on the internet and, sure enough, because of the mixture of caffeine and alcohol, a dozen college students have drank too much of the stuff and gotten sick, and now various states are banning it.

Nothing puffs up the Libertarian in me more than government punishing a business because some irresponsible people sell or buy its product... instead of punishing the irresponsible people.

How dumb is that? Hundreds of college students across the country wind up in a hospital every weekend from too much beer or whiskey... and government is going to ban this alcoholic product because a dozen college students over the last 3 years have gotten too drunk on this stuff? Thousands of college students across the country mix highly-caffeinated Coca-Cola with rum every weekend, but government is going to ban this product because it has caffeine in it?

Apparently they also say that the labeling and the packaging make it "too appealing to young crowds." Oh bullshit. "Dude! A giant purple can! I always wanted to drink out of a giant purple can. Fill it with piss if you have to... but I'm buying that giant purple can."

No. Wrong: People (and young people) are buying Four Loko because it is a good product. People (and young people) are enjoying the product because it is cheap and does exactly what alcoholic beverages are purchased to do. People (and young people) are getting sick from the product because they are party-hearty idiots who are a bad combination of ignorant plus highly determined to get very drunk.

Don't blame this "Four Loko" for making an alcoholic beverage so tasty that even young people say, "My, but that's an awfully tasty drink." If it was a company that made a product that made teenagers say, "Wow! Those are the best Brussels sprouts ever! I'll take 3 dozen please!" everybody would be complimenting the company on their brilliant product because they got people to enjoy something they normally wince at when they are consuming it... much like beer or whiskey.

Whose fault is it really that young people wind up drinking "Four Loko"? The same people who are to blame when young people wind up drinking Budweiser. If you aren't going to ban Smirnoff every time some teenager shows up in an emergency room with a 0.4% blood alcohol level from that product, you shouldn't do it with any other product either. Instead, blame the irresponsible store employees or other adults who sold the product to the irresponsible kids.

It's like gun control: I don't believe in stopping gun manufacturers from developing very cool firearms that people want to buy. If a gun maker comes up with a giant purple can of a gun that every teenager wants, I'd say he has done his job remarkably well. It is the job of the gun dealer and the gun licenser (and the gun purchaser) to make sure that the gun is placed only in responsible hands no matter what type of gun it is. Selling a gun to a person who has been deemed by proper authorities to be unfit to own a weapon is the main problem... as is selling booze to a person who has been deemed by proper authorities to be under age.

In America, we have as part of our citizenship the responsibility to be responsible. We have a government that is generally not supposed to save us from our own individual stupidity... only to predetermine a citizen's probable level of stupidity (or lack thereof) by granting or withholding various permissions (to drink or sell drinks, to own a gun or sell guns, to drive, to vote, to go fishing, et cetera).

If you are stupid enough to drink 6 cans of "Four Loko", then it is your fault if it doesn't work out for you. If you are stupid enough to sell or give 6 cans of "Four Loko" to a person who is legally unqualified to be in possession of them, then you also bear the responsibility for your actions, not some beverage company in Colorado. That's just the American Way... or at least the American Way as I envision it.

Daily Report: Looking Brighter

Mom and Paul returned from their respective vacations. Puppy Gracie was happy to see them back.

The weather was nice enough to go down to the pool. My mother's retirement village has two pools, and the nicer of the two had been closed for repairs but was now open... with a new hot tub and deck. Lots of pale round old folks lying or floating around in the sun. (Skinny brown little Epril in her bikini will not fit in there when she arrives.)

I've been watching the high-definition music channel "Palladia" a bit lately: It's all concert-length and movie-length music-related programs... a part of VH1. Lots of good concerts, plus movies like "The Song Remains The Same" and "TheWall", documentaries like "Iron Maiden Flight 666" and a 2-hour "Behind The Music" type biopic on one of my favorite bands, "Rush".

I also watched Journey's concert in Manila, with Arnel Pineda. That literally brought tears to my eyes, to see an even-better-than-Hollywood version of the movie Rockstar. Can you imagine leaving your small country as an impoverished unknown, and returning to a hero's welcome in the form of a giant concert, the most popular person of the day, leading one of the most popular bands in the world, entertaining hundreds of thousands of happy people? Wow. I'm going to buy the Bluray and send it to Epril (along with Ednel's knives).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Time To Live

I was talking to the old folks last night at cocktail hour and I stated that if I could pick a span of time in which to live my life, it would be the span that my grandparents lived: From 1905 to 2005, give or take a few years. I said that was easily the most exciting time to live in the history of man.

The old folks pooh-pooh'ed me and gave me the old "you ain't seen nothing yet" adage.

But seriously, my grandmother got to experience a world without light bulbs... and then one day, dad switched on a little glowing orb of glass over the kitchen table. One day, my grandmother heard a recorded voice for the first time in her life... then a radio... then a telephone... then a television. Every common appliance we see around us was at one time an amazing new invention to her.

My grandmother was witness to the greatest horrors mankind had ever visited upon itself. She saw the worst as it was happening, not knowing how it would end. She suffered through the greatest depression and knows what it is to really and truly go without.

She watched as America went from an along-for-the-ride player in world politics to the most powerful country in the history of the earth, leading the way in science, culture, and business. She got to hold her breath as those first space flights lifted off.

How paltry to speak on the first mobile phone when compared to the experience of speaking on the first telephone. How gimmicky to see high-definition TV for the first time after having seen the first grainy broadcast images. Man may someday fly to Mars... but it still would be the second act of man's play in the stars. Man may light a sun on earth to create fusion... but it is still an increment of progress begun with Edison's work in Menlo Park.

No, I disagree with the old folks: The most astonishing and ground-breaking of man's accomplishments, the foundation of our modern architecture to which every subsequent step forward is fastened, occurred in its greatest frequency in the 20th century: a time in which I wish I could have lived.

And, if there are any future horrors yet to be visited upon us that shame the 20th century world wars and other tastes of the apocalypse... well, I would just as soon miss those as part of the deal.

Examination of Republican Healthcare Plan

Publius does an interesting examination of what the Republicans propose for healthcare reform if they were able to repeal the currently enacted law called the Affordable Care Act. He notes that the 2 principal aspects of the Republican healthcare plan are to (1) allow people to buy health insurance outside of their state, and (2) to enact tort reform.

Regarding the proposal to let people purchase insurance from outside their state:
On the first, Republicans argue that more competition needs to be introduced into the health care market. Right now, competition is “artificially” limited by a requirement that consumers may only purchase health insurance from an insurer located in their state. If consumers could purchase from any state in the US at will, the insurers in each state would suddenly be forced to contend with an increased number of competitors thereby driving insurance costs downward. Of course, such an idea isn’t unique to health care. It’s an idea already implemented in many other areas which makes the consequences of the idea fairly predictable.

Take credit cards, for example. In theory, Americans can obtain a credit card from any state in the nation. There is no restriction on consumer choice and all credit cards are free to compete against each other across state lines. In practice, the major credit card companies exist in only a handful of states, and they are always the states which provide limited or no consumer protections in key areas. Many states have adopted usury laws which limit the amount of interest a company can charge a consumer. A few states have no limitations on interest charges. Care to guess where the major credit card companies are located?

It’s called the “race to the bottom.” In order to attract the business of major companies (and their corresponding tax revenue), many states “compete” with each other to offer the least regulatory intrusion on such companies, often at the expense of consumers. The phenomenon is hardly unique to credit card companies. Delaware imposes the least requirements on corporate governance, and, unsurprisingly, most major corporations are headquartered in Delaware.

Allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines would result in precisely the same race to the bottom. Major health insurance companies would relocate to states with almost no regulatory requirements and consumers would be left unprotected in one of the most important areas of their life.

There is, of course, a way to increase competition without the race to the bottom- standardize the regulations for health insurance on a nationwide basis and then allow consumers to purchase across state lines. The Democrats proposed precisely this with a national health insurance exchange. All non-employer insurance, with few exceptions, would have to be sold in the exchange, and companies could only sell in the exchange if they satisfied certain regulatory requirements. Democrats, unfortunately, scaled that proposal back to a “regional exchange” concept where states could establish an exchange with other states in their region on the same regulatory footing. While the regional exchange is clearly inferior to the national exchange concept, it is also clearly superior to the Republican “buy across state lines” concept.
On the second Republican objective of tort reform:
The second Republican idea, tort reform, also sounds better than it is. Medical malpractice costs are estimated to be less than 1% of the total health care costs in the US. That’s still a lot of money, but it hardly makes tort reform worthy of the attention it receives for cutting health care costs. Furthermore, tort reform has already been implemented in more than half of the states in some form. Implementing tort reform on a nationwide basis, then, would be largely redundant for half of the nation. In the states where nationwide tort reform is redundant, one would expect literally no impact on health care costs. In the states where tort reform has been implemented, it has largely been disappointing in results.

Reducing costs associated directly with tort costs is only part of the Republican argument, however. Republicans also argue that because of high liabilities associated with torts, doctors engage in “defensive medicine,” ordering expensive and unnecessary procedures to protect themselves from litigation risk. This argument suffers from several flaws. First, “tort reform” does not mean “zero litigation risk.” Even in states with low liability caps, doctors remain at risk of liability up to that cap. Risk averse doctors may order fewer “defensive” tests, but they won’t eliminate defensive testing as long as there is any risk of litigation, and there will always be risk of litigation. Second, even assuming no risk of litigation, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that defensive medicine practices would go away. To the contrary, defensive medicine is often profitable for doctors and evidence suggests that the profit motive would continue to drive defensive medicine practices.

This isn’t to argue that tort reform has had no positive impact. In states which have implemented tort reform, it has tended to lower malpractice premiums for doctors to a more manageable level. Those cost savings, however, have not been passed on to consumers in any meaningful amount.
(Sorry for copying so much of your stuff Publius. I hope you don't mind.)

Publius adds two interesting bits of information as well.

Regarding what would happen if the Affordable Care Act was repealed:
Well, first, the government would have a mess on its hands dealing with the unwinding of a complex health care bill which includes not only health care provisions, but radical changes to the student loan infrastructure, tax cuts for most (and tax increases for some), and more. The states attorneys general suing to overturn the health care law would find themselves shifting from popular ground to highly unpopular ground once it became known that the consequence of success would include collecting billions in back taxes which Americans suddenly owed because the tax break which existed under the health care bill had disappeared.
And, regarding the content of the current Affordable Care Act... it is as I've said:
Republicans have had many good ideas on health care reform over the decades. Mitt Romney implemented some in Massachusetts. Bob Dole and others proposed several workable solutions in the 1990s in opposition to “Hillarycare.” Of course, most of those ideas were incorporated into the Affordable Care Act which Republicans now reject.