23 November 2015

My humble predictions on presidential politics

Here's my prediction, which is hardly a great departure from conventional wisdom, but whatever. IF there is a Paris-level terror attack in the US by ISIS or its hangers-on between now and the election, it is entirely possible that Donald Trump will be our next president. As hideous a prospect as that is. And if it happens before the Democratic primaries are complete, it is virtually certain that it will be Clinton who is nominated. She might still win in November, but it will be a close election. If this does NOT happen, I predict that Clinton, while very likely to be the nominee, could just possibly be upset, and in any case whoever is the Democratic nominee will win relatively easily. The memory of the current jitters will have faded almost entirely. 

This isn't an opinion about my preferences, just my call as to what is LIKELY to happen. I remain a committed Bernie Sanders supporter, and will remain so unless he at some point withdraws and endorses another candidate.

One other point, though. While I disagree with the likes of Joe Scarborough on almost everything, he is right that Pres. Obama needs to get back to the US and stay here for a while, formulate a strong but sensible response to the current apprehension about international terrorism (which, after all, is hardly groundless), and address the American people on the subject, outlining exactly what the US will be doing about it. Tout de suite.

14 November 2015


Amazon's website opens with no ads or other junk, just the French flag and the word "Solidarité".

♦ David Studhalter

13 November 2015

Health Care Cost Comment

​As a follow up to my comment on how for profit diagnostics are a racket, here's an idea. On the way to enhanced Medicare for All, which is what we really need, by way of opt-in to Medicare for Anyone (aka Public Option), providers should be required to publish their negotiated "insurance" prices, and be required to charge the same rates to anyone, regardless of insured or uninsured status. Gouging uninsured patients should be illegal. Moreover, billing in hospitals should be according to published "reasonable and customary" rates, so that, in principle, anyone could calculate what their bill will be based on what was done, without any mysterious and ridiculously high charges, such as $10 for an aspirin. Services should be charged as services, at published prices, and drugs, equipment, and materials should be priced according to a published schedule that is based on cost. ​

In the long run, of course, the prices, reimbursements, premiums, and subsidies to low income people, will all need to be based on reality, so that we have affordable health care with realistic reimbursements to health care facilities and professionals, not so that they can make huge profits, but so that they can cover their costs and pay their employees fair compensation.

My customer comment to a for-profit diagnostic lab (Quest)

OK, I admit to being a curmudgeon, but I really do believe that making profits on health care, which should be considered a human right, is immoral and unacceptable, and is an inherent conflict of interest. So, true to my curmudgeonly nature, I incorporated the following comment into my response to a patient survey for Quest Diagnostics:

​I do not appreciate, being asked to provide a credit card and told a totally incorrect probable patient responsibility amount, and I invariably refuse this request, although it is asked in such a way that many unsuspecting clients may not realize that they are under no legal obligation to comply. My insurance is supposed to pay for diagnostic tests in full but there is usually some amount you people claim I owe you, which indicates that you are charging more than a reasonable and customary amount (not to mention that the practice of charging uninsured patients far more is tantamount to profiteering but is apparently legal, due to a failure of regulation on Federal and State levels). Further, the estimated amount is never correct or even close (the amount they state is usually many hundreds of percent of the actual residual charge). Moreover, I do not and will not give out a credit card to be billed an unknown amount at any time and you should not be asking patients to do this.

It is my firm belief that all health care should be provided on a non-profit basis and therefore companies like Quest are, in my opinion, profiteering rackets which should, by rights, be illegal. In the future, we will eventually reach a consensus that health care is a right, not a privilege, and that profiteering on health care is deeply immoral and unacceptable in a civilized society. At that time, we will look back on operations such as yours the way we look back today on child labor sweatshops of the early 20th century: vestiges of an age of barbarism when activity which is clearly criminal in nature was tolerated. ​

12 November 2015

Fake mental illness diagnosis used to deny vets health care

Ian Masters reported on Veterans Day about the alarming practice of categorizing wounded soldiers as having personality disorder, rather than PTSD or other effects from injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton should come out strongly in favor of ending the practice of categorizing personality disorder as an ineligible condition for continued medical care for veterans. It is absolutely scandalous that this country is turning people out with a fake diagnosis of mental illness, and refusing them the medical care that they need. To add insult to injury, some of these veterans are even being required to rebate part of their signing bonus, because they are being discharged with a fake mental illness. This reminds me of the practice of the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution of billing families for the bullet used to execute their family member. I am ashamed of my country that this is going on.


07 November 2015

Conservative Republican tells it like it is.

Here is a conversation Robert Reich posted, that he had with a conservative Republican former member of Congress with whom he maintains at least cordial relations (but who preferred to remain anonymous for obvious reasons). Reich asked him what he thought of the current crop of Republican candidates for president.
Him: "They're all nuts."
Me: "Seriously. What do you really think of them?"
Him: "I just told you. They're bonkers. Bizarre. They're like a Star Wars bar room."
Me: "How did it happen? How did your party manage to come up with this collection?"
Him: "We didn't. They came up with themselves. There's no party any more. It's chaos. Anybody can just decide they want to be the Republican nominee, and make a run for it. Carson? Trump? They're in the lead, and they're both out of their f*cking minds."
Me: "That's not reassuring."
Him: "It's a disaster. I'm telling you, if either of them is elected, this country is going to hell. The rest of them aren't much better. I mean, Carly Fiorina? Really? Rubio? Please. Ted Cruz? Oh my god. And the people we thought had it sewn up, who are halfway sane — Bush and Christie — they're sounding almost as batty as the rest."
Me: "Who's to blame for this mess?"
Him: "Roger Ailes, David and Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh. I could go on. They've poisoned the American mind and destroyed the Republican Party.

The following is Washington Monthly weekend blogger, Nancy LeTourneau's comment: "Wow! One has to wonder how many more there are out there like this guy. Too bad he doesn't have the courage to say all that publicly. But that probably wouldn't make much difference anyway."


06 November 2015

Yet another comment on the implications of faster than light travel, or the impossibility thereof.

A friend sent me a link to this youtube presentation hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. With the suggestion that there is new research indicating that the commonly held belief that no massive particles travel faster than light may not be correct. And that somehow this has implications for the future possibility of Star Trek/Star Wars style faster than light space travel. I won't get into the arcane reasons why FTL violates causality and is almost certainly impossible, as I have blathered on about all that before. See gyromantic.com and search for FTL if you are interested. 


Here is my characteristically grumpy response (Warning: of no interest to people who don't think long term and have an interest in the future of humanity at the longest time scales).

This was fairly interesting, although in terms of giving any real indication that it will ever be possible to move ordinary matter (such as human beings) at superluminal speeds, I'd say, pretty much: zippo. Glashow was the most conservative, but there's really nothing any of them said that indicates there's any reason to believe physics will ever open that door.

I'm not troubled by that. It is apparent to me, speaking quasi-teleologically, that the universe is organized in such a way that the great leap, on the scale of the bodies of, and in terms of distances accessible to, naturally evolved beings and their artificial civilizations, is the relatively great distances between stars. The inferrable fact that these distances are bridgeable at all only with difficulty, and that they will never be bridgeable casually, in spans of time short in comparison to the "attention span" of such natural beings, has two major implications: there is a strong natural incentive to achieve long term sustainability, balance and efficient resource utilization within star systems, and the universe is not likely to be overrun by extremely advanced civilizations that plow through the field and destroy the opportunities for unique evolution in many disparate locales. Essentially, physics, and therefore economics, favors staying home and cultivating one's own star-system garden, and maybe colonizing slowly nearby stars. Galaxy-spanning empires are just too expensive and impractical to be worth pursuing. In general.

Another possible implication is that either in the future, or elsewhere already, it is probably transcendent organisms, possibly of artificial origin, that have the capacity to exist for extremely long periods of time, that will or already have the ability to practically travel among the stars. That this is not apparent indicates to me that it happens either rarely, or that, in this comparatively young universe, it has not yet become common.

Note that that doesn't refer to slow colonization of other stars, and slow spread of civilization, which I believe is possible for our kind, or beings much like us, without much enhancement or modification through intentional artificial evolution. The evidence (peace to theories to the contrary) that visitation to the Earth by other life has either not occurred (my view), or, at minimum, has been exceedingly rare (no more than which I believe the evidence allows), suggests that even this does not commonly occur in the wider universe, since, for reasons we've discussed several times before, if civilizations were common that 1) were able to sustainably begin a program of even subluminal speed colonization, and 2) were able to survive and prosecute such a program for at least hundreds of thousands of years or more, we would almost certainly already know about them, because any such civilization could colonize an entire galaxy in a period of time short in relation to the period of time that habitable worlds, and thus, probably, life, have existed in any given galaxy. And as far as we can see, and that's actually rather a lot (I cite Kepler and the "absence of evidence" from SETI), this has not happened in our Galaxy and probably not in any nearby galaxy (since even a civilization of that level of advancement would probably leave evidence of mega-engineering that would be detectable at prodigious distances).

I admit I have very definite views on this subject, which I find endlessly fascinating. I am a little intolerant of speculation that doesn't address the issues. That's one of the things I dislike about a lot of science fiction. Somehow if it just drops all pretense and posits magic (hyperspace drive or whatever), that's preferable to when it pretends to address the implications of the actual limits of physical reality, but then just ignores the objections. Most "wormhole" stuff in science fiction, for example, is just nonsense, because it completely ignores well-known effects of General Relativity.

Now, I can't help but wonder if anyone actually read this post all the way to the end. If you did, please comment.