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November 7, 2013

Biometrics: convenient in more ways than one

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Image via "Bits and Pieces"

Conservationism, not environmentalism

This is the footer on a business email I received this morning, and it neatly encapsulates my thoughts on how humans should interact with their environment:
  • Use what you need without feeling guilty about it; 
  • Clean up any mess you make in the process; 
  • Avoid wasteful overuse; 
  • Whenever possible, support efforts to replace what was used.

November 6, 2013

Be careful what you wish for (Or: This won't end well)

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This excellent point is usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but the curators of all things Jefferson at Monticello insist that there is no evidence he is the source.  They also note that other claimed sources, such as Barry Goldwater and Gerald Ford, are also spurious, although they are known to have employed the quote in their speeches.

As far as documentary evidence goes, the earliest written examples of the quote date back to the early 1950s; the original sage seems to have vanished into the mists of history.

Regardless of the quote's parentage, the point remains valid and deeply profound.  In my opinion, we are likely to see its validation in many unpleasant ways in the coming years and decades.

November 5, 2013

Obama the omnipotent?

I've been seeing spam messages like these in my inbox ever since Obama first took office.  Apparently, the Obama cult is still going strongly enough that merely invoking his name is enough to bring in new customers, even if Obama himself isn't paying you to go solar, and he didn't personally reduce your mortgage.  Last I heard, the president doesn't have dictatorial powers yet.  Yet.

Obama the omnipotent?
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October 29, 2013

Adversity reveals character (HUMOR)

A humorous take on the principle that adversity reveals one's true character. Starry-eyed lovers, take note!

October 28, 2013

Obamacare sticker shock leads to heart attacks, many new patients for health care system

'I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it'

This quote (from the article linked below), ladies and gentlemen, may go down in history as one of the iconic summaries of the political support the 'Affordable' Care Act enjoyed before anyone actually signed up for it and found out how much it would cost.

The risk pool has been forcibly expanded to include those who were formerly uninsurable due to the fact that they already had conditions guaranteeing that the insurance companies would take a loss on these customers from day one.

I'm not speaking against people who have trouble getting insurance; I'm merely asking: why is anybody surprised that insurance rates would go up when millions of high-risk customers were suddenly added to the risk pool?

Of course, not even Congress read the text of the Affordable Care Act before passing it, so why should we expect consumers to know picky little details like this?

Saturday's Los Angeles Times ran an article about California residents experiencing a rude awakening over the realities of losing their current coverage and being forced into plans that have significantly higher premiums.  Excerpts [emphasis added]:
Thousands of Californians are discovering what Obamacare will cost them — and many don't like what they see.

These middle-class consumers are staring at hefty increases on their insurance bills as the overhaul remakes the healthcare market. Their rates are rising in large part to help offset the higher costs of covering sicker, poorer people who have been shut out of the system for years.

Although recent criticism of the healthcare law has focused on website glitches and early enrollment snags, experts say sharp price increases for individual policies have the greatest potential to erode public support for President Obama's signature legislation.

"This is when the actual sticker shock comes into play for people," said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. "There are winners and losers under the Affordable Care Act."
If you're in one of the demographic categories that the ACA was designed to help, the law really appears to be a godsend.  But if you're not one of the favored ones, guess what?  You're basically being taxed to support the favored ones.
On balance, many Americans will benefit from the healthcare expansion. They are guaranteed coverage regardless of their medical history. And lower-income families will gain access to comprehensive coverage at little or no cost.

The federal government picks up much of the tab through an expansion of Medicaid and subsidies to people earning up to four times the federal poverty level. That's up to $46,000 for an individual or $94,000 for a family of four.

But middle-income consumers face an estimated 30% rate increase, on average, in California due to several factors tied to the healthcare law.
This is coming as quite a surprise to many who enthusiastically supported the law as long as it remained an abstract collection of promises.
Pam Kehaly, president of Anthem Blue Cross in California, said she received a recent letter from a young woman complaining about a 50% rate hike related to the healthcare law.

"She said, 'I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it,'" Kehaly said.
Obamacare really does seem designed to fail.  Whether or not the current form of the law was written with malicious intent, it is clearly not politically sustainable.  As the horror stories mount, the clamor for a government-run single-payer system will likely become deafening (especially with the media energetically amplifying said clamor).

[Image credit: various websites.  If you know the original source, please let me know!]

There's a BIG difference between Democrats and Republicans!

Sure, both the Democrats and the Republicans have shown (by their actions, not their words) that they have little interest in the constitutional limits on federal power, but there is a significant difference between the parties.

Democrats want to exercise unlimited, coercive federal power in favor of Democratic spending priorities with the aim of maintaining and advancing Democratic power and privilege, while Republicans want to exercise unlimited, coercive federal power in favor of GOP spending priorities with the aim of maintaining and advancing Democratic power and privilege.  Hope that clears things up.

Is it any wonder that TEA partiers and other constitutionalists annoy the heck out of the Republicans as well as the Democrats?  Dems like to claim that the TEA party movement (of which I am a sympathizer, but not a participant) is a GOP conspiracy, but the reality is that the Republican Party can't get rid of the TEA partiers quickly enough.

October 27, 2013

Do journalists lose their Fourth-Amendment protections when they write articles that make the government look bad?

Washington Times, October 25:
Maryland State Police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Air Marshals Service.

Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland Security’s Coast Guard service, made a pre-dawn raid of her family home Aug. 6 and took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents, some which chronicled her sources and her work at The Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.

Is anyone here ready to argue that the warrant was anything other than a pretext for an illegal search and seizure to punish Ms. Hudson for her negative reporting?

October 25, 2013

Government's insatiable hunger for your money...

...as illustrated by this animation from the opening credits of The Jetsons:

Obamacare is, more or less, a tax on young, healthy Americans

If you're young and healthy, you're the key to Obamacare's success or failure.  You're the part of the risk pool whose premiums will subsidize benefits for the remainder of the risk pool.

The scheme will collapse (or rates will rise dramatically for everyone else) without your participation.  That's why, under the ACA, attempting to opt out of health insurance is now a criminal offense.

Just so you know.

October 24, 2013

Obamacare: Just wait until it's the only choice

When a private company provides a mediocre product, customers can "punish" the company by denying it their business. Are we sure we want to entrust our lives and health to a bureaucracy that will pay no penalty for being wrong?

I ask because the Affordable Care Act in its current form is almost certainly not the end game of our current president and his fellow travelers. Once we get to single-payer health care in this country, we will have no alternative but to endure debacles like the online health insurance marketplace which, despite three years of work and half a billion dollars of investment, should not have gone live earlier this month.

Washington Post, October 21:
Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health ­insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.

Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.

When the Web site went live Oct. 1, it locked up shortly after midnight as about 2,000 users attempted to complete the first step, according to two people familiar with the project.

As new details emerged about early warning signs of serious deficiencies in HealthCare.gov, Obama on Monday gave a consumer-friendly defense of the health-care law, insisting that the problems many Americans have faced in trying to enroll in insurance plans will be fixed quickly.

On the curious popularity of my post on Sam Elliott's political views

Nearly two and a half years ago I noted with approval how difficult it was to find out actor Sam Elliott's political views.  Little did I know that this would end up being one of the most-viewed posts in this blog's nine-year existence.  Google "sam elliott politics" and you'll see my two previous posts on the actor right at the top of the results.  Not bad for a blog that has for the most part been dormant for a couple of years.

I must admit that the response caught me by surprise.  Most of the comments tended to follow one or both of these themes:
  • How dare you suggest that the free-speech rights of Hollywood actors should be suppressed!
  • The free-speech rights of Christian leaders should be suppressed.
The first theme showed me that these readers had misunderstood my point.  The second theme was a reflexive response that, I suppose, was reasonable in light of the first misunderstanding.

Multiple misinterpretations later, I decided it was time to give it one more try.  I shall attempt to lay out my view as a logical sequence of statements.  Please make sure you understand each statement as I meant it before proceeding to the next.
  1. Of course entertainers enjoy the same free-speech rights that every American is supposed to have.
  2. I do not get upset when entertainers exercise this right, even when I disagree with the view being expressed (which is most of the time).
  3. [Pay careful attention to this one, because it is the foundation of the point I was trying to make] Our culture grants far more weight to the political opinions of entertainers than those opinions would receive on their own merits.
  4. [This one is important as well] Most entertainers are fully aware of the preceding point, and make every attempt to use their celebrity to influence political outcomes.  "Support this policy, not because I've appealed to your mind with a series of persuasive arguments, but because you like my acting/singing/whatever."
  5. Politicians are all too happy to exploit entertainers' willingness to leverage their celebrity, and thus we're treated to the spectacle of entertainers headlining political rallies (which is fine) or being invited to give testimony to starry-eyed congressfolks on some bill that's being debated (which is silly, unless the entertainer actually is an acknowledged authority on the topic of debate).
  6. [And here we finally get to Sam Elliott] So many entertainers follow this course that it's surprising (and in my opinion refreshing) to come across one who declines to play the game.
  7. We say that "all [people] are created equal," but the reality is that in our celebrity-obsessed culture, the political opinions of entertainers are somehow "more equal" than yours or mine.
I suspect that my detractors in the May 2012 post are less likely to be bothered by this final statement,  but only because they tend to agree with the stated opinions of the vast majority of entertainers.  After all, it's great to get some major-league assistance from folks who believe as we do.

Okay, I'm ready for some to shift the attention away from entertainers to some other disliked demographic group again.  Whatever. 

Whether or not you agree with my seven statements above or not, please understand that I was trying to make a cultural observation, not a political one.

October 23, 2013

C-Pol, the blog that just won't go away

My passion for blogging has ebbed and flowed since the founding of this blog in 2004.  After a lengthy hiatus, I think I may be ready to give it another whirl.

I know that various old posts still come up in internet searches, because I still get occasional non-spam comments.  Most intriguing to me has been the strange conversation that has resulted from a post I did a couple of years ago on the political views of Sam Elliott.  Unless I change my mind for some reason, that will be the topic of my next post.

So.  Even if most of C-Pol's past followers have moved on to other things, I still intend to document my thoughts on the major currents of politics, culture, religion, etc.  However you arrived here, I hope you'll find food for thought.  If you stick around to comment, I hope you'll do so civilly.

As before, I'm more interested in the big ideas that drive the issues of the day than I might be in the issues themselves.  We'll see how that works out.

I see that my blogroll is woefully outdated.  I really ought to do something about that.

January 3, 2013

Another study questions human contribution to climate change

Anthony Watts reports January 3 on research suggesting that allegations regarding mankind's role in climate change are mostly hot air.  I look forward to a rational, nonemotional, scientific debate on the merits of these findings.

From the journal Earth System Dynamics billed as “An Interactive Open Access Journal of the European Geosciences Union” comes this paper which suggests that the posited AGW forcing effects simply isn’t statistically significant in the observations, but other natural forcings are.
“…We show that although these anthropogenic forcings share a common stochastic trend, this trend is empirically independent of the stochastic trend in temperature and solar irradiance. Therefore, greenhouse gas forcing, aerosols, solar irradiance and global temperature are not polynomially cointegrated. This implies that recent global warming is not statistically significantly related to anthropogenic forcing. On the other hand, we find that greenhouse gas forcing might have had a temporary effect on global temperature.”
This is a most interesting paper, and potentially a bombshell, because they have taken virtually all of the significant observational datasets (including GISS and BEST) along with solar irradiance from Lean and Rind, and CO2, CH4, N2O, aerosols, and even water vapor data and put them all to statistical tests (including Lucia’s favorite, the unit root test) against forcing equations. Amazingly, it seems that they have almost entirely ruled out anthropogenic forcing in the observational data, but allowing for the possibility they could be wrong, say:
“…our rejection of AGW is not absolute; it might be a false positive, and we cannot rule out the possibility that recent global warming has an anthropogenic footprint. However, this possibility is very small, and is not statistically significant at conventional levels.”