It takes a couple of minutes to get to the punchline, but it’s well worth the wait.
Archives for January 2007
Quite naturally, if there was a market demand for ethanol in large quantity at the gas pumps, such would have existed for so long as such demand has existed. Nothing at a political level would have had to make it so.
Now, I’m not up to speed on the various legislative and regulator mandates regarding ethanol and whatnot, but it would certainly be interesting if it turns out that our force-backed demand for corn-based ethanol is what’s got millions of Mexicans wringing hands over how they’re going to pay for their next tortilla.
Didn’t take "free-trade" Calderón long to cave, did it? Not when you have to "do something" and political futures are at stake.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Calderón, a fierce advocate of free trade in last year’s campaign, let the hammer fall. He announced that he had reached an agreement with the major businesses involved in corn products to stabilize the price of tortillas at a maximum of about 35 cents a pound.
Oh, I see. He "reached an agreement;" and so, naturally…
He also fixed the price of cornmeal sold to mom-and-pop tortilla shops at 14 cents a pound and announced that government-owned shops in rural areas would sell tortillas at the same price, far below the market rate.
And in political rhetoric made-to-order for third-world masses…
“We will not tolerate speculators and monopolists,” he said. “We are going to apply the law firmly and punish anyone who tries to take advantage of the needs of people.”
Can’t have the "needs of people" (requirements for survival?) taken advantage of, now, can we? Good thing we don’t have anything like that around here. After all, one could risk building an actual civilization with behavior like that.
A pretty-well-done BBC piece on hang-gliding, along with some decent flying clips.
In this day and age, I could just see someone putting something like this together with a dubbed soundtrack to create a humorous fiction. In this case, however, the truth is stranger.
That’s a DoobleBug harness with its Radne engine replaced with a small jet. It’s just a demonstration, and not something that will ever be for sale anytime soon. Powered hang-gliders have been conceived and produced for a while, in various configurations, but I’ve never been attracted to the idea of a prone harness like the Mosquito and others. Even though I’m quite used to flying prone (Superman) and have endured for up to nearly four hours, there’s an uncomfortable aspect to it. Of course, we fly that way only partly because it offers a unique viewing perspective; mostly it’s to greatly diminish drag. But if you’re under power, that much drag is simply not a concern, so flying upright is the way to go.
I’ve sat in that harness in a static display and it feels just right. I happen to have a large-surface-area hang-glider with a low aspect ratio that would be perfectly suited to a DoodleBug, so I’ve definitely thought about it.
Update: Ah, here’s a video of someone launching in a Mosquito harness:
I’ve very often wondered how Radley Balko does it. I don’t feel like digging it up, but if you read regularly, you know I’ve called him the world’s most important blogger, and that’s because of the way he tirelessly finds (originally, not just always linking to other blogs) and documents the shame and disgrace represented by the forces of "justice" here in Amerika. That’s just the start of all the good he does.
But he keeps his cool about it. And he’s pretty young, too. While I sometimes get "agitated" that he doesn’t get more agitated himself, I get it. He shouldn’t have to have that hanging about him at all times.
Every now and then, however, I can see the rage seeping through.
Balko points to a summary of why and how government grants and guaranteed student loans increase the cost of college education.
Well, duh! It’s easy to spend other people’s money. In all the myriad permutations — whether you’re talking about outright grants, or loans that you would otherwise be unable to obtain — the underlying principle is all the same.
But it’s not just in education. Health care is another example. I’m not all that nit-picky about prices for things. They are what they are, and you just factor it into whatever you’re doing and if it works, it works. But even I am regularly just dumbfounded by the cost of health care. We recently had a young man at my company do a couple of days in the hospital — nothing really fancy — and the bill was $40,000. Paid by the medical insurance I provide, of course.
So it’s no wonder that for only about a dozen of my employees on our plan (others are on their spouse’s plans), mostly young, I pay around $100,000 per year in insurance premiums. Yea.
But do you know why costs are so high? It’s because we’ve developed a culture where multitudes of people now believe it unreasonable to pay their own way when it comes to their routine medical care (but not their groceries — at least not yet, mostly). Of course, employees are paying for it themselves; it’s just wrapped up in a "benefit package," such that they may delight themselves in the fantasy of getting it for "free," but that’s another topic altogether.
People don’t want to pay for their doctor visits or their prescriptions, so they get jobs that offer such benefits (in lieu of pay they might otherwise negotiate for?), and, well, if you want to have good people working for you (and I cannot overemphasize how that factor outweighs all other considerations), you have to compete with other companies, and so you offer "free" health care too, and because it’s "free," people don’t mind at all going to the doctor for every little thing, and what do doctors do but write prescriptions most of the time?
When you go to the hospital or the doctor and have to sit in a waiting room with dozens of other people also waiting for services, what is that telling you? Well, what would happen if there was a line going out the door at every supermarket in town? There’s no place anyone could go for groceries where they would not have to wait. What do you suppose the supermarket could do, pretty much at will? Raise prices? Why not? Why wouldn’t they? If you operated a business and there was a forever line for your services, what would you do to your prices?
Let me pause to interject that I’m not making light of serious medical problems, and I’m very happy to provide relief for what could be financially devastating costs for a lot of people. It’s for this reason that I fret a lot less than I otherwise would about the costs.
Mostly, we’ve lost sight of the notion of what insurance is. It doesn’t mean you get something for nothing. for most people, It means that you spread short-term large cost spikes over a long period of time and small periodic costs. At the extreme end of the bell-curve, you have those who make out like bandits ($1 million claim for a few hundred in premium) and those who get "screwed" (pay for a lifetime and never have a claim). Insurance, properly obtained — health or otherwise — should cost a relatively small amount, be rarely (if ever) used, and protect your person and property (and that of others to whom you inadvertently cause harm) from serious harm or loss. Note the emphasis on serious.
Now, given all the above, where do you expect that all the talk of "40-million (or whatever) uninsured in America" leads to? Can you guess? Given that virtually anyone in America can already obtain treatment for emergency problems whether they’ve got a dime to their name or not, that reduces the scope of what we are talking about quite a bit. Then you’ve got the old folks already covered by Medi-Whatever, so you’re probably left with a small sector of relatively young people uninsured for catastrophic illness, but mostly what you’ve got are people who don’t happen to have the fortune of not paying very much for doctor visits, routine procedures, and the normal range of prescriptions now and then. I’ll reemphasize that as of yet, they’re still paying for their own grocery bills as well.
So there you have it. Now, final question: what’s going to happen once we get all these 40-million needy young people on "insurance?" Well, for sure, they’re going to go to the doctor a lot more than they did before, and often when they don’t need to, just as a lot of people do. And, quite predictably, that will increase costs even more. And guess what? I’ll tell you what: single payer (socialized medicine) is "lookin’ better and better all the time."
I recall that it was about a decade ago, between having full medical coverage in the Navy and getting to a comfortable place with a business I was endeavoring to launch and grow, I made the choice to forgo the expense of medical insurance. Then I developed a planter wart on the bottom of one of my feet, which is quite painful provided you walk places. I knew very well what it was, as I’d had one years earlier and knew I could suffer through it for a while, which I did. Finally, the pain became too excruciating and I recall it was between the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday, because I called all over before I found a podiatrist who could help. She even answered her own phone, as her staff was all on vacation. She asked me what insurance I had, and when I told her I’d pay cash, I’d have though she thought she was dealing with a space-alien. At any rate, she took me right in, sliced off the callous and froze the sucker and it never came back.
One treatment. The best $112 I ever spent.
Well, that was a fun exercise.
Now we can wait for some "brilliant legal mind" to explain in a mountain of non-essentials why the original breakup and destruction of 70% of shareholder value was "necessary," other than, of course, the piles and piles of attorney fees generated; as well as the crucial self-importance felt by — I will note — people who had no hand in creating AT&T, or anything remotely like it.
In a rational society, people wouldn’t even need to think about the essential difference between value creation and value destruction.
I had heard of The Blasphemy Challenge somewhere, recently, but had set it aside without looking into it until being reminded of it while reading Daniel C. Dennett‘s response to this year’s Edge question.
The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion
Why am I confident that this will happen? Mainly because of the asymmetry in the information explosion. With the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television), it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance. The religious fervor of today is a last, desperate attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn’t working. For every well-publicized victory–the inundation of the Bush administration with evangelicals, the growing number of home schoolers in the USA, the rise of radical Islam, the much exaggerated “rebound” of religion in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to take the most obvious cases–there are many less dramatic defeats, as young people quietly walk away from the faith of their parents and grandparents. That trend will continue, especially when young people come to know how many of their peers are making this low-profile choice. Around the world, the category of “not religious” is growing faster than the Mormons, faster than the evangelicals, faster even than Islam, whose growth is due almost entirely to fecundity, not conversion, and is bound to level off soon.
Those who are secular can encourage their own children to drink from the well of knowledge wherever it leads them, confident that only a small percentage will rebel against their secular upbringing and turn to one religion or another. Cults will rise and fall, as they do today and have done for millennia, but only those that can metamorphose into socially benign organizations will be able to flourish. Many religions have already made the transition, quietly de-emphasizing the irrational elements in their heritages, abandoning the xenophobic and sexist prohibitions of their quite recent past, and turning their attention from doctrinal purity to moral effectiveness. The fact that these adapting religions are scorned as former religions by the diehard purists shows how brittle the objects of their desperate allegiance have become. As the world informs itself about these transitions, those who are devout in the old-fashioned way will have to work around the clock to provide attractions, distractions—and guilt trips—to hold the attention and allegiance of their children. They will not succeed, and it will not be a painless transition. Families will be torn apart, and generations will accuse each other of disloyalty and worse: the young will be appalled by their discovery of the deliberate misrepresentations of their elders, and their elders will feel abandoned and betrayed by their descendants. We must not underestimate the anguish that these cultural transformations will engender, and we should try to anticipate the main effects and be ready to provide relief and hope for those who are afflicted.
It strikes me as something tantamount to the 60’s and even before, as the television, radio, the music industry, the automobile, and modernity in general all converged on the "traditional" family and Johnny grew his hair long and Sally got a miniskirt. Outwardly, it was rebellion, pure and simple; and many surmised, purely for rebellion’s sake, peer pressure, following the crowd, and so forth. While I’m certain there was some of that, nobody ever seems to ask: what value were they acting for, primarily and fundamentally?
My guess is that they were acting for the value of independence from a social structure that no longer made sense to them, given their own perspective on a new world that their parent’s clearly lacked. Was there a lot of foolishness, stupidity, and even cruelty involved? Absolutely. Was this a consequence of deep wisdom? Certainly not. It was simply a migration that was bound to happen.
And so I think Dr. Dennett is correct. I sense it, too, and that whole YouTube Blasphemy Challenge is just the sort of thing that leads me to sense it. It’s not the fact that there are now kids willing to blaspheme. There have always been at least some of those, but most people –especially other kids — were never exposed to them. Now it’s out in the open, in your face, raw, insulting — stomping with a vengeance on other people’s values and letting the chips fall where they may. Perhaps there are better ways, but it seems to me that by pure inertia alone, things deeply rooted in culture require these sorts of "extreme" measures before anyone is willing to pay any attention.
I think that if you thought that breaking the authority structure of the traditional family (so that, eventually, people could return to strong family bonds, but without the pretense of the past) was tough on society, imagine what breaking the authority structure of — not the traditional church; that was broken long ago — mystical religious dogmatic literalism, guilt and its anthropomorphic God is going to do to things.
I’m quite certain this is in our future, and I believe the process has already begun, for better or worse. Me? I plan to enjoy the ride.
Oh, BTW; completely coincidentally, my Amazon order arrived yesterday and included that same video those blasphemers are damming their souls to acquire. It’s good. Curiously, it was written and produced by a product of a fundamentalist Christian private school, as was I. He related some of his young experiences in worrying endlessly about whether he was actually "saved," or not; a condition that, while perhaps not purposely perpetuated by family, church, or school, is nonetheless seemly beneficial to all three by virtue of the extra measure of piety to be generally observed in such self doubting (and scared) kids. I can relate.