Category: Etcetera

Born on the Fifth of July


So, yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day, recognizing the birth of out great nation and the courage of the men who took on the world’s greatest empire to be free of oppression. Despite my general curmudgeonliness about many things, I do love the Fourth. I read the Declaration of Independence each Fourth of July and spent the hour before the fireworks talking to Sal 11000 Beta about our history and what it all really means (the iPad was out of juice).

Today is the Fifth of July. And on the fifth of July, we clear away the beer cans and fireworks and return to a nation that is doing far more to us than George III ever imagined.

For example, we live in a nation in which 80,000 SWAT raids are launched every year, only 7% of which involve an active shooter or similar situation. One- to two-thirds of these raids turn up no contraband of any kind. If you’re thinking that statistic sounds a bit murky, you’re right: hundreds of police agencies told the ACLU they were no under obligation to even reveal the number of SWAT raids they launch every year. Some of them have put these raids under the command of a private agency and declared information about them to be “trade secrets”. These raids can result in things like blowing holes in two-year old children.

We live in a nation where the Administration, when pressed to explain how they can claim the authority to drone strike Americans in foreign countries who might be terrorists, release a heavily redacted memo to justify their actions. That justification essentially amounts to “because terrorism”.

We live in a country where the NSA has now admitted that it shares an unknown amount of information with the FBI. The nature of this data is not clear but it is unlikely that it all involves counter-terrorism. And we know that the DEA has used similar information to bring drug charges and then lied about where they got the information from.

These are just a few examples of what is going on in the Land of the Free. I have chosen them because they are so far outside the pale — military raids on civilians, military attacks on Americans and universal surveillance. But would anyone doubt that our federal government has also “refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good”? That it has “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”? That our government, when its agents do wrong, goes about “protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States”?

The thing is, we don’t have to fight a long and brutal war to change this. We still have the power of the vote and, more importantly, we still have the power of our voice. We have shown, in recent years, that we can be powerful when we try. Over the last few years, we curbed runaway spending, stopped SOPA and have turned the tide in the War on Drug (although the dark forces behind all three are relentless, and they will keep pushing until they get more spending, less internet freedom and more drug raids).

We can stop this leviathan of a state without a shot being fired. But we need to focus on fighting it instead of each other. When politicians see the Tea Party and Occupy attacking each other instead of their common foe, they laugh. We have to stop caring whether the person agitating about a bad government policy is a Republican, a Democrat, a libertarian, a communist or a crypto-monarchist. If “our side” supports a bad policy, we still have to oppose it. And if “the other side” opposes a bad policy, we should make alliance with them, at least on that issue. We can wash our hands after the threat to freedom is squashed.

Let July 4 remain a celebration. But let July 5 be a day we push harder to regain our essential freedoms. Let the rest of the year be a commitment to re-establishing our independence.

Valar Morghulis

Rich kicked off a discussion of Games of Thrones when last year’s season ended. Given the huge ratings, I suspect we have even more people watching it now. This season wrapped up last night with an absolute barn-burner of an episode for a barn-burner of a season.

[Spoilers ahead]

I must say this was my favorite season so far and not just because it was the first I was keeping up with in real time. We are finally seeing the pieces of GRRM’s chess game moving into position, with plot threads being resolved or dramatically changed. We saw the erasure of not one but two Lannisters, a possible resolution of the Wildlings plot and some real movement on Bran’s plot thread. Moreover, I think things are set up for some huge plot developments in the future. I don’t know where we are headed, but it should be a fun ride in seasons 5 and 6.

Some scattered thoughts:

  • One of themes emerging from the series, referenced explicitly in episode three, is what it takes to be a king. It’s not enough to be a good and honorable man, as we saw with the Starks. There is a certain ruthlessness and pragmatism that comes with it. Tyrion showed this in his tenure as Hand. Daenarys is learning this now, after her disastrous start in Season One.
  • Another theme is that there is no black and white in Game of Thrones, only shades of gray. Characters are complex and can do good things one day and bad things the next. Jaime has become the embodiment of this. A lot of people were disappointed with the rape scene, thinking it undid all his character development. But Jaime has always been a mix. He’s both the man who saved King’s Landing and the man who shoved a small boy out of a tower window for discovering he was screwing his sister. Jaime’s character is often highly dependent on who he’s with. Tyrion and Brienne bring out the best in him. Cersei brings out the worst.
  • I think we can inscribe Peter Dinklage’s name on every acting award this year. He had numerous scenes this year that just took my breath away — the trial, the conversation with Oberyn, his final scene with Tywin. Dinklage has taken what I understand to be one of the favorite characters of the books and made him even better.
  • Speaking of Oberyn. I really liked him and Pedro Pascal’s performance was great. Episode eight was like a punch in the gut. But … he accomplished two out of his three objectives. In Game of Thrones, that’s not bad.
  • Now that Cersei is effectively ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, I expect things to go downhill very fast.
  • I hope Jorah finds a way to work himself back into Daenarys’ good graces.
  • Fans of the books who are upset that their favorite scenes weren’t in or things have been changed need to get a grip. GRRM is heavily involved in the series and has no doubt played a role in the changes. Reading interviews, I think one of the reason the books are taking so long is that he wrote himself into a corner (the “Meereenese knot”). Tolkien did this too but Tolkien had the luxury of going back and revising the earlier books before they were published to avoid the corners. I think some of the plot changes to the TV series are designed to avoid the mistakes he made in the earlier books and accelerate the story. We may therefore get an ending in 7 or 8 seasons instead of 14.
  • Anyway, post your thoughts.

    Know What You’re Doing, Or Take The Bus

    A reoccurring theme in many of my posts, a personal pet peeve (but you guys already knew that) is bad driving. Being proficient in the operation of the automobile is lost art. Any bozo can turn on the ignition, operate the gas peddle and brake, and steer, but for the true professional, mastering the intricacies of the perfect balance (performance and safety) it’s not just getting from point to A to B, the style in which the journey is taken speaks to the man himself.

    A few years back when I taught my son to drive (calculating stopping distances at different speeds, visual horizon, space cushion, real wheel cheat, front end swing, afterwards he commented that he could now drive the space shuttle) a selling point for his pursuit of excellence in this area was that any girl with him could see the mastery at which he handled his wheels and would naturally assume that the same care and technique would be delivered between the sheets.

    Many factors have gone into the diminution of driving ability over the years, but mostly folks never really learned how to drive in the first place. And now with the advent of cell phones, it is worse than ever. When ever I see a boneheaded move on the highway, the majority of the time the driver has a cell phone in his hand, giving that total attention to the detriment of his driving. I know it’s against the law, where are the cops when you need them?

    Clever PSA’s can be used to address the problem, here is one that just ran out of Hong Kong;

    Car companies (all of them) should spring for regular PSA’s, it’s just good business and will minimize liability claims when accidents do occur.

    The gold standard for clever PSA’s was this one that ran a few years ago;

    Anybody that does not wear his seat-belt is dumber than dirt, and beyond selfish if he has a family. This one was out of the UK, maybe because they drive on the wrong side of the road (wankers) they have more than their fair share of accidents so safety is big. Here is another one out of the UK;

    Ugh, drunk drivers, don’t get me started.

    Google is testing a car that drives itself, for many this is just what they need. For my oneself, I will be one of the last hold outs, refusing to relinquish an appreciation for the handling of a fine tuned automobile.

    Broken system acting broken? No way!

    Who would have thunk it? Demanding that the laws of economics & reality bend to the will of unicorn fart smellers and their do-good ideas has not worked as intended!

    It wasn’t supposed to work this way, but since the Affordable Care Act took effect in January, Norton Hospital has seen its packed emergency room become even more crowded, with about 100 more patients a month.

    That 12 percent spike in the number of patients — many of whom aren’t actually facing true emergencies — is spurring the hospital to convert a waiting room into more exam rooms.

    “We’re seeing patients who probably should be seen at our (immediate-care centers),” said Lewis Perkins, the hospital’s vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer. “And we’re seeing this across the system.”

    That’s just the opposite of what many people expected under Obamacare, particularly because one of the goals of health reform was to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by expanding Medicaid and giving poor people better access to primary care.

    Instead, many hospitals in Kentucky and across the nation are seeing a surge of those newly insured Medicaid patients walking into emergency rooms.

    Nationally, nearly half of ER doctors responding to a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians said they’ve seen more visits since Jan. 1, and nearly nine in 10 expect those visits to rise in the next three years. Mike Rust, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, said members statewide describe the same trend.

    Experts cite many reasons: A longstanding shortage of primary-care doctors leaves too few to handle all the newly insured patients. Some doctors won’t accept Medicaid. And poor people often can’t take time from work when most primary care offices are open, while ERs operate round-the-clock and by law must at least stabilize patients.

    Yeah, I am sure many these people are “forced” to attend the ER instead of doing otherwise, because of doctor shortages and the decline in Medicaid accepting doctors, but the real fact IMO is that these people can’t be bothered. We can pretend it is because they can’t go to a doctor during regular hours, but I am willing to bet they are hitting the emergency rooms during those regular hours. I doubt most of these newcomers are employed to begin with. When you get shit you feel is free you aren’t inclined to worry much about how much it costs the people paying for it or how badly it is inconveniencing a system you now feel owes you shit.

    Setting up a primary physician, making an appointment, then keeping said appointment is likely way too much work for people that feel all that crap is just an obstacle to their whims. These “I want free healthcare” types just want a system where they show up and are taken care of. Like they want government to pay for everything and anything, no questions asked, because they were born.

    Seriously, this was not the way to get healthcare out to the masses. For people that love to tell us how to do things, the leftists sure dropped the ball on this issue. Then again, regulating ER access would not serve their plan to overload the system and bring it crashing down. After all, the end goal remains that single payer system they want.

    Time-Less Junk

    In between encomiums Of Hillary, Time Magazine (soon to follow Newsweek) tries to cast a wider net and write stuff with a more general appeal. This week they came up with a little “ideology” quiz, a test where answering non political personality questions can reveal political leanings. Take the test first before you read further.

    All done? Good, now we can all laugh at their gross generalities and biases.

    My score was 80% conservative. I’m betting it was low because I generally do not answer any questions with a “Strongly” anything, either agree or disagree. My only “strongly” was on border enforcement. Even the question about being proud of my country only garnered a “moderately agree” because I think we have made some mistakes, but they pale in relation to the US being a force for good in the world.

    The rest of the questions were just stupid. Libs are not hip, cutting edge, impetuous, or open minded, so any conclusions based on those answers means nothing. I use Chrome, would rather go to the Met,and have no problem with my partner watching porn, although being an old married guy I would prefer she not so I can avoid her pestering me that night. My desk is neat, big deal. The authority question was interesting. Nowadays, although I still have respect, it is more measured, and goes hand in hand with a leeriness and a distrust, a sign of the times we live in.

    So what was your score? Any of these questions have any relevance to anything?

    Vanilla Weather Report

    You East Coasters, you have my sympathies, although, who told you guys to live where the weather is shitty?

    No cracks about white guys can’t dance.

    We, on the west coast, another sunny day, although a little bit colder from our usual 70’s {yawn}.

    Um, maybe Sunblock UV 50 today.

    A Sad Day For The Criminal Justice System

    A little over 2 years ago I wrote this post concerning the brutal murder of a homeless kid, perpetrated by 6 thugs that should know better. The wheels of justice turn slowly, witnesses have to be contacted and the initial investigation has to be prepared so that it is trial ready. Additionally the defense always tries to prolong the actual trial, out of sight out of mind so that the incident ( as well as the outrage) has a chance to dissipate. But through out the wait, I felt strongly that the evidence would speak for itself, that justice would be done, and that these thugs would end up behind bars…………oops.

    The father of Kelly Thomas told reporters Tuesday that he viewed a jury’s decision to acquit two Fullerton police officers in the beating death of his son as one setback in a “prize fight” in which there are still “several rounds to go.”
    Two former Fullerton police officers were found not guilty Monday in the beating death that was captured on film, and charges against a third officer will be dropped.
    Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father and a former sheriff’s deputy, said at a news conference that the verdict was in no way the last word.
    “I look at this like a prize fight,” he said. “It’s not over, we still have several rounds to go.”

    When I heard about the verdict this evening, it was like a kick to the stomach, what on earth were those jurors thinking? As a strong advocate of the criminal justice system (and my ramblings about the Zimmermann verdict come readily to mind) I just can not wrap my brain around this unexpected verdict. Without going into the shear weight of the evidence, the dozens of witness statements, the several actual video tapes, the recorded statements of the cops showing true intent to do harm to Kelly, and the photos of him lying in the hospital, I don’t get it.

    Much as been made about the lack of training cops have wrt to subduing mentally ill suspects, horseshit. They have at their disposal a variety of weapons to chose from, and a clear understanding the law that mandates “reasonable force” only. Factor in that the reason they call for back up is that “reasonable force” is available, not batonning him, not Tazing him, and not shooting him but actually using shear body weight of the officers to subdue him, this is how they are trained. They threw all that training out the window, went outside of policy, and literately beat the snot out of Kelly,a 140lb mentally ill homeless guy, who in his last dying throws was calling out desperately for his dad to save him, it makes me cry just thinking about that.

    God bless Ron Thomas, he is a fighter who is not giving up. The feds now get to look at these guys, maybe civil rights charges are in the wind and the bad guys could go to jail over those. A civil suit is also in the works. I hope the city of Fullerton gets hit big, they are the ones that hired these clowns, they did a rotten job of it and need to pay. But mostly I hope these two ex-officers (it should have been 6) need to be hounded for the rest of their miserable lives, they need to pay monetarily for their actions. Hopefully any honest buck they ever make in the future will have a judgement attached to it. But mostly society needs to shun them, they are bad evil men who do not deserve to live among civilized folks. We cannot take their lives like they took Kelly’s, the next best thing is to make them a pariah.

    The Emergency Canard

    In the runup to Obamacare, we were told that universal healthcare would actually cut costs. One of the big reasons was that it would cut down on expensive visits to the Emergency Room. Newly insured people, we were told, would go to the doctor to get problems addressed early rather than waiting until they exploded into $10,000 write-offs.

    You know where this is going, don’t you?

    Just like the “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” promise, the promise that Obamacare would make health care less expensive by expanding coverage was always a crock. Nationally, it’s estimated that we spend about $50 billion a year on uncompensated care for the uninsured. But Obamacare spends $250 billion a year of taxpayer money on covering the uninsured. Only in Washington is spending $250 billion to address a $50 billion problem considered “savings.”

    Finkelstein and Baicker, in their new Science article, looked at emergency-room records for 24,646 residents of the Portland, Oregon area, spanning 12 regional hospitals, who had participated in the Medicaid experiment. The study was co-authored by Sarah Taubman of the National Bureau of Economic Research; Heidi Allen of the Columbia School of Social Work; and Bill Wright of Oregon’s Portland Medical Center. The authors found, as they had previously, that the subgroup that had gained coverage under Medicaid showed no improvement in the management of their chronic medical problems, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

    They also found that those on Medicaid used the emergency room 40 percent more than the uninsured did—1.43 ER visits per Medicaid enrollee, as against 1.02 for the uninsured. More to the point, a majority of the emergency room visits were unnecessary, because they involved conditions that could easily have been managed outside of the ER.

    This is the second study Finkelstein has lead on the Oregon experiment. The first showed no improvement in health among Medicaid enrollees. The most it showed was some improvement in mental health because they weren’t as worried about medical bills.

    This was always completely predictable. When you give people something for free or at a steep discount, they use more of it. This is Econ 101. At least half of the Medicaid patients didn’t need to go to the ER. They either had problems that could wait for a primary care doctor or problems that could have been prevented by an earlier visit (oddly enough, giving irresponsible people insurance does not magically make them responsible people).

    The Left is responding to this inconvenient truth by touting Oregon’s recent attempts to bring down ER costs. So far, Oregon has brought them down a bit but this involves capping overall spending and far more active involvement in individual healthcare. ER spending has fallen … relative to its exploded peak. It is still way above 2008 levels. This is the Obamacare equivalent of “the deficit is falling faster than at any time since WW2″.

    The Obamacare defenders are also pointing out that the study shows a lot less stress among the previously uninsured now that they are insured. While that’s great for them, Reihan Salam points out the obvious:

    Imagine if the debate over the Affordable Care Act had unfolded as follows — the president stated that in the interests of improving the mental health of low-income uninsured Americans, but not necessarily improving their health along other dimensions, he hoped to pass a large and expensive Medicaid expansion; to address the needs of the medically uninsurable population, he intended to implement a series of new insurance regulations that would, among other things, prompt the cancelation of large numbers of insurance policies serving the individual and small group insurance markets, with the net result being a reduction in the number of Americans with private insurance coverage, despite new subsidies aimed at low- to moderate-income households; and to finance these new initiatives, he’d restrict the growth of Medicare expenditures and he would raise various new taxes. It’s not obvious to me that this bundle would have struck many voters, including Democratic voters, as attractive.

    Many people, including Roy and Salam, tried to warn us that this would happen. They were ignored. Or they were called liars. Or they were told they didn’t “care”. Or they were called tools of the insurance industry.

    Oh, about that last bit.

    Our favorite film-maker has emerged from his blue-collar mansion to opine on Obamacare. As is usually the case with Captain Deceptive Edit, we get a good point surrounded by bullshit:

    I believe Obamacare’s rocky start — clueless planning, a lousy website, insurance companies raising rates, and the president’s telling people they could keep their coverage when, in fact, not all could — is a result of one fatal flaw: The Affordable Care Act is a pro-insurance-industry plan implemented by a president who knew in his heart that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all model was the true way to go. When right-wing critics “expose” the fact that President Obama endorsed a single-payer system before 2004, they’re actually telling the truth.

    Ah, Mr. Moore. There’s some comfort in knowing that you will always correctly identify the problem and always come to the exact wrong conclusion about it. He says something very true: that this legislation was designed and crafted by the insurance industry to essentially milk a $100 billion a year subsidy out of the government. But he immediately goes to single payer because that’s how his knee jerks.

    This is the new Liberal Pravda. The first pravda was that Obamacare was going to work great and we would demand single payer because it was so awesome. Now it’s that Obamacare sucks because it’s not single payer. Once Obamacare starts to “work” — in the sense that my grad student buddy’s care “worked” — I suspect they will go back to the first pravda. Because to people like Michael Moore, every fact points to the need for single payer. When the sun rises in the East, it proves we need single payer. Because single payer — with the socialism, wealth redistribution, centralized control and conformity it entails — is their goal. As we can see from the Oregon ER debacle, whether it actually improves healthcare or saves money is incidental.

    Everything about Obamacare was a lie. It isn’t saving money, it isn’t saving lives, it isn’t working properly and it’s wrecking the individual insurance market. I suppose I should take some grim satisfaction in watching everything we said and were pilloried for come to pass. But I don’t. These are people’s lives. This is our money. This didn’t have to be.