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Friday, May 31, 2013

Obama Care vs. Freedom and Liberty



Republicans claim freedom and liberty must be protected from the tyranny of government. This ideology dictates that any national health care plan, administered by government, is a tyrannical attack on personal freedom and liberty. This logic allows the republicans to not forward any alternative, as any government program would be restrictive of our constitutional rights. Are the advanced nations with a rational health care system less free than Americans? Are the French, the Japanese, or the Canadians less free than Americans? Attempts to answer this question by objectively measuring freedom and liberty consistently rate America at about 7th or 8th place. Based on my subjective personal experience, all these nationalities enjoy freedom and liberty and are healthier. We pay more and get less, which is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Freedom and liberty are not the result of collective stupidity.
A free market, with no government interference, will provide the best and cheapest medical care. If this is true, why didn’t it happen in 1760 or 1890 or 1920, all periods with the stated conditions? Egypt has a free unrestricted health care market, so why do their rich elites go to France for medical care? If the free market is the best solution, why hasn’t it produced the promised results in at least one case? This is an ideology that falls apart when you ask, when has it worked, or where has it worked?
Ideology is not inherently bad. Accepting a basic ideology, such as the Ten Commandments or the Boy Scout oath, can guide you in very complex decisions. Using a basic ideology to make decisions and improve your life requires the proper interpretation of the ideology. “Thou Shall Not Kill” must have a selective interpretation by a foot soldier, the Boy Scout oath to “Keep yourself physically strong” does not include damaging physical enhancement drugs. The ideology of personal freedom also requires proper interpretation; my personal freedom cannot limit your personal freedom, I do not have the personal liberty to drive 100 MPH in a school zone.
The argument against a national health care plan has all the strength of a wet paper towel, an argument based in a flawed interpretation of our founding principles. Politicians never say what they really mean, whenever a politician makes an argument it is a safe bet that their objective is something entirely different. A successful politician is the one most successful at manipulation, the one that can best counterfeit sincerity. We all have to discount the politician’s advice and ponder the case based on rational thought. When politicians ask the wrong question, what are the odds of getting the right answer?
I do know the state of health care before Obama Care. Before the ACA legislation we were the only advanced nation in which getting sick could bankrupt an entire family. Large numbers of our population died from a treatable disease, babies and children went without basic care that stunted growth and created lifelong problems. The American health care system only worked for people that did not need health care, the Insurance company business model was to collect premiums then deign claims, a highly profitable business plan for a select few while millions suffered in silence. The system that existed prior to Obama Care could classify a new born as having a preexisting condition. It was not a system for health care; it was a system for greed.
I do not know if Obama Care will be better, but it would be very difficult for it to be worse.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I want more calories not fewer



Nature has a thousand ways to kill, from the fearsome violence of tigers and bears to the painful death of venom. There is starvation and heat stroke plus the catastrophes of earthquakes and floods and volcanoes, just a few of the many methods by which nature can kill. Image you are a predatory bug, born with hundreds of siblings, the stronger, faster baby bugs immediately set about feasting on their weaker, slower siblings. You manage to eat one or two of your brothers and then escape before you become lunch. You were all born starving, and a third of the hatchlings are gone in a few minutes. You scatter with the rest and start to hunt other bugs. You have passed the first test. You grow bigger and stronger; what once preyed on you now becomes your prey. With time you become an adult and now seek a mate, out of a hundred that were born only you survived. Finally you spot a possible mate, you’re hungry, and he looks very tasty, but the drive to mate is strong. You are not going to eat the potential mate, at least not yet, instead you are going to continue the species and now start the mating dance. Then a bird swops down and eats both of you. Nature moves on and so have humans, we are far more complex than this simple existence.
This is a story about calories, each actor needs enough calories to live one more day, and those that do not collect enough calories perish. It starts with sunlight striking a green leaf, and then the plant converts the energy of a single photon of light into chemical energy making tasty proteins. Bugs eat the leaf and concentrate the energy into better proteins, this continues up the food chain always concentrating more energy, which we can measure as calories. Humans are near, or at the top of this food chain. We need about 2,000 calories per day for good health, calories are a measure of energy, and for a typical individual of a technically advanced nation the total energy used is about 250,000 calories per day. That is the total when we add up all the gasoline, air conditioning, purified water, laptops, clothing, and all the other stuff we consume daily. All of these calories started with sunlight, plants converting photons into chemical energy. Many of the calories we consume today were created milieu pass and buried deep underground.
250,000 calories per day may seem a lot. Personally I would prefer a cool million calories per day. With one million calories per day I could live on the moon, I could probably live for 200 years. I can barely image living on one million calories per day, but it would be really cool. The big problem is the terrible inefficiency and waste currently needed to generate 250,000 calories per day. Our fossil fuel route just will not last, that is a race between destroying the environment or using up all the available fossil fuel, which ever wins, we lose.
Since all the calories started as sunlight why not skip the middlemen (the grass, the bug, the bird, my dinner plate), and go with solar energy directly? We use only a small fraction of the sunlight energy currently falling on our planet. Our planet receives one half of one billionth of the energy produced by the sun. What I am proposing is an orbital solar power plant.
We have reached the technological point, with the large scale organizational abilities and resources to actually do this. The science is understood and the basic engineering is done, we only lack the vision. I do not feel that America’s political leadership is capable of thinking this big, but China, Russia and Europe are thinking about it. Once other nation’s start we will suddenly find American politicians jumping on the band wagon, most likely touting orbital solar energy as a national security issue. That’s fine with me, as long as we do it. I want my one million calories per day.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Leatherback Sea Turtle nesting





Lying in my hammock, my awareness fluctuates between a tight focus on my reading to a wide general awareness of the surrounding environment. I find my current read totally absorbing, eyes on electronic pages for long intervals, but occasionally I must look up, if only to take a swipe of rum. Sipping slowly I notice a bird nesting in a palm tree only a few feet away, and I notice a female turtle just 3 meters from shore. The female turtle has been ghosting the coast line all day. After a moment’s thought I realize she will come ashore tonight and nest.
At sunset I move all the beach lounges back and remove any other possible obstacle that could impede the female turtle. With the beach cleared I return to my hammock for more literature and drink.
At about 1 AM the turtle comes ashore. She had waited for all lights to be turned off and for a lonely quiet to settle on the sandy beach, for now, only the night watchman walks the beach. Slowly and carefully she makes her way up the sandy incline, she waddles like a tortoise with her body clear of the ground. With a clear path and clear instincts she picks a spot to dig. She is a fully mature Leatherback sea turtle over a meter in length, this is not her first nesting, she opens a circular area the diameter of her body and 15 centimeters deep, then excavates a deep pit near one side. All this takes 20 or so minutes, now she is ready to lay her eggs. Over the next 20 minutes she lays more than a hundred eggs, I try to count the eggs but lose track at seventy. At first the eggs come fast and in bunches of a half dozen or more, the egg production slows, eventually ending, it is obvious this has exhausted her. She rest for several minutes then begins to shovel sand over her nest. Using her great fins she scoops and covers, moving slightly forward as she continues covering the nest. Once complete it appears that the nest is several feet from its actual location, we know this because we had marked the nest location while she was laying the eggs. Satisfied with her night’s work she returns to the sea.
     We lined the nest with rocks for protection from drunken tourist. The turtle had hidden the nest from her natural predators.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What I did on Vacation



This is not the end of the story, nor is it the beginning. The end is far in the future, and the beginning is deep in the pass. Some believe all is a circle, with no beginning or ending. However all stories need a start, and this one starts in a hammock. A lazy warm day with a light southerly breeze, not unlike yesterday, but, different. The sky is mostly clear with smallish white clouds, similar to yesterday, but, different. Lying in my hammock, like every day, something subconscious tells me, things are … well, different.
I put down my book and concentrate. What is bothering me? I relax and feel the local environment, close my eyes and listen. What has changed? Nothing registers, no ah-that-is-it moment occurs, all seems the same, just … different. It is only slightly different but troubling.
I connect my portable electronic device to the local Wi-Fi hotspot. I check newsfeeds and social media, finding war, famine, earthquakes, tidal waves, politicians shouting, and kitties with laser eyes. There is nothing out of the ordinary today, just the usual events.
I sit up in my hammock. Swing my feet out, then slide onto the sand. The sand is hot, too hot, my hammock is in the shade, and this sand should be cool. The sand starts to burn the soles of my feet so I run into the sea, the water is hot, too hot, much too hot. I have found what is different.
Running across the beach will be painful, but I must seek safety. I steel my mind to ignore the pain, and then run like some fire walker across glowing coals, reaching the relative safety of a Mexican palapa. Suddenly the sand starts undulating in great waves, driving boulders into people and buildings. My refuge under the palapa will be destroyed in seconds. I have to move, now. With a great leap I soar to the mangrove, then quickly spinning I watch the horror back on the beach. I struggle for understanding, suddenly the knowing is in me, and I know what is needed, and I know that only I can do what must be done. I carry responsibility heavier than the weight of a mountain, the prophecies must be fulfilled.
A bone chilling screech comes from the sky. Looking up I see the dragon, mounted by the Master of Demons, the Lord of Darkness, he has come to claim the souls of all mortal men. He holds his hands out, spreading his fingers, from each finger tip cracks spread across the sky, cracks in space and time itself. Anyone touching a crack is elongated, stretched, disappearing into nothingness.
Poncho Villa, one of my most trusted companions, brings my battle sword, the fabled sword of Damocles, a sword wrought by Merlin in the time of the great Magicians. I quickly scabbard the sword to my waist. My memory of the sword’s acquisition, the memory of prophecy foretold and prophecy fulfilled, these memories give me hope of survival. Merlin had created the Sword of Damocles for the Final Battle, and then he had driven it to the hilt deep into solid granite atop Mount Doom. Prophecy had declared only the Defender of Light and Truth would be able to pull it free. For a thousand years none were successful, when I had grasp the handle it came free, with no more effort that lifting a table spoon, the Sword of Damocles was mine. The Sword and I share a fate, a destiny; we are both tools for the Last Battle. The divination of Seer Nostradamus hinted that the great sword owned me more than I owed it, indeed, for none could own the Sword of Damocles.
Trigger, my flying horse, is now brought forward by Poncho Villa. Pushing all memories from my mind I bound into Trigger’s saddle, take the sword in hand and focus on my nemesis, the Lord of Darkness. Trigger is smaller than the Dragon, much smaller, but Trigger was also smarter than the dragon, and far faster. My battle plan is simple, be fast, be smart, hit hard. Trigger’s powerful wings stroke quickly, bringing me level with the Lord of Darkness. I stare into the dark, empty sockets that should have been his eyes. I cry out in the ancient warrior tongue.
“CARPE DEIUM. VENI, VIDI, VICI!”
Suddenly, something shook me, some unseen force grasping my shoulder, demanding my attention. I look up and …. My wife is standing over me?
“Wake up! Your snoring is bothering the other quest!” She almost shouts.
I blind my eyes, look around me, and shake my head slightly. “Huh --- What --- Where?”
One elderly, sun burned lady is applauding my wife while nodding her head in agreement.
I really need to cut back on some of those fantasy novels. I think to myself.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Rightness of Hammocks


There is a rightness in hammocks, rightness with calm and balance. There is a natural melding, needless of any artificial effort. I lay in my hammock, allowing the rightness and harmony to claim my soul. The rolling sound of waves, the chirps of birds, the muted conversations of other vacationers, all combine into a complete existence, and the rightness of being here, the significance of now. This is not escapism, this is acceptance.
Thoughts of the mind form slowly with the gentle motion of the hammock’s swaying. The question floats lightly across my mind. Which book to read today? I enjoy reading two books at once. This allows for a difference in pace, an intellectual gear change. Today I select one scholarly book about anthropology, and secondly, a favorite genre of mine, a totally impossible SciFi story. I will read the SciFi book for hours, eventually growing tired of space battles, and then open the anthropology book to read of newly discovered cave man paintings.
Life is indeed good.
Most anyone can do this. That is, go on vacation, then lie in a hammock and read a book, the bar is low for hammocking. This simple and safe enjoyment was not always widely available. I imagine my ancestors relaxed with a sword close at hand; I imagine many of my ancestors could not read. The oral history of my family tells of military sergeants, Irish potato famines, horse thieves and war heroes. Yet, I lie in a hammock beside Caribbean waters. Mostly safe (there is always danger, usually when we least expect), mostly relaxed (situational awareness should always be maintained), and a little bit cocky (I would have been a good army sergeant).
So, here I am, an American on vacation, wearing the same shorts for days, bargaining the price of a new hammock, enjoying maid service and breakfast at noon, total relaxation, with the best of the modern world, all at very reasonable prices. My Caribbean vacations orbit around the hammock, some prefer the beach lounge, while others a towel on the sand, all excellent choices. The sand is clean, white and soft, almost powdery, perfect for bare-footing or, for turtles laying eggs.
The turtles come at night; dark shadows slowly raising from the water, calmly crawling ashore, then with some deep instinct they select a nesting spot. Using their hind fins they scoop out a pit the depth of your arm, lay a hundred or more eggs, cover the nest with sand, and then lumber back into the warm Caribbean waters. I am still amazed by all this, even after years of observation. Two to three months later the baby turtles will hatch. Both of these events are a natural wonderment that enchants children and captures adults.
To watch this marvel of nature you must go to the turtle, the turtles will not come to you. There are no onerous rules to follow this adventure, basically let things be, let things happen. Nature does quite well without us humans interfering. I find a hammock the perfect perch while waiting for the turtles, and a book passes time nicely.
I am just another American on vacation in Akumal, Mexico.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The purpose of bad grammar in politics



“The ancients wrote at a time when the great art of writing badly had not yet been invented. In those days to write at all meant to write well.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, a most quotable German scientist, another of my Lichtenberg favorites, “With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.” (The second quote is only tangential to this blog.)
Bad writing is prevalent today in political blogs and political speeches. The poor construction of sentences ranges from the pedestrian to a pure atrocity. This is a recent phenomenon, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, or the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, the addresses of FDR or JFK, all had style and clarity. Common Sense by Thomas Paine, while emotional and ideological, was nonetheless, will written.
Today’s right wing authors, such as Glen Beck or Ann Coulter, write as if they had failed their freshman class in writing. One would think they had never heard of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., or they had slept through the sixth grade class about diagramming sentences. My Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, composes sentences which can be interpreted with a wide range of meanings.
I don’t believe this is just bad grammar, I believe this is intentional. The use of code words in political arguments leads to insensible sentences. After the reelection of President Obama, one common sentence I encountered was, “Except for the stupid voters Romney would have won.” In this sentence “stupid voters” is a code word. Only those who understand the code word can make sense of this sentence. The right wing writers have improved the code word and now use “Low information voter”, shorten to LIV, and added punctuation, making the new sentence, “Without the LIV’s, Romney would have won.” This lack of clarity in writing allows readers to construct their own meaning, which is the point and purpose of the poor writing and the usage of code words. Like secret handshakes between bomb throwing anarchists, it gives the participants a feeling of belonging and group identification. The rest of us just stand around thinking WTF? (I haven’t decided whether WTF is good grammar, I am sure my college English professor would disapprove.) Poor writing, code words and dog whistles, will co-op the reader to encompass a conclusion that he/she finds agreeable, without the author having to clearly state their position.
This would indicate that clarity of the political position has been judged to produce undesirable consequences. If the political argument is sound, then make it with clarity and precision, as Lincoln did with the Gettysburg Address, good ideas win by being good ideas.
Of course, my writing is far from perfect, but, I do try to be clear and precise.