Monthly Archives: August 2013

I guess this means I need a new Periodic Table shirt

Swedish scientists confirm the existence of Element 115, temporarily named Ununpentium, that is created from the nuclear fusion of calcium and americium.  The element is highly unstable; scientists confirmed its existence by measuring the radiation as it fell apart. (News reports say that the element “vanished quickly in a flash of radiation,” so I assume that they are talking about nuclear decay and not the converting of mass to energy.)

Clearly, this is a reason to get a new Periodic Table t-shirt (with radioactive elements that glow in the dark).


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Government alchemy: any geyser of money will turn into a feeding trough for the connected and corrupt

The Hill reports that ObamaCare’s architects are getting rich off of the law that was passed under the pretext of ensuring that poor people don’t die in the streets.  The Hill, take it away:

“When [Vice President] Biden leaned over [during the signing of the healthcare law] and said to [President] Obama, ‘This is a big f’n deal,’ ” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group, “he was right.”

Veterans of the healthcare push are now lobbying for corporate giants such as Delta Air Lines, UPS, BP America and Coca-Cola, and for healthcare companies including GlaxoSmithKline, UnitedHealth Group and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Ultimately, the clients are after one thing: expert help in dealing with the most sweeping overhaul of the country’s healthcare system in decades.

“Healthcare lobbying on K Street is as strong as it ever was, and it’s due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act seems to be ever-changing,” Adler said. “What’s at stake is huge. … Whenever there’s a lot of money at stake, there’s a lot of lobbying going on.”

RomneyCare was seventy pages long and involved very little government bureaucracy; ObamaCare was about 2,500 pages long and has a stack of regulations that reach the ceiling.  These are not merely abstract complaints about the proper role of federal government or the issues with a long law; invariably, such laws will benefit the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of everyone else.  Simple laws that apply uniformly to everyone don’t require expensive lawyers or lobbyists.  ObamaCare is almost designed to be a huge payoff to lawyers, lobbyists, and those wealthy enough to hire them: a byzantine system of regulations affecting every single business and individual in America, for which the executive branch will issue waivers to groups, unions, and businesses, as it sees fit.  Oh, and the thing represents one-sixth of America’s economy, for a total of over a trillion dollars a year. Could you even design a better system for paying off the wealthy and influential?

As a human being who cares not just about the integrity of our political system, but about ensuring that Americans can access quality health care, I will also point out that every dollar spent on lobbying or attorneys is not being spent on health care.  Conservatives talk a lot about ‘bang for the buck’ in health care policy, and this is a prime example of how huge amounts of money will be spent with absolutely no benefit to any actual person with an actual illness, or one who is merely seeking to avoid becoming ill.

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Feminism needs a makeover

The Chicks on the Right link to an article about some very misguided Australian college co-eds who attempt to fight the patriarchy and objectification of women by photographing their private parts and putting eighteen of those photos on the cover of a magazine.  (In related news, a town has vowed to eliminate underage alcohol consumption by replacing school lunch milk with shots of tequila.)

Here is the NSFW article.  Here is the lame justification for the attention-grabbing stunt:

“Depictions of female genitalia in culture provide unrealistic images that most women are unable to live up to. [….] We want to feel normal; we don’t want to feel fearful when we have a first sexual encounter with a partner who may judge us because of our vaginas.”

There’s a lot of things I could talk about here – how the very same women who complain when men view them as sex organs shoot photos of their disembodied sex organs – but there’s a foundational issue that needs to be addressed.

Excuse me, but  in what alternate universe do normal women actually worry that their naked bodies do not measure up to “[d]epictions of female genitalia in culture” – and, speaking of which, what culture regularly exhibits female genitalia? 

If I were in bed with some dude who thought that my naked body did not measure up to porn, there are loads of things I would do, like grab his schlong between my thumb and index finger and ask him, Mr. Turkey Gizzards, who he is to judge.  Or perhaps I would knee him in said schlong and tell him to find a new girlfriend.  What I would not do is to have relations with any male who does not think that my body is a work of art to be worshipped.  (I also wouldn’t be physical with a man who doesn’t love me, but more on that below.)

Yet these “empowered feminists” are worried that men won’t find their private parts to be acceptable.  Chickies, you wouldn’t know empowerment if it photographed itself 18 times and put itself on the front of your campus magazine.

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Night owls are smarter, but morning people are happier

According to researchers at the University of Madrid, night owls out-earn their early-rising counterparts and also have higher cognitive abilities.  Early risers do better in grammar and secondary school, which, in my opinion, has more to do with those schools requiring cognitive ability at 7:30 am than anything else.  Then again, Air Force research found that night owls are better at lateral thinking, regardless of the hour.

Now, I’m a perpetual insomniac and won’t fall asleep until well past midnight unless I’m ill.  Since this research indicates that I ought to be brilliant, I’m going to offer my thoughts on this new study.  Night people are more extroverted, and extroverts do better in the workforce.  So it could be simply that extroverts tend to be night people, but their extroversion is what causes them to succeed in their careers. Introverted night owls (like myself) would see no such advantage.

A different theory: various types of research indicate that rule-followers tend to do fairly well, but not extraordinarily well; valedictorians are doctors, but the person who graduated many spots behind is the captain of industry or the inventor who made millions.  Night owls might be those random, creative types who are more likely to really surge ahead of the pack.

Alternatively, years of schooling can turn anyone into a “night person”: after chemical engineering and law school, my brain kicks on at 10 pm in ways that it simply does not during the day.  Perhaps I’ll be a creative day thinker years from now, but my fellow nerds and workaholics might be stuck in a nighttime thinking pattern.   If you’re one of those people who gets a creative idea, then wants to analyse it to death before moving on to the next activity, you’re going to stay up late when that next activity happens to be “sleep”.

That brings me to my final theory: if your motto in life is “I can sleep when I’m dead,” then you’re not going to be the type to be okay with “good enough.”  You’re also not going to fall asleep when there are things to be done, inventions to be invented, writings to be written, and worlds to be conquered.

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ObamaCare: intergenerational wealth transfer

Rituparna Basu writes in Forbes that “Obamacare is Really, Really Bad For You, Especially if You’re Young.”  The title says it all, but it’s worth examining in a bit more detail.

“[T]oday’s young people will be tomorrow’s old people,” says Matthew Yglesias of Slate, so while this arrangement may not benefit the young now, it will eventually do so. A senior official at the AARP echoes this sentiment, insisting, “If a younger, healthier person is spending a little more now, it’s okay because at some point they’re going to be a less healthy, older person too.”

The basic premise is that young people will pay more now, but less later. Leaving aside the efficacy of this (our generation could get screwed), one of the largest problems is that you are always one generation behind.  Baby Boomers will get a big break on their health care costs: they didn’t pay extra when they were young, but will pay less now.  So it’s a win-win for them: they got cheap health insurance when they were young, but get young people to pay for them when they are middle-aged.  Their plan for roping my generation into this is to promise to let us fleece the next generation, i.e. people who are toddlers right now.  But even if that happens, the current toddlers will need to fleece the people who will be born circa 2030, lest they end up paying for us when they are young, and themselves in full when they are old.  Once one generation gets a free ride, every subsequent generation has the noxious choice between passing the buck or paying twice.

There are also various problems with the size of generations: as this raises our costs, we will have fewer children, meaning that there won’t be as many people to pick up the tab for us in our middle age years.  Social programmes that heavily tax the young and fertile, for the benefit of those who have already had children, are usually unsustainable.  Paging Charles Darwin!

The other problem is that our generation is already paying twice: Social Security and Medicare won’t be there for us.  The Baby Boomers are hoping that we will agree to be Generation #2 in ObamaCare (i.e. the second generation to reap the benefits), and basically let Generation #3 be screwed the way that we’re screwed with retirement.  As a moral rallying cry, it leaves a lot to be desired, but that does not mean that my generation won’t go for it.

Hey, my generation handed Obama his two wins, so I’m not shedding many tears for our collective selves.  I would just like to not go down with the ship.

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It’s a great idea, so long as it’s not published in the newspaper

The New York Daily News reports that Karma Nirvana, a UK-based charity, counsels girls who are being forced into arranged marriages, which often take place overseas.  One of the clever ideas is to have the girls hide spoons in their underwear: the spoon will set off a metal detector and give the girl a moment alone with a security guard.  She can then explain the situation and be taken to a safe place, without her family being the wiser.

Now, that’s clever, provided the family forcing the girl into marriage is unaware of this little trick.  Now that it’s been published in a major newspaper, family members will check a girl’s panties before taking her to the airport.  The spoon will be removed; she will be punished for her obvious desire to disobey the family; and she will be sold or given into marriage.


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How to Parallel Park

Recently, a few different friends have mentioned that they do not know how to parallel park, or they sort of know, but aren’t good at it.

I learned to parallel park the day before my driver’s ed test.  My dad set up two trash cans in the street (to simulate cars) and taught me in about five minutes flat.  I turned it into an art form while living in the city, wherein wedging one’s car (a standard, to boot) into a tiny spot on a hill meant not paying for parking.  Anyway, the tutorial:

1. Pull up parallel to the car behind which you want to park.  You should be about an arm’s length (singular) away from it – enough to barely open the passenger-side door and squirm out.

2. Back up in a perfectly straight line until your face is in line with the back bumper of the aforementioned parked car.  If you were to put a laser pointer on the back bumper of that car, the little red dot would be on the side of your body. (This is the secret, right here.)

3. At that point, turn the wheel and back in.

4. Once the back of your car is about as far “in” as it will go (either the tire is on the curb, or you are close to the car behind you), turn the wheel in the other direction and pull forward.


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The oddest thing about the Jennifer Rosoff “feminist” debacle

….is that someone thought that 12:50 am in New York City, on a weekend, is “late at night”.

Briefly: a beautiful, talented, successful 35-year-old woman died in New York City.   The Associated Press reported on the story; some crazy pseudo-feminist blogger (see above) got all sorts of attention for claiming that the coverage of Rosoff’s death was sexist, as it implied that Jennifer Rosoff was up past an appropriate hour.  (Via Althouse.) No self-respecting New Yorker thinks that Rosoff was up “late at night,” which makes it hard for anyone to believe that the coverage implied that she was up “late at night.”  Midnight in Manhattan is what people in other areas refer to as “early evening.”

Snark aside: this young woman is dead.  It’s entirely crass to use her death as an opportunity to expostulate on your own pet grievances against the world.  Anderson’s words are asinine – they need no rebuttal, only a few tissues to wipe away the tears of laughter – but her words are crass.  She believes that even this woman’s death is an opportunity to beat the feminist drum.

Let Rosoff’s family bury their daughter, sister, niece.  Her parents are going through the hell of burying a child – so unusual in America in the twenty-first century – and really don’t need people bleating about whether the news coverage of their daughter’s death was appropriately compliant with third-wave feminist standards.


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Life’s been fairly boring in the foggy world here.  Yesterday, my boyfriend (aka Mr. Velicoraptor) had game night at his house.  Before we started playing, his friend (“John”) was enthusing about his ancestry/genealogy search to me and “Jacob”.

John: It’s amazing how many ancestors I have! They’re all over the place!

Me, with enthusiasm: I bet if you went ten generations back, you would have at least a thousand!

John, with a big smile: I probably would!

Jacob glares at me and shakes his head.

Me: Whaaaa? What did I do?

John: What’s going on?

Jacob: John, you’ve just been condescendingly mathed.

For the record, it wasn’t condescending.  It was dry wit mixed with evil, shaken, not stirred.

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We Told You So: Death Panels Edition

Howard Dean cautiously praises ObamaCare, while delivering a few damning blows against it.  After saying that it is a good thing to delay the employer mandate until 2015 (presumable, it’s not a bad idea, just one that takes more than four years to implement), he goes on to challenge the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

One major problem is the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB is essentially a health-care rationing body. By setting doctor reimbursement rates for Medicare and determining which procedures and drugs will be covered and at what price, the IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them.

There does have to be control of costs in our health-care system. However, rate setting—the essential mechanism of the IPAB—has a 40-year track record of failure. What ends up happening in these schemes (which many states including my home state of Vermont have implemented with virtually no long-term effect on costs) is that patients and physicians get aggravated because bureaucrats in either the private or public sector are making medical decisions without knowing the patients. Most important, once again, these kinds of schemes do not control costs. The medical system simply becomes more bureaucratic.

Welcome to the Tea Party, Gov. Dean.

My motto is “Everything I know about economics, I learned in engineering school”.  One of the things that engineering school taught me is that efficiency matters.  There is a maximum efficiency to something like the Carnot cycle, but you can always find more inefficient ways of doing things.  Good chemical engineers are able to reduce inefficiencies in their processes (e.g. by adding heat exchangers or re-designing reactors to result in a higher yield), and it will take less energy or starting material to make a final product.

The same ideas apply to health care economics.  When you add layers of bureaucracy, you increase the costs to get the same result.  You will always have some inefficiency, but adding unnecessary steps to the process only ensure that you’re going to get less product for the same input.  If only Howard Dean had joined in with Gov. Palin four years ago, we might not be saddled with the equivalent of a bill that mandates alchemy.

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