Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

This Is Going To Hurt You More Than It's Going To Hurt Me

If I realized one could find out these sorts of fascinating things, I would read the sports pages more often. Sports Illustrated and CNN bring us this inspiring tale of Gators player Tim Tebow doing good off the field as well as on:
Whether you consider him genuine or fake, Tebow, at the end of the day, is a Heisman Trophy-, SEC- and BCS-title winning quarterback who goes to class, goes to church and circumcises people less fortunate than him. More people should be so intolerable.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Programmer Smack Talk and Global Warming

I've been amused to watch some of the arguments going on out in the blogsphere as discussion of the hacking of the climate change servers moves off into a discussion of the quality of the code being used by climate researchers to model global warming.

Commenter One: Much of the code in the academic world tends to be written by grad students that have taken a class in programming and get told to write it.

Commenter Two: This is totally untrue. I never took a class in programming before writing my crappy undocumented code.

There's a certain wry self recognition for me here as well: I've never taken a class in programming, and I build mostly undocumented models to predict revenue and profits at specific price points based on past data. My results are directionally correct when you look at whole categories of products, but can be wildly off when projecting specific instances. (I try to make this clear to those who use my data, but people are always looking for certainty in life, even if they have to imagine it.)

The difference is, of course, that I'm seeking to mitigate the risks people take in making decisions that they're going to make anyway. "Gee, I really feel like we need to turn this product 50% off for the holidays." "Well, past experience shows that we wouldn't sell many more units, but would lose a whole lot of money. Let's try something else."

You would think that if you were going to, say, recommend that the entire world ratchet levels of CO2 emmissions back to the levels of the 1800s (with all the impacts to living standards and, let's be honest here, human life, which that entails), you would aspire to higher levels of accuracy and transparancy.

In a sense, I would imagine that these climate researchers have much the same justification for their actions that I do: They're just giving people common sense advise. I advise people not to waste too much profit margin. They advise people not to emit too much CO2.

Waste enough profit margin and your company goes out of business. Get enough CO2 in your atmostphere, and you get to enjoy the kind of climate that Venus has. From the point of view of serious environmentalists, who often seem to assume that any change made by humans to the planet is pretty clearly a bad thing, it may not seem like one needs to bring a lot of rigor to advising people to not burn fossil fuels. From that point of view, of course doing all these "unnatural things" will have bad consequences.

However, for the rest of us, the fact that modern industrial technology allows six billion people to live on this planet -- and for many of them to do so in greater material comfort than at any previous time in history -- is pretty clearly a good thing. And standing in front of that yelling "Stop" requires some pretty rigorous evidence. This isn't something that can be left to buggy code whose results are massaged into shape manually when they're going to come out into the light.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Interesting Thought on State Universities

Some interestingly counter-intuitive thoughts on the UC student protests against rising tuition from David Henderson of EconLog:
Taxpayer funding of higher education is a forced transfer to the relatively wealthy

Socialist author Robert Kuttner once called Proposition 13, California's 1978 property-tax-cut initiative, the revolt of the haves. The latest opposition by UC students to a 32% increase in tuition is a revolt of the "will-haves."

Milton Friedman used to remark that the California government, with its state funding of higher education, taxed the residents of Watts to pay for the residents of Beverly Hills. I think Friedman exaggerated substantially. Even though the California's tax system relies heavily on sales taxes, which probably makes the state tax system on net somewhat regressive, it's still the case that a given Beverly Hills family pays much more in taxes than a given family in Watts. But Friedman also focused on family income of the student, and that's misleading.

Writing in a Community

I don't think that I shall shock any of our readers if I reveal that my real name is not Darwin. My real-world name is not terribly hard to figure out. It takes perhaps two clicks from this blog to reach a page where it's possible to find my real name. But for various reasons, I've maintained that anonymity over the years. However, there are a good many people who know me in real life who read the blog. More than that, after writing a blog for four-and-a-half years, you get to think of a number of your long-time readers and commenters are friends. The blog becomes like a corner coffee house or bar where the same characters assemble regularly -- with the occasional stranger dropping in as well -- and discuss a range of topics, with everyone knowing the basic terrain of who everyone else is and where everyone is coming from.

The way in which a blog can serve as a combination magazine and coffee shop is, to me, one of the most appealing elements of the medium. It's more personable than simply sending one's words out into the void, knowing that someone out there is reading them but seldom sure of what others think about them.

At the same time, however, this community element to blog writing makes one particularly aware of the difficulties of writing within a community. As the number of people I know (whether locally or online) who are blog readers increases, I increasingly find myself thinking, "If I write about that, so-and-so might be offended."

There are, I think, implicitly two different sets of rules which are observed in relation to expression in a community versus published expression. When we are in social situations, it's considered impolite to discuss topics which implicitly criticize others or their beliefs. Thus, topics such as politics and religion are generally avoided, to avoid emphasizing the differences among those present. Topics which might seem to be an accusation towards someone in attendance are also out of bounds. So for instance, if Uncle Arthur has just divorced his wife so he can spend more time with his secretary, any discussion of how people don't take marriage seriously any more around the Thanksgiving table will be taken as an attack upon Uncle Arthur, and approved of or rejected accordingly.

When someone writes for publication, there seems to be a general truce that, "Well, Alison is a writer of course, so she's always looking for subject matter, but she's not necessarily writing about the family. She needs something to write about, or they won't pay her." That, or concerned family members can simply ostracize the writer or stick their heads in the sand and not read any of what he or she writes.

Blogging occupies a certain middle ground. It is generally accepted to be a conversation of sorts, and so it seems to be considered reasonable to assume that if a blogger writes about something which appears to apply to someone the blogger knows personally, then it's probably commentary on that person. And yet, for the blogger himself, the search for material is much the same as for the "real writer". And indeed, for the blogger who thinks in a "writerly" way about his writing, discussion a situation (even one drawn from a specific real life example at hand) is often not a way of saying "I like Cheryl" or "I hate Bill" but rather of trying to come to some better understanding of the world and our place in it.

Newman Fisks it Here

I've been reading John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua for a book club. The Apologia is Newman's account of the development of his religious beliefs, culminating with his conversion to Catholicism, written in response to a charge of mendacity by the hot-headed Charles Kingsley. I've only been able to get as far, so far, as the Newman/Kingsley correspondence, and while reading it I was thinking of what someone in my club had mentioned: how like a blog exchange this is. Kingsley's ill-considered, intemperate rant is exactly the sort of thing one might read online (minus the elevated language and complex grammatical structure), and Newman demolishes him in the comments box. But what caused me to laugh out loud, and made several other mothers waiting outside dance class glance at me oddly, was Newman's fine fisk of Kingsley's "apology", in which Newman gives a side-by-side comparison of what Kingsley says, and what the British reading public will take him to mean. I suddenly imagined a Fr. Z-style fisking, with the emphases in black and the comments in red.

The Rev. Charles Kingsley to Dr. Newman
Reverend Sir, Eversley Rectory, January 14, 1864.
I have the honour to acknowledge your answer to my letter. I have also seen your letter to Mr. X. Y. On neither of them shall I make any comment, save to say, that, if you fancy that I have attacked you because you were, as you please to term it, " down," you do me a great injustice; and also, that the suspicion expressed in the latter part of your letter to Mr. X.Y., is needless.
The course, which you demand of me, is the only course fit for a gentleman; and, as the tone of your letters (even more than their language) make me feel, to my very deep pleasure, that my opinion of the meaning of your words was a mistaken one, I shall send at once to Macmillan's Magazine the few lines which I inclose.
You say, that you will consider my letters as public. You have every right to do so.
I remain, Reverend Sir,
yours faithfully, (Signed) Charles KINGSLEY
[This will appear in the next number]
To the Editor of Macmillan's Magazine
In your last number I made certain allegations against the teaching of the Rev. Dr. Newman, which were founded on a sermon of his, entitled "Wisdom and Innocence," (the sermon will be fully described, as to1 ... )
[ I Here follows a word or half-word which neither I nor any one else to whom I have shown the MS, can decipher.
I have at p. 23 filled in for Mr. Kingsley what I understood him to mean by " fully.", -J.H.N. ]
Dr. Newman has, by letter, expressed in the strongest terms, his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words. No man knows the use of words better than Dr. Newman; no man, therefore, has a better right to define what he does, or does not, mean by them.
It only remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so seriously mistaken him; and my hearty pleasure at finding him on the side of Truth, in this, or any other, matter.
Dr. Newman to the Rev. Charles Kingsley
The Oratory, January 17, 1864.
Reverend Sir,
Since you do no more than announce to me your intention of inserting in Macmillan ' s Magazine the letter, a copy of which you are so good as to transcribe for me, perhaps I am taking a liberty in making any remarks to you upon it. But then, the very fact of your showing it to me seems to invite criticism; and so sincerely do I wish to bring this painful matter to an immediate settlement, that, at the risk of being officious, I avail myself of your courtesy to express the judgment which I have carefully formed upon it.
I believe it to be your wish to do me such justice as is compatible with your duty of upholding the consistency and quasi-infallibility which is necessary for a periodical publication; and I am far from expecting any thing from you which would be unfair to Messrs. Macmillan and Co. Moreover, I am quite aware, that the reading public, to whom your letter is virtually addressed, cares little for the wording of an explanation, provided it be made aware of the fact that an explanation has been given.
Nevertheless, after giving your letter the benefit of both these considerations, I am sorry to say I feel it my duty to withhold from it the approbation which I fain would bestow.
Its main fault is, that, quite contrary to your intention, it will be understood by the general reader to intimate, that I have been confronted with definite extracts from my works, and have laid before you my own interpretations of them. Such a proceeding I have indeed challenged, but have not been so fortunate as to bring about.
But besides, I gravely disapprove of the letter as a whole.
The grounds of this satisfaction will be best understood by you, if I place in parallel columns its paragraphs, one by one, and what I conceive will be the popular reading of them.
This I proceed to do.
I have the honour to be,
Reverend Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
(Signed) JOHN H. Newman

Mr. Kingsley's Letter Unjust, but too probable, popular rendering of it

Mr. Kingsley's Letter
I. Sir,-In your last number I made certain allegations against the teaching of the Rev. Dr. Newman, which were founded on a Sermon of his, entitled " Wisdom and Innocence," preached by him as Vicar of St. Mary's, and published in 1844.
2. Dr. Newman has, by letter, expressed in the strongest terms his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words.

3. No man knows the use of words better than Dr. Newman; no man, therefore, has a better right to define what he does, or does not, mean by them.
4. It only remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so

2. I have set before Dr. Newman, as he challenged me to do, extracts from his writings, and he has affixed to them what he conceives to be their legitimate sense, to the denial of that in which I understood them.
3. He has done this with the skill of a great master of verbal fence, who knows, as well as any man living, how to insinuate a doctrine without committing himself to it.
4. However, while I heartily regret that I have so seriously mistaken the sense

On the more serious side, I was reflecting that many people wail that public discourse has become more debased over the years, yet Kingsley's shrill Know-Nothing-ism rather proves that the haters will always be with us. His expanded set of accusations, What, Then, Does Dr. Newman Mean? don't serve to vindicate him. As I was reading his quotations from Newman's sermon, I found myself nodding in agreement with Newman's interpretations of scripture verses on how to speak the truth.

On Kingsley's accusation of Catholics all being loose with the truth, and the throwing around of the term "Jesuitical" -- I remembered something that a professor of mine had spoken of when we were reading MacBeth. He had some interpretation of the porter's speech that proved that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic which was based around the porter's references to equivocation:
Knock, knock! Who's there, in th’ other devil's name?
Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the
scales against either scale, who committed treason enough
for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O,(10)
come in, equivocator.
This was supposed to be a reference to those Catholics who were ambiguous or "equivocal" about their Catholicism when questioned so as to keep undercover during the horrible persecutions of the sixteenth century (the standard execution for a priest was being drawn and quartered, after God knows what other tortures). The Jesuits were especially noted for encouraging this kind of nicety with language, and heck, they still retain that "equivocator" image to this day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Mystery of Historical Importance, solved

A few weeks ago, I wondered: What does this mean?

Embrethiliel sends me the answer, found at Laudem Gloriae:
As it turns out, it is the work of Bosnian artist Braco Dimitrijevic (one of those modern conceptual artistes who deem themselves superior to that rabble of old-school representational artists), who, in 1971, thought it would be very clever to clandestinely lift one of the old paving stones and replace it with his own carefully inscribed tile. The point was to call into question society's assumption of the uniqueness or importance of the cathedral, challenging the observer to wonder why this place in particular was more important than, say, the loo in the café across the street. Any gormless nob with a third-grade education, of course, can answer that question, but probably not to the satisfaction of historical relativist Dimitrijevic. (One quotation gives the reader an idea of his views: "What we call History is nothing more than one subjectivity which is imposed on the whole world as objective opinion.")
The cathedral enriches me (and many others throughout the years) by its existence; the loo only serves me. Unless, of course, it is a very beautiful loo.

Rejoice with me, o my friends!

Out with the old...

In with the new!

It's kind of suede-y, hence the vacuum marks, but oh so cool! Now you're all invited to come over, now that I have somewhere suitable to seat people.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Long Remembered

The new American history blog Almost Chosen People reminds us that today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Addess, delivered on Nov. 19th, 1863. The Gettysburg Address stands unique, to my knowledge, in the American branch of the English-speaking world as the only speech by a political leader which is widely memorized and quoted in its entirety long after the fact. There are some isolated famous sections of speeches by FDR, JFK and Martin Luther King which are widely remembered, but unless anyone else can think of anything I'm completely forgetting, the Gettysburg Address is uniquely treated as a piece of rhetoric which is remembered and memorized in its entirity. (I still recall it nearly word for word, having memorized it in fifth grade.) Indeed, the only other similarly treated piece of oratory I can think of is the (fictional) Crispin's Day speech in Shakespeare's Henry V.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

From our international readers, I'm curious: What pieces of oratory are similarly remembered in the British-English world, or in other non-English-speaking countries?

In Which Things Are Not Nearly As Amusing As We Thought

Last night, as I was loading the dishwasher (and drinking a beer) I picked up a plastic pitcher and its lid, then paused. Even after several hours in the dish pile, the pitcher smelled very distinctly of margarita. In a flash, I recalled that when some good friends visited on Saturday, there had been left-over margaritas, which they had kindly poured into a pitcher and left for us. Not margarita mix, mind you, that poor wan creature waiting for its infusion of tequila and cointreau to achieve its full purpose in life. No, these were fully mixed margaritas.

"Mrs. Darwin?" I called. "Did you drink the left-over margaritas today?"


"Because someone did."


"Did any of the kids seem odd today?"

"Oh my gosh, the neighbor kids!"

At this point, it is necessary that the reader understand that we have acquired neighbor kids. The family had actually lived in the neighborhood for some time, for for whatever reason the three youngest children (not counting the baby) have suddenly begun to spend an hour or two of every day in our back yard. On days when the house is clean, they play with the young Darwins inside as well. On most days when the two-year-old has stood astride the table throwing food to the four corners of the earth, they're advised to remain outside. However, even on these latter and more frequent sort of days, there is, it seems, an unavoidable magnetism to The Stranger's House, and so they let themselves in every few minutes to get drinks of water or go to the bathroom. This particular afternoon, MrsDarwin had several times had to expel these young foragers from the fridge. And here we were with a mysteriously empty margarita pitcher. Readers of children's literature will know what we thought first:
"Mrs. Lynde was up to see Mrs. Barry today and Mrs. Barry was in an awful state," she wailed. "She says that I set Diana DRUNK Saturday and sent her home in a disgraceful condition. And she says I must be a thoroughly bad, wicked little girl and she's never, never going to let Diana play with me again. Oh, Marilla, I'm just overcome with woe."

Marilla stared in blank amazement.

"Set Diana drunk!" she said when she found her voice. "Anne are you or Mrs. Barry crazy? What on earth did you give her?"

"Not a thing but raspberry cordial," sobbed Anne. "I never thought raspberry cordial would set people drunk, Marilla--not even if they drank three big tumblerfuls as Diana did. Oh, it sounds so--so--like Mrs. Thomas's husband! But I didn't mean to set her drunk."

"Drunk fiddlesticks!" said Marilla, marching to the sitting room pantry. There on the shelf was a bottle which she at once recognized as one containing some of her three-year-old homemade currant wine for which she was celebrated in Avonlea, although certain of the stricter sort, Mrs. Barry among them, disapproved strongly of it. And at the same time Marilla recollected that she had put the bottle of raspberry cordial down in the cellar instead of in the pantry as she had told Anne.

She went back to the kitchen with the wine bottle in her hand. Her face was twitching in spite of herself.

"Anne, you certainly have a genius for getting into trouble. You went and gave Diana currant wine instead of raspberry cordial. Didn't you know the difference yourself?"

"I never tasted it," said Anne. "I thought it was the cordial. I meant to be so--so--hospitable. Diana got awfully sick and had to go home. Mrs. Barry told Mrs. Lynde she was simply dead drunk. She just laughed silly-like when her mother asked her what was the matter and went to sleep and slept for hours. Her mother smelled her breath and knew she was drunk. She had a fearful headache all day yesterday. Mrs. Barry is so indignant. She will never believe but what I did it on purpose."
Anne of Green Gables, CH16

Sad to say, interviews this morning revealed a rather less exciting story. Our own three-year-old had poured herself a cup of "lemonaid" from the fridge, but on tasting it concluded that "it tasted like wine" and so for the general welfare she had poured the cup and indeed all the rest of the pitcher down the sink.

I must admit that, while I'm glad no one was made sick, I am a little disappointed at the true story.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Jack -- he's just this guy, you know? Fourteen months never looked so good.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Couch me no couch

Since Betty's cornered the market on elegance, we'll have to go another direction altogether.

The couch was actually quite nice when we bought if, off craigslist. The red spot was always there, but in those days we could actually use the other side of the cushion. In three years we have utterly destroyed it. "We" being the girls and the cats.

And because everyone who knows me knows I love repeating a good joke, here is one of my favorite pieces from sometime in late 2006 (can't dig up the original right now), written after being laid up sick on the couch.

Sickbed Revisited
(With apologies to Evelyn Waugh and, of course, all of you.)

She talked to herself, because hers was the only voice she could trust, when it assured her that she was still alive; what she said was not for the children, nor for any ears but her own.

"Better to-day. Better to-day. I can see now, across the expanse of the living-room, the fibers of the carpet, faded and grey, where yesterday I was confused and took the floor for a repository of broken toys and stuffed animals. Soon I shall see the tabletops and couch and know where it is that the ants get in.

"Better tomorrow. We live long in our family and talk early. Three is no age. Julia is only two and can remember where her candy is hidden and how much of it I ate, her 'tandy'; that was the name they had for it in the nursery and in the back-yard where unlettered girls have long memories. You can see where the big weedy shrub used to stand: the corner of the yard where the fence is uneven and half the grounds are waste, nettle and brier in hollows too deep for filling. We dug to the roots to hack it out and lay the foundations for the rose-bed planter. Those were our roots in front of the new house when the men in the orange truck came to cart them away to the dump .

"Julia knows about dumps, toys dumped on the floor, books dumped from the shelf, media scratched and worn from the loving touch of little fingers smeared with grime and orange juice. We were cultured then, purchasing old volumes and new music and bathing in the flickering light of the cinema. They came for the books first; later they scaled the sturdy cases and found the vases, the decanters, the Italian glassware. The family decends in the female line; Julia's son will page through the books his mother tore and mutilated in the days of the small house and the hair-shearing and the wall-patching; my daughter drew on the walls, her sister added the dents. Julia watched me set up the bookshelves and paint the kitchen; the paint was old before it was two months settled. Soon the linoleum will be tattered and pitted till the concrete foundation shows through and the baseboards rot away. Better to-day.

"Better to-day. I have lived carefully, sheltered myself from the cold winds, eaten moderately of what was left on the girls' plates, drunk lukewarm tea, slept with children tangled in my own sheets; I shall go grey soon. I was twenty-two when I was sent to the line for the battle; most women took the epidural, so they said, but my midwife said, "You're a textbook model of delivery." So I was; so I am now, if only I could breathe.

"No air, no wind stirring under the cotton sheers; no one has opened the door since we put the chain on it. When the autumn comes," said Mother, oblivious of the falling leaves and the dying rose-bush and the late heat, "when the autumn comes I shall leave my bed and sit in the open air and breathe more easily. God take it, why have they dug a hole for me? Must a woman stifle to death in her own living-room? Eleanor, Eleanor, turn on the fan."

"The fan is already on, Mommy."

"I know it. I re-built this house. Some days I want to blow it up with gunpowder; bore the foundation, cram it with powder, trace the fuse, crouch under cover round the corner while we touch it off; we'll blast our way to daylight."

Thus, til mid-November, Mother lay dying, prone on the recliner with a box of tissues and a glass of ice water. Since there was no immediate change, Father went to work and the small girls watched videos till their brains ran out of their ears

Friday, November 13, 2009

Life Under Health Care Reform

Time being scarce the last few weeks, I'd originally planned on writing a post of this format about one of the Senate bills, but since the House bill (HR 3962: Affordable Health Care for America Act) is currently the one in the news, I'm focusing on that. The purpose here is to try my best to cut through the hysteria and hype coming from both sides and take a realistic look about what changes we would notice as US citizens if the House health care reform bill becomes law.

The first thing to keep in mind is that nothing much happens until 2013. This could probably called the "keep incumbents from being hurt by this act, especially Obama" provision. Whether the long term effects of the bill are good or bad, change often causes pain and confusion at first, and one of the key ways of getting legislators on board for the bill is to assure them that they're unlikely to be immediately booted out of office by voters upset about their premiums. This kind of cynicism is hardly unique to this one bill or to either party -- it just is what it is. So take the below as a discussion of how thing would be under HR 3962 in the period 5-6 years from now, assuming that is passes and there are no changes made between now and then.

The bill provides several new regulations on insurance companies and on you, which you'll notice quite clearly.

1) You will be legally required to purchase insurance. If you don't (and unless you fit criteria for financial hardship as defined in the bill) you will be fined either 2.5% of you income, or the average cost of the plans in the lowest tier of the health insurance exchange. So, if you make 40k/yr, you would be fined $1000. If you make 60k/yr, you would be fined $1500. If you refuse to pay your fines, you'll be treated exactly like any other tax evader (which means you can potentially be sent to jail.) The Senate bill specifically exempted non-payers from being sent to jail, but the House bill fails to differentiate those who refuse to pay health care fines from those who refuse to pay other taxes, so it is believed that standard tax evasion rules would apply. There will also be penalties placed on employers who do not offer their employees health insurance.

2) Health insurance companies will not be allowed to turn you down for coverage because of any pre-existing conditions you may have, nor will they be allowed to refuse to cover care related to those conditions.

3) Health insurance companies will be required to charge all people the same for the same plan -- not charge people with existing health problems more and vastly limits the amount that insurers can charge more to insure older people.

4) Provides subsidies for most American citizens if they are buying individual health insurance, in order to make complying with the individual mandate more affordable.

So what happens to you? Well, if you've one of the roughly 80% of Americans who currently health insurance through your employer: nothing much. If your employer wasn't providing coverage to some of its employees before, and decides to comply with the employer mandate rather than paying the relevant fines, it may seek to recoup the costs of expanding health coverage by increasing the share of your health benefits you have to pay for. Given that the average employer provided family health care plan currently costs about $13,000/yr, it's likely that there's a lot of room for your employer to push more of that cost in your direction. (And when it comes to cost savings, most of us would prefer that to layoffs.) In Massachusetts, which passed similar health care reform in the past, employer plan premium have been rising at almost twice the national average rate over the last few years. If the cost to you of your employer's insurance plan increases to beyond 12% of your annual income (for example: $400/mo for a family making 40k/yr) you would be eligible for subsidies from the government, but otherwise you would be on your own.

If, on the other hand, you currently do not have health insurance or have individual health insurance, you would be greatly affected by the bill. You would become eligible to buy your insurance through the national insurance exchange (and if you didn't buy coverage, you'd be fined, see above.) Among these plans would be the much discussed "public option", which would essentially be the same as a private health insurance plan except that it would be administered by a government agency. Adoption of the public options plans is not expected to be high, as the CBO estimates that their premiums will be higher than the average of the private plans in the exchange offering the same benefits.

The plans on the exchange are not necessarily cheap, but you will know pretty clearly what level of coverage you are getting as the plans will have to meet government defined levels of coverage. If you feel daunted by researching what an insurance plan does or does not cover, this might be a major benefit. If not, it might reduce flexibility for you. The average "basic" exchange plan for an individual is expected to cost $5,300 per year, the average for a family of four is expected to be $15,000. In addition to these premiums, you could expect to pay about 2,000 a year in co-pays and deductibles as an individual, or $5,500 as a family. (Obviously, if you get very little care, this would be less. My own family has deductibles similar to the exchange levels on our employer-based health care plan, and our total out of pocket last years was under $1000.)

However, you also receive a scaling set of subsidies in order to offset your costs, depending on how much money you make. Here are a few examples (these are directly from the CBO subsidy analysis):

A single person making $20,600 would pay an annual premium of $900 ($75/mo) and would pay no more than $600 in out of pocket expenses for the year. If he didn't buy insurance, he'd pay a fine of $515.

A single person making $38,300 would pay an annual premium of $4,300 ($358/mo) and would pay no more than $1,800 in out of pocket expenses for the year. If he didn't buy insurance, he'd pay a fine of $957.

A family of four making $42,000 would pay an annual premium of $1,900 ($158/mo) and would pay no more than $1,200 in out of pocket expenses for the year. If they didn't buy insurance, they'd pay a fine of $1050.

A family of four making $66,000 would pay an annual premium of $6,300 ($525/mo) and would pay no more than $3,700 in out of pocket expenses for the year. If they didn't buy insurance, they'd pay a fine of $1650.

These subsidies are currently designed to scale according to the enrollee's income, not according to the cost of the plan, so from what I can tell customers would be cushioned initially from any drastic increases in the cost of coverage (such as Maine, Massachusetts and other states passing similar regulations have experienced). However, that might potentially change if the cost of the program spiralled rapidly out of control due to the increased cost of providing insurance under this model.

In this regard, it might almost be a benefit to have the public option in play, as it would make it much harder for people to claim "it's all because of insurance company profiteering" if the public options premiums continue to run higher than private plan premiums as the CBO projects.

A few useful sources, though not everything in this post is derived from them alone:

The CBO analysis of the House bill.

The official summary of the House bill. (This copy of the file is at the Heritage Foundation, but the actual file is the one the House Democrats put out.)

CBO analysis of subsidies.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where the Japanese Came From

This article is long (I'll admit, though I've had it up in browser a couple days I've still only read half of it) but it's a really fascinating survey of current research into where the Japanese people came from, both historically and linguistically. This is an unusually charged question, as linguistic and archeological questions go, because a great deal of Japanese (and Korean) national self-identity is caught up in the question. And evidence is intriguingly sparse and contradictory. (For instance, linguistics would suggest that the Japanese language split off from Korean -- it's apparent closest cousin linguistically -- at least 4,000 years ago, yet genetically Japanese are very similar to mainlanders, suggesting a fairly recent divergence.)

On a slightly related side-note, one of the things that's always struck me watching Japanese anime is that there seems to be a cultural perception in Japan that Japanese are "the white people of Asia". Japanese characters often look, to American eyes, very nearly European or American, while Korean or Chinese characters have very strongly Asian features. There also seems to be a real fascination with settings (more often fantastic than historical) which are clearly patterned on or explicitly set in turn of the century Europe -- though often Japanese names are mixed in freely with vaguelly Germanic ones.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Jack Hath Wrought

In case anyone was wondering, "Gosh, why doesn't MrsDarwin post that much anymore?", it's because I live in a house where five minutes of an unattended 14-month-old nets you this:

That would be Jack taking his revenge for the tea party and lunch we had while he was napping, and on the bookcase just for being there. I was in the kitchen the whole time, chopping onions and adding them to soup. The lad is fast.

No wonder he's so worn out.

The Banal Evils of the Police State

With the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, many who lived under the communist regime of East Germany have taken the opportunity to go to the state archives and view the files which the Stasi secret police kept on them. Stasi files were not kept only on spies and political dissenters, but on ordinary people whose "offenses" were almost shockingly mundane, and whose betrayers were often friends or family:
A West German pudding. That was all it took. Once the Stasi found out about it, a family breadwinner was fired from his army job and an East German household was plunged into destitution.

Even worse, the family later found out that they had been turned in by a close friend. "She was watering the plants and went through the cupboards to find a Dr. Oetker dessert," Vera Iburg, who has worked with files kept by the East German secret police for the last 20 years, told SPIEGEL ONLINE, referring to the snoop. "What was she doing? She had no business there!"
It's an interesting example of the corrupting power of temptation that the availability of the means to easily hurt those around you by reporting others to the police motivated many to inform merely for the satisfaction of it:
The files -- which occupy over 100 kilometers of shelf space (not including the 16,000 sacks of shredded documents the Birthler Authority is currently trying to reassemble with the aid of computers) -- are testament to a darker side of humanity. And Ziehm says that films like "The Lives of Others," which indicate that many were coerced into spying on friends and neighbors, don't come close to plumbing the depths that some ultimately fall to. Friends informed voluntarily on friends and spouses even tattled on each other.

"More often than not, the Stasi did not need to apply pressure at all," he says. "In fact, many often felt snubbed if their information was deemed to be of no interest." The real motivation behind these acts of betrayal was much more humdrum than one might think. "People informed for personal gain, out of loyalty to the East German regime, or simply because they wanted to feel like they had some power," Ziehm says.
Often we think of repressive regimes' primary evil being what they do to the people of a country, yet it's perhaps more important (and more disturbing) to think of how the tools of such a regime corrupt many of the people themselves.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

I Want One Of Them Stimulous Jobs

There is something in me which, when it sees to related numbers, wants to immediately do a calculation, so when I saw a news story stating that the $215 billion in stimulous money given out thus far had resulted in 640,329 jobs, my first question was, "How much is that per job?"

Answer? $312,339.44

Not too shabby, eh? I'd like one of them jobs just fine.

Now that I've had my sticker shock fun, let me be fair: if you're going to try to create jobs by flooding money into a set of projects, the cost if obviously much more than the cost of a salary. Say I decide to help a bakery create jobs by buying doughnuts. Buying $5000/month worth of doughnuts doesn't create a $60k/yr at the doughnut shop, because although there's need for more work, there's also need for dough, and cooking oil, and glaze, and more doughnut machines, etc. I might well have to spend $200k per year at the bakery in order for them to add $100k to their payroll, perhaps even more.

But what that emphasizes is that simply spending money like a drunken sailor (no disrespect to our naval readers) is not a very efficient way to help people who are out of work in the near term. The two most direct ways to help people out of work would be through providing longer unemployment benefits (and more programs to help people in problem industries to get new training) and to provide companies with direct payroll relief by reducing employer contributions to payroll taxes.

This is something we'll do well to keep in mind as Democrats on Capitol Hill start to get itchy for a second round of stimulous in order to emphasize that they are "doing something" about the increasingly grim job numbers.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

La Guadalupana

While looking for a version of the Mexican folk song La Guadalupana, I came across this remix by Mexican father-and-son pop stars Emmanuel and Alexander Acha and thought it catchy. Our Spanish-speaking readers will have to let me know what the rap in the middle says; hopefully I'm not putting up something crazy offensive.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I'm not necessarily sure where to believe the real story lies in all this, but this lengthy article on zombies in Haiti is fascinating.
About a month after I arrived in Jérémie, a rumor swept through town that a deadly zombie was on the loose. This zombie, it was said, could kill by touch alone. The story had enough authority that schools closed. The head of the local secret society responsible for the management of the zombie population was asked to investigate. Later that week, Monsieur Roswald Val, having conducted a presumably thorough inquiry, made an announcement on Radio Lambi: There was nothing to fear; all his zombies were accounted for.

Shortly after that incident, I started taking Creole lessons from a motorcycle-taxi driver named Lucner Delzor. Delzor was married with four children, but he kept a mistress on the other side of town. He told me that he had never so much as drunk a glass of water at his mistress’s house for fear she might lace his food with love powder. He loved his wife and children far too much to risk that.

One of my first complete sentences in Creole was “Gen vréman vre zonbi an Ayiti?” Or: “Are there really, truly zombies in Haiti?”

“Bien sûr,” Delzor said. He had even seen them: affectless men and women with a deathlike pallor, high nasal voices, and the characteristic drooping at the chin — men and women who he knew for a fact had died and been buried.

“Ayiti, se repiblik zonbi,” Delzor added. Haiti is the republic of zombies.

I was eager to meet a zombie for myself, and began making appropriate inquiries. Several weeks later, my wife came home from a judicial conference. Making small talk, a local judicial official mentioned the strange case of zombification that his courtroom had seen not several months before. The case was, he said, “un peu spectaculaire.”

I met Judge Isaac Etienne a week or so later at his unfinished concrete house in the village of Roseaux. Roseaux is on the sea, and the fishermen, their nets already in, were stretched out on the small grassy town square, drinking rum and playing dominoes under a dazzling midmorning sun. The judge was a boyish-looking man of 42, slender, wearing baggy surfer shorts, flip-flops, and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.

The dossier was, at bottom, a murder story, the judge said — but it was a murder story with the great oddity that the victim did not die.

If one accepts the author's theory, this might be an interesting example of a situation in which both practictioners and victims of "magic" believe that real sorcery is being performed, while there remains a natural (though weird) explanation for the whole thing. Or could could go to either positing real sorcery or writing the whole thing up to hysteria amoung a poor and uneducated population.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More Than Intentions

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek makes a good point which is too often glossed over in political debate:
Writing about health-care, Paul Krugman asserts that “conservatives … don’t want Americans to have universal coverage” (”The Defining Moment,” Oct. 30).

Among the earliest lessons that I teach my freshman economics students are (1) intentions are not results, and (2) to oppose a government program is not necessarily to object to the intentions stated by that program’s advocates.

Paul Krugman obviously teaches his students differently, for he clearly believes that (1) if government intends for Americans to have universal health coverage, then the result will be that Americans actually get universal health coverage, and (2) anyone who opposes a government program promising universal health coverage is a person who objects to Americans actually getting universal health coverage.
This is perhaps the most common fallacy of all in political argument for people to follow the form: I support bill/candidate X because I think it will have good result Y. You don't support X. Therefore you don't care about Y.

Generally speaking, Y is a very general positive sentiment while X is a very specific prescription. Examples:

"You don't support abolishing NAFTA, because you don't care whether ordinary Joes can make a decent wage in America."

"You don't support school vouchers, because you don't care whether poor kids can get a good education."

"You don't support the current health care reform legislation, because you don't care whether poor people can see a doctor when they're sick."

What this approach ignores is that the topic of dispute in politics is often not whether some general good should be achieved, but whether a particular proposal will actually contribute to the general good -- and if so whether its effects will be more positive than negative. This type of intention-based argumentation is an attempt to shut down any discussion on whether a proposal will have the desired effect (and whether its negative side effects will outweigh its intended benefits), and as such it strikes at the very root of reasonable political discussion.

Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest

We've been delighted here at Chez Darwin by Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest. It's the story of two boys, brown and white, raised as brothers on tales of the captive Djinn Fairy, then cruelly separated by Azur's coldly aristocratic father. When they grow up, each vows to rescue and marry the fairy himself. There are voyages, scoundrels, magic keys, and the most enchanting princess I've seen on screen in ages. You can watch it in the original French and Arabic, but we chose English (the Arabic is subtitled, not dubbed, which the non-reading three-year-old didn't seems to mind).

The animation style is almost completely unrelated to the Disney and Pixar stuff we've become accustomed to. It's flat and bright and highly textured and gorgeous. There are intricately patterned Arabic backgrounds that are so hypnotic and dazzling that it takes a moment to adjust the eyes. And there are NO SASSY TALKING ANIMALS. Need I say more?

Note to parents: you might balk, but here we were quite pleased that the first shot of the movie was the Arabic servant quite obviously breast-feeding first one, and then the other boy.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mid Life

Many will doubtless consider it rather cheeky (or else simply self indulgent) for someone who is only thirty years old to write on the topic of middle age, yet the topic has been somewhat on my mind of late. As I was enjoying the cool autumn air the other day, it occurred to me that I was already more than half the age my father was when he died. This, combined with the fact that I married rather younger than my father and had children sooner often leaves me with the feeling that I am already advanced well upon life's road -- and by implication wondering if mine is shorter than most.

The above may make me sound rather morbid, but it's not really any fear of death that I'm thinking of here. Dante may have found himself, midway through life's journey, in a gloomy wood (even Dante was jumping the gun less -- he was about to turn 35 when he found himself in the gloomy wood in Lent, 1300, at the beginning of Inferno) -- by my experience is more of finding myself hurdling along at tremendous speed and wondering exactly I'm going, and how soon I shall arrive. We measure ourselves by the patterns we know, and so it seems natural to measure my life by that of my father. Yet having got married earlier, had children earlier, bought a house earlier, and settled on a single full time job earlier, I can't help an odd sort of feeling of: What happens later?

To add to the effect, outside the small splinter culture in which we live in our private lives, the people I know professionally have moved in the opposite direction, with most of them having first children in their mid thirties. The picture of the four kids on my desk marks me (depending on how people choose to analyze it) as being either a very young looking 38-40 or else quite dangerously insane. (For my part, I try to provide supporting evidence for both alternatives.)

In a world in which most people seem to expect to have college age children when in their 50s and being "father of the bride" in their sixties -- there seems little precedent for someone whose children will range form 27 to 20 when he turns 50 is supposed to do with the rest of his life. In a sense, it's rather exhilarating. Uncharted territory. Age-ward ho! Yet because it's uncharted, one can't shake the odd feeling that pretty soon all the path will be covered, and one will be left standing around saying, "Well. Here we are. Where are we anyway?"