Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Wall Street Journal's Misplaced Malarkey On The Senate "Health Care Advance"

These days words and meanings are everything, and are often deployed with special aplomb to distort and divert inquiring minds from truth. I've already - in previous posts  - noted many historical examples, such as the substitution of the vanilla term "scandal" for actual, multi-layered conspiracies such as Watergate and Iran -Contra. The effect being to divert the historically purposive mind from political conspiracy to well, something "scandalous" - like the Clinton- Monica Lewinsky nonsense. Thus are events riven with historical and political gravitas reduced to gossip-style, forgettable one offs.

Similar word twisting perversion occurred with using the term "death taxes" for estate taxes, the better to spare the wealthy from having to pay their fair share in a democratic, supposedly fair society.  Now, the latest addition to this sordid verbal jui jitsu involves the terms used for the atrocity known as the Senate health care bill which demolishes Obamacare and has cynically been named the  'Better Care Reconciliation Act. of 2017.'

The Wall Street Journal added to this perversion in its editorial yesterday ('The Senate Health Care Advance') by first using the term "Senate" when only the Reepo contingent pushed it through, and second, calling it "health care" when in it is all about tax cuts, and third, using the word "advance" when it is in fact a major regression for 75 million fellow citizens.

There are other aspects of the WSJ editorial I also want to call into question and criticize from a historical, economic and political perspective. Why? Because getting at the true nature of this misbegotten piece of "legislation" requires doing so, at least to the same degree as when I take care to classify solar flares by their x-ray output.   Hence, I cannot in good faith conflate an X-1 flare with an X-9 event, like the WSJ does with its ACA and Medicaid "facts".  But WSJ editorials are not known for being factual but circulating  Rupert Murdock propaganda.

For example:

"The legislation replaces Obamacare's subsidies with tax credits for people who buy insurance on the individual market"

The use of "tax credits" betrays the true intent of this bill as a tax plan, as opposed to a health care bill. Tax credits, after all, do absolutely nothing for people in  serious medical distress. They are little better than a useless dollop or dressing, and as one mother of an autistic child put it in a TIME essay last year, would barely cover $1200 of her $30,000 yearly needs.  But they do create the illusion of offering something, I mean look at the term "credit",  after all.  But in terms of health care which I already noted increases inexorably, it is subsidies that pay the freight, not "tax credits!"!

And subsidies would more than be the solution if this country pared back its defense spending to half the GDP proportion, say to what it was before 9/11.  After all, a nation that outspends the next 13 together in defense can't possibly be "on the ropes"! Only a moron would believe so.  Hence, as former defense analyst Chuck Spinney once put it, let's cut the defense share of GDP  back to 2.4 % to 2.2 %. THEN we can make room for providing subsidies via the original ACA which, let us be clear, was the reincarnation of an original REPUBLICAN health care law (also known as "Romney Care")

"Medicaid was originally meant for poor women, children and the disabled - which Obamacare opened to able-bodied, working age adults above the poverty level".

This takes no account whatsoever that health care access (and needs) must expand as a population increases and economic legislation alters over time.  Point of fact, the population of the U.S. was about half what it is today at the time (1965) Medicaid came onstream. In addition, the poverty level has barely changed since then, remaining far too  statistically "lowballed" for the very purpose of limiting access to benefits.

Now add in the economic forces of globalization - globalized labor markets (and destruction of the U.S., manufacturing sector), and mass corporate downsizing in the 90s, and the case can be made that the original intended beneficiary base of Medicaid was simply way too meager, too small, by 2000. To put it another way, most lower and working class citizens even with jobs - because of the fallout from globalization -were in essentially the same economic position as "poor women and children" in the late 1960s.  Of course, it is in the Journal's best propaganda and spin interests not to process this.

To fix ideas consider the Denver Post article ('4 in 5 Adults Face Poverty At Some Point In Lives', July 29, 2013).   According to the article:

"Although ethnic and racial minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show.

Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76% of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge to be published next year in the Oxford University Press."

The Post article further notes that "measured across all races" the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79% or nearly 4 in 5. Pardon me, but this indicates a nation of rising inequality and the degradation of most citizens in terms of their economic welfare. Above all, it shows the need for vastly expanded medical benefits.

"The Senate waits four years instead of three but pegs the (block) grants to inflation with no adjuster."

As former Medicaid administrator Andy Slavitts observed last night ('Last Word') this translates on average to a state cut of 25 percent per individual beneficiary.  This portends serious losses of benefits for most of a state's population especially given no adjuster. But again, this exposes this sham law for what it is, a tax cut plan for the rich as opposed to providing for the most medically disabled and adversely affected among us. Unless states trapped in a zero sum budget scenario compensate - say by taking funds from roads or preschool-  thousands of state citizens will be left to scramble.  The very Darwinian nature of the Repuke bill is here exposed, pitting one segment of citizen interests against all others. In other words, a return to the law of the jungle.

"The Senate includes about $100 billion for a stability fund .....and could be used by creative Governors to support insurance markets in states like Maine and Alaska"

In other  words, the Reep Senate bill creates a slush fund that can be used to bribe state Governors (especially in high premium states)  to cooperate with the for -profit sharks to set up costlier protection rackets - passed off as health insurance. By use of creative accounting the state Governors can then make it appear health exchanges are really working - as they might under the ACA- when they're only on temporary support from the limited slush fund.

"The Senate wouldn't allow states to apply to relax the community ratings regulation which limits how much premiums can vary among individuals with different health risks."

In other words, if instead of being a  70 y/o Medicare beneficiary with prostate cancer, I was ten years younger and lived in a high premium state (e.g. AK) , insurers could charge me up to five times more in premiums (say $5,000 a month instead of $1,000) precisely because my health risk would be recognized as greater from being diagnosed with prostate cancer. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the end result of this sort of draconian solution would necessarily see fewer men going in for PSA tests, for the very reason they would wish to escape a possible negative diagnosis with adverse consequences to their insurance premiums.  By the same token we'd likely see fewer people going in for colonoscopies as well as skin exams (which I also recently had - with one suspicious mole removed for biopsy).

"Importantly, the Senate bill also repeals all of Obamacare's tax hikes .....including the 3.8 percent surtax on investment income."

Left unsaid is that it was precisely these tax hikes that helped pay for the individual subsidies for the low income citizens with unmet health care needs.  What the Reeps have done is to basically cut out the tax hikes and gut the subsidies, replacing them with "tax credits". So, whereas before a citizen might have had $20,000 to cover the costs of a prostate cancer treatment he will now be lucky to get a chump change $500 tax credit.  This would barely be enough to cover his pain meds and basic tests, far less any kind of real treatment (say focal cryotherapy) Again, all of this exposes the Senate bill as an outright sham, a tax cut bill NOT a health care bill.  For reference  a person with a $1 million annual income would gain $54,000 each year in tax cuts. Almost enough to buy a new Lexus.

The Journal even confirms this tax cut imperative when the editorial states:

"Some Senators pushed to keep the surtax to avoid the tax cuts for the rich label and spend the revenue on something else."

Too late now, assholes, you're busted! We all know this is a damned tax cuts for the rich   Trojan horse being rolled out like a new health plan.  Only a certified halfwit would believe otherwise.

"It's not too much to say that this is a defining moment for whether the GOP can ever reform runaway entitlements. If Republicans, the next stop is single payer."

Then by all means let us hope they fail and miserably!

To summarize, these are the facts not processed in the WSJ's editorial:

1) There are vastly more poor citizens than rich in the U.S. of A.

2) The medical needs of an expanding population with few resources, income to begin with will always grow exponentially in relation to economic budgets for which yearly predictability is sought.

3) At the same time the costs of those medical needs must always expand, never decrease because medical inflation always exceeds other forms.

4) Therefore, by dint of (1)-  (3) it is budget allocations for genuine health care which must always be given priority in a nation that seeks genuine national security. After all, a sick population can never be a secure one, nor - by extension - can the nation they inhabit.

5) Tax cuts even disguised in a health care bill (so called) can never work and have  been proven not to work. They only increase deficits by cutting revenue and make a country less able to come to terms with its long term liabilities. To use economist Paul Krugman's term, they are a "zombie idea" because the Repukes keep bringing them back even after their efficacy has been disproven.



Friday, June 23, 2017

Fighting Prostate Cancer At -90 C: My Cryo-therapy Experience At UC Health

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3D image shows tumor which was subjected to  three freezing cycles, with temperatures as low as 90 degrees below zero, centigrade.


Almost five years to the day after being diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer I found myself Tuesday at the University  Of Colorado  Anschutz Medical  Campus  - Inpatient Bldg. to check in for focal cryotherapy surgery under Dr.  E. David Crawford.  After the requisite  initial processing of insurance  cards, ID and answering prelim questions (Would you like to see a pastor?, Do you have an advanced directive?)  I was checked in to the Urology pre-op station,  and met by a perky  RN I will call 'Greta'.   She took my vitals, then  had me change into  the standard issue gown and yellow  happy socks,  after which  my  belongings were  bagged  (taken away by Janice).  I was then connected  by Greta to an IV after some initial difficulty finding a vein.

As with my earlier experience with the 3D staging biopsy in January, I was first met by rounds of specialists, to  answer   further questions, i.e. What  is the name of the procedure you're having?, When did you last eat and drink?  Do  you have an advanced directive or living will?  Will you accept a blood transfusion if one is needed?  Do you have any allergies?  Do you suffer from sleep  apnea?  Have you had general anesthesia before?

The sole remaining formality was to sign an acknowledgement of risks form, always being told these risks (e.g. fistula) are "relatively low". But, of course, they have to disclose every possible permutation or possible outcome - much like the horrific (possible) side effects of Pharma drugs. Oh, there is also an acknowledgement that no guarantee is made that the treatment will eliminate the cancer. Well, that one's fairly straightforward and no sensible person would expect some magic cure! At least for prostate cancer.

By 7.25 a.m. Dr. Crawford and a  urological resident appeared and asked if I had any last minute questions (I had a few, e.g. 'How long does the catheter stay in?') and then I was wheeled into the OR by an anesthesiology resident. Once there I had to move myself to an adjacent table where an oxygen mask was  affixed to my face and the anesthesiologist (Dr. Erin Tracy) instructed me to breathe deeply.   Within about a minute the slight stinging sensation of fentanyl was noted and then.....lights  out.

When I came to it was nearly 10.30 a.m. in the recovery room, and the attending  nurse - Shannon - asked how  I was feeling.  As in January,  I noted the burning sensation in  the urethra - now the pain arising not only from the insertion of the indwelling (Foley) catheter. - but also  a  cystoscope to locate the bladder position as the freezing needles (cryoprobes) were inserted into the prostate.

Each cryoprobe from 1-3mm in diameter  inserted through the perineum,  used Argon for super cooling to sub-zero temperatures. The effect was to freeze the cells of the tumor creating an "iceball" with colder temperature at the center and warmer at the periphery. However, this difference is eliminated by repeated freezing and thawing cycles.  To protect the urethra a warming catheter remains in place during all the cycles.

To relieve the post -op urethral pain,  Shannon gave me two hydrocodone pills (which UCH calls  "narco)' and the pain subsided but the feeling of grogginess increased.  This was somewhat  different from the  3D biopsy when I came rather quickly out of general anesthesia with little or no hangover.  By contrast, this time I had to ask for a barf bag whereupon I did one or two dry heaves.

By 11.30  when Janice arrived, I was able to eat:  a couple of saltines with some ginger  ale. Janice told me that Dr. Crawford met with her in the main conference room and informed her the procedure went "very well" and  a total of three freezing cycles (at different temperatures) were done, including one at -90 Celsius or - 130 F.  (Cell death occurs at -40 C which is also - 40 F).  This sequence of freezing was why the procedure took longer, and hence the need for more anesthesia.

Only later, once I was dressed, did I realize another source of discomfort was a "scrotal support" that had been appended to me after the procedure. I asked the RN why this had been put on and she explained it was to prevent or inhibit "scrotal edema" - a swelling of the testicles to potential football size that sometimes accompanies insertion of the cryo-probes.  I asked how long I needed to have it on and she replied: "Maybe two to three days". Well, after 2 days I cut if off with a jack knife I brought with me to the hotel.

This morning, barely two hours ago, Janice used a saline syringe given to us by the UC staff to change the pressure inside the catheter to release the bulb and the connection. "Liberation" arrived with immense relief but also lots of blood and clots, much of which was probably associated with the dead cancer tissue that had morphed into the "ice ball".  After drinking quarts of water the urine has gradually begun to return to the usual (straw)  color. The pain has also subsided enough to sit down and write this post - to bring interested readers up to date-  also indicate why no posts appeared the past three days.

Anyway, the takeaway is that now I will have to get PSA tests done at 6 month intervals, and then hopefully, see it dive down to negligible levels in about 12-18 months. Otherwise, another biopsy may be needed. But in any case, I've made it clear no further treatments after this.

The prognosis, however, is very good and by all accounts from Dr. Crawford the tumor ought to be literally terminated as an ice ball that subsequently turns to dead cell slush.

Fortunately, I've not had to pay for any of the treatments, tests, biopsies I've had over the past five years. Ok, I take that back, I had to cough up about $1200 for the HDR Brachytherapy treatment I had at UCSF in 2012. But the total I would have had to pay for all cancer treatments, had I not had Medicare, is estimated to be around $115,000 when the cryo-ablation is factored in. In fact, without Medicare, we'd likely have had to declare bankruptcy.

That brings up the question as to what millions of Americans will now do that this misnamed Senate health care bill ("Better Care Reconciliation Act Of 2017") is ready to pass.   And by the way, let's also cut the crap this is a health care bill. It  is not. It is a revival of the zombie tax cut paradigm that the GOP has turned into an abiding fetish. This despite the fact that NO evidence exists that cutting taxes for the rich or corporations increases economic growth..  That canard was last exposed during the Gee Dumbya Bush reign, but now has been revived by Paul Ryan and Co. Never mind, the Repukes are salivating to cut the critical medical access for tens  of millions to give the richest more gold-lined tubs, yachts, 20,000 sq. ft. vacay homes and blood diamonds that they don't need.

So this vile tax cut bill  - in the words of one commentator - "takes a meat axe to their health care.". That is, to Medicaid, through which $800b would be cut, lowering the bottom on 75 million Americans. What if the males  in that population get a cancer like I have, what can they do? Well, the Repuke bill will ramp up their deductibles, increase co-pays (by an average of 20%)  and limit access, while offering only measly tax credits - if they pass an income test. End result? Most would either have to go bankrupt accessing the treatments needed, or allow the cancer to progress.

For people with disabilities, Medicaid is the primary benefit that allows them to stay in their own homes.  Without it they will be homeless on the streets, hence the reason for their plaintive cries yesterday (in front of Bitch McConnell's office)  to "Save our liberties!"

For lower income folks, the bill amounts to the most massive transfer of resources in history from them to the wealthy for $600b in tax cuts. The low income people will be left with virtually nothing by 2025, or be at the mercy of private insurers. Here in Colorado, Medicaid access will revert back to what it was before the ACA arrived, with draconian qualification measures applied - given the extirpation of Medicaid expansion will leave us with a $750 m. plus deficit. That means a low income mother of 2 kids in 2025 will have to earn no more than $300/ month to qualify to receive Medicaid benefits after this god -awful plan allows only limited block grants to the states. The worst hit will be the underclass disabled and seniors barely making ends meet living in high premium states. Seniors alone will have to cough up 5 times more in premiums thanks to this misbegotten atrocity.

And for a take on the for profit health insurance industry we have these words from  William Rivers Pitt - who wrote in a recent Blog post (on 'smirkingchimp.com')- on how they compare to a Mob protection racket:

"The health insurance industry, for the most part, is the Mob painted over with a veneer of legitimacy. They're a protection racket. The Mob got people to pay by offering "protection" for your restaurant or store, and would burn it down if you didn't pay up. With the insurance industry, your body is the store, and as all flesh is inevitably weak, your store will eventually burn down, taking your financial stability with it unless you pay the insurance middleman in full. Nice health you got there, be a shame if something happened to it. That's only if they don't turn down your claim because of a typo on your claim form, which is hardly rare. I had ICU nurses telling me insurance horror stories that made one wistful for the ringing sound of guillotines in the town square.

The problem is the fact that health care in the United States is a for-profit industry, like petroleum speculation or automobile manufacture. It's a few people making a lot of money off of sick people, and after so many years of this being the status quo, they have the political system wired to keep it that way."

Question: If the health insurance lot are analogous to the Mob in a protection racket, what does that make Bitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the GOP?

Answers?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The REAL Reason Too Many Companies Can't Find Good Workers

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Two recurring puzzles to do with the current job market are: 1) Why are so many job openings going unfilled? and 2) Why does wage stagnation remain entrenched?  It is also possible to inquire if the two are somehow related, i.e. are relatively low wages for certain jobs (e.g. STEM occupations, in science, technology, engineering, math) putting workers off applying for them?

In respect of (2),  Lauren Weber, in a recent WSJ piece, noted that a "global market" is one factor holding U.S. wages in check. In effect, factory workers in Pennsylvania compete for jobs not only with each other but also in China and Mexico where wages are lower. Nothing Trump has done up to now has changed that in a significant way.

Weber also investigated why so many companies are having a difficult time filling their openings.  What she found was the "companies are reluctant to raise pay, in part to protect their profit margins".  They also prefer right now to have more money set aside to buy back their own shares if it can help their bottom line, increase share prices.

According to managing director of Aspen Advisors, Andrew Gadomski, that is "holding back hiring".   He notes that when companies lament they can't find workers to fill key openings, that is code for: "I can find talent, I just don't want to pay them as much as they cost."

In other words, these employers are quite capable of finding the workers with the background they need, they just don't want to pay them what they are worth.  Well, what's an employee to do? The answer is to either stay out of the cheapskate job market until employers shape up, move to another location to find a similar job, or perhaps look at changing skills, professions. (Though there is no guarantee the same cheapskate bosses won't dominate other areas too)

Note also that this is despite job openings being at "all time highs" according to Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist for S&P Global Ratings. Thus: "Businesses are struggling to fill these positions in an increasingly tighter market." As per a Denver Post article highlighting the situation ('Sounds of Silence Greet Colorado Employers Looking for Summer Help', June 11)::

"Steve Homolka needs to hire just five workers this spring to help him with his family masonry-staining business.Finding them has proven much more difficult than he ever imagined. And it isn’t about unqualified applicants. Nobody is responding to the numerous ads he has posted on Craigslist, Facebook, Instagram and other sites."

Thus, it appears that there is a surfeit of positions but not enough takers. But why aren't there takers? Is it that the qualified employees don't exist, or not enough, OR is it because the companies aren't prepared to pay a proper remuneration? In the Colorado example cited above, it may just be that summer work is an insufficient lure and people (e.g. college grads) want something a tad more long term to be able to move out of the family basement.

In the more general context employers may simply be cheapskates and unwilling to part with good money for good talent, whatever the job.  This is apparent given the remark ("I just don't want to pay them as much as they cost.") of the employer cited by Andrew Gadomski.  In other words, the companies have brought this situation on themselves.

Adding to that, is what employers often view as a labor shortage is in reality a retention problem, this also according to Gadomski. Obviously if you are losing workers - chasing better pay or benefits - you have to replace them. This is especially the case now when employees are willing to jump ship for a raise after many years of being expected to work harder - but getting only ulcers and overtime offers for their trouble.

Again, it is evident that the companies have largely brought their predicament on themselves.  To substantiate that, Weber reports that "workers are voluntarily quitting jobs this year near the highest rate since the recession ended".  This according to Labor Department data.

While the stinginess of employers could well explain the lack of openings filled in skilled occupations, e.g. STEM jobs (in Colorado last year there were 15.3 openings for every potential candidate), this may not translate to the lower wage domain.   Here, the attacks on immigration and immigrants by the Trumpies could account for labor shortages in agriculture, for example. An open question in the vast agro fields of California and Florida is 'who is going to pick the produce now?'   The working class unemployed white Americans aren't prepared to go into the fields, so who will?

Similar labor shortages apply in landscaping as well as construction with thousands of jobs going begging here in Colorado alone. The unemployment rate in CO is currently 2.3 %, the lowest in the nation. In metro Denver, labor markets are even tighter, with the unemployment rate dropping down to 2.1 percent.  Much of this has been on account of an influx of over 20,000 millennials to grab any jobs they can in the banking, energy, or MJ sectors.  The problem is that these newcomers have basically left the door "closed" for others unless they want to take a seasonal- only job. (See above)

Meanwhile, as  Trump's crusade against immigrants, especially Hispanic, continues - the lower wage labor shortages are likely to reach crisis level.  To give an example - as cited by Lauren Weber- the scale of the problem is already such that some growers, e.g. in CA, FL, have discarded portions of their harvest. They have no choice if they are unable to get the workers to do the harvesting.

Added to this, temporary workers across the board are more consistently demanding higher wages and full time work. This according to Rachel Chapman, owner of a staffing office in Huntsville, AL. The problem is that most of her clients can't afford to pay the $12 /hour now demanded.

What seems ever clearer to me is that employers who could formerly pick their workers at their leisure and fire them for the slightest infraction, will now have to vigorously compete to fill positions. That also means paying them what they are really worth instead of stiffing them.

Conservative Knuckle heads Protest "Julius Caesar" Play In Park - Prove They're Hypocrites and Pro-Censorship

The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park production has caused controversy 
Scene from 'Julius Caesar'  in Shakespeare in Park performance. Idiot Trumpies who rushed the stage can't tell fiction from reality.

We are in parlous times indeed when morons of the Right are unable to even parse reality from a fictional play and actors from actual personae. And so it was several days ago conservative lamos tried to interrupt the current Shakespeare in the Park performance of Julius Caesar because they believed it was portraying the "assassination" of their scumball hero prez who loves to grab pussies and insult the disabled.

The bimbo who did the main interruption later identified herself on social media as Laura Loomer . This half wit had jumped onto the stage just after the assassination of Caesar and began shouting, “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right,” and, “This is violence against Donald Trump.” Ms. Loomer described  herself as a “a right-wing investigative journalist and activist” who has previously worked with James O’Keefe, the guy who loves to confabulate false news using edited videos.

Subsequently,  her compatriot emerged shouting  to the crowd: “You are all Goebbels,” a reference to the Hitler aide and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.  Again, this sorry fool unable to distinguish a genuine Nazi piece of filth from a crowd who's merely gathered for some free entertainment. He really needs to go back to his meds, or ECT.

On social media,  this looneytune - Jack Posobiec-   describes himself as an activist who supports President Trump and has been associated with conspiracy theories, identified himself as Ms. Loomer’s collaborator. Well, nuts of a kind are equally blind.

Loomer, however, is little different from the odd knuckleheads who dispatched tweets to 'Fox n' Friends' this a.m. with such stellar observations as ; "The Left must stop killing our POTUS!"  And, paying a genuine tribute to free speech and artistic independence: "The Left must learn it has to temper what it says and does".  Oh really, you asswit? Like you do when you screech about the Left denying Anne Coulter a speaking gig? Gimme a break!

The earlier tweet about "killing our POTUS" shows how fucking dumb these fools are, they can't even tell a play from reality. But it's no surprise given how they indiscriminately gobble up fake news. In fact, no one is being "killed" as it's a play with actor Gregg Henry (of "Rich Man, Poor Man" fame) playing the role of Julius Caesar. That he might happen to look slightly like the Donald doesn't make him the Donald.  A point that shouldn't need repeating but to people who can't tell fable from fact it does.

Other deranged half wits attempted to disrupt the final performance yesterday. One protester, Jovanni Vale, even stormed the stage and shouted “Liberal hate kills” before being quickly grabbed by security, according to the New York Daily News. Soon after, Salvatore Cipolla did the same while yelling “Goebbels would be proud.”  No, asshole, the same Goebbels who oversaw massive Nazi book burnings would be proud of a loser like you it you managed to shut down the production!

What are more apropos remarks than the Right's squealing included New York Times theatre critic, Jesse Green, writing: “Its depiction of a petulant, blondish Caesar in a blue suit, complete with gold bathtub and a pouty Slavic wife, takes onstage Trump-trolling to a startling new level.”

Well, uh yeah, but let's not forget how the Trumpies  (not to mention Trump himself) trolled the rest of the country all the way through the 2016 campaign and then after.

David von Drehle in his TIME article ('Never Mind Trump, We Need Shakespeare More Than Ever', June 26, p. 17) was probably more on target when he pointed out that:

"With Trump in power, dressing a blonde actor in a long necktie and calling him Caesar is, for an impressario, as obvious as Wonder Woman 2"

He goes on to describe how and why the play so easily adjusts and adapts to different settings in space and time, because - there will always be tyrants, or wannabe tyrants, and they can always be made to come alive anew in the right casting.

Adding:

"Shakespeare would revel in the hypocrisy of Trump's shocked, shocked defenders".

Indeed. Because these nitwits are blind to their hypocrisy and how they enjoyed - not doing actual plays as artistic license- but straight out hanging Obama in effigy and claiming "free speech" e.g.
Image result for obama lynched images

Actor Gregg Henry  was quoted by the UK Telegraph:

"The Roman emperor became drunk with ego, drunk with power, drunk with ambition and the belief that he and he alone must rule the world. The idea for me was to try and show you that this could be Trump.”

Adding:

 “When a tyrant comes to power, it’s very important how you then try to deal with the problem - because if you don’t deal with the problem in a proper way, you can end up losing democracy for like, 2000 years.”

Ouch! Don't go there, Mr. Henry or the Reich's imbeciles will believe you actually are pretending to BE Trump!

Meanwhile, the unhinged freakazoids of the Right keep on with their petty victimizations. Though the  Times has been sponsoring the  Public Theater for over 20 years, and said they would continue to do so for reasons of artistic independence - the right wing website The Daily Caller published a story with the headline: "The New York Times is sponsoring an assassination depiction of Donald Trump."

Again, the historical and literary retards can't discern it's a depiction of the assassination of Julius Caesar in a modern setting, wearing suits instead of togas. Not Donald Trump.

If we are now going to allow the Right to try to enforce censorship of artistic productions, we are really in deep shit as a nation. Dick Cavett, when asked about his opinion by Ari Melber yesterday evening was blunt: "I'm against any kind of censorship. That's not what this nation is about."

But make no mistake, the weenies and hypocrites of the Right - after the shooting last week - will try their level best to use it to snuff out creative productions, as well as intense criticism of their agenda. The Left and Democrats must not allow this, and stand up to this lot each time they try to conflate fiction and reality.

Words from Shakespeare to remind us of the times we're in where too many can't discern reality from fable:

"Indeed, it is a strange disposed time:

But men may construe things after their fashion,

Clean from the purpose of the things themselves."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

How Explain The Sad State Of Undergrad Physics Lab Teaching In U.S.?

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Physics lab instructors mentored on how to set up and run a quantum optics experiment.

The news as reported in a recent issue of Physics Today (April, p. 26) was shocking to say the least. That is, that the state of undergraduate physics laboratory teaching in the U.S. is one of total disarray and economic disconnection. How bad are things?  Let's list them:

- Much of  the equipment is dilapidated and beyond practical use

- Experiments are not up to date, e.g. many school are still doing the Millikan oil drop experiment and Cavendish gravitational force experiment.  Many others are also decades or centuries old.

- Many schools are so impoverished in equipment they can't offer labs beyond the first year (mostly associated with General Physics courses)

- Funding for maintaining and updating labs is lacking, and note here that maintaining labs is time consuming and often requires knowledge beyond any one person's research experience.

- Faculty get scant credit for investing time in the labs, including jury rigging dilapidated equipment

The preceding betray the extent of an embarrassing problem that currently affects roughly 750 institutions including "elite" schools. In effect, among those schools that offer a physics bachelor's degree "there has been a collapse" in lab courses. This according to Illinois Weleyan University's Gabriel Spalding.

Given that physics is ultimately a practical science as much as theoretical, it was disheartening to read of the state of labs across the country. Given the university labs I've been associated with have all been thoroughly supplied it was difficult to conceive the basis for the downslide (But at the same time, I am referencing my last teach of labs some 25 years ago.)

What happened?

Basically this is really an economic question: how is it the money dried up to support undergrad labs including maintaining equipment? We have to go back to 1985 when the National Science Foundation (NSF)  established the Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement (ILI)  program.  The ILI made matching grants available for lab equipment across many disciplines.

From 1985-95, according to program records, ILI awards were made to 1185 institutions totaling $158.6 million. The discrete awards varied from as low as $5,000 to $100,000.  Over time, however, the program became more educationally diffuse so initiatives that once focused on equipment alone expanded to broader educational missions. While the latter may well have been worthwhile, they siphoned money away from purchasing new lab equipment and maintaining existing equipment.   The end result was a zero sum game with the laboratory aspect getting the shorter stick over time.

Worse, a competition was set up within institutions pitting instructors needing physics education equipment against those wanting pure research equipment.    The NSF instructions for declaring need for grants  insisted on "being clear of the knowledge generating aspects" of the proposal. Basically, one had to choose between "physics education research" (i.e. money for lab equipment to teach students) or physics research per se needing equipment for specific experiments. As one prof quoted in the piece put it:

"If I want money for equipment, I don't want to do physics education research. If someone wants to do physics education research they don't want to approach an experimental lab the way I go about it."

The result? According to Gabriel Spalding:

'There really is no significant federal money for instructional lab equipment any more".

So we can afford to piss $3.1 b a month down the drain in Afghanistan for a "war" we can never win, while our universities - supposedly training the next generation of physicists -  go begging for lab equipment.

Fortunately, a decade-old professional organization: the Advanced Laboratory Physics Association (ALPhA), has stepped in to help reduce the problems facing undergrad physics lab teaching.  Their efforts have included: conferences, training sessions and other activities. Complementing these efforts, there is the company TeachSpin -created by Jonathan Reichart-  to promote and support undergraduate physics laboratory instruction.   Part of TeachSpin's mission is to disseminate new experiments, such as the one shown on quantum optics in the graphic, for more advanced lab instruction.  This has been enormously valuable in conjunction with ALPha's  'Beyond the First Year' (BFY) college lab conferences to showcase many new lab experiments.

But let's not kid ourselves here. While ALPha's and TeachSpin's efforts and contributions are laudable and important, they will still not be sufficient to sustain undergraduate lab teaching in the long run. For that, greater federal funding is needed, namely a reversion to the original ILI program sponsored by the NSF.


Friday, June 16, 2017

A Saturnian Moon That Looks Like Ravioli: PAN

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Two images of Pan taken by the Cassini spacecraft. At left is a polar view, i.e. taken from above one of its poles, at right is a lateral view with the bulging equator at an angle. The resolution of the (raw) images is 150m and the moon itself has a diameter of 35 km.

Who would have believed that the Cassini spacecraft, after entering a "ring grazing" orbit, would encounter one of the most peculiar moons in the solar system. While some have compared it to a flying saucer, other planetary astronomers have taken the more prosaic view of ravioli.  Whichever it is, even already awed specialists have to admit the sights of little Pan are mind bending.

It is precisely the close orbit of Cassini that has allowed it to get close up views of moon like Pan, orbiting Saturn at a distance of 134,000 kilometers. The new images, as shown in the accompanying examples, feature a resolution as fine as 150 meters, about the size of a football field and another half of field.

How did the peculiar shape come to be? According to Carolyn Porco - leader of the science imaging team for Cassini, it appears that as the moon coalesced from the debris of the early solar system, material from Saturn's rings fell onto the moon's equator and built up its disk like silhouette.   Porco bases this hypothesis on computer models using calculations of the likely dynamics for the material.

Thereby, over millions of years, Pan blazed a trail through Saturn's A  ring -clearing what is now referred to as the Encke Gap.  To be sure, the influx and accretion of material onto Pan's equator has decreased but plausibly continues to a lesser degree.  According to Porco, this is why the bulging belt looks smoother than the rest of the moon.

In an interview with Eos: Earth & Space Science News (may, p. 7) she added:

"Aside from just the sheer joy of seeing something so alien at such a level of detail  images like these will have an extension beyond the solar system."

In other words, studying the ravioli-like Pan will be especially helpful when planetary astronomers consider the processes and dynamics by which material accretes on a body with very low gravity.

To see more raw images of Saturn's odd-shaped moon, as well as related Cassini imagery,  go to:

http://bit.ly/SaturnRaw2017



Thursday, June 15, 2017

If Repukes Want "Civility" THEY Need To Show Respect For Fellow Citizens and Laws First!

"I could stand in the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters" - Donald Trump in a 2016 campaign brag.

See:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTACH1eVIaA



"Is it not perverse that we are united as one nation only when a national political figure is shot?

We are not united when 24 million stand to lose health insurance.  We are not united when the Earth is in environmental danger. We are not united when guns are used to carry out another mass shooting of innocents. We are not united in keeping Wall Street in check so it doesn’t wreck the economy again.

As horrible as this shooting was, any such unity is thin and fleeting."  Letter writer Peter Munger, in response to Denver Post editorial:  After Alexandria shooting, a reminder that we can still come together


Well, it wasn't long before the mass shooter of four people yesterday in Alexandria, VA was identified as a homeless man and likely disturbed Lefty named James T. Hodgkinson.  Hodgkinson, wearing jeans and a blue shirt, was wielding a rifle from behind a chain-link fence near third base. By most estimates, he fired at least 50 rounds, the bullets kicking up earth and gravel.  Pandemonium erupted as exposed GOP House members and aides dove into a dugout for cover, then raced into the dog park or jumped over a fence and ran for their lives.

When it was all over, House GOP Whip Steve Scalise lay critically wounded, and remains in that condition. And no sooner had the day ended than Right wing talking heads - including Newt Gingrich and Chris Collins, were yakking it up that it was all on the "Left" for its "extremist" rhetoric and "hyper partisan" behavior including yelling at reps in Town Halls. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan - numero uno guy who plans to gut health care for millions - gave his best performance of how we "are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish" and need to come together since "an attack on one is an attack on all".  Stirring words, Paul, but what are you going to DO to prove you mean them, and also that your policies won't wreck the lives of millions?

At this point,  serious critical minds have got to step in and call bullshit on a lot of this empty, feel good palaver. We are going to debate for the next year or so the genesis of this attack and who was responsible, but let's cut to the chase very fast and say a lot of elements  - especially in the Trump domain - share much of the blame.  Rather than 'come together' as Trump first semi-advocated after the Nov. 8 election win, he's constantly sought to govern only on behalf of his looney, fake news followers while ignoring the 52 percent of the nation that never voted for him.

He's even openly admitted he's there only for "his people" so why the hell should anyone be surprised at the "hyper partisan" atmosphere engendered?   Meanwhile, even as constitutional norms and laws have clearly been flouted, now seeing obstruction of justice on the table, Trump's Republican party has played the game of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" and buried its collective head in the sand. The party has placed itself over country in the Trump -Russia investigation, and refuses to even concede Trump has done any wrong.  In effect, making a "deal with the Devil" and pretending such deal making can't have real world consequences, or if it does it ought to be ignored.

Then they talk, like Paul Ryan, as if this agenda and its derivative policies exist only in the abstract and won't tear asunder the lives of millions of citizens. The latter left without even basic health care if the Republicans' detestable AHCA goes through. And it's being done via stealth, in a final push behind Senate closed doors,  because the Repukes are too ashamed to let citizens know the actual sordid details of how it will destroy their lives if enacted. Well, after yesterday's events, they have good reason to hide it!  Look, if the bill was the least bit respectable and respected citizens, there'd be no need to keep it hidden.

What I am about is that words and actions via policy motivated legislation can also have consequences, which can be as brutal as bullets in the hip of a congress critter. When those parents who will be affected by repeal of Obamacare see their loved ones dying, including children of diseases like brain cancer, and leukemia, the "talk" policy aspect ceases and reality sets in. When people in 18 counties of Ohio, see their sons or daughters die of opioid overdoses because health care support funds  - including for narcone- have been eliminated, it gets real. The point? Policies have serious real world repercussions and you can't just expect millions to put them in an isolated cubicle and not make connections to WHO is responsible.

Was it justified then for someone like Hodgkinson - a Bernie supporter- to let his emotions out in a blaze of targeted gunfire? Of course not! The guy was obviously at an extreme tipping point including that he was barely existing in a homeless condition and held a grievance with the Repukes for that, not too different from how millions of Trumpies hold their own grievances, say at James Comey ("He's a coward") or Obama.

What I am arguing here is that there is an entire matrix of responsibility for what occurred in Alexandria yesterday and to lay the blame entirely on one lone, crazed gunman is to miss the point, as well as to miss fixing what is wrong with this polarized nation. Truth be told, one of the most powerful memes driving what's transpired, including hatred - yes hatred - of Trump, harkens back to his own words and behavior. That includes when he openly bragged he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose voters."  If a now sitting president could have actually said those words, effectively endorsing the most extreme potential actions, why be surprised some of the most unstable citizens might take them literally, to heart?

Let's also not forget his own enticement of violent behavior at his rallies, where he actually encouraged Trumpies to punch out protestors, and even go after the media. Ah, but too many 'Muricans have the memory of gnats so it's easy to forget all Trump's antics, even after just 6 or 8 months.  But many of us haven't. Not because we're holding permanent grudges or "grievances" but because we wish to have a historical perspective capable of putting any current events into a larger context of cause and effect.

As to the current, post -incident outcries for "more civility", e.g.   at Town halls, that depends on congressional representatives. THEY have to share responsibility for shout downs when they refuse to respect their constituents'  voices and concerns, or frivolously dismiss them. Such as many people who expressed concern  over losing their ACA benefits and seeing their children in agony - say from a terrible cancer- because they're deprived of the critical treatments they need.

DO the Repukes make the connection between harm from their vile policies and extreme reactions to them? I doubt it. But until they do the polarization and antipathy won't cease and we will continue to roll on toward an actual second Civil War. As I wrote before, you simply cannot sustain for long two large segments of a nation that operate in two different realms of news, belief, science acceptance, policy etc.  Eventually,  unless those two factions synthesize,  they will come to blows, and we may well be seeing the first evidence of that, for example in the violent altercations between the Alt- Right and anti-fascists.

The likes of Gingrich and Collins blaming the "Left" without examining their party's own nefarious policies and the way they're conducting business outside the norms (e.g. allowing no hearings for passage of the AHCA in the Senate)  is also not helping matters.

Finally, the litmus test to see if the Republicans are genuinely serious about changing things hinges on whether they now have the intestinal fortitude to unshackle from the NRA and enact serious gun legislation. Personally, I doubt they will, which means all their hand wringing and calls for change are basically hollow.

In the meantime, Trump talks a good con man's patter  with his call for "unity" but as long as he continues his tweets which ridicule Comey, the FBI and law enforcement, as well as the media - he's merely belching empty noxious brain farts.

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/p-m-carpenter/73446/oh-christ-with-scalises-shooting-here-we-go


And:


http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/peter-montgomery/73452/domestic-terrorism-in-the-age-of-trump

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

NBC Is Off Its Rocker To Air Alex Jones' Interview After Capitol Shooting


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Conpiracy clown Alex Jones, who feeds the Right's febrile conspiracies - including Sandy Hook being a false flag- to appear Sunday night on Megyn Kelly's show.

Incredibly, NBC News is moving ahead with plans to air Megyn Kelly’s interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones this weekend despite a backlash that has cost the show advertisers and led to Kelly being dropped as host for an event by an organization founded by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school.  And this is also after the shooting of House GOP Whip Steven Scalise and three others this morning during a GOP House batting practice in Alexandra, VA at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the shooting this morning was specifically directed at the Republican House members getting ready for a congressional baseball game. Reports out of ABC News this morning note the perp didn't come in and just mow  people down indiscriminately with his AR-15, he asked where the REPUBLICAN players were, which they were. In other words, this was a political hit job in a highly polarized national atmosphere we've not seen since the Civil War.

And into this atmosphere you are really going to throw gasoline on the fire by airing a Megyn Kelly interview with conspiracy screwball Alex Jones? Seriously? Yes, yes, I know all about the "free speech" thing and at any other time I'd say let Alex have his say. But not now in an overheated environment where from reports in a recent issue of  TIME - both Left and Right are amping up their aggression with the Alt-Right now squaring off against black clad Antifa (anti fascist) brigades, including here in Colorado Springs. E.g.
Antifa members organized at the UCCS Milo Yiannopoulos speech in January. - NAT STEIN
Anti -fascists square off against cops before the Milo Yiannapoulis appearance at UCCS in January.

Meanwhile, NBC  has been taken aback by the response to booking Jones, the Infowars host who has questioned the factual reality of the killing of 26 people in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, CT. He has insisted it's a hoax, a "false flag",  staged by the Obama administration as an excuse to seize guns. The students shot and killed, in Jones insane view, were merely actors - who are still alive and well somewhere. He refuses to say where, though he evidently knows where the Roswell aliens are ensconced.

NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who had earlier mulled firing Lawrence O'Donnell - one of the most popular liberal voices on MSNBC -  said the story would be edited with the sensitivity of its critics in mind. But if NBC is going to really give Jones his 0.02 it is hard to imagine how such editing might be done. Virtually every word out of Alex Jones' mouth is inflammatory and polarizing. For example, on Oct. 25th Jones spewed on about a crypto Jewish conspiracy afoot in the country:

I mean it’s not that Jews are bad; it’s just they are the head of the Jewish Mafia in the United States. They run Uber. They run the health care. They’re going to scam you. They’re going to hurt you.” 

NO  hard data, or cited documents for that claim, or even a tempered speculation. Jones simply emitted a noisome brain fart from a ruptured psychotic embolism in his amygdala. Given he does this every ten microseconds, how will NBC "edit" his stream of bullshit brain modality?  Well, I guess NBC could shut off the audio during Jones' responses and just let the lips move soundlessly.

“It’s important to get it right,” Lack said.  To which I'd respond, "It's impossible to get it right when you put a crackpot on the air".  And especially in an overheated political atmosphere now made worse by what had obviously been a partisan-motivated mass shooting.

Kelly had the nerve to argue last Tuesday that reporters have interviewed controversial characters such as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and child molesters in the past without getting this kind of a reaction. But she misses the key point most everyone knew and accepted those were bad guys. In Jones' case, his febrile follies have been the fodder and launch point for much of the fake news, including 'Pizzagate', spouted with cooperation with the Russkies' own spurious crap.  Indeed, Jones' crappola has been one of the main media diets of Donald Trump, likely fueling his own halfwit conspiracy musings  - including Ted Cruz' dad being one of the Kennedy assassins.

Note here that popularity of a stone screwball does not qualify as a justification to give his screwball ideas major network hearing. (I have no problems if it is done via an online interview, but not a prime time airing on a major network).  Thus Kelly's next blather:

What I think we’re doing is journalism. The bottom line is that while it’s not always popular, it’s important. I would submit to you that neither I nor NBC News has elevated Alex Jones in any way. He’s been elevated by 5 or 6 million viewers or listeners, and by the president of the United States. As you know, journalists don’t get the choice over who has power or influence in our country.”

Which is a too cute, too pat and too egregious explanation by far. Especially given that Jones' popularity has not been on account of the attention of rational, sober citizens, but of unread, semi-educated screwballs like Jones. Oh, and liars and fake news buffoons like Donald Trump. Hence, Kelly - and Lack - are cherry picking what they regard as "journalism", in this case defining it down to the level of the fake news dumpster. In other words, if you give a fake news purveyor major air time then you become a fake news purveyor too. If you want to delude yourselves this is "journalism", fine, but don't take the rest of us for stock idiots.

Sandy Hook Promise, an anti-gun violence group, said it had asked Kelly to step down as host of its Wednesday-night gala in Washington. The group said it cannot support Kelly or NBC’s decision to give a platform to Jones and hopes NBC reconsiders its plan to broadcast the interview, said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director. Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed at Sandy Hook, founded the organization with Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel.

To some critics, NBC’s timing makes the decision worse – airing on Father’s Day an interview that has been publicly denounced by parents who lost young children at Sandy Hook.  But now with the politically motivated shooting this morning that decision is rendered even worse by orders of magnitude.  NBC said it was scheduled "for competitive reasons", because Jones had been booked to appear on ABC’s daytime show The View next week. (A representative of The View said Jones had canceled his appearance there and he would not be rescheduled.)

Lack noted that he had suggested approaching Jones for an interview to David Corvo, the NBC News executive who supervises the network’s newsmagazines. He said there’s nothing new about putting people on the air even if they’re unpopular or have views that are deplorable to many, adding:

I’ve got tremendous understanding of why they’re so upset, as they have every right to be,”

Ahhh, but he has more appreciation and "understanding" - by far- of the ratings hike he hopes to snare by putting an obnoxious, pseudo-conspiracy gasbag like Jones on the air. The best thing sober people can do is tune it out, or watch 'Fear the Walking Dead'.

Meanwhile, Trump lackey Jeff Sessions performed yesterday as most of us expected, i.e. like the Trump patsies Mike Rogers and Dan Coates did last week. See, e.g.

http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/jefferson-morley/73434/stonewalling-sessions-runs-away-from-tough-questions-in-senate-inquiry


See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/kali-holloway/73476/megyn-kelly-and-alex-jones-two-peas-in-a-pod

Excerpt:

"In the flap over Kelly’s upcoming interview with Jones, one fact critics keep missing, or willfully ignoring, is that Kelly and Jones are two sides of the same coin. Sure, Jones arguably says more outlandish things from a position that used to be the far lunatic fringe. But Kelly spent more than a decade doing her own version of the right-wing’s dirty work from within the establishment at Fox News. The difference between Kelly and Jones, at the end of the day, amounts to nothing more than aesthetics. Together, their steady output of garbage has helped expand and thicken our current toxic atmosphere, which is now engulfing and threatening to choke us."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Science Education Hamstrung By Dubious Laws & Flawed Intuitive Ideas

















Let's face it, learning even basic concepts for physics and astronomy does not come naturally for most people. Even teachers!  I discovered this while giving the first teacher workshops in the teaching of astronomy for the Caribbean, back in 1978.   Among the beliefs I encountered among these teachers who were to devote themselves to the first ever serious secondary school astronomy syllabus :

- The stars were merely pinprick size holes in a vast dome called the night sky

-  The Sun was not a star but totally different, real stars were tiny bright points

-   The Sun went around the Earth not the other way

-   The Moon had to be the same size as the Sun to cause solar eclipses

Each of these, in fact, can be traced to the person's intuition or what the cognitive scientist Andrew Shtulman calls "intuitive theories". In other words, misbegotten notions of how the world or universe works based on internalizing goofy ideas that seem right but aren't.

Of course, it's no different with physics. Millions still accept or believe that heavier objects must fall to the Earth faster than lighter ones. This despite the fact that it's been experimentally demonstrated since the time of Galileo that all object fall at the exact same rate, once air resistance is corrected for.

Others believe firmly in an "impetus" kind of motion originating with some kind of imaginary force that fades over time, despite the fact that Newtonian physics allows no such "force.

Then there are those who are certain that linear transfer of momentum is a myth, so that when they see Jackie Kennedy in the Zapruder film moving back over the limo trunk to try to retrieve a dislodged occipital bone from JFK's head, e.g.
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They still are unable to process the shot had to have come from the front. A bullet fired from the rear hitting the back of Kennedy's head could not possibly drive it back toward the rear shooter because the linear momentum imparted is not in that direction.  A rear shot instead would drive the head forward and its content out front. Basic stuff, but it still boggles minds.

To demonstrate the principle of linear momentum transfer in a lab setting is fairly straightforward, making use of an air track, of the type used to measure accelerations, e.g.

In the case of momentum transfer we ensure the track is level so there is no extraneous acceleration from gravity and place a stationary trolley on one side while sending the other in motion from the opposite side. The student who performs the lab will see the moving trolley strike the stationary one (we assume both of the same mass) and then both move off in the same direction, i.e. the direction of the moving trolley. (N.B. there is no 'rubber' bumper on the stationary trolley).

Millions more are equally befuddled by the idea that forces always occur in pairs, so a book (A) resting on the table (B) - exerting the force of its weight F(AB), must have the table also exerting a force on it (F(BA).
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This is an application of Newton’s 3rd law which states that “for every action (force) there is an equal but opposite reaction (counter force).

All of which informs us that it isn't sufficient to rely on our intuition of a physical system to understand what is going on.  That intuitive picture, alas, is generally flawed.  The success of science education, then, lies in eliminating as many flawed intuitive ideas as possible and replacing them with correct scientific principles.

In physics, at least, this is relatively straightforward to do by way of experiments, i.e. dropping objects from a set up such as shown below - connected to an electronic timer which imparts dots on tape that can then be compared with the accelerations computed..


One can then check to see that a 5 g mass and 20 g mass fall at the same rate, hence have the same accelerations subject to  the Earth's gravity.

With the proper equipment other experiments can also be devised, say to test the principle of linear momentum transfer, or that heat is transferred from hotter to cooler bodies. 

In terms of the astronomy misconceptions already cited, while it is not possible to perform actual experiments, it is feasible to use models to high light false thinking. For example, using two balls of very different size - say one a 1 cm marble, the other a softball of 9.65 cm diameter, to represent the Sun and Moon. Then by placing the former much nearer to the observer's eyes and the latter much further away, it can be shown how the marble (representing the Moon) can exactly block out the larger (Sun).  All that's needed is getting the right distance to the observer for each to produce the "block out" effect (similar to what happens in a total eclipse. Most importantly the Moon needn't ne the same size as the Sun - only the same angular size (e.g.1/2 degree or 30 arcmin) when the eclipse occurs.

Similar techniques using light sources can be used to show - in a model situation - that the Sun is a star, and only appears much different (and brighter) because it is so much closer to Earth than other stars.  Place a bright torch or flashlight within 1 meter of an observer - say to show the "Sun" from Earth, then change the distance to 100 m (needing a large field - preferably at night) to see just a tiny point of light. The light source is the same, it's just observed from radically differing distances. The same applies to the Sun and other stars, they only appear to be different entities because the Sun is observed much closer than the other stars.

While the challenge of dismissing false ideas is significant, the science educator also faces spurious "first amendment" arguments by state legislators, trying to dignify pseudo science in evolution and climate science. For example,  in South Dakota, supporters of SB 55 claimed the bill was necessary to "protect the academic freedom and free speech rights of teachers". A challenge by the National Committee Against Censorship (NCAC) pointed out that while teachers have the right to their own opinions they do not have any First Amendment right "to deviate from and possibly contradict professionally developed science standards adopted by state educators".   The argument led to the defeat of the bill.

Similarly, in Oklahoma, an anti-evolution legislator proposed a bill that would allow teachers to present alternatives to evolution such as creationism. Of course, creationism is not science in any manner, shape or form it is religious doctrine.  It is simply gussied up with scientific seeming terms. Creationists don't even provide their own tests for falsifying their own alleged theories! For example, the evolutionist provides a falsification test for his theory of common descent (i.e. that both Man and apes are descended from the same common ancestor) by using the cytochrome-c sequence, say as disclosed in chimps and humans, and asserting that beyond a certain (probability)  threshold the test fails.

This OK bill is now also under challenge by the NCAC.  Because of these contentious legal issues and states unwilling to accept standard science, Andrew Shtulman, in his book SceinceBlind, suggest evolutionary concepts need to be taught before high school using graspable charts.  E.g.













Diagram showing the putative evolution of late Devonian fish.


















Let's agree it is by no means easy to dispel flawed notions of science based on intuition or religious belief, not to mention those interjected via misplaced state laws. The educator needs to realize it's a ceaseless struggle.  Research shows that even general lessons in critical thinking do not measurably improve performance on science tests. (Mostly because too many such tests are still based on content).  But never mind, they are still useful for engendering a citizenry capable of applying skepticism  to pseudo-scientific claims - especially the type that bombard us each and every day.

Trump Sycophants Kiss "Great Leader's" Fat Butt - Just Like North Koreans

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You can't make this stuff up, seriously. There, playing multiple times last night was the disgusting spectacle of all Trump's appointed swamp creatures - sitting around a table at the White House- puckering their lips and kissing their master's butt. 

"We thank you, Mr. President, for so nicely cutting our balls off so that we may meekly serve you like the North Koreans do Kim Jong Un"

"Mr. President, greatest privilege of my life to serve you like the balless eunuch I am"


Not quite, but pretty damned close. See the actual sorry exercise in self-ablation to the fat ass ambulatory outhouse here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ARgUIpM6f0

Compare it then to how the North Koreans practically fell all over themselves in adulating their "dear leader" from a  NatGeo documentary (Inside North Korea):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlJUGZPanB8

As it happened, wifey and I had only five or so hours earlier watched the documentary which we had DVR'd from a few day ago (off PBS).  As Janice said after we watched the spectacle of the Trumpy self debasements, "If I hadn't seen the North Korean documentary I'd probably not be as revolted as I am now after watching the Trump cabinet grovel."  Indeed, and it was fawning and ass-kissing on a mega scale.

Most agreed too that uber sycophant, ass kisser Reince Priebus won the competition hands down. No shame at all, and as Janice's visiting cousin put it: "I'm sure if Trump had taken a dump right there and ordered Reince to eat it off the floor he'd have done it."  Whoa! Those are ultra powerful words, but then, when you witness Reince's level of self-humiliation you can believe it.


Once the subjective tones were removed, it was clear to the astute observer that Trump was demonstrating how appointed cabinet members and others were to act toward him, serve him and deliver their loyalty - via self-abasing patronage begging.  It was as if Trump orchestrated this farce to say: 'See, Comey! This WAS how I expected you to behave!"

But only one member of the cabinet stood tall and refused to bend over, that was defense secretary James Mattis. He said:

"Mr. President, it's a great honor to represent the men and women of the department of defense and we're grateful for the sacrifices our people are making to strengthen our military."

Note there is no word of deference to Trump, no stroking of his ego, and hence no self humiliation.

All this transpired as the "great idiot leader" was actually contemplating firing special counsel Bob Mueller (actually, he'd have to demand Rod Rosenstein do it, he can't do so directly).  We then get to see if Rod has developed any more bone in his spine, or if it's reverted to jellyfish form.

The other controversy also concerned free speech, in terms of a performance of 'Julius Caesar' put on by the Public Theater. But done in a modern format, i.e. instead of everyone wearing Roman togas they wore suits. The lead character playing Caesar also had blonde hair and a kind of resemblance to Trump. Of course, we know what happens to Caesar in the Shakespeare play like we knew what happened to MacBeth.  So maybe the only way to account for the batshit crazy response and indignation was that people don't read Shakespeare any more. An assassination! Oh horrors! Trump!? 

Errrr, no, merely an actor with a vague resemblance to him, but leading  way too many to project their own imagery and fears absent of reason.  See the full story here:

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/jun/12/donald-trump-shakespeare-play-julius-caesar-new-york

As the Guardian author observes for those prepared to make hay:

"For anyone who has read Julius Caesar the message is not particularly ambiguous. Julius Caesar is not a pro-assassination play."

So once again we behold how too many citizens have lost the ability to reason and do critical thinking.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why We Can't Afford "Medicare for All" - Megan McCardle Thinks She Has The Answers

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One of the hyper-expensive medical "toys" driving up health care costs - the 3T MRI machine. The costs of such machines, including proton beam therapy and cancer drugs are making access to medical care more and more prohibitive.

In his extensive Barbados Advocate column (April 30, p. 14, 'Addressing the loss of health care professionals') David Jessop shed light on exactly why medical costs are soaring in all the nations of the world. As he wrote:

"Around the world, public health care systems are in crisis. From India to Australia, nations in the developing and developed world are struggling to meet the expectations of their local populations."

What reasons does he give for this crisis? He lists the following as primary culprits:

- A surge in the nature and volume of demand as populations age and birth rates continue to increase

-  The preceding occurring at the same time a desire for low taxes has made it difficult for governments to garner the necessary resources to respond to societal expectations

- Sustained loss of medical professionals causing shortages in many 3rd world nations, because they are picked off by nations such as the U.S.  - which itself is finding it can't cope with the expansion of medical services (e.g. via Medicaid in the ACA) combined with an M.D. shortage.

This combination in addition to overuse of medical resources by certain groups, has led to the condition in which much of the world is in a health care crisis.

The bottom line is this: It is futile to talk about "managing" health care costs when so little money is made available by many nations to support their current medical needs. In effect, medical care today  - from treating cancers to severe disability and chronic disease (e.g. kidney and liver disease) is bloody costly and intensive of medical resources by nature.

This leads to a Hobson's choice for many governments: either raise taxes to support their local populations' access to medical care to the level needed, or cut access as the Republicans are now doing with their "American Health Care Act" that will effectively remove access for 20 million or more via Medicaid.

Aging populations in whatever country definitely carry major impacts on its health costs. According to a paper ( Death and Taxes: Why Longer Lives Cost  Money)  produced by the UK Institute of Economic Affairs:

"Long-term healthcare and nursing home costs are strongly associated with age and cannot be driven down by healthier lifestyles.."

To be specific, the incidence of both certain cancers (e.g. prostate) and Alzheimer's disease are  directly related to age, not necessarily "unhealthy" lifestyles. The risk of Alzheimer's alone doubles every year after the age of 65, no matter who you are, what your gender or income or life style choices. Ditto with prostate cancer which is becoming more and more expensive to treat as new, more refined treatment techniques come onstream, - such as focal therapies (e.g. focal cryotherapy) and proton beam therapy,

In the case of prostate cancer, which I've been battling for five years now, I've seen at every stage the cycle of treatments and tests and how they multiply costs. Even if you'd prefer to not add to the medical loss ratio (the ratio of unhealthy subscribers to the healthy ones that support them.) it's virtually impossible once you get that PSA test result - if much higher than normal - to avoid the first prostate biopsy.  That biopsy, if it shows one or more cores at the Gleason 7 score level or higher, sends you down the path of more tests, therapies, treatments. Unless you don't give a shit, in which case your primary doc may "fire" you for being a "non-compliant patient". She wants you to continue your life under her care (including specialist referrals)  without facing the worst consequences of a cancer that can kill (29,000 deaths in the U.S. each year).

In my case, the first biopsy proved positive with three cores then affected and I had to make the decision to get either the robotic (Da Vinci) surgery or radiation. I chose the latter, for which I received high dose brachytherapy treatment at UCSF and paid my bit at about $1,200 - because by then I had Medicare.  The total price for all aspects of the treatment, including  CT scan, spinal epidural, Ir 192 needles insertion,  and follow-up came to just over $55,000.

I thought that was the end of it but the cancer remained and PSA tests showed the need for more biopsies as well as MRI scans, and even a 3D staging biopsy which finally showed the cancer at least concentrated at one location in the interior, e.g.
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Total costs by now totaled over $85,000 including all the various tests such as CT scans, MRI scans, MRI fusion biopsy, Prolaris genetic test, and so on. 

SO given this it is easy for Bloomberg writer Megan McCardle to blab in her recent column about "adverse selection" say if Medicare was ever to expand into "Medicare for all".  McCardle's point is that such a program would ensure ever higher premiums year by year since the sickest people - or those who need expensive treatments and tests -  are the most likely to make use of it. Hence one gets what the insurance bunch calls "adverse selection"  Technically, the term is defined by insurance wonks as:

Adverse selection is a concept in economics, insurance, and risk management, which describes a situation where market participation is affected by asymmetric information. When buyers and sellers have different information, it is known as a state of asymmetric information

But I argue, as does David Jessop, that this kind of economic concept has no place in health care delivery because people are not cars, homes, or fancy jewels. Look, if populations are continually growing that logically  means sick conditions and diseases must grow with them-  whether cancers, Alzheimer's, kidney disease or whatever. Even the healthiest person following a rigorous diet  can get cancer or be injured in an auto accident. Hence, the notion of "asymmetric insurance" for a risk pool managed by a health insurer is ludicrous. There can be no such thing because one will know from the get go that every manner of sickness and disability can only expand, especially for older age groups.

The subtext for McCardle's arguments is the medical loss ratio suffered by putative health insurers, including exchanges -is too great. Hence, so many now abandoning the ACA as too "expensive" to support- so why even consider 'Medicare for all'?  In this regard, if the number  of sick patients in any risk pool is 'significant' - say more than about 1 in every 20-  the private insurers' profits take a nosedive. The medical loss ratio has increased beyond acceptable levels, so the shareholders will not like it.  This is precisely why health insurers - with the exception of Medicare - have become ,more leery of accepting too many oldsters or chronically sick patients. It means major loss of profits. Thus, the imperative becomes one to deny needed care rather than to provide it, especially for pre-existing conditions.

Some on the Right are so desperate to justify cuts to Medicare - as well as Medicaid -  that they argue (as one letter writer did in a recent WSJ contribution) that  pre-existing conditions must be factored in for insurance rates because if they are not known then it is a case of "asymmetric information", i.e. the patient knows he already has some type of cancer but not the insurance company or health exchange with which s/he seeks coverage. Hence, the demand to report all pre-existing conditions before being insured, the better to fix deductible and premiums ab initio - if at all.

To which I and Jessop respond: As a health insurer you're supposed to be in the business of helping people get appropriate treatments for their illnesses, not deny them.  Are you going to deny them the care and make them severely ill, or  go bankrupt, to appease insurance wonks? Or Republican tax cut fetishists?

But McCardle has even bigger budget "fish" to fry than adverse selection might interject. She writes:


"A far bigger problem is what this might do to hospital budgets. Why? Because Medicare doesn't  necessarily pay enough to keep those hospitals running."


She is correct that Medicare controls some of its costs by shifting them to private insurers (she calls it "off loading") which is why Medicare supplemental (e.g. Plan F) insurance exists to make up the difference, As she points out:

"The hospital's fixed costs are mostly getting covered by higher reimbursements from private payers."

Allowing this isn't "necessarily cheating". Well, that's very generous of her!  But her underlying theme is that in a Medicare for all scenario all who buy in would also have to get private insurance from someplace because the single payer (government) simply wouldn't be able to handle all the costs.

There are two aspects she overlooks that could lower costs for all, and make a Medicare for all system more palatable.

First, a large part of increased Medicare costs is due to a program called "Medicare Advantage" (MA) which was created by BushCO and the Republicans with their Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. It basically confected a privatized form of Medicare ("Part C"), with the express purpose of bleeding regular (traditional) Medicare into insolvency by blowing up to $20-25 billion or more a year (based on gamed "risk scores")  and funneling much of it from the older program. Unless this (MA) program is killed (the sooner the better),  no other cuts will matter - because MA will metastasize to the point every $ is swallowed up.. For those who wish to read the details on why MA is hurling Medicare into insolvency check out the content in these links:

https://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/06/04/14840/why-medicare-advantage-costs-taxpayers-billions-more-it-should


 And:  https://www.medicareresources.org/blog/2015/11/04/is-medicare-on-the-brink-of-insolvency/

Second,  Medicare monies are being bled down by drug costs to the tune of $250 b over ten years, because it isn't allowed to bargain for the best prices like the VA.

Even so, fixing the above distortions Medicare will simply be brought more into a financial equilibrium i.e. to avoid insolvency. It would not really enable a dramatic expansion to "Medicare for all".  For that to occur, wait for it, taxes would have to be increased and significantly as in western European nations such as Germany, France.

As Jessop concedes the choice is one between more taxes or less health care.  So if citizens think higher  taxes (by 25 % even for "middle classes")  are the worst thing in their lives, what could happen? Well,  what if they are laid up in a hospital bed with severe disability, pneumonia  or leukemia? Is going bankrupt more to their liking?  Again, for most Americans - who are tax hating Pollyannas-  they are convinced they're never going to get to that extreme fate so they make the bet those dire medical disasters won't happen to them.  But it's a terrible bet because they can happen to any of us! (As I found out when I learned I had prostate cancer that had to be treated.)

Make no mistake that 'Medicare for all'  would be the for profit medical  industry's biggest nightmare because they'd no longer be able to reap profits by invoking medical loss ratios - preventing sick people from getting care instead of delivering it. Hence, they and their  political lackeys and extremists will be prepared to fight like junkyard dogs to prevent it, including the perverse use of propaganda.

McCardle's final cautionary argument against a single payer system is that it would lead to drastic cost cutting, i.e."hospitals would probably have to resort to draconian measures  which might result in patient lives lost".   Perhaps. But the way to avoid such drastic cost cutting is to ensure enough taxes are available to pay for the care needed by the sick segment of a populace. After all, if everyone was a picture of health and had the genes never to fall ill, health insurance would barely be needed - unless a person crossed a road recklessly.

McCardle writes at the end of her piece:

"I'd want to be  a lot surer before I started running a mass experiment for our nation's physical and fiscal health"

But then she can afford to exercise patience, being a highly paid Bloomberg scribe. Many citizens, especially in Trump country - and now facing (in 18 OH counties, after the retreat of Anthem) no more naxalone for opioid overdoses cannot.  It's a matter of priority for getting scarce medical resources and paying for them!

In this regard, the citizen needs to inform himself as much as possible about what the real arguments are for and against 'Medicare for all'. And also ask himself if he is willing to pay significantly more in taxes to be assured of better access to health care.


Perhaps the issue is best summarized by WSJ letter writer Clay Creasey (June 6, p. A16):

"It is time for intelligent conservatives to realize that the vested interests of our current health care system (insurers, drug companies and lawyers) are selling us down the river. They claim single payer is socialism. In fact, it could be the single biggest contributor to economic growth  "