Saturday, December 30, 2017

Need a nap?

Interesting Analysis

Steve Rattner looks at the first 337 days of Trump's administration through a series of very interesting charts.  One I found particularly interesting plotted the number of bills signed in the first 337 days of a president's administration. Since the days of Nixon George H.W. Bush signed the most bills - 242, just one more than Jimmy Carter at 241. There were four presidents who signed 200 or more bills and four who signed 100 or more. One signed less than 100, Trump at 96.

Rattner breaks down Trump's signing by type of bill as follows:

Bills related to space and science                       4 
Bills related to veterans                                   13 
Reversing Obama regulations                           16 
Ceremonial, routine and bureaucratic laws         62 
Significant legislation (the tax bill)                      1 

Not exactly what you would like to see. I wish he had done a similar breakdown for the others.

Regrowing a dog's bone

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The $700 billion budget

That's what the military will be getting this year, much more than other agencies. Could the fact that many of the top people in the Pentagon come from the defense industry have any influence? No.2 at the Pentagon will come from the executive council of Boeing, the Army undersecretary from the vice presidency of Lockheed Martin, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics from the very top job at Textron Systems, the 16th largest arms company in the world, the Army Secretary from Raytheon.

True or False?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Prevented from delivering a Christmas gift

Patrick Jiron, 83, and his wife, Barbara, 80, were arrested in Nebraska as they traveled from their home state of California to Vermont. The cause was failure to signal a turn. The couple was on their way to distribute Christmas presents to friends and family in Boston and Vermont. Their car was emitting a strong odor which caused the policy to search their car. Here's what the police found:

That's sixty pounds of  raw marijuana, which has a street value of about $300,000. 

I wonder what their family and friends were expecting as Christmas presents.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Pot and the Aged

Courtesy of a Duncaster friend

Changing faster and faster

Hiring can be expensive

Customs and Border Protection is hiring 5,000 Border Patrol agents, 2,000 customs officers and 500 agents for the Office of Air and Marine Operations this year to bolster Trump's war against illegal immigration. The hiring will be done by Accenture, an international professional services corporation. It will cost us $297,000,000 over a five-year period; that's $39,600 per hire. The starting salary of an entry level Border Patrol agent is $40,511.

The agency has had trouble retaining agents. Between 2013 and 2016, an average of 523 agents were hired, while 904 left. Maybe that's because one of the criteria for hiring is no prior illicit drug activity by applicants. Approximately two out of three applicants to the border agency failed the traditional polygraph. That’s more than double the average rate of eight law enforcement agencies.

But that should change as the polygraph test will no longer be administered. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bad Words

The CDC is barred from using these seven words in their budget documents: evidence-based, science-based, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus. The reason being that Trump would not like seeing these words.

Did Hitler also bar the use of certain words?

Results of Climate Change

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has recently published analyses of 27 extreme weather events in 2016. The conclusion: human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of them. 

The NY Times looked at five of these events in some detail:

1. Record temperatures around the world
2. Coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef
3. Drought in Africa
4. Wildfires in North America
5. The warm “blob” in the Pacific Ocean

The Times does acknowledge that climate change may not be the sole cause of these events. 
Temperature records are the simplest to link to climate change. But droughts — which are influenced by a complex interplay of temperature, precipitation and soil moisture — can be trickier to connect to warming trends. And hurricanes are more difficult still, because they occur so rarely.

Special Ops around the world

Our Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, are in 149 countries around the world. That’s about 75% of the nations on the planet and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration. It’s also a jump of nearly 150% from the last days of George W. Bush’s White House. This record-setting number of deployments comes as American commandos are battling a plethora of terror groups in quasi-wars that stretch from Africa and the Middle East to Asia.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Driving in India

Net Neutrality is Good for You

Break the law as a pedestrian...

...and you could lose your license to drive a car. That's what happened to about half of the 2,000 people who received pedestrian tickets in Duval County, Florida, from 2012 to 2016. For whatever reason they did not pay the $65 fine for violating pedestrian laws. Ergo, they lost their driver’s licenses or their ability to obtain one.

There is a hint of racism as 55 percent of the tickets given in recent years went to blacks despite the fact that they make up only 29 percent of the city’s population. Blacks were similarly overrepresented in the 932 tickets that led to license suspensions — 54 percent.

The Bigger Liar

The NY Times has compared the number of lies told by Obama and Trump. They appear to have tried to be factual in that they have listed all of the lies they attribute to each. They also claim: 
We applied the same conservative standard to Obama and Trump, counting only demonstrably and substantially false statements.
This article counts only distinct falsehoods for both Trump and Obama.
We left out any statement that could be plausibly defended even if many people would disagree with the president's interpretation. We also left out modest quantitative errors, such as Trump's frequent imprecision with numbers.
Their conclusion:
In his first 10 months, Trump told nearly six times as many falsehoods as Obama did during his entire presidency, 103 vs 18.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wasting Food

We waste a lot, tons and tons. In the world we throw out about 1.3 billion tons of food a year, or a third of all the food that we grow. In poor countries waste occurs on the farm or on the way to market; lack of refrigeration being the culprit. In wealthy countries we are the main cause - We buy too much food. We don’t finish our plates.About 40 percent of wasted food is thrown out by consumers.

We in the United States waste more than $160 billion in food a year.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nature 2017

What are we doing about Russian hacking?

Black mothers are more likely to die....

...than white mothers, particularly from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. In a national study of five medical complications that are common causes of maternal death and injury, black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition. In New York City it's especially bad; black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers. And it's gotten worse; in 2001-2005, their risk of death was seven times higher. They are dying at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, the World Health Organization estimates.

It doesn't seem to matter whether the women are well-off or not. One study of  years of data found that black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.

Why is this happening? There are many reasons. Black women are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, when Medicaid kicks in, and thus more likely to start prenatal care later and to lose coverage in the postpartum period. They are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that make having a baby more dangerous. The hospitals where they give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications.

Is this another form of discrimination? In a survey conducted this year by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 33 percent of black women said that they personally had been discriminated against because of their race when going to a doctor or health clinic, and 21 percent said they have avoided going to a doctor or seeking health care out of concern they would be racially discriminated against.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Eliminating Student Loans

We know quite well that student loans are a big drain on the economy.

A few schools are starting to do something about it. They are replacing all student loans in their undergraduate financial aid packages with scholarships. The three schools doing this are Yale, Princeton and Brown.

Boston 2017

The Boston Globe has begun a new Spotlight series - Racism in Boston. First startling fact: Using data from the Federal Reserve of Boston, Spotlight found that non-immigrant African-Americans in the Boston area had a median net worth of $8. White households in Boston, on the other hand, average a net worth of $247,500, or nearly 31,000 times more than African-American Bostonians.

The Catholic Church and Alcohol

Okay, Holy Communion requires bread and wine. So, the priests made sure it was available wherever they lived. The Franciscans brought vines to California in 1779 and began making wine, which had never been made before in America. They did the same thing in Argentina, Chile and Australia. But there is more than wine.

Dom Perignon is the name of a Benedictine monk who apparently knew how to make champagne. You can still get a good glass of beer in Trappist monasteries around the world. Whiskey was invented by medieval Irish monks. Chartreuse was perfected by the Carthusian order almost 300 years ago. Bénédictine may have been invented by an Italian Benedictine in the 1500s. And the cherry brandy known as Maraska liqueur was created by Dominican apothecaries in the early 16th century.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Visitor from outer space

Nothing is perfect

Just about everyone I know who has used hospice is pleased with their experience, whether at home or in the hospital. But, Time has an article reporting on an investigation by Kaiser Health which shows that some people are very unhappy with hospice. One survey found that 1 in 5 respondents said that their hospice agency did not always show up when help was needed. Another survey found that 9% were dissatisfied with their hospice experience. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services says that 21% of hospices did not provide crisis care in 2015. 

One thing about hospice I did not realize is that many of these agencies are for-profit businesses. And it's a pretty good business as profit margins are almost 15%.

Is this what we want?

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Medicine for Black Women

One Form of Insanity in the 21st Century

Joey Erace travels fairly frequently to California and Texas to play baseball for amateur teams. Such travel is typical for many of us. Joey's difference is his age - 10 years old. He is one of the generation whose parents believe that their child is talented enough in a particular sport to receive a college scholarship. Besides the travel costs, his parents have invested significantly in Joey. Their New Jersey home has a $15,000 backyard batting cage. His private hitting coach charges $100 per hour, as does his Philadelphia-based fielding coach. In the world in which he travels he is well-known. He has more than 24,000 followers on Instagram. Jewelry and apparel companies have asked him to hawk their stuff. But, when asked for an autograph, he suggests a photo as, at age 10, he does not know how to write cursively. 

Joey Erace is not alone. Millions of kids have the same dream as Joey and are as wrapped up in this life which is more like that of pro athletes than neighborhood kids. As a result, neighborhood Little Leagues, town soccer associations and church basketball squads that bonded kids in a community–and didn’t cost as much as a rent check–have largely lost their luster. Joey and company live in a world which seems to be governed by companies trying to make money. 

It is estimated that this youth-sports economy – which includes everything from travel to private coaching to apps that organize leagues and livestream games – is now a $15.3 billion market that has grown by 55% since 2010. The United States Specialty Sports Association, or USSSA, is a nonprofit with 501(c)(4) status, a designation for organizations that promote social welfare. According to its most recent available IRS filings, it generated $13.7 million in revenue in 2015, and the CEO received $831,200 in compensation. The group holds tournaments across the nation, and it ranks youth teams in basketball, baseball and softball. The softball rankings begin with teams age 6 and under. Baseball starts at age 4. 

Is this what we want for our grandchildren when only 2% of high school athletes go on to play at the top level of college sports, the NCAA’s Division 1?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Where have the insects gone

There was a recent study of the insect population over a period of time.  The study covered a 27 year period in 63 nature protection areas in Germany. While no other areas were studied, the results are very scary. The author concluded that the population declined 76% in that time. He states that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline.  

Should we be worried? We've seen the number of bees decline substantially. What else has?

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Be wary when you go to the ER

In most cases you'll be charged a facility fee simply for walking through the door and seeking service. It does not include any care provided. And this fee can be quite expensive. These fees are coded on a 1 to 5 scale, to reflect the complexity of care delivered to the patient. The hospital decides the code to be used. The fees have risen sharply since 2009. Here are a few sample codes.

The facility fee has really increased.  The Health Care Cost Institute says the price of these fees rose 89 percent between 2009 and 2015 — rising twice as fast as the price of outpatient health care, and four times as fast as overall health care spending. This is probably due to a shift to using higher codes. Total ER revenue fees rose by more than $3 billion between 2009 and 2015, despite the fact the HCCI database shows a slight (2 percent) decline in the number of emergency room fees billed in the same time period.

Monday, December 04, 2017

A tattoo gone wrong

Catt Gallinger, a Canadian model, apparently figured a purple eye would be just the thing to make her famous. She was right, but not famous in a good sense. The following photos came from her website and, by definition, are questionable.

She has never left home

Home happens to be a jail cell in Afghanistan. Meena, who is now 11, was born there, nursed there and weaned there. She has spent her entire life, including that in utero, in prison and will probably spend the rest of her childhood there as well. She is there because her mother is a convicted serial killer serving a life sentence. Afghanistan allows her to keep her daughter with her until she turns 18. Meena has no idea what the world outside the walls looks like.

Meena is not the only child in this prison; she is one of 36 children jailed with their mothers. It is estimated that there are hundreds of imprisoned Afghan children whose only crime is having a convicted mother. There is a program that runs orphanages for children whose mothers are imprisoned, but the women have to agree to let their sons and daughters be taken, and the program does not cover many areas of Afghanistan.

There are some amenities in prison. The women’s cells are arranged around a spacious courtyard, shaded by mulberry trees, and the children have free rein of it. There is a set of rusting, homemade swings, monkey bars and slides that end in muddy puddles. A schoolroom is in one of the cells, with a white board and a mixture of benches and chairs, seating 16 children at eight desks. A single teacher looks after three grades, first through third, an hour a day for each grade; at age 11, Meena has reached only the second grade.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The military academies are no different from other colleges...

... when it comes to paying the football coach. In 2016 Navy paid their coach $2 million, the Air Force paid  $932,521, and Army paid $885,000. The Air Force coach also gets a housing allowance.

All of this pales before the salary of Michigan's Jim Harbaugh who gets $9,000,000. But it is still our money the coaches are getting.

From our Florida correspondent. 

Friday, December 01, 2017

Reading the Qur'an

Gary Wills has written a very interesting new book, "What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters", that is reviewed in the current NY Review of Books by G. W. Bowersock, whose fundamental point seems to be "the Qur’an is utterly incompatible with the barbarous beliefs and conduct of those who have violently espoused an alleged caliphate in its name in the twenty-first century." 

Bowersock also looks at Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", which showed that the Qur’an recognized Hebrew and Christian scriptures alongside the revelations of Muhammad as comprising “one immutable religion.” Muhammad, according to Gibbon, urged strangers of every tribe to worship a single deity: “He asserted the liberty of conscience, and disclaimed the use of religious violence.” 

Wills' reading of the Qur'an reveals at least one thing surprising to me: the Arabic words “jihad” and “sharia” do not occur in the Qur’an with the implications attached to them now. In its Quranic usage “jihad” means simply “striving” or, as Wills prefers, “zeal,” but certainly not “holy war.” The word “sharia” appears only once in the entire Qur’an and means simply the right path, similar to the path (hodos in Greek) invoked by early Christians. Wills contends that “the Qur’an never advocates war as a means of religious conversion”

Further, Wills believed that the Qur’an is well disposed to the other religions of the book and explicitly cites with approval the Torah and the Gospels, recognizing five “antecedent prophets” to Muhammad: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. “We make no distinction between any of His messengers” (Q. 2:285).

The Qur'an also includes God's creation of the world which is similar to Christianity's. In the Quranic creation, God makes Adam and a nameless woman, and Satan tempts both together with a promise of immortality.

Meet your stewardess