Sunday, February 27, 2011

Local DC area inventor and activist predicts grim future on climate change; why not go for home self-sufficiency?

The Washington Post Outlook section has a long piece by climate change activist and inventor Mike Tidewell, from Takoma Park, MD, near Washington DC.  He talks about two colossal thunderstorms last summer (which did much more damage in Maryland than northern VA) and the endless procession of “wet snow blizzards” (e.g. “upper level lows”) and winter wind storms as low pressure systems over land are stronger than they used to be because of a warmer planet.

An earlier article has a curious title, “To save the planet, stop going green”. But the new article is “A climate-change activist prepares for the worst”, link here.

Tidwell has little confidence in the small, incremental changes (CFL’s) that are being touted. He is concerned about the moralistic kind of social unrest that can result, and says that politicians aren’t getting right, but insurance companies are surely starting to notice.

I personally think that homes ought to be retrofitted with solar panels as much as possible, with the ability to store electricity for outages rather than use fossil fuel generators. A typical generator system installed by your power company in a private home is around $4000 or so.  Why not work smart and build more local storage of wind and sun energy in every home, use Bloomberg boxes, and reduce even the dependence on transmission lines, and therefore the disruptions of outages.  That sounds like a better investment of resources that cutting down trees and moving lines underground. 
Pictures: Last Friday's windstorm comes in was skies clear. Very low pressure nearby generated winds in Arlington up to 66 mph; usually these winds only happen on ridge tops or over water. The mountain ranges to the west (about 50 miles) probably make weather less severe, but they can cause storms when SE winds can't cross them and pool warm moist air to collide with approaching cold fronts and low pressure to the north. Storms in the Frederick MD area are probably more severe because the Harper's Ferry gap nearby. Storms in southern MD on either side of the Chesapeake Bay are usually more severe.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Salon blogger raises public awareness on dangers of fire responders and others from asbestos (and it's not just 9/11, even though that's where the debate starts)

Barbara O’Brien has written a lot of material about the respondents to the 9/11 tragedy and persistent health problems, a typical  link here.   Or here on Salon, with this link from 2009. 

There was a bill at the end of 2010, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, HR 847, 111th Congress, govtrack link here

Science Daily has also reported that 9/11 lasting lung damage, as in this article from 2010. 
One of the main risks will be mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.  This is one of the most intractable malignancies once it starts.

But in general, fire fighters in older residential areas might face the same risk, and we may be exposing our public servants to this risk without realizing it.  It could be that domestics and caregivers in older homes could face similar risks, that we have overlooked and underreported so far. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Even with money, buying individual health insurance is difficult for many people, and the GOP doesn't care

Donna Dubinsky has an interesting “Sunday Opinion” piece in The New York Times Feb. 20, p 10 of “Week in Review” (link here), “Money won’t buy  you  health insurance”.

She describes the experience of applying as a family of three, after her husband retired, and being denied for minor conditions for which family members had sought treatment.  Then her broker suggested applying individually for each person. She was in a Catch-22 about having to admit she had been denied coverage.
She had to ponder how to say as little as possible and be truthful, as a “condition” is not the same thing as an episode of treatment.

She points out that insurance coverage helps get discounts of up to 70% even when there is a big copay.
She writes, “the members of Congress who want to repeal the provision of last year’s  health insurance law that makes it easier for individuals to buy coverage must assume that uninsured people do not want to buy it, or are just too cheap or too poor to do so.”

Remember the 1997 film “The Rainmaker” based on John Grisham’s novel, to say nothing of Michael Moore’s “Sicko”.

The literal interpretation of the notion of “moral hazard” when applied to health insurance would mean that every person is morally responsible for any of his or her own “deficits”.  It’s an idea that leads in fascism, and that lay beneath the ideology of ancient Sparta.

Imagine what the individual market is like for long term care insurance. 

My own experience as an ING retiree was having only 70% coverage for inpatient the last two years before Medicare, although fortunately I never needed it.

Picture: My parents before marriage in 1940, Washington DC.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's unclear how much effect a federal government shutdown March 4 would have: even social security payments sound a little iffy

How much sacrifice could a government shutdown threatened on March 4 impose on some citizens?

There’s an article in the Los Angeles Times by Michael A. Memoli of its Washington Bureau, “Government shutdown would halt many, but not all services,” link here.

The president has said that social security payments would be delayed or affected, but the news story says that with the 1995 shutdowns during the Clinton years (and they had some duration),  checks continued to be “mailed”.  Presumably the electronic deposits would continue to be made by computer systems.  But processing of new applications and various other services (mortgage related, veterans, etc.) would stop. Real estate closings could be affected.

The Federal Times has a Feb. 17 article about SSA’s plans to have a “skeleton crew” which presumably can keep computer systems running for EDP, here

But TPM has an article by Brain Beutler in which Shala predicts missing social security payments and Medicaid, “The ‘Un-American’ results if Republicans really force a government shutdown”, link (website url) here

If social security payments were interfered with, they might not affect everyone, as different people are paid in different weeks.

And some federal employees would have temporary layoff and lose pay. Work schedules of intermittent workers would be affected, as some work would be lost (as would happen with snow days).

It’s not a nice feeling to be caught in the middle and “sacrificed” for someone else’s ideological agenda.

The Democrats are saying that the GOP is willing to force sacrifice on the unlucky to advance its ideological agenda.

The Washington Post has a story Feb. 21 by Ed O'Keefe, "What might happen if federal government shuts down again", link here.  I'm note sure what this passage means: "Federal agencies are beginning to instruct senior officials to prepare for a possible closure, ordering the cancellation of vacations or other personal commitments".  Does that mean all employees or only senior officials. It would be intolerable to bear the personal cost of busted airline reservations because of someone else's partisamship. 

ABC News video follows: 

Friday, February 18, 2011

New story about young men, hairlines, and prostate cancer sounds alarmist

I don’t think that prostate cancer and breast cancer rank as potential sudden health problems in the sense of viral pandemics, but I was amused, or perhaps not amused, at a recent story that young men who show significant scalp hair loss before age 21 should be watched all their lives for prostate cancer. Presumably this relates to blood testosterone levels. Male pattern baldness is one of the most predictable genetic traits; some anthropologists claim that baldness is a way of broadcasting "survivability" to female partners, and therefore confers an indirect reproductive advantage, and therefore persists. 

My father died of metastatic prostate cancer in 1986 just before his 83rd birthday, but he was healthy and active almost all his life before the last four weeks.  Most (though not all) prostate cancer is indolent for years, and the treatment may be worse than the disease.  I’m getting hounded by my own doctor by an elevated PSA at the last Medicare physical. “Activity” may help.

We have a different culture now, where we expect older adults to anticipate some years with disfigurement or disability because life can be extended by preventive surgery – and we expect a measure of late life family support that is unprecedented.

I have a photo of myself at 17, just before high school graduation. It shows a thinning hairline.  In fact, many men (especially “northern Europeans”), even in their early twenties, have slight “widows peak” indentations in their hairlines, not necessarily progressive, sometimes just on one side.  They might start reaching for Rogaine (insurance doesn’t cover it because it’s cosmetic), but do they need to “worry”? 

Monday, February 14, 2011

DC Metro again ponders ending late weekend hours

This sounds like Old Hat, but the Washington DC Metro is again considering terminating after midnight service on weekends, not so much as a budget measure (with all the fare hikes) but as a way to add more time for track maintenance and reduce other outages, it says. The issue came up at a Feb. 11 board meeting. 

Night-oriented businesses in Washington DC are fuming, because parking is difficult in many areas, like Georgetown and Dupont Circle, and cabs have been harder to get in recent months.  And there are surprisingly few 24-hour commercial garages in DC.  If the Metro closes at late night, would property owners find a market incentive to keep garages open?

Metro didn’t actually start late night service until 1999, and says relatively few riders use it, mostly before 1 AM.  But the Orange Line into Arlington is usually packed even at 2 AM Sunday morning according to my experience. But stations beyond areas with a lot of entertainment may indeed have little late traffic.

Here’s the Washington Post’s blog article on it this morning. Nobody mentions that it’s a good idea to give people an alternative to driving.  Not everyone gets by on one beer a week (that’s about my level of “C2H5OH” consumption).

It's not clear when late night service would end, maybe summer?

On top of this, the House GOP wants to cut federal aid to the DC Metro by $150 million. That's bound to reinforce the concern with the "night owl service" issue. 

New York may have its transit strikes, but it never seems to have line closures, and it runs 24x7 (just local service only on some lines at night).  Likewise, London, Paris, Madrid, etc. don’t seem to have a problem with keeping up.  World class cities can keep their subways and transit running 24 x 7.  Even Bilbao, Spain has a good metro.

In the US, “cosmopolitan” but more spread-out large cities like Dallas have relatively little rail transit (Dallas does have light rail, as does Charlotte) but generally have much more reasonably priced or free parking, and “businesses” tend to be located in areas of much less expensive land values, so they have room for parking.

Here’s the “Parking Encyclopedia” entry for Washington DC.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

ExxonMobil blog entry disputes "peak oil"

Visitors may enjoy the perspective by Ken Cohen on ExxonMobil’s blog, disputing the popular stories about “peak oil”, which keep getting pushed farther into the future by new discoveries and more recovery.

Exxon must, of course, follow the politically correct track of encouraging the development of non-carbonaceous resources. But demand for oil keeps growing for the foreseeable future. At some point, something gives.

And then there is the debate on offshore drilling after last year’s BP catastrophe.

The link is here

Thursday, February 10, 2011

DC School system starting to bring back teachers fired by Michelle Rhee

It looks like some DC teachers fired by Michelle Rhee during her three year “reign of terror” may get their jobs back, and back pay. It may less clear with some dismissed during the “budget crisis” of October 2009, which turned out to be overstated.

But Rhee dismissed underperforming teachers, even if there is some controversy now over the “value added” schemes for assessing teachers.  And,  unlike the situation in New York City, there was no “rubber room.”

I rather think that Rhee gave the DC School System the shock treatment it needed.  But her policies, and the publicity she generated, may have scared away some people from entering teaching.  That may not be a good thing.  Or are we crafting a world where every adult should be able to step up as a “role model”?

Rhee, it is said, was someone who cared little about the opinions of others. Rather like Dagney Taggart. 

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Conservative columnists, authors hit hard the issue of Americans delaying marriage

On p B5 of the Tuesday Feb. 1 Washington Times, under “Culture”, Cheryl Wetzstein has an article, in “Culture: On the Family”, “Why Americans put off marriage.”  To the “initiated”, it would sound like it’s going to talk about demographic winter and the problems of fewer children and aging populations. It doesn’t.  It’s a brief review of a book by University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus and North Carolina fellow Jeremy Uecker, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying”. 
There’s some reference to focus on the self as opposed to continuing (after belonging to) family, and in an individualistic society, it seems self comes first. She notes the logical contradictions thereof: marriage alone doesn’t produce babies too soon; prolonged intimacy with a person known to be the perfect partner ahead of time is a non sequitir.

The link is here.

There’s a spot with similar findings on Good Morning America right now.  It takes a long time to fall in love, the guest says (just as "it takes a long time to become a good composer"). It seems that the pre-Valentines Day link for that interview is here (the video there didn't match).

Back in the late 1990s, Katherine Kersten and Mitch Pearlstein, of the Center for the American Experiment in Minneapolis, had written a book anthology “Closer to Home: Celebrations and Critiques of America’s Experiments in Freedom”.   In the essay “Textbooks Push the Needs of ‘Self’ Over Marriage” (p. 51), Katherine Kersten presents the “paradox” that one needs to build a healthy self-image before approaching relationships and marriage, and that some people advocate spending time alone with the “self-date.”  Then she writes:  “The problem with this approach to life is obvious.  Everyone will be caught up in his or her own ‘lifelong romance’ with self to give much support to anyone else.”

Tie the threads together. Remember when Zellweger’s character moans in “Cold Mountain,” “I can embroider but I can’t darn.”

How would this argument play out with same-sex marriage, with or without adoption?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Red light cameras do prevent crashes, study says

A study published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety established that red-light cameras save lives by motivating drivers to stop for lights rather than beat them, and avoid side-impact crashes, which are often fatal or maiming to passengers. The link for the study is (website url) here.  

The use of the cameras in 14 large cities reduced fatal crashes by 24 percent. But smaller rear end crashes may increase.

Many cities publish their red-light camera locations. Washington DC’s list is (url) here

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Florida judge strikes down most of Obamacare, says individual mandate can't be untangled

Federal judge Robert Vinson has struck down the Obamacare law in the 11th Circuit, in a ruling from Florida. It is more far reaching that a recent similar ruling in Virginia, because he says the individual mandate cannot be untangled from most of the rest of the law, so most of it is struck down. The administration will appeal for a stay.

Vinson left intact the Medicaid provisions, however; so states might not be able to control Medicaid costs by enforcing filial responsibility laws, for example.

Vinson said that the reasoning on what is “commerce” could be extended indefinitely with existential thought, and that a line needed to be drawn somewhere.

The Washington Post story by Amy Goldstein and N. C. Aizenmanand is (website url) here.  

The Opinion is available on Scribd here

Update: Feb. 3

The New York Times has an article by Reed Abelson, "Awaiting health law's progress", with a particular focus on lifetime limits on many policies, including those that are employer-based.  In the 1980s, my own lifetime limit would have been $1 million.