Saturday, January 31, 2015

Does the vaccination issue form a moral parallel to the former military draft?


This Saturday morning, Vox Media retweeted a strong article by Sarah Kliff, “Vaccination is not a personal decision. It’s a social obligation.”   The link is here. Of course, the story is at first motivated by the little measles outbreak in CA and AZ.  I had measles in 1950, just before my seventh birthday – we came home from Ocean City early.  It may have done some small neurological damage.  It’s not clear.  But it can, particularly for boys. 
  
The article is right about herd immunity.  When the majority of people get vaccinated against anything, the minority that refuses is more protected.  And that generates s a moral question.
One parent on one of the networks asked, a vaccine refuser, said “I am responsible only for my own children, but not for other people’s children.”  Actually, the comment came on CNN on a case of a child with leukemia and on chemotherapy exposed to measles, when the father said, "I won't put my child at risk to save someone else's child" even though it's true that other people are less fortunate and bad things happen.  I won’t rehearse the evidence that says that vaccines don’t cause autism (if they do, it's very rare), and even accept the idea that in rare cases, parents take a risk getting a child vaccinated with some things   (CNN has a followup link on all this, "Not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child", here.)
     
So, to the father’s comment. well, we could say wrong – or we could say that the “common good” deposits some of our most serious ethical dilemmas, which conservatives (Rick Santorum) and progressives (Malcolm Gladwell) love to opine, as I do.  The "OPC" ("other people's children") issues can certainly affect the childless as well. 
    
But these “common good” arguments can be dangerous.  Back in the 1980s, the right wing tried to use them with HIV to claim that gays endangered all of society.  In some countries (most of all, Russia, right now) politicians claim that gays undermine the inclination of “normal” people to take the risk and responsibility for having children.  
   
And the “common good” argument certainly drove the military draft during the Vietnam era, and then rationalized the student deferment system. There is an issue with risk taking, that if someone deliberately avoids it, a greater burden falls on everyone else.  (As draftees, we were immunized against everything known then, including plague;  I probably still have the antibodies.)  
        
As for vaccinations, personally, I get everyone that I can.  If I did have children, I would get them vaccinated (though that's easy for me to say).  I may have brushed back a flu with very mild symptoms because I did get the mismatched vaccine last September.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

King v Burwell could threaten existing CHIP programs as well as Obamacare itself


The King v. Burwell case challenging “Obamacare” could threaten the medical care and lives of millions of children, according to Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress.  The concern is not only that people purchasing plans through exchanges “funded by the states” could love coverage (federal participation) depending o how the Supreme Court interprets the “funded” language, but that they could also loose through CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program,  The link to the TP story (circulated on Facebook) is here
  
  

It’s unclear how the GOP thinks those with pre-existing conditions should get health care. “Family and friends?” “Gofundme”?   Get serious.  Some in the GOP have an “automaticity” model for “belonging” socially.  


Update: February 19

The Washington Post has many articles this week about how an adverse Supreme Court ruling in June would affect both state budgets and lower income consumers.  For example, Lena H. Sun and Nirah Chohshi write "Millions at risk of losing coverage" (Feb. 16) here.  Ian Millhiser has an article in which he explains a logical flaw in the plaintiff's brief befor SCOTUS, Feb. 19, here

Thursday, January 29, 2015

UVa situation reminds some observers of 1950s, when girls' dorms had curfews and mens' did not, to "protect" women


Sororities at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville say that the mentality of protecting women has degenerated back to the 1950s.
  
Susan Scvrluga has several articles in the Washington Post, the most recent (Thursday, January 29, 2015) not online yet, but summarized in Daily Caller here. Women were told (ordered) to stay out of fraternity parties this upcoming weekend because men can’t be trusted.
  
All of this follows earlier reports claiming that a third of college men believe they are “entitled” to sex with any co-ed they want. In earlier times, when there was a military draft and a Vietnam war (and a controversial deferment system), some young men might have rationalized that they needed to create a lineage "while they had a chance".  
  

Back in the 1960s, it was common for residence halls to have curfews for women but not for men.  I actually lived in a dorm (McCollum Hall) at the University of Kansas as a graduate student from 1966-1968 (early), when that was the practice. 

  
Occasionally, I heard (heterosexual) men say things like, “No girl does that to me”, when drunk.  “I’m going to find her, and …”    Usually, alcohol was involved (and these were the days before 21 as a drinking age.)  I don’t think it was a full one-third, but the attitude was expressed,
  

Back in the fall of 1961, when I had my own fiasco at the College of William and Mary, there were twice as many male students as female.  Admission standards for women were higher.  I think this aggravated my situation, with a roommate who, obviously could not see me as “competition”, but saw instead my bearing as a reminder that he could fail physically.  That sort of subtle attitude would play into the debate on gays in the military as would unfold 30 days later.  But in the Army, because of the authoritarian and regimented structure, there was actually much less tension over this sort of thing (in my experience) than in college dorms.
  
It was a strange paradox that I grew up with.  Officials worried about girls getting pregnant and about male recklessness and impulsiveness.  I did not share those instincts.  Instead, I represented a different threat, more the kind that Vladimir Putin fears, the idea that suddenly people could stop having children altogether.  
  
In high school biology, you learn about reproduction as a basic life function.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Teen science wonder Jack Andraka, and the pace of medical progress.


When I worked as a substitute teacher, I did like the AP assignments the best.  I worked in northern Virginia, and teen scientist Jack Andraka is closer to Baltimore (yes, the Orioles), but I did have a few like him from time to time.
  
Forbes has an interesting story “Why the Biotech Whiz Kid Jack Andraka Is not on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List”, by Matthew Herper, from January 2014, here.  The analysis basically reflects the difficulty in certifying medical tests and therapies, no matter how good they look at first.  Anyone, for example, would like a cancer treatment that avoids the horrors of chemotherapy.  Offhand, it would sound as if the basic technic (carbon nanontubes, etc) might lead to other tests of urgent public health need. One would be able to detect Ebola before it shows any symptoms, for example.  It sounds as though this is a generic kind of technology that could someday at least supplement Elisa and Western Blot, procedures well known publicly since the HIV epidemic started in the 1980s.
    
But it will take a lot of validation to certify it.  Anything in medicine does. 

  
This is a serious public health issue.  The ability to stop the next pandemic (whether natural in cause or even bioterror) could depend on being able to develop and certify a test quickly, and, even more important, a vaccine.  We need to get with it on a vaccine for H5N1 bird flu, and on SARS-MERS type disease. 
   
In the meantime, Jack (according to Wikipedia) will enter Stanford next fall, probably having plenty of opportunity to meet Mart Zuckerberg around Palo Alto CA, who was indeed on the under 30 list.  (Forbes really likes business and tech people first, anyway.)  Then, there is medical school, I would presume.  And then internship and residency.  All of this takes some years, before becoming publicly on the front lines of oncology research. Medicine is a unifocal life at first. And there are real life patients, whether at NIH or regular hospitals. Is there time for kayaking in the Russian River?
    
Forbes had published an article in February 2013, by John Nostra, “The genius of raising brilliant kids: A conversation with Jack Andraka’s parents”, link here.  Lost in the limelight are the considerable accomplishments of Jack’s older brother Luke, now attending Virginia Tech (apparently, judging from the Forbes piece), also noted in Jack’s Wikipedia article.   State schools (UNC comes to mind) love brilliant out-of-state students. 
  

I recall the day I was “initiated” into the Science Honor Society when I was a senior in high school.  We had dinner party in the basement of “The House” (my parents), Dec. 9, 1960, two days before a big blizzard.  Everyone gave a talk (in front of the family grandfather clock face).  One person named Bob Bast gave a talk about “lysing leucocytes” that sounded like a strange preview of discussions about how AIDS and HIV infection develop, 25 years down the road in history.  I talked about whether silicon could replace carbon in alien life (not likely that it really could).  The Washington-Lee physics teacher (Herman Oberle) who was the sponsor, would lose his job in about a year, work as a traveling lecturer, and then pass away from Hepatitis B.   Times really do change in this many decades.
     
In the meantime, when I did my stint of subbing over forty years later, I would find the biggest demand on teachers quantitatively was at the basic skills ends.  Some of them needed fathering skills that I was not prepared to give them.  

First two pictures:  from Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (trip last week); inside of a heart model shown. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fracking-related earthquakes wind up in court; abusive civil asset forfeiture cases


An Oklahoma court will decide if drilling companies can be held responsible for home damage from earthquakes believed to be associated with fracking.  The increase in moderate quakes has not been proven to be caused by fracking but that sounds probable. Thinkprogress has a story here.  The news story shows considerable masonry damage to homes.

  
I lived in Dallas 1979-1988 and experienced no quakes.  I have felt earthquakes in northern Virginia, including the significant one in August 2011.  One time there was a small quake when I was at the Kennedy Center about to board the bus to return.  There is a sense that when you step down, ground is sinking, and it lasts about ten seconds. I once felt a significant shock near Cairo, IL, near the New Madrid dimple.  Again, it is disorienting until you realize it is a tremor.
  


On civil asset forfeiture, the Des Moines, IA register reports on a major abusive case in Iowa, and another similar one in Nevada, link here.  In one case, a gambler wound up unable to recover $10000 of $100000 of legal winnings seized by police, and had his California home ransacked by police when there were no criminal charges (for drug use or distribution).  In my own case, with a speeding stop, police in Illinois did not give me a ticket when they saw copies of my newly authorted book in the back! 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obama, and some US Senators, broker issue of paid family leave


The Sunday Review section of the New York Times, today, January 25, 2015, p. 4, has an opinion piece by Jennifer Senior, “Generous Republican Benefits”, link here.  She is talking about paid family leave.  She queried some Senators, and a lot of them --  15 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 9 Republicans – responded that they provide some paid family leave. And President Obama has signed an order allowing federal employees up to six weeks of paid family leave.
  
My concern about this whole issue has always been, that someone else has to pay for it.  That may be appropriate for “the common good” (to use the term the way Rick Santorum unashamedly uses it) but if so we should be able to talk about it that way.
  
The natural response (especially from the Left) is to say employers (that is, owners or shareholders) should pay for it.  It’s part of the cost of business.  Nevertheless, the end result is that the childless wound up doing more of the work for a given pool of pay.  True, in Europe this doesn’t seem to cause much tension (but it doesn’t really help the non-immigrant birth rate much).
  
When I was “working” this wasn’t “funny”.  Back in the 1980s, when I worked for a credit reporting company in Dallas, everyone was totally responsible for his or her own applications so it never came up.  In the 1990s, with a life company, for a while it became a problem.  Some of those without families did more of the on-call support and were not paid for the time, although they got bigger raises.  There was one particular weekend in October where I worked “for free” while a coworker had a baby.  Should I subsidize someone else’s marital sex (which I will never have) with free labor?  This was swept under the rug.
  
  
The dark side of all this was, of course, that in tough times, I could “lowball” those with families out of their jobs by working for less.
  
The great equalizer (besides “the razor”) might be gay marriage, and openness to gay adoption – so a lot hinges on what the Supreme Court rules this term.  That begs the question, then, is there a moral obligation to “adopt” or provide care if you can.  This question could interact with immigration and possible sponsorship of people applying for asylum.  That’s ultimately, for me, why “marriage equality” matters, even though I’m not likely to need it directly from a benefits viewpoint.
  
Well, there’s another great equalizer (besides something like the Nimzo-Indian Defense in chess) – eldercare, as people live longer.  The childless are likely to wind up with the lion’s share of it.  So an aging population will help augment the case for paid family leave.
  
When my mother had coronary bypass surgery in 1999, and I was working a thousand miles away, there was no talk about the possibility to taking unpaid family leave (a sacrifice), even though by law I could have claimed it.  A lot of other factors in play, but paid leave might have been a game changer even then. 

But we shouldn't give out paid benefits, paid for by others, without an honest discussion of what it means.  We shouldn't hide it under the dinner table. 




Update: Jan. 26, 2015

I answered a question on WJLA-7's Facebook page on paid parental leave with this comment:  There is now a bill in Congress to mandate paid family leave, at least for federal employees (maybe contractors).  No doubt, big tech companies find it is in their best business interest to offer it, fine in their libertarian culture.  But not not smaller companies.


"Certainly it's great when an employer does it. But if government mandates it, then you’re making me (childless) as a worker (though I'm retired now), subsidize other people's decisions to have children. When I was working, I sometimes worked unpaid on-call for others with kids. I know, this is a big moral debate, not enough room in a short comment here," Links are here (Facebook) and here (story). 


Friday, January 23, 2015

Child care costs undermine two-income families; when is a non-parent relative responsible for children?


In the Metro Section, Friday January 23, 2015 of the Washington Post, columnist Petula Dvorak gives us a column “The absurd reality of child-care costs”, in this column. The online story has a more descriptive title (as if for “My Weekly Reader”), that is, “Handing over your whole paycheck for child care?  That’s so wrong.”

It’s pretty obvious where this discussion can go.  It takes two paychecks to support a family.  Men (with my temperament) don’t feel attracted to someone who would become “dependent”.  Complementarity is kaput.  Supporting child care publicly means the childless support "the child-ed". And so on.
    


In Manchester, New Hampshire, a couple went away to Nigeria and left a 25-year-old uncle to care for their two nine-year olds.  The uncle only left food occasionally.  He was arrested for child neglect, as in this story.  But what happened to really create the real obligation for who were not his own children? Story on AOL here

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DC Metro ponders service cuts as its system is viewed as not safe enough now without tremendous overhaul


The inability of the Washington DC Metro to maintain safety and avoid delays may have a major impact on many Metro area businesses, especially within the District itself, especially bars, theaters and restaurants that depend on the ability of people to get around at night. 
  
WJLA reported late Tuesday that the Metro is again considering still another fare hike, as of July 1, 2015, may reduce even rush hour service, and may eliminate after midnight service on weekends, in a story here in a story by Tom Roussey and the AP.   The changes would be likely to happen by the same time, July 1, but could occur sooner if more maintenance emergencies are discovered by NTSB investigations. 
   
Many cities (such as Cleveland along Euclid Ave.) have effective “bus only lanes”, a “tram-like” concept that could expand effective service in some areas (like Columbia Pike in Arlington).  Conceivably, express busses could run along Metro routes  on weekends and give Metro more time for extensive repairs that seem necessary now.  But, especially after all the bike lane development, there aren’t many routes in DC that offer extra lanes.  But one such route is K Street, which has service roads, and which was used to DC-to-Arlington bus service (through Georgetown) in the days before Metro (which I often used when I went to GW).   
  
Metro has run since 1976, and until after 2000 seemed pretty reliable to me.  After I came back from Minnesota in 2003, I noticed it had a lot more shutdowns and failures.  Incidents like that on Jan. 13 had been unheard of before. 
  
Major European capitals have always had reliable Metro.  Amsterdam, curiously, has only above ground tram service but it has always been effective when I was there.
  
In the US, it seems that only NYC is able to run an effective 24x7 rail mass transit with few interruptions (except for 9/11 damage and then Sandy).  The fact is in that almost all other cities, it seems that most people drive and park somewhere to go out at night.  In some cities (like West Hollywood) with little street parking, business owners have ensured there is really enough (paid) garage space. That’s a problem in DC with not enough 24 hour garages in areas that need them.  But I never seem to have a problem parking anywhere else at night (in cities with little mass transit), especially in cities where I’ve rented cars.  Baltimore (though big and having less of a Metro) is easy to park in, whereas DC is difficult.  



Update:

The Metro's own PDF talking points document is here. Note that the document does discuss ending late night service but also says that doing so could result in a Title VI discriminatory impact and that savings might be relatively unimpressive, but admits that it could happen Oct. 1


New York City does not run some express trains during off hours and recommends alternate routes sometimes during these periods, but always seems to keep some level of service everywhere.  It also has track maintenance advisories, but these seem to have less impact than in DC.  



Update: Jan. 22

Was in Philadelphia today.  Although the SEPTA system is very complicated, different lines (including streetcar) and different payment systems, at least some of it runs 24x7 on weekends.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Obama tax proposal on capital gains could hit some "undeserving" inheritance beneficiaries very hard, but it has zero chance of passing, or does it?


Here we go again, with real tax reform, to be proposed in Obama’s State of the Union message.
There is the populist idea of “soaking the rich” and maybe the rentier class, maybe the idea of “unearned” wealth, such a moral bone with the Left.  The top long term capital gains rate goes from 20 to 28 percent.  More important, with estates, the “stepped up basis” idea, where assets gains are based from their value on the date of inheritance, would be gone, and assets are sold, taxes on capital gains would be based on original value, which might be very hard to ascertain with old assets.
  
Matthew Yglesias has a story on Vox, January 17, 2015, here
  
What would happen when someone inherits an old family home?  If he or she sells it, would he or she have to base the gain on when the home was built, if it had always been in the family?  That could make a HUGE difference, and could prevent someone from selling and moving. Could this apply to 2015 taxes?
  
That brings up what is more a retirement blog issue – downsizing if an empty nester.  Older homes complicate the lives of those living alone.  And they present a “moral” issue.  Larger homes ought to be occupied by whole families.  But preparing them, given the use of lead and asbestos in the past, often hard to document or detect, then becomes a huge problem, not talked about.  In fact, that may be one reason why some jurisdictions in the DC area and many older communities in the East are prone to greenlight tear-downs and “MacMansions”, which provide easier property tax revenue.
  
The uncertainty, as to what Congress might do in the political environment, may well help explain some of the unsolicited prayers to me to become a financial planner or tax preparer a few years ago, when Mother was alive.
  
Vox says, these rather draconian measures, as to how they could impact some people, have zero chance of getting through a GOP controlled Congress.  So, sit tight.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

A tour of "Fishtown", Philly neighborhood said to demonstrate loss of "social capital"


I had reviewed Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010” back in March 2012 on my Book Reviews blog, and today I (finally) got to one of the two neighborhoods he covers in his book.  That is the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, mostly about 2 miles northeast of the city center, just above I-95 as it swings toward the NE leaving downtown, a mile north of US-30 and the Ben Franklin Bridge.
  

The central street is York St., and I saw new condos and artist’s spaces, mixed in with older brownstones.  It really didn’t look so much like a working class area now.  The warehouse-loft are of Minneapolis is comparable.

Murray was critical of the breakdown of social cohesion in working class neighborhoods.  But he did a questionable comparison of Fishtown with Belmont, an affluent suburb of Boston. He noted that people were less likely to join organizations or work together for common causes in Fishtown now than in the past. 


There is a strange paradox about hyperindividualism associated with libertarianism – and Murray has another book explaining why he is a libertarian.   Typically libertarians want to set and follow their own personal goals, and the bureaucracy of organizations may stifle them.  Yet, we’ve never seen so much initiative to help others broadcast in the media and on social media as we do these days. Murray (who lives near Frederick, MD) sounds more like Rick Santorum (from PA) in his book than I would expect. 


If you want to see a real working class neighborhood, visit “Port Richmond”, north of the railroad tracks, populated with one-way alleys and rowhouses.  I met a young white couple which told me that the neighborhood was still the same as it had been for a century – Polish Catholic.  Did Murray visit this neighborhood? 

This whole point came up in a congregational breakfast meeting at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC Sunday (on my main blog yesterday).
  
Murray is also said to have advocated that successful people “preach what they practice.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Majority of public school students in US live below poverty line; consequences for teachers, even subs


Lyndsey Layton, of the Washington Post, reports on the front page Saturday, that a majority of students in public schools now live in poverty, link here
    
For someone who grew up in Arlington VA and who has worked in the Arlington and Fairfax County school systems as a substitute teacher (and some other things, like grading special education  math project books),  this sounds shocking.  I did have plenty of AP assignments with outstanding students (I particularly remember the chemistry, and even a second year of calculus).  Teen inventor Jack Andraka is now a senior at a public school near Baltimore (story).  
  
Nevertheless, in many communities what the Post reports is true.  Teachers would have to be concerned with a lot more than academics.   They would need parenting skills, and this would apply to unmarried and childless teachers – who used to be common (unmarried women) but much more socialized than a lot of people today.   The problem brings up conservative proposals to fund vouchers for poor students to attend private schools.  I notice that private schools often win most of the games on "It's Academic".  

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Planetary boundaries" are being breached, raising moral questions as well as political


Four of nine “planetary boundaries” have been breached, meaning that Earth could gradually become less hospitable to human life or “life as we know it” for future generations.  One effect could much more effect first on lower income populations, particularly in coastal or desert areas, leading to greater political instability. Two of the boundaries are considered “core”, that is climate change, and biodiversity (with mass extinctions). 
  
One site with an article about it is “Climate and Capitalism” with the tagline, “Ecosocialism or barbarism: there is no third way”, link here
  
  
Columbia University also has a detailed, illustrated paper here
   
The debate on “planetary boundaries” may go in a political direction, as a criticism of capitalism;  but it also begs a moral question:  to individuals today have a moral obligations to generations not even yet conceived (with is a different spin than just protecting the unborn).  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Obama urges mandatory paid sick leave for smaller employers, hints at paid family leave


President Obama will proposed that employers with more than 11 people be required to offer 7 paid sick days a year.  USA Today has a typical story here
  
There was a face-off debate on CNN this morning between two female representatives in Congress, from each party.  Most larger employers offer associates paid leave.  In many fields, like IT, many people work for contracting companies but it is typical for the contracting company to offer some paid leave and paid vacation.  But the pressure to work as independent contractors tends to reduce the effectiveness as benefits.
  
The problem with mandatory benefits from the workplace will (as with health care) be the effect on smaller businesses and startups.  Internet startups that hire programmers in a house (the way Facebook started) would have to offer it, but it probably wouldn’t be that hard for most of them to do it.
  
  
On the other hand, some very small “businesses” tend to remain as individuals or couples working alone, not wanting to deal with regulations.  This could suppress employment.

National Partnership does have a website advocating European-style paid family leave, here. This would tend to encourage singles and the childless to subsidize those who have children with free or lower cost labor, but then, eldercare affects anyone and comes into the picture as the population ages – redefining the debate on “family values” considerably.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Major fire on Washington DC Metro at underground station; one fatality, several injuries; no explanation yet of fire



In a terrible incident today, at least one person has died after smoke filled at least two cars of a Yellow Line train in the Washington DC, as it approached or possibly was trying to leave the L’Enfant Plaza station. 
  
Witnesses say they say sparks near the rail, so apparently a fire started within the station, on the upper level. So far, there are no reports that authorities believe this is anything but an accident.  But the volume of smoke seems to be hard to explain, and major news media are slow to give many reports. There is no estimate on when the lower level service will resume. Metro press release is here.

The NBC story reporting the fatality is here.  The embedded video was made earlier. Chech nbcwashington and wjla for updates.  (WJLA had not reported the fatality as of 7:25 PM but NBC4 had.) WJLA's latest coverage was here.  (As of 7:38 PM WJLA reported the death, but its sister News Channel 8 reported it the same time as NBC4.)  Vox and CNN did not have reports yet as of 7:41 PM, despite the conceivable implications of the situation. 

  

This is the worst Metro incident since June 22, 2009 on the elevated portion of the Red Line (TV blog on that date).  I often use the station, most recently late on Saturday afternoon returning from the NBCWashington Health Expo and the Museum (at Archives, one station away).  

Update: Jan 13

The best information, preliminary, from the NTSB is that the smoke came from a smoldering fire resulting from a short cicuit involving the third rail, about 1000 feet further toward the end of the tunnel that opens to the 14th Street Bridge for the Yellow Line.  The train stopped 200 feet south of the station going toward the bridge.  It is shocking the smoke built up so quickly and that Metro did not get the passengers out of the tunnel quickly, with only 200 feet to walk. There were many comments on the Washington Post story, one of which envisioned how Metro would respond to a terrorist attack in a tunnel (which ABC Nightline had simulated in 1999, before 9/11, on San Francisco BART with anthrax, see "cf blog" Sept. 20, 2013)

The liability insurance company and its lawyers are going to be busy making litigation settlements.

Update: Jan 17

NTSB preliminary report on cable arcing that caused fire in tunnel here;  current not turned off for almost 40 minutes, leading to smoke.  DC Fire report, emphasizes lack of radio in L'Enfant Plaza station.

Will Metro weekend shutdowns increase even more?  It seems like all this weekend track work and maintenance has been unable to maintain the system. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

NBC4 holds annual Health Expo in Washington DC, with a simulated Nationals game


Today, I reviewed the annual NBC4 Health Expo in Washington DC, in the lower level of the Convention Center (north building), as usual, at the Mt. Vernon Square Metro Stop (Green and Yellow lines).
  
I didn’t get to meet any of the personalities this time;  there was a long line for people wanting to try out to be in a commercial.  
  

The most immediately important exhibit was that of reducing lead exposure in older homes, especially if children are living in them.  It’s easy to imagine a similar booth for asbestos.  Many older homes in the DC area (build up through the 1950s) could have these issues without having ever been tested.  They can be issues when homes are sold or rented, but probably not for older citizens living in them as “empty nesters” after retirement.  Lawyers (and at least one sales person at Home Depot) have told me that it’s better not to open this “pandora’s box” until one has to.
  

The Washington Nationals had trailer, with a video game inside.  A couple of kids were playing the Washington Nationals at Boston Red Sox (they do play in 2015), with the Nats batting first.  Boston was leading 10-3 in the sixth.  The game would simulate the results of a bat hitting a pitched ball based on Newtonian physics.  This sounds like a good science fair project, or maybe one for a high school physics class.  One problem, though, was that if Washington was the visiting team, they should have used the template for Fenway Park in Boston rather than Nationals Park.  (Although in 2013, the Miami Marlins were the home team in Seattle when their own stadium was not available.) 

There were a lot of home improvement booths.
  
  
But the Red Cross had a blood donation booth (I don’t think the policy change for gay men is in effect yet), and there was an organ donation booth, as well as glaucoma, diabetes, and prostate testing stations. 
  

There was a home fire safety demonstration, with a simulation of the possibility that worn surge protectors or particularly cheaper power strips are capable of causing fires if overloaded.  Such a fire recently happened in Alexandria.   
  

Prince Georges County has a “pink” fire engine.


Friday, January 09, 2015

Should college education (not just community) be free? What if combined with national service?


Think Progress is proposing that the federal government could restructure its educations spending and make most tuition at public (state) colleges free, link here
    
Obama has created some controversy, probably within the GOP controlled Congress, by proposing that at least two years of community college be free, for students who go at least half time and maintain a certain GPA (2.5), as here.  The federal government would pay 75% of the cost, and the states the rest (a kind if "federal participation" concept as in Medicaid), although it would be hard to get red states to go along. Some have suggested that his program would help higher income students more than the poor.
    
It’s a no brainer that national service could come up as a strategy to help pay for college, and provide opportunities to reduce or remove student debt.  There are several wrinkles to this argument, which Stanley McChrystal has been proposing.  One is that seeing service done sends a message to people with fewer opportunities that “nobody gets out of it” and that democratic values matter.  Another is that it can, if properly conceived, reduce tensions in developing parts of the world, even though it is very dangerous for many young adults to go there.  But the danger may be part of the point.  Just as with the military.  There is another Vox piece of advice for college students, one point being that it is a good idea to live abroad for a time, hopefully in a non-western country, and away from comfort zone, for a while.  


Update: Jan 11

There are more detractors to Obama's proposal. A libertarian post from ""Against Crony Capitalism" says "there is no free college", here. And Sunday morning financial planning guru Michelle Singletary tweeted a Washington Post story by Danielle Douglas-Gabrielle, about a big "catch" in the program: it doesn't come close to paying for college.  

Monday, January 05, 2015

Low oil prices offer an opportunity for an effective carbon tax -- But....


Lawrence Summers is advocating an enhanced carbon tax, given falling oil prices, on p. A13 of the Washington Post today, “The right tax now has the right time”, link here.  Online the title is “Oil’s swoon creates the opening for a carbon tax.” 
  
Vox has produced a lot articles on the Jekyl and Hyde battle about oil prices, but the drop has to be good for Americans, here.  One of the biggest causes of instability in the past was the idea that the US economy – Americans personally – had taken resources out of other countries for their own self-indulgence.  Remember the oil shocks of the Nixon, Carter years?   Now, oil seems almost out of the equation, and raw religious ideology is back.

  
Reducing carbon emissions, from a moral point of view, is largely about leaving a better world for future generations, of people not yet even conceived, let alone born.  It’s also about the fact that floods and violent storms, sometimes associated with climate change, affect low-income people disproportionately.
  
I do see the possibility of a denser, urban lifestyle again in my own future.  It would be nice to be get to most things with 24-hour public transportation.  If that sounds like New York City again, so be it.  I can’t be productive in an isolated, planned “retirement” community forty miles from most things.   Down the road, after I get my latest batch of work done, the idea of going back to urban “anti-exile” may come back. 
  
The video above, from Texas, recalls the mood in the late 1980s, before the Savings and Loan collapse, when middle eastern countries started to produce more oil (after pressure from Reagan’s policies), and oil prices fell, meaning home prices fell in the oil patch.  I returned from Texas in June 1988.



Update: Jan. 7

A downside of lower overseas oil prices is that US companies have a lot of debt and higher extraction costs.  Saudi Arabia, which has lower costs, can try to undermine USD energy independence by flooding the market temporarily.  Defaults on bonds could happen and harm investors, as well as result in many layoffs of employees.  The lower prices may affect the pipelines issue, too. Wall Street Journal story by Erin Ailworth, Russell Gold and Timothy Puko, here

First picture: Oil rig in Kermit, TX, my trip, Nov. 2011

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Death of farmer in Kansas tied to insect-borne virus not previously seen in Western Hemisphere


A farmer in Kansas died apparently of a tick-borne (or possibly mosquito) virus never seen before in the western hemisphere.  The disease caused prolonged hepatitis and encephalitis, with weight loss, and eventual organ failures.  Medscape has an article here. The virus has been named Bourbon virus, after the county in SE Kansas where the farmer lived (near Fort Scott).  It was identified at a University of Kansas hospital, as a “thogotovirus”, part of a group of viruses called orthomyoxvirus, distantly re related to influenza.
  
Huffington Post has an article here
   
   
The virus seems to be known in Eastern Europe and Africa.  CDC does not yet have a page on it; the closest match is this.
    
The death occurred last summer and there may well be milder cases.  It is not known if the virus could be transmitted in other ways, or how the virus even arrived in the US Midwest.  It does not seem to occur very often.  But people, at least in this area of the country, should be vigilant about insect bites when in grassy or wooded areas.  

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Ruling in Kentucky puts a stop to barriers of competition and protectionism through "rent-seeking"


New Year’s Day, George Will has a column, p. S17 of the Washington Post, “An overdue halt of a CON game” (“A strike against rent-seeking” online), link here , regarding an opinion from a US District Court in Frankfort, KY, striking down a Kentucky state law that required a moving company, as well as many other businesses, to file for a “certificate of necessity” (or “CON”) before doing business in the state.  The law, as Will points out, had functioned as an obvious exercise in crony capitalism and protectionism, of already established companies from competition.
  
Artificial barriers to entry have always been a bone for libertarians, and were a frequent topic of conversation in the late 90s when I was active with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.  Imagine how this could work in publishing if allowed to.  Some of the concerns over piracy (as with SOPA back in 2011) have more to do with low-cost competition from newbies to legacy content providers than actual piracy.

  
Will’s use of the term “rent-seeking” seems based on Thomas Piketty’s notion of “rentier” in his book “Capital” (Book reviews, July 22, 2014). 
   
Fist picture is north of the TN-KY border on I-65, personal trip, May 2014.