Friday, August 31, 2012

Home With My Sick Wife Today

I have spent several nights in emergency rooms the last few days.  My faith in the ability of the medical system to diagnose serious medical problems is rapidly declining.

UPDATE: Progress.  It does appear to be an ulcer; at least, Carafate, which coats the stomach lining, protecting it from acid, is allowing her to do well enough to sleep.  My guess is that there was a complex interaction here:

1. Severe nausea and stomach pain almost entirely at night.  Reason?  Stomach empties out, and acid attacks the lining.

2. Once nausea and pain are part of the equation, and keep happening, stress causes more stomach acid to be produced, aggravating problem 1.

3. Nausea makes food unattractive.  So the stomach is now empty most of the time.  Loop back to problem 1.

4. The anti-nausea medicine they gave her on E/R trip 1, Zofran, seemed to cause a panic attack.  And what does panic cause?  Stress.  Loop back to 1.

5. Nausea and pain prevent sleep.  Concern about not being to resume classes on Wednesday, and the uncertainty as to what was really the cause, causes stress.  Loop back to 1.

6. A poor choice of food once she was really hungry caused the stomach to rebel, causing nausea and pain that were probably not related to the ulcer.  More stress; return to 1.

I feel so bad for her.  At least there is a three day weekend so that I stay home and nurse her back to health.

I don't mean this as criticism of our family physician or the four emergency room doctors.  This was a complex constellation of symptoms and feedback loops.  I am not sure any of them figured it out in full; I was only able to see the feedback loop in its broad form because I know my wife so well.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Credentialism Runs Riot

One of the most absurd aspects of the last few decades has been credentialism: "Overemphasis on diplomas or degrees in giving jobs or conferring social status."  Yes, there are jobs where there is really a strong case for requiring that a person demonstrate a formal education, such as medicine, but there are vast numbers of jobs where this is emphatically not the case.  If no one's life, health, or liberty is at stake, and where you can either test someone's skills, or the costs of hiring someone to find out if they know what they are doing is low, then there is no reason to require formal credentials as a condition of employment.  Hire a carpenter; if he produces crummy cabinets, fire him.  If he produces good work, you keep him.

At the end of class last night, I overheard two students discussing job searches.  One explained that she applied for a job answering phones. She was informed that she was not qualified, because she did not have a four year college degree.  To answer phones?

Unfortunately, I find her story very easy to believe.  When workers are in such gross oversupply relative to the number of jobs, employers use credentialism as a way to winnow the pool of applicants.  If the economy gets much more Obaminable, I could see a job answering phones requiring a master's degree, just to get the stack of resumes down from 1000 to 100.

Finding Duplicate Rows For Multiple Columns

I had occasion recently to look for some SQL to find rows in a table where at least two columns must be unique: as an example, a table where customer_id and product_id must be unique.  You can have multiple customers with the same product_id but only one row for a particular customer can have that product_id.  (The database should have made the combination of  customer_id and product_id unique, but it wasn't done, so there were a few duplicate rows.)

SELECT  customer_id,  product_id, COUNT(*) 
FROM cust_table GROUP BY  customer_id,  product_id  HAVING (COUNT(*) > 1) 

Ways To Damage The Right To Keep And Bear Arms

Go out of your way to draw attention to yourself while openly carrying a firearm, and one that produced legitimate questions about whether the gun was legal, whether you might have had a criminal intent, and then file a sec. 1983 suit against the police officers who detained you while trying to figure out if you were breaking the law.  From Embody v. Ward (6th Cir. 2012) is a description of Tennessee law which allows one to carry pistols in public parks, but not long guns:
Armed with knowledge of this law  and one thing more—a Draco AK-47 pistol—Leonard Embody went to Radnor Lake State Natural Area, a state park near Nashville, Tennessee, on a Sunday afternoon.  Dressed in camouflage, he slung the gun with its eleven-and-a-half-inch barrel across his chest along with a fully loaded, thirtyround clip attached to it.
Embody anticipated his appearance at the park would attract attention—he carried an audio-recording device with him—and it did.  One passer-by spontaneously held up his hands when he encountered Embody.  Two park visitors reported to a park ranger that they were “very concerned” about Embody and the AK-47.  R.22-3 at 5.  And an elderly couple reported to a ranger that a man was in the park with an “assault rifle.”  Id. at 6. 
Two more predictable things happened.  A park ranger disarmed and detained Embody to determine whether the AK-47 was a legitimate pistol under Tennessee law, releasing him only after determining it was.  And Embody sued the park ranger, claiming he had violated his Second, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
For his troubles, Embody has done something rare:  He has taken a position on the Second and Fourth Amendment that unites the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Second Amendment Foundation.  Both organizations think that the park ranger permissibly disarmed and detained Leonard Embody that day, notwithstanding his rights to possess the gun.  So do we.
Before you say, "He was just trying to protect the right to open carry."  I don't think so, or he would not have gone out of his way to create circumstances to create uncertainty about whether he had some criminal intent.
The barrel was a half-inch shy of the legal limit,  and, when coupled with the thirty-round ammunition clip, it reasonably could look more like a rifle than a handgun.  All of this explains the reactions of visitors to the park, who became frightened at the sight of a man in camouflage carrying an AK-47 across his chest, including one couple who reported a man with an “assault rifle.”  R.22-3 at 6.  Making matters worse (or at least more suspicious), Embody had painted the barrel tip of the gun orange, typically an indication that the gun is a toy.  An officer could fairly suspect that Embody had used the paint to disguise an illegal weapon.  On this record, an officer could reasonably suspect something was amiss. 
Oh, and Embody actually mailed me a copy of the decision in which he lost, but fortunately, did not damage the Second Amendment.  With a less friendly set of judges, the results could have been worse.

Chocolate and Strokes

As with any study that attempts to correlate behaviors and results with no way to determine causality, caution is in order.  This article from the August 29, 2012 Chicago Tribune reports on a correlation between chocolate consumption and strokes:

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Men who regularly indulge their taste for chocolate may have a somewhat decreased risk of suffering a stroke, according to a study out Wednesday.
Swedish researchers found that of more than 37,000 men followed for a decade, those who ate the most chocolate had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke than men who avoided chocolate.
And this was true even after controlling for "the men's weight and other diet habits, whether they smoked and whether they had high blood pressure."

A New Ice Age

I love to point to these frantic fear of coming ice age articles from the 1970s, usually published in mainstream (that is to say, liberal) news media.  For example, this article from January 31, 1977 New York magazine with this opener:

Evening Class

I am teaching Western Civilization Wednesday evenings from 7:00 - 10:00 PM.  I was a little worried about this, because it's a three hour block.  Even under the best of conditions, three solid hours with one subject and instructor is going to be a challenge.  As an example, I took High Middle Ages from Professor Judith Abbott at Sonoma State when I was in grad school.  She was a freshly minted Ph.D., full of enthusiasm for her subject, and it was still a struggle for everyone to remain focused for four hours in the evening, especially in the stuffy lower level classroom we had.

Perhaps it is because so many of these are not traditional age students who are taking an evening class because it fits their work schedule.  I saw very high levels of engagement and interest, even in the final 30 minutes, when flagging enthusiasm would be most expected.  I showed part of the National Geographic documentary The Human Family Tree in the middle of the three hours, and even all the way through, when many students often get a little fidgety, my students remained (at least, to all appearances) engaged and even deeply fascinated.

I am beginning to have some hope that this may be one of the better semesters.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Corvette Repairs

I took the Corvette in yesterday for transmission fluid flush and rear differential flush--and I knew it was going to be about $400.  I guess the dealer is being really careful to look it over opportunities to make money keep my baby working well, so they pointed out that the rear license plate bulbs were both out, and the fuel filter hasn't been changed as far back as their records go.  (I know that I have never had anyone replace the fuel filter, so after 94,000 miles, it's probably time.)

They also pointed out that the rear differential had gone from a drip to a leak--and yes, the floor of the garage was already telling me that this situation was getting more serious.  This turned the $100+ rear differential service into a $500 repair.)  They also recommended replacing the fill plug, which I already knew was damaged.  (It appears that it is a 10mm hex socket plug, and some grease monkey somewhere apparently used a 3/8" hex socket, which removed it, but over time has slowly turned into something closer to a circle than a hexagon.)

I am quite sure that all of the recommended changes are completely necessary.  It's still quite expensive.  It makes me wish that I was still earning private sector wages, so this wouldn't hurt so much.  The only good news is that the semester has started, and I now have 1 3/4 full-time wages because of it (or about 3/4 of a full-time private sector job.)

UPDATE: I suspect that it was mostly replacing the fuel filter, but the Corvette is now really, really quick again.  It was still pretty fast before, but it is again back in the, "When will I ever have occasion to get my foot all the way to the floor?" mode.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Using Big Bertha

Some of the Moon pictures that I have posted previously I took in 2007, and I assumed that I took them with Big Bertha, my 17.5" reflector.  My mistake.  I must have taken them with my 8" reflector, because I can't get all of the Moon in frame with Big Bertha.  The first two pictures were taken at prime focus, ASA 800, 1/2000th of a second.

This picture was taken with an 18mm eyepiece projection arrangement--not quite as sharp, but with enormous magnification.

And then Moon went behind the telescope garage.  The surface that I created is plenty solid for Big Bertha, but I am a bit concerned what happens if I go off that edge onto the chip seal.  Perhaps I need to extend the surface so that Big Bertha can get into a larger clearing.

Whenever I Think Of Letting Afghanistan Stew In Its Own Juices...

I read an article like this one from the August 27, 2012 National Post (a Canadian newspaper):
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Taliban beheaded seventeen party-goers, including two women dancers, in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province as punishment, recalling the darkest days of rule by the ultra-conservative Islamist insurgents before their ouster in 2001.
The bodies were found on Monday in a house near the Musa Qala district where a party was held on Sunday night with music and mixed-sex dancing, said district governor Nimatullah. Men and women do not usually mingle in Afghanistan unless they are related, and parties involving both genders are rare and kept secret.
You can see the similarity between this and social conservatives who don't want the government to recognize same-sex marriage, right?  There's a reason a lot of progressives refer to conservative Republicans as "America's Taliban." 

Question For You Electrical Engineers

The recently built telescope garage has no power running to it.  This is a minor concern because the Corvette will spend the winter in there, and I would like to use the Deltran battery minder that I bought last winter.  Also, I would like to recharge the telescope mount power cell, and leave it there, near the telescopes.

However, I do have a 35 watt output (under ideal conditions, of course, so I don't really believe it) solar panel that I bought at Harbor Freight some years ago for some experiments.  (Unfortunate discovery: there is really no money available to fund startup work on ways to improve output of photovoltaics.)

With addition of an alligator clip to cigarette lighter plug converters from Radio Shack, I was able to recharge the telescope mount power cell, although I will have to remember to disconnect it when it is fully charged, for risk of overcharging the battery.  However, when I tried to use the same approach to feed the battery minder, no luck.  I used an inverter originally bought for recharging a video camera while driving to feed the battery minder--and the battery minder would not come on.

I verified that the inverter (originally bought for a 2001 vacation to the East Coast) still works; I was able to take output from the solar panel, run it through the alligator clip to cigarette lighter plug, and then plug a 110 VAC input cell phone charger into the inverter--and it recharged the cell phone.

My guess is that the battery minder has a certain minimum amperage input before it starts working, and the inverter just isn't getting enough wattage from the solar panel to provide that minimum amperage.  Any guesses as to how to figure out what that level might be?  The temptation is strong to buy another solar panel (or a larger one) to put in the window of the telescope garage so that it can operate the battery minder to keep the Corvette properly charged in winter, and the telescope mount power cell the other three seasons.

I have a vague recollection that if you want to combine multiple photovoltaic panels together, the lowest voltage output panel determines the net output.  (Or is it the lowest amperage output panel?)  At a minimum, it suggests that if I were to get another PV panel to pair with this, I might as well get another one of comparable voltage and amperage.

UPDATE: Thanks for the suggestions.  I just ordered the Deltran Battery Tender Solar Charge Controller from Amazon.  It was $21.95 plus shipping--an absolute bargain.  It looks like I can use it in the non-snow seasons to keep the telescope mount power cell topped off.


The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that circumcision of newborn males is economically wise and should be an insurance company reimbursable expense:

In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) formed a multidisciplinary task force of AAP members and other stakeholders to evaluate the recent evidence on male circumcision and update the Academy’s  1999 recommendations in this area. Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has endorsed this statement. Pediatrics 2012;130:585–586

A Great Future For America...

once marijuana is even more widely available.  From August 27, 2012 Reuters:
Researchers from Britain and the United States found that persistent and dependent use of cannabis before the age of 18 may have a so-called neurotoxic effect, but heavy pot use after 18 appears to be less damaging to the brain.
Terrie Moffitt, a psychology and neuroscience professor at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, said the scope and length of the study, which involved more than 1,000 people followed up over 40 years, gave its findings added weight.
"It's such a special study that I'm fairly confident cannabis is safe for over-18 brains, but risky for under-18 brains," she said.
Before the age of 18, the brain is still being organized and remodeled to become more efficient and may be more vulnerable to damage from drugs, she added.
Moffitt worked with Madeleine Meier, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University in the United States, to analyze data on 1,037 New Zealanders who took part in the study. About 96 percent of the original participants stuck with the study from 1972 to today, she said.
Is anyone really surprised to find this out?  Dependent users lost an average of 8 IQ points between 13 and 38.
While 8 IQ points may not sound like a lot on a scale where 100 is the mean, Meier said an IQ drop from 100 to 92 would mean dropping from being in the 50th percentile to being in the 29th.
Higher IQs also correlate with higher levels of education and income, better health and longer lives, she said. "Somebody who loses 8 IQ points as an adolescent may be disadvantaged ... for years to come," she added.
Here's the abstract.  Wired's article about this study notes:
Up for debate is whether the brains of adolescent-onset users recover after quitting marijuana use. Meier’s finding that quitting did not restore mental function to pre-use levels was based on only a small sample of subjects who quit.
 UPDATE: Reading the comments on the Wired article seems to unintentionally prove the point of the study: large numbers of pro-pot comments along the lines of this one:
This study also does not answer the question: Did marijuana lower these people's IQ's? Or do people with low IQ's cope with their situation by smoking marijuana? Cause != effect
Like many of the pro-pot people, he clearly lacked the ability to read the article and understand it:
Researchers gave study participants an IQ test at age 13, before the start of marijuana use, and again at age 38, after some had developed “cannabis dependence” — defined as continued use of the drug in spite of major health, social, and/or legal problems from using it. 

What An Impressive Turnout

Protesters blamed Tropical Storm Isaac and a massive police presence Monday for their weak showing at the Republican National Convention. Only a fraction of the 5,000 expected demonstrators actually turned out to criticize the GOP's economic and social policies....
About 200 people marched as part of the Coalition to March on the RNC's rally in an empty lot near the arena where the Republicans will be nominating Mitt Romney as their candidate for president. ...
The 60 organizing groups for the protests included labor unions, Students for a Democratic Society, Veterans for Peace, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Occupy Wall Street and Code Pink.
Wow!  That means about...3 1/3 protesters per group.  Boy, do they speak for the 99%!  I am so impressed!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Raub Released

I mentioned a few days ago Brandon J. Raub, a Marine veteran whose remarks posted to his Facebook page caused some alarm, leading to his hospitalization for psychiatric observation.  A Virginia circuit court judge has ordered his release.  According to this August 23, 2012 Business Insider report, the statute under which he was detained had requirements that were not met:
Chesterfield police stated that they "took Raub into custody for evaluation in accordance with Virginia State Code § 37.2-808 Emergency custody."

But according to Va. Code § 37.2-808, a person in emergency custody may only be held for four hours unless a magistrate enters a temporary detention order (TDO)  during that time.
Raub's lawyers argue that since the magistrate entered the order more than eight hours after he was taken into custody, the District Court "lacked any basis (much less clear and convincing evidence) to conclude that Raub (i) has a mental illness, and (ii) that there was a substantial likelihood that, as a result of such mental illness, Raub will, in the near future, cause serious physical harm to others, as Va. Code 37.2-817 specifically requires."
It appears that the successful appeal involved both a procedural defect, and a claim that Raub was not mentally ill, or a threat to others.  Either would be sufficient to get him released.  What concerns me is that the lawyer representing Raub on this also is reported as claiming:
every year in Virginia more than 20,000 people are committed under similar circumstances and "that means a lot of people are disappearing" under the pretext of mental illness.
They aren't "disappearing."  Raub didn't disappear.  He was able to call friends and family and ask for their help, which he received.

Now, there is some real question as to whether Raub was a threat or not, or mentally ill, or not.  Some of the news accounts of what Raub had posted sounded a little worrisome, but not necessarily "clear and convincing evidence" of mental illness.  I understand the concern of civil libertarians.  I also understand the concerns that led to Raub's detention.  The FBI spokesperson pointed out:
"We received quite a few complaints about what were perceived as threatening posts," she said. "Given the circumstances with the things that have gone on in the country with some of these mass shootings, it would be horrible for law enforcement not to pay attention to complaints."
There is some question as to how Raub's comments came to the attention of the FBI.  The FBI says that the concerns came from members of the public, but this August 21, 2012 CBS DC report says:
Whitehead [Raub's attorney] said some of the posts in question were made on a closed Facebook page that Raub had just created and that had only three members, so he questioned whether anyone from the public would have complained about them.
Unless, of course, one of those three members of the closed Facebook page knew Raub well enough to be concerned about what he was saying.

Perhaps local police, the FBI, and the Secret Service were too zealous in their actions.  None of the statements that I have seen quoted have actually crossed the line into an overt statement that Raub was planning violence.  Unfortunately, because a number of mass murderers in recent years have made  statements on the web that in retrospect were indicators of serious mental illness problems, I can see why Raub's statements might have provoked the concerns that they did.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hugh Hefner On Same-Sex Marriage

Hugh Hefner (who you younger folks may not know who he is, since he hasn't been relevant to American culture for a couple of decades, at least) complains:
The fight for gay marriage is, in reality, a fight for all of our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time. Today, in every instance of sexual rights falling under attack, you’ll find legislation forced into place by people who practice discrimination disguised as religious freedom. Their goal is to dehumanize everyone’s sexuality and reduce us to using sex for the sole purpose of perpetuating our species. 
As a commenter over at Ann Althouse's blog points out:
Hugh Hefner railing against the dehumanization of sexuality? Isn't that like the Soviets complaining about treaty violations, or Todd Akin lecturing folks on interview preparation?
There is a lot that feminists got wrong, but when they described pornography as "objectifying women," there was no better example than Playboy--until Penthouse and Hustler came along.

I am also a bit amazed that Hefner thinks that there is some danger of "return to an earlier, puritanical time."  I am old enough to remember a time when an elementary school child with detailed knowledge of the mechanics of sexual intercourse was assumed to have been sexually abused.  Today, it just means there is no filtering on the home Internet connection.

What is especially annoying is that Hefner argues that religious freedom is simply a disguise for discrimination--with no awareness that antidiscrimination laws are now being used (as in the case about to go to the New Mexico Supreme Court) as a method for punishing religious dissent.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reasons To Change Sexual Partners Less Often Than Cell Phones

Instapundit points to this rather serious problem that we have run out of drugs that will cure some antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea: "The 21st Century isn’t turning out like I expected. . . ." 

This is completely expected to me.  One of the great delusions of progressivism is the idea that everything old is automatically wrong.  (The great delusion of conservativism is that everything new is automatically suspect.)  The article points out:
The bacteria that causes gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is notoriously good at adapting to avoid our attempts to kill it, said Dr. Robert Bonomo, professor of medicine, pharmacology, molecular biology and microbiology at Case Western Reserve University.
"Superstrains" of gonorrhea resistant to penicillin and tetracycline cropped up in the 1970s and '80s and to a class of drugs called fluoroquinolones, such as Cipro, in 2007.
And why, oh why, do you think that these superstrains showed up in the 1970s and 1980s?  Might it have been related to the replacement of traditional notions of sexual morality (backed up by not only social pressure but laws as well) with "If it feels good, do it"?  The rate of STD infection of a population increases with the square of the number of sexual partners per time.  Double the number of sexual partners per month and you quadruple the number of people infected; quadruple the number of partners per month, and you increase the infection rate by 16.

I don't have any illusions that in 1950s America, people stayed virgins until marriage, and never strayed.  But the social pressure, fear of pregnancy, and a notion that some things were morally wrong at least kept the situation a bit in check.

More Fake Hate Crimes

August 22, 2012 CBS St. Louis:

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A former University of Nebraska women’s basketball star faked an attack in which she allegedly carved anti-gay slurs into her skin because she felt it would spark change, police said Tuesday.
Four days before Charlie Rogers crawled naked and bleeding from her Lincoln home, screaming for help, she outlined in a Facebook posting what investigators believe was her motive for faking the July 22 attack, Police Chief Jim Peschong said at a news conference.
“So maybe I am too idealistic, but I believe way deep inside me that we can make things better for everyone. I will be a catalyst. I will do what it takes. I will. Watch me,” read the July 18 posting, according to police.
It turns out that there was a sexual orientation antidiscrimination ordinance passed by the Lincoln City Council in May, and opponents were demanding that it go to a public vote.   And so this woman appears to have faked a hate crime attack on herself to get sympathy for her side.  This is actually a very common action.  As I have pointed out in the past, hate crimes (sometimes racial, but usually sexual orientation) with surprising frequency turn out to be fakes.  And here's another list of fake hate crimes.

Sometimes they are done to have an excuse to leave a particular college, or to get a wife to not leave (yes, really).  But usually, it is to get political advantage that can't be had any other way.  If you can't get what you want except by faking hate crimes, what does that tell you?

Carry On Campus

The University of Colorado lost a battle in the state supreme court over whether it could prohibit concealed weapon permit holders from carrying on campus.  But in the grand tradition of Alabama Gov. George Wallace's defiant 1963 inaugural speech, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever", there are professors who imagine themselves above the law.  Fortunately, while the administration of the University of Colorado is not friendly, they at least know what the law requires.  From the August 21, 2012 Daily Camera (the student paper there):

University of Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano notified the Boulder campus faculty Tuesday afternoon that professors "do not have the right to shut down a class or refuse to teach" should they learn that one of their students is lawfully carrying a gun under a concealed-carry permit.
And, DiStefano added, any faculty members who do so will be in violation of their contracts and face disciplinary action.
DiStefano's message comes a day after Professor Jerry Peterson, chairman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, told the Daily Camera that, under his own "personal policy," he plans to cancel class if he ever learns any of his students are carrying firearms. A Colorado Supreme Court ruling this spring overturned CU's Boulder campus gun ban, and university officials say that students with conceal-carry permits are allowed to bring guns into classrooms and labs.
If where I teach allowed concealed carry permitholders to carry on campus, I would be pleased to know that there was a permitholder in my classroom.  While we have little to fear from ordinary criminals where we are, there is a tiny risk of the sort of lunatic mass murderer that has been a problem at other colleges around the country (and in other countries as well).  If that very unlikely risk but enormous consequences event happened, I would be glad to have students, faculty, or staff who were able to return fire.

Hat tip to Shall Not Be Questioned for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Psychiatric Evaluation: State to State Differences

This news report from August 21, 2012 CBS News indicates that at least in Virginia, a person posting what seems to some to be signs of murderous intent will get him taken in custody for psychiatric evaluation:
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A former Marine involuntarily detained for psychiatric evaluation for posting strident anti-government messages on Facebook has received an outpouring of support from people who say authorities are trampling on his First Amendment rights.
Brandon J. Raub, 26, has been in custody since FBI and Secret Service agents and Chesterfield County police questioned him Thursday evening about what they considered ominous posts talking of a coming revolution. In one message earlier this month, Raub wrote: “Sharpen my axe; I’m here to sever heads.”
Police — acting under a state law that allows emergency, temporary psychiatric commitments upon the recommendation of a mental health professional — took Raub to the John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell. He was not charged with any crime.
That is somewhat worrisome...until you find out that the quoted text are lyrics from a rap band's song.  Perhaps there was more on his Facebook page than this, or perhaps there was additional information that caused the FBI and Secret Service to show up at his door.  On the other hand, in Colorado, a psychiatrist treating James Holmes could not get police to pursue what she obviously consider a very genuine danger before Holmes went Joker.

If, as some think, Raub was taken into custody for antigovernment thoughts, there are not enough hospitals to hold everyone.  There aren't enough police to take everyone into custody.  Until we get a bit more information, I think assuming that this action was political repression is unjustified.

UPDATE: This account from the August 21, 2012 Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reports some of the other things he posted.  I can see why, especially after recent tragedies, people expressed concern to the FBI.  His three day observational hold has been extended to 30 days--usually a sign that psychiatrists evaluated him, and concluded that he was having serious problems.

UPDATE 2: Here is Virginia's emergency commitment statute, under which Raub was hospitalized:

§ 37.2-808. Emergency custody; issuance and execution of order
A. Any magistrate shall issue, upon the sworn petition of any responsible person, treating physician, or upon his own motion, an emergency custody order when he has probable cause to believe that any person (i) has a mental illness and that there exists a substantial likelihood that, as a result of mental illness, the person will, in the near future, (a) cause serious physical harm to himself or others as evidenced by recent behavior causing, attempting, or threatening harm and other relevant information, if any, or (b) suffer serious harm due to his lack of capacity to protect himself from harm or to provide for his basic human needs, (ii) is in need of hospitalization or treatment, and (iii) is unwilling to volunteer or incapable of volunteering for hospitalization or treatment. Any emergency custody order entered pursuant to this section shall provide for the disclosure of medical records pursuant to § 37.2-804.2. This subsection shall not preclude any other disclosures as required or permitted by law.
 I think it is no coincidence that this statute was last revised in the legislative session after the Virginia Tech massacre--where a failure to involuntarily commit a schizophrenic college student made it possible for him to legally buy firearms with which he carried out this crime.

We Aren't Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

This August 13, 2012 Tacoma News Tribune editorial points out that the Pierce County Jail has some serious budget problems, and why:
Those costs are expected to run $1.8 million over budget this year. Some of that may be a result of sloppy management – without an in depth analysis, there’s no way to tell.
But there’s no question that some of it is being driven, as Sheriff Paul Pastor maintains, by the high cost of dealing with inmates with serious psychiatric illnesses.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, which operates the jail, roughly 118 inmates with serious mental illnesses are being confined there at any given time. Some of them are housed in a section of the building that’s been turned into what amounts to a psychiatric wing. Others are held maximum security.
An additional 150 or more don’t suffer from acute illnesses – but are sick enough to require psychiatric medications. The jail’s budget for mental health treatment, coincidentally, is $1.8 million.
In my book My Brother Ron, I make the claim that it isn't clear that deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill actually saved any money.  That was never anything but a secondary concern, anyway, but today, when I make the point that we need to be willing to spend money on mental health care, the question that I am asked is, "Where's the money going to come from?"  The answer is that we are already spending the money--but not on mental hospitals, but psychiatric wards of jails and prisons, on programs to provide very temporary assistance to the mentally ill homeless, and for the small fraction who become local or national headlines, murder trials, followed by years in prison.

These other ways of spending money are generally less efficient, and often less humane than what we had before: state mental hospitals that, for all their faults, at least did not have mentally ill people freezing to death on a winter's night, or dying of pneumonia.

I would call this misallocation of resources "robbing Peter to pay Paul," but that does not capture the full horror of it.  Because about 10% of murders in the U.S. are done by severely mentally ill offenders, many of whom were already known to be mentally ill, and the costs of murder trials and subsequent prison terms are long and costly, we aren't robbing Peter to pay Paul.  We are murdering Peter to pay Paul.

Shortages of Labor in California

August 20, 2012 CNBC is reporting that California agribusiness is whining about shortages of illegal aliens to work the fields--but they do seem to be learning how to solve that shortage:

"We have 100 fewer people this year," said Sergio Diaz, who provides workers under contract for growers. "We're having difficulty finding people to do this work."
The lack of workers is forcing farmers to pay more. In one of Underwood's fields, pickers are harvesting peppers for $9.25 a hour, or $5 a bucket, whichever is more. Craig Underwood said his workforce is aging and starting to retire, and no one is coming in to replace them....
When asked if any local residents have come out to apply to work in the fields, Craig Underwood replied, "None. Absolutely none." He is even having trouble finding truck drivers and other semi-skilled labor for jobs that pay $12-$18 an hour.
Now, this is in California's Central Valley, where the cost of living is nothing like San Francisco or Los Angeles.  A rate of $9.25 per hour isn't great, but if you are a teenager, that's about what you would expect to make at McDonald's.  Or perhaps you have recently received a graduate degree in philosophy, or puppetry, or transgendered cultural studies.

And if employers can't find semi-skilled labor at $12-$18 per hour, that tells me that there is no unemployment problem there anymore.   Right?  Or am I missing something?

Reminders of the Hypocrisy of the Left

If any other California industry failed to take action to prevent its employees from getting infected as part of their job, the California legislature would pass regulations to protect those employees.  But the industry is pornographic films, so it gets special treatment--to the point that it is going to take an initiative to require use of condoms.  From the August 20, 2012 Los Angeles Times:
Jolted by the possibility of a syphilis outbreak among its ranks, a Los Angeles-based trade group that represents the adult film industry announced a nationwide moratorium on X-rated productions while more than 1,000 porn performers are tested....
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said Monday the developments show that adult film companies are incapable of policing themselves. His group said the syphilis incident would be used as part of the campaign for Measure B, a proposal on the Nov. 6 countywide ballot mandating the use condoms during professional X-rated shoots. And it accused adult film productions of being "bad corporate citizens," saying that no other business would tolerate transmission of any diseases, sexual or otherwise.
"We don't settle for that in food preparation. We don't settle for that in factories," said Tom Myers, general counsel for the group. "I can't think of any other [workplace] where there's an acceptable level of transmissible diseases as a normal course of business "

Todd Akin's Misstatement

It turns out that a lot of studies have been published the last few years showing that pregnancy resulting from rape is about as likely (and perhaps even more likely) than pregnancy resulting from consensual sex.  It certainly would not be surprising if the violence associated with rape was traumatic, and interfered with pregnancy, which is what Akin was trying to claim was the situation.  The evidence, however, seems to show otherwise.  So where did Rep. Akin get this idea?

I can remember some years ago reading in a book opposing abortion about a study done in post-World War II Hungary, where invading Soviet troops behaved about as well as they did everywhere else that they invaded, which did indeed find a very low pregnancy rate resulting from rape.  But I find myself suspicious that other factors may have been at play under these circumstances, including nutritional problems.  My guess is that pro-life groups have been pointing to that study because they fundamentally disapprove of abortion, and therefore have been looking for ways to discredit what is one of the exceptions that most Americans are willing to make with respect to abortion.

This is one of the reasons that I try to emphasize to ideologues of all stripes that if you go looking for evidence that backs your position, you will find evidence that backs your position, and you will miss the evidence that doesn't.

UPDATE: Here is a really harrowing paper that may shed some light on the Hungarian study to which I previously referred: Mladen Lončar, Vesna Medved, Nikolina Jovanović, Ljubomir Hotujac, "Psychological Consequences of Rape on Women in 1991-1995 War in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina," Croatian Medical Journal 47:67-75 (2008).  Of their sample of 68 women who were raped, 42.9% became pregnant, although many were subject to repeated daily rapes and gang rapes, hence the very high rate of pregnancy.

Almost half of women got pregnant as a result of rape. Women who were raped once, compared with those repeatedly raped, had seven times higher risk of pregnancy.
The paper also mentions that many of the women were tortured, forced to watch family members killed, and watch other women raped.  This might explain why the women raped once were subject to so much higher pregnancy risk than the ones who were repeated victims. The repeated victims were apparently subject to much more traumatic situations.

Monday, August 20, 2012

If Only For The Magic Solution To Chicago Voting

This article reports that Obama is only 12 points up on Romney in Cook County, Illinois (home of Chicago):
President Barack Obama could lose his home state of Illinois in November, a new poll shows.
A poll conducted by Illinois-based pollster and political strategist Michael McKeon found Obama leading Republican Mitt Romney by 49 percent to 37 percent in Cook County, the home of Chicago. That puts him ahead by a far thinner margin than expected in a county he should be winning handsomely.
Read more:
Commenters claim that Obama won Cook County by 53 points in 2008.  Yes, Obama has to worry.  But as one of the commenters over there reminded everyone, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel will reprise the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to solve the problem: "Bring out your dead!  Bring out your dead!"

Not Sure How This Was Missed

The College Station mentally ill shooter may have had to retreat from the policeman that he killed because a civilian was shooting at him.  Shall Not Be Questioned links to this August 17, 2012 KBTX news report:

12:11 PM – First 911 call received. Caller advised that an officer had just been shot and he thought that his girlfriend (Holdsworth) had been shot also. Numerous 911 calls were received including a call reporting that Northcliffe had been shot.
o Holdsworth was shot as she pulled her vehicle into a driveway in the 600 block of Highlands.
o Northcliffe was next to a parked vehicle in the 600 block of Highlands when he was shot.
o Witnesses also told police that the suspect approached Constable Bachmann, after shooting him and removed his duty weapon from his gun belt.
o During this same time period a civilian in the 600 block of Highlands fired 5-6 rounds from a small caliber handgun towards the suspect.
It is at least plausible that the civilian firing at the shooter might have prevented him from moving out to be a threat to others.

The Dangers of Crowd-Sourcing Morals

CBS News carries this report about a new study of binge drinking on a Northeastern college campus that includes this depressing reminder of what happens when you let the crowd define right and wrong:

In initial research, Hsu said, the researchers noticed a theme of students complaining about high levels ofbinge drinking.
"One thing that was a recurrent comment were students who said, 'Everyone drinks here. ... I don't want to get drunk, but I feel like I don't belong here if I don't.' ... Then the next person would write, 'I don't really want to drink, but this is what everyone else does.' And the next person would write, 'You know, I don't mind drinking a little, but I don't want to get smashed, but everyone does that,'" Hsu said.
"I look at this and I think, 'Why don't you guys just have a party without drinking? None of you want to be doing this!'" Hsu added.
While the study found that binge drinkers were happier than non-binge drinkers (what I would simplify to the term "responsible adults"), it also points out:
High-status binge drinkers were happier with their social lives than high-status students who didn't binge drink. And low-status students who binge drank had higher social satisfaction than their non-binging peers.
"They almost seemed to move themselves up a little bit, or to put it in more efficient language, they now have higher levels of social satisfaction," Hsu said.
Hsu was quick to note that binge drinking is not the smartest way to improve your chances ofcollege happiness. Binge drinking was also associated with higher rates of sexual victimization and academic troubles, among other nasty consequences, she said.  
Perhaps this happiness is a short-term thing, until you have to pay the consequences.

Why I Don't Have Much Respect for Democracy

From the August 20, 2012 USA Today:

In USA TODAY/Gallup Poll nationwide and in the 12 top battleground states, most voters say the situation for them and their families hasn't improved over the past four years, the first time that has happened since Ronald Reagan famously posed the question in his debate with President Carter in 1980 — a contest Carter lost.
Even so, President Obama, who in 2008 became the first African American elected president, maintains a slight lead over challenger Mitt Romney in the battleground states likely to decide the election, 47%-44%. That's better than his standing in the non-battleground states, where Romney leads 47%-45%.
What is especially discouraging is the number of voters interviewed who admit that Obama has blown it on the economy--and they will probably vote for him again. The ignorant masses get what they deserve in a democracy. Unfortunately, the rest of us get what the ignorant masses deserve, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Asphalt Emulsion

This morning was the grand experiment using Latex-ite's asphalt emulsion product on the Cold Patch that we put on the reground asphalt that was the telescope garage's driveway apron.  Let me hasten to add that this is not the intended application.  I suspect that for what it is intended--resealing a genuine poured asphalt surface, it probably works just fine.  But it is pretty much impossible to get asphalt crews at the moment for such a small job, because they are all busy working.  Construction is going gangbusters in the Boise area at the moment.

First of all, on the Cold Patch that we had repeatedly rolled over with the cars, the emulsion went on pretty well.  The recommended tool for smoothing the surface was a bit too heavy, and was pulling up loose material from the Cold Patch, so we switched to a window squeege on a long pole, and it worked actually quite well.  When the emulsion reached the reground asphalt portions at the edges, not so well.  It tended to make a little bit of a gummy mess.

Still, it looked better than what was there before, and the emulsion appears to have turned into a single consistent layer, instead of the graininess of Cold Patch.

In the late afternoon, we noticed that while much of the surface was okay, some parts were cracking.  You are supposed to apply this below 85 degrees, but it did not stay that cool today.  By late afternoon, my wife, who had been comparing the consistency and color of the asphalt emulsion to diarrhea, was comparing it to a pie crust that had cracked for overcooking.  So we bought another 4.75 gallon container, and this time, we applied it in late afternoon, when the temperatures were dropping.  We also misted the surface first, as Latex-ite recommends, to cool everything down.

By nightfall, the surface, while still not as pretty as I would have liked (and realistically, with the base to which we were applying it, this is not a surprise), it at least was doing a pretty good job of making a reasonably consistent surface.  To avoid splattering any more on the garage door than we already had, we used various pieces of wood and metal to prevent that, but it now means that there is a small gap between the concrete and the smooth part of the asphalt.  I think the solution on this will be the trowel paste asphalt, which we can apply with a trowel to fill this in, as well as any cracks that develop elsewhere.  The trowel paste asphalt is actually the best solution of all, but it's pretty expensive and slow to apply, so I think we will use it as a coverup for the boo-boos we made with the asphalt emulsion.

We also applied three bags of Cold Patch to other parts of the driveway that have been damaged by heavy trucks over the last couple of years.  Cold Patch is really amazing stuff--for the price (about $18 for a 50 pound page), and how easily it turns into an asphalt repair, I am extremely pleased with it.  The only thing that would make it absolutely flawless would be applying the trowel patch asphalt onto the surface.  At that point, you probably couldn't tell it from a poured asphalt road.

Friday, August 17, 2012

But Would You Want Your Daughter To Marry One?

News that reads like it came from The Onion, but actually came from the August 17, 2012 Denver Post:

The University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are amending their student housing contracts, segregating students who possess a valid concealed-weapons carry permit.
The university said Thursday that both campuses will establish a residential area for students over the age of 21 with permits. In all other dormitories, guns will be banned, the new policy states.
Read more:CU to segregate dorms for students with concealed carry permits - The Denver Post
Them gun owners are uppity, aren't they!

The Blood Libel Again

One of the reasons that I do my best to explain the blood libel in Western Civ is because, unfortunately, it is not just ancient history:

Saudi cleric Salman Al-Odeh, a well-known scholar revered by millions globally, went on a lengthy tirade against the Jews during an interview Monday in which he stated that “the role of the Jews is to wreak destruction, to wage war, and to practice deception and extortion,” according to a translation of his remarks by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).Al-Odeh ranted about the use of human blood in Jewish religious rituals, a notorious anti-Semitic smear commonly referred to as a “blood libel.”“It is well known that the Jews celebrate several holidays, one of which is the Passover, or the matzos holiday,” he said.“I read once about a doctor who was working in a laboratory. This doctor lived with a Jewish family. One day, they said to him: ‘We want blood. Get us some human blood,’” Al-Odeh explained.“He was confused. He didn’t know what this was all about,” Al-Odeh says as the interviewer nods along. “He found that they were making matzos with human blood. They eat it, believing that this brings them close to their false god, Yahweh.”Jewish people “would lure a child in order to sacrifice him in the religious rite that they perform during that holiday,” Al-Odeh adds.
What's really fascinating is that even before medieval Europe became fascinated with the blood libel against the Jews, there was another group that suffered the blood libel...Christians in the early Roman Empire.  Somehow, the Roman authorities had heard a scrambled version of Communion, and were convinced that Christians were cannibals.

Why Didn't Colorado University Police Act on Holmes?

Simple enough reason: the law did not allow them to seek an emergency commitment.  Colorado Revised Statutes 27-65-105(a)(I) provides:
When any person appears to have a mental illness and, as a result of such mental illness, appears to be an imminent danger to others or to himself or herself or appears to be gravely disabled, then a person specified in subparagraph (II) of this paragraph (a), each of whom is referred to in this section as the "intervening professional", upon probable cause and with such assistance as may be required, may take the person into custody, or cause the person to be taken into custody, and placed in a facility designated or approved by the executive director for a seventy-two-hour treatment and evaluation.
However, Holmes was not considered "an imminent danger":
The CU Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team (BETA) documents include an Integrative "Threat Assessment Matrix," which details five levels of threats from "No Risk Identified" to "Imminent Risk," records show. The first time the threat matrix says to include "law enforcement response" is at level 4, labeled "High Risk." 
I suppose if you move from making threats to loading a gun while making threats, you reach the "Imminent Risk" category.  Not did Holmes qualify as "gravely disabled," which, under C.R.S. 27-65-102(9) requires either:
(a) a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental illness:

(I) Is in danger of serious physical harm due to his or her inability or failure to provide himself or herself with the essential human needs of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; or

(II) Lacks judgment in the management of his or her resources and in the conduct of his or her social relations to the extent that his or her health or safety is significantly endangered and lacks the capacity to understand that this is so.
Maybe Holmes might have fit in (9)(a)(II), but it is a stretch.  The other definition of gravely disabled requires:

 (b) A person who, because of care provided by a family member or by an individual with a similar relationship to the person, is not in danger of serious physical harm or is not significantly endangered in accordance with paragraph (a) of this subsection (5) subsection (9) may be deemed "gravely disabled" if there is notice given that the support given by the family member or other individual who has a similar relationship to the person is to be terminated and the individual with a mental illness:
(I) Is diagnosed by a professional person as suffering from: Schizophrenia; a major affective disorder; a delusional disorder; or another mental disorder with psychotic features; and
(II) Has been certified, pursuant to this article, for treatment of the disorder or has been admitted as an inpatient to a treatment facility for treatment of the disorder at least twice during the last thirty-six months with a period of at least thirty days between certifications or admissions; and
 (III) Is exhibiting a deteriorating course leading toward danger to self or others or toward the conditions described in paragraph (a) of this subsection (5)subsection (9) with symptoms and behavior that are substantially similar to those that preceded and were associated with his or her hospital admissions or certifications for treatment; and
(IV) Is not receiving treatment that is essential for his or her health or safety.

Holmes had not yet been hospitalized, and so (9)(b)(II) didn't apply...yet.  While many mentally ill murderers have long histories, others go from sane to mass murder in a surprisingly short time...and like Holmes, it is obvious that they are dangerous.  Colorado can fix this; there are a series of specific changes to their statutes to solve it.  A friend with connections is talking to legislators and the governor next week.

There is a non-emergency procedure, but the courts are supposed to seek the cooperation of the respondent first, before taking him into custody.  Gee, what is the usual response of a paranoid schizophrenic who has been stockpiling explosives, guns, and ammo when you politely ask him to come in for a commitment evaluation?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No Criminal Charges

From the August 15, 2012 New York Times:

A criminal investigation into the collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global and the disappearance of about $1 billion in customer money is now heading into its final stage without charges expected against any top executives.
After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm’s demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case.
Now, it might indeed be just incompetence by the guy that Obama used to claim was one of the smartest people in the country about finance.  But considering that Jon Corzine is one of Obama's biggest bundlers (and bunglers) of money...just imagine the questions that would be raised if a Republican was in the White House, and a Republican of equal fundraising background had been CEO when a billion dollars of customer funds were stolen and lost?  

It must be nice to be a Democrat: you don't have to be responsible for losing other people's money in a highly regulated industry.

Municipal Bond Defaults

Municipal bonds are a traditional way that moderately rich sorts invest.  The reason is that while the interest rates aren't spectacular, the interest income is exempt is from both federal income tax, and the income tax of the state in which the bond is issued.  (Exception: private activity municipal bonds, which are a way for private firms to get governmental assistance on building problems, are subject to Alternative Minimum Tax.)

If you have $5 million in cash, you can buy a bunch of munis for your state, and get, even now, a 4% return on your investment.  That's miserable, but that's still about $200,000 a year -- and you owe no income tax on it.  I think, with a little restraint, it is possible to live pretty decently on that. :-)

Of course, in exchange for the low interest rate, munis are traditionally considered pretty safe.  But this article  from the August 15, 2012 Washington Post, would indicate that they aren't quite as safe as everyone assumes:

Defaults on municipal bonds for decades have been far higher than reported by rating agencies, bringing into question the true risk of a common investment widely considered to be safe, according to a study released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Economists at the agency counted 2,521 muni bond defaults since 1970, whereas ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service, for instance, reported 71....
Supporters of muni bonds say that despite a few high-profile cases, government securities rarely default. Data from the New York Fed, however, suggests otherwise.
What is important is that the study found that general-obligation bonds, "rarely fail because they are backed by tax revenue."  The bonds that are used to finance various specific projects, and where the repayment of the bond is dependent on a particular facility such as a hospital or stadium, have higher default rates.  The high risk turns out to be "industrial development" bonds, and these "fail at a 28 percent rate."  UPDATE: A commenter at the Washington Post reports that the Fed study actually says that 28% of the defaulted bonds are industrial development munis.  That is a lot more plausible than a 28% default rate.
I have always been a bit skeptical about munis because I worried about default risk.  This gives me increased confidence, however, that general-obligation munis are pretty safe--and the risk is all the others.

My Wife's Next Book Is Up On Amazon

At least the paperback edition.  This is a very touching piece of fiction about Herod's slaughter of the innocents.  The Kindle edition will be ready in the next few days.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm On A Mission From God

If you saw The Blues Brothers, you know what I mean!  I need, immediately, every incident that you can find in the last few years in which a person with a mental illness problem committed a violent felony in Colorado.  If the news accounts give an indication of previous awareness of police, social workers, psychologists, physicians, or family members, that this person was mentally ill, even more important.

Please add them comments as here.  If you are a professional working in Colorado in the mental health field, please email me pronto.  I need to pick your brain for state-specific aspects of the system.  And I need it now.  I'm taking Thursday, and maybe Friday off to get a concrete proposal for reform of Colorado law in this area put together; this will be presented by someone who is very connected with the people that matter in Colorado state government.

I am reading through Colorado mental health statutes right now.  The next step will be a review of all Colorado case law that addresses questions of involuntary commitment, burden of proof for such commitment, and liability for such commitment by both private and public officials.  If you have access to Lexis, great.  If not, makes a surprisingly effective substitute.  As you find case law that is relevant to these questions, please add it to the comments.

It appears that Colorado, like most states, has largely demolished their state mental hospital system, substantially reducing capacity in the last few years--although this may be because of reluctance to use what the law already allows.  (Colorado is apparently not as stringent as some states on at least observational holds.)

12-43-218 prohibits disclosure of confidential communications from a patient, although acknowledging that "other disclosures required by law" may still happen.  At least, it ought to make it clear that the Tarasoff requirements are one of the exceptions, and I can think of some others to add to the list.

C.R.S. 27-65-102(9)'s definition of "gravely disabled" looks like it was cribbed from New York's Kendra's Law, which was designed to keep the jackals at the ACLU at bay, but for people suffering sudden schizophrenic collapses (as appears to be the case with Holmes), it is a serious problem.  As well as making it less likely that schizophrenics will receive the early and consistent treatment required to have any hope of making a meaningful difference in long-term care.

More Government Ammo Panic

The Social Security Administration has requested 174,000 rounds of  “.357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow point pistol ammunition” for delivery within 60 days.    Right before the election!  Or, more accurately, to be paid out of the current budget before the current fiscal year ends September 30.

Look, anything our government orders, it orders in huge quantities.   It's a big government, with way too many agencies and agents.  As the Declaration of Independence described King George III (and it fits the current national government), "has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance."  If you looked at the quantities of toilet paper that our government orders, and you were of a paranoid mind, you would conclude that the government is taking this "wipe your behind because you are stupid to know how to do it yourself" to its logical conclusion.

I don't know how many police officers the Social Security Administration has, but when I look at the quantity of Medicare fraud and Social Security fraud out there, I would consider 1000 federal agents to handle this would be way too low.  Many local police departments expect or require their officers to fire 1000 rounds every three months in practice, and for a good reason: a case of ammo is way cheaper than a civil suit by an innocent bystander who gets hit in a gunfight.  A year's worth of practice by 1000 agents would be three million rounds.

UPDATE: For those who find it hard to believe that all these executive branches have a need for armed law enforcement agents: Health & Human Services is often going after some pretty serious crimes.  For example,  Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases that involve tens of millions of dollars.  You don't think some of these crooks might decide not to go peacefully?

The owner of a Miami health care agency has pleaded guilty for his role in a $60 million home health Medicare fraud scheme.
Or this one:

A Des Plaines woman has been indicted for her reported role in what federal prosecutors described was a conspiracy involving kickbacks for Medicare patients, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced on Monday.
Rakeshkumar Shah, 46, of Des Plaines, four others, and a home healthcare agency in Lincolnwood were named in the suit.
Marilyn Maravilla, 55, of Chicago, Junjee L. Arroyo, 44, of Elmhurst, Ferdinand Echavia, 39, of Chicago, and Jean Holloway, 41, of Bellwood, and Shah are accused of paying and receiving approximately $400,000 in kickbacks to themselves, nurses, marketers and others to refer and retain Medicare patients that allowed the Lincolnwood business named in the complaint, Goodwill Home Healthcare, to bill Medicare approximately $5 million between August 2008 and July 2010, according to the press release.
Read more here:

Or this one:
Dr. Bruckner will pay nearly $700,000 in restitution and will serve up to three years in prison. He and his business also face a mandatory minimum five-year suspension from participation in the Medicaid and Medicare programs.
Dr. Bruckner, who ran a dental office in Bushwick since 2003 and another in Canarsie since 1988, submitted hundreds of false claims to the Medicaid program, according to investigators. The dentist and his company paid recruiters kickbacks to supply him and at least three other dentists with Medicaid patients at his offices.
The scheme occurred between 2007 and 2011; during that time, the majority of patients at those offices were brought in by recruiters. Dr. Bruckner and his business regularly paid the recruiters $25 to $30 kickbacks for each Medicaid recipient they brought in. They were often recruited from homeless shelters and soup kitchens and transported by van to his offices. Dr. Bruckner gave the recruiters $15 to $20 to pay the recipients at the conclusion of their visit. 
And that's just since yesterday.

UPDATE 2: A reader points me to this depressing but unsurprising article about organized crime and Medicare/Medicaid fraud:

Organized crime gangs are exploiting a new target for illegal profit: Medicare and Medicaid.
Experienced in running drug, prostitution and gambling rings, crime groups of various ethnicities and nationalities are learning it's safer and potentially more profitable to file fraudulent claims with the federal Medicare program and state-run Medicaid plans.
"They're hitting us and hitting us hard," said Timothy Menke, head of investigations for the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services. "Organized crime involvement in health care fraud is widespread."...
Recent cases include crime boss Konstantin Grigoryan, a former Soviet army colonel who pleaded guilty to taking $20 million from Medicare. Karapet "Doc" Khacheryan, boss of a Eurasian crime gang, was recently convicted with five lieutenants of stealing doctor identities in a $2 million scam.
Two Nigerians, Christopher Iruke and his wife, Connie Ikpoh, were charged October 15 with bilking Medicare of $6 million dollars by fraudulently billing the government for electric wheelchairs and other expensive medical equipment. 

I'm guessing that private insurers are facing similar challenges.

It Would Make A Most Entertaining Book

Jewish Anti-Semites.  You may recall that the Chicago area neo-Nazi that threatened in the late 1970s to march his little group through Skokie, Illinois (a community unusually rich in Holocaust survivors) because Chicago would not grant his group a permit to hold a rally in a Chicago park later turned out to have a Jewish father--and not just Jewish, but a Holocaust survivor.  There have been others that I have read about as well.  This is from the August 14, 2012 New York Times:
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — As a rising star in Hungary's far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of "buying up" the country, railed about the "Jewishness" of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.
Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.
Following weeks of Internet rumors, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother's side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn't practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.
Having Jewish ancestors really should not be any great surprise.  For centuries, Jews have converted to Christianity in Europe and America for a variety of reasons: getting out from under the legal and social disabilities of being Jews; genuine religious belief; sometimes to keep a mob from killing them.

My earliest ancestors in America named Cramer were likely converts.  Cramer is one of those names that is both Jewish and Gentile; the name means "peddler" or "small merchant" in German.  The maiden name of my great-great-great-grandmother was Kahn, which is one of the many variants of Cohen and Kahane.

What is sometimes amazing is how many anti-Semites turn out to have Jewish ancestors, like Szegedi, or where there is some serious reason to suspect that this might be the case, like Adolf Hitler.  Shortly after the Anschluss that united Austria into Germany, it appears that some of his ancestral records disappeared.

I am distinguishing here between Jewish anti-Semites and those who make bizarre compromises.  Saul Friedlander's Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 is a very readable account of the early years of Nazi rule, and includes the bizarre example of a Jewish professor of classics who supported the Nazis, even though he thought it would likely be to the detriment of the Jews, because Hitler would do such wonderful things for Germany.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why California Is Going Bankrupt

From the August 10, 2012 Orange County Register, this amazing story of the meter maids of Hermosa Beach:

There are 10 parking enforcement employees for the 1.3-square-mile beach city southwest of downtown Los Angeles, and they pull down some disproportionate compensation, considering their job functions. In fact, the two highest-earning employees for fiscal year 2011-12 are estimated to have made more than $92,000 and $93,000, respectively, according to city documents provided by Patrick “Kit” Bobko, one of five council members and who also serves as mayor pro tem. Those two have supervisory roles. The other eight parking-enforcement employees make from $67,367 to $84,267 in total compensation.
There are four qualifications for being a city “community service officer,” Bobko told me: “You have to be able to drive a standard transmission; you have to able to handle large animals; you have to read and interpret statutes and regulations; and you have a high school diploma or equivalent.”
I can't tell if this "total compensation" includes health insurance costs or not, but even when you account for how expensive it is to live in that area, this seems rather a generous compensation for the job.  Is it really that hard to find people able and willing to do this work for somewhat lower salaries?  Especially since you get to live in Hermosa Beach, and work on your tan twelve months a year?

Using a PR Firm To Promote My Brother Ron

I have had a PR firm recommended to me that costs $500 a month (three month minimum).  Of course, they are quite sure that their connections can get me not only many radio talk shows, but even national TV exposure.  But I was somewhat surprised that they admitted that they found it hard to believe that the book hasn't already received national attention, in light of recent disasters.

I think I am going to go forward on it.  If their work gets me 500 extra book sales a month, it pays for itself.  And the exposure of the general public to the scale of the problem is worth a bit to me even if it doesn't pay off in book sales.