Friday, May 29, 2009

Health Care Articles

I have seen some pretty interesting health care articles recently. First, the LA Times had an article entitled Canada's healthcare saved her; Ours won't cover her talking about the experiences of a lady who because of a bad car accident can no longer get health insurance in America. This is probably the practice that I think most needs to be outright banned. Health care companies should have no access to medical records for setting prices or deciding whether to cover people. The whole point of an insurance system is that the lucky pay for the unlucky. By simply not insuring, or over-charging, the unhealthy we remove the entire reason for an insurance system in the first place. At most companies should be able to see demographic information for setting prices, and I am mostly willing to do that because children are really cheap to insure on average and I would like to see that children's insurance remains cheap under any system.

This law would decrease the total cost of health care in America. Whole armies of bureaucrats devoted to denying health care, or calculating prices based on medical records, could be fired outright. It would up the price of care for a few healthy people, but in exchange they get the knowledge that if they ever get really sick they are still insurable. The only real risk this system would face is people exploiting the system by only signing up when they get really sick. This is easily prevented by letting companies phase in benefits over a couple month period when they are first insured(although it should probably still be banned when people move from one company to another to ensure people do not get trapped by an insurance company).

The second article was in the New Yorker and compared parts of the country where the costs of health care were high, and where they were low and tried to figure out what caused these differences. One of the conclusions was simply that there was no difference in quality of care. To me this seems pretty reasonable. All of the real wonder treatments we have are quite cheap. I would be shocked if Antibiotics and Vaccines were not the biggest life savers we have while being among the cheapest things we do. Back surgeries, advanced medical imaging, plastic surgery, cesarean sections, and cancer care among other things are expensive and do little to help patients. So in fact what our medical system needs is more rationing. We need to stop doctors from trying to help when they are in fact more likely to cause problems than help anyone. All the talk about how we should be afraid of the government taking over the medical industry because of rationed health care are therefore pretty silly. Rationing is just what we need.

Its new so it must be dangerous!

There seems to be a strong tendency of humans to declare anything new to be dangerous. Whether it is ancient greek philosophers complaining about the dangers from reading or people complaining about the car ruining the teenagers of the 1920s, or modern day people panicing about predators on the internet. Each generation seems to latch on to the idea that whatever new is dangerous.

Still, the article in the New York Times about the dangers of text messages particularly hurts my head. I feel really sorry for the poor teenagers who will face the wrath of parents because of this horrible article.

Its basic idea is that being distracted this much by text messages must be damaging in some way. They say this despite admitting that there is no scientific evidence to suggest this is so. Particularly laughable is the following quote:

“Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be,” she said. “Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”

The idea that teens should be trying to separate from their parents is of course quite valid. The idea text messages hurt this process is just silly though. I would guess one in two hundred text messages I have sent in my life have been to my parents. I would be shocked if I found a teenager who sends half of their text messages to parents. Text messages help with communication with peers far more than with parents, allowing much needed experience with building and maintaining social networks. I would go as far to state that those teens who text message more are likely to be those with better social skills.

The second idea though makes me wonder if the author has ever even seen a teenager. What the hell does teen development have to do with peace and quiet? Where did they manage to find any hint of scientific evidence for that silly idea? In fact text messages are much nearer the historic position of humans. One observation of primitive tribes is that they are in near constant communication with each other. As I discovered in my experiment last fall, without books, movies, the internet, and other modern distractions alone time goes from being an interesting diversion to just plain boring. Therefore in pre-literate societies people spend all their time communicating with other people. Just what text messages allow.

The article also spent a lot of time rambling about how they lead to a loss of sleep. This is an important issue. However to take this goal seriously is to realize that text messages are not the issue. The biggest threats to the sleep of teenagers are artificial lighting and alarm clocks. Following that we have anything that is more interesting than falling asleep, TV, Video Games, Books and so on. I would bet that a study on the biggest aspects causing teenagers to lose sleep wouldn't even put text messages in the top ten. Certainly it wouldn't compete with the horrors of early school hours.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Credit Card Law

This new credit card legislation is the best thing that the administration has passed. Every practice this bill banned should have been illegal decades ago.

For example: If they make the payment due on a day mail is not delivered they can no longer give you a penalty if the payment arrives one day late; some credit card companies were counting payments as late if they came in the afternoon mail on the correct date. They made the deadline the morning of the day the deadline so if it came in that afternoon it counted as late; They can no longer charge you for going over your credit limit without telling you that the payment will go over the limit and give you the option of doing something other than pay their ridiculously high fee; They can no longer raise the interest rate nearly as easily or quickly as they do now.

Some people are complaining because these abusive practices were a huge percentage of the revenue at credit card companies. This means someone else will be paying the bill, and some card holders who payed off their debt monthly will in fact get a worse deal on their card. But remember, credit cards will always have to stay a better deal than debit cards or no one will use them. So the effect of this will be more limited than they are trying to make it sound.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Garden Pictures

Corn is neat to grow, it grows really fast, and large. Next time I think I will pick a larger corn variety though. This one only gets to about six or seven feet, some get five feet taller. The beans and Melons haven't been nearly as successful but as they are still growing I imagine they will ultimately catch up. It is quite a long growing season.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bullshit on fear of strangers.

I am glad there seems to be a backlash against the ultra-protective parental viewpoint. Finding this article on the top of reddit shows someone is waking up. Kids in the United States are the safest they have ever been in its history. We should be celebrating how much safer the world is than it was when we were children, rather than letting the media scare us into living in fear.

Bullshit episode on the subject:

Not many graduates landing jobs.

This paragraph from this Businessweek article would really scare me if I had not managed to get a good job:

The job market is particularly bad for young people because companies, which now have their pick of candidates, are favoring experience. Companies say they plan to hire 22% fewer graduates from the Class of 2009 than they did from the Class of 2008, according to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges & Employers. Only about 20% of 2009 graduates who applied for jobs have gotten one. (By comparison, 51% of college students had a job by the time they graduated in 2007, the group said.) In some cases, employers are able to fill entry level jobs with experienced people.

I am a Giant!

I just walked something like six miles through Alhambra, near where I will be moving. Out of at least fifty people I passed on the street not a single one was taller than me. This is rather an unusual experience for me, at 5' 11" I am only about a half inch taller than the mean for white males of my age. Since I am taller than the vast majority of women that means I am usually one of the taller people in a room but I don't stand out as such.

Now, it is general knowledge that Asians are shorter than white people on average so this was only a little surprising to me. However after several years out of state I hadn't realized how few Hispanic people are taller than me.

I went and looked at wikipedia numbers on average height, sure enough Mexican American males average only 5' 7", and the Asian nationalities range from about 5' 3" for Vietnamese to 5' 8" for Koreans. So in a neighborhood where there are not many white or black men I am practically a giant!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Following Harvard Graduates

This is a neat article from The Atlantic about following a few hundred harvard graduates from the late 30s until today. What seems to be interesting is how much people change over the course of their life. Many people who seem to be together in early life degenerate, while others who don't seem to be doing well in life get their act together.

What allows people to work, and love, as they grow old? By the time the Grant Study men had entered retirement, Vaillant, who had then been following them for a quarter century, had identified seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically.

Employing mature adaptations was one. The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight. Of the 106 Harvard men who had five or six of these factors in their favor at age 50, half ended up at 80 as what Vaillant called “happy-well” and only 7.5 percent as “sad-sick.” Meanwhile, of the men who had three or fewer of the health factors at age 50, none ended up “happy-well” at 80. Even if they had been in adequate physical shape at 50, the men who had three or fewer protective factors were three times as likely to be dead at 80 as those with four or more factors.

What factors don’t matter? Vaillant identified some surprises. Cholesterol levels at age 50 have nothing to do with health in old age. While social ease correlates highly with good psychosocial adjustment in college and early adulthood, its significance diminishes over time. The predictive importance of childhood temperament also diminishes over time: shy, anxious kids tend to do poorly in young adulthood, but by age 70, are just as likely as the outgoing kids to be “happy-well.” Vaillant sums up: “If you follow lives long enough, the risk factors for healthy life adjustment change. There is an age to watch your cholesterol and an age to ignore it.”

The study has yielded some additional subtle surprises. Regular exercise in college predicted late-life mental health better than it did physical health. And depression turned out to be a major drain on physical health: of the men who were diagnosed with depression by age 50, more than 70 percent had died or were chronically ill by 63. More broadly, pessimists seemed to suffer physically in comparison with optimists, perhaps because they’re less likely to connect with others or care for themselves.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Self Control

I rather like this New Yorker article about self control. It makes a lot of sense to me that self control would be a better predictor of success than things like intelligence:

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

"She found that the ability to delay gratification—eighth graders were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week—was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. She said that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s still not as important as self-control.”"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Second Congo War.

We seem to pay attention to wars based on how politically important they are rather than how objectively bad they are. I just took a look at the wikipedia page on the Second Congo War. It was in fact the war that killed the most people of any since World War Two, and judging by the lingering chaos may as well still be going although it officially ended in 2003. I had known this for a long time, but even knowing that I had never really read up on it. Looking at the Wikipedia page is pretty disturbing. It includes such quotes as:
"During the war, Pygmies were hunted down like game animals and eaten. Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers."
It really is amazing to me how so many people fixate on minor atrocities such as those in Israel, while completely ignoring much worse ones.

Looking at the wikipedia list of wars in order of how deadly they are is rather interesting. It seems to be full of conflicts that I have never heard of despite how many millions whose lives they altered. China in particular has a pretty crazy history.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Surfing, mini boom or dead?

It always amuses me to catch contradictions in the media. About a month ago there was this LA times article talking about what a rough time surf shops have been having. I guess in the economy people aren't wasting a ton of money on surfing.

Then today I run into this SF gate article about a surfing boom that is leading to fights in the water around San Francisco.

My money is on the LA times article. Surfing has always been crowded around big cities and there are always assholes, I doubt the SF gate article is talking about anything that hasn't been happening for decades. Perhaps it has even been getting better.

Either way, I will only be like 20 miles from the Ocean, so I finally have no excuse and should be able to learn to surf. While I have probably gone 20 times before they were never in a short enough time frame for me to get very good.

Marriage age gap and education

So far as I can tell it is really quite unusual that in our society we are forced to spend a great deal of time with people the exact same age as us. All the time I spent in high school, and most of the time in undergrad and grad school everyone was pretty much the same age as me. This is such a usual situation for modern Americans that it probably does not seem as unusual as it is. Think about how the typical American lived two hundred years ago. Perhaps they spent a couple years in school but that was likely a large school house with students of many ages together. At home children probably spent most of their time playing with siblings or whoever the neighbor kids happened to be then went to work with their parents at a fairly young age.

This huge change in the people we interact with must have fairly large social consequences, but I have trouble coming up with what they are. The only one I can think of that really seems to fit the mold is the age gap in marriage. For many decades now the average gap in age between a husband and his wife has been decreasing. This has typically been attributed to women having increasing incomes, and perhaps this is part of it, but I suspect it is not all of it. Probably six out of ten people I met at Cornell or Fresno State were within three years of my age. There were a few professors, post docs, and undergraduates/high school students I spent time with but for the most part I did not spend much time with these people. So, if I am being forced into social settings with people the same age as me wouldn't I be expected to date within this age range?

Picking out the correlation and causation here would be a nightmare, but I suspect you could look at income gaps between men and women and number of years of formal education in some group in society and determine whether number of years of education is a better predictor of marriage age gap than income inequality between the sexes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Watermelon Art

Within a month my diet is likely do become at least 30% watermelons. In honor of this I am posting a whole bunch of watermelon photos:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Moving forward

I got the job at Southern California Edison, but can't start until I got everything squared away with Cornell. It was a bit more drama than I had hoped, but I managed to get my thesis approved in its final form yesterday afternoon. From what I can tell from the website I still owe Cornell some unspecified amount of money, and once I pay it I can get a letter stating that I have finished all requirements there. Hopefully then I can move my start date to May 15th, although that does depend on me avoiding bureaucratic snags. If not I start June 8th.

I found a decent apartment building in Pico Rivera that I can move into for $600. Chances are I will take that for at least the next year. If nothing else it is nicer than any apartment I had in Ithaca.