Policy Renormed

I note, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, [Link] that the current (modern) democrat administration has announced plans to reverse the doomsday minutes previous (modern) republican administration’s policy on permitting health care workers to refuse services to patients on moral grounds.

One of the things I do periodically is work with some folks at the medical shuls around Alibam to help them develop models. Lately a lot of these models have to do with disease propagation in human populations. Occasionally, they involve helping build a model to integrate some behavior that has been gathered down at the individual level. Sometimes questions involving ethics and morality arise in relation to how the data are collected, or perhaps how the experiment is posed.

Not too long ago, over a coffee break a group I was working with got into the question of the above policy. I was rather favorably impressed that all – physicians, biologists, and statisticians – agreed that the ethical thing to do was to ignore the policy. I was immediately reminded of the Du Mu’s dictum in Sun Tzu’s collection The Art of War (any translation other than the Clavell!)

“there are certain commands of the sovereign that are to be ignored.”

The consensus was that regardless of one’s moral beliefs and outlook failure to provide health service to an individual based on their differences in morality was a worse and grievous ethical evil. I did remind myself however, that medical students are no longer required to have a divinity degree before they begin their studies. Still the fact that this disobedience had to be debated, even though it was a trivially short and one-sided debate, indicates that this policy does touch at a root of evil in this nation.

“Those who deny liberty to other deserve it not themselves.”

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Computer Literacy

How to tell if you are computer literate.

Question: What does the number phrase 07/08/09 indicate?

Multiple Guess Answers:

  1. Seventh of July 2009
  2. 2009 August Ninth
  3. July Eighth 2009
  4. Evil Satanic Cult Numerology

1. You are either computer literate or in the military.
2. You are computer literate.
3. You are not computer literate but you can read the expiration date on packaged foodstuffs.
3. You are not computer literate but that is irrelevant since you are also a superstitious Luddite mystic.

Please note this is a substantial improvement from the ’60’s when I first got introduced to computers and there would have been an answer “5. What number phrase?” that indicated the respondent was a user of illegal drugs.

If you answered “all of the above” you are an overeducated generalist and should immediately apply to emigrate to Mars.

Day of Wonders

Evidence mounts that spring has emerged here in Nawth Alibam. We have a cold front reasserting winter’s rights on its way but yesterday and today have had temperatures nicely centered between the solid transition temperature of dihydrogen oxide and the median temperature of the corpus of homo sapiens.

Today is supposed to be a fairly steady progression of a rain symphony, reaching its crescendo somwhere around Gary Cooper. Certainly the introductory parts early this morning were quite relaxing, conducive to slumber in fact.

So on such a dismal day, it seems somewhat natural to find dismal tidings in the news feeds. To start with, there is word that internet service providers are telling the Yankee congress that they are going to have to more strictly manage how bits flow on their infrastructure. [Link] This is apparently a new approach to them yammering about network neutrality. It is also disturbing but not for the reasons obvious.

The difficulty with network neutrality is that it holds that internet users should have unfettered access to the ‘net. That has two aspects: one is not preventing anyone from visiting any web address; the other is assuring the others do not impose restrictions. It is the latter that seems to be disturbing the ISPs.

The first is sticky primarily from the question of whether ISPs are responsible for keeping their customers from committing illegal acts, like anyone visiting a child pornography site or any minor visiting any porn site. In general the justicers have held that the guy who provides the plumbing is not responsible for its contents so long as that content doesn’t come from the pipes. Hence the Roman self destruction is included as liable.

The problem is that if one has some customers who want all of the bandwidth of the pipes, or at least enough so that the other customers can’t use them, who is responsible? And is the ISP providing fraudulent services? In effect, we have moved from what the stuff is in the pipes to how much each person puts in. And takes out.

There is ample precedent for this. I see it every month in my water bill. That bill is linearly related to how much water I bring into my house (past the meter at least,) and how much sewage I send out of the house. The question is whether business oligarchs and their congressional minions are smart enough to get the analogy.

Alternately, a brightness in the gloom is news that a woman in England has obtained a favorable justicer  decision against her former energy provider using harassing tactics in collecting false debt. [Link] Seems the woman changed providers, informed the old provider she was terminating service, and they never bothered to tell their billing department who kept billing her, and bills being unpaid, turned the matter over to bill collection. This is a very standard story of commercial organization ignoring the real world and imposing their tyranny on their members, present and past.

Now if we can just get our Yankee justicers to do the same. It is a shameful state of affairs that it takes two lawyers to figure out how an organization is falsely harassing an citizen. Or that we permit such one sided power to what amounts to a robot. Aha! Terminator as Corporate Oligarch!

But to restore our faith in organization self interest, we have to laud the Gainsville constabulary down in the Floridas. [Link] Seems that they have repeatedly ticketed an automobile. Nothing amazing there aside from the appearance that the driver parked the car and then discorporated. So over a spate of a half dozen tickets, not a single ticketing officer noticed the presence of a corpse in the vehicle. This certainly points up the accuracy of the motto “to protect and serve.” We just have to question whether what is protected and served is the organization and not its members, or in this case, the citizenry.

However, to show how altruistic some organizations are, we have research from the Max Planck Institut on the biological composition of saliva. [Link] Evidently these guys got inspired by watching all those dental/oral hygiene product commercials – the ones with all the cutesy fuzzy plush toy bacteria figures cunningly rendered by modern computer animation – and set out to measure what kinds and how many. Of some concern, at least for the competency of modern biological science, is that about a third of the bacteria found in their Tellus-wide survey had not been seen/reported previously. So not only are there more bacteria in your mouth than there are mouth cells, a lot of them are strangers.

Lastly, researchers at Bournemouth U – while we are on the subject of mouths – have discovered Homo Erectus footprints dating to 1.5 MYA that clearly indicate those early humans had the same kind of feet we homo sapiens do.[Link] This gives a entirely new range of support to the idea that the development of the human species is energized by the quest for shoes. Now if someone would just explain why we are so bad at it. After all, 1.5 MY and we still cannot build shoes that don’t mess up our feet?Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Wrinkled Cheese

Thursdays at gym are in many ways the best day of the week. Part of that is that it is the day I complete my weekly exercise cycle and get my five hours in. Part of it is also that the diligence of the teacher taliban is flagging faster than mine so there are fewer arrogant auras polluting the atmosphere. And part of It is that I get to listen to rather different podcasts.

Well, as I was warming up the trainer who opens the facility, Vector Potential, who controls the television remote control like a queen her scepter, flipped the channel over to one of the morning news programs where they were plagiarizing news from the print media. Normally I do not pay much attention to television. What is on is banal and vapid, the news readers generally match the content, and the bogs and teachers squabble like small children over which void they display on the tube. I suspect the latter is why the trainer is a television nazi.

Anyway, the newspaper extractions included a mention of development in England of a small iron designed for the purpose of toasting cheese sandwiches. A photograph of the device being applied to a sandwich held in some model’s hand was displayed. I must admit that my first thought was to wonder what burn ointment tastes like? After all, if one holds a sandwich in one’s hand while applying an appliance whose temperature is well above the boiling point of water to that sandwich, and despite the insulating qualities of the bread, one may expect considerable heat to be transferred to one’s hand in the processing of browning the bread and melting the cheese. Cheese, incidentally, has a relatively high heat capacity. Not as high as many jellies and jams, but higher than, for example, peanut butter. It is definitely high enough to melt the fats in most preserved meats which is why most toasted hoagies and heros are extra greasy. It is also hot enough to partly cook pork, hence burn a human’s hand.

Hence, derivatively, one has to wonder if the iron comes with an insulated glove and how one cleans it of the oils that separate out of the cheese through the bread? Or is that something the English never worry about rather like whether they should be the subjects of tyrants rather than citizens of some real democracy. Or is there such a thing as a real democracy that doesn’t self-destruct in a few years?

I was rather quickly reminded of my experiences as a freshman in college. I went off well equipped by my parents with a small refrigerator – purchased from Sears Roebuck and I am told still working by my younger brother who borrowed the appliance when he went to college and never returned. But we were forbidden hot plates as fire hazards. Upperclassmen jauntily ignored such rules but freshmen had not yet learned about rules that could not be enforced but occasionally, or even better, not at all. This rule was of the former type.

I had also been provided by my parents with an inexpensive iron to dewrinkle my shirts with, but scant instruction. It did not take me very long to realize that college students were not graded on the basis of absence of wrinkles in their shirts and the iron languished for a few weeks until the weather turned cold.

At that time there was a complex of six men’s dorms with a single short order grill and fountain in the largest dorm. This place was mobbed evenings, especially on the weekend when the cafeteria was closed, and the hot item was toasted cheese sandwiches. Sadly the wait for a sandwich was about a hour or more on these occasions.

One evening after we had wasted over an hour of study time on queue for sandwiches, one of our number offered a wish that we might make out own sandwiches. This stuck and on Monday between classes I visited the student shop, wrangled some nails and screws, caged some scrap wood from the remnant bin and built a cradle for that iron.

The following weekend we made our usual Saturday morning group march into Tuscaloosa proper to purchase what necessities we needed that could be carried. This time the necessities included a loaf of white bread, a block of process cheese, and a jar of mayo. That evening, instead of marching to a local greasy spoon, we turned the iron over, placed it on the cradle, plugged it in, and set about toasting sandwiches. It is well we invested in more materials than we should need for there were some spectacular failures in the path to our simple dinner, but we got there, and arrived thereby, truly, as college students and incipiently, as scientists.

Unlike our peers who still bought their toasted cheese sandwiches at the grill, and were frightened of lab apparatus like bunsen burners and test tubes, we had made equipment and performed actual practical thermochemical experiments. And survived! And no more were we unsure freshmen waiting to burst into flames but confident freshmen ready to burn fingers and smell nasty odors.

And even better, we did it without a hot plate. After all, irons were not forbidden, just unimaginable to the establishment to be something other than wrinkle removers.

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Scant Sense

Management Question: you are a small exercise facility in a rural area that enjoys a limited geographic monopoly. How do you spend your budget?

  • Purchase new exercise machines to better serve the diversity of your customer base;
  • Fix the (badly) leaking roof;
  • Fix the (badly) misbehaving HVAC;
  • Expand the size of the facility to better serve the diversity of your customer base and improve safety (now in violation of OSHA and fire code);
  • Install an electronic lock system or hire more staff to extend operating hours to better serve the diversity of your customer base;
  • Improve communication with your diverse customer base; or
  • Buy more televisions.

Ayeh. That’s right. The last one. Buy more televisions.

Aside from the OBVIOUS question of how this improves the health and well being of the customer base, which is, I believe, the mission and function of the organization, there is the matter of how does something so egregious as this obtain?

One has to wonder if this is a matter of medical arrogance or just adherence to the theory that playing classical music at the stockyard makes the animals go to their deaths quietly. Surely it cannot be a case of management that is fundamentally whacked and incompetent.

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An Informed Consumery

The accidental (?) juxtaposition of articles this morning is about consumers. The first, [Link] in the New Yawk Times, is about whether use taxes will be placed on plastic and paper merchandise bags. Several cities are reported to have passed laws or have them shortly coming for a vote.

The first question that emerges here is whether this is a sin tax or not? Certainly the folks who worry about sustainment would claim that anything that depletes the ecosystem is bad, hence a sin. Pragmatists point out that Sol will engulf Tellus in a few million years and that will be a near ultimate depletion event.

From what I understand, a sin is supposed to be something you enjoy but is bad for you, like sex or chocolate. I suppose not having sex, and not reproducing is the ultimate sustainment action since if there are no humans they are not depleting the ecosystem. Of course I have heard very few sustainment folks arguing that overpopulation is a sin and should be penalized – perhaps by an open season on young males?

The point herebeing (how’s that for striking a new word?) is that merchandise bags are not what I would consider to be pleasurable. I don’t enjoy the prices I have to pay for merchandise but I excuse that as a matter of being conditioned on prices in my youth when a hamburger or a gallon of gas were a quarter dollar and a good used car could be had for 2K$. But aside from prices, I really do not like lugging merchandise bags about, especially as their handles are either broken or cut off the circulation in my hands, and once you have them you can’t get rid of them. Why the recyclage corporate oligarchs in Greater Metropolitan Arab don’t want to recycle them. Not enough money in that to pique their social consciousness. They are, after all, good (modern) republicans. Or at least Southron democrats of the post Jacksonian mutation.

So, simply put, what is the enjoyment of merchandise bags that makes them sinful? But more pointed, the second questionis more to the matter. If we are to use cloth bags that we pruchase from a merchant and has his logo affixed, are we committed in some fealtyish form to only shop at his establishment. May one use MalWart bags at the Winn Dixie or the Piggly Wiggly? Without penalty, that is – I should not really like being dragged into the alley by produce department thugs, made to kneel over the dumpster, and my last memory being the thud of a round of ball at the base of my skull?

And what happens if my bags are too small in volume for the merchandise I have purchased. Obviously if it is less no harm is done other than my wasted effort dragging the bags both ways, but if too much, what happens? Must I select enough items to meet my volumetric constraint and abandon them. And f so, how and where do I abandon them? Or do I have to buy more cloth bags? Or am I charged for plastic or paper bags?

Other matters of great consumer import include research from Southern Methodist and Ohio State U that consumers have difficulty ascribing descriptive names to electronic multifunction devices. [Link] What does one call a combination MP3 player and GPS receiver? An iFound? Or an iLost? The latter seems more appropriately the description of the people who paid for a subscription to the journal the article was published in, which is a sadly misplaced sentiment on my part. After all, there are scientists, reputable ones, who study annelids and nematodes and such, so why not study consumers.

Which begs the obvious question of what is the analogous noise making for consumers to grunting?

Lastly, out of U Central Florida and Erasmus U we have a research on whether the value of things is positively correlated with their price. [Link] The authors advance a well considered and statistically supported conclusion that “it depends.”

Evidently in some cases, some expensive things are more better than equivalent cheap things for the difference in price. But not always. 
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