Archive for March, 2008

The knife

March 26th, 2008 — Wordman

The death of an 18-year old girl from voluntary breast surgery explains the timing of this post, but is only tangentially related to its point. In the coming days, there will likely be a huge fuss about plastic surgery in the media, with people screaming on all sides in what passes for debate in that venue. Some, like this article, will make mention of an American Society of Plastic Surgeons report (pdf) claiming that the number of breast augmentations in 2007 increased 64% over the number in 2000. Some will claim this as a sign of the decline of Western Civilization. They may be right, but not in the way that they think.

In the past five years, health insurance providers have gained more and more control over the business of health in the United States. This has made them very profitable, as this comparison of four large, publicly held health insurers—Humana (HUM), CIGNA Corporation (CI), United Health Group Inc. (UNH) and Aetna Inc. (AET)—with the S&P 500 index from 2003 to 2007 shows (for the color blind, the S&P line is the one on the bottom):

Stock comparison
Image and data from Google Finance

In the process, they have essentially gained control of the pricing of nearly every procedure that they cover. They, not the doctor, set how much the doctor charges. I will have more to say about this later but, briefly, the result of this has been to cause a toxic environment with at least two major consequences: 1) in most cases, neither the person consuming health care nor the person providing it have any input or influence on what the care costs (this basically turns the invisible hand into a middle finger) and 2) doctors are now, essentially, indentured servants to insurance companies.

As a direct result of the latter development, doctors in private practice are now forced to make one of three choices: either close their practice down now, continue practicing until forced to close by bankruptcy, or find some way of making money that doesn’t involve dealing with insurance companies. A great many doctors have been choosing the third path by exploiting a loophole of sorts: insurance companies usually don’t cover voluntary surgery. Voluntary surgery, like breast augmentation.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that plastic surgery is on the rise. There are now huge numbers of doctors motivated to get people to pay for it, so that the doctors themselves can, you know, house themselves and eat. This makes it cheaper, easier to get, and gives plastic surgery the perception that it is now routine (which, sadly, it is becoming). Ever heard of labial plastic surgery, where women have their genital “lips” reduced? You will, as millions of OB/GYNs discover they can’t actually survive by doing things like delivering children into the world.

As I said, I will have more to say on this later. For now, keep in mind when watching all these idiots on television that the rise in plastic surgery has real economic causes.


March 22nd, 2008 — Wordman

Although I’ve used Duover for backups until now, I’ve decided to stop using it for two reasons. The first is that it seems to be floundering with the release of Leopard, making backups incredibly slowly, and generally flaking out. As an example, a daily backup from my kitchen machine took about 20 minutes under Tiger but, even with the latest Duover update, was taking over four days under Leopard. Not at all useful. Secondly, Time Machine is just really useful and cool.

So, I’ve just installed a 1TB Time Capsule backup device into my home network. It’s been a real breeze to setup, even for an Apple product. Simply just works. Even though I was pretty sure it would do what I wanted it to, I had a nagging suspicion that my network setup might trip it up, but this turned out to be groundless. My home uses two different wireless networks, one using 802.11g, to serve the older machines, and one using 802.11n to serve the newer machines at the best speed. (Hardware that runs 802.11n can also support 802.11g simultaneously, but doing so really slows down the 802.11n portion.) The additional speed on the 802.11n network makes a huge difference when streaming HD video to the Apple TV (though the g network can handle DVD level video just fine). My setup works basically like this:

Network diagram

I wasn’t 100% sure the kitchen machine (“Nexus”) would be able to see the backup service, but it works fine, just as a good network service should. As long as the machine and the device are on the same LAN, it appears to make no difference how it actually gets there, just as you’d expect. (That initial backup sure is slow, though.)

…and the rest

March 19th, 2008 — Wordman

Quick: how many people died in Nazi concentration camps? Most people (at least in the States) will reflexively answer “six million”, if they can answer at all. If you are one of them, you are way off the mark. While six million Jews may have been killed, the total number of people killed is upwards of 9.5 million. Put another way, for every dozen Jews murdered in the camps, seven non-Jews in the camps were also exterminated.

Ironically, the zeal that intends (correctly) to ensure that no one ever forgets the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust has essentially caused the 3.5 million non-Jews killed in the same camps to be largely forgotten by the collective consciousness. (Not to mention the up to eight million other civilian deaths at Nazi hands outside the camps. Or the 20 million Stalin killed, for that matter.) I know the argument is that the Holocaust (used here to mean specifically the deliberate extermination of Jews) is deserving of special attention, because its very deliberateness screams out as being “more horrible” or “more evil” than other civilian death. Maybe that’s true. But if you view that same argument from the other end, it is essentially saying that the other 3.5 million premeditated camp murders are somehow “more acceptable”, and that just seems stupid at best and inexcusably vile at worst.

Of the many memorials to this insanity, many use the word “Holocaust” the same way I did above: to mean specifically the Nazi “final solution” against the Jews and only the Jews. The New England Holocaust Memorial, for example, counts only the Jews: “Six million numbers are etched in glass in an orderly pattern, suggesting the infamous tattooed numbers and ghostly ledgers of the Nazi bureaucracy. Evocative and rich in metaphor, the six towers recall the six main death camps, the six million Jews who died, or a menorah of memorial candles.” Some memorials might have a special room, wall or plaque to mention the “others” that also died. A few, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are more inclusive of the other victims and fighting genocide in general, but these seem to be the exception, not the rule.

So, whatever else you might think of the proceedings, it was interesting to see Austria light 80,000 candles last week “one in memory of each of the Austrian Jews and others who perished”. It was good to see victims of all genetic backgrounds included, even though Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer focussed his speech on wrongs done to “our Jewish fellow citizens”. The 3.5 million might finally be graduating from no mention at all to at least rate a first-season Gillian’s Island-like “and the rest”.

Here’s hoping they get their own credit sooner than later.

Growing up, sort of

March 18th, 2008 — Wordman

The general reaction to the Eliot Spitzer “scandal” strikes me as an interesting stop along a fairly recent road toward a (sort of) more mature public treatment of sex. It wasn’t that long ago (say, a century or so) that nearly all of the public would have laid the blame for the whole scandal solely at the feet of the prostitute. Only recently has the “scarlet letter” mentality shifted to force men to bear the weight of their transgressions. Some parts of the world still stone prostitutes and adulteresses.

So, it seems encouraging to me that virtually no one has been trying to lay blame at the feet of the prostitute in this case or claiming that, somehow, Spitzer was somehow powerless to resist her feminine wiles. In fact, it seems that she has become something of a hero, with lots of people buying her music.

It seems like a good sign that the U.S. is starting to grow up a little bit, sticking a toe out from under the smothering history of Puritanical idiocy that has shaped so much of the region’s politics for centuries.

Of course, a nation that really had a mature attitude toward sex (and loves the free market as much as the U.S. claims to) wouldn’t be so bent out of shape about prostitution in the first place, so we still have a long ways to go.

Fitting tribute

March 5th, 2008 — Wordman

Does anyone else think we should start a fund to build a mausoleum for E. Gary Gygax (who died Monday), based on the layout of the Tomb of Horrors? I mean, building a gelatinous cube and the sphere of annihilation would be a challenge, but it would be so worth it. Plus, Lake Geneva could use a tourist attraction. So what if it would kill 98% of the people who went into it.

Image thanks to Mad Irishman, and is probably © Wizards of the Coast

Update: It also appears that EGG’s death is causing a number of people to break out their old, original D&D books to play “tribute” games. I suspect that people might wind up seeing how much better the original was in some ways (worse in others, of course). For example, people who have never played a D&D game that didn’t involve feats may be in for a surprise. It would be cool if this brought more people to the idea that simple rules sets are often better, and bail out on all these systems that are built around micro-rules, such as feats and charms and spells and so on, that really exist as a driver to sell more books.

For those itching for some original AD&D goodness, but who don’t have the books and can’t find them in a torrent somewhere (*cough*), there is an alternative. The Old School Reference & Index Compilation (OSRIC) is an open license version of what are basically the original AD&D rules, legally sanitized to remove “artistic representation” and trademarks owned by TSR Wizards of the Coast. Happy hunting.

Update 2: Looks like someone actually is building a Gary Gygax Memorial. Sadly, just a bust of the man, not a full on tomb.