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Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "T. Rev" journal:
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Cats and Time|
Soon after my last cat post, Strayboykitten went missing. I hope that as an adolescent male he just went in search of his own territory, given the presence of bigger adult males in the vicinity, but odds are he died. Straygirlkitten is now called Sweetmoo, and still hangs out on the kitchen landing.
A few weeks ago, Little Mama brought her most recent litter of kittens around and I've been trying to befriend them. Today one of them, a gray tabby tux, was hit by a car and killed. I buried it behind the house, near Miss Lady's grave. Two kittens survive: one black with white paws, and a buff tabby male.
Tags: cats, real life
Paul Krugman is a Mendacious Demagogue Addendum: Medical Fascism|
Medical specialists in the US operate under a classical price-fixing cartel, with enthusiastic government cooperation: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/july_august_2013/features/special_deal045641.php
This isn't a free market and it isn't socialism. This is closer to fascism than either: central economic planning with capture by special interests. A free market would be preferable, and so would a true socialist system.
Paul Krugman is a Mendacious Demagogue Addendum: Two Cuts|
This isn't directly about Krugman, but it's relevant to some of the discussion in the comments section of that post.
A few years ago, I sliced my thumb open while preparing a head of cauliflower. I went to my local doc-in-a-box and got a tetanus shot and had the wound sutured for about $200, cash, out of pocket. It took three stitches.
Recently, the child of acquaintances tripped and hit her head against a bookshelf. The parents took her to the local children's hospital emergency room and had the wound sutured. It took three stitches. The bill was over $2,000. Insurance covered it, the parents didn't pay a cent.
I could say a lot but I won't. Just going to leave that here.
Paul Krugman is a Mendacious Demagogue|
Journalists in general get away with a lot. When reading a report about an incident or process that they have no direct knowledge of, most people assume that the report is basically accurate--otherwise, someone would notice, right? These guys are professionals, they must know what they're talking about.
To check the reliability of a media source, consider what they have to say about stuff you actually know, then generalize to stuff you don't.
I don't know much about macroeconomics, so I'm not in a position to analyze a lot of claims that Paul Krugman makes in his columns. One area I do know something about is insurance terminology.
Consider this article Krugman wrote in the runup to the ACA: Why markets can’t cure healthcare. Let's look at the fifth paragraph:
This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers’ point of view -- they actually refer to it as "medical costs." This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need -- not everyone agrees, but most do -- this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.
There are a lot of things wrong, if superficially plausible, about this paragraph, but I'd like to zero in on the parenthetical they actually refer to it as "medical costs" line. This is an extraordinarily strange bit of innuendo.
The minor reason this is a strange bit of innuendo: What precisely is wrong with referring to medical, er, costs, as "medical costs"? The standard term in economics for expenditures associated with the operation of an enterprise is 'costs', and the costs in question are medical, thus: 'medical costs'. So it's weird that Krugman should pass this off as an indication of the sinister nature of the health insurance industry.
But that's a distraction from the real problem here.
The real reason this is a strange bit of innuendo: Krugman made the term 'medical costs' up.
Insurers don't call payments for insured events 'costs'! In the US, the standard term for an individual check is a 'payment', the term for all payments on a specific insured event is a 'claim', and the term for all claims in a line of business over a given time period is 'losses'*.
Krugman is drawing a truly weird implication from a false statement. It's as if he said that God created Eve from Adam's rib because men have one fewer rib than women do, or that black people are predisposed to steal because they're born with six fingers. The premise is false, and trivial to check. And if the premise were true, the argument would still be crazy.
There's a lot more that's wrong with the column, but it would take a lot longer to explain. I can go into more detail, if anyone's interested, but health insurance is pretty dry stuff.
Why I Don't Believe Paul Krugman On Anything
I don't know much about a lot of things Krugman writes about, but I do know something about this specific topic. And on this specific topic, Krugman didn't just get it wrong, he got it crazily wrong.
Why should I believe anything he says about anything?
*: If Krugman had bothered with basic fact-checking, he could have advanced a similar argument against the term 'medical losses'. He still would have been wrong, if more subtly; 'losses' is the standard term in insurance for historical reasons, originally referring to ships and cargo lost at sea. In other words, the 'loss' in question is to the customer, not the insurer.
Geeks Not Exactly Inheriting Earth, But|
Take a look at Wikipedia's list of attendance figures at domestic professional sports leagues. Top average attendance is for American football at about 67,000. Baseball averages about 31,000, basketball 17,000.
On the geek side, Dragoncon gets 52,000, PAX and PAX East have been getting around 70,000 in the past few years, and SDCC 130,000. This isn't anything close to an apples-to-apples comparison, as there are a lot more sports events held each year, and people don't watch geek conventions on TV.
Still, thought the numbers were interesting.
LiveJournal Ratings II|
Aha, figured out the weird mismatch between social capital and user rating. There are at least two ratings lists: 'country=cyr' and 'country=noncyr'. I'm #1,940 on the 'noncyr' list with 12 social capital. Meanwhile, nihilistic_kid is #1,759 on the 'cyr' list with 128 social capital. Why is nihilistic_kid on the 'cyr' list? Duh, COMMUNISM.
I am #1940th most, uh, rated. In something. How much does a job like that pay?
ETA: Whatever it is, seems like they just flipped the switch on it and it's very buggy. I am shocked.
Philosophy of Mathematics is Stupid, Here's Mine (And Why Math is Storytelling)|
No philosophy of math that I've encountered seems to say much of meaning about mathematics as I've actually done and understood it, and most of it seems ridiculous to me. So let me set down my own meaningless and ridiculous understanding, and say a bit in particular about why mathematics as it's actually done and experienced is a type of narrative. I'm going to have to use a lot of attack quotes in what follows; attack quotes will denote a word that applies in some senses and not others. (That's all words, really, but...)
I perceive mathematics in two aspects: it has a meaningless/formalist face and an empirical or quasi-empirical face.
The formalist aspect of mathematics is the axiomatic face: like choosing rules for a game. Imagine a set of rules, when fixed, instantly spining out a universe of consequences. Most of the actual work of math is exploring that universe. Think of the rules of chess as 'creating'--more accurately allowing the creation of, opening a space for--every specific game of chess ever played, and astronomically more games that never have been played. Think of the axioms of Euclid's Elements--each one agonized over as an understanding of reality, but once fixed and joined together freed of that relation and 'creating' (allowing, opening up) the conceptual world of geometry.
Any such universe, any such web of consequences, is 'objective' inasmuch as it's unyielding to any influence but itself. But I can churn out these universes forever, by picking different axioms (rules, games): exploring some will be trivially boring, others will be complex and interesting, and still others will be overwhelmingly, impossibly difficult. As such 'universes' can be 'created' in unlimited profusion, and discarded if I find them dull or annoying, it's odd to claim that they 'exist'. Sort of like creating a hologram and then peering through it to see the 'universe' it depicts. The image isn't 'real' in most senses that we understand that word, but it's real-ish as an emergent phenomenon defined by the structure of the film. (You made the film itself, so that's real, but arbitrary.) Nevertheless, you might see something interesting and unexpected in the image. Might see a whole ghostly world that you could never have conceptualized yourself. Think of the Mandelbrot set, defined by a few simple rules and the equation zn+1 = zn2 + c, and the infinitely complex image it generates.
The quasi-empirical face of mathematics is where we can see mathematics as narrative--the exploration of these ephemeral universes is something that we experience over time, and encoding that exploration in a coherent temporal/symbolic/conceptual way is precisely the art of narrative. Every chess game is a story, with characters, a journey, conflict, and resolution, and so is every theorem. (Most of them are very badly told stories, but that's Sturgeon's Law.) Choosing axioms (rules, games, universes) is a tiny fraction of what mathematicians actually do. Most of a mathematician's work consists of journeying into these ghost-worlds, and telling stories about the expedition.
tl;dr: Most philosophy of mathematics overloads the word 'exists' until it becomes useless.
Tags: hilarious math
Here's an article from the current issue of the New Yorker: The Baby In The Well. It argues that empathy can blind us to important facts. It's therefore ironic that it contains the following throwaway claim:
Meanwhile--just to begin a very long list--almost twenty million American children go to bed hungry each night, and the federal food-stamp program is facing budget cuts of almost twenty per cent.(Emphasis mine.)
The irony here is that the claim in bold isn't just false, it's trivially false; you can check it mentally in about ten seconds. The population of the US is only about 300 million, and children are a fraction of that. Say one person out of 4 in the US is a child, that's 75 million. The author is claiming that about one child in four in the US goes to bed hungry every night! How did this get past the fact checkers?
You can go a lot further, though, with nothing more than a search engine, about five minutes of work, and a calculator.
Typing 'us child hunger rate' into Yahoo* gives me this link: Child Hunger Facts. The site states: "16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011." This sounds similar to the author's claim, but what's a 'food insecure household'?
Back to Yahoo**: 'food insecure household' shows me this site: Food Security in the US. It turns out that USDA breaks 'food insecure' into two subcategories: 'low food security' and 'very low food security'. The classification methodology is a bit involved, but here's the tl;dr version:
Low food security-Households reduced the quality, variety, and desirability of their diets, but the quantity of food intake and normal eating patterns were not substantially disrupted.Now we're getting somewhere. 'Low food security' means you're eating crap but you're not going hungry. 'Very low food security' means someone in the household is going hungry at some point during the year.
Very low food security-At times during the year, eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money and other resources for food.
OK, so if we're concerned about actual hunger, we need to look at 'very low food security'. What are the numbers for that? We follow the Frequency of Food Insecurity link on the previously mentioned USDA page. Key statement:
The estimated prevalence of very low food security during a single day was lower yet--between 0.8 and 1.1 percent of households.
A very rough apples to apples estimate of true daily child hunger, then, would be about 1% of all children. childstats.gov says there are 76.7 million children in the US in 2013. 1% of 76.7 million suggests that about 767,000 children going hungry each night. We shouldn't take this number too seriously, though, because there are a lot of complicating factors. Households with children, particularly many children, are disproportionately likely to be low-income, and that could drive the estimate up; on the other hand, there are a lot of government programs specifically targeted at feeding children, and most parents will go hungry before allowing their children to do so, and that could drive the estimate down.
What we can say with confidence, however, is that the real problem is about 767,000/20 million, or 4%, as bad as the New Yorker article presents it. And that's just stupid.
*: Because fuck Google, that's why.
**: And not Google.
Tags: hilarious math, politics, science
Folk Theory of Obesity|
Obesity is strongly linked in the public mind to moral failure. One often hears remarks like, 'the solution to obesity is simple: eat less and exercise more.' In particular, obesity is linked to weakness of will, self-care and integrity.
Consider, however, the class of atypical antipsychotic/anticonvulsant drugs, used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In many cases these drugs can help completely incapacitated people return to autonomous function.
They also cause massive weight gain.
If the folk theory is to be believed, these drugs must be impairing the patient's will and capacity for self-care. Hmm...doesn't really add up, does it? The truth is, there are no known interventions aside from surgery that have significant, stable long-term weight-loss effects. But we persist in pretending that not only do they exist, but they're simple, easy to apply and ubiquitous. What the hell is going on?
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