The Epiphany Peddler

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That’s me, the epiphany peddler. I haven’t no barrow filled high with turnips or taters. I offer only the finest of intangibles I do, like the Emperors new clothes.

Its like magic or fairy dust. I sprinkle a little here and dab a little there and Bob’s your uncle, there you are –  suddenly you have a bright shiny new epiphany. And then there be a hootin and a hollerin and the whole world suddenly makes a good bit o sense

Epiphanies are scare on the ground, of course. You can’t mine them or chop them down, though some argue hen they had a pint too many that procuring an epiphany is mostly like fly fishing, or piping for rats. Have to tease them epiphanies out, you do, and there’s just no telling if, or when, or never. And of course most having never had one, they don’t believe in them. Can’t blame them much. Epiphanies will never be like turnips or taters, don’t you know.

Like with doctors, sniffing them out for others says nothing about making do for yourself, and at present I am sitting in an old Syracusan tub, and the water has gone very cold….

At Least the Cat Loves Me

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Maggie is a fourteen pound Maine-Coon of uncertain pedigree. She is a killing machine finely honed to a specific  and most deadly purpose over millennia of tedious trial and error. But I often think of Maggie much as I think of Shelley’s Prometheus, having a sensitivity and sensibility that is a far cry from her breeding. You see, Maggie likes nothing so much as climbing up on my shoulder and purring until I can no longer keep my eyes open and Maggie is a prodigious hunter but only loves her prey to death.

I am reminded of Krishna and Arjuna. I am a problem solver, but I will never solve all the problems. I will fail, and I will only succeed in failing. It is a tautology that may well be as close to a cosmic understanding as I may ever get, but it is nevertheless unrewarding. I am Sisyphus.

I will let everyone down. And I feel like Shylock, left to twist in the wind; pricked and bleeding.

But at least the cat loves me.

Krater

Detail of Colossal Krater from Altamura, about 350 B.C., Greek, made in Apulia, South Italy. Terracotta, 63 in. high x 35 7/16 in. diam. National Archaeological Museum of Naples, 81666. By permission of the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism. National Archaeological Museum of Naples – Conservation and Restoration Laboratory

The Biggest Problem With Being Depressed Is Not Being Dead…

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Economic Bloviation

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Look, do us all a favor and quit using words that no longer really mean anything. If it has not occurred to you yet, let me clue you in:  Capitalism is one of those words. I am not the first person to opine about this. Fred Foldvary has a nice little piece about about abuse of the term and its cognates.

The term is often applied to a system of economics that incorporates private ownership of goods and reliance on markets. But, of course, private ownership of personalty and use of markets for the trading of same have existed since the advent of of the first surplusage Homo sapiens stumbled into. Capitalism in this sense isn’t new, it isn’t recent, it isn’t the reason the “West is best”, and it certainly is no reason for Harvard dons to get excited (unless they are celebrating over the size of their checks thanks to the Scaifs).

The combination of these two elements, instability and inequity, with mankind’s natural proclivity for violence as population increases, result in a a variety of systems that have been invariably disastrous. And these two problems have only been modestly ameliorated through the advent of the “state” or other less comprehensive paradigms for making distribution equitable.

Some argue that the globe is richer for “capitalism”.  But the essence of what people mean when they talk about “capitalism” boils down to thievery. It is almost laughable that libertarians talk about taxes as thievery when the very essence of the concept of property is the idea that one has the “right” by virtue of some supreme dictate, to seize that which is not yours. Imagine the Libertarian at the Bar: “Your Honor, I only took that bike because it was not being used and I therefore had to right to make the bike mine in order to make use of it….”  Indeed.

The financial madness we are being swallowed by today is the result of the attenuation of relations among the parties to transactions, and to the abstraction of what is actually being traded. “Moral Sentiment” has been left to twist in the wind, and one is regularly confronted with a litmus test that still seeks to shame those who refuse to be identified as “capitalists”, whatever that might mean.

And, of course, there are those, having amassed billions by drawing the life force from others (the real vampyres of our age), who use the latest advances of Social Psychology to convince the droolers and knuckledraggers that if we dispose of any attempt to shackle this juggernaut that everyone will be rich.

It is high time to either take back ownership of the term from the Geckos, or to abandon it completely as just more of the wreckage left by our march to oblivion.

Photograph by blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160106-tokay-geckos-indonesia-traditional-medicines-wildlife-trade-traffic/#/01_tokay-gecko.jpg

Eternal Externalities

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I recently was reading a comment that went something like, “If you have a *choice* between being a boss or being the member of a co-op, it makes sense to go with being a boss.” This (“boss” vs co-op) is an artificial choice that so many “libertarians” promote (by way of example, a union is simply an aggregate of workers taking advantage of their economic power, so libertarian opposition to unions is based largely on the interest in undermining that economic power, not on any ideals of “liberty”).

The argument goes on along these lines, “Political arguments that rely on people’s altruism are always a losing strategy.” But enterprises like co-operatives are not “altruistic”; in point of fact a very convincing argument can be made that co-operatives and the like are simply more adept at comprehensively addressing the complexity of positive and negative externalities that confront them. Let’s face it, the “real” downside of the laissez-faire capitalism that is the subject of so much concern today is the proclivity such corporation have for eschewing responsibility for externalities. And this practice is the crux of our willingness to privatize gain, and socialize loss.

While it may seem that an increasing number of people are espousing “Lotto Liberalism” (the peddled concept of striking it rich through hard work)it must become just as obvious that these people are frankly delusional. There is no point in trying to confront them with their delusion as it is well known that such praxis merely deepens the psychosis.

In Anchorage we have two electric utilities, one owned by the municipality which serves the urban core, and another, a co-operative serving everything else. The current Mayor proposed a sale of the municipal utility to the cooperative. This is a GREAT idea, but the outpouring of vitriolic rage based on the wholesale ignorance of the nature of these enterprises was dumbfounding. And of course none of the whingers knew anything about the Green Bay Packers or how the Golden Gate Bridge Construction was financed.

We have been conditioned to assume that all corporate bodies are evil, even when we are the corporate body, and that the only sentiment that we can trust is our own greed. And believe it or not, poor Adam Smith gets the blame for that crap, lol.

The manner in which too many of us talk about capitalism falls apart when labor owns the means and production, and there is nothing specifically anti-capitalist about such a practice. The problems lie in both the methods employed to keep labor from such ownership, and in the real underlying aspects of today’s capitalism, the abstraction and attenuation of financial products.

While it might be helpful to rage about capitalism, I don’t know that such rage can ever be converted to adequate regulation so long at those invested in escaping regulation have the power. On the other hand, I think the ouroboros offers a significant alternative; use the system to consume itself. Explain how to move people from complaining about Bank of America and WellsFargo, to using credit unions, and you are well on your way to changing the face of the USA. When we learn how to fund, protect, and employ pension funds as a tool in and of themselves to promotes the future pensioners, we will be on to something.

UPDATE ON ANCHORAGE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S LOOK AT SCHOOL START TIMES

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High School student Matthew Park started a petition to ASD in July 2017 to push high school start times to 8:30. https://www.change.org/p/anchorage-school-district-push-start-times-in-asd-high-schools-to-8-30-am

In August of 2017 the Superintendent (Dr. Deena Bishop) and the Board President (Tam Agosti-Gisler) indicated that they wanted to look at changing school start times.  https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/education/2017/08/09/should-the-anchorage-school-district-change-its-school-start-times/

By November the Superintendent had used her discretionary budget to hire Western Demographics to look at the issue in what some have called an “efficiency study”.  http://www.ktva.com/story/36909860/local-teens-welcome-new-school-start-times

Since then the Superintendent has published a web page on school start times on the ASD website. The Page never identified who actually authored the content. https://www.asdk12.org/Page/10284  The web page originally contained names and dates of authors whose work purportedly supported the claims made in the document, but no bibliography was ever included. When complaints were made about ASD needing to provide a full bibliography, the material identifying dates and authors was deleted. https://www.facebook.com/groups/AkEducators/permalink/10156543167479267/  A  bibliography that included all but one of the sources apparently mentioned by ASD (one did not appear to exist) as well as quite a bit of additional literature addressing questions raised by AEA members was prepared and shared with ASD (see https://www.zotero.org/groups/2153649/school_start_times. ASD has never shared that bibliography.

Shannon Bingham, President of Western Demographics, presented to AEA building representations on March 28th. Mr. Bingham apologized for not having published his presentation online, and for not having a bibliography available. AEA Representatives presented quite a few unanswered questions, including the impact on Elementary students, and interventions that ameliorate the sleep disorders relied upon by much of the research to suggest changes in start times (see Alaska Educators Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/AkEducators/permalink/10156543167479267/ ). ASD still has not published any additional material from Mr. Bingham.

The material presented by Mr. Bingham was somewhat inconsistent with the material presented on the ASD web page, apparently as a result of ongoing examination of the question by Western Demographics, but as noted, the most current material has not been published to the ASD website.

A short bulleted version of this is available at http://bit.ly/ASDBULLETS

Bill Roth ADN

Anchorage skyline and pan ice at Point Woronzof on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

 

Orbital Questions

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A funny thing about being in a stationary orbit is that on the hand you are moving a zillion miles per hour, while on the other the countervailing forces are keeping you almost stationary while you ever so slowing approach your doom. What an analogy for the arguments about “gun control”…

Mental health? I could just argue it is an oxymoron, but frankly the entire concept of mental health is largely a fiction. After all, what is “health” when you get down to it other than a compromise between a statistic and an aspiration. Forget for a moment the biological aspects of the matter, and consider that virtually all of the DSM requires some element of subjective judgment.

Keeping guns out of the “wrong hands”? 1) There are no wrong hands; all humans of capable of doing something stupid enough to get another killed. It happens on a daily basis. 2) How would you begin to identify the wrong hands because a) yeah, that is the same gambit as the mental health scam, and b) sane today, nuts tomorrow…

Safe schools? Schools are never going to be “safe” because humans are not “safe”. Mandating greater distance (figuratively speaking) between dangerous instrumentalities and humans  is the only way we have made life any safer. But there are two possible measures that could be pursued: building secure classrooms and adopting legislation (see, e.g. Santaella-Tenorio, Julian, Magdalena Cerdá, Andrés Villaveces, and Sandro Galea. “What Do We Know About the Association Between Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Injuries?” Epidemiologic Reviews 38, no. 1 (January 1, 2016): 140–57. https://doi.org/10.1093/epirev/mxv012.

Putting more guns in school? Why not arm the kids (http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=94) Good guys with guns? I think you will find that a recent stat being flashed about suggests that police hit their targets 20% of the time in dynamic situations (some reports argue as “high” as 35%, rofl! http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/weekinreview/09baker.html) for people trained to shoot under stress – are you going to exceed the training police officers receive? Likely not, which means that at least 2/3 of the rounds discharged will likely hit someone other than the perpetrator (and in a school, who might that be?) Sounds like a party!!!!!! And securing the gun lockers in a school? Now that sounds like a real gas…

Yeah, I am a teacher, a parent, an owner of class 3 weapons, a registered Republican, and an old lawyer, and the amount of bandwidth on inane rationalizations about our current firearm policies is simply obscene. We require more attention to the ownership of automobiles than we do to firearms (at least we require, half heartedly, a license and insurance, kind of, rofl…..) How about a mandatory strict liability no fault policy in the amount of $2M per firearm that pays off in full without question if anyone is injured in any way as a result of the discharge of a weapon, funds payable to a victims’ trust? Yup, that policy might run you more than your health insurance policy

“Separate But Equal” Has No Place

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The highest court of this land, in the words of Chief Justice Warren, stated in no uncertain terms:

“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Yes, “in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place”. But today, especially in public education, we are seeing a rise in segregated education, and along with it, a clear attack on the values so clearly espoused by the Brown Court.

While race was the basis for the Brown decision, race is, as arguably IQ is, just a matter of a few genes. But it is, in a very real sense, a fiction. It is a fiction that was broadly employed in our country (and some argue its use is now rising again, see The Resegregation of Jefferson County and Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination) to maintain what were argued variously as “cultural” or “ability” differences. It was fairly common to allege that as some races were less amenable to education (slower?) they did better in their own schools, with their own kind.

It was this kind of thinking that was found unacceptable as to race, and then, in a striking partial reversal of Rowley, it was applied in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School Dist. RE–1, 580 U.S. ____ (2017).  You cannot have equality of education where you are segregating populations, and that applies to the entire gamut of actual (or perceived) differences.

In that light, of course, tracking should raise a number of concerns. While tracking may be a very effective tool for pedagogy, it can easily become a very effective tool to promote social segregation (and has done just that). Charter schools are being created specifically to keep the “wrong child” elsewhere, and how “Native” charter schools could survive a Brown challenge would rest solely on the dubious claim that separate but equal is acceptable if the separated agree? Really?

When I was young I was tracked (with excellent results) but I was also required to take a half a dozen different shop classes (where many of my academic peers were far from performance leaders). This had a counterbalancing effect to the academic tracking, and promoted the mixing of all students in the school. As a teacher I was able to help coach a US FIRST Robotics Team that likewise included a broad range of students, and it was this breadth that was the aspect of the team most celebrated by the team members.

Slowly but surely though, financial pressure has been brought to bear to move “non-academic” “career-oriented” students to programs focused on “getting them a job”. I think one of the worst aspects of such programs is that it gives up on these students when these students have yet to demonstrate that they are literate.  That is on its face unacceptable.  What we see in test after test is that we are graduating students who have NOT mastered the adopted curriculum. To essentially accept that has an acceptable “truth” and thereupon to decide that we can then spend a couple of years not teaching them to read, but teaching them to do medical filing, is obscene.

But more importantly, and why I write today, such “vocational” schools promote class segregation at a time when such polarization is perhaps the biggest crisis facing this nation. Nor do the inclusion of a few well chosen “academic courses” remove the separate identity (whether one wants to call it stigmatization or not) as the students are still segregated.  And see Cain Polidano and Domenico Tabasso, “Fully Integrating Upper-Secondary Vocational and Academic Courses: A Flexible New Way?,” Economics of Education Review 55 (December 1, 2016): 117–131, accessed January 10, 2018, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272775716300012; John H Bishop and Ferran Mane, “The Impacts of Career-Technical Education on High School Labor Market Success,” Economics of Education Review 23, no. 4, Special Issue In Honor of Lewis C. Solman (August 1, 2004): 381–402, accessed January 10, 2018, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272775704000287. And we have yet to address the gender segregation that is typical of Voc-Ed, VET, and/or CTE programs

In creating “vocational schools” we are promoting the “deplorable”, if you will, as a viable segment of our population, and frankly, I don’t think pride in ignorance is anything to ever be proud of.

Scofflaw Heaven?

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Wickersham’s Conscience pulls out Ferguson as his whipping boy in a diatribe about Beauregard bringing back debtors’ prisons. The specifics on how the legal system “took advantage of” poor people have been beat to death, but were resurrected January 2017 by WC to paint Mr. Sessions as a Dickensian fiend. Well, I am no fan of Sessions, but there are very good reasons for his actions here, whether those actions are the result of racist ideology, or “Trumpist philosophy” (what an oxymoron that is).

To deal with the last bit first, Session pared away “guidance” by which the executive branch appeared to pre-empt local discretion under the law.  Nothing unlawful or reprehensible about that, on its face, is there? I may find that frustrating, because I endorse the policies behind the “guidance”, but in essence Sessions is correct in finding that such accretions are problematic.

Now, let’s put aside for a moment the outrage and excesses seen in Ferguson and what you arguably have (as in, what you can argue you could arrive at legitimately) is a “system” that is trying to impose order on a community of scofflaws. Let’s compare what we learned about Ferguson with what happened in Anchorage with respect to automated speed enforcement, so that our analysis isn’t contaminated by extrinsic outrage. Anchorage has an horrendous problem with people violating traffic laws. The apparent solution (photo radar) resulted in a huge hue and cry, however. Why? Because everyone was speeding, everyone was getting hefty fines, and no one wanted to pay said fines. Well, the good folk who wanted the speed limits enforced argued, “If you don’t want to pay the fine, don’t do the crime”.  But the Anchorage scofflaws were not about to be undone by technology. They beat photo radar in criminal court on a resolvable technicality, and the outrage over the program precluded politically it being implemented as a even a civil measure. We have lots more people dead from speeding vehicles. If you REALLY want to control behavior, what are you to do?

Clearly, if you want to put an end to Behavior X (whether that is speeding, running red lights or beating up on your wife) there has to be a clear ban on the behavior, and a set of actually enforced consequences. The liberal tripwire here is the concern that the consequence is intentionally being contrived such that the “perp” can never escape the the circle of ever rising debt or imprisonment. Yes, yes, yes! We can all agree that this is problematic, and yet day fines are still not widely implemented in the US. Day fines gob smacked many Americans for the first time when The Atlantic carried a story about a monstrous Finnish fine. Day fines impose fines that are proportionate to ones ability to pay (see, for example, How To Use Structured Fines (Day Fines) as an Intermediate Sanction . The question for the outraged, as far as I am concerned, is whether a system of days fines in a place like Ferguson would remediate the issues decried.

“Nay, nay, nay,” I say. Lets face it, the folk in Ferguson would not have paid the fines under any circumstances. Sorry, but if you make the day fine just a copper, you will have those who appear with a hapenny. Why? For the same reason you can impose a 45 mph speed limit and someone caught doing 60 will complain. While the Ferguson situation is clearly “over the top”, go to any court system in the country and visit the “wants and warrants section” and you will see the same thing. Review the collection of fines, and you will recognize that our judicial system is largely ignored until you hear that loud clack as the electronic door lock on the jail sets, or you are made to empty your pockets on the witness stand. I know. I have had to do debtor hearings where the debtor, claiming poverty, is wearing $30K in jewelry. Yah, tools of their trade….. 

“WHOA!”, you say, “I never never knew you to be such a retro asshole!” Sorry, but as we promote an “open” society, we are also promoting a society where there are few norms outside of the law; i. e. the law exists to set the norm. While you may have cleaned up after your dog, and controlled him while out walking in the past out of a sense of personal and communal responsibility, once such a shared sense is lost, the only thing that keeps you from letting your dog shit on my porch is enforcement of the law. Enter civil fines. You violate the norm you get assessed a fine. You fail to pay the fine, your action gets criminalized, and the monkey chases the weasel.

The fly in that ointment is a constabulary that won’t enforce the law (which in many cases is what we have in Anchorage). If you don’t want to simply punish offenders (punishment is really not conducive to alleviating criminal behavior) then we could try to tax them, and the ultimate taxing of an individual who simply refuses to comport themselves with society is to put them to work paying off their debt, lol. And that is a debtor’s prison. With or without day fines.

Perhaps instead of being outraged by the concept, we should explore ways to make it viable. Or we could just say, “You can break the law all you want, because we don’t care.” Your choice….

Billing, Finnish Style

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I was recently whisked off to Scandinavia for a couple of weeks courtesy of my wonderful daughter. Unfortunately, I was having a bit of a problem with my sinuses, which necessitated a visit to a doctor in Helsinki. Friends there lined me up to see a doctor at a private clinic. He asked what the problem was, and I started in. Within a couple of seconds he stopped me.

“Look,” he said. “You clearly know what the problem is and I concur.  Let me get the medical business done and then we can chat.” Perhaps more out of astonishment than compliance, I shut my trap and he started typing away. In a minute or so he looked up from his keyboard and gave me the medical spiel – I was getting an assortment of meds to be used as necessary, an EU version of Clarinex, codeine cough syrup, and an antibiotic if things did not clear up on their own in a week. He asked if all was clear, I confirmed, and he hit a button on the keypad.  Then he explained….

He worked for the clinic and he billed based on the amount of time he spent with the client. Materials were extra at cost plus, as were pharmaceuticals. The whole trip to the doc plus the meds ran be $160.  Since he wasn’t pressed with patients at the moment he had time to chat, and there was no reason to bill me for the time he was amusing me with his dry Finnish wit. And that was PRIVATE care!

I mention all this because yesterday I received an EOB (Explanation of Benefits, for those either lucky – or unlucky – enough not to have to deal with them) which indicated that a specialist I see was dinging me and extra ~$30 for lidocaine and a cortico-steroid injected a YEAR AGO. Turns out that the specialist’s office had been billing for an office visit and a surgical procedure (for a total of ~$500) but had neglected to charge me for the contents of the syringe. I inquired when I called to ask about the incremental billing why they weren’t charging me an incremental fee for the needle and syringe.

In this country insurance companies make providers negotiate on a huge range of services – that’s what the CPT codes are about, because apparently we believe that if a doctor gives you a  flu shot, that has a different value then when he pulls a little wooden splinter out of your finger. Same person, doing what he was trained (and insured to do), and yet somehow the doctor is going to get twice the amount for the splinter than for giving the flu shot. No, it does NOT make a great deal of sense.

Lawyers will often debate whether to offer services, say for a simple adoption, as a flat fee as opposed to an hourly. Flat fees in some senses make it simpler, and in a very real sense its a gamble. We call the other side of that gamble, “insurance” – socializing the cost of the risk. Amortizing the risk may in fact be a great idea, but if we are going to do that, it is high time we stopped doing half of it. Otherwise, we might as well go to having doctors bill out their time by the tenth of the hour. The CPR that saved your life? .1 hr at $300/hr is $30; now that’s a bargain!