An old friend writes . . .

Our esteemed host emailed me to say that his wife is home from the hospital and recovering nicely, though he's still much occupied caring for her.  I know I speak for all of us in expressing my warmest wishes for her speedy return to full health.

Grim also asked me to pass along a request from an old "milblogger" friend of the site that we check out several of her pending projects:

Juliet Akinyi Ochieng author's page

Arlen's Harem:  the second novel

The Kenya Project

Living off the Sea

Whoops, not this week.  You guessed it:  during the shutdown, you won't be allowed to go into some federally controlled waters to fish.  Not, of course, because there's no funding; there's plenty of funding to pay guys to keep you out, even if takes more personnel than letting you in.  Just in hopes that shutting you out will irritate you enough to call your congressman.

What's next:  no breathing, because the EPA has jurisdiction over the air?

Frankly, the whole business underscores what a bad idea it is to get used to freebies from the feds.  Anytime they're in a bad mood, they can restrict access to make a point.  We should be working on making them as unessential as possible.

Mental pretzels

Few subjects stir us to such feats of intellectual gymnastics as explaining how our stereotypes aren't really stereotypes.  This article (via Maggie's Farm) explores how American colleges struggle to explain why an Asian student needs an extra 140 points on his SAT in order to compete effectively with any other race.

Asians are the new Jews.  In the early 20th century, Harvard instituted the revolutionary concept of basing admissions on ethnic-neutral tests.  The result?  Culture shock:
"Naturally, after 25 years, one expects to find many changes, but to find that one’s University had become so Hebrewized was a fearful shock.  There were Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me, in fact they were so obviously everywhere that instead of leaving the Yard with pleasant memories of the past I left with a feeling of utter disgust of the present and grave doubts about the future of my Alma Mater."
Naturally, something had to be done.  One approach would have been overt discrimination against Jews.  A more subtle approach was to emphasize "legacy students," which is an easy way to claim you're not basing admissions on race even though you're basing them on family descent.  It's a good trick, and it's still being used today to keep Asians from unfairly swamping the admissions process by kicking everyone's butt academically.  Other useful techniques are to hide the admissions policy altogether, and to refuse to discuss it on the ground that it's a "wedge issue."  (I've always loved the "wedge issue" gambit.  "Unfair!  This issue is so damaging to our position that it's likely to sow internal dissension in our ranks!")

Another approach is to admit that Asians are submitting academically impressive applications, but to observe that the admissions process is "holistic."  Unfortunately, as the article points out, this approach includes the unstated assumption that Asian applications are, on the whole, devastatingly sub-par on every non-academic ground.  And what exactly is wrong with all of them in that respect?  Well, it's hard to put into words, but it's "holistic." It's certainly not their ethnicity!

There's a strong human tendency to approve of meritocracies as long as we're pretty sure that the rules for judging merit focus on whatever our sub-group happens to be good at.  As soon as those other guys start to excel, it turns out that the rules for judging merit are missing the important intangible stuff, the stuff that's so hard to put into words.

Living off the land

Via Maggie's Farm, a sober look at what it would really take to live as a modern hunter and gatherer long-term--not just for a few days when lost in the wilderness.

Enough about Venezuela

Taranto is funny when he stays away from gender politics.  Well, he's funny then, too, but in a different way.   Here he is on the Great Leap Forward to Health and Solvency:
"People complain of having to stand in line for hours, often in vain, and many are losing patience with the government's explanation that unsavory conspirators are to blame for the nation's problems," reports the New York Times.   But enough about Venezuela.  Let's talk about ObamaCare.
All is not lost, however, despite reporters' increasing and almost fruitless urgency to find someone, anyone, who has successfully signed up for Obamacare via a federal exchange.  (Apparently some of the state exchanges are doing rather well.)  As Taranto points out, it should have been more or less a no-brainer that the feds could set up a successful feeding trough.  The real trick will not be getting impoverished people with expensive illnesses to sign up for subsidized coverage.   The real trick will be getting young, healthy people to sign up in droves in order to foot the bill for all the largesse.  Taranto happily points to a Hartford Courant article that's being trumpeted by "a senior ObamaCare publicity agent" as success, in the form of a 30-year-old law student who managed to navigate a website and sign up for health insurance.   Before we get too excited about bringing that federal deficit under control, though, it's helpful to note that the young student was already paying several hundred dollars a month for coverage, and now will pay nothing at all:  the site informed him that he was eligible for Medicaid.
So the great success story of ObamaCare's first day is the transformation of a future lawyer who was already paying for insurance into a welfare case.
Well, I've always said that uninsured people who already have an expensive medical condition don't need what we've traditionally called "insurance."  Their risk is no longer unquantifiable; it is known.  What they need is either income or charity.  Charity's a great thing, when it takes the form of people giving up their own resources to help others in need.  It's an ugly thing when it's merely disguised theft.  It's not just that it's dishonest to arrange things dishonestly, though that's bad enough.  It's that dishonesty, by more or less successfully blinding some or all of us to reality, prevents our doing anything to solve a problem in a sustainable way.  The cost of good things doesn't go away because we rob Peter in order to indulge in unearned self-congratulation for our charity to Paul.  It costs real-world time and resources to provide medical care to people who can't afford it.  If it's our duty and desire to do so anyway, it's time we quit pretending it was somebody else's job to pay for it.

Did he really say that?

No, I'm not referring to Harry Reid's spectactularly tone-deaf "Why would we want to do that?" response to a question about funding NIH programs to help children with cancer.  (Why should we help kids with cancer when some government employees are home and not getting a paycheck?)  This is a new one: our President suddenly realizes that a good analogy to the opposition's stance on the spending resolution is a bunch of crazy workers at a factory who decide that if they don't get what they want, they'll shut the factory down. They'd lose their jobs, right? he asks--and rightly so, he implies.

Apocalypse, part 18

Cassandra has helpful statistics at her place about the last 17 shutdowns. The first 16 didn't attract that much media attention. Three guesses what was different in 1995.

Vindictive theater

I think this privately-funded director of volunteers at a "Williamsburg-style" farm (Claude Moore Colonial Farm) has burned her bridges with the National Park Service.  The Williamsburg farm has been entirely self-sustaining since evil Republicans cut its federal funding in 1980.  It costs the federal government nothing to keep it open, but closing the facility costs it the visitor revenues it needs to operate.
According to Anna Eberly, managing director of the farm, NPS sent law enforcement agents to the park on Tuesday evening to remove staff and volunteers from the property. 
“You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don’t have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money,” she said.
Ace posted a copy of her letter, which concludes:
In all the years I have worked with the National Park Service, first as a volunteer for 6 years in Richmond where I grew up, then as an NPS employee at the for 8 very long years and now enjoyably as managing director for the last 32 years - I have never worked with a more arrogant, arbitrary and vindictive group representing the NPS. 
I deeply apologize that we have to disappoint you today by being closed but know that we are working while the National Park Service is not--as usual.
As someone else commented today, next they'll be throwing tarps over Mt. Rushmore.


I tried out the site and never managed to log in or raise anyone on "Live Chat," but I did get through on the telephone to a reasonably coherent live operator after a wait of about 20 minutes.  My principal question was whether I could qualify for any HHS-approved catastrophic (high-deductible) policies.  The answer, after some prodding, was no:  I'm not under 30 and I wouldn't qualify for the economic-hardship exceptions to the age limit.  I then asked whether I would be subject to the individual-mandate fine/tax/penalty if I kept my current high-deductible policy, and was assured that I would not be.  Apparently all I have to do is claim on my tax return that I have insurance, and the IRS will take my word for it that it's "insurance" within the HHS's view of what appropriate insurance must be.  Frankly, I don't believe a word of it, but we'll see when I file my tax return next year.

Obviously I'd pay the fine/tax/penalty rather than drop my high-deductible insurance.  My bigger concern is that Blue Cross will quit offering it at all, under pressure from regulators.  At that point, Obamacare will have succeeded in making me much more dependent on government largesse, because all my decades-long care to avoid a lapse in coverage will have been undone, leaving me with pre-existing conditions and an inability to find replacement coverage.

If the purpose of the law is to give me more empathy for people in the gut-churning position of losing insurance that, because of pre-existing health conditions, cannot be replaced, it's succeeding admirably.  In fact, Americans in all walks of life are learning what it means to lose health insurance that was serving them fairly well, all because of this brilliant and compassionate law.