An Outlaw Interlude

Some of you doubtless know the Dallas Moore Band, which has been billed as everything from an heir of Outlaw Country to the torch-bearer for Lynyrd Skynyrd-style Southern Rock.

Whether or not you know the band, though, here's an anthem that you may find useful at times in the next few years.

Steampunk insect act

I like these.

The Pig Bang

From Rocket Science, a report on a pig farm manure pit explosion that killed 1,500 pigs and seriously injured a human worker.  The unusual explosion may or may not have something to do with experimental pig feed or antibiotics.  Kind of makes you wonder what's going on in your gut.  Or maybe it just makes me wonder that, given my curious obsession with the topic.  I have to go give a short talk to some teenagers about organic gardening, so I'm focused more than usual on poop, the cycle of life, and the storage and release of chemical energy.

Most transparent presidential psyche ever

Ace has up a good essay about the press's Hitchcockian treatment of Barack Obama.  Hitchcock's thrillers employed a device he called the MacGuffin: "The thing that the hero has to get, but the audience doesn't care what it is."  He was a skilled enough storyteller not to waste any superfluous exposition on where the MacGuffin came from, how it worked, or what it might do it if got loose.  The audience just wanted to watch the hero be disappointed, hurt, and ultimately successful.  In Nick Lowe's formulation, the MacGuffin is one of the plot coupons the hero has to save up so he can send off to the Author for an ending.

The other day I was participating in an argument that went off in a familiar direction:  my interlocutor demanded to know with what I would offer to replace the splendor that is the PPACA if it were repealed.  My response, as usual, was that there are a number of practical proposals anyone can look up if (as seems unlikely) he's genuinely interested, such as high deductibles combined with HSA's and tax breaks or outright subsidies.  But the immediate point is that the law is proving so obviously and concretely harmful that simple repeal would constitute an improvement without any regard to a replacement.  His entire response was, "Oh, I see. So it's 'Screw you, Obama.'"  Yes, I don't care about health insurance.  I'm just the Villain who places obstacles between the Hero and his MacGuffin.

For too many of Obama's followers, the story is about him, not about his policy or his countrymen.  They think they're in a "Raiders of the Lost MacGuffin" caper, but it's really a science fiction disaster movie in the "You're Meddling with Forces You Don't Understand" line.

Ace carries his theme further with a report on the breathless interest in Obama's reading list and what it reveals about the state of his internal journey.

Tullamore Dew

There are many blessings that come with dismissing television from your life; there are few sorrows. But I expect all of you have seen this before me.

It's a fine piece, especially if you have wasted so much of your life in pubs that you can't help but join in the final verse.

Just-in-time insurance

I've been assuming for months now that the problem with waiting until you get sick to buy the new guaranteed-issue health insurance was that you can sign up only once a year, which leaves you exposed to up to a year's worth of medical expenses before your new coverage kicks in.

I'm hearing now that that's true only if you plan to go through the exchange to buy your coverage, which is necessary only if you want to try to qualify for a premium subsidy.  To my utter amazement, it appears that you really will be able to go to an insurance company at any time and buy coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions.  The only counterargument I'm finding on any official websites is "We'd really rather you didn't do that."  There's the penalty, of course, but anyone should be able to avoid a penalty simply by not overpaying taxes and putting himself in the position of needing to apply for a tax refund.

Who wrote this thing?  Were they high?  I know it's possible to rack up a big ICU bill in a few weeks, but come on.  What's easier, saving up against that one-time danger, or paying $10K a year in premiums year in and year out?

This is like guaranteed-issue fire insurance you can buy after you dial 911 and while you're waiting for the fire trucks to arrive.  If this is right the law has got to collapse under its own weight.

Shards of Narsil

Bill Whittle is meditating on the Lord of the Rings.

On Vaccines

I assume that most of you are not both (a) of an age to have young children, and (b) struggling with whether or not to vaccinate them. For any of you who are, however, my cousin in medicine writes to recommend this article. She is a young mother herself.

How To Fit In As A Marine Infantrywoman

The satirical Duffleblog is in rare form today.
After finishing check-in late Friday to Alpha Co, 1st Battalion 6th Marines wearing her dress blue uniform, Private First Class Rhonda “Thunderbeast” Williams went down to Honest Pierre’s Used Car Emporium and bought a hot pink Ford Mustang at 46 percent interest....

The final acceptance by the company came on Saturday night, when the entire unit went out in town. After consuming several dozen alcoholic beverages and getting a tattoo of ‘Death Before Dishonor’ on her entire back, Williams led her platoon into the Pink Flamingo, a local gentlemen’s club near the base. At the end of the evening she was seen leaving with a male waiter who she had been loudly hitting on all night.

On Monday, Williams had informed her chain of command she was getting married.

The self-pay patient

This is an incredibly useful article about strategies for dealing with Obamacare without exposing your household to financial ruin.  I look forward to reading the guy's book when it comes out.  There is information about price transparency, cash discounts, exempt healthcare cost-sharing ministries (including for non-evangelicals), exceptions to tax penalties, affordable telemedicine for simple illnesses, and exempt short-term or limited-scope insurance policies.  This is exactly the sort of information I've been looking for from licensed health insurance brokers, two of whom have proved to know very little about the subject.

"Special Government Benefits"

Evil Hobby Lobby! Don't they realize how much they owe the government?
This corporation, which already takes advantage of special government benefits by incorporating as a private business in the first place (entitling Hobby Lobby to tax benefits and liability shelters to which individuals alone are not entitled), wants to use its government-created corporate status with the help of government-run courts not just to express its religion on a poster or what have you but to force its employees to comply with the supposed religion of the corporation’s founders. This is, plain and simple, a corporation trying to contort government to impose the religious views of some onto many. This is precisely what our nation was founded against.
I think the writer and I agree on the issue at stake, but disagree about the Constitutional principle entirely. The issue at stake is whether religious people can form corporations, or whether your ability to practice your religion must serve as a kind of severe economic penalty. If you can't form corporations to pursue economic activities, you are subject not to limited liability but to losing everything you own in the event that your business fails. What the author is calling "special government benefits" are, rather, an international feature of the corporate mode of organization that has made it so powerful in driving economic growth.

What the government wants to do here is to bar religious organizations from corporate status, so that religious people must either abandon their moral principles when they enter the market, or accept an uneven risk of personal financial destruction v. those without moral principles.

As for compelling employees to abide by its corporate religious principles, of course, Hobby Lobby makes no such claim. It doesn't claim any right, nor express any wish, to prevent employees from purchasing birth control. Its owners merely state that they are unwilling to buy and distribute birth control themselves, especially the kind that facilitates abortion.

Should they have to do so? Or exit the market? Or, at least, accept a disproportionate risk of personal financial destruction if they wish to run a business?

A Thoughtful Analysis of the Pope's Recent Writings

Via D29, "In the Spirit of John Chrysostom." The writer is a fan; but see what you think.

A different definition of success

Not so much the Amazon variety, but the sort we can expect for the government:
The administration has given up on success, as it might once have defined it. The object is no longer 7 million people signed up through the exchanges, with 2.7 million of them young and healthy, and the health-care cost curve bending back toward the earth.  It is to keep the program alive until 2015.  The administration's priorities are, first, to keep Democrats from undoing the individual mandate or otherwise crippling the law; second, to keep insurers from raising premiums or exiting the marketplace; third, to tamp down loose talk about the failures on the exchanges; and, only fourth, to get to the place where it used to think it would be this year, with lots of people signed up for affordable insurance.  It is now measuring the program’s success not by whether it meets its goals, but by whether it survives at all.  And all of its choices are oriented toward this new priority.

Isaac Newton and the apple

The apple didn't hit Newton on the head and inspire him with the sudden insight that there's such a thing as gravity.  People had been noodling over the obvious tendency of things to fall just about forever.  For a long time, their views on the subject took the form of theories about how objects might be animated, such as by an innate desire to be reunited with the Earth.  During the Enlightenment, as creatures now known as "scientists" began to emerge, the focus left the supposed interior experience of the objects and trained itself on finding universal, predictable patterns in the movement.

So what was really going through Newton's mind when the apple fell from the tree?  Before Newton was well launched on his extraordinary career, natural philosophers already had adopted the "inertia" model of movement; that is to say, objects tend to keep moving in a straight line unless slowed or diverted by an outside force.  But this was puzzling in view of the evident circular/elliptical movement of heavenly bodies.  There was a strong tendency to find circles "perfect" and "beautiful," resulting in a popular view that lowly straight-line movements characterized earthly bodies while heavenly bodies moved in stately and superior circles.  Were there separate laws of motion on Earth and in Heaven?

Newton's brilliance lay in a unifying theme that would explain why an apple appears to fall straight down while the Moon describes a circular orbit around the Earth.
We have now finally arrived at that idyllic summer afternoon in Grantham in 1666, as the young Isaac Newton, home from university to avoid the plague, whilst lying in his mother’s garden contemplating the universe, as one does, chanced to see an apple falling from a tree.  Newton didn’t ask why it fell, but set off on a much more interesting, complicated and fruitful line of speculation.  Newton’s line of thought went something like this.  If Descartes is right with his theory of inertia, . . . then there must be some force pulling the moon down towards the earth and preventing it shooting off in a straight line at a tangent to its orbit.  What if, he thought, the force that holds the moon in its orbit and the force that cause the apple to fall to the ground were one and the same?  This frighteningly simple thought is the germ out of which Newton’s theory of universal gravity and his masterpiece the Principia grew.
Newton guessed that, if the Moon were motionless, it would fall straight down to Earth the same as the apple.  But the Moon has a momentum that's at right angles to the gravity vector, which always points to the center of the Earth, meaning that the Moon's path is gradually changing in direction as the it "falls" sideways around the Earth.  The same gravitational force could account for the curved motion of the Moon and the straight motion of the apple.

The Principia was published in 1687, after Newton put considerable additional work into his first intuition about gravity, including the critical insight that elliptical planetary orbits result from a force pointing from each planet straight down into the Sun, which is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two.  Not that Newton dreamed up either the planets' elliptical orbits or the inverse-square law on his own.  Galileo had noticed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that gravity acts as a constant acceleration on falling bodies, no matter what their weights. Kepler published his three laws of planetary motion in the first couple of decades of the 17th century, showing that planets move in ellipses of which the Sun is one focus. Between Newton's 1666 "apple moment" and the 1687 publication of the Principia, Hooke and others were inching their way toward the inverse-square law, first realizing that gravity always operated in one direction (earlier theories included the idea that gravity pushed at one point in the orbit and pulled at another), then establishing that its attractive power varied with distance, and finally nailing down the understanding that gravity alters with the square of the distance between the attractive bodies.  Newton's genius was to understand that the inverse-square law, plus the tendency of objects to move in a straight line unless acting on by a force, simultaneously explained the elliptical paths of planets in Heaven and the straight downward fall of an apple from a tree on Earth.

As Richard Feynman used to say, in the old world people believed that angels flew behind planets and pushed them in their circular paths.  Now, in the advanced modern world, we say that the angels are invisible and they push at right angles to what we thought back then.   We still have no idea what gravity is, but we're considerably more adept as describing what kinds of motions it produces, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Eye contact

Making it personal is a good way to harness people's will to work.  With strangers, we trade.  With fellow human beings, we give.  A handful of Rice engineering students took on a freshman-year project to make a robotic arm for a wheelchair bound teenager with brittle-bone disease.  They found some of the engineering problems unexpectedly tough to crack:
And there was an even bigger problem.  The arm wasn't nearly finished, but the engineering course was ending.  But the team members say the idea of not finishing the project never entered their minds. 
"We had someone who came and sat down in front of us, and asked for our help," says Najoomi.
It took them till the end of their sophomore year, but they finally presented a working gadget to their client.

H/t:  for this and other posts to come this morning, "Not Exactly Rocket Science."

The real "Amazon experience"

I don't think the President and his henchmen really want the true Amazon experience as much as they think they do.
Mr. Stone describes a meeting during the 2000 holiday season when Mr. Bezos tested a claim by Bill Price, his vice president for customer services, who said hold times on Amazon's phone lines were less than a minute. 
"'Really?' Bezos said.  'Let's see.'  On the speakerphone in the middle of the conference table, he called Amazon's 800 number. . . .  Bezos took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time.  A brutal minute passed, then two. . . .  Around four and a half minutes passed, but according to multiple people at the meeting who related the story, the wait seemed interminable."  Less than a year later, Mr. Price was gone from Amazon.
 Whatever we may think about Amazon's goals, there's no denying that Bezos is fanatically devoted to testing the truth of claims about the progress toward those goals.  It's not an "Emperor's New Clothes" atmosphere over there.


Jeff Bezos is everything I love about modernism and free enterprise.  I don't think the delivery drones are going to make it out to my house in 30 minutes, though.  We can't even get pizza delivered here.

In honor of the brave new world we're going to pull down our house and construct this in its place:

"Based on my poor understanding of history, science, and ethics..."

My favorite part about this anti-politician petition on is that it is apparently being driven by the Left. I heard about it from one of my Left-leaning friends, and the support I can find for it is all built around left-leaning organizations. The by-name exemption of Ph.D.s is suspicious as well -- education is a beautiful thing, but a doctorate is not a substitute for understanding. Hopefully they go together, but manifestly not necessarily.