Friday, April 21, 2017

Entry 377: The Problem with Curious George

One annoying thing about being a parent, to which everybody who is a parent can attest, is that you have to read/watch/otherwise consume stupid kid stuff.  It's not stupid because it's kid stuff per se, some kid stuff is quite good, but it seems much easier to get away with making stupid stuff for kids, because kids will read/watch/otherwise consume just about anything if it's colorful and big and animate and has animals or animal-like creatures in it.

Lately Lil' S1 has been on a Curious George kick, because we are at my in-laws and they happen to have a book of Curious George short stories, and while Curious George is far, far from the worst there is out there, I don't like it.  It subtly -- or perhaps not so subtly -- sends a very bad message to kids: Good results make up for a bad process.

In every story George gets himself into a jam because he's stupid and doesn't follow basic rules of safety or common sense (apparently "curious" is a euphemism for "idiotically dangerous"), and then he somehow lucks into solving the problem at hand, and everybody lavishes him with kudos for doing so.  I think that last part is the worst, because you could argue that since George is a monkey he follows different norms, but the humans should know better than to reward bad behavior, even if it does work out on a particular occasion.

In one story, for example, George climbs into a rhinoceros exhibit at the zoo, and gets (correctly) chastised by the zookeeper, but then he stumbles upon a missing baby rhino, so the zookeeper reverses course and hails him as a hero.  That's really an awful thing to teach kids -- that you can do whatever you want and as long as things work out for you that one particular time, it means you made a praiseworthy decision.

And if you think "c'mon, there just silly kids' stories," well, I don't completely disagree, which is why I still read them to my sons.  But somebody had to take the time to make them -- so why not make them good?  Why not show them ways in which curiosity is actually beneficial, like in science and math?  Wouldn't that make for a much better story?

Anyway, as I mentioned, I'm at my in-laws, so I'm short on time and have to log-off now.

Until next time...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Entry 376: Is that Your Umbrella Under that Trailer?

My car was broken into last night.  Well, actually that's not true.  My car was somehow entered last night by somebody without my knowledge, but there was actually no breaking involved.  All my windows are intact, and the doors aren't pried open, but somehow everything inside my glove box ended up on the street.  The most probably scenario is that I forgot to lock the doors, and some no-goodnik realized this and metaphorically seized the opportunity to literally seize my belongings.  Once he (or she, but c'mon, it was a dude) saw that I had nothing of real value in my car (other than the car seats, which, I assume, required too much effort to move), he dumped everything under a trailer randomly parked on my street and fled the scene.

I didn't even notice it when I took the kids to school (the glove box was shut; everything looked normal), but about 10 a.m. I got a knock on my door from my neighbor.  He was holding the little folder in which I keep my insurance card, and he was like, "Uhhh... I think your car got broken into."  He thought it was strange that a trailer was parked on our street (because it is), so he went to check it out and noticed all my stuff under it.  Everything from my glove box appeared to be there -- papers, manuals, an iPhone charger, an umbrella, even two ballpoint pens.  They also left the $2.67 I have in coins in the console drink holder.  Lucky me!

The trailer is gone now and seems to be unrelated to the crime other than it was the most convenient dumping ground.  I just put my stuff back in the glove box, made sure the doors were locked, went back inside, and went about my day.  What else was there to do?  I suppose I could report it to the police.  I probably should do that, but it seems like such a hassle for something that ended up being little more than a slight inconvenience.  Don't get me wrong, it's disturbing that we have thieves prowling the streets in our neighborhood, but unfortunately that's pretty much how it goes in D.C. in almost any neighborhood.  That's why you don't keep anything of value in your car and why you always lock your doors.  I'm actually very surprised that I forgot to lock them.  Usually I'm overly anal about it.  In fact, it's so unlike me that I'm halfway inclined to think there is some other explanation.  But there probably isn't -- Occam's razor, see.

Anyway, in other news, I'm sure you heard about that foofaraw on the United flight about a week ago -- you know, the one in which that doctor got his head smashed in and his belly exposed as he was literally dragged off a flight to which he had purchased a valid ticket and on which he had already been seated, because United needed his seat so that they could transport some crew members so that a different flight could takeoff.  That one.  Everyday seems to have a take on it.  Here's mine.

The solution to this, as many have pointed out, is mind-numbingly easy: Jack up the value of the vouchers until you get a taker.  They stopped at $800.  My guess is once they got up to $1,000, certainly if they went up to $1,500 or $2,000, somebody would have taken it.  So in order to save a few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars, United cost themselves n times that in bad publicity and a likely lawsuit -- not too smart.  And I've seen it reported that they couldn't have gone above $1,300 by law, but then I read something by a lawyer who said this isn't true because that's only for involuntary removal.  If it's voluntary -- which, if you make the incentive large enough, it would be -- then there's no law preventing an airline from offering whatever they want.  And even if $1,300 was the limit, they stopped at $800, so it's not a good defense, anyway.

The other thing about this that I haven't heard mentioned that much, but is important, is that the airlines aren't offering actually money.  They're offering vouchers to be used at some time in the future that often come with strings attached.  Customers are learning that the vouchers aren't actually worth anything close to their stated value.  If airlines offered actual money -- cash or Visa gift cards or something like that -- people would be much, much more inclined to give up their seats.  I guarantee it.

My fix, if I was advising United on how to go forward, would be to offer cash, and to hold an auction when this happens.  Whoever is willing to get off for the least amount of money wins.  Maybe you could even do it when you buy your ticket.  There's a little checkbox that says "In the unlikely event we need a volunteer to give up his or her seat, I would be willing to do so for $____."

I've heard others say that airlines just shouldn't be able to overbook.  In this case that wouldn't have mattered because the issue wasn't overbooking, but the need to move crew members so that a different flight could take off.  And it's not unreasonable to inconvenience a few people so that a flight of hundreds can take off on time.  United apparently was scrambling all weekend due to weather-related cancellations and delays.  (How they handled "inconveniencing" people, however, was completely unreasonable, to say the least.)  Also, we the customers bear some of the responsibility for overbooking as a general practice, as we often miss flights or change our plans at the last minute and demand refunds.  Without overbooking, the airlines have to accept a loss every time this happens, which means they have to charge us more.

Of course, they could in theory also just eat these losses and be less profitable.  But while that sounds good, the truth is, airlines actually aren't very profitable as it is.  They're not investments banks.  They provide an incredible service -- getting across the entire nation in a matter or hours -- but also an extremely costly one.  And their customer base does not always appreciate this latter point.  We all want airlines to offer us better service, but we don't want to pay for it.  People think air travel is expensive, but it's actually much cheaper than it used to be.  We drive the market this way.  Matt Yglesias at Vox wrote a very interesting article speaking to this.  It's really a great breakdown of the general economics of air travel.  I highly recommend it.  But if you're not going to read the entire thing, I will leave you a quote from it.
In the long run, for air travel to be better, passengers would have to pay for it. And decades’ worth of evidence suggests we prefer cheap and safe to pleasant. 
I found this to be true not just in air travel, but in many walks of American consumerism.  Everything is about the deal; you always have to get the best deal possible.  You know what I say to that?  Fuck the deal!  When I wanted a new TV, I didn't shop around.  I didn't compare prices online.  I walked straight into Best Buy, picked one off the shelf and bough it.  It took me 15 minutes.  When I got a new car, did I haggle with the salesperson?  No sir.  I paid sticker price and went on my way.  I don't do airplane miles; I don't have any reward cards; I don't do credit card points (well, technically I do, because S and I have a joint card, but she set it up); I don't even have a Wegman's card and I shop there almost every other day!

Am I getting ripped off?  Am I sucker?  Maybe.  But I don't waste my time with any of that stuff, and I'm much happier because of it.  So if that makes me a sucker, then you can lick me up and down and call me Dum Dum.

Until next time...

Friday, April 7, 2017

Entry 375: Feeling Annoyed or Scared -- One of the Two

I must say, there is nothing like the possible start of yet another unwinnable war with yet another Mideastern country to put things into perspective.  Yesterday afternoon I was feeling annoyed by an incident that happened at my son's daycare; yesterday evening I was rudely reminded that my country's military -- the most powerful in the world -- is controlled by a remarkably ignorant reality TV host whose defense "strategy" seems to be mostly influenced by whatever it was he last saw on cable news.  Juxtaposing those two things will really help you get your priorities straight.

To be clear, Bashar al-Assad is a terrible, brutal, oppressive dictator who has little compunction about killing his own people (and others), but if he is forced out, he almost certainly will be replaced by a terrible, brutal, oppressive terrorist syndicate that has little compunction about killing their own people (and others).  Either way, it's awful; either way, it's death for a lot of innocent people.  There are no good options, and when there are no good options, my feeling is to chose one that doesn't involve another decades-long war.  I read today that a former defense strategist for Obama called the strike "justified."  It clearly was.  But was it smart?  I mean, we bombed an air force base -- okay, now what?

I guess we will see...

[Lil' S2 has gotten really into stuffed animals lately. He loves Hulk...]

So here's the daycare story.  Every morning, Monday through Thursday, I drop Lil' S1 off at school and then I drop Lil' S2 off at daycare.  I very much prefer to do it in that order because the daycare is on the way from the school to my office, and it's easier to take Lil' S2 with me to his brother's school than vice-versa.

School drop-off is from 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., and I have to be at daycare before 9:00 a.m.  It's only about a five minute drive from school to daycare, so the timing all works out -- or at least it should all work out.  A few months ago one of the women who works at Lil' S2's daycare asked me if I could bring him in by 8:30, because otherwise he misses most of breakfast.  I told her that I couldn't do that, and that I give him breakfast at home, so it's fine if he doesn't eat.  I didn't think anything of the conversation.

But then about a week and a half ago several workers start dropping hints that it would be really nice if I could get him there earlier.  Nobody came right out and said that again, but they would point out that he just missed pancakes or that all his "friends" were here already -- stuff like that.  I would just smile and pretend to not get the hint, even though, of course, I knew exactly what was going on.

Not getting the response they wanted from me, they tried a new tactic: They went to S.  It was well-played on their part, not because S agrees with them, but because she hates being the middle-person in these types of "disputes," and so she'll just want to resolve it as quickly and easily as possible.  Already she's resentful of the fact that 99% of the time the daycare workers go to her first with any issue.  Even though we both go in there everyday (usually I do drop-off, she does pickup), whenever something comes up, like Lil' S2 needs more spare pants or he broke a strap on his shoe or he pushed another kid, they almost never talk to me about and expect her to deal with it instead.  In this case, they told S that if I bring Lil' S2 in after 8:30, then I have to wash his hands and put him in his seat before I leave.

[... and Wheedle ...]

This might not sound like a big deal, but it real, real annoys me.  Getting my boys up and dressed and fed and out the door and into the car and out of the car and into school and back into the car and back out of car (parking is always an issue too) and into daycare is already an arduous process.  (And then I have to turn around and hustle to work.)  I don't want an extra little chore tacked on at the end, especially one they can easily do.  I've seen their setup and their system.  They aren't doing anything that can't be put aside for a few minutes when Lil' S2 comes in.  I'm sure it's annoying for them that they have to do this, but it's annoying for me if I have to do it.  Somebody has to be annoyed, and I don't think it should be me.

I have to admit, money is a big part of it.  Lil' S2's daycare isn't a beleaguered public school or neighborhood co-op; it's a for-profit business.  We pay a hefty amount of money to go there.  It's on the expensive side for a daycare in DC, and DC is the most expensive city for daycare in the nation.  I feel like accommodating the parents should be a priority (within reason, of course).  I mean, isn't that supposed to be the whole deal with daycare -- you take your kids there, and then they do all the work, so that you don't have to?  It's like if you hired people to clean your bathroom, and they asked you to get things ready by scrubbing your toilet before they got there.

But, of course, a child is not the same thing as a toilet.  It probably doesn't behoove me to get on the bad sides of the people to whom I'm entrusting the well being of my son, even if I feel like I'm in the right.  So I'll probably just suck it up and do it.  (Plus, that will make S happy.)  I thought about talking with the woman who runs the daycare.  I feel pretty confident she would take my side -- in the contract it doesn't say anything about having to arrive before 8:30; the stated official start time is 9:00 -- but there's a good chance that will make it worse.  The workers might view it as me ratting them out, which would probably make them really resent me.  Plus, although S and I are paying a lot for this daycare, it's not like any individual employee gets a giant cut of it.  I don't know how much they make.  Maybe that's a big part of it from their perspective; maybe money is a significant factor for them too; maybe they don't feel like they make enough to be so accommodating to the parents.  I don't know.

[... and Grover]

What I do know is that I basically have three choices: (1) Play dumb, pretend like nothing ever happened, and don't wash his hands or put him in his chair -- just drop him off and go, and if they ask me to do it, say I don't have time and walk away; (2) Talk to the woman who owns the daycare and try to get her to adjudicate the "dispute" in my favor; (3) Get annoyed, vent on my blog, and then do what they want, while outwardly acting friendly and pretending like it doesn't bother me.

You probably can guess which one I've already decided to go with.

Until next time...

Friday, March 31, 2017

Entry 374: Double-Duty Dadding

S left the country for work on Sunday, so I've been double-duty dadding this week.  Well, not quite double, S's parents came up to help out, so it's more like 1.5-times-duty.  They are actually not much help with the boys because the boys don't let them help.  They aren't used to having them around, so they want me to do everything.  Here's a typical conversation:

Me: "Hey, Lil' S1, go put your shoes on, we gotta go."
Lil' S1: "I need your help to know what shoe goes on what foot."
Me: "Go ask Avva, she'll help you."
Lil' S1: "N-o-o-o," [whiny voice] "I want you to do it."
Me: *Sigh*

Lil' S2 is even worse.  If I'm around and not paying one-hundred percent attention to him, he starts crying and then runs over and clings to my pant leg.

So I'm doing the bulk of the work with the kids.  But S's mom really helps out in two ways: (1) she cooks all the meals; (2) she gets Lil' S2 when he wakes up.  That latter one is especially huge.  He typically wakes up sometime between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.  Then it's about 50-50 as to whether or not he will fall back asleep, and even if he does, it's usually after 25 minutes of rolling around and making noise.  More often than not when he first gets up, I get up for the day.  But with S's mom here, I can usually sleep in until 7:15 or so without distraction.  That extra bit of sleep makes such a big difference in how I feel and how I can function throughout the day.  So I'm extremely grateful that she comes up to help when S is away.  S's dad, on the other hand... well, let's just say he tries -- kinda.

Alright, I think I'll finish out this post with a lightning round.  I haven't done one in a while, so let's hit it.

-I won my office March Madness pool again.  It's my third time in five years.  Only one person has won it more than me (four times), and he's been playing since it started in 1999.  My first year was 2011.  And in the years I didn't win, I came in second twice and third once.  (Around 15 people play each year.)  I don't follow college basketball until the tournament, but I came up with a procedure to rank the teams based on FiveThrityEight's tournament odds.  It's a pretty simple process that doesn't require any knowledge beyond basic probability, but I haven't revealed the details to anybody, and I refer to it only as "my algorithm" to make it sound more sophisticated than it is.

It might seem silly to say this, but I actually think this helps my standing with the company in a legitimate way.  The vice president of the company has implied several times that he's impressed that I can use math to pick college basketball winners.  ("You might have to give a lunch-time talk about your technique.")  He has some say in how bonuses and salaries are allotted, so impressing him certainly can't hurt.

[My algorithm predicted a strong showing from South Carolina]

-We signed Lil' S1 up for soccer again this spring, and I'm already regretting it after one practice.  He just can't focus yet on a single activity for a 45 minute stretch.  Actually, none of the kids really can.  Four is just too young.  I didn't start organized sports until I was 7.  Also, a big part of the problem is his "coach" is absolutely abysmal at running the practice.  He doesn't keep the kids engaged, and he runs these drills that require the kids to stand in a line and wait for minutes at a time.  Of course they get distracted and start playing in the dirt and hanging on the equipment (Lil' S1 literally got his head stuck in the net), which is fine, they're little kids after all, but if that's the way it's going to be, then why don't we all keep our registration fees, save ourselves the headache of trying to constantly corral our kids and keep them on the field, and just meet up at the playground every Saturday.  It poured rain today, and I am so hoping the field will be in bad enough condition to cancel practice tomorrow morning.

By the way, I know what you are thinking, and the answer is I didn't volunteer to coach because I don't want to coach.  If either of my kids show a sustained interest in sports I'll get into it and volunteer, but for now, no thanks.

[This is, hands down, the greatest miss in soccer history.]

-Speaking of participating in sports, in doing Krav Maga, I've learned that I can kick really hard.  Punching, I'm not sure about, I can't tell if I have powerful punches, but I can definitely do some damage with my legs.  Last week one guy refused to hold the pad for me after the first set, because he said the jolts were hurting his arms too much.  And then after that, I kicked the pad clean out of a woman's hands.  So, if you were thinking about letting me kick you in the groin, I suggest you think again.

-I've been trying to find a new TV show to get into.  It's weird, we are in the golden age of TV, and yet I feel like there is nothing for me to watch.  Maybe it's the paradox of choice.  For one thing, there's so much out there, it can be overwhelming to sort through it.  For another thing, since I know there are so many good shows available, I'm overly worried about picking a show I won't like or will only kinda like and wasting my time.  So then I just don't pick anything at all.  Should I watch The Americans, The Crown, or Narcos?  Should I finally break down and watch Mad Men from start to finish?  Should I go with something lighter -- Bob's Burgers or Pitch?  Or should I rewatch a classic I haven't seen in years like The Sopranos or The Simpsons?  See what I mean?  It's maddening.  Well, Better Call Saul returns in a few weeks, so at least I have that to look forward to.

-Lil' S2 had gotten really into reading -- or at least being read to.  He toddles over to the bookshelf pulls out a book and then toddles over to you and starts whining until you put him on your lap and start reading to him.    Then when you finish, he does it again.  He's insatiable.  I hope this means that he will be really into reading later in life.  I would love to have a bookworm kid.  His brother is more of an iPadworm kid.

-Huge pet peeve of mine: When somebody asks you to do something, you say yes and ask them about the details, and then they don't respond to you in a timely fashion.  This happened to me twice recently.  In the first case, I was asked to give another kid a ride back from a group event Lil' S1 attended.  It was no problem; I just needed to know if I was taking him home or to our house where his parents would pick him up.  So I asked this in a reply email and then... crickets.  Several days went by, and then the night before the event I sent another email, and the person did respond, saying I should take him home.  Fine, but WTF?  Why am I the one emailing you a follow up about this?  I'm the one doing the favor, no?  Excuse me for bothering you.  But I just want to verify that it's still okay if I pick up your kid for you.  Then the kid got sick and didn't even go to the event.

The second case is still in progress.  Some friends are coming to town, so they emailed us about a week ago asking if we were available to hang out tomorrow.  I wrote back saying yes, giving the times at which we were available and some suggested activities, and asking them if this worked for them.  Nobody wrote back.  So are we hanging out tomorrow?  Your guess is as good as mine.

-I recently found out there is a second Trainspotting movie out and it's getting good reviews.  You dinnae ken how chuffed I am about this.

Until next time...

Friday, March 24, 2017

Entry 373: Healthcare Again

I don't want this blog to become dominated by politics, but I write what's on my mind and politics are on my mind a lot these days, so that's what I'm writing about.

As I begin this entry, Friday afternoon, March 24, 2017, the United States House of Representatives is a few hours away from voting on their healthcare bill, AHCA (aka Ryancare, aka Trumpcare, aka Pileofshitcare).  Alternatively, they are not a few hours from voting on AHCA.  There probably aren't enough votes to pass it, so they might pull it altogether.  But Trump, supposedly, for reasons only he knows, wants to hold a vote anyway, so maybe we will have a vote.  Maybe it will even pass.  Then again, maybe they will never vote on it at all.  Nobody knows!  But even if it does pass, it will surely die in the Senate where the margin for error is even slimmer (only two Reps could dissent).  That is, unless it passes there too.  Nobody knows this either!

The whole thing is a complete and utter farce that I would find hysterical if the farce wasn't being produced by my government.  The only thing that's good about this is that it's very gratifying to watch years of Republican lies about Obamacare catch up with them.  It's like that episode of Seinfeld where George lies to his future in-laws, and they call him on it, and he keeps on lying, and they keep calling him on it, and whole thing culminates with him driving them to a house in the Hamptons he doesn't have.  As many smart people have been pointing out for a long time, a good Republican replacement bill for Obamacare is as imaginary as George's vacation home.

To see why this is the case, you first have to understand how Obamacare works.  It is held up by what some call a "three-legged stool": 1.  Laws that prevent insurers from denying coverage to citizens for, say, preexisting conditions; 2.  Subsidies that allow poor people to buy insurance; 3. An individual mandate that compels healthy people to buy insurances.  In addition, the ACA gives states federal money to expand Medicaid (which some states accepted and some (cruelly) did not), which it pays for through tax increases.

Republicans in Congress are, to a person, ostensibly against Obamacare.  But the reasons they give are not consistent with a replacement bill or even with one other.  There is a strong contingent of Reps -- The Freedom Caucus -- who object to the ACA on almost purely ideological grounds.  They want the stool gone completely.  They don't believe the federal government should have any role in providing healthcare to its citizens whatsoever.

The problem the Freedom Caucus has is that not a whole lot of other Americans feel the way they do.  There are parts of Obamacare everyday people of all political stripes really like.  Sick people like Leg 1, and poor people like Leg 2 and the Medicaid expansion.  For this reason, other Republicans have been saying they want to keep these parts.  The problem with that, of course, is these parts rely on the unpopular parts -- Leg 3 and tax increases.  If people want insurance when they are sick, then they need to buy it when they are healthy too (hence the mandate), otherwise everybody could just wait until they are sick before buying insurance, and then the market would collapse because insurers would be paying out a lot without bringing enough in.  And if we want to provide health insurance to poor people who can't afford to pay for it themselves, then somebody has to pay for it somehow.  Hence the tax increases.

For these reasons, a large faction of Republicans, most of them, in fact, have been attacking Obamacare not on ideological grounds, but for practical reasons (or for no reasons; they just disparaged it without specifics; Trump, of course, is the master of this -- "it's a disaster").  They say it's premiums are too high, that it doesn't provide enough people with good coverage, and that it could be headed for total collapse (the dreaded "death spiral"). But these are problems any replacement bill Reps propose won't and can't solve -- in fact their bill would exacerbate them -- because they would need to strengthen Leg 3 and/or raise taxes to solve them, and those are the exact parts Republicans want to trash, not bolster.  In this way, Republicans have been incredibly dishonest about Obamacare since before the law even went into effect (or they are incredibly delusional and ignorant, I'm not sure which), which is why their entire approach is doomed.

As I've said before, part of me wants this bill to become law.  Republicans would surely say I'm wrong about all this, so let's see what happens.  Let's see whose right.  But ultimately the price -- millions of people losing their health insurance -- is to high to pay.  So I hope it fails -- spectacularly.

And it does, for now, at least.  Paul Ryan pulled the bill again.  In the words of Nelson Muntz,

Until next time...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Entry 372: Where All the Women at?

On Tuesday, I had another crossword puzzle published in the New York Times.  I won't spoil it for you if you haven't done it yet and are planning on doing it.  (The NYT puzzle runs a few weeks behind in syndication in some local papers.)  I always write an entry on my other blog about my puzzles, and you can read it in full here (which will spoil it).  But I'm also going to copy a large portion of it here directly, because it's an interesting general topic, and because I don't have a lot of time this weekend.  (I also wrote a "guest entry" for a blog I read daily called Football Perspective.  It's supposed to run tomorrow, Monday, and I spent a lot of time recently working on it.)

[Chuck Berry: October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017]

What follows is my commentary on the dominance of males in field of crossword puzzle constructing.
If you keep up with the crossword blogosphere, you are certainly aware there is a push among many puzzle enthusiasts to make crossword puzzles more inclusive.  I think this is a good thing.  Constructing and competitive solving are dominated by men. In the former, there are a few prolific females (particularly C.C. Burnikel who I swear has a puzzle published somewhere every day) and then that's about it.  The big question: Why is this the case? 
It's something I've thought about quite a bit.  In a way, it's something I've been thinking about most my life, as I discovered at a relatively early age that most my major interests -- sports analytics, math, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, etc. -- are predominantly male pursuits.  After many hours thinking and rethinking about this, reading opinion pieces, scientific studies, and the occasional controversial "academic exploration of hypotheses," here's what I came up with as the reason: I have no fucking idea.  I haven't come across a single theory yet that I've found particularly convincing. 
The root cause I think is clearly sexism.  Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing these activities, and so we're seeing the residual effects of that today.  This makes sense, but the missing piece -- the thing I really don't understand -- is why aren't we seeing this male-female gap to the same extent in other fields.  Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing pretty much anything other than raising a family, right?  So why is it that today woman are much better represented in fields like law and medicine (though still not close to 50-50) than they are in fields like math and crossword puzzles? 
Like I said, I have no answers.  I do think however that if somehow we could get more women involved in underrepresented fields that it would self-perpetuate.  I remember hearing about a study, the author of which I can't remember on a podcast I can't remember (get sourcing, huh?), demonstrating that representation really matters a lot when people are in their formative years.  If a child sees somebody with whom they can identify doing something then they are much more likely to pursue that thing than they would be otherwise.  This is why diversity matters.  Even if you don't believe it's inherently good, without it you effectively block people, particularly young people, from pursuing things they might otherwise want to pursue (and might be very good at), and that's not the way things are supposed to work in the land of the free and the home of brave.  
So it seems to me the only solution I have for getting more women involved in something like crossword puzzle constructing is to get more women involved in crossword constructing.  And that's not actually a solution at all.  It's a tautology.
(And by the way, if there are any aspiring female constructors reading this right now, and you need some guidance, I'm available!  Actually, I'm available even if you're male or anywhere else on the gender spectrum.  I'll just be excited somebody is asking me for advice about something.) 
And with that we will call it an entry.  Until next time...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Entry 371: Healthcare and Climate Change

The Republicans roll-out of their Obamacare replacement bill has gone about as well as anybody remotely paying attention to healthcare policy over the last half decade could have predicted.  Nobody likes the bill.  The right sees it as Obamacare Lite, which they oppose because they don't want Obamacare at all; the left sees it as Obamacare Lite, which they oppose because it doesn't make much sense to replace a bill with a shittier version of the same bill.   You can read more about the bill at Vox or from Jonathan Chait or Paul Krugman, but my basic understanding of it is that it's a huge shift of the burden of the cost of healthcare from the young, rich, and healthy to the old, poor, and sick.  It's all shrouded in typical Republican nomenclature about "freedom" and "choice" and "small government."  (In one hilarious bit of theater that could honestly pass as an SNL sketch if Melissa McCarthy were in frame, Sean Spicer makes the case for the new bill based solely on how many sheets of paper it is.  Governance by word count!)  But it seems as if nobody, not even other conservatives, are falling for it.  There have already been many Republican members of both the House and the Senate who have adamantly come out in opposition to the bill, and most the major "conservative" think tanks are against it as well.

One part of me really wants it to become law.  The Dems have been saying one thing about healthcare; the Reps have been saying something else.  We got an idea of how the former's plan plays out in practice, so now let's all see how the latter's works.  It's a great chance to do an experiment.  Also, a lot of the people who are likely to be negatively affected by this new law are people who voted for Trump, so it's only fair they get what they voted for.  If their premiums skyrocket or their insurer's marketplace goes into a death spiral or they no longer qualify for the same subsidies they did under Obamacare, then they would have nobody to blame but themselves and the party for which they voted.

But a much bigger part of me doesn't want it to become law because there would be a lot of collateral damage if it did.  Many people who opposed Trump would also find healthcare unaffordable, and that's too big a price to pay for an experiment.  Plus, the Trump voters hurt by this law probably would not blame themselves or the GOP.  They would still find a way to blame Obama and the liber-tards.  Sure, the Republicans wrote the bill and they control the presidency and both chambers of Congress, but if you believe that millions (millions!) of people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election, if you believe that Trump won in an electoral landslide, if you believe that Obama illegally tapped the phones in Trump Towers based on nothing, then surely you will believe that liberals are somehow responsible for the Republicans' healthcare bill.  The truest thing Trump ever said is that he could shoot somebody on the street and his supporters still would not abandon him.  I now believe this literally, and it is quite scary.

Ultimately, what's going to happen with this bill?  Who can say?  Nothing would surprise me at this point.  The majority opinion is that this bill is "dead on arrival," which, given how the GOP has conducted its business over the last few years, means that we can all expect it to be voted into law very soon.

[Apropos of nothing, here are some desserts S and I got on date night last Saturday.  They were $35 because it was at some chichi bistro in downtown DC.  I can't really complain though.  We at dinner at Qdoba for about $15 combined.  Also, the desserts were f*cking amazing!  I felt like Vince Vaughn in "Pulp Fiction" drinking the $5 milkshake.  The best thing was the dish at the top right.  It was a mocha flavored mousse that was absolutely heavenly.]

That is, unless climate change doesn't get us first.  I'm only half joking.  In my last post of overrated and underrated things, I neglected to mention the most underrated thing of all: climate change.  Certainly it is an important topic to many people, and it is covered in the media (the New York Times recently ran this distressing article), but considering the permanent damage anthropogenic global warming could do to human life as we know it, we aren't talking about it nearly enough.  It was barely mentioned last year as a campaign topic, and people seem much more concerned with other horrific parts of Trump's presidency (the travel ban, healthcare, Russian ties) than they are with his steady dismantling of our environmental protections.  Even the head of the EPA, saying, in so many words, that climate change is bullshit garners much less attention than the Obamacare replacement.

In a way, it's tough to fault people for this, as the terrible things I mention above do deserve attention, and with Lyin' 45 at the helm, tweeting something absurd every other day, it's difficult to keep up with and sort through all the nonsense.  But without an environment that's suitable for human beings to live in, everything else becomes pretty much moot, don't ya think?

Recently I came across this interview of Bill Nye by Tucker "You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show" Carlson.

It's not a great segment content-wise but it does illustrate a few tactics that climate change skeptics frequently employ.  First, they pretend they're having a good-faith, science-based discussion, but the truth is they want to "get" the other side much more than they want to uncover the truth.  This is clear from the ominous, unflattering intro given to Nye.  Skeptics seem to be of belief that climate change is something that can be solved by sticking it to the other side.

Second, they simply don't understand the usefulness of science.  What science is good for is drawing empirical conclusions.  It's about using the available evidence to come up with the most reasonable explanations for phenomena on our planet and in our universe.  If you never draw any conclusions then science isn't of much use.  Of course, it's good to always have an open-mind and question these conclusions, but at some point you have to roll with what you got or else -- what's the point?  So when people say of climate change "we need more information" or "the science isn't settled," it's an indefinite stall tactic.  Because for these people there will never be enough evidence to convince them.  You can tell this is the case because they never offer what evidence could convince them.  Skeptics never say I'll believe you if x because there is no x that will make them believe.

Third, they effectively denounce all science because it's carried out by humans and humans are not omniscient and infallible.  This is the line Carlson mostly sticks to in the clip above.  He asks Nye "simple" questions that are actually things nobody could possibly answer exactly, and then uses that fact in an attempt to discredit anything else Nye has to say on the matter.  The true answer to the question, "What percentage of climate change is caused by humans?" is "We don't know."  Nye knows this, but he doesn't want to say it, because he (rightly) understands that it will immediately be (unfairly) throw in his face.

I applaud Nye for going into a very biased environment.  I think people need to use any forum they can to warn about the dangers of climate change.  It's true that the vast majority of people watching won't change their mind about anything, but with the country divided nearly 50-50 politically, any movement is good.  I don't think it was a great performance for Nye, but I don't think it was a terrible one either.  The thing I think people need to do with climate change is analogize it to sickness.  Here's how I would handle it.

Interviewer: So you think the science on climate change is settled, right?

Me: In the sense that humans are hurting the environment by putting too much carbon into the atmosphere and heating the planet, yes, I think that is settled.  If you mean that we know everything there is to know about climate change, and can answer every question on it with 100% accuracy, then of course not.  No science is every settled in that way.

Interviewer:  What percentage of climate change is caused by humans?

Me: It's impossible to say exactly.  But we do know that it's large enough that we would be very wise to do change our behavior.

Interviewer: So it sounds like it isn't settled science -- you can't answer a very simple question about climate change!

Me: Let me give you analogy.  Suppose a heavy-drinker goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with liver failure.  The doctor obviously would say, "stop drinking."  We all agree that that's good advice. Now, the doctor doesn't know exactly what percentage of this person's liver problems is caused by drinking; the doctor doesn't know exactly what would have happened if this person never drank; and the doctor doesn't know exactly what will happen in the future if this person does or doesn't stop drinking.  But what they do know is that the drinking causes liver problems, and so this person should stop.  That's where we are with climate change.  The scientists are the doctors telling us we're making the environment sick, and we're not listening to them.

Interviewer: Yeah, but that's medicine.  The difference is that climate change science is so political now.

Me: Not really.  The science is science.  It's just that people don't like the results so they say it's political to muddy the waters.  By the way, people do this on the left too with things like GMOs.  The difference is that the fallout from these things and the urgency doesn't remotely compare to climate change.

Interviewer: Okay, then.  We are out of time, but you've totally convinced me, and I'm going to donate $100 to Earthjustice after the show, and I'm going to vote against any climate change skeptics in the future elections.  Thank you!

Me: My pleasure.

Until next time...