Best idea from the VA in a long time

Over the last few years, the Veterans Affairs Health Care System has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Interminable wait times for vets seeking appointments, mold in VA hospitals, and drug dealing and abuse.

Today, I saw a bit of good news. Veterans in Northern California can now go to CVS Minute Clinics for urgent care treatment. No waiting, no appointments. Best thing the VA has done for a long time. I hope this pilot project in California works out well and gets extended nationwide.

Alexander Hamilton vs Donald Trump

Alexander Hamilton on presidential candidates in Federalist No. 68 published 1788.

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

Maybe.

If Donald Trump wins the election, the American people will get exactly what they deserve.

On settled science

I am not a scientist, but I like science. I know enough about science to know that creating a mathematical model for complex natural phenomenon is like trying to shoot an IMAX 3D movie with a old Polaroid camera. There is a chance that you might get it right, but it’s a pretty small chance. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns.

I do not deny that human generated carbon dioxide has changed the climate on the earth. I am a strong advocate of doing what we can to better care for and preserve this beautiful planet we call home. Unfortunately we have scientists who with straight, sober faces claim they have a credible model that predicts the rise in global temperatures or the rise in sea level based on a one hundred year increase in human carbon dioxide production. Such men and women should be called what they are, quacks. There are just too many unexplained natural phenomenon, like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, and the cause of the end of the last Ice Age. We launched the first weather satellite in 1960, but don’t really have pervasive global climate measurements until the mid 1970’s. We do have Antarctic ice cores that give us limited insight back 800,000 years, but the data we can gather from these ice cores is fairly limited in comparison to modern satellite data capture. I am very skeptical of all mathematical models of multi-million year climate cycles based on data from less than 4 one thousandths of a percent of the time period in question.

It wearies me to hear seemingly smart people say that climate change is settled science. No science is settled. Galileo stirred great controversy with his assertion that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. I imagine his detractors were zealous enough to state that the earth’s position at the center of the solar system was settled science. The idea that any law, theory, or hypothesis is beyond further debate or immune from future discovery tramples the core concepts of scientific reasoning.

With that all off my chest, on Oct 30 some NASA scientists published a paper in the Journal of Glaciology, showing compelling data that the Antarctic ice sheet is actually gaining mass, not losing it. They agree with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge from the Arctic Peninsula and coastal West Antartica, however, they found that East Antartica and the interior of West Antartica have been gaining ice faster than it can be sloughed off in the other areas. Their findings are at odds with conclusions published in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 report.

Say the findings of this new paper are correct. In a period of just two years, we discovered that we were actually accumulating Antarctic sea ice instead of losing it. This paper didn’t rely on any new data, they were analyzing satellite data from 1992 to 2008. That means that we aren’t even in agreement on how to interpret the data we have already measured. How could we possibly be settled on a predictive model based on assertions and assumptions that are continuously being challenged, updated, and refined?

The Syrian War is now in full swing

Today President Obama announced that he is sending Special Operations forces to Syria. What started out as a proxy war masked as a civil war has evolved to a planes in the air and boots on the ground shooting war with the United States and the Saudi’s on one side, and the Iranians and the Russians on the other.

The Russians have deployed 34 aircraft in Syria, and have also launched missiles at Syrian targets from vessels in the Caspian Sea.

The US has also sent the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group to the Persian Gulf; the group should arrive next week. This quick reaction force has approximately 4,500 sailors and marines, and includes 4 M1A1 battle tanks, 6 155mm howitzers, 25 helicopters, 6 Harrier jets, and 60 Humvees. Just in case.

The facade that all of these parties are fighting ISIS is quickly crumbling.

A Harmless Cipher

Not a cryptography cipher, but a “zero”. Our President has become a zero.

Mr. Obama, humiliated by Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the initiative in the Middle East, seems not to understand what has happened to him. No one fears him or respects him. He has become a harmless cipher in an empty suit in the affairs of serious men. The nation pays the price.

Promises, Promises

In 2008, during the thick of now President Obama’s first presidential campaign, he promised he would reduce premiums by $2,500 for those who already have health insurance through their employer. This was not an offhand remark only given in one speech and then walked back by his team, this was a pledge made over and over.

It’s disingenuous at best, and completely dishonest at worst, for a Presidential candidate to even say that they can effect health insurance premiums. Any meaningful federal effect on premiums requires congressional action. Since I believe President Obama understands how the three branches of our federal government work, it seems reasonable to hold him accountable for his claim.

Seven years on, let’s see how well he has done keeping his promise. This data comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan, widely respected, and trusted health policy research organization.

Premiums have not decreased by “up to $2,500”, they have increased by $4,865, or 38%. Average worker contributions to health insurance premiums fared even worse, they increased $1,601, or 47%. I only wish that more American voters recognized when Presidential candidates were intentionally pandering to them, knowing full well that they can not deliver what they are promising.

To Taylor re Apple

After reading your open letter to Apple, I couldn’t help but feel for the musicians who will not be paid for streams played during the three month trial period of Apple Music. I am not a professional musician, and I do not understand all the complexities of the music business. However, I do understand copyright law in the Unites States, which grants the creators of a work the right to control the distribution of that work. Since Apple music is not eligible for a statutory license like a radio station is, the only way Apple has a legal right to stream your music, or any other artist’s music, is if they negotiate for and purchase that right. And the only way Apple could do so without negotiating with you is if you already sold that right to someone else, like your record label. So Miss Swift, if you don’t like the deal your record label’s distributor negotiated with Apple, perhaps you should not have sold the copyright to your songs to that label for them to do with as they please.

Where is your open letter to Big Machine Records (your label), and Universal Music Group (your label’s distributor) who actually sold the music to Apple? I guess you weren’t thinking about this when you were 15 years old and some producer or label executive discovered you and offered you a recording contract. You probably got paid some money, and got some studio time, and got a great producer, and everything was amazing. But you also gave up your copyright to the recordings.

So the artist in me feels for you and other artists associated with the big labels and distributors who will have to give away three months of free streaming. But the businessman in me feels like you are getting exactly what you signed up for.

More Efficient Than Breathing

Netflix has a great post on their tech blog describing the energy usage of their infrastructure. They estimate the energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions for their customers when using the Netflix service, not just themselves. They include energy used by TV’s home router and cable modems, ISP routing costs, their content delivery network, and their own compute infrastructure. Their comparisons at the end are quite good:

In 2014, Netflix infrastructure generated only 0.5g of CO2e emissions for each hour of streaming. The average human breathing emits about 40g/hour, nearly 100x as much. Sitting still while watching Netflix probably saves more CO2 than Netflix burns.

The amount of carbon equivalent emitted in order to produce a single quarter-pound hamburger can power Netflix infrastructure to enable viewing by 10 member families for an entire year!

A viewer who turned off their TV to read books would consume about 24 books a year in equivalent time, for a carbon footprint around 65kg CO2e – over 200 times more than Netflix streaming servers, while the 100W reading light they might we use would match the consumption of the TV they could have watched instead!