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"After about a year of looking at data -- and not making much progress -- we had a collective epiphany of sorts, an obvious one, as important observations often are: the people in Massachusetts who didn't have health insurance were, in fact, already receiving health care. Under federal law, hospitals had to stabilize and treat people who arrived at their emergency rooms with acute conditions. And our state's hospitals were offering even more assistance than the federal government required. That meant that someone was already paying for the cost of treating people who didn't have health insurance. If we could get our hands on that money, and therefore redirect it to help the uninsured buy insurance instead and obtain treatment in the way that the vast majority of individuals did -- before acute conditions developed -- the cost of insuring everyone in the state might not be as expensive as I had feared."

Mitt Romney, in "No Apology."

"Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance... If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."

Mitt Romney, last Sunday on 60 Minutes.
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Decided to try a different commute, having missed my chance for the last express bus. So I took a Hubway bike to Harvard Square to catch the 96. Between the Hubway stop and the stairway to the bus stop, there was the usual gauntlet of artists. The quick airbrush dude by the information kiosk, musicians, bands, and at the narrowest part of the sidewalk, was an actor setting up for a monologue in which he was playing the young Walt Whitman.

Getting past him would have meant breaking through the fourth wall for this one act, and I was kind of curious, so I lingered just long enough to miss my bus. Red line to Davis, and I was on it. Whereupon I have another thing to share, dear reader. Dirk Gently, the Holistic Detective, advised “If you don’t know where you’re going, follow someone who looks like they do and they’ll take you where you have to be.” People usually don't literally follow that advise, but those who don't know me personally generally think I know where I'm going, and so I get approached for directions pretty often. But on this bus, out of the blue, a lady handed me a magazine she was reading and asked me for the meanings of "covet" and "stow away." I can't quite recall when I was last asked that. (The lady's from Colombia, and her command of English didn't quite go that far.)

So if you ever wondered why I seem to inhabit a different reality, it's because I do, and sometimes it's surrealy pleasant.
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I've been wondering for a while about the societal implications of switching to the Johnny Cab (from the original Total Recall movie), which is to say the autonomous car developed by Google.

A car is more than just a means from getting from A to B.

A car is a mighty expensive purchase. It's usually the priciest thing you own that can get stolen from you. It's also a huge liability, since it's a 2 ton machine that can go very fast. And it's also something that says a lot about you, which is why Detroit and Madison Avenue are in bed so much of the time. But even though our culture makes it a very expensive national costume, the truth is a car does tell you something about its owner. If a guy drives a 10 year old car that's in good condition, from a make and model that lasts a good while and gets good mileage, you can conclude a few things about his character, as opposed to someone who just bought a flashy Cadillac Compensator. A car becomes an extension of who you are.

That is why you can have a friend who is so close to you that you can share toothbrushes, and still say to him "dude, you are NOT driving my car." Perfectly acceptable, right?

But what if the car is autonomous? That friend of yours might be completely smashed, and a ne'er-do-well when sober, and it might still be a dick move not to lend him your car if he needs it. Especially if he's completely smashed. "Just don't puke in the interior, and don't use my car for a getaway after killing someone."

If the car is fully autonomous, it's not an extension of its owner the way the non-autonomous car is. In fact, if the car is fully autonomous, all you really get from owning it is first dibs on using it. Its condition doesn't say anything about your driving ability. You have far less reason not to share its usage. And so shared ownership makes far more sense than un-shared, given how cars spend 98% of the time parked.

At this point you might object, and say that the autonomous car will always need a human driver to slam the brakes if the autonomous system messes up. I have enough confidence in engineering to say that autonomous cars will never be perfectly safe, but that current technology will soon make them safer than conventional cars. And besides, people are terrible at knowing when they should take over the operation of an automatic process, and so if such a need is there, we will simply not have autonomous cars, period.

Now, if a car can be autonomous, it can be not just driverless but passenger-less. At worst, empty cars might be relegated to designated traffic lanes and subjected to a 10MPH speed limit. So when you travel in one, it should be able to drop you off and then find parking for itself. And when it goes to do that, it should be able to grab dibs on a parking spot over a wireless protocol instead of seeking a spot. And coordinate the parking with the nearby vehicles. And so, an autonomous car fleet should be able to park itself far more tightly than conventional cars. And then it can come back to pick you up afterwards. Which in turn, really means there is no good reason for autonomous cars to be owned by individuals. They make far more sense as cheaper forms of a taxicab, with longer operating ranges.

Now, Google employs very smart people. I'm willing to bet the Google Car team had these thoughts in mind when their project was just starting out. What they are doing will completely kill the business model of conventional car companies.
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Just over 2 years ago, Rick Santelli gave an angry rant on TV from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, denouncing the mortgage bailouts as a socialist sop to idiots who bought more house than they should have. And thus began the Tea Party Movement.

This month, our government has designated the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's derivatives clearinghouse as "systemically important," meaning that in the event that the options traders of the CME go bust, they will be bailed out by the US taxpayer.

Be aware that if Santelli's workplace is bailed out, there will be no austerity for him. While the rest of us eat red beans out of a can, he will not be cutting back on his single malt scotch of choice.

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The science fiction author, blogger, and all around cool guy Jon Scalzi has written a post that is making the rounds right now on the social media, and with which I agree, "up to a point." And it's an interesting argument, albeit written for the wrong purpose, and in a context that annoys me enough that I am writing this entry.

The main point is this, with which I don't quibble overmuch:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

So far so good. It's a nice analogy. Mr. Scalzi has a young daughter for whom this analogy is particularly apt, since like all kids in this cohort she's played a computer game or two, and she's playing the cynical game we all have to play in the school system right now. but that is not the reason he wrote this post. A few lines from above this paragraph:

I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

Well, nobody has any cause to clutch his pearls over the word "privilege." In modern English usage, it's a perfectly acceptable word to describe the advantages and disadvantages we get by accident of birth. Nevertheless, Scalzi wrote this to address a set of people who don't buy this argument when dressed in other terms, and treats them like they merely don't get it. That's no way to talk to anyone.

That's part of it, anyway. The other thing is that in this analogy of life as a computer game, other things are not treated as privileges, that really ought to be. I'm of course referring to college admission, which is undoubtedly a privilege. The admissions process really does map nicely to a game, and certainly gets gamed mercilessly. It's a process by which we mark some people as eligible for a decently paying office job as opposed to those who get to do scutwork for bad wages. There is no way for a process like this to be anything but unjust and capricious, and so it's best to just tell every kid who makes into a college that he is privileged and must earn that privilege after the fact.

Of course, college freshmen are never told that. Everywhere, they're told "congratulations! you've earned this ticket" instead of being told "we've decided to wager that you'll make good use of the privilege we're giving you instead of some other kid, so don't prove us wrong." And that is why the country is full of privileged upper class straight white males who object to being called "privileged" and develop right of center leanings.

But owing to my policy of always taking every opportunity to rag on the left if it is apropos of ragging on the right wing, here's another case of people not realizing they were privileged:

"It's the dirty little secret of higher education," says Mr. Williams of the New Faculty Majority. "Many administrators are not aware of the whole extent of the problem. But all it takes is for somebody to run the numbers to see that their faculty is eligible for welfare assistance."

The people in this article are all privileged. They got into grad school (privilege). They got an opportunity to study something for its own sake (a privilege I never in my life thought I could get for myself). They're already less entitled to a good wage compared to the teenager who went and got a job straight after high school. And yet they complain. O tempora. O mores.
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And how are you today, dear reader?


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