March 24, 2010
There is a review of Inferno and Escape from
It's pretty good, or at least I think so. If you haven't got Inferno
and Escape From Hell, this might talk you into it...
Maj Gen Robert M. White, USAF (Ret.), RIP.
-- Roland Dobbins
I met Bob White as part of my work in human factors in the early days
of the space program. The X-15 was a very productive X project. X projects
were some of the best investments the US made. RIP indeed.
Well, now we will know what's in the bill, I suppose. Many people
don't, and some have walked into hospitals requesting various kinds of
health care without paying, since they were told by the President
yesterday that they were now covered. I don't know how many of those there
are, but it's illustrative of the principle that there is no limit to
demand for free goods.
I publish the following letter largely so that I can comment on it:
"Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.
Perhaps we need saving from ourselves, but surely we ought to obey the
Constitution when doing so."
Given the Equal Protection clause of the 14th
Amendment, how does one reconcile your first two sentences with your last
clause? (Let alone with the Declaration of Independence, but that has no
Unrelated to what you've written lately, but I asked
this of a different audience earlier: Has the GOP completely forgotten the
appeal of Reagan's optimism? Have the Democrats inherited it? Today's GOP
seems just as doom and gloomish as the Democrats circa Jimmy Carter, if
not more so. When has that ever really been sellable to the American
The Equal Protection Clause does not make citizens equal; it requires
that the states (and the Federal Government) treat citizens equally. That
is not the same thing. Indeed, I have often said that we ought to enact a
new Constitutional Amendment: "Neither the United States nor any State may
deny to any Citizen of the United States the equal protection of the laws,
and this time we really mean it." That doesn't mean that everyone shall be
equal; it does mean that they must be treated equally by government. Among
other things it would end a lot of affirmative action silliness.
However, the very fact that the Equal Protection Clause can be so
misinterpreted probably means that it ought to be repealed. That won't
happen, of course, but do note that when the Civil Rights Act passed
Congress, Hubert Humphrey, its very liberal progressive sponsor, said that
there were no quotas mandated in the act and if you could find
justification for quotas in it he'd eat the entire Act. Of course a few
years later the courts found all kinds of quotas in the bill, all
justified by "equal protection" and we got "positive affirmative action"
and much of the turmoil from school bussing.
I have just heard that the White House is excluding children who go to
private or Catholic schools from the White House Easter Egg Hunt. I find
that an interesting message. One wonders if Obama's children will be
granted an exception.
Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.
(Incidentally, no one seems to have noted that the Kansas City School
System, which is in crisis and much of it is being shut down, was largely
built up by a Federal Judge who raised education taxes by judicial mandate
in order to build up those schools to promote equality. The result was one
of the most expensive school buildings in the United States. There was
also forced bussing. The result was more segregation than ever. The
expensive experiment had other lessons.)
As to optimism, I do remember that after Reagan's tax cuts,
federal revenues doubled, inflation fell from 10% -- 10% a year -- to
under 4%; we had an economic boom; we began SDI; and the Soviet Union
began its collapse. This after the Carter Era of Limits, the Club of Rome
and it's models of doom, and Erlich's predictions of massive famines and
death world wide. I don't see any such prospects now.
But I do look forward to the November elections.
You might want to look at:
The president says
electronic systems will reduce costs and improve quality, but they could
undermine good care if people are afraid to confide in their doctors.
The Bill requires that everyone have a mandated level of health
Writers are self-employed, meaning that we do not get health care
insurance from an employer. For a long time we got ours through Roberta as
a teacher, eventually gaining access to the Kaiser system when she went to
the Los Angeles County Education system (Not the LA Unified School
District). When she retired we continued Kaiser through COBRA, and during
that time we were able to enroll as regular members. I paid my Kaiser --
dues, premiums, payments? -- for decades. Eventually we were told we had
to shift to Medicare, the good news being that Medicare would now pay our
dues. There was another Advantage program requiring us to pay a fairly
nominal fee monthly, and we opted for that as well. All of which worked
out well for us, and my cancer treatments cost us essentially nothing when
Many writers did not have that option. Kaiser wasn't on open enrollment
in those times, and getting into a good medical plan wasn't easy and could
be expensive -- and the premiums were not deductible for a lot of that
time (even though those who got medical insurance through employers did
not pay income tax on those benefits). The law pretty well explicitly
discriminated against the self-employed. Many writers therefore opted for
medical insurance policies that covered catastrophic costs and had high
deductibles. (They might have preferred medical insurance accounts, but
the tax laws made that difficult.) That's the kind of medical insurance
that most free-lance writers have today.
That kind of insurance is apparently not satisfactory under the new
law. This means that they have to cancel their policy and buy something
else, presuming that the something else is available, or pay a fine. I
don't know if the fine automatically enrolls them in some kind of public
exchange program, but I suspect it is not: it's just a fine, a tax on not
having the kind of insurance product that the Government approves of. What
this does to the insurance industry I don't know, but I would guess that
the results are going to be catastrophic. I suspect that the catastrophic
insurance with high deductible will no longer be available, and that most
writers won't be able to afford the minimum payments for the minimum
acceptable insurance packages. That may well apply to a lot of
I don't know what happens next, and I don't have numbers.
I do understand that many people think that free-lance writers make a
lot more money than they do. I have done better than most, but Niven and I
had five best-sellers, and Hammer was fourteen weeks as number two on the
best-seller list. I've done well -- but of course I had no pension plan
other than prudential saving, and the 2008 crash came just as I was
developing brain cancer and wasn't able to make decisive moves (I knew in
early 2008 I ought to restructure everything and get a lot of money into
gold, but I didn't do it because I didn't trust my judgment very much.
Cancer will do that for you.) My point isn't to cry poor mouth; my point
is that most free lance writers have decided to trade financial security
for a way of life. Part of that means living frugally, particularly if you
don't write fast. Some of my friends do a novel every couple of years.
They sell well, but assuming $100,000 advances (and that's a lot in this
market) that's only $50,000 a year. Hardly fabulous wealth. A 2% fine for
not having adequate health insurance will hurt -- and we don't know what
the minimum acceptable policies will cost.
I am also worried about what the new law will do to Kaiser. I am told
that Kaiser outside Southern California is not as pleasant and efficient
as the Kaiser Permanente that I belong to, but I have no evidence on that;
what I do know is that the government isn't likely to be able to create
organizations that work as well as our local Kaiser does. And I am afraid
to find out what it will do.
I do want to thank all of you who have subscribed or renewed your
subscriptions. And now I have to get back to work on Mamelukes.
Now, Can We Have Health-Care
WSJ opinion piece on health care
Very well said. Several of the publicly employed
doc's I know think we need health care because of the evil insurance
industry. These are smart people, but notice I said publicly employed as
in county, state, and federal.
Jenkins' point is well made. We do not have health care reform, and we
have not set things up for cost reduction. Costs will not be reduced until
there is a strong coupling between recipient and payer. The demand for a
free good increases without limit. Always, and the new law doesn't change
the relationship between payer and recipient.
One key to lowering cost is to increase supply, which means rethinking
the medical profession and its entry requirements. We need to study the
supply system. Should we subsidize the training of triage medical
assistants? Is it required that all physicians go through the same kind of
medical school, or is it possible to have a lower cost training program
for primary care physicians? Should we expand the military medical school
cadet programs? None of this seems to have been debated in the design of
the Health Care Act.
Perhaps we have some need for reform; we certainly need to understand
what adding free care to millions will cost, and perhaps it would be well
to debate just what minimum we as a society owe to all those who live
here. Is everyone entitled to a liver transplant? To lasik? To a nose job?
Just what is the minimum to which you are entitled? Or is there no limit?
My friend Frank Herbert, when he found he had pancreatic cancer, went
to the Mayo Clinic. Thanks to Dune he could afford that. Not everyone can
afford it. I certainly can't. Should the Mayo Clinic be allowed to exist,
since all can't go to it? Should it be shut down, or required to accept
patients according to a lottery? Should its staff be paid no more than the
staff of the West Misery County Hospital staff?
None of this was debated. Perhaps it is high time.
A dark age is defined not as when we have forgotten how to do something,
but have forgotten that we ever could do it. A 6th Century French farmer
getting 3 bushels to the acre never for a moment dreamed that on the same
land a Roman farmer had, not 300 years before, got yields of 12 bushels. A
first grade teacher in the United States in 2009 congratulating herself that
80% of the children in her class are able to read "at first grade level"
never dreams that in 1930 to 1940 96% of all children who got through 4th
grade were able to read at any level you choose and the concept of "grade
level" didn't apply anyway: 90% of all first graders left first grade with
their reading vocabulary better than their speaking vocabulary and able to
read "big words" like polymorphic that they might not understand but could
certainly read and ask the meaning of.
I.E. we already live in an educational Dark Age, and it's getting worse,
as we forget that we once could do things in schools that we now believe are
A really large solar flare would have a significant chance of bringing
about a much more widespread Dark Age. What would serve as the equivalent of
the monasteries that kept records of crop yields, and the libraries that
kept copies of the Classics? If electronics became unavailable, what might
revive civilization? Or would electronics make a quick comeback?
I wrote that some time ago, and was reminded of it today when it came up
again in another conference. A solar flare could produce a dark age -- but
we are already creating dark ages, this in the era when information is
We have an educational dark age, and I suspect others.