Faster Than Light Neutrinos, the Permian Event, and our new novel

View 701 Friday, November 18, 2011


I have been working furiously on Lucifer’s Anvil, having had a major breakthrough in my understanding of how to tell this story. I worked a lot of it out in my head during my walk this morning, and I have an outline of a new character who will make things a lot easier in the story telling.

Then I came home and went through my mail, and found this.


atomNow here is exciting news:

Neutrino experiment affirms faster-than-light claim

Hope remains!

“Physicists have replicated the finding that the subatomic particles called neutrinos seem to travel faster than light. It is a remarkable confirmation of a stunning result, yet most in the field remain sceptical that the ultimate cosmic speed limit has truly been broken.”

Chuck Ruthroff

It all looks good. Now we need to think about the implications. As Descartes said (and Carl Sagan often repeated) extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. FTL anything pretty well makes hash out of a lot of relativity theory, so it’s an extraordinary claim; now the evidence is slowly accumulating. As Mr. Ruthroff says, Hope Remain!


Then as I dug through my mail I found this:


Subject: Volcanoes don’t affect the atmosphere?

Jerry, as you know, the AGW fanatics claim that volcanoes don’t put enough greenhouse gases into the air to affect the climate. Well, paleontologists in Southern China seem to have evidence to contradict them: 

It looks like the Permian Extinction, 252 million years ago, was caused by a series of massive volcanic eruptions in what’s now Siberia that poisoned the air and killed off 2/3 of all life.

Joe Zeff

Roberta had noticed this one in the daily paper this morning, and passed it to me. The great Permian die off has worried geophysicists for a generation, but it doesn’t get much press now, probably because there is no conceivable way that the Permian event could have been caused by man-made global warming, and nothing else excites the Great Consensus Science Grant Grabbers Association.

As it happens, one theory of the Permian was that in addition to volcanism there was a large impact event. All grist for the mill in our new novel. Now I need to go have lunch and think about all this. The fact is that we live in a dangerous universe.

One thing seems clear on climate: in historical times the Earth has been both warmer and colder than it is now.

I’ll be back with more later this afternoon. Lunch time now. We live in interesting times…


1400: I discover I have a medical appointment this afternoon so I won’t catch up after all.


1700: Back, exhausted, with instructions to give up my daily walk for a few days to let my knee ligament recover from being stretched. Which is going to make it hard to get my exercises but I’ll manage. I’m considered in miraculous shape for a former brain cancer patient. Looks like you’ll have Pournelle to kick around for a while, so it’s safe to subscribe…

The good news is that the problem under my bathroom is not mold. The bad news is that we’ve got some termites.  The good news is that they aren’t threatening anything structural. And USAA is handling the situation nicely. If USAA is an option for you, it’s one you want seriously to consider. For anything they offer.


Then there’s this:

On to Syria

It looks like the AQ connected Anglo-American intelligence operation popularly called "The Arab Spring" is off to Syria:


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

I note that an Islamist coalition holds a majority in Tunisia after the election. What’s going on in Egypt is not clear, but it’s certainly not as friendly to the west as Mubarak was.

George Washington told us to avoid entangling alliances and not to get involved in the territorial disputes of Europe. Jefferson and Monroe sent the Navy to the shores of Tripoli, but not to build democracy or even to stay. The Marines did deliver the message: millions for defense and not one cent for tribute. The best  Near East policy for the US would be US energy independence. Invest in developing US energy resources, rebuild the Navy, and let the Arabs sort out their own governments. We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own; but we can be a very generous people to those who are our friends. Peoples can have friends. Nations have interests.

But we’ve said all this before.



The Insurance Dilemma

No one seems to listen to anyone when it comes to health care policy. Mitt Romney was in favor of something that looked like Obamacare in his state. Down with him. Newt once said something in favor of requiring everyone either to buy health care insurance or post a bond to be forfeited if you get medical expenses you can’t pay. Down with him.

But the real world is a bit more complicated. Romney never said his program would work outside Mass. It doesn’t work all that well within Massachusetts either, but that’s another story. As Romney tries to say, but is never allowed to finish his discourse, the state was already paying for what amounted to universal health care; his plan was to try to get some money out of those who were taking advantage of the state’s generosity and its well equipped public and academic hospitals and clinics which were being bankrupted by having to treat all comers, rich or poor, insured or not. The actual situation in Mass. was a bit more complex than that, but it’s not all that bad a summary of the situation Romney faced as governor.

Newt’s statements on the subject come from similar analysis. If the hospitals can’t turn anyone away, then they can’t stay open without some kind of public subsidy. If the public laws impose the requirement that all hospitals with working emergency rooms must accept all incoming patients regardless of their financial or health conditions, then the hospitals must either raise more money or go out of business. Some have solved the dilemma by closing their trauma centers: they remain as hospitals, but they don’t have emergency rooms any longer. In Los Angeles County some eleven have closed in the last decade.

If you pass a law requiring insurance companies to provide insurance to all applicants without regard to pre existing conditions, you have doomed the insurance company. Who in his right mind would buy an insurance policy while healthy? The rates will be very high if set realistically, so the incentive to pay that rate is very low. And why bother? Wait until you get the cancer. Then rush out and buy the most generous insurance policy you can find. Wait until you get sick, then buy insurance; don’t pay those rapacious capitalist corporations while you’re healthy. You’re entitled to insurance at the same rates whether you have pre-existing conditions of not. Take advantage of that, and if you’re not smart enough to figure that out, there will be plenty of people hanging around to explain it to you, often with a scheme of their own.

Newt’s proposal to require all those who don’t buy insurance to post a bond to be forfeited if you need public financed medical care is of course an alternative to what he has advocated for twenty years that I know of: A Medical Savings Account. The Bond would sit there and gather interest, it would not be taxed, and it grew you might from time to time take something out of it. How it differs from a medical savings account isn’t all that clear. I don’t think it’s a very good idea largely because it isn’t clear what happens to the bond – can you leave it as a bequest? Or must it be spent in your last year of life? But it’s not ridiculous on the face of it. It doesn’t address the problem of what happens to those who can’t possibly pay the bond, just as Medical Savings Accounts don’t fully address that problem, but those are details. The idea is to give the patient a stake in the medical payment game. It should cost the patient something – an increase in his Bond, or a reduction in his Medical Savings Account – whenever he gets a medical treatment or a medical device or a medical consultation.

Free medical care is not free, of course. In some countries it’s simply paid for by the government and financed by taxes; this is the exact equivalent of requiring everyone to buy insurance whether they want to or not, although of course that can be manipulated by progressive taxes – which is one of the problems with “free” health care. There is no limit to the demand for a free good, and the costs multiply without limit. There’s no incentive for the patients to limit the costs, and usually not much more incentive for the medical staff from doctors on down to limit them: they’re going to get paid the same amount no matter what. Medical savings accounts (or adjustable bonds which you must pay if you don’t have insurance) are intended to address this. It doesn’t always work.

In my case I have co-payments. Interestingly, I had co-payments to Kaiser until they determined that my problem was brain cancer and a treatment was decided on. After that there were no co payments, and indeed even the parking was free during treatments, until the cancer was pronounced cured. Now I make a co-payment when I go see my physician, and I pay my own parking. That all works for me: the co-payment keeps me from wasting the physicians’ time, but it’s not so high that I hesitate to go see them if I have any doubts.

We aren’t going to solve the medical payment problem – who is obliged to pay for whose medical treatments, and is there any limit to your obligation to pay for my treatments?  — in this afternoon’s essay. But we certainly are not going to solve the problem by setting up a series of shibboleths.




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