Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just dust

The dust storm in Sydney hit me pretty hard - I'm struggling a bit with the side that had the lung problems.

Update: More dust. Ow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A hole-shaped hole.

Greta Christina hits the nail right into the wood again, with her piece "There has to be somethng more": atheism and yearning.

Toward the end, she takes her argument to a conclusion that I found particularly striking (maybe it works better in context):

We don't have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. We have a hole-shaped hole in our hearts.

I think there's something profound in that little epigram.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My new favourite word

In a comment thread at Pharyngula, Plasma pointed out a word that I have needed in online discussions for a long time.

misology: fear or distrust of reason or logic

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Healthcare and survival

A number of Republican politicians and pundits have declared the US healthcare system "the best in the world". For the richest half of one percent of the population — like, say those Republican politicians and pundits — that might even be true. But how is it for everyone?

I've been wanting to graph this information for a while. I must be getting better, because I had the energy to pursue it today.

A crude but simple measure of how well a healthcare system works is how long people live - obviously, if you tend to die earlier, average lifespan is reduced. So what do the various countries get for their healthcare expenses?

I took data on healthcare costs from here, and data on life expectancy from here. The data is for the USA compared to a bunch of countries with some degree of public (i.e. government) involvement in healthcare (aside from just the elderly and veterans). The other countries are: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the UK.

I've seen it in words and numbers, but this makes the point very clearly. For the countries I had figures on, in 2004, the US paid more than twice as much in overall healthcare costs per person (adjusted for cost of living)... for easily the worst expected lifespan (2009 figures), almost a full year worse than the UK, which is easily the worst of the countries here (other than the US). Most of these countries manage to get more than two extra years per person average life span while spending less than half as much money.

I must be missing where the "best" part is.

Really, I don't think much more needs to be said.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rush Limbaugh calls for racial segregation

Rush Limbaugh thinks buses should be racially segregated.

Meanwhile, 35% of New Jersey conservatives think Obama could really be the Antichrist (and fully half of them believe he actually is). Dana gives some additional figures.

I find myself unable to adequately convey just how scary that level of unhinged-from-reality is (to have more than a third of conservatives seriously contemplating that Obama is literally the antichrist? Really?).

America, Hi, it's me, frequent visitor to your shores, who happens to be somewhat fond of the US. Look, I don't want to alarm you or anything (please put the guns down for a sec, thanks). Uh, would you mind handing your nuclear weapons over to somewhere sane (Sweden or New Zealand would do) until the proportion of people in your country who are completely bugfuck NUTS goes down just a tad? Please?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Greatest Show on Earth...

Well, I bought Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth", and got it for a reasonable price (i.e. half what I paid for Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True").

Have not yet started to read it. It is sitting right here beside me, though, and I am about to dive in.

Healthwise: improving, slowly.

Friday, September 11, 2009

health... again

Now a partly collapsed lung...

If I don't update for a while, I'm either better, or back in hospital.

Update: antibiotics and several sessions of physiotherapy seem to be helping with the lung. Recovery continues. (Some occasional vision and related issues that I assume relate to the torn carotid; I will take it up with the neuro specialist when I see him.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The problem with the "moderate" view

Tom Schaller writes on in response to Obama's speech on health care:

This was classic Obama, both from a policy conceit and rhetorical framing. Anyone who read The Audacity of Hope knows how Obama works through issues—he sets up how one side conceives it and how the other side does and then, after admitting he is inclined toward progressive/Democratic side of the ledger, he humbly suggests the best solution is probably somewhere in between.

Such an attitude works when both sides you mediate lie toward either end of a spectrum of reasonableness - when both have sensible points of view that differ mainly on relative emphasis placed on items that everyone can agree are important.

In the current environment, such mediation-between-viewpoints reads more like this (the idea here is not original with me, but I have no idea who started it - and searching hasn't been helpful in finding the origin, sorry):

Side 1: Let's kill all the kittens!

Side 2: What? No! That's ludicrous! There's no need to harm kittens!!

Mediator: Tell you what. We could just kill half the kittens, while recognizing that it's really only half-necessary to kill kittens.

If one side is batshit insane (and prepared to lie and move goalposts and never actually compromise), you can't hope that an intermediate position ever makes any sense. Halfway to batshit-insane is still insane.

The golden mean is not resistant to outliers, and soon starts to smell of them

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Why Evolution Is True" mini-review

I recently bought Coyne's book "Why Evolution Is True". I had not planned on finishing it quite so quickly, but an enforced 5 days in hospital made short work of it; I could have read it four times over.

Overall: It's a solid covering of a lot of both the evidence that evolution has occurred (and continues to occur), and the evidence that a major driver of evolutionary change is natural selection. It's clearly and engagingly written - the level is a bit lighter than I'd like (there are many places where just a bit more detail and depth would help), but probably spot on for the audience it's aimed at.

Nits: Actually, I have quite a lot of nits to pick. I won't list them all just now (I may visit some in a later post), but they're mostly minor. I'd love to have seen more on ERVs, for example. A number of assertions are made that really should have some evidence to back them up -- and at least one of those assertions is, I think, very likely wrong, and reads like accomodationism. (Coyne is no accomodationist, which makes it seem weird.)

Who this book is for:
- anyone who wants to learn what evolution is, what is the evidence that it happens, and why natural selection is such a powerful explanation of it.
- anyone who finds themselves in the position of having to try to explain to someone else what evolution is, ... and so on. This includes me. The moment a creationist finds out I am interested in science, I'm enthusiastically Gish-galloped. This is a good start on background for being able to give better responses than my original laser-like response of "uh-whuh-huh?".
- anyone who wants to argue that evolution is wrong. This is a basic introduction to what they have to try to argue against - that straw man they currently pound makes them look like morons.

In short, "Why Evolution Is True" is an enjoyable book. Well worthwhile, even at the relatively exhorbitant price I had to pay for it in Australia.

Facing death

I get into discussions with christians a lot. Recently, I've had a lot of (online) discussion with fairly radical bible-literalist largely-creationist types.

I'm often asked by them if I fear death, and I explain that I came to terms with it years ago. I say I don't fear it at all. Many of them tell me I am lying, or that I am deceiving myself, and when faced with the real prospect of death I will come crying back to the Lawd begging for forgiveness, no-atheists-in-foxholes.

I never bought it - I've come close to death before, and even before I really thought it through, the prospect of dying wasn't that terrifying (pain, on the other hand, I'd really rather avoid, but that's a side issue). But how would I feel NOW?

Well, I recently had a serious prospect of death. I was laying face down on the floor, having crawled a few feet toward the phone and unable to move any further, with all the symptoms of a stroke, and resolved to wait for someone to find me (which I was pretty sure would be no more than ten minutes). So anyway, I had several minutes to ponder the very real possibility I might die, not at some distant time in the future, but with the very real good chance I might die today, possibly right there on the floor.

I didn't actually think death was all that likely, mind you; I was more worried about the prospect of surviving with major defects and being a damn nuisance, but even that didn't seem hugely likely - if things went well, I expected I'd probably come out of it mostly okay, given a few weeks or months at most. But still the prospect that "this could be the day I die" was there.

So how was it?

I felt not the slightest twinge of fear. Not the briefest moment of doubt. I had no impulse to pray. I had no sense that I was risking infinite torture imposed by the merciless and implacable god of the new testament*.

I simply thought that it was possible I might die. It was annoying, like missing the last half of a good TV show that I'd really been enjoying. I was somewhat concerned that my kids might see me dead on the floor, which would be somewhat traumatic. That was it.

So I feel vindicated. I was right. When faced with the immediate, real possibility of death... I don't fear it. Not a whit. All the vile christian threats - they don't work on me any more. Even when I think I might really die.

* This guy (I'm looking at KJV):
Matthew 10:28, 13:41-42, 25:41, 25:46
Mark 4:11-12, 9:43-48, 16:16
Luke 12:5, 13:23-30
John 3:36, 15:6

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My close-up experience of grandma-killing "socialized" medicine

I had a very interesting experience this past week. Last Wednesday night I had a TIA (transient ischaemic attack).

So (long-story-short) emergency was dialled (not 911!) and an ambulance arrived in a ridiculously short few minutes. The ambos checked me out, asked a few questions... and after a few seconds of discussion they decided to take me to a hospital a few km south with a specialty neuro unit - a public hospital.

I was in the hospital in minutes. I was assessed again in emergency; and then an emergency doctor saw me almost immediately. After a surprisingly short wait (though this was probably after 7pm) the neuro specialist had come in to check me out - and he had a few residents with him. Though my case was unusual, he had figured out the cause of the TIA instantly he saw me, and attempted to get the residents to figure it out too.

(It turns out that you can cough yourself into a stroke... if you cough so hard you tear your carotid artery, and then dislodge the clump of platelets that form over the wound - with more coughing. It sounds funny, but I have to stop laughing because it makes me cough more. His diagnosis was confirmed by later scans.)

I spent nearly 5 days in hospital, and over that time (beside the initial time in emergency) I shared wards with seven people in their 80s and 90s, as well as one slightly younger lady I didn't find out much about. Apart from a few hours in emergency, I was in the stroke ward (which is opposite the nurses station and has monitors at every bed) for most of the time, but my last few days were in the next ward along. [Each of these wards is only four beds - and they're usually not all full.]

Everyone, public patient or private, old or young, had CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests (and further tests depending on their particular case), along with regular monitoring. While I was in the stroke ward, I and my fellow patients were all visited by a stroke team, a physiotherapist, a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, and several others as necessary for the individual case (e.g. I also saw a respiratory team and a dietician - to work out how the hospital might cater for my unusual dietary needs and to assess my diet longer term). Everything was being done not only to get us well and able to function as best as possible, but to try to make sure we were able to remain out of hospital and either be able to care for ourselves or be properly cared for.

The staff were amazingly professional, competent, friendly and helpful, though usually very busy.

Was everything perfect? No, several minor things went wrong. I wouldn't expect everything to work perfectly in a large organization where the situation is so chaotic and constantly changing and the people so busy. What mattered to me was the way that the problems that did arise were dealt with. If you brought a problem to the attention of the nurses or doctors, it tended to get solved. They listened.

I was one of several private patients in a public ward (by choice). Being private meant I was free to choose my doctor (why would I choose anyone but the excellent specialist they had on hand?). We got a few trifling extras (like they supplied me with shampoo and soap which was handy the first day before I got organized wityh all my own stuff).

Were there shortages? Yes, now and then - I saw the nursing staff dealing with some kinds of shortage (like not enough kidney-dishes), but I never saw a moment where they let these difficulties impact the care of their patients.

Of the four people over eighty I shared time in the stroke ward with, three improved rapidly and went home within a few days, and the fourth was transferred to another facility her son worked at for some longer term care nearer her family. In the second ward was another TIA patient in his nineties who also came along very well and was likely to be able to go home soon.

So how was the time in the "socialized-medicine" public hospital?

The sun shone in through large windows overlooking million-dollar river views. There were bevies of committed professionals looking after us. There was lots of talking and laughing and joking. One old guy did a bit of tap-dancing. People, old and young(-ish), recovered and went home. Nobody killed grandma.

[It is interesting to think on this: We have just as much a problem with obesity here as the US does. We have less money (about 20% less per capita). But we live FOUR YEARS longer. Government involvement in health care - it's certainly not perfect - but it seems it saves lives. Lots of lives. Even grandma's.]