Meanwhile, in the Breathless Non-News Division…

Ingredients to DNA Discovered in Interstellar Space! Cosmic Origin of Life Didn’t that renowned scientist Joni Mitchell point out that “we are star dust, we are golden” about 40 years ago? Also, check out the conditionals here:

Scientists were able to discover a molecule that is thought to be a precursor to a key component in DNA and another that may have a role in the formation of the amino acid alanine

Sooo – we’re not betting the farm, here? And that isn’t even exactly right – using cutting edge technology (read: technology whose results are not necessarily verifiable by other technology), scientists were able to detect absorption or emission lines in the spectra of a giant cloud of gases located about 25,000 light-years away from Earth, near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, that correspond to some slightly complex chemicals that show up in some other more complex chemicals that show up in living things.

The concluding paragraph, after more breathless speculation:

That said, these molecules are merely intermediate stages in a multi-step chemical process that eventually leads to a biological molecule. Currently, the scientists are undergoing further experiments to better understand how these reactions work. Yet it could be that these tiny grains could potentially hold the key to life on different planets.

“Yet it could be that these tiny grains could potentially hold the key to life on different planets.” The exact schedule for alien invasion is still being worked out? OK, then.  So I should just figure on showing up for work tomorrow?

Science! Headline Nyuk

In the body of the article Say Goodbye To The Largest Species Of Turtle On Earth they seem to have caught and corrected the error, but Google’s News page showed:

Turtles are great. They are surprisingly resilient, curious and were once the size of cars. But these hard-shelled amphibians are no match for humanity and climate change.

“Oh, really? Do you in fact have a associates degree from VermTech?”

Medical Costs – Exactly How Out of Control? Part 2

We are discussing here this article from Time, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Coasts are Killing Us. We are attempting to ratchet down the melodrama manifested in the title and fanned in the body of this article, in order to take a more rational view of health care costs.

Recap: taking Mr. Brill’s numbers and assumptions at face value, in America, we pay $100 for the same health care other rich countries pay $63 for.  So, if we were to follow their lead, we could expect to reduce our healthcare costs by about 27%. The long-term average inflation rate for health care is about 5.5%, which means that, in a bit over 4 years, costs will have increased enough to erase these theoretical savings. In other words, assuming inflation in health care costs continues to climb at its historical average, and assuming we were able to reach European-level savings immediately, we will have bought ourselves a 4 to 5 year reprieve. Then, we’d have to come up with some other ways to save money before healthcare costs effectively consume the entire economy.

Is it realistic to assume that there are other savings in the way Europeans and other rich countries run their healthcare services, such that bancruptcy or worse can be avoided? Not really.

There is a consensus among economists that most of the Western European countries today run healthcare systems that simply cannot be financed in future.

Back to Mr. Brill’s essay. While acknowledging the real human suffering in the stories that he tells for most of the essay, I will not address them further here, for the simple reason that they don’t help us understand how to control medical costs, but instead lead us towards embracing the classic syllogism: We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.

Bottom line: wring out all the abuse and fraud, and cut all the executive salaries, regulate all hospitals like public utilities, use Medicare-style pricing & billing – and, best case, you will save some fraction of that 27% we were looking at above.  And, within about 5 years, given the historic inflation rare of medical care, you’re back to the same cost baseline you started with. And, of course, this assumes no loss in quality – an assumption firmly asserted but never backed up.

Finally, the essay concludes with a series of recommendations, many of which are very appealing – applying anti-trust laws to hospitals, taxing healthcare profits (at non-profits!) at a high rate, making all hospital pricing cost-based and transparent to the user – but, again, these do not explain how we’re driving inflation out of the system so that these steps are a solution rather than a reprieve.

My take: an aging population of entitled Boomers plus fewer and fewer children plus a high unemployment/low wage growth economy plus a spineless yet dogmatic government leadership = no real solution. Well, except for the two-pronged solution of denying care to some based on some formula more ‘fair’ than inability to pay and killing off the old, the expensively sick and the crippled – that’ll work, at least for a while.  Strike that – too grim. But the math stands a better chance of working.

What would I propose? I have no more right to have an opinion than anyone else, and would advise against anyone paying any attention to anything I say about this. But, fools rush in. The pragmatic side of me says: Use the Medicare pricing and billing model. Establish a baseline of acceptable care that everyone gets and provide it free to the user – this would include all basic maintenance and health stuff, and proven, conventional treatment for all diseases and disorders that afflict more than, say, 1% of the population or for which financially manageable treatments have been established.  Exclude treatments for very rare and expensive conditions and for experimental treatments.

But most important, the following must become our healthcare mantra, chanted regularly, until we all are singing along:

We’d sure like to pay for all the healthcare anyone would ever want. But we can’t. What we can do is pay for all the truly routine healthcare for everyone from womb to grave, from pre-natal care to nursing homes for the aged infirm. And we encourage, in the great American tradition, that private insurers and charities be set up to help provide care for those rare or experimental treatments some people might need at some point. But we can’t responsibly spend more than X% of government revenues on health care and still fulfill our obligations to future generations to hand on to them an economically viable country.

Medical Costs – Exactly How Out of Control? Part 1

This article is making the rounds. In it, the writer details the horrors of the cost of the American medical system.

Disclaimer: I’m in favor of universal health care. I’m in no way disputing the suffering of the people involved in this story, nor am I suggesting that our medical system is the best way or even a good way to care for people’s health. But – if you don’t start out respecting the truth, you can end up anywhere. So let’s attempt to bleed off the hyperbole by applying the leaches of math to the hydroptic prose:

According to one of a series of exhaustive studies done by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, we spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia.

Notice anything about that list? First off, it combines 2 very different types of countries: those that spend vast amounts on healthcare because they have vast numbers of people – China, Brazil – and those that spend vast amounts on healthcare because they are very rich – all the others. Implicit in this list is the idea that healthcare is healthcare is healthcare – that the man leading off the story, who contracted non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, would be just as happy getting his care anywhere in the world as in America. I don’t think your average American would be very happy with the healthcare received by the average Chinese or Brazilian if it’s anything other than routine care. Even in the richer countries, is it reasonable to assume that a disease that affects something like 0.007% of the population would warrant the same level of attention – and the same level of care – in all countries? The title to the first section calls this ‘routine care’ – like a broken arm or the mumps? Is it telling that we consider treatment for a disease that afflicts a few thousand people out of a population of 330 million ‘routine’?

What We Tell Our Daughters

Confluence of forces. In the last week or so:

– A young woman I know & love, upon achieving the well paying highly respected job after 19 years of schooling and multiple degrees, wrote her father a letter asking: what is the point of all this? She’s unmarried and unattached, and, given that she’s spent much of her youth pursuing academic achievement, it’s unclear if or where or how she would find a husband if she ever wanted to. A symptom of modern insanity, taken down to the personal level: We leave nothing to chance in the work world, and so believe it wise to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars over two decades to ensure a good financial future. Yet happiness, which for most people, men and women (and children), is found in family, is supposed to happen automatically in the cracks left over from our relentless pursuit of Career.

– One of my daughter’s best friends, age 16 or 17, recounted an encounter at school, where she had ventured (out loud) that she would like to get married and stay at home to raise a family. This triggered a reflex response in her young unmarried female teacher. Seems that my daughter’s friend would be, in the eyes of this teacher, selling out and letting women everywhere down by just marrying some guy and staying at home to raise children. This seems to be a decidedly majority position.

This post appeared in First Thoughts.

So, what do we tell our daughters? We have 2 teenage daughters, age 15 and 19 – what guidance should we offer them?

It seems obvious that few of us are the trail-blazing mavericks we might want to imagine we are. Most of us want nothing more desperately than to have a Place. To fit in. To be loved. To have someone to love. For all but the few of us for whom our career is a vocation, the only justification for a career is in how it makes possible a life of love.

From the First Thoughts essay linked above:

It reminded me of an earlier but quite similar perspective on the same issue in Sigrid Undset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth. The speaker is the lawyer Herr Toksvold:

There will never be more than a small percentage of either men or women who can create for themselves a field of work which they could not exchange for another without feeling it as a sacrifice. But because a few women have succeeded in making themselves a position which it would be a sacrifice for them to give up if they married, perhaps nine times as many are forced to go out and do a full day’s work as breadwinners, and to do the work of a mother and housekeeper the rest of the twenty-four hours, or as many of them as they can stand on their feet without dying for want of sleep. Because a few females of the middle class have discovered that it is a disgrace to be kept by a man.

Which reminds me of GK Chesterton quip from around the same period:

A liberated woman is one who rises up and says to her menfolk, ‘I will not be dictated to,’ and proceeds to become a stenographer.

Honesty and my Christian faith would require the following ‘talk’ by dad to his beloved girls:

My beloved daughters, you have the talent and opportunity to do a huge, dizzying variety of  things with your lives. You could be doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, run your own business, or any of dozens of other things. Whatever honorable path you chose, you will have my blessing and support. You will always have my love. That said, take a look around. Look at the adults around you. Who is happy? Who is fulfilled? Whose life would you like to pattern yours on? 

Among our family friends and acquaintances you see old married couple (like your mom and dad), single people, widows and widowers, divorced people, happy people, angry people, the hyper focused, the completely lost. I offer you this: the happiest people I know are people who have found and followed their vocation with their whole heart. While this includes a number of happy and holy priests and sisters, by far the largest group is happily married, completely faithful couples. 

So, my beloved daughters, you should listen and pray for the guidance of God. Perhaps you are among the few chosen for a professed religious life. Perhaps God intends for you to serve him as single women. But, more likely than not, you will find whatever happiness that is your lot in this life by being married. Therefore, as your father, I pray every day that you find your vocation. And pray that if that vocation is marriage, that God give you a good, Catholic man who loves you completely. 

And by the way – children are wonderful! 

And, in fragments over time, I think this is the message I’ve delivered. But by far most important, I hope my daughters see that my happiness in this world springs from my love of my wife their mother, and from them, my beloved children. And I hope they see that their mother takes joy in them and in our marriage.

* Long aside: I’ve hated since I first heard it the sometimes stated by always implied idea that men have had it so much better than women through history. What history would that be? Until modern times, for almost everyone in every civilization that’s ever existed, life options have been very tightly constrained – for men and women. It’s sheer fantasy to imagine that the man who works himself to death farming or dies of his wounds in a war he had no choice about fighting is somehow so much more free and has such better options that the wife and daughters he leaves behind.  Only once the Middle Ages  came around were there any real choices for any but the wealthiest few – peasants could and did become priests and nuns, clerks in the courts, and leaders in the villages. Unmarried women such as Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Sienna wielded far more authority than the typical medieval man, who spent the bulk of his anonymous life slogging through the mud to raise enough food to survive. In general, men and women have always shared the same fate – they lived and died as a team, at the same level of poverty or affluence.

We perhaps get the impression from the 1% of people who lived at court, about whom much of history is written, that life was full of political intrigue and social climbing, and that women either conspired along with the men or ended up mere prizes and chattel. But even if that impression is true, life at court was not available to a huge majority of people.

An evolutionary biologist (Dawkins, maybe?) once wrote about the mistake contained in naming one bee the Queen. For while it might be explained that she sits in the heart of the hive having her every need met by workers willing to die to defend her, it also true that she is the kept slave of workers, who fly free and see the world while she is trapped inside a dark cell for all but a few brief hours in her youth. Both these views are wrong – the workers are no more exploiting the queen that she is exploiting them. And none of us should want to be a bee of any kind.

Raising Up Kids Who Can Do The Unthinkable – UPDATED

I’ve long observed that day care is how we prepare our children for the day they’ll decide to dump us in nursing homes. This article argues that it worse than that – much, much worse. (H/T to Mark Shea.)

Both my long-time readers will be familiar with my general distrust of therapy, especially when it flows from a psychology that combines amateur philosophy hour with claims of Science! that it can’t, even in theory, back up – Freud, I’m talkin’ to you! But, OTOH, there are more reality-based approaches characterized by a certain wise reticence and circumspection  as well as appeals to common sense that are, well, common-sensical.  These therapies, in other words, appeal to wisdom as their basis, not science. I’m granting provisional, cautious assent to some of the following on this basis.

My son and daughter-in-law just told me of a couple they met that had an infant. When sharing with this couple their plans for parenthood, a vitriolic debate ensued about the Ricki Lake Show on natural childbirth and how to treat an infant. “Infants don’t think,” the couple said. “They don’t care who is taking care of them,” they insisted. “They aren’t smart enough to care until they are older,” both parents argued. I predict they will have a RAD child.

RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is a fancy, sciency way of naming two related ways that neglecting the emotional development of infants can go wrong: a kid, even an infant, can ‘draw the conclusion’ that they are unloved and unlovable. He can manifest his conclusion either in a classic sociopathic detachment and furious

disassociation from others, or in inappropriately assuming a level of intimacy with relative strangers. The first comes to hate the intimacy denied him; the second reveals a total lack of understanding of what intimacy really is, and so seeks it everywhere and especially where it can’t be found.

What I see in the quote above is something best explained in Alice Miller’s book “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware“. (Aside: about 20 years ago, I plowed through dozens of psych books from a variety of writers, including Alice Miller. She is a not-quite-fallen-away-enough fallen away Freudian, meaning that although she rejects and denounces Freud for a number of good and sound reasons, she still retains a shadow, as of Mordor, of Freud’s way of thinking. It is intermittently disconcerting, as when she indulges in armchair psychoanalysis of people she’s never met. But, again, here, I give her general premises my provisional assent.)

Miller’s central assertion is that a normal child knows instinctively that he cannot survive without his Mom or other caregivers. Therefore, he is under enormous internal – and often, external – pressure to absolve Mom and  other intimate caregivers of all wrongdoing, as rejecting caregivers would be suicidal.

The outcome, as Miller names it, is the first Commandment of the abused and neglected child: Thou shalt not be aware. The abuse and neglect are as much as possible simply pushed out of consciousness, or, when that is not possible, simply denied or explained away. This behavior carries on into adulthood, and – here is Miller’s scariest conclusion – manifests in our own child rearing. I can’t both deny that what my Mom did to me was in any way bad AND at the same time act differently. In fact, I will, out of my own need to subdue my pain, subject my children to the exact same thing, claiming all the while (if I even allow myself to be conscious of what I’m doing) that it didn’t do me any harm, so my kid should just stop his bellyaching and tough it out.

This leads, in the extreme cases Miller looks at, to parents who were sexually abused as children going out of their way to put their own children into situations in which they will be sexually abused. Serious craziness here, but you know what? It seems to be true.

Continue reading “Raising Up Kids Who Can Do The Unthinkable – UPDATED”

Why Having Children is Wonderful

Because you never know when your 15 year old daughter will decide that, since the lemon tree in the back yard is dripping with lemons, she is going to try out a new lemon curd recipe every day for a week. And, since you have to have something to put the lemon curd on, she’ll make a different variety of scone each day as well:

Here are Day Three’s Scones & Lemon Curd. Yes, they were yummy.

Since she’s also working on sewing some complicated dress pattern at the moment, she ran out of time on Day Four, but cheerfully announced that just meant *double* scones and lemon curd for Day 5. Yes, life can be so challenging.

Giant Brain Mapping Project: Boon or Boondoggle?

A few days ago, the White House announced a gigantic project to map the human brain.  I confess that the first word that sprang unbidden to my mind was: phrenology.  Today, we finally hear that not everyone is thrilled. The kimono parts a little right here:

The fight comes amid intense competition for federal research grants among biomedical researchers, who have seen the National Institutes of Health’s $31 billion budget stay flat in recent years after a period of doubling in the past decade

Are we prepared for what we’ll discover?

I love science, I really do. And I even dig gigantic projects – sometimes. I’ll mourn if the James Webb is canceled. But, as a dabbler in philosophy, I worry that some scientists are confused over the distinction between ‘brain’ and ‘mind’. It remains to be seen how much can be learned about the mind by studying the brain, but the idea that we’ll ever reach the point where we can download the contents of a brain and thereby transfer a mind – well, I have my doubts. If all those Trans-humanist goofballs think that’s where this is going, I hope they’re not holding their collective breath.*

Some seem to share my concerns, although the money (as always) is the biggest issue:

However, other researchers such as Leslie Voshall of Rockefeller University in New York have criticized the ambition and potential cost.”We don’t understand the fly brain yet. How will this come to anything?,” Vosshalll asked in a Twitter reaction Monday to word of the proposed project in The New York Times. If the projected $300 million annual cost (in the neighborhood of the federal Human Genome Project in the late 1990s) is taken from NIH’s flat budget,she estimates, 750 lab chiefs would lose grants in universities across the USA.

Gee, from the language here, one might be lead to imagine Big Science is all about getting government grants – sure hope that doesn’t influence what gets studied and what conclusions are reached. Because that would be bad.

Finally, since at least the Great Depression, during which, for example, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s achievements were touted precisely because they were too ambitious** for private industry or local government to undertake, the government has searched far and wide for giant projects private industry won’t take on. This might lead the less charitable and civic minded to suspect that pork-barrel politics and the deathless drive of bureaucracies to expand are involved in what Science! gets funded. And this here is a big project.

But wait –

“This is not a project yet, it is more like an idea,” says National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke director Story Landis.

A $300M/year idea. Oh well, there are worse things to waste money on.

* Although that thought lead me to imagine a vast sea of trans-humanists who, having emerged from their mom’s basements, gathered, cheeks puffed, eyes bugging as they slowly turn blue and pass out, spiraling  to the turf.  And that made me smile.

** And too economically uncertain – but that was not touted as far as I can remember.

Follow-Up: Childlessness, Population, Killing Grandma

Creative Minority Report linked to The Daily Beast which linked to Newsweek on an article on voluntary childlessness, which we recently discussed here (phew!).  Couple things:

Consider contemporary Japan, which after decades of economic stagnation has become the most aged big country on the planet. Since 1990 the world’s third-largest economy has had more people over 65 than under 15; by 2050 it’s projected there will be more people over 80 than under 15. More than one in three Japanese women, predicts sociologist Mika Toyota, will never marry or have children (childbearing outside of marriage is still relatively rare in Japan and other wealthy Asian countries).

The results haven’t been pretty. In some places in Japan, particularly in the countryside, there are already too few working adults remaining to take care of the elderly, and kodokushi, or “lonely death,” among the aged, the unmarried, and the childless, is on the rise. Long a model of frugality, the demographically declining nation now has by far the high-income world’s highest rate of public indebtedness as spending on the elderly has shot past what the state can extract from its remaining productive workers. Last month, the nation’s new finance minister, Taro Aso, outright said that the elderly should be given grace to “hurry up and die.” This situation will not be made better by a desexualized younger Japanese generation: one in three young men ages 16 to 19 express “no interest” in sex—and that may be a good thing, given that 60 percent of young women of the same age share their indifference.

Wow. Some people seem to truly believe that the obvious ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of overpopulation is to have fewer children. Nope. The obvious solution is to kill people off.  Population is effected as much by the death rate as the birth rate, and that persistently low and falling death rate is the real problem, as long as it’s somebody else’s death. You start with the easy targets – the unborn, the elderly, the sickly, the crippled, anyone whose ‘quality of life’ offends us.  The elderly in particular, who are to be  ‘given grace to “hurry up and die”’, will soon, like well before 2050, be required to have the grace to hurry up and die in order to cease to inconvenience their childless grandchildren. Then, since ‘enough people’ is an idea dogged in its resistance to being defined, you move on to those who would be better off dead, including those who don’t get with the program, whatever the program of the day is, such as the people who are so morally and intellectually deficient as to disagree with me.

And this behavior will be defined as ‘altruistic’ and ‘compassionate’.

Hadn’t really considered the possibility that  a portion of the population above the 10% or so that I’ve heard is typical would just loose interest in sex. But, upon reflection, sex without any attachment or consequences does stand to loose its appeal. Is it possible that romance (and children!) is not just an add-on to good sex, but is in fact essential for long term enjoyment?

What a concept.

Another thought that’s been rattling around the wide, open spaces inside my skull: a life that would be ruined by children isn’t much of a life to begin with. Ya know?

Perfect children, whose parent(s) had them only because they could afford Gap clothes and Harvard tuition, and had room in their successful, fulfilling lives to schedule an appropriate amount of quality time for them – the existence of these children otherwise would have been an affront to all that is right and good.

Continue reading “Follow-Up: Childlessness, Population, Killing Grandma”

Theory as Filter

This essay from Darwin Catholic coincides with what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

To sum up: Napoleon Chagnon, an anthropologist with decades of experience with the Yanomami, had the nerve to observe that (looking for the PC way to say stone-age primitives) indigenous peoples with simple tribal lifestyles tend very much toward killing each other at the drop of a hat. Further, the more readily and successfully a man in such cultures resort to murder and mayhem, the more offspring he’s likely to produce. So, it’s not an accident that violence reigns supreme – it works.

In this one respect, modern Western cultures  are in fact much less inclined to violence. In other words, civilized people are less violent in their day-to-day lives than spear-chucking, hut-dwelling peoples living a precarious, terrifying hand-to-mouth existence. (Therefore, Christian missionaries would be doing them a big favor by converting them to Catholicism and introducing them to agriculture and trade. But I jump ahead to the real point of all this. So sorry.)

So, of course, the howling banshees of Academia and their unholy Activist spawn start gnashing their teeth in fury and attempt to destroy Dr. Chagnon – how dare he say that indigenous tribal peoples are more violent than Westerners! This is a ‘dangerous’ outrage that will lead to exploitation!  Tribes could be forced into reservations “for their own good”! Unimaginably worse, it will lead to Christian missionaries destroying their beautiful lifestyle of thuggish slaughter, assault and rape!

A theory can be an attempt to understand a set of facts, or it can act as a filter on what facts are permitted to exist. While there’s likely to be some overlap in the sense that one tends to find what one is looking for, and therefore not see what one is not looking for, that seems to me fundamentally different than the simple dismissal of facts brought to one’s attention by those who do not use the theory as a filter. Thus, an honest, hardworking physicist might miss evidence of physics that fail to comply with the Standard Model, because he might not be looking for it.* An anthropologist who insist a priori that all cultures are of equal value and therefore refuses to consider evidence that they are not – that’s not just a failure of science, but a moral failure, too. It’s called lying.

As in so many bad things, Marx is the all-time grand champion of this approach. Human nature suggests difficulties in achieving your worker’s paradise? There’s no such thing as human nature. A resolution to the worker/capitalist conflict that doesn’t require slaughter of all the capitalists and their stooges? Can’t happen. Decent, charitable acts by rich people? Can’t happen. Evil behavior by workers? Not possible.

What’s really hilarious is that the counterargument – no, the Yanomami are not more violent and nasty than us – which Darwin Catholic seems to imply in the title of the post is relativism, is anything but. The relativistic argument would be: What’s your hang-up with violence, anyway? So they kill each other brutally and frequently – calling that ‘worse’ is just your Western Christian biases showing. No, the underlying position is not relativistic at all – primitive, non-Christian cultures are *better* than ours. The counterargument accepts the idea that killing people is generally a bad idea, and so, because the Yanomami are better than us, they *can’t* kill each other much more frequently than we do. Relativism would simply dismiss any claim that killing each other is somehow bad.

But, since logic and consistency are not a characteristics of such modern thinking, we can expect *both* claims to be made at the same time depending on circumstances with no hint of awareness of the inherent hypocrisy – there is both no basis upon which to judge one culture better than another AND primitive non-Christian cultures are better than our, too! Waaay better!

Finally, this story is yet another example about how misplaced are the worries that creationists threaten science. The real threat to science is in the tenured professors over in the Anthropology building, and their philosophical sisters and brothers over in the Sociology, Women’s Studies, Comparative Lit and Philosophy buildings, espousing whatever bastard grandchild of Hegel’s views that holds the key to their academic advancement. They are right there in the camp, poisoning minds, belittling science while at the same time calling what they do “a politically committed and morally engaged anthropology” as if science is involved at all – now, that’s a threat. These folks might get to vote on your tenure, or on funding expansion of your facilities, or on giving a green light to your next project – and so, like a worker with an abusive boss, we kick the dog of creationism.

*although that’s a poor example, because there’s probably a Nobel Prize in finding something that contradicts the Standard Model – eyes would be sharp for such a thing.