Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 14th, 2007

US healthcare: the world’s best?

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Some still think that the US healthcare “system” is much better than anything that, say, Europe or Canada can offer. Wonder what they think of this story:

The United States has a sharply higher rate of women dying during or just after pregnancy than European countries, even some relatively poor countries such as Macedonia and Bosnia, according to the first estimates in five years on maternal deaths worldwide.

The report released by various United Nations agencies and the World Bank on Friday shows that Ireland has the lowest rate of deaths, while several African countries have the worst.

The United States has a far higher death rate than the European average, the report shows, with one in 4,800 U.S. women dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, the same as Belarus and just slightly better than Serbia’s rate of one in 4,500.

Just one out of 47,600 women in Ireland die during or just after childbirth, the report found. Bosnia had the second-lowest rate, with 1 in 29,000 women dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

“Among the ten top-ranked European and other industrialized countries, where women are guaranteed good-quality health and family planning services that minimize their lifetime risk, fewer than one in 16,400 will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth,” the United Nations, which issued the report along with the World Bank, said in a statement.

“At the other end of the scale are ten countries where high fertility and shattered health care systems raise women’s lifetime risk so that more than one in every 15 women will die of pregnancy-related causes,” it said.

The report, published in the Lancet medical journal, places the United States 41st among 171 countries.

More information at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Health, Medical

Tagged with

Avoiding reality

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Denial is always the first—and worst—defense:

 About forty years ago, when I was growing up in Hawaii, I was told a horrible story that I never forgot. Yesterday, the story made it into the New York Times.

My aunt was a nice woman, friendly and considerate, except for those days when she seemed impossibly distant, an unreachable dark face. As time passed, her behavior became more and more erratic, gradually deteriorating to the point that she was no longer the person I once knew as my aunt.

One day, when I was a naïve child of eight or so, I asked my dad what was wrong with her. This is the story he told me. My aunt was in Okinawa during World War II. When American troops landed on Okinawa, Japanese soldiers told the Okinawan people that American soldiers were savages who would rape women and bayonet babies and children. Many Okinawans knew little about the outside world beyond what they were told by Japanese authorities who ran the island. The soldiers told the Okinawans that the only honorable way out for them was suicide. Many people believed the soldiers, and mass murder and suicide followed, with family members first killing other family members, and then themselves.

My aunt, who had spent time in Hawaii before the war, didn’t believe the soldiers, and tried to convince others that they would not be harmed by the American troops. But to no avail. In the village she lived in, people threw themselves off a nearby cliff, mothers with their children in their arms.

That was the story I was told four decades ago by my dad. That was the story my aunt told our family after the war when she returned to Hawaii. My aunt, I suppose, couldn’t live with the horrors she had witnessed, knowing that it was based on a lie but helpless to prevent it. She was broken by the experience, and died at a relatively young age.

The New York Times reported yesterday about a large public protest in Okinawa over proposed changes that would erase from Japanese history textbooks any references to the role Japanese authorities had in causing the mass suicides. The current textbooks acknowledge what happened. The new textbooks would mention the suicides without saying how or why they came about. This is a piece of the ongoing resurgent nationalism in Japan.

What is the connection between this story and torture by the U.S.? This: the willingness to lie—to write history in a way that washes away sins and erases victims.

Once again, the Bush Administration is insisting publicly, loudly, indignantly, that the U.S. does not engage in “torture.” Were it only true.

What we have engaged in, as has been reported by many sources (see anti-torture memos at this site), is “alternative procedures,” which include water boarding, exposure to very cold temperature, and forced standing for hours on end. Robert Conquest, a venerable sovietologist and favorite historian of conservatives, who Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, called these (USSR) tactics “torture,” stating that “Torture is…a worse crime against humanity than killing.” If these sorts of actions were “torture” when the Soviet Union engaged in them, they are “torture” when we do them.

Deny, Deny, Deny. Hide behind a silly legalistic argument about the meaning of “torture.” But it doesn’t change what we did. [I optimistically use the past tense].

The victims of atrocities must not be erased.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 1:07 pm

Sensible life-choices

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The Simple Dollar gives one example of a sensible life choice. Remember: you get the one life, so far as we know, so you should take some care to make sure you’re enjoying it.

Sometime in the last month, one of my friends quit his job as an actuary for a large insurance company. He’s single, has a Ph. D. in mathematics, and no debt at all. He quit for one reason and one reason alone. I’ll let him tell it to you:

I got tired of going home every night mentally exhausted and sitting in front of the TV playing Xbox. It’s what I did almost every night, without a weekend. I made a lot of money but I had no life to do anything at all. My job ate all of my energy.

What’s he doing now? He took a night shift at a local factory where he’s driving a forklift. Half of his time, he just sits on the forklift waiting for a new load to pick, and so he’s started reading a lot of the classics. He makes $11 an hour, far, far less than he was making as an actuary, but good enough for him to live on especially considering he banked almost all of his income from his actuarial work.

You know what? I applaud him. I think it was a brilliant move for his life and an excellent response to what I call professional exhaustion.

Here’s why I think it was a good move.

First, before he quit, he became debt free. He paid off his car, all of his student loans, and his townhouse. He funneled almost 60% of his income over his handful of years as an actuary into becoming debt free, so now he owns his residence, his automobile, and his education.

Second, he made an effort to always live far below his income level. The only item I saw him splurge on in the last few years was an XBox 360, which he buys a new game for roughly once a month. With his job switch, he claims he probably won’t buy a new game for a very long while, as now he has the energy and freedom to pursue other things … which leads to the third reason.

Third, his job was killing him. He was constantly stressed out and burnt out on everything. He had some severe stomach issues, looked like death warmed over most of the time, and also looked completely exhausted, too. His job was literally eating him alive – and no matter how much you’re getting paid, no job is worth that.

Finally, he has a lot of energy, intelligence, and value that can be used more productively elsewhere. He has a seemingly unstoppable amount of energy now, and he’s directing it into starting a business that he’s passionate about during the day, using some of his saved money to seed the work. Plus, he’s also looking at running for a few local political offices.

Yes, he may have watched his salary get reduced by (at least) 70% and he may have also lost some benefits, but his life is much happier now and that, my friends, is the key to life.

So what can you do if you find yourself professionally exhausted?

First, start living seriously frugal. Driving a Lexus to the steak house and drowning your sorrows in a fistful of $20 drinks isn’t going to cut it if you want to be free. Start making your own food and stop spending money frivolously. Minimize every bill you have.

Next, pay off all of your debts. Once you get in the routine of living frugally, it will be much easier to pay off your debts as you’ll have a surfeit of money. Channel all of it into debt elimination.

Then, build up an emergency fund. After all your debts are gone, save up a few months’ worth of living expenses in a savings account so that when you quit, it’s not disastrous.

While you’re saving, figure out what you actually want to be doing. What drives your passion? I have a friend who works as an auto mechanic, for example. He also happens to be one of the most intelligent and driven people I’ve ever met, and he’s on the verge of opening up his own shop. He spends almost all of his time at the shop, but he’s crackling with energy and happiness each time I see him. Why? He’s found what he loves. Spend some time finding what you love, then go for it. Even if it means starting off as an auto mechanic at a local car repair shop.

Remember, your life is not your job. Your job is just a way to pay for your life.

Over the past week or so, The Simple Dollar’s been running a series of posts on the book Your Money or Your Life, which provides a step-by-step method of getting back on financial and life-choice track.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 9:49 am

The Rule of Law

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Do we have it, or do we not? Glenn Greenwald sees many who want the US not to have the rule of law. Certainly Bush feels that way—that’s why he removed the prison time from Scooter Libby’s sentence (but did nothing about the guidelines that resulted in that prison time, so that everyone else convicted under the same circumstances will have to serve their prison time).

The Washington Post‘s Editorial Page, in the establishment-defending form of Fred Hiatt, today became but the latest Beltway appendage to urge the enactment of a special law providing amnesty to our nation’s poor, put-upon, lawbreaking telecoms:

There is one major area of disagreement between the administration and House Democrats where we think the administration has the better of the argument: the question of whether telecommunications companies that provided information to the government without court orders should be given retroactive immunity from being sued. House Democrats are understandably reluctant to grant that wholesale protection without understanding exactly what conduct they are shielding, and the administration has balked at providing such information. But the telecommunications providers seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.

Let’s leave to the side Hiatt’s inane claim that these telecoms, in actively enabling the Bush administration to spy on their customers in violation of the law, were motivated by the pure and upstanding desire to be “patriotic corporate citizens” — rather than, say, the desire to obtain extremely lucrative government contracts which would likely have been unavailable had they refused to break the law. Leave to the side the fact that actual “patriotism” would have led these telecoms to adhere to the surveillance and privacy laws enacted by the American people through their Congress in accordance with the U.S. Constitution — as a handful of actual patriotic telecoms apparently did — rather than submit to the illegal demands of the President. Further leave to the side that these telecoms did not merely allow warrantless surveillance on their customers in the hectic and “confused” days or weeks after 9/11, but for years. Further leave to the side the fact that, as Hiatt’s own newspaper just reported yesterday, the desire for warrantless eavesdropping capabilities seemed to be on the Bush agenda well before 9/11.

And finally ignore the fact that Hiatt is defending the telecom’s good faith even though, as he implicitly acknowledges, he has no idea what they actually did, because it is all still Top Secret and we are barred from knowing what happened here. For all those reasons, Hiatt’s claim on behalf of the telecoms that they broke the law for “patriotic” reasons is so frivolous as to insult the intelligence of his readers, but — more importantly — it is also completely irrelevant.

There is no such thing as a “patriotism exception” to the laws that we pass. It is not a defense to illegal behavior to say that one violated the law for “patriotic” reasons. That was Oliver North’s defense to Congress when he proudly admitted breaking multiple federal laws. And it is the same “defense” that people like North have been making to justify Bush’s violations of our surveillance laws — what we call “felonies” — in spying on Americans without warrants.

By definition, the “rule of law” does not exist if government officials and entities with influential Beltway lobbyists can run around breaking the law whenever they decide that there are good reasons for doing so. The bedrock principle of the “rule of law” is that the law applies equally to everyone, even to those who occupy Important Positions in Fred Hiatt’s social, economic and political circles and who therefore act with the most elevated of motives.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 9:38 am

The Eight-Burst Nebula

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Take a look. It’s beautiful and strange.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 9:08 am

Posted in Science

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Italic handwriting sites

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I’ve blogged before about italic handwriting (aka chancery cursive), and yesterday I heard from a handwriting instructor. She uses italic handwriting herself, but her mission is simply to help adults improve their own handwriting, without necessarily taking them into full italic. For one thing, most of the people she teaches are not interested in fountain pens and, indeed, may not be able to use them in their work (since fountain pens don’t necessarily produce good carbon copies—though the Parker Duofold was designed with exactly that in mind).

Still, she gets them moving along into better handwriting, and some will take it further. She also pointed me to this instructional site, again aiming to improve handwriting and taking the handwriting in the italic direction.

So italic handwriting is far from moribund. Take it up today!

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 8:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Tagged with ,

More on the Hipster PDA 3×5 cards

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Okay, I went to Microsoft Word and created a .DOC document that contains several pages of 3×5 cards that can serve as printable templates: writing notes, to-do (both 1-column and 2-column, each with check-box), week calendar, a grid, and some informative cards. The Word document is easy to use: you can readily add new card templates, revise those there, and print all or selected cards. The margins now work on my HP Deskjet 5550 printer, but you may have to tinker with them for your own printer.

The cards were designed for the Andrew Thompson Executive Jotter, which holds the car by the corners. If you use the Levenger Pocket Briefcase, which holds the card by the upper and lower edges, you may have to reformat a bit to leave more space at the top and bottom. UPDATE: For the Levenger Pocket Briefcase, use this version.

With the HP Deskjet 5550: remove the paper from the input tray and slide over the left sidestop to fit the 3″ width of the card. Put the cards (3″ edge leading) in front of the backstop, and push it forward until the cards are at the feed. This involves pushing it forward under the output tray, which you may have to remove temporarily, especially when you run out of cards and need to reload. After getting the cards all ready to be fed into the printer, replace the output tray.

Then, in MS Word: File, Print, indicate Page Range (e.g., if you’re printing only selected cards, list the page numbers you want to print), click Properties, Layout, and choose Paper Size (Index Card 3×5 in.), click Okay, click Okay again, and you get a message: “The margins of section 1 are outside the printable area of the page. Do you want to continue?” Click “Yes.”

The printer will do some thinking, and then the cards, God willing, will print.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 8:28 am

Fitday again

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Walking is coming along fine, and this week I should reach 45 minutes. OTOH, weight is not so fine. So Fitday is coming out again, and I start tracking food once more. I was interested to see that my now-standard seed breakfast with blackstrap molasses runs 759 calories (including coffee and supplements (such as fish oil, etc.)).

I use Fitday PC—i.e., I bought the software to run on my computer—and I really like it. Of programs of this type, it offers the greatest capability, IMHO. It’s amazing that they’re still running version 1.0. OTOH, I can’t think of any changes I would want.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 8:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Software

Tagged with ,

Time for lime

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I think tomorrow with a Lime shave day. Those come up every now and then. I do have choices: soap or shaving cream; Royall, Geo. F. Trumper, Taylor of Old Bond Street, …

And, of course, the razor and blade…

By tomorrow I’ll have to come to a decision.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 7:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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