Later On

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

Archive for March 11th, 2012

Why the government and business must not collude

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Here is a clear warning of what can happen, each side whitewashing the deeds of the other.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2012 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Early stages of Empire: Loss of rule of law

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Empires tend to become tyrannies, with the de facto emperor ordering actions with no regard to the rule of law and no accountability. We’re getting there rather briskly.

Notice that the Obama Administration refuses to defend in court its decisions and indeed will not even properly acknowledge the actions. So much for transparency, accountability, law, and quite a few other things. A historic president indeed!

UPDATE: As I cooked lunch (a kind of swordfish stir-fry, with parsley for greens, rice for starch, and olive oil for the oil), I had an idea—a far-out speculation.

Suppose that Obama is just as dedicated to the American vision of democracy as he seemed during the campaign, and suppose also that he’s as intelligent as he obviously is. We already know that he plays a long game, with the outcome (which matches his plan) pretty far down the road. We’ve seen that before, and his achieving the presidency is an example.

Then it is quite consistent that Obama would want to bring to justice those who while in office ordered that war crimes be committed. Clearly, the GOP, which has opposed literally everything Obama has proposed, would simply not allow it.

But in a neat bit of Constitutional judo, Obama uses the excessive Executive powers claimed by George W. Bush and takes them a step further, by ordering the assassination of American citizens without due process.

The GOP, of course, adores this sort of pseudo-manly posturing—they ate up GWB in the flight-suit, for example—so they will go along. But the GOP—particularly the extremely conservative and racist wing (like that Montana Federal judge and his racist “joke”)—absolutely hate Obama. That’s perfectly evident, and the hatred is deep enough so that the GOP will oppose even its own ideas if they are embraced by Obama. That is, the GOP loves nothing so much that they will not turn on it if Obama takes it up.

And now Obama is taking up (and even extending) the cause of the Unaccountable President.

Maybe he’s setting a trap. As public opinion (as evidenced by the editorial linked above, as tardy as it is) turns against this sort of unaccountable power, the GOP may see it as an issue that they can use to destroy Obama.

But of course if they go after Obama on something like this, they can hardly ignore the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-et al. axis of war criminals in the previous administration. But, just as the GOP turns on GOP ideas (and individuals) that support Obama, perhaps they will trade off the Bush-Cheney group for a chance to get Obama. In other words, Obama might be offering himself as a sacrifice to purge the US government of the perversions of power that advanced so far under the previous administration. Maybe he’s counting on the GOP (no paragon of insight as a party) to go after him on this only to discover, too late, that they have unleashed a purging fire that will clean out quite a bit of rot, including that earlier rot.

I doubt this, but it does have a certain neatness.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2012 at 11:14 am

Adolescents need to sleep late: myth. Time of day unimportant.

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The fact is that adolescents, like infants and toddlers, require a lot of sleep compared to adults and younger kids because of the high rate of neurological change at that age. The time of day of the sleep is unimportant: An adolescent can go to bed around 8:00 p.m. and easily get up at 8:00 a.m. for a productive day—or s/he can stay up until 11:00 p.m. and sleep until 11:00 a.m.

School activities (e.g., basketball games) often start late, but that is for the benefit of parents rather than students—probably work much better all around if on those game evenings the students stayed home and slept and the parents played basketball: better for all.

Older adults, I can testify from direct experience, needmuch less sleep.

I had always assumed that adolescents needed to sleep late, but that was due to my incomplete understanding. A better understanding is that adolescents should schedule things to allow for 11-12 hours of sleep out of each 24.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2012 at 11:06 am

Posted in Daily life

A movie for Foyle’s War fans

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As I have admitted, I returned reluctantly to Netflix Watch Instantly: their library of available films is simply too good to ignore. Last night I watched The Blue Lamp, a 1949 police procedural set in London and more or less displaying the full structure and regular working of a London police station with more emphasis on the uniformed officer side and less on the CID, but both actively involved.

It’s quite interesting in the Foyle’s War context, though made and set in 1949, four years after cessation of hostilities. One can see that London is still very much rebuilding after the bombing raids. (I get the impression that there is more talk about the Allied bombing of German civilians than about the Nazi bombing of the civilian population of London that preceded it. That, I think, reflects that the Allies and their descendents hold themselves to a higher moral standard than was expected from the Nazis, who seem to have lacked all moral standards.)

One scene also features an enormous number of unsupervised children who would have been born around the time US troops filled England: 1943 and the following years. Whether there was indeed an upsurge in fatherless children at the time, I have no idea.

Toward the end, there is a totally fascinating—and almost documentary—scene showing the gesture-language developed by race-track bookies. The filmmakers were clearly enchanted and included quite a bit. I wonder whether anyone today would understand that language: that sort of thing tends to die out quickly once the last generation goes. (No need for it once cellphones became common—though the gesture-language has the advantage of being broadcast: all who see the person making the gestures will get the message (if they understand the language).)

The movie is well made and moves right along, but the look in the immediate post-WWII past in what interested me the most.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2012 at 8:53 am

Posted in Movies & TV

We do these things, and for some reason they don’t like the US

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Amazing story. I don’t think our occupation of Afghanistan is helping the US.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2012 at 8:22 am

Tightly integrated vs. loosely linked

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A kind of “monument fever” afflicts many projects: a drift in the direction of building a tightly integrated and massive structure that will awe all who see it—wanting every project to be something like building Hoover Dam.

The sources of the impulse are various: overweening pride, for example, aka hubris. Or the thought that there’s a lot more money to be made in a massive project than in a simple solution. The massive single-answer project normally involves one (or a few) massive companies, who aim to make their budgets on the project, whereas loosely linked small solutions, though more effective and less costly, don’t allow for so much profit—for one thing, loosely linked projects end up eliciting multiple solutions so that competition becomes effective, and if there’s anything a big company hates, it’s competition.

When I was getting ready for the retina-repair surgery, the nurse took my medical history on a computer beside my gurney. She was seated so that The Wife (web-interaction designer) could watch over her shoulder. The Wife commented that entering each datum (e.g., list of current meds) required multiple screens and keystrokes—really, to her (professional, experienced, knowledgeable) eye, a total and utter mess of a system.

Plus, of course, I had already provided that same information repeatedly, to the other hospital for my cataract surgeries, to my various doctors, etc. Constantly re-entering and repeating the same data.

What we need, I realized, is a comprehensive integrated medical records system, so that any medical organization could tap into the system and get this info. Privacy might involve my having to give a password, maybe? I began having visions of this massive, majestic national medical-records system…

But of course, such a Hoover-Dam approach has substantial costs, and not just financial: a massive integrated single system would take years (decades?) to build, would be slow to implement new technologies (because of having the change the entire tightly-linked system). Those who have been involved in software development realize that this approach generally leads, after some years and massive expense, to a failed project that is never completed—or, if it is, is so clumsy, out-of-date, and difficult that it is not used. This approach is overkill, lead-footed, massive, difficult to implement, difficult to change or adapt, etc. However: the companies securing the contracts to build it will get a LOT of government money before they admit failure. (Cf. NSA/Thomas Drake scandal—see, for example, this summary.)

I learned that such a system is built into the new healthcare program and work is beginning. I bet you dollars to donuts that this requirement was pushed strongly by Big Business, looking for massive government contracts, and doubtless Congress was paid off along the way.

The Wife pointed out that the French took a much nimbler, less expensive, and (I would bet) more effective approach: a medical record “credit card” that carries in its magnetic stripe one’s full medical history. I show up at the hospital, give them my medical record card, they swipe it, and Bob’s your uncle.

This is NOT a tightly integrated system: very loosely linked, in fact. The key definition is the format and contents of the record and how it’s stored on the card. Once that is set, a thousand vendors can compete to produce the best (most cost-effective) solutions to all the other parts of the system: competing programs that can read, write, update the cards. The card is the fixed point, and these various little apps can readily be created and compete until the best solutions (based on user experience) emerge. Much cheaper, faster, more flexible, more likely to evolve quickly in the direction of increasing effectiveness—and much easier to modify because it’s not one giant, tightly linked system.

Really, if you think about the two approaches, it’s no contest: the French medical-history-on-a-card system is totally superior to the massive-national-tightly-integrated system (which, IMO, will either never be completed or will never work—too big and cumbersome to be modified quickly and easily, though such modifications are essential to the continued development and improvement of the overall system). The other system, with a swarm of smaller apps, can move much more quickly, with new, improved apps continually entering the fray and displacing the old, not-so-good earlier apps. And the card serenely sails though the on-going evolution of tools.

As empires age and grow, they become addicted to monument fever in their public works. The medical record information system now being developed by the Federal government is intended to be that sort of monument. It won’t work, but a good solution has in fact been found and we could even study and improve on it. But that is not the American Way. We are in the grip of monument fever (and pushed that way by Big Business, which wants the money to be spent on building the monument).

UPDATE: The medical-history-on-a-card approach could probably be pulled out with very little expenditure of public funds: First, the government funds the development of the format and the card. Then the government requires that medical records system must be able to read, update, and write such cards. The various systems developers, simply as part of competing, will take care of developing the programs to do that, and the resulting competition of systems and apps should push improvement. Card format and structure can be reviewed every 5 years, say, to accommodate updates necessary because of new knowledge from medical research.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2012 at 8:11 am

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