Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Please listen to our menu options as they have recently changed

When I was in school, being caught on-campus with a cell phone was serious trouble. By which I mean not “They’d take it away,” or “You’d get detention,” but rather, “They would call the police and you would be arrested.” This rule, which seemed stupid even at the time, was a product of what was even then an earlier age, when pagers and cellular phones were possessed only by medical doctors, high-powered businessmen, and drug dealers. Since high school students did not fall into the first two categories, the law felt it was safe to assume they fell into the third.
Now, rules this simple sadly do not work anymore, if they’d ever worked in the first place, which they do not. As our civilization changes, the rules have to get increasingly complex. Even in my time, the existing rule of “Do not bring a cell phone or pager onto school grounds,” was problematic: there was a surprising population of seniors who were registered as volunteer firemen, and while they didn’t need pagers at the school proper, they did need to have them in their trucks, which were parked on school grounds, and they might reasonably need to carry them to afterschool activiites.
There’s a balance that needs to be stuck. There are uses of phones that plainly ought be allowed: “Hi, this is your father. I need you to call your mother and tell her that I’m okay but the plant just exploded*.” “Mom, help, the teacher just spontaneously combusted,” and those which plainly ought not be: “What’s the answer to number 5?” “Hey, want to see some naughty pictures of me?**”, but between these two extremes is a large gray siberia-like wasteland.
In the land of Kalamazoo, as reported by, for instance, they have ot grapple with nagging parents who call during the school day to check up on their spawn, in what I can only assume is an attempt to publically shame them by having mommy call in the middle of shaking down a freshman for his lunch money.
This is a hard problem for any school, and you might be compelled to feel heartfelt sympathy for them, but fortunately, the teacher’s union helps out by saying one of those things that reminds you that schools are basically run like a combination supermax prison and third world dictatorship:

Cell phones also can “lead to behavior and school-climate issues,” Lambert said. “You can have an incident at one end of the building and it gets instantly communicated to people on the other side of the building, which can just add to the turmoil and exacerbate the problem. That can be a real distraction.”

Because nothing is more antithetical to the scholastic process than the free flow of information, and nothing is more essential to smooth school operations than to assert total control over all routes of communication. I mean, why even bother censoring the school newspaper and banning blogs if the students are just going to text each other whenever something bad happens?

* Incidentally, the day I received this call, I checked the news sites on the internet. The first one to pick up the story noted that there were no indications that this was a terrorist attack.
** I am not entirely sure that this use plainly ought to be verboten, but I think it might be safer to err on the side of restricting it to outside of school hours.

An Open Letter

My Alma Mater, Loyola College, considered changing their name to “Loyola University” ten years ago. I suspect this had something to do with a desire to make themselves sound more prestigious to executives shopping around for an MBA. They’ve decided to revisit this now, probably because they didn’t get the answer they wanted last time.
This is my response.
To: Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J, President, and the Board of Trustees of Loyola College
Dear Sirs,
I was most alarmed to learn recently that the Board of Trustees had authorized its Executive Committee to move forward with the proposal to change the name of Loyola College to “Loyola University”.
While I can certainly understand some of the reasoning which might lead to the proposition of a name change, I think in this case, such a move is unwise in the extreme, and I am a bit perplexed as to how it could have moved this far without wiser voices prevailing.
I was myself a student at Loyola College when such a name-change was last proposed ten years ago, and I find it difficult to imagine that so much has changed in the intervening decade that the reasons raised against the change of name are no longer applicable or compelling. While it is certainly true that the graduate and professional programs at Loyola have evolved and strengthened in recent years, there can be no question that Loyola remains firmly committed to its excellence at undergraduate education in the liberal arts. Indeed, during the years I attended, this emphasis on excellence as an undergraduate institution was one of the most important traits setting Loyola apart among its peers, that, in strengthening its graduate and professional programs, the institution had not, as many schools choosing the title of “University” have, shifted its emphasis away from the traditions of a strong liberal arts undergraduate education. To my mind, the very term “College” imparts something that “University” does not: a firm understanding that Loyola is and remains, first and foremost, committed to undergraduate education in the Jesuit tradition of liberal arts, rather than, as is far too-often the case amongst “Universities”, treating its undergraduate population mostly as a revenue stream to support its professional and graduate programs.
Under these circumstances, one might interpret a name change as a shift in direction away from Loyola’s strong tradition of excellence as an undergraduate institution. But there can be no question of this; Father Linnane himself has said that, “The extraordinary qualities that shaped the Loyola you love have not, will not and could not be altered by a change in designation,” and likewise that the proposed change, “Will not signify a change in direction, mission or values.”
Furthermore, I find it surprising that an institution so founded on Jesuit values and informed as it is by Catholic tradition would be so quick to discard the weight of its own tradition. Since its founding in 1852, Loyola College has changed its focus, its size, the demographic of its student population, and even its address, but never its name. It is a name well known in the region and with a well-established history, and surely, in a school so well-reputed for its school of business, the value of name-recognition could not have been overlooked. It is decidedly strange to me that a name that both school and alumni have born with honor for a century and a half could be so easily discarded. As I was leaving Loyola College, the celebration of its sesquicentennial was beginning. “Loyola College” has one hundred and fifty-six years of history behind it. “Loyola University” does not.
Moreover, of the four colleges in the United States named for St. Ignatius Loyola, Loyola College stands alone in name. To intentionally take on a name that would reduce it to the stature of “One of the several Loyola Universities,” seems counterproductive. And while I do not propose that many would be especially confused by the name change, I should hate to think that the achievements of my beloved institution might be misattributed to some other school, neither would I find any credit in being mistaken for a graduate of one of those institutions.
In summary, while I accept that much may have changed at Loyola in the past decade, it does not seem to me that those areas overlap with the sound reasons that have already been put forward against a change of name. While the graduate and professional schools have strengthened, Loyola’s commitment to excellence as an undergraduate institution providing education in the liberal arts according to the Jesuit tradition remains firm; the weight of history and distinctiveness of the traditional name has, if anything, grown with the passage of time. And, of course, the emotional attachment of students and alumni can not have diminished for the addition of several classes of new students.
In light of all these factors, it is my most earnest hope that the Executive Committee will not be misled into an unwarranted and unwelcome renaming of the college that I and so many others hold dear in our memories.
Thank you,
Lewis Ross Raszewski Jr. ’01

I am not a number, I am a free man!

So, I’d hoped to avoid it, but I realize now that I’ll look very dense if I don’t at least acknowledge it.
There’s a certain string of hexadecimal digits spreading like wildfire through the blogosphere. If you speak the incantation aloud, it casts the magic spell “Summon AACS Lawyers”, who give you a cease and desist notice.
In the event I get one, this article will disappear, and be replaced by a copy of the notice.
But here’s the various news:

  • Digg was deleting posts containing the incantation, and, as I understand it, banning users who posted it. The users rebelled, and Digg decided “T’hell with it. We’re gonna back our users.” So yay, the users win. One of those huge popular web2.0 things turned out to not just be a corporate shill masquerading as a countercultural free-for-all. Of course, if Digg gets shut down by the AACS, I kinda wonder how the users will react.
  • Google received a cease and decist letter, demanding they remove all links to the magic incantation. Google, whose motto these days has sort of drifted from “Don’t be evil” to “Don’t make waves” may well do as they’re told, but some friends of mine helpfully suggested that Google write them back demanding that they provide every single URL they want expunged.
  • The AACS is basically threatening everyone they can find. Isn’t it weird how a business model can become “Scare the hell out of your customers and try to hurt them,” for a business other than a bondage club?
  • For that matter, a business model of “Create a product consumers do not want and which does not give them any value, which, in fact, reduces the value of a product to the consumer, and then use legal threats to force them to buy it anyway,” does not sound very capitalist.
  • Ed Felten, over at Freedom To Tinker (look left) says that the AACS will probably realize this is stupid, pointless, and making them look cartoonishly evil, and will eventually give up. Though he also reminds us that, every once in a while, big businesses will sue the hell out of you for no reason other than spite.
  • Here’s a question: the root of the magic number thing is not simply that AACS claims to “own” this random number which they picked out of a hat. It’s that they claim that the number is a “circumvention technology”, which is illegal under the DMCA. See, under the DMCA, it’s not just illegal to sell a bootleg copy of something, it’s not just illegal to make a bootleg copy of something, it’s illegal to even possess any sort of device which could hypothetically be of some use in creating a bootleg copy of something — in fact, it’s illegal to even talk about how you might go about making such a device. That said, this magic number is the key which decrypts HDDVD movies. Its purpose is to allow the player to play the movie. Is using the number whose purpose it is to make the movie viewable in order to make the movie viewable really circumvention? Should I worry about the fact that I carry around the key to my house, because that key could unlock my front door?
  • In addition to the number of note, AACS claims that a number of other magic numbers are also theirs. They won’t tell us how many, and they sure as hell won’t tell us what they are. Math teachers of the world: be careful. Next time you ask your students to multiply 367 by 72, you may be unwittingly asking them to produce an illegal number.

I’m not going to post the infamous string of hex digits. And, just to be clear, we’re not talking about some kind of magical code. It’s a number. Like 7. Or 42. Or 790,815,794,162,126,871,771,506,399,625.

Economy of Scale

As you may know by now, there was some news recently about A guy dying of a toothache because he didn’t have insurance. I hadn’t been planning to comment, because, hey, it happens. Even at my most financially destitute, I could have swing $80 for a tooth extraction, but it’s entirely possible that I’d have fallen victim to the same fate, not because I couldn’t afford health care, but because I’m stubborn and don’t seek medical assistance for anything less serious than dismemberment.
And it does seem to me like those least able to afford health care seem to want the most out of it. A few years back, I was with someone who was, I think I have mentioned, crazy. It seemed like once a week, she went to the hospital because she had some minor complaint that, had it been me, I’d have just toughed through. In fact, she left a voicemail for me a few days ago, and one of the things she was proud to report was that she’d been in a car accident a few months ago, and therefore was now getting a disability check.
Anecdotal evidence is, as we all know, the best kind. Many of my friends have absolute faith in capitalism, and overlook the fact that all of the nationalized health care systems in the world are far more efficient than the private US system. Heck, even the nationalized US system is far more efficient (Medicare is one of the most efficient medical systems on the planet. In fact, it’s one of the most efficient anythings on the planet). Anyone who tells you different is plainly and simply mistaken (or lying. Some of them are lying. Not all, but the last time I tried to be nice and pretend I believed they were all honestly mistaken, a conservative friend insisted I was being naive, and that, beyond the easily mislead sheeple, all the “real” conservatives knew these were lies, and pushed them because oppressing the proletariat is good for the rich capitalists, and, via the magic of trickle-down, therefore also good for the oppressed proles).
But anyway, you can believe that the masses should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. You can believe that welfare is inherently paternalistic. You can believe that private charities should be responsible for taking care of the poor rather than the government (That, as it turns out, is provably false. Until fairly recently, the government didn’t get involved in taking care of the poor, it was left to private charities, mostly the churches. Poverty was a lot higher back then. Not just a little higher. Not lower.) You can claim that welfare moms are all deadbeats who pop out babies in order to keep those checks rolling in at the expense of good honest working folk (This is also false, but, hey, anecdotal evidence). You can claim that you don’t beliueve the poor are lazy and stupid and deserve what they get, but that the system rewards laziness and stupidity and therefore unless we stop giving the poor a hand, they’ll never learn to take care of themselves (That’s got some truth in it; a perpetual problem of systems like welfare and unemployment is that you lose the benefits as soon as you start to pull yourself up, rather than once you’ve finished pulling yourself up). You can claim that privitizing everything will be good for everyone. But.
Medical benefits are hard to come by and getting harder. They will continue to get harder to come by. This is not the fault of the government. This is not the fault of the poor. This will not be improved by more privitization. This will not be solved by litigation shields which allow insurers to savagely roger their customers to death without feat of being sued for it. This is not the fault of deadbeats who insist on expensive procedures when dying would be a whole lot cheaper. It’s the fault of the fact that they need to make money. And they’re failing to do so (Several major health insurers are in some bad financial places right now). They’re failing to do so for a lot of reasons. None of them can grow big enough for the economy of scale to really help them out. They all have to waste resources competing with each other. They all have huge administrative machines that are lubricated with pure money. And, of course, health insurance is an inherently losing game: they wager you’ll never get sick, or at least that you’ll die quickly and without much fuss, you wager you will. Everybody loses. Monopolies make things efficient. Competition makes things honest. You can’t have both with private industry.
You can, if you like, suppose that a government monopoly would be corrupt, evil, power-mad. Hey, why not? But everything you can say about a government monopoly, you can say about a private one. The converse is not true. Once you’ve got a government monopoly, profit is out of the equation. A private monopoly has a good reason to be corrupt and evil: it wants money. It can also be corrupt and evil for abstract cartoonish reasons like being bent on world domination. Only one of these applies to a government monopoly, and, frankly, it’s the one I find a little more believable. I’m all for capitalism in the 99% of cases where we can suffer some inefficiencies. All I’m saying is that if you’ve got to have a monopoly, I think a government-run one is a better idea.
And when it comes to health care, we need a monopoly. We need universal coverage.
I said in the beginning that I hadn’t planned to comment. Maybe you’re wondering why I did. The thing I didn’t tell you before about why January was rough for me is this: I have diabetes.
It’s a serious but very controllable disorder. So long as I keep it under control, it’s unlikely anything bad will happen as a result of it. It means that I have to watch what I eat and I have to exercise more, which would have been true regardless of this condition. It means that I have to take a pill every day, and I have to poke a tiny little hole in myself a couple of times a day to test my blood sugar. And I have to see a doctor every three months.
For the rest of my life.
My insurance covers almost everything. So I don’t have to pay most of the $300 dollars a month that my medicine costs. I don’t have to pay most of the $150 that a doctor’s visit costs. I don’t have to pay the $100 that test strips cost.
For about three years, I did not have health insurance. I managed to get away without seeing a doctor for that time, though it was pretty hard the last time I threw my back out. Actually, I pulled a muscle in my foot about a week before my coverage started, and that was a lot of fun let me tell you.
Money was tight for me during that time. In an emergency, I coulda swung $80 to have a tooth pulled.
But I couldn’t have swung several hundred bucks every month for medication.
Last night, I got the invoice from the hospital, for meeting with a diabetes educator who was very helpful in showing me how to not end up going blind, having a heart attack, losing my legs, and y’know, dying of diabetic ketoacidocis. My insurance covered it, of course. But if this had happened a year ago, when I was self-employed, living from check to check without any insurance, I could not have paid this. I could not have swung $500 in hospital bills. I could not have swung whatever they’ll charge me for my followup visits.
So, as I was saying. I have type 2 diabetes. It is a serious but very controllable disorder.
Unless you don’t have insurance, in which case it is a death sentence.
There’s your anecdotal evidence.