So after the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort failed with three Republican Senators joining the Democrats to vote it down, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a statement mostly bemoaning the failure. He largely blamed the Democrats for not joining in the effort to dismantle Obama’s signature law but did at one point say, “So now I think it’s appropriate to ask, ‘what are their ideas?’ It will be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward.” He even repeated the sentiment by later saying, “It’s time for our friends on the other side to tell us what they have in mind, and we will see how the American people feel about their ideas.” While his sincerity is undercut by the tone of his statement, I’m willing to be irrationally optimistic and take him at his word. With their partisan, one-sided repeal effort dead, let’s assume the road is open to bipartisan compromise and a real Obamacare fix. (more…)
Author Archive: Thad
Max Synatowsky rode his bike toward the pier. It was early afternoon, so he was not the only young person there. The lake was a popular place to hang out on a weekend, and many of his schoolmates already lounged in the sweltering summer heat. The group had divided into noticeable cliques, the major division being those already in high school and those, like Max, who were yet to start. He pulled to a stop near a group he knew from the middle-school video club. They weren’t exactly friends, but they were not particularly hostile to him either, which was the most Max had come to hope for. Several of the video geeks nodded at him, acknowledging his arrival. Max took it as a positive sign.
“Nice bike, dickwad.”
Max recognized the voice. He turned toward the cluster of high school students and confirmed his suspicion. It was Timothy Brundy, loudmouth jock and bane of the student underclass. Tim was leaning on his own bike, an expensive looking ten-speed with curved-under handlebars and a shiny silver-blue paint job. One of his tires was probably worth more than Max’s entire bike.
“I bet it’s faster than yours,” Max responded. It was a ridiculous thing to claim. Max’s bike was an older three-speed. It was smaller. It had fat all-terrain tires instead of Tim’s skinny racing tires. He had wrapped sliver tape around some of the metal supports to hide the rust, and a cardboard box was bungee strapped to the carry rack over the back tire. It was the exact opposite of Tim’s sleek machine.
Tim laughed. “I’ll take that bet. How about we race. To the end of Lakeshore Drive and back. Loser forfeits his bike.”
Max looked around. Everyone was watching the exchange. He was beginning to regret his words… regret even coming to the lake. But backing down would be worse than losing. “We race around the gravel pit, and you’ve got a deal.”
Tim thought about it for a moment. “Sure, what the hell. Let’s do it.”
They lined up on Lakeshore Drive, one of the high school students stood in front holding a baseball cap in the air as she explained the rules. “The race will go down Lakeshore, turn onto Mill Road, go around the old gravel pit, and then onto Putnam Avenue and back here to the pier. The first one to cross the line back onto Lakeshore Drive is the winner. You can start when my hat hits the ground.”
Max took a deep breath. His heart pounded. Kids on either side shouted encouragement or taunts, but Max couldn’t make out who they supported. His eyes were laser focused on the hat.
“Get ready… get set… GO!” With a dramatic flourish, she tossed the hat down.
Tim shot off the mark with amazing speed. Max was only an instant behind, but he was already losing ground. He peddled furiously, quickly clicking through all three gears as Tim pulled away. When they reached the turn onto Mill Road, Tim was already three whole bike lengths ahead of him.
Max’s bike fishtailed as he flew off of the pavement of Lakeshore Drive onto the gravel of Mill Road. Ahead, he could see Tim slow as his thin racing tires lost traction. Max pumped his peddles with every bit of strength he could muster, and briefly he gained on his opponent. He had calculated correctly… his fatter tires actually gave him an advantage on this terrain.
Mill road straightened out for a stretch, and the gravel became more compact. Tim began to pull away again as his longer legs and greater strength made up for his thin tires. Max gave it all he could but gradually fell farther behind.
They reached the gravel pit, and the road began to curve again. It was crisscrossed with ruts, forcing Tim to slow down and allowing Max to gained ground. Three bikes lengths. Then two. Max was a tantalizing few feet behind when they finally reached Putnam Avenue. The two bikes hopped back onto pavement and began racing down the long straightaway toward the pier.
And that’s when that sleek racing bike showed its worth. Tim clicked through his final few gears and poured on the speed. He pulled away like Max was standing still. Max threw his last bit of strength into peddling. His lungs heaved. The muscles of his legs burned with exertion. But Tim continued to pull away.
It was now or never.
Max reached down with one hand, searching for the small switch under his seat. He clicked it, closing the circuit and sending an electrical current down the thin wire running to the cardboard box over his back tire. He frantically put his hand back on the handle bars as the solid fuel rocket engine ignited and the bike nearly leaped out from under him.
He had spent weeks constructing it. The fuel was a variation on the stuff he used in his model rockets, but this engine was much larger, encased in a big metal pipe rather than a small cardboard tube. He had welded it securely to the frame of his bike and then careful concealed it with the cardboard box. The rocket motor roared, and he was suddenly gaining ground on Tim.
Tim, oblivious to what was happening behind him, tucked himself low over his handlebars and continued peddling. Max held his handlebars in a death grip as his speed quickly increased, any thought of trying to peddle his own bike forgotten as he simply fought to maintain his balance. He caught a quick glimpse of Tim’s shocked expression as he rocketed past.
Max flew down Putnam, still accelerating. The rocket should have burned out by now, he was sure of it, but he kept gaining speed. The pier was quickly approaching, and the shouts of his schoolmates could be heard even over the roar of the rocket motor. He lifted his hand to wave them away, warn them that he couldn’t stop, but had to quickly grab the handlebars again as the bike wobbled. People dove out of his way as he reached the end of Putnam Avenue, shot across Lakefront Drive, and onto the pier. He rattled across the boards of the pier, down its entire length, then off the end. He finally let go of the bike as it hit the water, his body briefly skipping across the lake’s surface like a large stone thrown by a mischievous god. He thrashed for a moment in the water before standing up, realizing it was only waist deep.
Max half swam, half walked toward the shore. Partway there, his foot snagged his bike. He dragged it with him the rest of they way. When he emerged from the water he was immediately surrounded by a crowd of yelling youngsters. He walked past them to the beginning of the pier where Tim had finally arrived.
Tim looked angry. Max waited for him to speak, to accuse him of cheating, but Tim remained silent. He was looking at the cheering crowds around Max.
This is it, Max thought, this is what winning feels like. He soaked it in, his gaze drifting from face to face. People who wouldn’t have given him the time of day only twenty minutes earlier. He finally turned and addressed Tim.
“I’ll take my bike now.”
Well, I promised a deeper dive into the Republican Senate health care bill (the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, or just BCRA), and here it is. I was frustrated by other analysis I found on the web because they generally don’t say WHEN various changes kick in, and that is of course pretty important to some of us. Consequently, I took special care to look at the dates that different parts of the law would go into effect, and I’ve organized my discussion appropriately. I’m mostly focusing on the big changes that will directly impact most people, so details like the repeal of the tanning salon tax didn’t get much attention. I’ve also glossed over details of Medicaid cuts because there is a LOT of detail there… the largest part of the bill is dedicated to it… and this is meant to be more of a summary. Suffice it to say that the bill takes an ax to Medicaid, which will mean a lot of people losing health coverage. That said, here is all the other stuff the BCRA would do and the timeline of when it does it: (more…)
Today I had to log into a server I haven’t logged into for some time, and I couldn’t remember the password. After four failed attempts, I knew the next one would lock out my IP address. It’s a server I used to log into often, so it’s a password I’ve typed many times. I decided to to try something. Hands on the keyboard, I let my mind go blank. I didn’t think about the password, I just filled my mind with the intent to log in. I brought myself back to that time when I used that server frequently, when logging into it was a routine thing. I let my fingers move.
And it worked! I was in. But here is the really funny thing…
I still don’t know what the password is.
So now that Trump has confirmed he shared the Intel with his ‘I did it for humanitarian reasons’ tweet, and it’s been revealed that Israel was the source of the Intel, and they did not want it shared, and DEFINITELY not with Russia that is likely to pass it along to Iran… this whole thing has evolved into a rolling cluster-frack with huge potential blow-back. Israel will now almost certainly stop sharing Intelligence with us, which makes us far more vulnerable to terrorist plots arising from the middle east. This confirms every worst case fear I’ve voiced about the foreign policy risk of a Trump Presidency.
To my conservative friends… please please PLEASE set aside your skepticism for a moment and consider what is at stake here. No matter how much you might like the message Trump campaigned on or the domestic policies he’s championed since being elected, he is showing himself to be in WAY over his head diplomatically. At some point you have to consider that, maybe the press isn’t all lying… maybe our allies are actually mad and frightened for a reason… maybe Trump really is a rolling foreign policy disaster. And while it might be fun to see liberals all pissed off about something, maybe this is one of those ‘stopped clock pointing at the right time’ sort of things? Maybe? Can we at least consider it?
Because, let’s be honest… what’s the worst that could happen from a proper investigation of Trump? He is either cleared, and then the Dems have egg on their face, or he is impeached, and then we have President Pence. I can guarantee you liberals like me will not like the policy that is shepherded by a President Pence, but at least the guy will not be an ongoing global security risk. We can get back to arguing about school lunches and tax reform and all that fun stuff. Everyone wins!
Set let’s all ban together and agree on a few things… like a real, bipartisan Senate select committee and/or independent investigator to look into this whole Trump/Russia thing. Make him release his taxes and any financial ties he might have to foreign influences. Let’s clear the air once and for all so we can move on and get back to what the Internet was really meant for… posting pictures of cats.
Captain Amanda Wellington tried to keep the fear from her voice as she activated the comm circuit and shouted, “Baxter, I need all available power routed to the engines immediately or we’re all dead!”
Chief Engineer Baxter Poole took an agonizing number of seconds to reply. “I’m giving it everything I can, captain, but that explosion took out our port side EM drive.”
Amanda stared at the telemetry display. Two colored lines crossed each other. One represented the ship. The other represented their doom. A clock rapidly counted down the seconds toward the intersection of the two. “Helm, plot me the ideal heading and minimum thrust we need to break orbit, and send all data to engineering.”
“I’m on it,” the helm officer replied, “but it’s going to take a bit. Our telemetry gets less reliable the closer we get to the event horizon, the computer will have to extrapolate some of the numbers using dead reckoning.”
“Baxter, how long before you can get that engine back on line.”
“At least three months. That’s the travel time to the closest shipyard that can replace it.”
“I need answers, not jokes.”
“That’s not a joke,” the engineer replied, “the port engine is beyond saving. I can overdrive the starboard engine and get you thirty percent over spec, at least for a while. That’s the best I can do.”
“I can work with that,” the helm officer interjected. She tapped at her terminal for several seconds. “We can’t break orbit with that, but I can plot us a sub-orbital bounce that puts us close to Hawking Station.”
Amanda took a deep breath. It was an all or nothing gamble. A bounce would delay disaster and give the Hawking Science Station time to mount a rescue, but if it failed, they would be worse off. They would eventually plunge toward the black hole at even greater speed.
Precious seconds ticked away.
“Do it,” she ordered. The helm officer immediately turned her attention back to her console. Amanda tried to remember the officer’s name. Julia something. She’d only just joined the bridge crew yesterday. Amanda hadn’t even gotten around to her usual welcome speech yet. No time for that now. “Richard, contact the station, tell them what we’re doing, and have them ready every available grav tug to meet us.”
“Got it,” the communications officer replied. Amanda turned her attention toward the engineering damage report.
It was not good. The explosion had taken out one of the engines, damaged one of the primary power manifolds, and destabilized the fusion core. Baxter must be holding things together with vacuum tape and spit. Oh, and the satellite they’d been sent to repair had instead been knocked off its orbit and sent spiraling toward the black hole. Hawking Station would not be happy about that.
Richard interrupted her thoughts. “Captain, Hawking Station isn’t responding.”
“What, we’ve lost communications now too?”
“No, I’m still getting a signal from them. They’re just not answering my specific hails.”
Amanda brought up the comm screen on her own console and began reviewing the message queue. There was a lot of messages. Personal messages to individual crew members. Messages directed to her from Fleet Headquarters. Too many messages, all sent in the last few seconds. Then she noticed the time code on a recent message. It was dated two years in the future.
She switch from comm back to telemetry. She looked at the line showing the path of the ship, dipping dangerously close to the event horizon before curving up into a sub-orbital bounce. Then she looked at the error bands, a colored region around the line reflecting the amount of guesswork the computer had engaged in because of telemetry problems. The lower bound of the error band dipped below the event horizon.
“We’ve already crossed it.” Amanda gasped, her voice cracking as hope fled. The rest of the bridge crew fell silent. She turned back to her console and flipped back to the damage report. There it was. Damage to the power manifold had deactivated the shields. They’d fallen victim to relativistic effects. Because of the rapid speed of their decaying orbit, time was passing more slowly for them than the rest of the universe. That had thrown off their calculations.
Jason was tapping at his console. Amanda looked up to see him scrolling through the message list. She could see understanding overtake him as he took in their contents. He finally spoke. “We crossed the event horizon only seconds after the explosion, at least from our perspective. We’ve been spiraling toward the singularity for several years already. We are well and truly screwed.”
“No, there’s got to be something…” Julia couldn’t finish. She knew the physics of it as well as the rest of them.
Hawking Station wasn’t answering because the ship’s signal wasn’t reaching them. Nothing could escape the event horizon. Not light, not radio transmissions, and certainly not the ship. Stuff still flowed in with no problem, so they could still hear the station. But from the outside they were long gone and beyond reach.
Nevertheless, Hawking Station hadn’t just written them off. They knew it would take decades for the ship to spiral into the singularity, even if it felt like mere minutes to the crew. They’d spent those first years sending farewell messages from family and friends, the transmission slowed enough that the ship’s computer could keep up.
Amanda flipped back to the comm screen and opened a message from her sister. The tone was sad but affectionate, expressing how much she was missed even as it filled her in on all the family news. It was like a wistful Christmas letter.
The comm app chirped with another incoming message. She glanced at the header and saw it was from the head of research at Hawking Station. She skimmed. He prattled on in his usual long winded manner, so Amanda nearly missed the reference to a research paper titled ‘The Application of Gravitational Warp Field Theory Toward the Breaching of Event Horizon Barriers’. She went back and reread the section.
She read on. She read past the scientific jargon to the deeper story it told. The scientific community had caught fire. The story of the lost science vessel had captured the public imagination, unleashing a torrent of research into gravitational warp field theory. The technology that powered starships across the galaxy might provide the key to their rescue. It was a race between gravity and human ingenuity.
Amanda stopped reading. Her vision had grown blurry. Her initial hope was being overtaken by a sense of amazement. An often fractious galaxy had united around the mission of their rescue. She tried to wipe her tears from her console and only succeeded in closing the comm app.
She laughed. The rest of bridge crew looked at her like she’d gone crazy, but she laughed again. Somehow, beyond all probability or understanding, they had reached up through the impenetrable event horizon to reshaped all human society. Whether or not they were actually rescued seemed secondary to that.
Julia finally interrupted her musing. “Captain, I’m seeing something strange on the sensors.”
Ships were appearing in orbit, just outside the black hole’s event horizon, moving at seemingly impossible speed. A structure was taking shape. Something massive. The ships were bees around a growing hive. The giant machine was like nothing Amanda had seen before. Dozens of kilometers across, with massive antenna-like structures pointed down toward the singularity. The ship’s spiraling course took them directly under it with each orbit.
Amanda activated the ship-wide address system. “All hands to duty stations. Secure for acceleration.”
“What is it,” Richard asked, “what’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” Amanda answered. She switched the main display from aft to forward sensors. The approaching black hole disappeared, replaced by the growing machine above them. The ship’s clock ticked away years like seconds. “But I think it’s going to be miraculous.”
* * *
Despite first impressions, this is a work of non-fiction. No, the preceding events did not actually happen. That mini-story only serves to introduce concepts that are central to the larger work. I needed to talk about singularities and event horizons, but I struggled for some time deciding how to go about it. Ultimately, I fell back on the mechanism I’m most comfortable with, fiction. I will likely continue to use this tool going forward.
What do we mean when we talk about a singularity. When you put “definition of singularity” into Google, it comes back with several answers. One definition is “a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially in space-time when matter is infinitely dense, as at the center of a black hole.” Another is “a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.” That second definition is inspired by the first. Such a world changing event is more properly called the Technological Singularity, but in the appropriate context it is often shortened to just the Singularity. It’s an apt metaphor. In mathematics or in space, a singularity is a point at which the usual rules break down. Extending the metaphor, Google defines an event horizon as “a theoretical boundary around a black hole beyond which no light or other radiation can escape; a point of no return.”
Think about that for a moment.
In our story, the singularity isn’t the critical point of transition. That would be the event horizon. It’s the point of no return. Beyond that barrier, the forces at play will allow movement in only one direction, toward the singularity, and at ever increasing speed.
Scientist and futurists argue about when and even if we will reach the Technological Singularity. Some say it’s only years or decades away, others say centuries. Some say it’s a fantasy that will never occur. I’m not going to argue about the time line. Don’t expect me to stick a pin in a calendar predicting when it arrives. But I will suggest this… we have already crossed the Technological Event Horizon. We are beyond the point of no return. I can’t predict exactly what is coming, but like our heroes on the ship, I can be sure of one thing.
It’s going to be miraculous.
I’ll admit it… I’m a fan of Netflix. It’s not just their original programming that I like, it’s the shake-up of the entire video content industry. When they first made the switch from mailing DVDs to streaming video, few in the entertainment industry took them seriously. Now, a few years later, they are spending around 5 BILLION dollars a year making original content, more than industry stalwarts like Time Warner, Fox, Viacom, or even Disney. There subscriber base has surpassed HBO. While the old guard previously fought the entire idea of streaming video as a threat to their established model, now they all must participate or get their lunch eaten.
This is great news for viewers. Streaming has a lot of advantages over the old cable and broadcast model. First, you get to watch the content you want when you want to. Sure, a DVR helps in that regard… but its an imperfect solution. Also, the idea of waiting a week between episodes now seems archaic in this day and age. Netfix’s model of releasing an entire season at once lets you watch at the pace you prefer. Most of all, however, streaming removes the limit that channel based delivery puts on the quantity of content. As long as there is space on the servers, there is always room for another show. This opens the door for niche programs that might not find space on limited cable or broadcast channels.
And as the speed and availability of high speed Internet improves, so does the prospects of streaming vs traditional cable video. Kirsten and I spend a large part of the year traveling the country in our RV. Previously, this would limit our video viewing to DVDs or whatever we could pick up on an antenna (satellite was just more hassle than we wanted to deal with). But recent improvement in cellular mobile Internet have changed that. We now regularly get 10 to 20 Mbps via the mobile hot-spot on our phone, more than enough to stream Netflix, Amazon Video, etc (indeed, it’s often better than we get on our land line Internet). For a while, mobile data caps would make video streaming unthinkable, but recent competition has all the major mobile phone companies offering unlimited data plans or data cap exceptions for video streaming.
I wouldn’t call it the Golden Age of Video Steaming, but it’s getting there.
… it’s on them if it fails.
Let me explain. When the Democrats passed the ACA (Obamacare) seven years ago, they were able to do it only because they held the Presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress. Shortly after that, Republicans regained the majority in the House and later the Senate, allowing them to obstruct further legislation by the Democrats. And additional legislation was definitely needed. The ACA was never intended to be the end of the story on health care. Complicated legislation often needs amending after it rolls out, and that was expected in this case. Obama himself even likened the law to a “starter home”… something we could build on.
And renovation is definitely needed. While millions of people have been helped by the law, many others still suffer from rising premiums and lack of choice among insurers. Even before gaining the White House, Republicans have had the opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation, but for the past seven years they’ve preferred to obstruct any effort to fix the law, instead favoring a goal of repealing it. Indeed, not only have they refused to fix the law, they’ve actively worked against it. Premium increases in 2017 are in large part because of Republican sabotage. The GOP succeeded in stripping funding from the ‘risk corridor’ reinsurance program that was meant to stabilize prices while new insurance pools were created. This caused many of the new insurance companies, including most of the non-profit insurance co-ops, to go out of business, reducing competition and choice on the health care exchanges and driving up rates among the remaining companies.
Someone actually asked me how I could believe Trump is a Russian spy. I think I nearly blew coffee out my nose. No, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I don’t even think he has any great loyalty to Russia. I think he is exactly what he has always portrayed himself to be… a business man with extensive international holdings and connections.
And therein lies the problem.
After Trump’s multiple bankruptcies, banks in the US would no longer loan to him, so he had to go overseas for credit. That includes some rather large deals with prominent Russian oligarchs and Kremlin connected banks. As far as Trump was concerned this was just good business, which was fine when he wasn’t President. But now that he is President, failing to divest himself of his business connections leaves him vulnerable to foreign influence. The fact that he still refuses to release his tax returns (something every modern President before him has done) raises a huge red flag. The Kremlin might be holding hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump’s debt, and they could use that as leverage against him. It need not even be conscious leverage. When Trump praises Putin and soft peddles the threat of Russian authoritarianism… it could just be a subconscious bias born from years of favorable business dealings. Either way, it’s a threat to our national security.
And Putin understands this. He has already responded by deploying nuclear cruise missiles in violation of earlier agreements and stepping up violence in the Ukraine… and Trump has done nothing. Putin is advancing his plan to undermine NATO and rebuild a Soviet style empire, and Trump doesn’t even see the threat. Worse, Trump seems poised to lift the sanctions that weaken Putin and may even hand control of the Crimean peninsula over to Russia.
In short, trump is destroying the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the President that ended the Cold War.
So no, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I think he is something far worse… a dupe. A foreign policy neophyte who mistakes a favorable business deal as a show of character. Putin is rolling him and getting everything he wants.
God help us all.
Good God… Paul Ryan doesn’t understand what insurance is. I just watched his Powerpoint presentation explaining his healthcare bill, and at one point he describes the ‘fatal conceit’ of Obamacare as being this:
“Young and healthy people are going into the market and pay for the older sicker people. So, the young healthy person is going to be made to buy healthcare, and there going to pay for the person who gets breast cancer in her forties, or gets heart disease in his fifties.”
Yes, Paul, that’s called INSURANCE. That is exactly what it does. It is what it has ALWAYS done. It works that way with auto insurance and homeowners insurance, and yes, health insurance. The premiums from people not making claims collectively pay for the people who do make claims. Yes, my premiums will pay for the person who gets breast cancer or heart disease or cancer or whatever, and I’m fine with that… because someday that person MIGHT BE ME. People in the same group pay the same rate regardless of health condition. It’s called group rating, and its how health insurance has worked in the employer provided market for decades. It is the singular most important reform that Obamacare brought to the individual insurance market, and you want to get rid of it?
Saints preserve us… the Republican healthcare law was drafted by someone who has no clue how any of this stuff actually works.