In Which I Suspect The Free Market Of Not Being Entirely Free

Interesting anecdote from Reason on how Canadian health care treated one woman, or rather failed to treat her, along with a doctor who puts up a price list on his website about what things cost. I tracked the website down and noted an interesting thing.

Some of you know that my dad was in the hospital a month ago. As it turns out, they gave him angioplasty (through the femoral artery, yeow!). If you go to that site, you’ll see angioplasty costs $12,500.

That’s expensive, but not unmanageable. Presumably, one wouldn’t need a lot of angioplasty. And catastrophic coverage well, wouldn’t need to be all that huge to cover it.

Now, my dad’s two days in the hospital cost $140,000.

Frankly, that seems unpossible to me. Who could possibly afford that? How can something exist in a market that nobody could afford?

I suspect there may be market distortions at work.

If one wanted to fix the health care market, one might start by locating the distortions and removing them.

Just a thought.

Theory: Obama Is Stupid And Lazy

Now, don’t get your knickers in a twist. I don’t mean to suggest that the President does not have an average intellect. Possibly even an above-average, though seldom exercised, intellect. I’m not speaking of low IQs here, but of stupidity. (The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, who work with brain-injured kids are fond of pointing out that there’s no cure for stupidity.)

He might even be a genius, though I’ve really seen nothing from the man to suggest that he’s anything more than a competent parroter of other people’s words. I don’t believe for a second that he actually wrote those books; writers write pretty much all the time. But lack of achievement is no disqualifier of genius. This is neither here nor there.

Because even geniuses can be stupid about things.

Let me see if I can support this potentially controversial theory. See if you can follow my byzantine logic here.

First, I’m going to assume the position that Obama is, more or less, exactly what he seems. A sincere fellow traveler who is not feigning surprise when someone suggests that FDR’s wild spending and experimentation didn’t actually end the Great Depression.

Therefore, Obama genuinely believes that what he’s done and what he’s trying to do isn’t going to harm the economy, or at least isn’t going to harm the economy so badly that it won’t rebound against his party in 2010, and himself in 2012. (I don’t subscribe to the notion that he’s deliberately trying to harm the economy to force us into socialism, as Althouse describes Rush Limbaugh as saying, although I think Teddy Kennedy has expressed such sentiments.)

Let’s look at some predictions versus actuality, courtesy of Michael at Innocent Bystanders:
As any smart politician knows, when pitching a plan with such short-term predictions, you predict the worst-case scenario for if your plan doesn’t pass, and predict what you think will actually happen with or without your plan.

Get it? That way, if your plan does nothing but line your cronies’ pockets and feed the political machine, you’ll get credit for the better-than-worst case scenario. And, you know, we’re lucky when politicians only line their own pockets versus when they actually try to do something (like push sub-prime mortgage loans, help out banks or provide universal education and health care).

There’s no way that he expected to be standing here, mid-summer, with egg on his face.

But, okay, he’s a true believer. He thinks government spending–even just the unfocused, delayed throwing of money about–solves problems. That’s just ignorance.

But now he’s thrown money around. He’s “bailed out” various industries. He’s seen the effect. He’s continuing to push for economy-damaging plans, though, and arguing that they’ll actually improve the economy. (Some have argued, because things should be this way, liberals believe they must be this way.)

Now, there’s plenty of history to look at here. You can look at the effects of government spending, at the effects of tax cuts, at protectionism, at unions, and you can see what these things do. You can also see these things at work all over the world today.

This is where the stupid comes in. Because in order to take in all this information and use it, you have to be honest. Now, you almost never hear about honesty as a factor in intelligence, but it is. You hear the phrase “intellectual honesty” like there’s a difference, but honesty is honesty.

The left loved to attack W as stupid on these same grounds. But rather than talk about him, I think it’s more useful to look at Clinton. Clinton followed a similar trajectory, on a longer curve, but he was smart enough to take credit for conservative policies pushed through by his Republican Congress when they worked. He was smart enough to pronounce the era of big government being over.

Now, his motivations may have been entirely selfish. There’s no doubt that some modern Presidents seem to look at things in terms of lookin’ good for history versus doing what’s right. But I doubt very much that he was unaffected by the policies he saw working. (And, gosh, aren’t both Clintons awfully quiet on the health care issue?)

Perhaps Obama is just slow: It’s hard to give up cherished beliefs no matter how badly they fail in practice, and he’ll eventually be forced to confront reality–say, if the nation takes away his majority in 2010.

But my theory is that he’ll continue doing what he’s doing. No matter how much evidence piles up against his beliefs, he’ll stay the course.

That’s stupid.

The other half of my perhaps controversial theory is that he’s lazy. His idea of work appears to be going on TV to read a speech that someone else wrote. Charges of inexperience abounded in the last election, but even his defenders were at best able to defend him with descriptions of impressive sounding positions he had achieved, rather than things he had actually done.

Not that I don’t admire this. I work very hard at being lazy. But apparently being President is a lot of work. You have to study constantly. Protocols, histories, and all manner of things from massive industries to peculiar local customs. Any time you take off gets scrutinized–even if you’re not taking time off, but working remotely. (Well, okay, Obama’s not a Republican so he doesn’t have to worry about that.)

But I haven’t seen any indication that he’s done any of this homework. In fact, a great many of the gaffes we’ve seen–like running out and getting the British PM a bunch of DVDs he wouldn’t like and couldn’t use–just seem to come from not having bothered to study.

The more serious problems, like the business of pushing through laws no one has read, seem to come from relying on lawmakers’ competence and general good-hearted, fellow traveler status.

I mean, in order to ram through a bill like the unwritten health care laws, you have to have a whopping faith in some unnamed lawmaker to write a clear and cogent description of a hugely complex and detailed area of society. Or you have to just not care.

And that’s just stupid. And lazy.

But we should be grateful. A truly smart, hard-working socialist (or communist, why split hairs?) would have cut the payroll tax, slashed regulation, changed the mark-t0-market rules and “saved” the economy. (The government, of course, is the biggest suppressor of the economy, so it can “save” it by backing off.)

When the economy rebounded, our smart, hard-working politico would have pretty much free rein to set up whatever he wanted. Who would have the mojo to challenge him?

Kind of a chilling thought. But maybe it’s not always a bad thing that politics seeks destructive, short-term solutions.

UPDATE #1: Evidence in support of my theory provided on July 22nd, 2009. Obama has a press conference to bolster his health care plan in which he takes the opportunity to call the Cambridge Police stupid–after saying he didn’t know all the facts in the case. He had to have believed that this was going to boost his popularity. What’s more, since he arranged all the questions in advance, he had to have specifically picked this topic and worked out his answer in advance on the basis of believing that America shares the far left’s contempt for police and wanted to hear that from the President.

I mean, look, I have mixed feelings about the police. On the whole, I thnk they do a good job. But I also think they’re often more protective of each other than the job. But I don’t want to hear the President weigh in on this! It’s almost up there with the President going around to foreign countries to apologize for America’s actions. The President is supposed to be an America booster; it’s minimum spec for the job!

Sugar, Sweat and The Vanishing T-Zone

Our experiments in snake-oil continue apace. The Boy slipped a bit in his adherence to the program, so we’ve kind of been hanging fire for a couple of weeks. Even so, he’s using half the per-meal insulin he was a couple of months ago, and starting to lower his daily insulin.

The interesting thing to me is how exact the predictions have been. Just as predicted, his blood sugar dropped low, and he had to lower his insulin. Then it came back up, so he had to raise it again. Just as predicted, he started spilling sugar in his urine; when it stopped we were to lower his insulin till it started again. And the cycle of stopping and starting was supposed to speed up, which it has done.

He’s still not quite in the zone where things are really kicking in, which is a sort of frightening thought. Although diabetics are controlling for high blood sugar, the short-term danger is from low blood sugar, which can happen if his pancreas suddenly starts creating insulin while he’s injecting insulin. (We’ve had a few rather low readings since starting this, but mostly The Boy has been very aware, very cautious and very diligent.)

Meanwhile, I’ve had a few interesting phenomena arise. My weight’s held steady after dropping those 20 pounds (and the doctor looks concerned about me dropping more) though even though my weight hasn’t changed in a month, people seem to be noticing more. So, I think something is happening. (I haven’t gotten to my mom’s gym for a fat test yet.)

On anther front, my “T-Zone” vanished, sort of. This is kind of amusing, because I can’t seem to find anyone who remembers the “T-Zone” commercials. If you have oily skin (which I always have) but you have dry skin over your eyes, and down your nose, you have a “T-Zone”. I forget what they were advertising, exactly, but it was probably some sort of moisturizer. (No, I didn’t do anything about it. Why would a guy care if he had a “T-Zone”?)

Well, mine started getting extreme (as had happened occasionally before) with all kinds of dry, flaky skin, and then, over the course of a week, it started shrinking, until it was sort of an “i-Zone”. Now it’s just sort of the dot (the tittle, technically speaking) over the lower-case i.

The doc says, “Oh, that’s just vitamin A deficiency.”

Also, I’m sweating. I’ve never been a sweater. Em. I’ve never been one who sweats. I mean, sure, when working out in 100 degree heat in our tiny dojo back before it got A/C, I did some sweating. But not as much as other people by a long shot.

The theory being batted around at the time had to do with playing a lot of sports as a kid and developing your sweat glands at a young age. It’s not a crazy thought, really: The body does a lot of things in reaction to activity. (You’re not born with hip sockets, for example. They’re created by the action of crawling.)

The theory might even be true. But my doctor offered another theory, since she has lots of guys who are suddenly sweating a lot: The body doesn’t sweat because it’s dehydrated.

Well, duh.

That’s one of those things that’s so obvious when you think about it, you feel stupid for never having thought of it yourself.

Weirdly, I’ve written a fair amount of (unpublished) fiction. At one point, when I took stock of what I had written, I became aware of how much I wrote focused on water. People being thirsty or dehydrated. (I even thought at one point of collecting all my water-themed stories together to make a movie.)

Wild, huh?

Even more interesting, according to this program, once you’re up to snuff, your body actually makes most of what you need. You only take a couple of calciums (which are not in our foods, unfortunately).

Ouch!

I’ve continued to do the Wii and, like any other video game, it trains you to play it very well. I’ve actually gotten to the point where it doesn’t insult me most of the time. (“You performed exceptionally poorly on the Don’t Stick Your Thumb In Your Eye challenge. Is it because you are a big, clumsy American or are you especially uncoordinated?”)

The Wii takes an exceptionally sensitive weight reading, then uses your keyed in height to calculate your BMI. And then helpfully displays your Wii as underweight, normal, fat or obese, based thereon. I honestly can’t imagine a large American corporation coming up with an exercise system that called its users obese and clumsy.

This, however, has to be the unkindest cut (from F– My Life):

Today, I finally got Wii Fit to lose some weight. Came home and set it all up only to be told that I weigh too much to use the board. FML

So, yeah, I bet it caps out at 300 pounds. Fair warning. (Note: 330# according to various web sources.)

Look, treat as a fun way to get off your ass and you can have a good time. Also, if you use it daily, just to do a “body test”: it’ll keep track of your weight. It is, of course, a bad idea to focus on weight if you’re trying to get in shape and, as I noted, the Wii Fit is very sensitive.

But while the Fit software tends to overreact to weight fluctuations, you know if you’re looking at a normal weight shift or a third helping of mashed potatoes. It’s programmed to not react to a minor weight shift, and notes that you can swing a couple of pounds in a day, but it’s not unusual for me to swing five pounds in a single day. (Something I observed years ago, back in the karate days.)

But it’s a lot harder to ignore a general trend. And regardless of how you view the Wii’s general approach to fitness, you can do the weight thing every day.

Meanwhile, my personal trainer mother wants to give me a real body fat test at her gym.

Anyway, the only real weakness with the Fit is that there isn’t enough content. The Wii Fit Plus should resolve that, for a while.

Weird Science

We were back at the dietitian’s last Friday after a couple of weeks away, and both I and The Boy were dehydrated. Not a huge surprise, really: We’d been walking around the college, in the heat, I’d been working out a bit more, etc.

As a coda to this post about my weird dream, the dietitian was giving us signs of dehydration to watch for, so that we would know when to drink extra water. First one she mentions? Weird dreams. General sleep disturbances (I hadn’t been sleeping well, or at least not long enough.)

So far, though, everything that she said would happen has happened. We had some blood sugar crashes early on (as The Boy’s body released the artificial insulin it stored up) and then, in line with his graph being in the right place, he’s started to have sugar in his urine.

Generally, you don’t want sugar in your urine, but in this case it’s supposed to be indicative of the healing process. Intriguingly, The Boy’s sugars are very well in control, if a little wild. (They’ll get suddenly high, then drop down just as suddenly, though never into a dangerous zone.) He’s also on half the per-meal insulin he was a few months ago.

The theory is that artificial insulin is like a cast for the pancreas, so once the body starts healing, you need to take the cast off, letting your sugars get a bit high so that the pancreas will be stimulated to start producing.

I’m sure this could cause a panic attack in a lot of medical professionals. I’m sure it’s dangerous. But you know what? So is diabetes-for-the-rest-of-your-life. They kind of feed you a cock-and-bull story about how you can be in the NBA and live a normal life, but the long term consequences for a diabetic, even one with well-controlled blood sugar, are really pretty horrible.

I love mainstream medicine, don’t get me wrong, but really only for emergencies. Bad infections, broken bones, heart attacks, and so on. But if I have high blood pressure, I don’t want to take a pill forever. I want my blood pressure back to normal. Same with high cholesterol.

But even if you’re an all-mainstream-medicine-all-the-time-guy, the FDA sits on drugs that might help people in the name of protecting them, essentially protecting them to death. “Excuse me, Mr. Government, sir, but I’d like to try that cancer medicine, even if it might kill me. Because I’m going to die anyway.”

I think Man has an inalienable right to his snake oil, as I’ve said here many times. I’m sure, in my case, that it’s part of the pursuit of happiness. And in everyone’s case, it’s a matter of sovereignty over his body.

If the government would leave my body and my property alone, I’d be happy to have the social liberals and conservative battle out whatever they wanted.

Thinner

Darcy has a post up featuring Daniela Hantuchova, a Slovakian tennis player that she alludes to as having gotten “too thin”, perhaps due to pressure to appear glamorous. This struck me as interesting because an athlete’s first responsibility is to be functional in her sport.

You can’t put the shot and be worried about fitting into a size 0.

In fact, those two goals (emulating a super-model and excelling in your sport) might be contrary. The post stirred a memories of a couple of movies (as most things do) which illustrate–something or other.

First of all: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Captain Kirk is climbing up El Capitan. The close shots, of course, are 57-year-old William Shatner. The reverse angles–the ass-up shots, if you will–are of some guy with a much, much skinnier ass. These shots–presumably masterminded by director Shatner–set the tone of meta-silliness that pervades that movie.

Second of all: Her Alibi. Back when it still seemed like a good idea to make TV icon Tom Selleck into a movie star. Real-life Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova plays a Romanian acrobat, though completely lacking the body of an acrobat–or indeed, a body that was probably much good for anything, except looking at. Well, and snagging a rockstar husband. (All credit to her, though, since they’re still married 20 years later.)

But whatever a body that thin can do, it can’t do one thing her character could (and needed) to do: Climb a rope. And so we got the reverse of the Captain Kirk situation above. From one angle, skinny Paulina. From the other, a heftier stuntwoman.

I was struck by the fact that–much like Shatner–they couldn’t find anyone even close to the body-type of the actor chosen to play the part.

A propos of nothing, I guess. Just flotsam bubbling up in the ol’ Bit’s mind.

White Devils

I detailed my eight month treadmill desk experiment here and also my water drinking, and noted that neither of them caused any net weight loss. I’m sure I must have swapped some muscle for fat in those eight months, but as the water drinking was accompanied with a reduction in my soda drinking habits, I was expecting some sort of net weight loss. But no dice.

Of course, I started doing the Reams program in solidarity with The Boy and, much to my dismay, it worked. So, now I’m eating a largely vegetable diet, with meat two, three (okay, sometimes four) times a week. And there are things I am not eating.

No white flour. No white sugar. No white potatoes. Also, no corn syrup, and really, I’m not supposed to be eating corn (unless it’s white corn on the cob). I do have popcorn and soda at the movies.

Well, I guess it’s not mystery where my extra pounds were coming from. I’ve lost 20 pounds in two months. Without any exercise at all. I’m not supposed to exercise too much yet though I am finally back on that a little bit.

My interpretation of the various food prohibitions fall into two categories: Some foods are bad because they are actually harmful while others are bad because they take up the space you’d normally have for nutritious food. Shellfish, pork, protein bars are examples of food in the actually harmful category–something about the high protein content. (Again, this is my casual impression. I’m not claiming to understand this.)

Sure has made weight loss simple, though. If you call this living….

When Numbers Get Serious

A week ago, The Boy and I took one of our not infrequent road trips to visit the dietitian. I’ve been a little suspect of his devotion to the whole regime of vegetables, and I thought he’d been a bit lax with some of his supplements (vitamins and minerals).

But the numbers came back great. Mine came back pretty good, too, which sort of surprised me, since they’d been so bad before. I’m allowed to exercise a little and eat a little meat. (This diet discourages heavy meat eating. Three times a week, maximum.)

I spent a year and a half as a mostly-vegetarian. That is, I didn’t eat any meat during the week, but since I went home for weekends and mom considers vegetarianism a personal affront, I did eat fish then. It was actually very difficult for me to start eating meat again. I mean, just contemplating it was sort of appalling.

Weird, eh? Well, I just spent six weeks as an actual vegetarian and I assure you my celebratory hot turkey sandwich was quite welcome. (I’m not even a turkey fan but–well, I’m not going to food blog just yet, but the sandwich will be back.)

I could observe that I continue to benefit from this program, and The Boy continues to reduce his insulin, but I see the government has already established that alternative forms of treatment are pretty much universally bunk.

Well, not really: They’ve apparently spent $2.5B paying other people to test them, in God knows what fashion. I’ve linked to this guy, Phil Plait, instead of to the direct article because he captures so well the attitude I’ve seen of some: It’s vitally important to them that nobody ever believe anything that can’t be proven in a double-blind study.

Frankly, I don’t think most of these things work, but since placebos (called “dummy pills” now, apparently) have something like a 20% success rate, I tend to think the placebo is under-prescribed. I mean, I doubt those “male enhancement” pills have any effect whatsoever, but if a guy believes that they do and benefits from that belief, how cruel to take that away from him!

Most of the programs I’ve seen that seemed very effective were not really pharmaceutical replacements, they were regimens. Lifestyle changes. You could argue (successfully, I think) that the gains were from a variety of banal things, rather than, say, distilled water or walnut tincture.

And I wouldn’t really care if you did, so long as I’m free to do whatever crazy thing I want.

My concern, of course, is that the government will get both wrong: Prescribing things that don’t work while proscribing things that do. In fact, I can guarantee you that already happens, routinely.

Oh, Just Say You Don’t Like It

…when people tinkle in the pool.

You don’t have to cobble together some sort of “science”.

I mean, seriously, let’s say somebody empties a quart of urine into a good sized pool. Ours holds about 17,000 gallons. A quart is a sizable amount, probably more than the trickles that are likely (mostly from kids, and mostly due to the temperature change, I’d guess).

Even so, that’s 150 parts per million, urine-to-water, if my math is right. Since urine is 95% water, we’re down to 7.5 parts per million for the health threat. Given that the astronauts just celebrated by drinking pee, I’m guessing it’s not too bad.

Meanwhile, we dump chlorine into pools, which is well and truly toxic. I like how the article conflates urine and sweat, saying that the problem is that they combine with chlorine. But you can’t help but sweat in the pool, even if you don’t know it.

CDC notwithstanding, I think we’re seeing the sort of objections that arise when people realize they eat food with bug parts in it. Come on, people, a certain amount of unconscious ingestion of biological matter is part and parcel of life.

Learn to deal.

Water, Minerals, and Incredible Things

Well, The Boy has been on this new diet for two months. So far, everything that the nutritionist has suggested would happen has happened. He’s had a few crashes that slowly came back up, but now we’re at the point where his body needs less fake insulin, or so the theory goes.

In practice, he’s reduced his per-meal insulin by half, while maintaining excellent blood sugar levels. He’s less thrown off by dietary lapses, as well. Too many carbs raise his blood sugar less dramatically and for less long. (It used to take him days to get it back under control sometimes.)

As for me, well, I’m losing weight. Sort of funny: I think the walking for 20, 30 plus hours a week built up muscle as much as it reduced fat, so no weight change. Not losing weight drinking the water is a little harder to explain, except that I was very dehydrated.

I’m not supposed to be exercising right now and meat is out, to say nothing of the various junk foods, and it’s difficult to impossible to maintain my weight without those things. (No tragedy; I can stand to lose a few pounds.) I am missing exercising, though.

Encouragement to be as good as I can so as to get my body in good enough shape to actually use it, I guess.