Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In Praise of 24-Hour Time

Peter Mackie writes ( to complain about Eastgate Cinemas’ time listing for their midnight showing of Paranormal Activity. It had been listed for Friday at 12:01 AM, which he and many other people interpreted to mean a minute after Thursday had expired. Instead, it turned out to mean a minute into Saturday.

I have long bemoaned the stubborn arrogance of the United States when it comes to our failure to adopt the metric system (yes, we are the LAST NATION ON EARTH without it), our monolingualism, the absence of digits on our coins, and many other flip-offs to the rest of the world. Besides being rude, these parochialisms are economically stupid, discouraging tourism and making our non-metric goods harder to sell abroad.

Eastgate’s scheduling snafu represents yet another example of this, for which the country as a whole is mainly responsible. Civilians use 12-hour clocks in this country, which means that telling someone to take a pill “at 9:00” may result in double dosages. The military, hospitals, air-traffic controllers, meteorologists, certainly astronomers — anyone who needs to know the time precisely — all use a 24-hour clock.

24-hour time eliminates the ambiguity of what exactly you mean by “9:00”. You also no longer have to wonder whether “12:00 PM” means noon or midnight. (Technically, since the Latin “post meridiem” means “AFTER midday”, “12:00 PM” could only be midnight, and noon would be “12:00 M” — midday exactly — but try to convince anyone of that.) It also eliminates the ambiguity about each day having 2 midnights: The one that starts the day is 0:00, while the one that ends the day is 24:00. Furthermore, it provides a convenient method for scheduling things that happen AFTER midnight, that you’re staying up late for: Just keep the clock running past 24. That way, Eastgate could have said the movie started at 0:01 on Saturday OR at 24:01 on Friday; either way, it would be clearer than what they were forced to do because of our stupid adherence to the outdated 12-hour clock.

Folks in charge of alternate-side parking, are you paying attention?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Medicare for All: How To Get There

Clearly, a national single-payer health-care plan is best for the country. Equally clearly, the best model for such a plan is Medicare. Indeed, many advocates of single-payer refer to it by the shorthand term "Medicare for all".

One of the few legitimate objections to spreading the Medicare umbrella over everyone is that the rapid shock of it would cause massive dislocation in the insurance industry, affecting not only the corporations, their stockholders, and their poor, poor CEOs but also thousands of their employees.

So here's how to get the job done without the shock: Phase it in. The current threshold age for Medicare eligibility is 65. Make it 60 in 2011, 55 in 2012, 50 in 2013, and so on. After 13 years, it'll kick in at birth. That'll give everyone a chance to get used to it and provide lots of opportunities for working out the kinks.

Simple. Fair. Good for the grandkids as well as grandma. And doesn't require 1000 pages to explain.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Real Terrorists

Ever hear of the “availability heuristic”? That’s the term scholars and risk managers use to refer to your ability to call up a memory or image of any particular hazard. Think of an airplane crash. Now think of a car crash. Which one produced an immediate, recognizable picture in your brain, perhaps associated with a specific date, time, location, and name?

If you’re like most people, it’s the airplane crash that’s most readily available to your recollection. Such disasters are big and spectacular. They’re also quite rare, which in a perverse way makes them news and thus more likely to get media coverage than car crashes.

So most people, when asked which mode of transportation is most dangerous, will quickly be able to recall airplane disasters and will bubble air travel up to the top of their worry list. Justified? Hmph. Here are the US fatality data for a typical year:
 • motor vehicles: 45,000
 • motorcycles: 3,700
 • bicycles: 750
 • airplanes: 140

Many, many small events, almost unnoticeable individually, often add up to outweigh something big and spectacular but really rare. Mice and termites — many, many of them nibbling away in tiny little bites, but never quitting — do more damage than floods or earthquakes. King Gillette lowballed his razors and made money selling the blades. Apple gives away iTunes and makes billions at 99¢ per song. The best thing you can do for your car is blow $4 on a quart of oil every 3,000 miles.

So consider these fatality counts (IE, dead Americans), in which RFA = religious fanatic attacks and LoHC = lack of health coverage:
 • 2000: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2001: RFA, 3,000; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2002: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2003: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2004: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2005: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2006: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2007: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000
 • 2008: RFA, 0; LoHC, 17,000

Religious-fanatic attacks are perpetrated by ideological zealots.

National health care is opposed by ideological zealots.

Terrorists, by definition, are those who seek to affect your behavior by terrifying you. They are not at all hesitant about using lies, threats, and violence to do so.

Based on the numbers, which group of terrorists poses the larger threat to America?