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William Kristol, misleading the public

I used to think William Kristol could think, although I strongly disagreed with most of his opinions. But then he wrote this:

But isn’t health care a crisis? No.

Indeed, the president acknowledged it isn’t: "But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future — and that is the issue of health care." In other words, health care — unlike, say, the financial system a few months ago — is not in a state of crisis.

He's apparently missed a key word, "just." What Obama said was that we are not *just* addressing crises, we are building a future. The two concepts are not in conflict. Health care is not just something that needs a quick fix, it's something that will affect our future long-term.

A crisis can have short-term effects or long-term effects; some have both. Right now, right here, millions of people are in crisis because of health care costs, and how this is handled will affect us deeply for the rest of our lives. And it's not "just' our health affected by this: it's our ability to rent homes, purchase cars, find jobs, go to college, pay our bills that is dragged down by this crisis.
  • Employers have undue power over employees because we can't afford to lose our jobs/insurance.
  • People can't afford college because of health care costs.
  • More than half of personal bankruptcies involve medical bills.
  • People unable to afford necessary treatment live shorter, unfulfilled lives because they are constantly dragged down by bad health.
  • People declaring bankruptcy or whose credit is suffering because of medical debts are having difficulty getting jobs, because many companies are using credit as a easy weeding-out tool.
  • People with medical debts hurting their credit have more difficulty renting or purchasing a home
  • If you have insurance, you're at the insurance company's mercy regarding treatment plans, and drs may assign unnecessary tests, etc., because they assume you can pay.
  • If you don't have insurance, your health cares fees are probably much higher, and health practitioners may not give you the same quality of care because they make assumptions on your ability to pay.

This is not “just life.” This is apparently entirely avoidable in most civilized countries. Looking at other countries' coverage of US health care, it's eye-opening how much they have to explain to their readers.

Get a pair of eyes, Mr. Kristol. There are desperate people in crisis all around you. We’re dying. We’re simply dying a little more slowly and unobtrusively than what you require to call us a “crisis.”


Boycott the green check mark!

The attempt of the food industry to self-regulate itself is failing miserably. The "Smart Choices" program, touted last year as food manufacturers' combined attempt to incorporate federal and science-based nutritional guidelines across the industry. From the NYT, last October:

The nutrition standards for the Smart Choices Program are based on the federal government’s dietary guidelines and other scientific guidance...To qualify for a symbol, a product cannot exceed standards for specific ”nutrients to limit,” like total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium.

For most categories, the products must also provide nutrients or food groups that are recommended by nutritionists for good health. The “nutrients to encourage” include calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, while the encouraged food groups are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products that are low in fat and fat free.

Standards, however, have been tossed aside in favor of "relative" value. Froot Loops, for example, receive a Smart Choice check for being more healthful than donuts.

No, I'm not kidding. Froot Loops qualifies as a nutritional "Smart Choice."

From Eileen Kennedy, president of the Smart Choice board, quoted in the NYT:

"The checkmark means the food item is a 'better for you' product, as opposed to having an x on it saying 'Don't eat this,'" Dr. Kennedy said. "Consumers are smart enough to deduce that if it doesn't have the checkmark, by implication it's not a 'better for you' product. They want to have a choice. They don't want to be told 'You must do this.'"

"You're rushing around, you're trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal," Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. "So Froot Loops is a better choice."

One of the initiative's founders describes the situation:

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, was part of a panel that helped devise the Smart Choices nutritional criteria, until he quit last September. He said the panel was dominated by members of the food industry, which skewed its decisions.

"It was paid for by industry and when industry put down its foot and said this is what we're doing, that was it, end of story," he said....

Mr. Jacobson objected to some of the panel's nutritional decisions. The criteria allow foods to carry the Smart Choices seal if they contain added nutrients, which he said could mask shortcomings in the food... "You could start out with some sawdust, add calcium or Vitamin A and meet the criteria," Mr. Jacobson said.
boycott bad foodThe comments section on this article has some pretty pithy critiques:
Fruit loops is better than drinking bleach too. How do these people sleep at night?
—Don, Wyoming

Fruit loops is better than a doughnut, like cocaine is better than crack! are these people serious?

We are all familiar, I would presume, with the metaphor of the fox guarding the chicken coop?
—Jim, New Jersey

Here's what I would comment (were comments still open):

Clearly, the best choice is not to reward bad behavior. If possible, boycott foods from these companies: Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, Unilever, General Mills, PepsiCo and Tyson. If not possible (due to choice limitations, pricing, whatever), try to avoid them or at the very least ignore this label. Read the nutritional label and make the best choices for your personal health.

Critter pics

Seeing a Steller's Jay is a sure sign kobolds are in the area.
Steller's jay

One of my rock dove (pigeon) friends from the bus stop:
an agate Rock Dove

A one-time visit from a charming roof rat. Click the photo to see his impossibly long tail in another picture.
Rattus rattus

Eastern Gray Squirrels can take on a reddish hue in summer. You can still tell them apart from Douglas squirrels by the belly, which is white for Eastern Grays and buff/orange for Douglas squirrels. (And the grays are mostly larger. Mostly.)
Eastern Gray Squirrel

Designing (and testing) for purpose

I've finally crossed over to the dark side—I'm starting to use powerpoints to share ideas outside work as well as within. Below is my first slideshare, cross-posted from my alexfiles.com blog.

Designing for users is a tough job. To optimize our designs and strategy, UX professionals frequently turn to concept/site testing.

The problem is that most design strategy and testing thinks in terms of input → output. We provide input, users perform a desired response (click-through, purchase, content creation). How to break out of this mold?

Perceptual control theory (PCT) assumes that all output is based on the ultimate goal of improved perceptual input. If you replace “input” in the above with “experience,” you’ll see the direction this discussion is going…

Writer's Block: Doh!

What is the dumbest thing you've ever done?
Helped a friend get a job she told me she was qualified for, without checking qualifications. This was not good for either the friendship or my job.

Question for you long-term LJers

I've been with LJ since 2003, and I think (not sure) that LJ has had customizable friends groups throughout that time. Does anyone remember a time they didn't have it?

I'm comparing functionality to the Facebook friends lists, and would like to be able to say how long LJ had it before FB.

Thanks oodles!


Ruffian, Squirrel Bane

Ruffian broke our hearts a week ago. A sweet Douglas squirrel made the mistake of coming too far down a tree while she was in the backyard. Ruffian caught him as he froze on the side of the tree, gave two quick shakes, and it was all over.

I was just a few feet away. I yelled No, hoping for the dog to pause and the squirrel to run. The squirrel, already facing up, began to run; the dog, despite her brief distraction, leapt up and picked him off the tree about five feet up.

Lesson learned: next time, no yells, just walk up and take the dog's collar.

Once she'd shaken the squirrel a couple of times, Ruffian listened to my "Drop it!" She must've known my tone was upset because she then went off about fifteen feet and sat, letting me check to see if the squirrel was indeed dead, and pick it up to lay it to rest. It was warm, but cooling fast, with no heartbeat—and almost no sign of violence. But gone nonetheless.

The squirrel, a day or two earlier. We feel some guilt because we threw seed for birds, squirrels, and raccoons, never imagining Ruffian could be quick enough to catch one. We are now more cautious.
Douglas squirrel feeding

Douglas squirrel feeding

The fern bank where I laid the squirrel. I did not bury him; there are many hungry beasties, and it seemed wrong to remove him from that circle altogether, simply because his part was cut short.
Fern bank

After I returned from taking the squirrel away, Ruffian came over to me quietly. Since she was just being a dog, I petted her reassuringly but not happily. She remained in a somber mood the rest of the day. We were concerned she might transfer squirrel interest to the cats, but such was not the case—she still treats them as pack mates. She is now completely over the experience.
Ruffian laughing

alex's photostream

Critter photos

A sampling of the latest photos (click on an image to see larger sizes on my Flickr photostream).

Ruffian about to catch her ball
Ball in the air

Thora batting at a ball. Note the fabric "leaf" pushing in where her cancer surgery removed half a shoulder blade. Three years, and she's still having fun!
Thora playing
Black slug
Black slug
Bald eagle in the yard
Bald eagle, two crows
Osprey eating a fish at work
Osprey and fish

alex's photostream

Bus and home photos

Lately the most personal creative energy I have is taking photos while riding the bus, or occasionally from the house. Here are a few recent ones (click on an image to see larger sizes).

Seattle architecture: a seagull flying past walrus grotesques
Seattle architecture: seagull flying past walrus grotesques

International district
The best dragon I've managed thus far, thanks to a stop light.
Seattle dragon
Landscaping near the King Street Station
King Street Station landscaping
Snow on the road home, 9 March 2009
Snow on the road home
Junco on a rain-washed deck

alex's photostream

Cats and dogs and snow

Clovis having a low-quality thought about a sleeping dog's tail. Peace did not last long.
Inkblot and Swann

More photos behind cut.Collapse )

More tomorrow!


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September 2011



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