Oct 4 2013

Holes in Obamacare Arguments

I recently read a post by a friend referring to an article on MediaMatters which claims to debunk many "myths" about Obamacare. The problem is that the article doesn't debunk everything they claim to debunk. First, here's the article: http://mediamatters.org/research/2013/10/01/15-myths-the-media-should-ignore-during-obamaca/196181

Now, many of those myths are indeed falsehoods, but not all of them. Let's start with Myth #7: Obamacare "Narrow Networks" Will Constrain Health Choices. They "debunk" that by quoting a NYT article which states "narrow networks make health insurance affordable to the uninsured by reducing costs due to streamlined provider networks." What? That's not debunking the myth, that's agreeing with it. Yes, narrow networks do help keep costs lower than they otherwise would be, but that actually affirms the "myth" that narrow networks will give people fewer choices.

On other myths, such as Myth #9: The Affordable Care Act Covers Abortions, neither side is really verifiable. One side says that Planned Parenthood will use the grant monies to fund abortion, but the other side quotes some talking heads making claims about future events saying, "no they won't." There's no proof on either side, so the myth can't actually be debunked.

One myth, Myth #10: The Affordable Care Act Is A Job Killer is just straight up true and they did not actually debunk it. They're claiming it's debunked because they quote some studies saying it's debunked, but they're ignoring lots of other data saying that it's actually true. Here are just a few instances from the past few weeks: http://michellemalkin.com/2013/09/15/obamacare-related-layoffs-hour-cuts-and-private-coverage-dumps-of-the-week/. Yes, that blog is biased towards the right, but it's undeniable that businesses are cutting hours and instituting hiring freezes due to the extra costs and strains of Obamacare. I've read many more instances than just the ones in that article. Now this doesn't mean that every business will be cutting hours and instituting hiring freezes, but just that some have already done so and it's affecting the economy.

Last, with regards to Myth #2: Premium Prices Will Increase Due To Health Care Law, they haven't really debunked it because they're making some unfounded assumptions. First, they quote a study done by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS Dept) claiming that premiums are "expected" to be 16% lower than predicted. This can't really be treated as "proof" because it's a prediction, not something that has happened...it's not based on observations. The only other report they quote is another study by the HHS Dept claiming "56 percent...of the people who don't have health insurance today may be able to get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace for less than $100 per month." "May be able to?" That doesn't sound very convincing.

To analyze this myth from a logical perspective, just think about how insurance works. First, Obamacare mandates certain minimum covered items in all health care plans. That means that some low-cost plans will have to cover more things than before. This means that premiums will have to go up to cover those costs. Second, Obamacare mandates there be no premium difference due to gender. So if a plan previously cost $100 for a male and $150 for a female, does it make sense for the insurer to drop the female down to $100? No, because if they could cover their costs at that level they would have done it already. Instead they'll raise both plans to $150, and premiums have gone up once again.

Now, in some markets, there will definitely be some affordable plans at the beginning, when things are just getting rolling. This is because the system hasn't really taken hold yet. Once people start getting enrolled in the system, it's fairly predictable that premiums will increase due to a phenomenon known as the "death spiral." This is a well-known phenomenon in the health insurance industry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_spiral_%28insurance%29) that will take hold in the next few years in the Obamacare exchanges. Many young, healthy people have already said they would rather go without insurance and just pay the penalty. Since sick people can no longer be denied coverage under Obamacare, this will quickly lead to spiraling costs.

So yes, in general, more people will have insurance at first, but costs will quickly increase. And government will once again have their fingers deeper into our pie. I'll be curious to watch my predictions unfold, and for once, I hope I'm wrong.

Sep 23 2012

Would You Give Up Your Wisdom for the Foolishness of God?

Before I begin, I'm going to make a statement that will seem controversial to some: the ark of the covenant has been found, but not revealed. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you may want to watch this video.

What is your initial reaction to this? Does your spirit burn within you as you watch, bearing witness to the truth you hear? Or do you discount what you hear, dismissing the "discovery" as the story of a liar?

And most of all...why?

The ease with which so many Christians discount Mr. Wyatt's archaeological discoveries continues to astonish me. Even after there is copious evidence supporting many of his discoveries (Noah's Ark, the Red Sea crossing site, the real Mount Sinai), many Christians just flat out refuse to believe.

This is just one example of the infiltration of secular humanism into Christianity. Have we become so enamored with being thought of as "reasonable" by others that we're unwilling to believe something "foolish" and "risky?"

What's the bigger risk here? The risk that one day evidence will turn up proving that we were wrong to believe? Or the risk that by holding tightly to our human wisdom, we risk God proclaiming us foolish?

"Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles...but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong..."

1 Corinthians 1:20-23,27

Do we have such a love for our own wisdom that we are unwilling to accept God's wisdom when we deem it foolish?

Jun 4 2011

An Adventure in Wilmore's Wilderness

Hilary went out with some friends tonight, so it was just me and my boys: Caspian (almost 5 yrs) and Perrin (2 yrs). The first question of an evening like this is: pizza, pizza, or pizza?

It's the beginning of the weekend, and pizza would kick things off right, so I had to evaluate our options. Hilary had the car, so we couldn't simply run out and pick up a pizza. We didn't have any crusts to make one at home, and delivery is always a last option now that most pizza places charge a delivery fee. There was one good option remaining: Hunt Brothers pizza at the local gas station.

I love Hunt Brothers pizza; the crust is delicious, the toppings are unlimited, and the price is right. But the gas station is about a mile from our house...could a five and a two year old walk there and back? I did want to wear them out so they'd go to sleep quickly, so I ended up deciding to give it a shot. Pizza and a hike? Sounds like a winning combination!

We started out walking our subdivision's sidewalks until we reached Jessamine Station Road, a country road which heads into town (over a railroad) and creates the intersection for the first of Wilmore's two stoplights. Having never walked into town on this road, I wasn't sure if there was a sidewalk over the railroad, but I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to head off the road and cross the railroad on foot. Luckily, there turned out to be a sidewalk, since the areas around the railroad bridge were completely overgrown.

It's been too long since I've truly been out in nature. Yeah, I've gone on walks down to the "creek park" with my family, but out in the wild? It's been years. The wildflowers overgrowing the sides of the bridge were my first taste of wild nature in a long time, and they were beautiful, especially the thistles. Caspian and Perrin had never seen thistles before, so they were amazed at how tall and spiky they were, but I was simply reminded of the stark beauty of a plant with such a contradictory nature (and these were some of the tallest thistles I'd ever seen: some were over eight feet tall).

After our brief wildflower stop by the railroad bridge, we continued on into town to the Clucker's Marathon where our pizza awaited us. We ate, did the potty thing, and then started back home at 9:00 so we could hopefully make it before dark. I got the leftover pizza bagged for easy carrying, grabbed my boys' hands, and headed off toward the cemetary.

We passed the cemetary coming down the hill to Clucker's, so of course Caspian was begging to get to walk back through it on our way home. Why are cemetaries so fascinating to kids? Perhaps because death is such a foreign concept to them? Caspian & Perrin didn't really understand the reverence of a cemetary, but that's ok, they've got time to get it.

As we wandered amongst the gravestones, I thought about the route we would be taking to get back home. I really didn't want to walk home the same way we came; the sidewalk on the railroad bridge was a bit narrow, and there were other ways to walk home that didn't seem all that much longer than the country road route. There is a creek that runs through Wilmore, from the north side of town, southeast past Clucker's out the east side of town, ending up not too far from our house. I wondered if we could simply follow the creek home? There was a portion of its route with which I was unfamiliar, though. The creek winds past the cemetary, across a playground, and then through a tunnel under the railroad tracks. Once it gets on the other side of the tracks, I wasn't sure what happened to it for the next thousand feet until it gets to the "creek park" which is near our house.

I was feeling adventurous! I hadn't gone hiking or trailblazing or even just wandering around the woods in years (pretty sad for an Eagle Scout, huh?), so I asked Caspian if he would like to go on an adventure, and with his enthusiastic support, we set off. First we had to get from the cemetary to the playground where the creek was most accessible. I remembered from my childhood that there used to be a shortcut out the back of the cemetary, so I took the boys through to see if it was still there. It was somewhat overgrown but still passable, so with my five year old hanging on my back, and holding the leftover pizza and my two year old in my arms, we plunged through the undergrowth for fifty feet to come out on the gravel road behind the playground.

At the playground, we dropped down into the dry creekbed and followed it across to where it meets the twenty foot high railroad track embankment. Just before disappearing into a tunnel through the embankment, the dry creekbed merges with a flowing creek, so we couldn't walk in the creekbed any longer. We waited beside the stream as a train thundered past, then followed a short trail down to the creek to see what awaited us. It was approaching dusk, and the tall trees and steep embankment on three sides cast the tunnel entrance in shadow. At this point, the creek was nice and shallow, with plenty of rocks for crossing, so with Perrin in my arms and Caspian following close behind me, I carefully crossed the creek.

As I approached the tunnel entrance, I could see that it was a sizable tunnel (a small car could easily drive through), so I pulled out my LED keychain flashlight and peered into the tunnel to see if it was passable. Somebody must continue to cross through the tunnel occasionally, because there was a meandering path of large rocks going through the tunnel to allow easy pasage over the water. The water was only a few inches deep, so even if we fell in we would only get wet, but falling in a creek—regardless of its depth—could be scary for a young kid, so we played it safe and kept to the rocks. With only a few balancing errors, we managed to pick our way through the tunnel without soaking our feet, and on the other side emerged once again in the twilight.

Now we were faced with a choice. There were woods all around, so it wasn't immediately apparent which way we should go. I knew that if we were able to continue following the creek, it would lead us to the park, but I wasn't sure if we would be able to follow it owing to the dense woods surrounding it. On our left, however, there appeared to be a path worn into the overgrowth, so I gambled on that being the better option.

Growing up in the Boy Scouts, I went on regular outings to the Red River Gorge as a boy. Of all the different hikes we went on, though, the ones I enjoyed most were when we just hiked cross-country without a trail. Crashing through the forest, making our way over mountains and around fallen trees, we were a piece of the wilderness for a weekend. I believe God created us to be a part of the natural world he created, in all its wonder and wildness, and when I'm able to spend time out there in the wild, my sense of awe grows to unspeakable proportions.

All these memories and my sense of wonder came alive again as I led my boys along the little worn path through the wilderness in Wilmore. All around was dense woods and weeds as far as we could see, so we just continued along the path, avoiding the poison ivy as best we could. I knew we were heading in the right direction, so I figured we'd come out somewhere recognizable sooner or later.

Pretty soon we came upon a clearing. As we emerged from the tall weeds into the clearing, I began marveling at how such a long stretch of wilderness could exist in the heart of a small town like Wilmore. The clearing was long and narrow, just wide enough for a large truck to fit in, with tall woods stretching out on either side. It apparently went on for quite a while, but was very directional, so we followed the clearing in the direction it was headed.

As we walked, I noticed it was getting pretty dark, so I kept up the pace and looked about for signs of light. Although I saw some streetlights a ways off through the trees, the lights I noticed the most were the fireflies. The tall woods and dense undergrowth seemed to contain and reflect their light...and there were thousands of them! As far as we could see ahead of us down the clearing, hundreds and hundreds of fireflies flashed to each other in the fading daylight. I stood for a couple minutes and simply soaked it in. It was beautiful.

Eventually, we had to keep going since it was almost dark, and after a bit longer we came to a gate at the end of the clearing. Thankfully it was standing open, so we went through the opening, and came out of the woods smack in somebody's back yard! We walked around to the sidewalk in front of their house and I took a minute to get my bearings. We were exactly where I wanted to be, just a hundred feet from the "creek park," at the entrance to the road that led most directly up the street to our house. Incredible. I had been afraid that we had overshot our street and would have to backtrack a bit, but we were right on the money.

Ten minutes later we were home, showering and getting in bed while waiting for Hilary to arrive home from her outing. Perhaps we didn't hike twenty miles across the Cumberland Ridge (as I did many times in Boy Scouts), but it was every bit as enjoyable, and I got to share God's wilderness with my boys, right here in the heart of Wilmore.

Jun 10 2009

Hospitals Don't Want to Help You, They Just Want To Make Money

I apologize for my several month absence, but we had a baby! It’s another healthy boy (that makes two of ’em), and it’s directly related to my topic today: how hospitals are really just businesses trying to maximize their profits and don’t really care about you other than that they can make money off of you.

Let me start by saying that we have a Health Savings Account (HSA), and we love it! If you don’t know what HSAs are all about, read about them at Wikipedia. Because of the deposit arrangement with my employer, the net effect is that we’ve had no out-of-pocket healthcare expenses since last July (that’s right, none—we don’t have copays). I recommend that everyone look into HSAs if their employer offers one—they’re awesome!

As a result of having an HSA, we’ve been learning what things actually cost and what doctors and hospitals are actually charging for things. We have had two all-natural births, but after watching The Business of Being Born, I was made more aware of just how serious this hospital-business problem has become. Here are some samples from the itemized insurance statements:

  • My wife’s room and board: $1700
    This is pretty outrageous, but is the most justifiable expense on the list. They could conceivably be lumping in a bunch of expenses like nurses, etc. But still…$1700 for two days and two nights? That’s like staying at the crappiest, most expensive hotel ever!
  • My newborn son’s room and board: $1400
    What!?! He was in a bassinet in our room ALL OF THE TIME except when they took his pictures and tested his hearing! And he breastfed! What in the world is this charge about!?! It's highway robbery!
  • 10-12 motrin: $150
    Are you kidding me!? Where are they buying this? Is it coated in 24 karat gold?
  • 4-6 percocet: $550
    I’m speechless. Perhaps we should take our unused percocet prescription and sell it on the street! Oh, wait…percocet is actually dirt cheap. WHAT!?!

Wow, I didn’t like hospitals before, but now I really hate them. We also had a similar experience last autumn with the emergency room. My wife stopped in because she was pregnant and was having abdominal pains, and after making her wait for hours before deciding she was perfectly all right, they charged us over $1000!

What a bunch of scum-sucking vermin.

PS. don’t even think of suggesting socialized/single-payer healthcare. Read this testimony by a Florida neurosurgeon to see why. What we need is a real, free market system unencumbered by government regulation and insurance mandates.

Mar 10 2009

Why Is Separation of Church and State Not Embraced By Christians?

As much as I love the internet, I am really annoyed by how many myths and mistruths are fostered by it. I’m not really sure where this particular myth got started, but it was probably even around before the internet age. Which myth? I’m sure you know the one: “the United States began as a Christian nation.”

Ummm, No.

That’s wrong, and no amount of believing it will make it so. Was the U.S. founded with Christian moral principles in mind? Mostly. Was the U.S. founded by people who believed in God? Yes. Was the U.S. founded by Christians? No. While a few of the founding fathers were Christians (most notably George Washington), the majority were deists.

The “age of enlightenment” was still going strong, and French enlightenment philosophy had a strong grip on the minds of our founding fathers. This meant that they wanted to found the nation on a belief in God, but they believed in not locking the entire country down to one religion, so it wasn’t The Christian God.

Thus the newborn republic was imbued with the concept of “separation of church and state” right from the start, even though that particular phrase wasn’t used at first. A country in which men were truly free had to be one where no particular religion could be favored or forced upon the people. 

A Concept Distorted

One current problem with this concept is that some people on the liberal end of the spectrum think “no religion” means “no God” and are trying to force the mention of God out of public life. This obviously wasn’t the view of the founding fathers, since they themselves believed in God but simply didn’t want to force their views on other people.

Another current problem is with conservatives reacting to the liberals’ position. Since liberals are trying to completely remove God from public life, conservatives are fighting back by trying to insert Christianity everywhere possible in public life. Now, I’m a Christian, but this is not the right way to go.

This is exactly what the founding fathers didn’t want to happen! If the current majority religion gets thrust upon everyone, whether or not they want it, then it sets a precedent for later generations. Just because Christianity is currently the majority religion doesn’t mean it will always be so. What if someday another religion gains a majority following in the U.S.? We wouldn’t want that religion thrust upon us, so why do we think we have the right to thrust our religion upon others? What happened to the golden rule?

The core problem lies in the misinterpretation of Christ’s teaching that He is the only way to get to God. While I believe this to be true, it is frequently misinterpreted, e.g., “since what I believe is true, then I have the right and obligation to show everyone else how wrong they are…and since their religion isn’t true, I won’t allow them to practice it.” While I may be disappointed that other people believe in wrong and kooky things, I will defend their right to believe them, since each person is ultimately free to make his own choices.

One last observation puts the nail in the coffin (for me, at least). Christ Himself wouldn’t want Christianity thrust upon people unwillingly! While He was on Earth, He never forced himself upon anyone, which is part of the reason He didn’t want to be involved in government. His message was (and is) all about a change of the heart, not a particular practice or group policy.

Feb 12 2009

Bottom and Middle Vertically Aligned Titles with CSS

One thing I’ve really missed since migrating to standards-based (i.e. table-less) web design is the ability to vertically align elements, such as bottom-aligning text inside a block space, so the text will stay bottom-aligned when the browser’s text size is changed. With tables, it’s easy, just add valign="bottom" and you’re done. But with CSS and semantic HTML, it’s unfortunately not that easy yet.

I have taken inspiration from reading Eric Meyer’s writings about the One True Layout, especially about performing math with CSS properties.Then I thought, “why could we not use the concept of ’CSS math’ to do other things?” So I did!

The concept is simple: use the padding and margin of two nested elements to add and subtract different units (make sure both are set to display: block;). The key here is that you have to use the padding as the number to add and use the margin as the number to subtract. If you reverse them, then your text will disappear behind the top of an element’s bounding box.

The only caveat is that this technique is dependent on the number of lines of text remaining the same (except at extremely large text sizes, at which legibility is really the only concern). Thus, it works best for situations where your titles are determined ahead of time or are guaranteed to be short. It’s not really great in situations like blog entry titles where you typically don’t know how long titles will be on future entries.

Bottom Aligned Titles

For bottom aligned titles, the first step is measuring the distance between the top of the element and where you want the baseline to fall. By measuring to the baseline of the text, we ensure that when the browser’s text size is changed, the text resizes upwards instead of downwards. In figure 1 below you will see that our sample distance is 100 pixels. Set this distance as the top padding of your block element (padding-top: 100px).

illustration of element with a top padding of 100 pixels
figure 1

Now we get to use the magic of ems for the second part. Those of you who haven’t explored the unit “em” need to do some more reading, because it’s an awesome thing. Basically, one “em” is equivalent to the current text size, and it changes whenever the text size changes. The benefit here is that we can move up our titles using “lines of text” as the unit. If your line-height is 1 em, then 1 em is your “line of text” equivalent. Thus: 1 em would be one line of text, 2 ems would be two lines of text, etc. So in the case of a single-line title, we give the inner element a top margin of -1 em (again, make sure it’s set to display: block;), as you can see in figure 2 below.

illustration of a nested element with a top margin of -1 em
figure 2

Voila! Your text is magically bottom-aligned!

Middle Aligned Titles

If you want your titles to be middle-aligned, it’s the same process, just altered slightly. First, instead of measuring the top padding to the text baseline, measure it to the middle alignment point. Then, when applying the negative top margin to the inner element, use half of the line height instead of the whole value.

It’s that easy!

Nov 25 2008

Fake Table Columns Using CSS

Anyone who's been doing the HTML side of web design for a while has most likely laid out a page using tables. Nowadays, that's frowned upon…and for good reason. But sometimes, tables are just handy! Sometimes it's difficult to do what tables can do without them. But since I'm committed to using semantic HTML as much as possible, I'm always experimenting to figure out new ways to simulate tables' behavior.

I've had some limited success in simulating tables, in limited circumstances. This is one of those circumstances. In this instance, I was wanting two columns of content (not columns for page layout, that is). The exact behavior I was wanting is to give the left column a fixed width and have the right column be as wide as necessary to fill the remaining space, as seen in figure 1.

figure 1: illustration of one fixed width column and one variable width column
figure 1

I also wanted the left column to resize if the text on the page was resized, to allow for flexibility in browser settings, and the solution turned out to be relatively simple. Simply float the left element and give it a width in ems. Then make sure the right element has “display: block;” and give it a left margin equal to the width of the left element (using ems). See figure 2 for an example. Voila! Problem solved!

figure 2: CSS for one fixed width column and one variable width column. Left column, float left, width ten ems. Right column, display block, margin left ten ems.
figure 2

I enjoy using this trick with forms. If you treat the input labels as the left elements and also give them “text-align: right;” then group the input and any other items  next to it together in an element on the right, you get a marvelously center-aligned form! (Make sure to give all the labels a width in ems that's large enough to accommodate the longest label.)

Oct 28 2008

Javascript Event Bubbling

When it comes its support for web standards, I've never thought of IE as being that bad. Yeah, it has its quirks, but it's not as bad as most people think. I've done some pretty complex layouts and I've never come across any problems with IE that are insurmountable…until now. The interesting thing is that it's not a problem with HTML or CSS support to which I'm referring, but instead a problem with its event handling.

I was trying to write a simple script to create little event popups (or popovers, as I like to call them, since they're not separate browser windows) for a grid calendar. Now, of course, I went about doing it the correct way through progressive enhancement, which involves taking an existing page and adding event handlers dynamically, without any embedded JS. This worked easily in Firefox, where I do most of my development, but when I tested it in IE 7, I just couldn't get it to work.

Here's the basic concept I was implementing: the user mouses over a link on the calendar, and that shows a little popover with detailed information. Now, that popover is actually a link being styled as a block element, so that way the entire area of the popover can easily accept mouse events. When the user's mouse leaves the calendar link that activated the popover, a timeout is set so that the popover is hidden within one second if nothing else happens. But if the user mouses over the popover, the timeout is deleted so that the popover remains visible.

I've used this technique before with great success, but for some reason it wasn't working this time. After a little testing, I figured out that the function being called by the popover wasn't receiving any reference to the popover element, which didn't make any sense, because it was receiving the reference in Firefox. After some more debugging, I discovered that the function was receiving a reference to the element initiating the mouseover event, but the problem was that the element was a span inside the link, instead of the link itself.

That made me remember research I had done a while ago on event bubbling, so I began that research anew, and came across a great article on understanding event bubbling called Event Order at Quirksmode.org. So, it turns out that since I had additional elements inside my popover link (which was handling the events for the popover), it is actually impossible in IE to discover which element was supposed to be controlling the event. Wow, that's really disturbing…why would Microsoft make an oversight like that?

So I ended up using jQuery, which is pretty cool. I had never used it before (and it has its own issues), but it did make my script shorter and somehow has its own workarounds to the IE event bubbling issue.

Event Bubbling Resources I've found useful:

Oct 1 2008

How Wide Can Printable Images Be Without “Shrink To Fit?”

Ok, so I'm doing the printable version of a webpage layout for a client. The "tarket" is older middle-aged men and this particular page is printed a lot. I started with the assumption that browsers print by default at 72 ppi unless "shrink to fit" is turned on, which is a logical assumption considering how large browsers typically print things. But then I got to thinking, "is that a valid assumption? It's been a long time since I've measured it…"

So I do some print preview screen captures in Firefox 3 and IE 7, and am plesantly surprised that they both print at higher resolutions than I thought. Unfortunately, they don't both print at the same resolution. I also tested in Firefox 3 on Mac OS X, and it's different than either Windows browser.

IE 7 seems to print at 96 ppi, which is pretty logical, but Firefox 3 only prints at 91.5 ppi…? What's that about? Mac Firefox was higher than both, but I didn't bother measuring it since I only cared if it was lower. The other bizarre thing is the default margins. They tend to be larger than I expected, around 0.6-0.8 inches on the left and right, leaving a lot less printable area than I thought based on my first screen captures.

So the result: the optimal printable width seems to be 660 pixels wide, since the lowest resolution browser (Firefox 3) seems to print 664 pixels total, but I just rounded it down. Now, most of the time this doesn't matter since a lot of people just use "shrink to fit" all of the time. But if you have a page that just has to be guaranteed to print correctly, aim for 660 pixels or narrower and you'll be golden.