The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Thursday afternoon round-up

A lot has happened in the past day or so:

Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!

Theft of the commons

Writer Eula Biss essays on the disappearance of common grazing lands through enclosure laws as part of a larger pattern of class struggle (and no, she's not a Marxist):

In the time before enclosure, shared pastures where landless villagers could graze their animals were common. Laxton [England] had two, the Town Moor Common and the much larger Westwood Common, which together supported a hundred and four rights to common use, with each of these rights attached to a cottage or a toft of land in the village. In Laxton, the commons were a resource reserved for those with the least: both the commons and the open fields were owned by the lord of the manor, and only villagers with little more than a cottage held rights to the commons.

As a visitor from the age of private property, it seems remarkable to me that commoners held rights to land they did not own or rent, but, at the time, it was commonplace. In addition to common pasture, commoners were granted rights of pannage, of turbary, of estovers, and of piscary—rights to run their pigs in the woods, to cut peat for fuel, to gather wood from the forests, and to fish. These were rights to subsistence, rights to live on what they could glean from the land. In the course of enclosure, as written law superseded customary law, commoners lost those rights. Parliament made property rights absolute, and the traditional practice of living off the land was redefined as theft. Gleaning became trespassing, and fishing became poaching. Commoners who continued to common were now criminals.

The story of enclosure is sometimes told as a deal, or a transaction, in which landowners traded away their traditional relationship with the landless in exchange for greater independence. By releasing themselves from their social obligations to provide for the poor, they gained the freedom to farm for profit. And this freedom, or so the story goes, is what allowed the increased efficiencies that we call the agricultural revolution. Commoners lost, in the bargain, the freedom once afforded to them by self-sufficiency. Dispossessed of land, they were now bound to wages.

The landowners who promoted enclosure promised “improvement,” and “improvement” is still the word favored by some historians. But we should be wary of the promotional language of the past. Leaving the commons to the commoners, one eighteenth-century advocate of enclosure argued, would be like leaving North America to the Native Americans. It would be a waste, he meant. Imagine, he suggested, allowing the natives to exercise their ancient rights and to continue to occupy the land—they would do nothing more with it than what they were already doing, and they would not “improve” it. Improvement meant turning the land to profit. Enclosure wasn’t robbery, according to this logic, because the commoners made no profit off the commons, and thus had nothing worth taking.

The whole essay is worth a read.

Do not do these things, UK edition

Two surprising stories out of the UK involving public figures who behaved badly and got caught. First, former tennis star Boris Becker will spend 30 months in jail for hiding assets from the UK bankruptcy court:

The former tennis star had faced a jail sentence of up to 28 years under the Insolvency Act. He was found guilty of four charges by a jury at Southwark crown court earlier this month but acquitted of further 20 counts relating to his 2017 bankruptcy.

Once nicknamed Britain’s favourite German – the 54-year-old once joked he was “top of a short list” – the six-time grand slam winner was worth about £38m in his heyday in prize money and sponsorship deals.

Also today, Conservative MP Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Devonshire) turned himself in to the Commons standards committee after admitting he watched pornography in the House of Commons:

Rumours about the identity of the MP had been rife in Westminster since it emerged earlier this week that a female Conservative minister had reported seeing a colleague watching pornography on his phone in the Commons – an account corroborated by another MP.

Before Parish’s name emerged, several Conservative MPs, including Nickie Aiken and Simon Hoare, had called on the unnamed MP accused of watching pornography to resign, rather than risk others being wrongly named.

Guys, what the hell. Just don't.

Not quite back to normal yet

We had two incredible performances of Bach's Johannespassion this weekend. (Update: we got a great review!) It's a notoriously difficult work that Bach wrote for his small, amateur church chorus in Leipzig the year he started working there. I can only imagine what rehearsals were like in 1724. I'm also grateful that we didn't include the traditional 90-minute sermon between the 39-minute first part and the 70-minute second part, and that we didn't conclude the work with the equally-traditional pogrom against the Jews of Leipzig.

It's still a magnificent work of music.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:

Finally, Rachel Feltman lists five myths about Daylight Saving Time. Our annual tradition of questioning it without changing anything will continue, of course.

And it's about 16°C outside, so it's time to take Cassie on her third half-hour walk of the day.

Still the top news story

My friend in Kyiv posted on Facebook an hour ago about how many parking spaces are available in her neighborhood. She also couldn't figure out for a few seconds why there was a pillow in her bathtub this morning. So things could be better over there.

How much better could it be?

Meanwhile...

Maybe in my lifetime we'll have peace in Eastern Europe and a transit system in Chicago as good as any in Europe 20 years ago. I'm not sure which is more likely.

Welsh government retracts advice about tenors

It turns out, tenors don't actually spread Covid more readily than the other three sections, despite what you may have heard from the Welsh Government:

The advice appears to have been motivated by a spoof social media news post, created by meme page Quire Memes to appear as if written by us here at Classic FM. A doctored headline claimed that ‘Tenors should sit three metres away from other choir members, COVID study says’.

The post, which is categorically fake news, is captioned: “Tenors found to disperse aerosols the furthest, in this in-depth coronavirus study.”

A government spokesperson denied that the advice was based on a spoof post, but said they “apologise unreservedly for this error and for any confusion it may have caused”.

Professional tenor and choral director Charles MacDougall told The Telegraph it was “preposterous” that the Welsh government appeared to have based their official guidance on a meme.

Believe me, tenors have enough problems without being blamed for spreading this particular disease. Gonorrhea, however...

Monday, Monday

The snow has finally stopped for, we think, a couple of days, and the city has cleared most of the streets already. (Thank you, Mike Bilandic.) What else happened today?

Finally, Weber Grills apologized today for its really unfortunate timing last week, when it emailed thousands of customers a recipe for BBQ meat loaf—on the day singer Meat Loaf died.

The line Boris Johnson crossed

Boris Johnson attending a holiday party the night before Prince Philip's funeral outraged the UK because no one hates anything more than moral hypocrisy:

Moral hypocrisy — behaving badly while simultaneously hectoring the rest of us to do good — evokes a level of anger that neither lying nor wrongdoing bring out on their own, studies have repeatedly found.

Mr. Johnson’s real sin, in this telling, was pushing Britons to go without for the common good, all while his office held events that violated this spirit of shared sacrifice and, by risking viral spread, undermined its effect.

As if to underscore the backlash that such transgressions can bring, the tennis star Novak Djokovic simultaneously faces, after his own long record of controversies never quite catching up with him, severe professional damage over accusations that he fabricated or obfuscated in his application for an exemption to Australia’s Covid vaccination requirement.

The incident has become a flashpoint in global debates over vaccine rules. But it has also inspired fierce anger perhaps in part because, like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Djokovic was seeking to benefit from society’s compliance with those rules, which made Australia safe enough to hold the tournament in which he was scheduled to play. And he has done it while bending or breaking those same rules to satisfy his own desires to avoid the vaccine and travel freely.

They're both reprehensible people. I'm glad they finally got people to understand that to the point where their careers will suffer.

Is the Covid test plan a stealth argument for single-payer? One can dream

New Republic Natalie Shure points out the absolute, crashing idiocy of getting private health insurance companies involved in procuring free Covid testing, because their whole reason for being is to prevent the efficient procurement of health care:

This rollout will be a disaster. And really, that should have been obvious: There’s a reason that the Covid-19 vaccines, monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral drugs have been made free at the point of use, rather than routed through private insurers. It’s because the insurance industry is structurally incapable of achieving anything universally or efficiently.

That’s not hyperbole, it is by design: The role of private insurers within a for-profit multi-payer system is to restrict access as a gatekeeper, determining who is entitled to use which healthcare services and how much they pay for this. To keep these obligations profitable, they employ an army of claims assessors to argue with you, erect arbitrary hoops for providers and patients to jump through to prove you actually need certain care, raise copays and deductibles as high as possible, and foist as much of the paperwork as possible onto patients.

Insurance companies play the single ghastliest role in a legendarily ghastly healthcare system: Whatever invective you can hurl in Big Pharma’s direction, they at least produce something we actually need. Health insurers offer no value whatsoever; they have nothing to do with care itself and if the industry vaporized completely tomorrow, no one would mourn its demise—we’d all be better off. We’re maddeningly stuck with them for now, owing to a host of reasons ranging from inertia to political capture by industry.

[T]his is an object lesson: We’re in the hands of an industry that was never built to serve patients, a problem which no regulatory tweak will ever fix.

Yes, this is true. I learned that early in my career, leading to a long-standing policy of never working for a health insurer in any capacity.

Let me catalog some of my own experiences when big health-insurance companies have claimed to pay me to write software:

  • The first time, a major health-insurance company hired me to write software using a then-current technology, but the project wasn't ready to start, so they involuntarily put me on a team working with obsolete technology and a process so stultifying I didn't actually get to write code. I literally picked up my signing bonus on the way to several interviews in New York, and quit the day I got back. The entire division got dissolved about a year later.
  • Well into my professional career, I went to another major health-insurance company along with 8 other developers and managers, but under the aegis of a moderately-big consulting firm. The on-site project cost the client of about $150,000 per week. Of course, they couldn't get us network access or even a project charter. After about a month and about $750,000 spent, the company cancelled the project. I never even found out what software they proposed to build, had they gone through with, you know, building it.
  • More recently, a major health-insurance company hired me through a recently-acquired subsidiary as the 6th member of a team writing software in a language less than 3% of software developers ever use. I only took the gig because the subsidiary claimed a level of autonomy from the parent company it did not, in fact, enjoy. It occurred to me less than a week after starting that if the product we were building worked, it would undermine one of the key revenue streams of the parent company. Nevertheless, they hired a new developer to the team about every three weeks (despite an admitted 6-month ramp-up time in the language and product), at an average all-in cost of $18,000 per month per developer. I left after three months, as the team grew past 12 people and yet only completed about 5 function points a week.
    The parent company killed not only the project but also the entire acquired company about two years later. The software never shipped, though I did hear they had completed about half of the planned function points.
    On my way out the door I asked my manager what it said to him that the parent company didn't care about burning $200,000 a month on software that he and I both knew a couple of us could build in a garage in four months. He didn't say anything, but Upton Sinclair did*.

You may not see the connection between these failures, or why I jumped ship so quickly the third time, but it's actually really simple. In all three cases, the companies needed to show their shareholders ongoing investments in technology, and needed to show the general public plans for really great tools to make people's lives better any day now. But the best way any of these companies could have made anyone's lives better would be for the US government to obviate their health divisions by paying for our health care directly.

According to the World Bank, the US spends 17% of GDP on health care, behind only Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands (combined populations: 72,000). The first OECD countries on the list are Switzerland (11.9%), Germany (11.4%), and France (11.3%), all of which have vastly better outcomes than the US. How do they achieve this? By not having fat, bloody leeches draining their health spending on useless bullshit. Example: the National Institutes of Health found in a 2020 study that a staggering 34.2% of health-care expenditures in the US went into administration, compared with just 17% in Canada—and Canada has better health-care outcomes overall than we do.

Shure ends her column with an inescapable truth:

[I]t’s pretty telling that the very moment a life-threatening pandemic necessitated mass vaccination, the idea of involving private health insurance companies with that project was absolutely unthinkable. Who in their right mind would attempt to involve them in something urgent? And if they’re such a dismal way to confer access to Covid-19 testing to anyone who needs it, why the hell are they still playing the role they do in the healthcare system writ large?

Let's end this farce and get real single-payer health care in the US, so we can finally enter the 21st century with the rest of the OECD.

* "It is difficult to get a man to understand a thing when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

Backlog

I just started Sprint 52 in my day job, after working right up to the last possible minute yesterday to (unsuccessfully) finish one more story before ending Sprint 51. Then I went to a 3-hour movie that you absolutely must see.

Consequently a few things have backed up over at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters.

Before I get into that, take a look at this:

That 17.1°C reading at IDTWHQ comes in a shade lower than the official reading at O'Hare of 17.8°, which ties the record high maximum set in 1971. The forecast says it'll hang out here for a few hours before gale-force winds drive the temperature down to more seasonal levels overnight. I've even opened a few windows.

So what else is new?

So what really is new?

But Sprint 52 at my office, that's incredibly new, and I must go back to it.