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Charity, coordination, and medical care

March 1, 2015

A former Arizona deputy sheriff who worked hard against Obamacare and has since refused to sign up for health insurance is now facing financial devastation because he and his spouse have suffered some serious medical problems. He has a GoFundMe campaign to solicit donations. The right wing long has argued that such private charity is how this common problem should be handled.

There are many reasons this kind of charitable effort is a horrible mechanism to handle medical care. 1) Donors cannot know when, in aggregate, they have given enough, too little, or too much. They are moved to give when a specific problem comes to their attention. By which time, it may be too little too late, oversubscribed, or no longer relevant. Sites like GoFundMe are a partial attempt to resolve this coordination problem, and likely work for specific, well-defined projects. Perhaps someone will follow the sheriff’s plight to see how well that works for ongoing medical need. 2) Recipients have to coordinate money coming in with medical needs that are unpredictable, and bills that may seem almost as unpredictable. Recipients who receive more funds than they need for their immediate problem, or whose anticipated expense turns out to be less because a proposed treatment becomes unavailable or isn’t chosen, are left with the issue of dealing with excess funds. 3) Charity campaigns have proven easy venue for con artists, both overt criminals who create a cause from thin air, and the more gray practice of simply spending much more on running the charity than its end purpose. Anyone who thinks Medicare is fraught with waste should look at private charity! I suspect the cause above is honest. But donors generally face a huge problem distinguishing effective charity from conjured, and large overhead to investigate that before making a modest donation. 4) These campaigns favor recipients who have strong social networks, compelling stories, and ability to attract attention. There are many more people with medical needs just as great and just as worthy who never will be able to get their story in front of donors.

There are plenty of areas where private charity makes sense. But for the common problem that any of us might be struck by horribly expensive medical exigency? It is a lousy solution. I hope the couple who are subject of this news story relent and sign up for medical insurance next year. Now that they are able to do so despite their pre-existing conditions.

Designer babies

February 27, 2015

Researchers from Cambridge University and the Wiezmann Institute have created germ cells from skin stem cells. (Cite.) This will be a large step for infertility treatment, possibly providing the first practical method for biological reproduction that doesn’t depend on getting germ cells from the prospective parents. A woman who has lost her ovaries or a man who has lost his testes still could become a genetic parent.

Of course, what has social conservatives’ heads spinning is that a same sex couple could become the genetic parents of a child. They had best develop limber necks — we’re still at the start of a long and rapidly accelerating course.

Samoa, American or not?

February 24, 2015

American Samoa is the only US territory whose native-born residents are not thereby American citizens. A group of Samoans is suing the US government to change that, on 14th amendment grounds. Not all Samoans welcome coming under Constitutional purview, since many of their local laws distinguish those with Samoan ancestry from those without. (Hat tip to Michael Homsany.)

Technology advances

February 24, 2015

We are in the early days of biotech, still unraveling some of the basis mechanics of how our genome works. And it is exciting.

We are in the late days of current CPU architecture. So it’s nice that we figure out better pipelines, but not nearly as exciting.

Cities and scaling

February 23, 2015

Ancient cities scale in the same way as modern ones. My own suspicion is that human interaction in two-dimensional space determine the logic of this. Because of sky scrapers, we may think of modern cities as three-dimensional. But they really aren’t. Travel occurs only at a couple of levels. I wonder if anyone has studied the scaling differences between cities that heavily depend on a subway system to relieve its surface streets, like New York, and cities more dependent on one level of transport.

Rabbits also fit themselves into urban architecture.

Misunderstanding religion

February 22, 2015

Both Obama and many on the right wing make the same mistake with regard to Islam, and perhaps with regard to all religions: they want to view each religion as having some innate character. So Obama claims that ISIS is not Islamic, when it very clearly is, as Graeme Wood’s much discussed report makes clear. Many on the right move from the fact that ISIS is Islamic to the notion that it characterizes what is truly Islamic. Both Obama’s attempt to cleave ISIS from Islam and the right’s attempt to view ISIS as the apotheosis of Islam assume that there is some true Islam that ISIS either fits or fails to fit.

In fact, religions are continually reinvented by their adherents. Modern Christianity is not the same as the Christianity of the middle ages, nor the same as early Christianity. Brand new theologies and practices and interpretations of things past have been invented. Institutions have changed. And variation across culture changes how religion itself is viewed and practiced. The same is true with Judaism and Islam and every religion that has much history. Many modern believers may not recognize that. Especially fundamentalist ones who wrongly think they are restoring something old even as they create something new. ISIS falls in that category. Religious believers are never so blinded by myth as in their own understanding of what is involved in their practice and creation of religion. Razib Khan has a good post on that.

Oklahomans want history?

February 20, 2015

Not really. The legislators there still want to rewrite the past. But parents want their kids to go to college, and protests may have saved AP history classes. This round.


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