Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why Rite-Aid is the best deal in town

125px-Rite_Aid.svgLast year, Anthem and Walgreen’s got into a fistfight over prescription drug coverage. While the elephants were fighting, this blade of grass I surfed his prescription needs over to the Rite-Aid pharmacy across the road.

A few months later, Anthem and Walgreen’s patched up their differences, but I never went back. Not only is Rite-Aid a whole lot less crowded and rushed than Walgreen’s, but their staff are a whole lot friendlier. To top it off, they  have a loyalty program the likes of which I have never seen. Simply put, they give you $10 to spend (in the form of credits are loaded into your Wellness+ loyalty card) in the store for every prescription they fill.

There are, of course, exceptions: the you cannot use the credits to buy alcohol, gift cards or prescription drugs, but you can buy most anything else; coffee, tissues, moisturizer, cleaning and washing products. Their prices are generally far from the best – though frequent fliers like me get up to 20% off – and in any case, you can’t argue with free.

So… once or twice a month, I wander into my local Rite-Aid, putting things into my basket and carefully totting up the prices so I buy just over $10 worth of goods. At the check-out, $10 is deducted, and I end up usually paying pocket-change for a bagful of goodies. I call it “Klingon Full-Contact Combat Shopping”: The staff know me there, and are in awe of my prowess.

Today, after all, is a good day to shop.

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Affordable?

Or: The Affordable Care Act, and other Fairytales

I just completed yearly Health Insurance enrollment through my employer. Last year we had three options: HMO, PPO and a High-Deductible Healthcare Plan (HDHP) with a Health Savings Account (HSA). At the time, I went with PPO. This year, they dropped the first two options and left us with the third. They say that this was due to overall cost increases of the other two plans, and had nothing to do with Obamacare. I find this hard to believe, mostly because none of us saw this coming.

  2012 2013
Premium (PPO vs HDHP)  $        4,130  $        2,694
FSA vs HAS  $        2,500  $        6,000
Total  $        6,630  $        8,694

So assuming that next year will be the same as this, healthcare will cost me about 31% more. Gee, thanks Mister President.

This leads to my principal objections to this piece of legislation – the fact that it makes nothing affordable. I am far from alone in this. Everyone I have spoken to, without exception, will be paying significantly more in 2014 than they did in 2013. I have yet to meet anyone who is better off under the ACA.

This is hardly surprising: After all, the ACA mandates that Insurance companies provide more services than they did before. Many of these “features” are hard to dislike, such as:

  • Making it impossible for an insurer to deny/terminate coverage due to”pre-existing conditions”
  • Removing yearly/lifetime insurance caps
  • Free* Birth Control

There are other “improvements”, such as Free* Abortifactants (“morning after” pills) – that are contentious issues (no Dorothy, recreational sex without the fear of pregnancy is *not* a basic human right, however strongly you may “feel” about it). But whatever way you slice it, the cumulative effect of all of these changes will be to raise the overall cost of healthcare, which begs the question “How is this affordable?

“But Wait, There’s more!” Says ObamaCare. “You will have more choices!” And there are savings, to be had! Not so fast… since I have a good job, I get *nothing* from the government; No help, no discount, nothing. And the options available on the exchanges are very expensive ($680/month and up).

It’s beginning to look a lot like “You on you own, foo!”

But the ACA story does not end there. The worst part is the arrogance and hubris of assuming that the free market can be bound by legislation like this without any adverse consequences. They seem to have forgotten some basic principles:

  • Adding more bureaucracy to any process makes it less efficient and more expensive.
  • You cannot force private business to operate at a loss.
  • You cannot force Doctors to do business with you on *your* terms.
  • You cannot force young, healthy people to buy health insurance that they don’t need.
  • You cannot force employers to pay more than they are willing for employee health insurance.

Most of us know people who have had their working hours cut to the point where their employers no longer have to offer Health Insurance. Some have lost their jobs entirely. Before blaming the “Eeeevil capitalistic employers”, ask yourself why they are doing this. To put it bluntly, this legislation made Health Insurance too expensive for them — and unlike the Federal Government, they can’t just print money and spend their way out of trouble.

Just as The Internet and Osama Bin Laden are President Clinton’s legacies, and the War On Terror is George Bush’s, ObamaCare will be the enduring legacy of this president. His fortunes, and that of the Democrats who rammed it through over the repeated objections of the Republicans, will be indelibly tied to this initiative. If it works, it will be their greatest shining moment since the New Deal. If it fails, it sill be a millstone around their collective necks for years to come – if not decades.

I believe it will fail. Here’s why: Healthcare is not a human right, and it is not a Governmental duty (one possible exception: chronic disease and serious disability). I know whereof I speak – I know *exactly*what Socialized Healthcare looks like; Britain’s National Health Service is inefficient, top-heavy, strained to breaking point, dangerously incompetent, and expensive enough to bankrupt the national economy of a first-world nation.

The only reason that it works at all is that the Government trains and employs the doctors – and we are trying to do it with doctors who trained themselves at their own considerable investment in time and money. It takes fifteen years and about a million dollars to train a doc. Force them to do business at a loss and they will walk – and then we will complain that there is a “Doctor shortage” and try to fix it by passing new laws.

Good luck with that.

Going Dark

Or: I have nothing to hide, but I’m hiding it anyway

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” – The 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The recent revelations that the US Government has been spying on its citizens has come as no surprise to me. As a technologist, I am familiar with what is possible and what is not. And the Snowden revelations have not only proven that the tinfoil-hat mob were right all along, but the extent to which they were correct surpassed even their wildest ravings.

The intelligence community have a hard job; to keep America safe from enemies foreign and domestic. Giving them the resources to store and search through Internet communications is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is the lack of due accountability.

What pushed me to this point, however, was the saga of Ladar Levison of LavaBit, a Texas-based company that supplied secure-e-mail to its clients. Over the years, the FBI have presented warrants to obtain data on individual clients, and LavaBit has always complied. This is right and reasonable. But earlier this year, they demanded that LavaBit hand over their SSL keys – the same technology that banks use to safeguard out transactions online. This allows them to eavesdrop on all of LavaBit’s clients, whether under active investigation or not. After being compelled by a secret court to turn over the keys and legally bound to not tell anyone that he had done so. Ladar found himself in a dilemma; the service that he was selling to his clients was secrecy, but with the SSL keys in the hands of the government, he could no longer deliver on this promise. So he closed down the company – an act that has gotten him into even more trouble.

I have no problem with targeted surveillance; I appreciate that we need this for national security. What I have a problem with, however, is blanket surveillance – the collection of all information in case it is needed some day. There are three reasons for this:

  1. It’s impossible to build an Internet where the good guys can eavesdrop, and the bad guys cannot“. (Bruce Scheneier)
  2. It is obvious to me that “Search and seizure” occurs when the data (in this case) is collected – not when it is subsequently inspected. So collecting information and then requiring a warrant to query it is clearly wrong by this test.
  3. Since the average person commits three felonies a day, the collection of pervasive data is a boon to prosecutors, who can go back through our online histories and find evidence to charge us with any of a number of crimes and use that to pressure a person into “copping a plea” on a lesser charge.

The only check on “infinite surveillance” is the time-honored search warrant, issued by an independent court that requires a burden of proof or reasonable suspicion. In response, recent laws have established secret courts that issues warrants to search records. But the security community seem to think that this is too much to ask for. That they should have the right to search what they want, where they want, without limitation — and without having to ask for a judge for a warrant.

I have no problem with wiretapping. But I have a big problem with warrantless wiretapping.

The final straw was when the Director of National Intelligence told Congress that they were not spying on the American people. When the Snowden revelations put the lie to this, his excuse was “I forgot about section 215 of the Patriot Act“.  To add insult to injury, he got to keep his job. I doubt that such an excuse would serve to keep any of the rest of us out of jail.

It has become clear to me that the intelligence community has no respect for the same Constitution that the President and I – along with all of our men and women in uniform – swore to uphold and defend.

And so I have made the reluctant decision to encrypt my communications as a matter of policy wherever possible. Not because I have anything to hide, but because I believe that the too many of our rights have already been taken from us, and peaceful protest is the only course of action left open to me.

But what do you have to hide?” some of you may ask with a sneer. That’s not the point. But I will answer that with a question of my own: “Do you want a surveillance webcam installed in your bathroom/shower/bedroom?” I don’t think so. Contrary to popular belief — and a wrong-headed and stupid Supreme Court ruling, we *do* have a right to privacy; the only point of argument is where we choose to draw the line. My answer is simple: “I have nothing to hide from those whom I trust”.

I am not your enemy. And I shall prove this to you – just bring me a warrant.

Marriage 1.0, Marriage 2.0, and the D-word

A more serious post than usual today. While doing a little research about Divorce (specifically who files – answer, mostly women), I stumbled across this post. Sadly the article left no room for comments, so I am making mine here.

As I read through the article I started to get a sinking feeling. By the time I reached the end I was annoyed and disgusted; partly at how wrong I felt they were, but mostly at what marriage has become in over the past couple of decades.

Let’s start with the initial complaints:

  • “I hurt all the time because I feel alone and abandoned.”
  • “My husband is no longer my friend.”
  • “The only time he pays attention to me is when he wants sex.”
  • “He is never there for me when I need him the most.”
  • “When he hurts my feelings he doesn’t apologize.”
  • “He lives his life as if we weren’t married; he rarely considers me.”
  • “We’re like ships passing in the night, he goes his way and I go mine.”
  • “My husband has become a stranger to me, I don’t even know who he is anymore.”
  • “He doesn’t show any interest in me or what I do.”

As I read these complaints, the words “Chick Flick” leaped unbidden into my mind.The article goes on:

“Women tend to be more concerned about their marriages than men. They buy most of the books on marriage to try to improve them and initiate most marriage counseling. They often complain about their marriages to their closest friends and sometimes to anyone who will listen. And they also file for divorce twice as often as men.”

Complain to whom? Most of the complaining that women do is with other women, where the emphasis is on sympathy (“Oooh you poor dear…”) which creates and reinforces a victim mentality, rather than solutions (“What you need to do is…”), which admits the possibility that she may actually be (shock horror) part of the problem. I have heard several men admit that a divorce was their fault, but I have yet to hear a woman make that admission.

I have come to accept as axiomatic that women strive for perfection and men strive for sufficiency. To a man the marriage is either working or it isn’t – “tune-ups” are for cars. And if it’s working, “improving” it may or may not be worth the effort involved. So when she says: “We can do better“, he is thinking “Why? What’s in it for me?” This leads me to Blindingly Obvious Fact #1: Offer a man a night of mind-blowing sex and he will do almost anything. Offer him admiration and adoration and he will make extraordinary efforts on your behalf. Offer him bad moods and silent glares and he will simply leave the room – which will probably drive you nuts.

But most women apparently do not consider or even attempt to understand this, presumably because it does not fit into their preconceived ideas of how the universe should work. Counselors encourage them to couch their complaints in terms like “It hurts me when you…” “I don’t like it when you say…” This is emotional blackmail. I have never heard a woman say “When you do this, it makes me want to <something pleasant>” – while I suspect that more than one girlfriend has used such terms, wives seem to think that an all-stick-and-no-carrot approach is unacceptable. This is like trying to train a dog with beatings instead of treats; they are trying to push a rope.

As a scientist, when a system no longer works correctly, I ask one simple question: What Changed? Most couples get married with the best of intentions, but something happens along the way. An old saying comes to mind:

“A woman marries a man hoping that he will change – and he doesn’t.
A man marries a woman hoping that she won’t change – and she does.”

So what changes are we talking about here? Three come to mind:

  1. Children and other distractions: When children come along, her focus changes. The center of her world switches from her husband to her newborn child, and he is expected to support her. This is both right and proper – temporarily. But at some point he needs to resume his place as the undisputed master of the house. Dad needs to be in charge – and children need to see this. Too many women make the mistake of putting their children first at the expense of their husband. Blindingly Obvious Fact #2: He is the Captain. You are the First Officer. His job is to lead. Your job is to help. I can almost hear women yowling at this one. Does this mean he is always right? No, it means he has authority – which he delegates to you – and is always responsible. Too many women seem to want authority without responsibility , which is immature and childish.
  2. Henpecked Husband syndrome: There’s the old wedding-toast joke about the bride walking into the church. She looks up the aisle to the altar and sees a hymn book. And then it hits her: AISLE. ALTAR. HYMN! The sad fact is that too many men have been beaten into submission over the years by their women. Blindingly Obvious Fact #3: Undermine his leadership enough, and he will abdicate leadership. Permanently. And then you will complain to your (female) friends that “He’s not the man I married”. Well, duh!
  3. Female changeability and general hormone stuff: Women are unpredictable. This is a given, particularly in young women. Men, not so much. Part of his job is to be the tree that withstands her gales, the granite cliff that is utterly unmoved by her storms – and when the tempest has passed, he is still standing, invincible and indomitable. Blindingly Obvious Fact #4: Most women want a servant, but they crave a master. Not a master-slave relationship, but a masterful man who sweeps them off their feet and doesn’t beg, grovel, or ask permission for a kiss. Your hormones change, his don’t – and sometimes he will have to tell you when you are behaving like a nutjob. Understanding this truth is key.

Perhaps the most objectionable part of the piece came later, when they talk about a man’s life being like a house with many rooms, and how a woman should be invited into all of the rooms in order for her to feel emotionally connected to him. I call shenanigans on this. In their real-world analogs, the woman typically, “owns” the kitchen, the bathrooms (most of the objects in a typical bathroom cannot be identified by the average man), the bedrooms… and most of the house. If he is lucky, the “lord of the house” gets a “Den” or a “Man-Cave” – a Fortress of Solitude where he goes to be alone and unmolested… and where women are discouraged, if not disallowed. Yes, folks, men need their space too – so quit rummaging through his closets. If “a girl’s gotta have her secrets”, so has her guy.

Most women have no interest in sports, fishing, carpentry or auto-maintenance, or whatever the man’s hobby or passion happens to be, which is as it should be. Which dovetails neatly into Blindingly Obvious Fact #5: A man’s mind is a scary place, full of sex, food, conflict and problem-solving. Here be Dragons, and a woman ventures into that place at her peril. Sometimes the best answer to “What are you thinking?” is “You don’t want to know” (hint: it’s probably sexual). This is not to say that a man shouldn’t share his heart, but he should do so sparingly and from a position of strength, as too many shows of weakness will lower her self-respect for him.

There are two biblical precedents behind this. The first is in Genesis 3:16 (“the other 3:16”), where God curses Eve with the words: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee“. The phrasing here always mystified me, until I found out that the word we translate as “Desire” is found in only one other place, Genesis 4:7 “…sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him”. This is a desire for dominance – for power and control. This leads to Blindingly Obvious Fact #6: You can’t have it both ways – you don’t get to grab the wheel whenever it is convenient, and then expect him to “man up” and take the wheel once the car is in the ditch.

The second precedent is perhaps one of the most oft-misquoted passages in the bible. Ephesians Chapter 5: “Wives, submit to your husbands… husbands love your wives…”. Too many preachers go to extremes over this one, either preaching the first part without the second, or misquoting the second to turn men into “sacrificing servants” – in other words, compliant wimps.

So now we come to the end of our little journey. Many women who have managed to get this far without their heads exploding in a fit of apoplexy will probably have dismissed this screed as the random ramblings of a sad, lonely individual living in his parents’ basement. And you would be spectacularly wrong: I am happily married to the most wonderful woman I know for over a quarter of a century, and fully expect to be so unto death. Both of us wants to die first for the same reason. Perhaps, if we’re really lucky, we’ll go out together – we’ll be the ones holding hands and yelling “Woo-hoo!!” as the plane goes down or the bombs start falling.

But we got married in a different age, in a different culture. We were young, innocent and stupid, but we grew up together and now we are old(er), battle-scarred… and still kinda stupid. But we got into this with the implicit understanding that the only way out was in a box, and it has turned out better than either of us could have hoped – we were the lucky ones.

Modern marriage – “Marriage 2.0” – is a different beast entirely, with overly high media-induced expectations (I m convinced that most young women want to be a bride, but few want to be a wife). Thanks to “no-fault divorce”, there are too many easy ways out (“He doesn’t do it for me anymore” and “I can do better” are acceptable excuses to leave, “she’s a wackjob”, not so much). With and a strong possibility of divorce-rape (biased family courts awarding everything to the wife), can it really be that much of a surprise that “he won’t commit”? I feel truly sorry for today’s young people.

Oh, and my parents’ basement is six thousand miles away. I believe that’s Game, Set and Match.

I welcome your opinions and feedback… if you have been married for more than fifteen years.

Reboot

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’ve been doing a lot of reading.

I rebooted my phone last night. This would not be noteworthy, except that right before the reboot I checked the status screen.

Up Time

That’s right, it has been up and running for 51 days.

Can your iPhone do that?