Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carnival of Doom

Via Ziki Questi’s blog, I encountered Deadpool 2.0, where an abandoned carnival nestles against an insane asylum.

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The roller coaster and Ferris wheel dominate the skyline, and the entire carnival focuses on the macabre and gruesome. Ghosts haunt the buildings.

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Up a hill, past the skeleton on the ground, up the stone stairs flanked by trees in the shape of grasping hands, stands an asylum, as abandoned as the carnival.

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Inside, lights flicker, illuminating the haphazard body or the occasional lunatic. The gentleman below has “Kiss the cook” written in blood on his toque and continues to grasp his bloody butcher’s knife.

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The medical center is no cheerier, with the blood-soaked sheet over a corpse and the message “No escape” scrawled next to the gurney.

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No doubt there was much more to explore, but the wiser part of me decided this was a good time to leave, while I was still among the living.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014


While the weather people argue whether the burst of cool (for July, at any rate) temperatures should be characterized as a polar vortex, the rest of us were just enjoying the temporary break from heat and humidity. Saturday seemed as good a time as any to pay a visit to the Antietam battlefield, in central Maryland.

The Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg - the Union and Confederate sides couldn’t even agree on the name of the darn thing, a la Manassas/Bull Run), held on September 17, 1862, was the first major battle of the Civil War on Union soil, is known for being the single deadliest one-day battle in the war, with over 22,700 dead, wounded, or missing. Although the outcome of the battle was inconclusive - despite far superior number, the Union forces couldn’t destroy the Confederate forces, though the Confederates ended up withdrawing from the battlefield - President Lincoln, in the aftermath of the battle and the retreat of General Lee’s forces back to Virginia, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the conflict states.

I’m not a big military history buff, and all the tactical business of moving armies around farmland bores me. However, it was a nice day for a walk, even in such a somber place.

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Maryland memorial

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Dunker Church

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Burnside’s Bridge

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Group floating down Antietam Creek

Friday, July 18, 2014

Small Worlds

I was reading The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 7 (2013; Johnathan Strahan, ed.), minding my own business, when I came across a story called “GOOGLES (c. 1910),” by Caitlin R. Kiernan. It’s a brief, enjoyable tale of young orphans in a post-apocolyptic Steampunk world in which three children are sent to dodge packs of stray dogs in an effort to scavenge enough food for the orphanage.

Then I got to the end of the piece, where the author has a brief dedication: “For Jimmy Branagh, Myrtil Igaly, Loki Elliot, and for the New Babbage that was.” Hey, I know those people!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Exciting Lives of Victorians

As a follow-up to the post on John Ruskin and "The King of the Golden River," I ran across an article in The Scotsman newspaper on a movie coming out about Effie Gray, Ruskin's wife. The movie stars Dakota Fanning as Gray, and includes Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, and Derek Jacobi.

Ruskin reportedly wrote "The King of the Golden River" for the then 12-year-old Gray. Seven years later, when he was nearly 30, he married her, but supposedly never consummated the marriage. She modeled for the Pre-Rafaelite painter John Everett Millais and the two fell in love. She had her marriage with Ruskin annulled and she and Millais married.

The existence of the movie shows, I suppose, that the lives of eminent Victorians can still fascinate movie-makers, if not necessarily movie audiences, a century and a half after the fact - at least, if those eminent Victorians have unusual personal lives!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Oh, Immodest Ambition!

Just a few days ago, I noted that I had a new neighbor in Caledon Mayfair, with a modest two-story house and a useful windmill in the back. Here’s the photograph from that Journal entry:

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I return to my lodging not a week later, only to see the earlier property replaced by… well, a larger structure:

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(The two photographs are taken roughly 90 degrees from one another.) I suppose the upside to a large house on a small property is that there isn’t much lawn to mow.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

No Free Lunches

Well, sometimes one writes a piece knowing that it does nothing for one's popularity...

Contrary to most who have written about the Hobby Lobby decision, on all sides of the political spectrum, I don't think it's a big deal. As most Supreme Court decisions have been in the past decade or so, it's a narrowly-written piece, applying to "closely held" corporations, involving a piece of the Affordable Care Act for which there is a readily-available substitute. Indeed, the majority decision suggested (though it fell short of endorsing this view) that one possible less-restrictive alternative available was to have Hobby Lobby's insurer provide the specific forms of birth control for "free" - meaning that the cost is rolled into Hobby Lobby's premiums every year. Going forward, Hobby Lobby's employees still won't have to pay for their Plan B, and the company will still pay for the 16 forms of contraception that it's always paid for.

Despite this, so many people are in hysterics over the decision that even smart people have taken leave of their senses. Glenn Fleishman tweeted: "Corporations are people with religions who can provide men with Viagra and block women’s contraception." As that made no sense to me, I replied that this was an "absurd characterization of the case and decision." Fleishman responded with: "SCOTUS rules that women are the only gender that has sex. Men were nowhere near there at the time and have no responsibility. Hobby Lobby covers erectile dysfuntion. It does not cover (nor allow its insurers to provide) any reproductive medical help, whether for pleasure (like Viagra) or for medical necessity (cysts, etc.)." I was really confused at that point. "The only gender that has sex"? How can you construe that from what the Supremes wrote? Men have "no responsibility"? Ditto. Hobby Lobby covers "erectile dysfunction" - so what, by the way, as this has nothing to do with the religious conscious argument - but does not cover Viagra - isn't the latter a form of treatment for the former? I recommend this piece, by Charles C.W. Cooke, for a discussion of what the case was about, and why blaming the Supreme Court for the failings - intentional or unintentional - of Congress is wrong.

However, in all the nonsense written about the Hobby Lobby case, one point that I rarely see made is that the "no free lunch" dictum still applies to health care products, and no amount of mandating on the part of the government can change economic fundamentals of employers. An employee's compensation is salary plus benefits and her cost to the employer is compansation plus other costs (training, a desk and computer, cost of office space). In a competitive market, firms must pay the market rate of compensation to induce employees to come to work, and the value of that work must exceed the cost to the employer before the job is created. Even before the ACA, salary and benefits were substitutes: a firm that offers, say, health insurance benefits needn't pay as high a salary. If it weren't for the tax benefits to employers of firm-provided health insurance (which, at the corporate tax rate of 35%, allows firms to pay 65 cents for every dollar of insurance they provide employees), no rational firm would provide health insurance. Instead, firms would offer higher salaries and let employees purchase their own amount of insurance.

The ACA changes things only in as much as firms that provide health insurance are now obligated to include in the policies coverage over things, such as contraception, that were not previously an obligation. But there's no free lunch: if the average employee uses $100 per year of insurer-provided contraception, that's $100 that's comes out of the employee's salary; see the previous paragraph. Some employees are better off under the ACA - those who use more than the average amount of health care - while some are worse off. But the idea that the ACA causes firms to provide free contraception is nonsense. All it does is shift hide the cost from employees, and to create some weird cross-subsidies (men and post-menopausal women subsidize contraception, while women and, er, functioning men subsidize Viagra). The ACA doesn’t - because it can’t - create something out of nothing.