Things that go Bump…

I see on the news, and read on here regularly, about people’s elected representatives coming out with a line of utter nonsense. For example, a recurring theme on WP is the very serious subject of gun control. And yet, these people, wherever they may be, are elected. So, I’m left wondering, are people just dumb?

Funnily enough, as it is Wednesday, Fandango has just published this week’s provocative question. There are a few frills this week, but he is basically asking the question: do you believe in ghosts? And he notes that according to a YouGov poll, 45% of Americans believe in ghosts. 45% also believe in demons, while 46% believe in other supernatural beings.

Funny, that first paragraph came to me in a blinding flash, and I cannot now think of the link between it, and Fandango’s question 🙄.

But I shall pay the guy the courtesy of answering his question. If you hadn’t already guessed, no, I don’t believe in ghosts. I’m afraid I couldn’t even tell you the difference between a ghost and a demon. As for other supernatural beings, I’m gonna have to dig out my copy of Ghostbusters, to even be able to name what they are.

What I do think, however, is that there are things out there that we don’t understand. In fact, there is a kind of pathway along our understanding of things, and we’re barely a step along it.

Plenty of examples. Think back to medieval times. We might gasp in awe at that spooky green flame, but today,as every schoolchild knows (should know 🙂) that there’s just some copper in there. Or (and I remember the line from Highlander, so it must be true) whether stars were just pin-pricks in the curtain of night.

Indeed, cosmology is a good example. Compare what we once thought with what we now think, as we chip away at the big problems bit-by-bit. Or, that only a hundred years ago, we learned to fly aeroplanes. Now we have space rockets. Heavier than air, be damned!

So, we can celebrate our achievements. But, at the same time, there’s plenty of things we don’t know. Medicine is an easy example. I don’t want to get too heavy, but when I started asking questions after the stroke, it was not long at all before I started getting the we don’t know answers. How can they not know? When so many people have experienced a stroke? It’s not as if it is rare. But look inside the brain, we don’t have a clue.

I’m not going to write a long post here. People believe in ghosts, in demons, in gods, for that matter, because they don’t understand things. I don’t mind if they don’t understand – I probably don’t, either – it is just their conclusions which make me wonder, are people just dumb?

PS – You have no idea how long it took to find an image which did not look like a klansman!

To charge or not to charge – Fandango’s Provocative Question #48

Wednesday. I am just on my way to do some charity stuff (fittingly at my local hospital) but hopefully I can blast out a meaningful paragrath and come back later. It is time for Fandango’s Provocative Question.

In his question this week, he notes that the USA does not really “do” public healthcare, and asks us whether this is a good or a bad thing.

First of all, we need to be clear on the exact difference between the two systems – where they are alike and where they differ.

The USA does private healthcare to a very high standard, probably the highest. So, it’s not a difference in quality. Rather, the difference is a case of how we pay for it – whether we pay through taxes or through premiums. So, all we’re really talking about here is just the funding model.

I say just – because we’re not really talking about healthcare at all, we could apply our argument to many different areas – healthcare just becomes an example. Public healthcare is funded every bit as much by people, because a state’s only assets is its citizenry, except in the form of taxes, not in premiums.

Also, each system has a beginning and an end. Some things are covered, others not. We can argue about whether certain treatments should be available – a common example is IVF, but that same debate might be had under both systems. Even in the UK, smaller than many countries, there are variations about what is funded and what is not, so different people have different ideas about what makes the best health service. That’s true also when you compare the public and private systems. There’s no guarantee that one allows you to offer more than the other.

One aspect of difference, however, is how much we pay. Certainly, in the UK model, what you pay is pretty flat throughout your working life. And because it is out of taxes, it is a certain proportion of what we earn, just like income tax. With a private system, one would expect premiums to be much more bespoke – there will be times when you’re a lesser risk, others when you’re a greater risk. So there will be fluctuation in your premiums.

I prefer the flatter model, simply because none of us plan to get ill. In my own case, I had my stroke at forty-eight, unusually early. I was at the hospital yesterday and heard of a woman, thirty something, five children already, pregnant with her sixth (six!), who also had a stroke. More unusual still. None of us plan to be ill, and a flatter model takes us less by surprise when it does happen.

Private health insurance can also cover unplanned illnesses, I hear you say. Of course it can, provided you have bought sufficient cover. And that’s the heart of the debate. In a private system, you pay for the cover you can afford, or, if you’re lucky, the cover you wish to pay for. Whereas in a public health system, your “premium”, obligatory, is a percentage, is based more on your ability to pay. And when you’re covered, you’re covered, period.

So, it boils down to your overall politics in the end. You might wonder about a system where one person pays thousands, and the next person pays nothing, for the same cover. Or you might recognise that the reason somebody pays thousands is precisely because their income allows them to do so. I say again, this is just like income tax. People who question the use of tax dollars to pay for healthcare, they probably also question the use of tax dollars to pay for education, roads, defense etc. If they claim that healthcare is different, we should ask why they think it’s different.

I can only really finish this piece with a personal anecdote. Once upon a time, I was in the top few percent of UK earners. It was never silly money – it was a good salary, but not really any more than hundreds of thousands of other people. I saved my money, I built a stash. I decided to take a break and set myself up as a bicycle mechanic. You know, Lance Armstrong and all that. Boy, that was hard, trying to pick up something new in my forties, especially when (as I realised later) my eyesight was going. So the stash got smaller. Then, the stroke. Almost four years, and I haven’t had a “proper” job since. The state has made it quite clear that it desn’t really expect me to work again. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. And that stash is now almost gone because I still have to pay the bills. And I’m only in my fifties. Now, I don’t want this to be a sob-story, but my point is that circumstances do change. Whilst people might be healthy and paying what they consider to be way over the odds for their healthcare package, they should be aware that this is a lifetime committment, and that there might well come a time when the tables are turned.

Fandango’s Provocative Question #47

Wednesday. I have been interrupted most of the morning and it is almost lunchtime [in fact, I have been interrupted again, and it is now almost evening!] anyway, so what the hey! Fandango’s Provocative Question.

In a nutshell, this week Fandango asks whether there will come a time when we’re screwed by technology? He calls that point a singularity.

I don’t think technology, in itself, will screw us. I think technology is amoral. But all technology has a purpose, or multiple purposes, which might be good or bad. Take nuclear power. For good, we have electricity. Put to one side how clean or cheap this electricity is. For bad, we have Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and so on.

A lot of these incidents, we could rightly pose the question, how far can we move forward technologically, without human beings screwing things up?

Plus, of course, as we get more advanced, our technology might require some scarce resource, so fighting over that might screw us. Oil here is an obvious example. Wars have already been fought over oil.

So I don’t think from that that technology will screw us, but human nature has a much better chance.

But even if you do assume a singularity (I’ve never heard that before in this context – a point in time where a step backward might save us, and a step forward might end us), would we recognise that we’re at that point?

I’d argue not. I’d draw parallels with climate change. Sure there are noisy protests what we are about to, or have already, fall over the precipice. But most govrnments, and people with financial interests, continue to believe that it is something we need to worry about, but not just yet. And they’ll still be saying that when the waves are lapping over their feet. Some just don’t worry at all – I guess they think that if there ever is a problem, well, they’ll be long gone by then. Or that by then, they’ll have amassed sufficient collateral that they can buy their way out.

So I’d say technology progress will be something similar. Would we ever get to the point where we collectively say, we’ve gone far enough? I doubt it.