To Fly, To Shoot, Perchance to Dream

We have a “No Fly” list in this country. It is supposed to keep people who are terrorist threats from boarding airplanes where their shoe or underwear bombs could do great damage. This is generally a good thing, but the no fly list has a couple of problems. The problems have been reported regularly for a long time, most recently in the 12/8/15 New York Times (Push for Gun Curbs Tied to No-Fly List Puts Republicans on the Spot, Alan Rappeport, NYT 12/7/15).. The problems are both pretty egregious and should have been fixed years (possibly decades) ago:

  1. According to some estimates, of the 700,000 or so people on the list, more than half don’t belong there.
  2. Once on the list, whether you belong there or not, there seems to be no way to get off.

This is apparently an easy list to get on. Elizabeth Pipkin, a California trial lawyer, says “there is really no criteria for these lists. The government can put anyone on it for any reason.” (Op cit.) She spent nine years in litigation getting one client off the list. In the government’s defense, the client has one of those funny-sounding, non-American names, which was probably enough to get her on the list in the first place.

That the problem is of long standing is evidenced by the fact that Ted Kennedy was once one the list. He got off the list, but it wasn’t easy for him either.

That this problem exists and has gone unaddressed for more than 20 years speaks volumes about the effectiveness (and value) of the Congress, a body in our government that has within its power the ability to fix such problems. The situation is ridiculous and should have been fixed in the previous millennium. But wait, there is more.

In the past few days, several, including the President, have proposed that one response to the shootings in San Bernardino should be to prevent people on the no-fly list from purchasing weapons. This seems like a no brainer, especially given GAO’s report that between 2004 and 2014, 2000 people on the list did buy weapons. Who could argue that people on the terrorist watch list should be able to buy weapons? Quite a few, apparently, several of them running for president.

There seem to be three main arguments, all of them specious.

  1. Marco—oops, sorry; respect—Senator Marco argues that more than half of the people on the no-fly list do not belong there. They are just ordinary citizens (many of them Muslim) going about their business, and we shouldn’t impinge on their rights by not allowing them to buy guns. News flash Senator: not being able to fly impinges on their rights, too. This is, indeed, a big problem. Get off your ass and fix it.
  2. The no-fly list is just a part of the terrorist watch list (more than a million people on that list), so making this change would not come close to solving the whole problem. That is true, but not relevant. If you have a gas leak in your house, you don’t refuse to fix it because the repair won’t also fix the leak in your roof. No change to gun ownership rules will fix all problems associated with guns. But, almost any change would demonstrate some willingness to address gun issues, and that would be a step forward. Congress, show a little bit of courage. Get off your ass and fix something.
  3. “Guns aren’t the problem. People are the problem.” Or, “mental illness is the problem.” Guns by themselves aren’t a problem. They can be useful. They can be fun. They can increase your sense of security (although for most gun owners, it is doubtful that they get more than a false sense of security—look at all they did for Reeva Steenkamp). But, 12-step attendees are taught that anything that causes problems, is a problem. Congress show a little bit of courage. Mentally ill people using guns is certainly a problem. I’ll bet there are things we could do to address that problem. The Congress would be the body that could address that. Get off your ass and do something.

We have averaged more than one mass shooting per day this year according to some reports shootingtracker.com reports 353 so far this year. Mother Jones puts the number at 4, so there is some controversy over how to count these things. What other country in the world even has something like shootintracker.com? None. They wouldn’t have anything to do. Even if the number is 4, that’s a problem (and it doesn’t include the number of individual shootings per year, which is also a problem).

I haven’t heard anyone yet argue that a mass shooting every day is perfectly normal, and no problem at all, but I’m expecting it soon.

 

Peaches

Peaches-1There is a new kid on our block. Peaches is an apricot toy poodle. He’s about 6 years old and he has a heart condition. He moved in with us on Sunday and has begun to make himself at home. We didn’t realize how dull our lives had become.

Peaches was a bit of a surprise in several ways. We have had a couple of standard schnauzers, and it is about 2 1/2 years since Gigi passed on–the result of a brain tumor. We had gotten used to that size dog and didn’t really want a smaller one. Additionally, we thought we were going to inherit  a great dane named Annie, so Peaches was a real surprise. The great dane is still a possibility at some time in the future. Wouldn’t that be a thing to watch–the great dane and the toy poodle.

How did this come about, you might ask. Go on. Ask. You might as well because I’m going to tell you anyway. It happened because my Muse plays the harp. La Muse is a professional musician (piano, organ, and harp) who spends much of her time playing for hospice patients. And, much of the rest of it playing memorial services. She prefers playing for patients who are “actively dying”–you knew that was a process, right? Spending time with these patients in their last hours or minutes, she can often help the patient with pain or with “terminal agitation” through judicious application of therapeutic music. I’m not sure how this works. My explanation by analogy with the test for “is it a duck”, is that she looks like an angel, sounds like an angel, and acts like an angel, so she must be one.

Peaches belonged to one of her patients. When the patient passed, Peaches went to live with the patient’s son. But the son already had three other dogs (two of them big), and uncountable numbers of little grandchildren running around the place. It wasn’t an ideal situation for a new little dog, so Peaches whipped out his laptop (everybody has one these days, don’t they) and sent us an email asking if he could come stay with us. And, here he is.

The situation with Annie is much the same, but the story is not yet over. Her owner was on hospice, but wasn’t ready to give up Annie, so she is still there as his companion. Someday we may get an email from her, too.

Training Schedule

I’m doing a half marathon at Duke City, now just two weeks away. This will be a group affair: my wife, who walks, and her walking buddy will be doing it as will my oldest daughter. It feels like a group effort even though we may not see each other after the start. Just knowing they are out there somewhere means I’m not doing it alone. You may well ask how one could feel alone when in the midst of all those thousands of people, and I can’t answer except to say that you can.

I’m still serious about how I perform despite being as slow as I have become. I’m not going to win. I probably won’t even win my age group, although I’ll come a lot closer, but my time and performance are still important. So, like most serious runners, I have a training schedule that I am trying to follow. It’s like most such schedules: shorter runs during the week; longer runs on the weekend; background runs a few months ago; more speed oriented more recently; extensions to longer mileage on the weekends. Pretty standard.

One of the things the running mags and books don’t talk about much is what to do when the plan doesn’t work. Last Saturday, I went out to run 18km (16km=10mi, so 18 is 11.25). I had had a flu shot on Friday, but felt no after effects and I expected no problems. I had been extending 2km each week (I’ve omitted mention of rest weeks, but I do know about them), and my experience was pretty uniform: the additional 2km felt pretty bad, but the next week it was fine. Last week’s run didn’t work that way. At the beginning, I felt good. By 8km (5mi) I was minutes ahead of schedule. I was still well ahead at 9km, the turn around point. By 14km I was right on schedule. By 15, I was out of gas and could not continue running. Walking back to where I started was a major disappointment. I took that failure badly, and it took much of the week to get over it.

What do you do to recover from a failure like that? How do you get back on track? My approach to that is to repeat the week. The previous week wasn’t completely lost. I did cover the distance, just not as fast as I had hoped. So, I did it again this week. Busy and stressful week at work, and I missed one of the mid-week runs. But, this morning I felt good. Back down by the river because it’s the first weekend of Balloon Fiesta and they usually fly along the river–500 balloons in the air at once is quite a sight. Unfortunately, they go where the wind takes them, and today the wind took them elsewhere, so no low flying balloons overhead. Much of the run was like last week. At 9km I was way ahead of schedule. By 14km I was right on time, having slowed down and burned through those minutes I had banked in the early going. But, this time I didn’t run out of gas at 15 and successfully finished the planned 18km. I’m still unhappy about last week’s failure, but this week’s success has improved my mood. On to the race.

Where Were You?

This is a question we ask each other about events that are so horrendous (in our view) that we vow we will never forget, even though we do. 9/11 is one such event. It is one of three such events that have (almost) occurred within my lifetime. It it the only one where I can say exactly where I was. (Not quite true, but close enough.)

The other two events were the assassination of JFK in 1963, and Pearl Harbor Day in 1941. In the case of the JFK assassination, I know approximately where I was, but not exactly. In the case of Pearl Harbor Day, I do know exactly where I was, but I don’t know the location of the womb I was residing in.

We are struck by these events and vow permanent memory, and we assume that they had the same effect on everyone, not realizing how culture-centric they are. But, the events are centered on us and do not have the same significance to other people in the world, just as their horrendous events do not affect us in the same way that they are a affected. You can bet that the people of Hiroshima talked for decades about where they were on August 6. But, they probably don’t spend too much time on where they were on 11/9 (different date format).

On 9/11, I was in England, having arrived there that morning. It was a big deal in England. The government put a Book of Remembrance in every post office so that the citizens could record their feelings. We had many conversations about the events. (We couldn’t hide because my wife grew up in west Texas and sounds like it.) Every conversation, with one exception, had the same two parts. Part A was “Oh, how terrible. We’re with you all the way.” Part B was “We certainly hope that your President doesn’t go and do something stupid on his own.” Part B was not an unreasonable fear given that our President was, and is, known for letting his swagger get in the way of his thinking. The one conversation that was different was with a postal worker from India; it had Parts A and B and also Part C: “Well, you know that terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence in India.” We will remember the 9/11 events for a long time. but, why this event and not others?

Why do some events rise in our consciousness while others not so much? Why the 9/11 bombings, but not the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City–the 20th anniversary of that bombing was in April of this year? Why not the Boston Marathon bombing? It has already started to fade from our consciousness. Do we get exercised about 9/11 because the perps were foreigners, but not about the Murrah Building bomber because he was one of us? Do we not remember the Waco siege 2 years before (the reason for the Murrah Building bombing) because it was done by us?

Why do we get exercised about school shootings, but it doesn’t seem to last? After the Sandy Hook shootings we got really upset, but it lasted less than a month. It lasted exactly until the Congress said officially that they were not going to do anything. It was reported later that there had been 74 school shootings in the 78 weeks after Sandy Hook–that it is a once a week occurrence. That number was challenged, and factcheck.org looked at it carefully. They determined that the number was greatly exaggerated. There were, in fact, only 34 mass shootings at schools in that period. Not one a week. Not quite one every other week. I feel much better now that that has been clarified. Why do we not get excited about this? Maybe it’s because we know in our hearts that we will never, ever have the courage to do anything about it.

Where were you?

in Paradisum

in Paradisum is an antiphon sung at the end of a Requiem mass as the departed is being removed from the church. It offers the wish that the departed will be welcomed to paradise by a chorus of angels. Through the centuries, composers have used this antiphon as a vehicle for tone paintings of their vision of Paradise. Some have produced pieces of surpassing beauty–I think, in particular of Fauré.

Of course, Paradise has a visual component as well as an auditory component. Over the last weekend I have been there and seen it. I didn’t have a near death experience. It was much simpler than that, but I can report that Paradise is sublimely beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR

My Muse and I went to Chama, NM to ride the train. We stayed in an RV park right on the Chama River close to the Chama Station. When we checked in, we were instructed that every morning we had to either  be on the train or down at the river  waving at the recently departed as it went by, so we did some of each. The C&TSRR is right on the New Mexico/Colorado border, and the route actually crosses the border 11 times in the run from Chama to Antonito, CO. The route was chosen by the Denver & Rio Grande RR in the 1870s, and completed as far as Durango in 1880. The track from Chama to Durango no longer exists.

Rocky Mountain High Country

Rocky Mountain High Country

This is high country. Chama and Antonito are both above 7800 feet and the track runs through Cumbres pass at over 10000 feet. The scene at the left is over 9000 feet. By this altitude, exercise is becoming difficult if you are not acclimated because the amount of oxygen in the air is less than 75% of sea level. But, if you are acclimated, this can be a wonderful life. Look at those beautiful yellow flowers. They are Dandelions. I don’t think there are that many even in your lawn.

 

Mountain ranch.

Mountain ranch.

Here is another view. I love these high mountain meadows; the broad, glaciated valleys; snow on the mountain tops and even at our level. The rivers, which seem to be everywhere, were running high. The snow pack was low last winter, but there have been several weeks of frequent rains. I like New York, too. But, that isn’t Paradise. This is.

Invasion

If someone breaks into your house or, worse, invades it while you are there, you will feel a variety of strong emotions including outrage, anger, and fear. It may be hard to feel safe there again. A few months ago, our neighborhood suffered a rash of mid-day burglaries–kick in the front door in the middle of the day while everyone is away and steal whatever you can that you can sell quickly, and generally trash the place as you are going through it. (The police told us that the front doors were heroin addicts. The rash of auto burglaries that we had at the same time were meth addicts.) One family across the street was broken into twice–once while the kids were at home. They moved to a gated community.

I haven’t personally had this experience. After years in security, I guess I know how to make my house look like a harder target than my neighbor’s house. But, I have a pretty good understanding of how they feel. In our current (over-) connected society, we can have the same feelings when our computers are invaded. I once had the experience of having my computer broken into while I was sitting in front of it. I didn’t really feel violated so much as insulted. “How could you. I’m using this now. How stupid do you think I am?” (“pretty stupid.”) In the end I felt pretty good about that incident. Using my superpowers, I removed the intruder, cleaned up his mess, and discovered and closed the hole he had used to get in, all within an hour.

Today things are different from those days long gone. Today I build and operate networks of computers “in the cloud,” somewhat freed from the computer under my desk (but not from a bunch of laptops). I get the computing horsepower I need from a large vendor of “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS in the industry jargon). If I need a new machine for an experiment, I ask for one and 5 minutes later, I have one. If after a couple of hours, I’m through with the new machine, I throw it away. There is some cost involved, but the machine I used for a couple of hours costs far less than my time, and way less than the cost of having a spare piece of hardware laying around. (If you want to learn a little bit more about how cloud computing works, you can look here.)

Last week, I had a strange experience. I received a notice that one of my cloud machines had been used in an attack on somebody else’s computers. Naturally they wanted to know what I was going to do about that. That part of the story is not unusual. The unusual part is how I felt about the incident. This was not a break-in at my house. It was not a break-in of my computer. But, there was a break-in, and I still felt angry and violated. I wanted to understand what had happened and make sure it could not happen again. I wanted to catch that hacker and step on their fingers (the tools of their trade). I wanted to make sure they would never again disrupt the flow of my well-ordered life.

A few days later, I see how strange this was. It’s not like some real possession was broken into or attacked. There is no physical machine anywhere in sight. There was nothing that was “mine” there except for some work 5 years ago. And yet, I have this feeling of violation. Why? I don’t really understand this. But, I do better understand the feelings op people who have actually been violated. It’s not a small issue, and could have lasting repercussions.

I also felt curiosity. My first instinct was to get on the machine and look around to see how they had gotten in. But, there was a problem with that. I built this machine almost 5 years ago and really hadn’t been back to it since then, and I couldn’t remember how to get on (which only convinced me even more that someone had taken it over). There really is a right way to deal with these incidents, and I had the luxury of being able to use it; I notified the right people, shut the machine down, and went to dinner.

I did get on the machine the next day and looked around. I found that the machine was under attack almost continuously, but from people who really need to get a life. I’m happy with attacks from the terminally stupid (the attackers who try the same thing over and over again, sometimes for hours or even days, in the hope that something will be different the next time). But, I didn’t find the attacker who succeeded, and I’m not happy about that. That means I would never know if I had successfully cleaned up the machine.

In the end, I chose the path of no resistance–preserve the data I’m trying to serve from the machine and throw everything else away. Rebuild the machine from the ground up on a new, more secure platform and move on. This is a cloud computing path I could not have chosen with a non-cloud machine. The attacks are inevitable and continuous, and some are bound to succeed. The cloud infrastructure has given me a new, less stressful way to respond, and I am happy about that.

Primary Health Care

Today’s New York Times had an interesting article featuring Iora Primary Care, a startup with a business model more like Starbucks than your current primary care facility (except that you can’t walk in off the street and buy a cup). You can read the article, A Starbucks for Medicine, in the Business section.

Iora is a subscription service that only works with employer partners (not with individual patients), so your company has to buy in. The value proposition to the partner is lower costs that are more or less fixed. The value proposition to the patient is more individualized customer service, and, sometimes, service that goes well beyond what we have come to expect from primary health care providers.

One of the features of their model is a “health coach”, a much lower cost person than any of the medical staff, whose function is to help the patient with not-necessarily-medical, peripheral issues, such as transportation, diet, exercise and advocacy—at least within the practice office.

Iora is a startup, and there are still many issues to be resolved. They aim for a large number of practices instead of the one, or a few, that most innovators expect to have. Some things in the model scale well, such as knowing what to stock when a new practice opens. Some things scale poorly, such as the CEO interviewing most of the new staff. It isn’t clear yet whether they will actually be able to reduce costs for employers (mostly by trying to provide care that will head off trips to the hospital and ER, I think). On the other hand, the kind of care described in the article seems attractive from the patient point of view, and finding ways to move in that direction has got to be good.

From the provider’s point of view, they aim at far fewer patients per provider, allowing the provider more time with each patient. And, (here’s a note for you Victo) they have a staff of about 20 engaged in building their own proprietary EHR system. On the one hand, that means that individual providers will have more input into how it works, and more influence when it doesn’t. This could also be a cost reduction idea—EHR/EMR systems are already a very big business. On the other hand, as the number of small practices increases, this effort may be hard to sustain—another area that doesn’t scale particularly well.

On the surface, Iora looks like a good idea. I currently get primary care through a corporate entity. While I like and respect the providers and other staff, the corporation stands in the way of getting to them and pretty much controls what I get from the providers. I admit I haven’t yet had much interaction, and so far, I’m glad because the interactions have been painful or at least irritating. I’m interested to hear what others of you think of the Iora idea or other innovative delivery ideas, particularly those in the health care industry.