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What doctored photo? Which US mercenaries?

Bild am Sonntag had a story recently about US mercenaries being seen in Ukraine, working against the separatists. Blackwater / Xe / Academi / Whatever-they-call-themselves-now are scum who might — might! — be operating on their own. But, honestly, what are the chances of that? The US State Department didn’t even try that excuse. They simply said the pictures weren’t taken in the Ukraine. For instance, the LATimes:

This month, corroboration seemed to appear in a photo that showed five men dressed in black and carrying assault weapons on a featureless city street. State Department officials say the men were New Orleans police or contractors trying to prevent looting after the 2005 hurricane. The photo, they say, was doctored by “Kremlin-sponsored websites” to remove the sign of an American fast-food joint.They did not identify the websites, but the photo has rocketed around social media.

Well. Very interesting. You’d have to doctor more than a street sign to make it believable. New Orleans has different vegetation, to begin with. So I wanted to find the picture all the fuss was about.

And nobody I can find links to it. Nobody says “here’s the picture the State Department says was doctored.” I find that odd. If it was so obviously doctored, you’d think they want people to see that, right?

The picture accompanying the Bild article looks like this:
soldiers and civilians running on a wintry street
The accompanying video from which that still is taken also shows brown wintry grass and the same armed men, soldiers, and bundled up civilians. It’s definitely not New Orleans, and it’s certainly not as hot as it was there in September 2005. I lived there for 13 years and nothing in New Orleans looks like that. If this is the “Men In Black” video, they’ve photoshopped whoever the suspicious-looking guys are supposed to be (I can’t even tell) into a video taken in some very Ukraino-Russian-looking place. So why isn’t the State Department making it clear to all of us how they know it’s a fake? Or, even easier, insisting there are no Americans in the picture? Is it so obvious to the experts that those are American mercs that there’s no point trying to deny it?



Pay No Attention

Attention even more than money marks who matters. Take one tweet like this from some random white female 14 year-old with no capacity to actually do anything;

“Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

She said it was just a joke. There was an instant response from the FBI. Her Twitter account was suspended. She was detained for some time by the Rotterdam police.

Which kind of tells you that airplane passengers matter. They were Not Amused. The girl was made to know it.

Now consider a situation which happens thousands of times a day. Men threaten and humiliate women. Just one example.

When three Chicago area teens were charged over the weekend with raping a 12-year-old girl — and then posting a video of the assault on their Facebook pages – it was a tale that was as revolting as it was entirely plausible. After all, you don’t have to look far at all on Facebook to find images of women being degraded, or for groups devoted to laughing off violence against women.

This is much worse than not-funny irony poked at US air travel security theater. So the FBI responded, the NSA tracked down the individuals involved, and they’re now in solitary confinement to protect them from the other prisoners, right?

Yeah, I know. Very funny. Not only is nothing done, Facebook doesn’t even take the garbage down. A group of people have to start a petition drive and the company still doesn’t take it down.

Which tells you that women do not matter. At all.



What do you mean ‘wish’?

Every once in a while I stumble across a rash of posts demanding respect for prostitution. The latest was “Let’s call sex work what it is: work”. The article describes a life in an amazingly rational co-op.

[T]here was the college town escort agency “run” by R., who really was just the one who paid for the ad in the back of the paper each week and the mobile phone that customers would call after seeing the ad. The women who shared the ad and phone line paid R. a share of each half-hour or hour appointment they got through the ad, which meant they didn’t need to be around all the time to pick up the phone or give any information about themselves to the newspaper that ran the ad. They just showed up at the motel room or house where they’d meet their customers. Every once in a while a woman would call the phone number, wanting to work with them, and R. would meet with them in a coffee shop. If they decided to work together, she’d train them on all of this. Some of the women took turns answering the phone and booking appointments, and after they learned how to manage that, they’d end up going off on their own.

It’s interesting that the customers are such a negligible quantity. I’ll assume, in the words of 1066 And All That, they were Not Memorable. I’ll assume that her experience was just as she describes it: a well-paid business arrangement with no problems and consisting of answering the phone and stocking up on supplies.

But I’m left with a couple of unanswered questions. One is that aside from her personal experience, is it really humanly possible for her to be such an unfeeling soulless dogpile that she is unaware of the reality of life for the overwhelming majority of women and children who are bought to be used by men?

From the last link:

Kiki busies herself cleaning tables in the prison’s lunchroom for $1 a day and tries not to remember when she used to bring in $1,200 a day, even if the traffickers allowed her to keep only a little of it. Her eyes lit up with pride at the memory, and she pronounced the word “muh-nee” wistfully, as if her riches were candies that had dissolved too quickly on her tongue. She spends her free time coloring pictures of Disney characters and sending love letters to Enrique. “I be back to be good wife, okay baby,” she writes, trying to make amends. Enrique wishes she could get out and come live with him; Dottie wishes she would go to a restorative residential program. When I asked Kiki what she wished for herself, she struggled with the word: “What do you mean, ‘wish’?”

You could say that since I’m not in the life, I haven’t got a clue. All the misery is just a misfire and not an inevitable consequence of buying a person (for a while). That brings me to my second question. If it’s just work like any other work, except that it usually pays more, then why aren’t there at least as many men out there, lining up to service women?



Talk is cheap

Talk against racism has blown right through worthless and come out the other side into worse-than-useless. I’ve been trying to articulate what puts me off about the waves of self-congratulatory anti-racism that blow through the US at every excuse. Lately it’s been Cliven “Freeloader” Bundy and Donald “Past It” Sterling. Their crimes are not what they’ve done, although that’s plenty. No, it’s what they said.

What is wrong with that picture? Leonard Pitts says it best.

On race, meet dumb and dumberer:

[P]redictably, dutifully, media figures, pundits and pols have come together to blow raspberries in their direction, to say all the right things in condemnation of them and their diarrhetic mouths. And yes, they deserve that. Still, there is something facile and dishonest in it, something that reeks of unearned righteousness and even moral cowardice.The truth is, the idiocy of these men doesn’t mean a whole lot, doesn’t impact much beyond their immediate lives. We hyperventilate about it, yet somehow manage not to be overly concerned as black boys are funneled into prison, brown ones are required to show their papers, voting rights are interdicted….

I would only add that there’s no need to limit it to “boys.” What matters is that human beings, female ones all too included, are impoverished, humiliated, deprived, attacked, and killed.

That’s what we need to work on. We can have the luxury of a national flap about the blithering of twisted jerks when the real problems are gone, not as a substitute for dealing with them.



About that lack of little green aliens

Artist’s conception of most earth-like planet so far
(Illustration: NASA, SETI, JPL, via APOD)

The Drake Equation (written out at the end of the post) was invented as a way to think about the probability of meeting aliens as we go about our business. One big factor is of course how many habitable planets there are to begin with. If we refuse to assume we’re special, hundreds of civilizations per galaxy looks like a rather conservative guess, given how many billions of stars there are to work with. But that dumps us straight into the next question.

If there are so many, why haven’t we seen any evidence of aliens? No antimatter-powered spaceship engines like strobes among the stars, no SETI signals, no weird laser bursts, nothing. (UFO sightings seem a bit too private to count as interstellar events.) The assumption is that there’s a Great Filter: something reduces the number of communicative aliens.

In the good old days, people assumed the “something” was that good planets are hard to find. But this is where the recent data on planets is disturbing. Possibly even deeply disturbing.

We’ve had the necessary equipment to look for exoplanets only for a couple of decades and yet we’ve already found hundreds of them, including a few rocky ones orbiting in the habitable zone of their stars. That’s just in our little neighborhood. Data from biochemistry indicates that life arises spontaneously under the right chemical conditions, which are probably fairly common since carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, magnesium, iron, and some trace elements are quite common. Data from biology indicates that cells arise spontaneously, and so does multicellularity. So the only step for which we have a sample size of one, is how often do those multicellular organisms develop technological civilizations? The answer for that step, like the others, could well be “all the time.”

If so, the Great Filter is not at the front end. It’s at this end. Our end. The technological civilizations must have short lifespans.

And it’s not really that hard to see why, if they’re anything like us. But it may go beyond merely killing each other with pollution or wars. It may go to the relationship between technological capabilities and fundamental concepts of social organization. That’s something I’ve wondered about in my work on government.

Technology hugely increases the available physical power in a society, and that also increases social power. Holding all that at our fingertips, as it were, means that every action is also hugely magnified. … Enough of it, used badly, can destroy the society that couldn’t figure out how to control the power of the people using it.

That is not hyperbole. It might seem like it because modern technological societies are only at the very earliest stages of being able to destroy the planet. … A big nuclear war could have done it. Global warming could do it. In a far future when everyone has personal spaceships, an evil mastermind could orbit a light-bending device between us and the Sun which would shade the whole Earth to death before the machine could be found and destroyed. There isn’t just one way to destroy a highly technological society, and the more advanced it is, the more ways there are. Bad governments can do it. All the people together can do it with tiny actions that add up. Mad individuals can do it with sabotage. There are so many ways that it is literally only a matter of time. The more technologically advanced the society, the more essential limits to power are for its very survival.

The growing desire to limit power and decrease inequality could be more than the resentment of the have-nots, more than cute idealism from those who don’t yet need to get a job, more than some pie-in-the-sky luxury we can’t do right now. The grassroots Occupy movement and the great big oaks like Piketty may be feeling the same reality. We must have an equitable society to survive. It is not optional.

That immense silence between the stars may be a communication after all. It may be the universe telling us to shape up or die.

Drake Equation:     N = R* fp ne fl fi fc L     where,

  • N = The number of communicative civilizations
  • R* = The rate of formation of suitable stars (stars such as our Sun)
  • fp = The fraction of those stars with planets. (Current evidence indicates that planetary systems may be common for stars like the Sun.)
  • ne = The number of Earth-like worlds per planetary system
  • fl = The fraction of those Earth-like planets where life actually develops
  • fi = The fraction of life sites where intelligence develops
  • fc = The fraction of communicative planets (those on which electromagnetic communications technology develops)
  • L = The “lifetime” of communicating civilizations


One World Order — evil twin version

I see this: “Experts said [Putin] is also promoting “Putinism” – a conservative, ultra-nationalist form of state capitalism – as a global alternative to Western democracy.”

And this (pdf) which amasses enough data to make even Serious People sort-of-admit that the US is an undemocratic oligarchy.

So we’ve achieved one world order. Not quite like the founders of the League of Nations had hoped.

Captain Picard of Star Trek transformed into a Borg

Captain Picard of Star Trek transformed into a Borg

 


Gently shout disaster

I don’t envy the IPCC. The International Panel on Climate Change studies looming calamity, and has to talk about it in polite, soft, encouraging tones. Otherwise they’re called “alarmist.” “Unrealistic.” Or (eeeek) “pessimists.”

So we’re facing flooding over coasts where billions of people live, people who won’t be able to farm any more so they and others will starve, people who will move to higher ground where nobody will want them and will try to push them out. We’re facing droughts and floods and freezes and fires due to climate forcing. We’re facing pests and diseases moving into new areas where there’s no resistance to them. We’re facing the triggering of feedback loops like the release of greenhouse gases from the formerly frozen Arctic and the release of methane from icy deposits on continental shelves. At that point we can push our puny human contribution down to zero and it won’t matter. The build-up will continue and there will be exactly nothing we can do about it. And that’s only the beginning of what we’re facing. Our grandchildren, your grandchildren, are the ones who’ll find out just what it is that we’ve done.

But God help you if you say that THIS IS A FREAKING DISASTER AND OUR LIVES DEPEND ON DEALING WITH IT.

That would be rude. And depressing. Unless you have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you don’t have a solution, stop being a problem. Oh, and don’t tell us to change anything.

(That’s why it’s also rude to point out the real world evidence: we could be using 100% sustainable renewables by 2050(pdf) with less dislocation than the Great Recession. Or take it from the IPCC itself. Also a summary of options in 2011, before recent improvements.)

So the IPCC is doing its best. They’ve said, “Um. I hate to interrupt or anything but, uh, we really, really, really, really, really need to do something. But, ah, if that’s too harsh, you can also tell yourself you’ll try geoengineering.”

There aren’t enough swear words in the English language to do justice to the idiots who want that kind of “optimism.” As I said in one of my many earlier posts on this topic, we’ve been so good at controlling planetary processes, our best alternative is to mess with them.



Not so cynical about Afghanistan

You know, mostly the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. Afghanistan, I would have said, has been fasttracked.

And then today I saw this.

Afghani man backpacking a ballot box up a mountainous trail in the rain

Ballot boxes were carried by hand and by donkey all over Afghanistan
(Ahmad Masood / Reuters)

Sure, Afghanistan is corrupt and war-torn and sexist and poor. They know that. They know that no election is going to make a big difference all at once. And yet they carry ballot boxes up mountains to small villages because they can see a better world even if they don’t live there.

They may make it.

Which means there may be hope even for the rest of us.



What’s the US problem with a Crimean referendum?

I hear Kerry is making barking noises about the Crimeans daring to vote on their national affiliation, and I just don’t get it. I mean, of course I understand that the real agenda is to stick it to Russia and interfere with that country getting a bit of prime real estate. That’s not why I’m puzzled.

I’m puzzled that the US no longer even seems to feel the need to find an excuse for anti-democratic power politics. We’re not even getting lip service anymore. What’s up with that?

This country is supposed to be all about the voice of the people and self-determination and all that good stuff. What possible (official!) reason could they have for objecting to people deciding on their own future?

Surely, the only objection to a referendum would be if the situation was so rigged that the voice of the people didn’t stand a chance. But Kerry doesn’t say that. I don’t know that anybody has said popular feeling is against it and the vote is rigged. The US just seems to be saying “Don’t you dare have a referendum to find out what people want.”

Say whuuuuut?



This is how our world ends

Not with a bang, but with brain-shattering neurotics who vote.

Via Suburban Guerrilla:

Conspiracy theorists think government planted ‘fake snow’

[W]eather across the south of the U.S. has raised a controversial question online: was it just a light snow, or a nefarious government conspiracy? … [T]he last few days have seen scores of videos like this from skeptics [Ed. note: "skeptics"] who claim the snowflakes aren’t the real deal.

“I have a sample of ‘snow’ … leaving the snow unmelted.” Via YouTube / sugar magnolia

The conspiracy reasoning goes like this: the snow is unusual in Georgia and other southeast areas and doesn’t melt when burned. Therefore, it must be fake snow, distributed by the government, as a diversion from big government tyranny. Via YouTube / Div9neImages

And no, much as I believe in citing sources, I’m not making live links to those youtube clips. I’m worried about teh stoopid cooties.

Basic chemistry/physics: a solid exposed to high enough heat does not become liquid. It goes straight to gas. So, duh, when you put a butane flame to snow you don’t get liquid water. And the butane is a hydrocarbon. If the flame cools fast enough — by the proximity of snow, for instance — the carbon will precipitate out as nice black soot instead of floating into the atmosphere. (Congratulations. You’ve reduced the amount you contributed to climate change by many molecules of carbon. Just like a liberal!)

I laugh so as not to cry.



Update, next morning. It’s worse than I thought. We’re not just talking about voters. The actual legislators in what passes for the actual government have less comprehension than your average sea cucumber. (Example of average sea cucumber below.) Sea cucumber at Sydney Aquarium. Photo: Erin Silversmith. From Wikimedia. Via Slashdot: “The bill, dubbed the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (HR 4012), would prohibit the EPA’s administrator from proposing or finalizing any rules unless he or she also discloses “all scientific and technical information” relied on by the agency in the regulations’ development.” Um, hello? It is all published. That’s part of what makes it science. Once the Honorable Congresscritter learns how to read, he’ll be able to discover all that wonderful data! Except the bits corporations want to keep confidential. Oh, and are we going to make sure science is equally respected at the DOD? The CIA? The NSA? I think that would be a good idea.



Search and social: You are for sale

Part of a series on who owns you and what it means.

“Free!” and “ad-supported” don’t belong together in the same breath. They’re mutually exclusive. The web isn’t free any more than the supermarket is free for the cake of soap on the shelf. The soap isn’t paying to be there, and you’re not paying for the web for the same reason. You’re the product. If you mattered at all you’d be getting a cut of the proceeds.

Google made $60,000,000,000, 60 billion, sixty billion-with-a-b, last year. Eighty eight percent of that is estimated to be from advertising. You are the eyes that advertising is buying. Are you seeing royalties from Google for your essential role in this? How about from Dataium ($2 billion profit per year)? Or BlueKai, Acxiom, or Omniture (now part of Adobe)? How about Splunk? (Don’t you just love the cool, we-juggle-at-the-office names?) Or any of the hundred other hidden internet tracking companies all making profit off you? There’s a Firefox extension called Lightbeam that shows just how many dozens, even hundreds, of sites are involved. Forbes had an article that showed an estimate of how much somebody is getting for shoving one banner ad at you. Not what you’re getting. You get nothing. You’re just a thing for sale.

It’s true that the search and social sites make life easier. But they’re under no obligation to make it better.

We’ve lost control over our own lives so completely that most people’s only response is to apply the pragmatism of the damned and ask “Whatchya gonna do?”

I don’t know what to do either. Tactics are never my strong suit. I’m just here to say that we better start realizing that privacy is absolutely essential to any kind of free or comfortable life where rights are respected. Unless you’re okay with a world where your boss knows you’ve been constipated recently, where you see higher prices because of the browser you happen to use, where you find yourself not even looking for information in case you get put on a list somewhere, unless you’re okay with what total surveillance means, privacy — an individual’s right to control her or his own data — is not optional.

There are some tools to help in the fight. A collection of anonymity extensions, useful tips at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Just today I saw this: Privacy Tools: opting out from data brokers. It shows just how much of a career it is to claw back even partial privacy from the leeches.

I know the tips don’t amount to much. They either do little or take too much time. But we have to start somewhere. We have to stop being pragmatic about how little there is we can do and just start doing it.



Now can we be outraged over apartheid?

More than 30 universities have introduced new rules banning female students from almost 80 different degree courses.These include a bewildering variety of subjects from engineering, nuclear physics and computer science, to English literature, archaeology and business.

The BBC headline for that was Iranian university bans on women causes consternation.

Consternation? Consternation? Consternation? Are you farking kidding me?

This is de jure segregation. This is apartheid. This is shutting down the civil rights and lifetime potential of HALF THE GODDAMN POPULATION.

And what do we get? Consternation.

Then there’s the ongoing hate killings of health workers in Pakistan. The price of prevention. Three more polio workers shot in Pakistan; eight dead in 48 hours. Vaccination workers shot.

All women. All executed for being outside the house while female and doing “Western” stuff.

The only problem mentioned is that Pakistan’s war on polio is imperilled. That is a big problem. No question about that. But it hardly seems like the only one that needs mentioning.

Then there was the atrocity committed against the medical student in India. The headline: Death of India rape victim stirs anger, promises of action. There have since been several more publicized abominations and, I have zero doubt, hundreds not even considered worth mentioning.

So. Lynching. And what do we get? A “struggle to respond.”

Really?

Half the human race is deprived, starved, terrorized, and murdered and the problem is that it’s hard to figure out how to respond?



(Update 2014-01-29. I’ve had these links stacked up over a year. More of the same horrors keep piling on top. There will never be a time when somehow I’ll be able to say something intelligent about it. There is nothing intelligent about destroying female human beings.)



The nanny, the Indian diplomat, and the US authorities

Here’s what I don’t get about this event. I gather the diplomat was accused of some kind of visa violation in underpaying her nanny. Okay. So the State Department looks into it, determines if there was an underpayment and fines the diplomat (or whatever the law says) if there was. Right?

Devyani Khobragade

Consular official Devyani Khobragade
(Wikimedia commons)

No. She gets arrested in a snatch and grab raid on the street in Manhattan, as if she was a drug boss on the run, hauled off to the cop shop, and strip-searched.

I mean, WHUUUUT? Did they think she was hiding the nanny’s money in her underwear? If underpaying your foreign household help brings out the anti-terrorism swat team, most members of Congress will go into hiding.

And the US, instead of falling all over itself to apologize, says they’re talking to India and stressing how important bilateral trade is. Again, whuuut? Translated from the bureaucratese that sounds to me like, “Hey, you get lots of money/weapons/whatever from us. So shut up.”

Does the US really not understand that testerical overreaction like this is stupid?

In the past when I’ve seen people spreadeagled on the hoods of cars for minor traffic stops I’ve thought that the cops were having too much fun playing with their equipment and barking to care how stupid it looked.

After this event, I think it’s worse than that. I think they’ve been doing it so much for so long they’ve really forgotten that normal responsible adults show restraint. Somewhere in the dim corners of what passes for the authorities’ minds, they know that this is what they do to people hundreds, thousands of times a day. They do it to people who’ve run stop signs or stood still on a street corner listening to their ear buds or maybe trundled a shopping cart too far from the supermarket. Almost always brown people.

The US should be apologizing to the diplomat, and also to everybody else to whom they’ve been jackbooted thugs.

That would be a lot of people. Apparently the US has gone so far down that road, they either can’t stomach the size of the apology they have to make or, worse, they don’t even remember anymore that thuggery is bad behavior which requires an apology. [Update: Well, that would be B. "The arresting authority, the U.S. Marshals Service, characterized the strip search as a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee."]

There’s a final little ironic postscript to this sorry tale. A good part of the Indian reaction has been outrage that a person of high rank has been treated like a nobody. Not realizing, of course, that in the US being brown is enough to make you a nobody.

The real solution is for everybody, Indians, people in the US, everybody to treat people like somebody even if (they think) they’re nobody.



Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela voting in 1994
(Paul Weinberg : Wikimedia)

Usually, when some world leader dies, I don’t care. More often than not I even think, “Well, that’s one less lying mug I’m tired of seeing.”

But with Nelson Mandela I felt a stab of sadness, as if he was my friend.

One of our greats is gone. I wish he’d lived forever. Maybe if we live in ways that honor his work, he will in a way.



The roots of war

I was reading an article about Syria’s civil war, and sentences kept jumping out at me.

The white Horseman of war

For three men in northern Syria, the second civil war started shortly after the first staggered into a quagmire of sectarian violence. …

Like many others, the three men are bewildered at what has become of their war. Their alliances – and their goals – are shifting. …

They are a businessman, a smuggler and an army defector who became respectively the political officer, treasurer and military commander of a once-formidable battalion in northern Syria. …

“Maybe in 10 years we will all be bored with fighting and learn how to coexist.” He paused, then added: “In 10 years maybe, not now.” …

He opened Google Earth on his phone, zooming in closer and closer until the screen showed a small grey square: the house where his family used to live. “Before, all my family was in Syria, and I worried about them. Now, they’ve got out but I have lost my land. I have reached a point of despair,” he said. …

“I was in the revolution at the beginning, and I used to think that was going to be progress – but now we have lost everything. We don’t talk about military plans and hitting the regime – now the plotting is against each other.”

“I can’t defeat them [the jihadis] and the army. I am about to collapse. I can hold out for a month or two at most. Isis [jihadis] are expanding in a fearful way.” …

When they reached the base, the lieutenant sank down in a corner. He seemed weary. “I have been fighting for two years and a half. Tell me: what have I achieved? All I think about is attacking this checkpoint, getting that tank – maybe using the tank to attack another checkpoint.

“In all this time did I ever think of establishing governance? Did I consider working with the civilians in the areas under my control to get electricity or provide anything? …

He sighed. “… I want to get away from here and forget the absurdity of war. The liberated areas are in chaos: there is more purity on the frontlines.” …

“For three days I’ve been attacking this checkpoint,” said the lieutenant “I ask myself why, but I don’t know. Maybe because I can. Maybe because I need to keep my men busy. But honestly, I don’t know the purpose of all this. In Syria, everyone has lost. No one is winning.” …

The next day, the lieutenant decided he needed a break from war. A few days later, the smuggler, the lieutenant and another rebel officer were walking in an Istanbul shopping centre packed with Arab tourists. After two and a half years, the two men said they had finally decided to leave Syria and the war for good. …

Later, in the food court upstairs, the smuggler and the lieutenant ate lunch with another man, a people-smuggler, who told them how they could be spirited across the border into Greece and from there into Italy, where they could start a new life with their families. …

By now, the excitement of being in Istanbul had waned: the three men walked the streets aimlessly and sat for hours in cafes. … One evening, he admitted that he had tried to leave once before: he had stayed away for 25 days, but found he could not live in the world of peace: he missed the excitement, the combat, the camaraderie. …

The lieutenant left the cafe, and there was no news of him for weeks. Nobody knew if he was still in Turkey, or if he had gone with the people-smuggler and made his way to Italy.

When he finally called, he sounded relieved and almost cheerful. “I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t leave, I went back to Syria, to fight.”

People who go to war always say they do it to serve — their country, an ideal, their way of life, always something outside themselves. But then when the fighting is destroying what they care about they would stop, wouldn’t they?



There’s a new definition of “Affordable”

At least there seems to be in the “Affordable Care Act.” Charles Ornstein writing for ProPublica:

“[I]n much of the country people have yet to really see what the cost-sharing will look like in these plans, and they may be surprised for find out that the deductibles and co-pays in bronze and silver plans are higher than what one would find in typical employer-provided health benefits,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email. [Note: subsidies are based on silver plans. People who want better coverage pay the difference themselves. Also note: many doctors and hospitals are not in-network and out-of-network care costs more and has no cap on out of pocket costs.]

“I think it remains to be seen whether people see these plans as offering them good protection against catastrophic health expenses — which they do — or are disappointed that they won’t generally provide much coverage for occasional visits to the doctor or prescriptions,” Levitt added.

Chris Jacobs, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, brings up another point. The sequester law, which calls for spending cuts in the federal budget, requires reductions to the cost-sharing program. But the Obama administration has not said how it will carry those out — whether it will cut the cost-sharing subsidies or make insurers absorb the cuts.

“Someone (either carriers, consumers, or both) isn’t being told by this administration that they’re going to have to pay more — billions of dollars more,” Jacobs wrote to me.

Ken Wood, a senior adviser to Covered California, [said that] … “Even with high deductibles, consumers stop paying retail for health care since they get the advantage of the health insurer’s negotiated rates, and no plan has a higher out-of-pocket maximum [for in-network costs] than $6,350 (per person) [in addition to premiums],” he said. “That is a lot of money, but it probably will not drive people into bankruptcy. “

Let’s hope that the “Patient Protection” part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act hasn’t likewise changed its meaning. If it has, “Patient Protection” means “the kind of care you get under PPACA probably won’t kill you.”