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Showing posts from March, 2010

Sports: NCAA Men's Basketball Round-Up

Congrats to Missouri State for winning the CIT!

VCU faces St. Louis in game two of the CBI. VCU leads 1-0.

Dayton will take on UNC for the NIT championship on Thurday.

I think everyone who doesn't have a team in the Final Four will probably be rooting for Butler. West Virginia vs. Duke is probably considered by most to be the "championship" game. Duke appears to have the goods this year to win it all.

Devotional Thoughts: Asher Yatzar

Came across the Asher Yatzar in various forms while reading Mudhouse Sabbath and Happiness is a Serious Problem.

Asher Yatzar is the famous Jewish prayer of thanksgiving after using the bathroom!

As someone who has been hospitalized on five occasions for gastrointestinal problems, I have an practical appreciation for this prayer.

Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them blocked, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.

Devotional Thoughts: Live for the will of God

1 Peter 4:1-6 ....

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Done with sin?

Seems a bit much to say that!

Please remember that the English Bible we have is a translation from the Greek and in some cases the Greek could be tricky to interpret. Check this translation out: Christ, then, having suffered for us in the flesh, ye also with the same mind arm yourselves, because he (Christ) who did suffer in the flesh hath done with sin. The boldfaced part is my addition to the text based on one commentator I read. Theologically, we believe that Christ died on the Cross for our sins and thus has done away with sin and death. Thus, Peter was trying to draw a parallel to Christ with a relationship between suffering and the defeat of sin.

Suffering in our lives d…

Politics: I like reasonable voices in political debate

The "megaphone" of this blog is very small (~30-40 hits a day) but I have tried and want to continue to be a responsible voice in the debate over the new health care bill.

For those who have problems with the new health bill, let's present calm and reasoned concerns and viable alternatives.

There is NO PLACE for violence and I denounce those few who have gone down that path.

For those who are supporters of the health bill, look honestly at some of the problem areas and do not lump all opponents of the bill into the lunatic fringe.

I came across this item which offers some reasonable concerns over this bill. Excerpts:

Christians rejoice when every single person receives healing. We are a religion that founds hospitals and is commanded to do charitable work.
........
The job of providing health care, this basic human right, is not the job of the state, but of the family and the church.
........
Most American families are able to give their members some of the best health …

Politics: The question of "the public option" in health insurance

Some critics of the health bill say, it doesn't go far enough because there is no public option.

Well, there is a new public item in the form of a long-term health care program. Excerpt:

As Kristen Gerencher writes on her Health Matters blog, in the health-reform bill that President Obama signed into law on Tuesday is a provision for a new long-term-care insurance pool. Once the program starts, unless you opt out, your employer will automatically deduct funds from your paycheck to pay for long-term-care insurance. Then, when the time comes to pay for a nursing home, home-health aide or similar services, people who've participated in this insurance pool for at least five years will enjoy a minimum $50-per-day benefit to help cover those costs.

Since I don't make my living tracking what is in legislation, I have to trust the media to point things out and this item flew under the radar. I have no idea how big this program will be or how it will work but it goes to show you w…

Politics: CNN's Zakaria on the Health Bill

My impression of CNN is that they are often not all that sympathetic to conservatives and "cheerlead" the liberals. But in this piece with Zakaria, a "fair and balanced" tone is struck.

He hits on some items that really got overlooked in the debate prior to the bill's passage
Excerpt:
Zakaria: Eighty-five percent of Americans have health care and 15 percent don't. For that 85 percent, the great health care crisis is spiraling premiums and out-of-control costs, and so the question is what is the mechanism by which you can bring costs down? There are basically two ways -- either you use a market mechanism, which is that the consumer of health care has to pay more of the costs and therefore that direct link between the consumer and the costs will force costs down. The consumer will exercise his buying power the way he or she does with every other good.
The second method is through some kind of government control or rationing of the process. And that's i…

Politics: Place your bets, will the new health plan come in on budget?

Good intentions are nice. Who doesn't want senior citizens to get a little cash to help them in their golden years.

Problem is the cash runs out for Social Security in 2037.

Who doesn't want senior citizens to get some help with health care in their retirement years. Again, the problem is the cash runs out for Medicare in 2017.

Now, the new health care bill is supposed to help people get insurance coverage who don't get it now. Good intentions indeed.

Government interventions often makes things worse and usually winds up costing a lot more than advertised ... check out the numbers here.

In addition to help for the purchase of insurance, the bill was sold as a money saver to the tune of $138 billion. But take away many of the budgetary gimmicks a former CBO director estimates the plan will run $562 billion in deficit.

Unlike you and me who have to pay our debts with our own money, the government can tax and borrow to make it up.

Politics: Divided States of America on Health Care Package

CNN rounds up opinion on both sides of the question of whether it was a milestone or a mistake.

Yahoo! Finance carried this CNBC item rounding up the mixed reactions to the passage yesterday.

Regular readers of this blog know that as well intentioned the idea behind the bill is (help additional people get insurance) I was skeptical about the package because (1) it brings in more Federal level controls (as Prager said, the bigger the government the smaller the citizen), (2) the taxes and fees fall unevenly in what is claimed to benefit all and (3) fails to address a little talked about inequity of the current system which gives a tax benefit to employer based health insurance.

The goal (helping additional people get insurance) could have been accomplished in a less heavy handed way.

What is in the bill? ... the WSJ condensed version.

I give credit where credit is due and blame where blame is due.

President Obama, Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi and those who voted for and support the he…

Devotional Thoughts: With gentleness and respect

Let's get back to 1 Peter ...

Continuing onward ... I Peter 3:8-22 ...

St. Peter winds up this part of the letter by exhorting the readers with the key behaviors!

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

He had come a long way from those days of Jesus and the 12 disciples. They often bickered and competed with each other. An older, wiser, humbler Peter encouraging the flock!

For,
"Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.
He must turn from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

Here Peter reached back to his Jewish roots and ci…

Business: Is the health insurance industry very profitable?

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One of the complaints about the health insurance industry is that in addition to market dominance of a small number of companies in many states is that they make too much money.

Of course, in a country that espouses a capitalist economic system, making a profit is supposed to be determined by the free market forces on that industry.

So just how big are the health insurance giants?

Using Yahoo! Finance I found the chart above that shows how much annual revenue they generated.

That is a lot of money and a handful of companies are doing lots of business.

But how do these numbers compare to some other big companies?

McDonalds is one of the fast food giants and they bring in $22.7B in revenue.
Ford is the one US car company that didn't take bailout money and they bring in $118.3B.
Microsoft is the big cheese in software pulling in $58.7B.
Ralphs is one of the markets I shop at and they are owned by Kroger which claims $76.7B in revenue.

These findings indicate that health insurance i…

Business: Is the health insurance industry a monopoly?

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This item tallies up the share of the market held by the top two insurance companies in a given state.

This item in Wikipedia gives the population for each state in America.

Combining the two pieces of information: the Y-axis is the market share held by the top two companies vs. the X-axis is the population of the corresponding state in millions. The trend is notable, the bigger the state, the less market share.



For those who want to see the raw numbers, see the figure below and I've included a correlation coefficient generated by Excel. +1 or -1 would mean perfect correlation while 0 means no correlation, thus the correlation coefficient is reasonably high.



I decided to bin out the data into small, medium and large states. I'm defining a small state as less than 4 million or the size of Los Angeles City or smaller. I defined medium size state as between 4 to 10 million which is about the size of Los Angeles County. Large states were defined as greater than 10 million or …

Sports: 2010 NIT Bracketology - Forecasting the NIT, CBI and CIT

Using the S-curve generated from my efforts at NIT Bracketology for this season .....

CIT: I think Marshall and Portland are the strongest in this field of 16. My pick to win the CIT, the Thundering Herd!

CBI: I think VCU and St. Louis are the strongest in this group of 16. My pick, the Rams!

NIT: I think VTech, Ole Miss, Dayton and Rhode Island are the strongest in the field. But the way, the bracket is configured my Final Four would be: Dayton, Ole Miss, VTech and UAB. Cutting down the nets at MSG, the Hokies!

Sports: Should the NCAA expand to 96?

No.

I think the "modern" era of the NCAA tournament started with Bird vs. Magic in 1979.

During that time, how often have high seeds advanced to the final four?

In three decades, on two occasions an 11 made it, one 9 and four 8 seeds have made it.

About half the time there was no seed higher than a four.

Thus, theoretically, no team rated > 44th (4 x 11) has made the Final Four.

This year, Minnesota was regarded as the last "at large" team and it was ... an 11 seed.
UPDATE: My bad, UTEP and Utah State got in as "at large" as 12 seeds.

Expanding the tournament to 96 means adding more "at large" teams > 12 seeds which means adding teams that are extremely unlikely to get to the Final Four.

Sports: 2010 NIT Bracketology

NIT Bracket at ESPN.

26 out of 32 - Six whiffs

1. Florida went up to the NCAA and VTech came down
2. Lipscomb was replaced by Jacksonville due to a change in the Atlantic Sun tie-breaking rules I was unaware of.
3. Apologies to William and Mary fans! I figured two would be in from the CAA and I was wrong about VCU but right about Northeastern. W&M was on my "just out" watch list.
4-5. Also on my "just out" watch list that went up was NC State and Illinois St.
6. Northwestern went up and they weren't on my "just out" watch list.
Thus, the 4 bump ups kicked out VCU, Marshall, Portland and South Carolina.

Thanks to all who have been dropping by. Best of success to your teams on Selection (NCAA and NIT) Sunday!

We are locked in and calling it a night.

No more updates until the NIT field is announced Sunday night!

Barely in NCAA - could be bumped out by Miss St win
G. Tech, UNLV, Notre Dame, Minnesota

Top NIT - very slim shot at NCAA
(1) Florida, Mis…

Politics: Some other random thoughts on health care reform

Can vouchers and tax credits to help lower income people buy insurance slowly replace the existing Medicaid program which is going broke? Could that also eventually be tried to transition out of Medicare which is also going broke?

As a general rule, taxes should be broad based. If all will benefit, all should pay. As it is, the current reform bill has all sorts of taxes on narrow groups: "cadillac" insurance tax, the wealthy, fees on brand name drugs, medical devices makers, tanning bed companies, insurance industry, etc.

They say it is "fair" to tax these groups. I think it is fair when something that benefits all is paid for by all.

Health insurance exchanges (HEI) are an interesting idea.

In essence, the Federal Employee Health Insurance Benefits Program is an HEI.

The tough question is how you structure the HIEs.

Does it have the light hand of helping buyers get clear information to make choices on insurance?

Or will it have a heavy hand of regulatio…

Politics: A modest proposal for health care reform version 1.1

Have been carrying on an interesting blog conversation on health care reform with someone who is probably center-left. Might there be some workable ideas the center-right and the center-left could agree upon?

There are many concerns about the health care system: quality is uneven, costs too much, access is uneven, Medicaid is going broke, Medicare is going broke, malpractice insurance is too high, not enough medical professionals, etc.

I suppose the largest problem is the ~ 15% of the people who do not have insurance. Some opt not to buy while others can't afford. I think this is the issue that should be addressed while the other problems can wait.

Thus, a modest proposal for health care reform.

(I) Increase support of community health clinics (provides primary care)
a) Greater funding for existing clinics
b) Establishment of additional clinics especially in under-served locations
c) Scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to nurses, doctors and other health care professi…

Devotional Thoughts: Sabbath in the City?

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image source: http://www.zazzle.com/shabbat_shalom_poster-228575510336405684

The Jewish Sabbath Drama

“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Sabbath. ”

Around the world, through the generations, going back many centuries, with these words, the woman of a Jewish household would light two candles and mark the beginning of Sabbath just before sundown on Friday.

After this prayer, family and friends would walk to synagogue for an evening service or host one at home. This would be followed by dinner. To start the dinner, the man of the house would pick up the Sabbath wine glass and recite the Kiddush that gives the reasons for Sabbath:
It was evening and it was morning, the sixth day. So the heavens and the earth were finished, with all their complement. On the seventh day, God had completed His work, which He had undertaken, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work, whi…

Politics: The Censorship of the Path to 9/11

Remember the television movie, the Path to 9/11?

I saw parts of it when it was originally aired. I'd like to see the film from beginning to end.

You can't buy it at Amazon.com nor can you rent it through Netflix.

Because it was controversial, attempts to put it out on DVD have been blocked.

Interestingly, you can buy the documentary that discusses the suppression of Path to 9/11.

For now, one can see Path to 9/11 piece by piece through Youtube.com.

Politics: Health Care "Reform" - Its about the power not the health care

Mark Steyn nails it.

Excerpts:

I’ve been saying in this space for two years that the governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make limited government all but impossible. In most of the rest of the Western world, there are still nominally “conservative” parties, and they even win elections occasionally, but not to any great effect (let’s not forget that Jacques Chirac was, in French terms, a “conservative”). The result is a kind of two-party one-party state: Right-of-center parties will once in a while be in office, but never in power, merely presiding over vast left-wing bureaucracies that cruise on regardless.
.....
Once the state swells to a certain size, the people available to fill the ever expanding number of government jobs will be statists — sometimes hard-core Marxist statists, sometimes social-engineering multiculti statists, s…

World: The Strong Horse, an interview with author Lee Smith

Got to give Hugh Hewitt a lot of credit for devoting an entire program to the discussion of a timely book about the Middle East like Strong Horse.

One just can't get that kind of in-depth conversation in a typical 90 sec to 3 minute news piece on television.

For me, the most chilling part was this exchange with Lee Smith where Hewitt reads from p. 153 of Smith's book and begins a discussion of some of the driving forces of radicalism in the Middle East:

HH: Now this is on, from Page 153, I’m going to read three or four paragraphs here, because it’s so different from what most people think about the Middle East, but it’s also important in terms of how we understand it, Americans do. “Masculine energy is a powerful force. It creates civilizations and destroys them. In every society, there are only two internal checks to the inchoate charisma of its young men, less they lose themselves in free-floating violence that takes everyone down with them. There are the male elders, and ev…

Devotional Thoughs: Heirs with you of the gracious gift of life

The beginning part of I Peter 3 continues on the theme of submitting to one another.

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with yo…

Politics: Global Warming Complexity ... Water Vapor is a Greenhouse Gas

An item picking apart Al Gore's recent NYT piece.

Excerpt:
Gore wrote, "The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere -- thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States."

It's an interesting theory, but where are the facts?

The article goes on to mention various studies that either say the opposite or show uncertainty about this claim.

Additionally, at the end of the piece, it points out that CO2 isn't the only greenhouse gas.

Except:

Aside from clouds, water vapor accounts for as much as two-thirds of the earth's greenhouse-gas effect. Water vapor traps heat from escaping the atmosphere -- but clouds have the opposite effect (called &qu…