We got five inches of new snow last night but today it got above freezing for the first time in a month. It was below zero (F) every night for two weeks (and at most, single digits above zero during the day). But now, time to take off the jacket and leave the hat and gloves on the shelf! Bailey (my canine pal) and I went for a walk. Pushing 40 and probably to surpass that tomorrow, it was almost warm enough for passive solar heating from the front porch.
Another day and warmer still. Pushing 50 (10 degrees C), a 70 degree (F) rise in a few days. Used passive solar heat today. I woke up today to a strange site. I believe aliens landed in the night. I found this snow tower in my front yard. It was too dark to photograph (and I had to get to work). By the time I got home it had melted somewhat, but is about 5.5 feet tall and 2 feet square. (A 2 foot carpenter’s square is next to it for scale.) Something about the proportions struck me so I measured carefully and found it to be 66.6 inches tall. I re-measured the sides and found them to be 66.6 cm. Oh, the horror!
One of my jobs is English-to-English translation, as people always seem to have trouble understanding each other.
While I am home recuperating from surgery, I thought I’d explain a few medical terms for your edification.
Public Service Announcement
“Minor surgery” – anything done to someone else.
“Procedure” – surgery that your insurance won’t fully cover.
“Outpatient procedure” – surgery that even Medicare won’t fully cover.
“This won’t hurt a bit” – It won’t hurt me to do it to you. I can’t say what it will feel like on the receiving end.
“Just a little prick. It’s not really painful.” – The President is just a little prick, too; but he causes plenty of pain.
“This may cause a little discomfort.” – Yeah, doc, let me do it to you and then tell me about discomfort.
“Deductible” – Don’t even think about using your insurance before you’re broke.
“Co-pay” – You think you’re insured, but we think that unless you have a little skin in the game, you’ll actually try to use your insurance. This’ll make you think twice.
“Co-insurance” – Ha! After you satisfied the deductible and made the co-pay, you thought insurance would cover the rest – sucker! Now you get to split the rest of the cost with us!
“We’ll just run a few tests.” – We bought this new (and really expensive) machine. The only way we can afford it is to use it a lot and bill you for it.
Bonus! Want to save on medical expenses? The TSA scanners have an uncanny ability to detect injuries! My most recent scan found a cavity before I went to the dentist. That’s not to mention the other injuries they have found.
The popular myth about Worker’s Compensation Insurance is that it is there to protect workers from unsafe working conditions. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story: Worker’s Compensation Insurance is (also) there to protect employers from lawsuits by employees. If you are hurt on the job, you can’t sue your employer for damages. You can file an insurance claim and hope the insurance company (which works for the employer, not you) will agree that your injury was caused by your job and pay for your medical care and a portion of your wages while you are unable to work. More likely is that they will dispute your claim, asserting that you had a pre-existing condition or that your injury was caused by something you do in your spare time. To collect the benefits you are owed you may have to hire an attorney to represent you even though you can’t sue.
Another popular myth is that workers fake injuries in order to collect benefits. Since benefits are set at a fraction of your wages, you have to be pretty stupid to get only a portion of your wages (unless you have some other lucrative job you can perform while collecting benefits, a rarity indeed) while living on savings or scrimping to get by. The insurance company may spend more on surveillance (hiring private investigators to follow you around and film your activities) than the cost of compensation for the injury. An article in the Journal of Social Research (Tennyson, 2008) asserts that industry estimates of fraud are grossly exaggerated (by a factor of 10) and that surveillance activities decrease trust and lead to increased fraud.
In The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Spieler and Burton (2012) cite more than a dozen reasons for under-reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses and cite conclusions from other studies including ” at least 80% of all medical costs caused by occupational diseases were missed by workers’ compensation programs.” (Leigh and Robbins, 2004)
So are workers ripping off the system in large numbers, as popularly believed? Or is the system ripping off workers in large numbers, as the evidence suggests? The evidence suggests that workers fail to report work-related injuries for multiple reasons including fear of retaliation, and that insurance companies fail to pay for work-related injuries for multiple reasons including asserting that doctors can’t prove that the job was the sole cause of the injury or illness. The evidence also suggests that insurers will go to great lengths to discourage claims and to reject those that are filed.
What do others think of US Healthcare?
Most of the world has a healthcare system. The US has an insurance system. Why does it not strike us as odd that we have a “system” centered around an industry that makes its money by withholding care? The more premiums we pay and the fewer services they pay for, the “healthier” the system is. Take a few minutes to watch the video above and hear what people who have a healthcare system say when asked what they think about the cost of care in the US. Our leaders and our media want to convince us that we can’t afford a single-payer system. The rest of the world recognizes that we can’t afford not to have one.
Resources have value based on the cost of extracting them versus the value added to the product. A few years ago, when the fracking boom hit, western Wisconsin was found to have the best frac sand around. A new industry appeared. They blew up fields to mine sand and built new railroad lines to haul the sand to natural gas wells. A few years went by, and they decided sand in Texas was cheaper, closer to the gas deposits, and good enough. The Wisconsin sand mining industry went bust.
If you are a highly skilled widget maker with 20 years of experience and know things, like where to bang on a machine to restart it when it freezes up, and you make great widgets, and you pay attention so that you know stuff that no one else in the company knows, you get paid well. But maybe they do some calculating and decide that a newly-trained widget maker, who gets paid a lot less, will do most of the time. When the machine goes down or they don’t know where to find something, maybe they figure the lost time will be made up for by the lower wages. Now it’s time to get rid of you. Having Security walk you out of the plant may be bad for morale. What to do, what to do?
Maybe they can make it unpleasant enough that you’ll take early retirement to avoid the headaches. What if they suddenly start making mistakes on your payroll? Or maybe change your family health insurance plan to a single plan without telling you? Maybe your pension contributions get messed up. Maybe, if you notice the mistakes and complain, they’ll get fixed eventually. Or maybe you’ll just get fed up and leave, allowing then to bring in a lower-paid worker. Nah, that would never happen, right? But if the cost of extracting your value becomes greater than the value added to the widgets, start watching those paystubs carefully.
Weather and Climate
We’ve talked about weather and climate before. We’ve linked to data on the freeze/thaw cycles of one Wisconsin lake that has been studied for more than 150 years. While this year’s weather should not be mistaken for climate, in October we were ice fishing. In January we could be swimming, though it would be a bit chilly. October’s ice is gone. The lake is liquid again and the temperature is pushing 50. Since 1852, this lake has melted and re-frozen in the same season six times. Five of those have occurred since 1977.
In case you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, we’re around – we just had nothing to say for a while. Now we can’t ride a bike for a while, so…here we are! Comments welcome. Watching TV is going to get old fast, so let’s talk.
Okay, now it’s cold. Those of you who recall my Winter Biking post know I delivered newspapers as a kid, and that my parents had a rule that if it were colder than -20 degrees F, I could get a ride on my paper route. I decided to keep that rule as an adult, and ride my bike to work as long as the temperature remained above -20.
I broke that rule this week. Bus service isn’t great on Saturdays, so I rode to work. This is what -21 degrees F (-30 C) looks like. The fog on the lenses is from bending over to lock my bike. I was able to see better than that while riding. I am happy to say that my new Bontrager Old Man Winter boots kept my feet warm(ish) with just dress socks. Now that I’ve tested them, I’ll wear warmer socks next time.
This was the first time it has been cold enough to wear that fleece balaclava. Silk glove liners inside my mittens also helped.The title, by the way, is from Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) in “The African Queen”.
Temperatures that cold are fun for other things besides riding. If you throw boiling water into the air it will evaporate before coming to earth. (The actual demonstration starts at about the one minute mark of the video.) If you blow soap bubbles, they freeze. When the break, they shatter like light bulbs. The sensor on my phone had trouble dealing with all that white, but a frozen bubble sits in the middle of the photo.
(If spacing or formatting look weird, WordPress has changed its editing software again and it is pretty buggy.)
Six inches of new snow followed the cold, and -30 comes next. (Update: it never got that cold, but close, and by Friday afternoon should be above zero.) Now I know people are getting soft. No newspaper or mail delivery today (Monday). Also, when it gets cold enough, the snow squeaks when you walk on it.
This morning (Wednesday) we added wind to the cold. -26 plus a 20 mph wind (with a brief shot of 30 mph headwind) yielded a wind chill of ~ -50. (F and C are pretty close together at that point.) About a half mile from work, I thought my rear tire was going flat. There was no way I was going to stop. I was willing to sacrifice the tire and tube. A bit later (when I entered the infamous Pharmacy Building wind tunnel – the cause of that brief but monstrous headwind) I realized I was going flat, not the tire. At that point, my lenses fogged and froze and did look like the picture above. The final climb up the hospital driveway was done by memory as much as vision.
I learned that the wind proof membrane in my jacket gets stiff at that temperature. When I moved, it sounded like I was wrapped in cellophane. I feared the membrane had become brittle enough to shatter, like the bubbles I blew. It still seemed to work the next day. The sound of the tire studs biting into the ice was deafening. I wanted to record all those sounds, but didn’t want to uncover my fingers to work the phone. (Besides, the battery went from 100% to 20% charge just sitting in my pocket during the trip.)
The last time I remember a cold snap like was back in my radio days. I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and an except from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” (which takes place on a planet referred to, in English, as “Winter”) on the air that day. I recommend both if you want to curl up with a warm beverage and read on a cold day.
You’ve probably read that this cold is due to the “Polar Vortex”, and you may have read claims that this somehow disproves global warming. Au contraire! A high altitude warm air mass made its way to the pole, causing the vortex, which normally circles the pole, to split and send a lobe southward over central North America. It is currently colder in Madison, WI than in Fairbanks and Point Barrow, Alaska, as well as Lapland (Saariselkä). Parts of Siberia are still colder.
For the climate change deniers, or those who don’t fathom the difference between weather and climate, the National Weather Service reports that, between 1869 and 1999, the temperature in Madison, WI dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit an average of 12 times per decade. Since 2000, it has happened twice – in 2000 and this week. The average number of days per decade when the daytime high remains below zero has fallen from 15 in the 1900s to 2 this century. The Winter Biking link above also contains a link to lake freeze data from the University of WI Limnology Lab, which also supports the conclusion that winters are shorter and milder than they were in the 1900s.
We’ll see what the groundhogs think tomorrow.
So when some old codger says that, when he was a kid delivering papers, he often rode his bike in below zero weather and seldom does now, he is telling the truth. If he tells you he walked five miles to school (uphill both ways) and he and his brother took turns carrying each other because they had one pair of boots between them, he may be pulling your leg.