Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rabbit from a hat?

Well, the administration manages to get a resolution to the Afghan presidential tussle - Ashraf Ghani to be President, with Abdullah Abdullah to some newly created position in a 'power sharing' agreement of some sort...

A success for president Obama and his administration? One hopes so, though their track record on these "pulling a rabbit out of a hat" deals isn't particularly encouraging! Anyone remember the "Tegucigalpa/San Jose" agreement? Or the "Leap Day Deal"?

Read it and weep - here, and here...

Friday, September 26, 2014


Came across this article - The global warming “hiatus” - which takes climate 'skeptics' to task, as "The notion that global warming has gone on “hiatus” is the most popular and persistent myth that climate skeptics and their adherents have asserted (and asserted) in recent years..."

Two points made struck this blogger... The first that 'deniers' engage in cherry-picking to adduce a 'pause' in warming. Thus: "Skeptics choose a couple of arbitrary data points—a temperature reading from early 2000 and another from early 2010, for example—and highlight a temperature drop between them. Because 1998 was a particularly hot year, it often serves as a convenient starting point for skeptics, who point to a slowdown in warming in subsequent years.."

The second point, presumably to demonstrate that warming continues: "...  But the mercury did not actually stop rising: 17 of the last 18 years have been among the hottest on record, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center..."

Well, what of it? Using the link supplied by the article itself and plugging in a couple of different starting dates, one distant and one more recent you get the following:


Clearly the trend is up... However, also it is fairly clear that even if you do not cherry-pick your dates, there has been a period of relative 'hiatus' in the increases over a little more of the last decade!

OK, so perhaps there are deniers that overemphasize this relatively small period which is relatively 'flat.' However this is not what the article decries; it clearly says that the idea that there has been a 'hiatus' is a  complete myth and insinuates that anyone that thinks so is a cherry-picking climate skeptic. A little 'shrill' methinks.

Well, clearly the fact that "...17 of the last 18 years have been among the hottest on record ..." clearly proves the continued warming? Uh, no! If 17 years ago was the hottest year on record at the time, and then every subsequent year (but one cooler year) was the exact same temperature, this statement would still be true! By itself, this statement is not dispositive at all!

Note: This blogger is not arguing for or against AGW; nor if the earth continues to heat up but that it masked because the heat is being trapped in the deep ocean; or {insert multiple other arguments here}. All he is saying is that these two particular arguments  are nonsensical and a non-sequitur. In fact the writer of this screed implicitly seems to concede a 'hiatus' by including: "...It is a short fluctuation in a long-term upward trend in atmospheric temperatures..."  

Over-reacting to those who exaggerate the 'short fluctuation' by going overboard (in the opposite direction) and denying that it exists may be good politics, but is isn't good logic!

Previous blog entries related to climate:
GHG reductions - some info - Jun 5th, 2014
Random chart - economic fragility - Dec 29th, 2013
Random chart - AGW - Jun 25th, 2013
Misc update - climate change - Jun 17th, 2013
Random charts - deforestation - Jan 8th, 2012
Misc update (climate) - Jan 29th, 2011
Climate denial - Jun 5th, 2010
More on climate - Jan 31st, 2010
Climate change and doubt - Jan 24th, 2010
Meet Dr. Rajendra Pachuri - Jan 23rd, 2010
We wuz wrong - Jan 23rd, 2010
Saving the day... - Dec 20th, 2009
Skimmed milk masquerades as cream - Dec 17, 2009

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Hmm, so I ordered an "Omega DeVille" on eBay... Knew it was rather iffy because it looked too 'clean' for a pre-owned watch, but perhaps it was some photographic sleight of hand...

Well I received this:

Might have been smarter of the seller if he/she had taken the "¥138.00/PCS" tag off this "genuine" Omega watch. If it's 128 yuan (CNY) then we're talking about USD 22.52; if its 138 yen (JPY) then just USD 1.26!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Picture update - Tower of David

Previous related blog entries:
Update - Tower of David - Jan 29th 2014
Random picture - Tower of David - Oct 20th, 2013

Caracas is finally ending the 'world's tallest squat' informs us that "... the Venezuelan government says it’s time for the squatters to go..." 'The Tower of David' is to be emptied, the inhabitants to be moved to government-built housing because it is "not safe." Not that anything has changed since 2007...


Take the link for more (un-cropped) pictures...

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Apparently there is some controversy around new teaching standards, methodology, etc., collectively known as the 'common core.' OK, so this blogger knows nothing about it, other than snippets of radio discussions on the topic that he has heard, such as that it emphasizes that kids should learn "... to think more critically, to understand math rather than merely memorize formulas..." and so on...

OK, sounds rather unexceptional... What does seem weird however, is some of the reporting on "new techniques" for teaching math:
  • On one broadcast I heard about 'skip counting.' Kids in a 3rd grade class were solving word problems, and it went like this:
Samantha: "There are five classes in third grade. Each class has nine students. How many students are in third grade?"
Narrator: "You can figure this out by multiplying nine times five which is easy if you know your times tables, but not all of these third graders know their times tables yet. But they have other ways to solve this problem. Samantha uses skip counting"
Samantha: "Nine, eighteen, twenty seven, thirty six, forty five."

The teacher then asks for another way, "... any other strategy?"  One kid suggests using a number line "You could count nine five times on a number line..."
Hmm, granted this may not be the best exposition of what skip counting is, however in this case (to this blogger) the 'skip counting' looks exactly like multiplying nine times five using a times table (!) just leaving out 'nine times one is..., nine times two is...', and so on...
  • On another NPR broadcast I heard about addition, apparently now being done from left to right when adding two numbers together... (note: other than stating that was how it was being done they didn't go into specifics).
OK... Once again this blogger doesn't really know much about the subject, so silliness like this might well have been part of the pre-common core teaching of math. It is clear however that people feel very strongly about this; that all concerned are clearly talking past one another; and that the situation hasn't been helped in the least by the politicians who have jumped into the discussion (usually dragging in other issues and biases).

Hopefully we can at least all agree, using either common core techniques or the old-fashioned method, that 2 3/4 plus 1 3/4 gives us 4 1/2. Apparently this is not clear to someone with a Ph.D in Mathematics Education. Ouch!

Random chart - narcotics

Source: Taking the fight against the deadly prescription drug epidemic online

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Random charts - the blitz

Click to expand:

Source: Bomb Sight: Mapping the WW2 Bomb Census (interactive map)

MLR overview

Some previous blog entries referencing the MLR:
Update III - MLR update - Aug 9th, 2014
MLR - Year 2 - Jun 22, 2013
Latest MLR update Dec 4th, 2011
The MLR saga continues - May 13th, 2011
Misc update (MLR) - Mar 26th, 2011
Misc update - V - Feb 13th, 2011
Misc updates - MLR - Oct 25th, 2010
MLR Redux - Aug 24th, 2010
MLR update - Jun 27th, 2010

Medical Loss Ratio Requirements Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): Issues for Congress provides a nice overview of the medical loss ratio, including:

"The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148) requires certain health insurers to provide consumer rebates if they do not meet a set financial target known as a medical loss ratio (MLR). At its most basic, a MLR measures the share of health care premium dollars spent on medical benefits, as opposed to company expenses such as overhead or profits. For example, if an insurer collects $100,000 in premiums and spends $85,000 on medical care, the MLR is 85%. In general, the higher the MLR, the more value a policyholder receives for his or her premium dollar. The ACA requires an annual, minimum 80% MLR for individual and small group insurance plans, and an annual, minimum 85% MLR for large group plans. Congress imposed the MLR to provide “greater transparency and accountability around the expenditures made by health insurers and to help bring down the cost of health care.”...

"... The ACA statute and regulations allow companies to include both quality improvements and medical services when calculating total MLR medical spending. Insurers may subtract (i.e., disregard) state and local taxes and some licensing fees from total MLR expenses... The ACA MLR is now the national minimum standard that must be met by covered health insurers..."

"... The MLR provisions apply to fully funded health plans, which are plans where insurance companies assume full risk for incurred medical expenses. The MLR does not extend to self-funded plans... Non-profit insurers and Medicare plans were not subject to the MLR during the first two years the ACA was in effect... The HHS granted three-year MLR waivers to select states where it determined that MLR implementation could harm the individual insurance market..."

"In general, the higher the MLR, the more value a consumer receives for each dollar of paid premium. For example, an 85% MLR means that 85% of premium dollars paid into a plan are paid out in the form of benefits. A 75% MLR means that just 75% of premium dollars are used for benefits. The MLR is an aggregate measure. Because the ratio is based on a health plan’s overall performance, some enrollees may pay more in premiums during the course of a year than they receive in benefits, while others may receive benefits that far exceed their premium payments..."

"... The ACA MLR standards require that covered insurers in the individual and small group markets meet a minimum MLR of 80%. For insurers that sell large group plans, the minimum MLR is 85%. The higher MLR requirement for the large group market accounts for economies of scale; in other words, it is more efficient to sell insurance to a large company that will offer coverage for many individuals and families than it is to have to market a product to one individual at a time, or to firms that cover a smaller group of individuals. Thus, the higher MLR standard for large companies reflects their assumed lower administrative costs..."

"... Definition of Medical Claims: Incurred claims = direct claims incurred in MLR reporting year + unpaid claim reserves associated with claims incurred + change in contract reserves + claims-related portion of reserves for contingent benefits and lawsuits + experience-rated refunds (exclude rebates based on issuers MLR)..."

"... The ACA allows insurers (with some exceptions) to include spending for quality improvements in the numerator for calculating the MLR. In other words, companies can meet the federal MLR medical claims requirement, in part, by increasing activities designed to enhance the quality of their insurance products. Thus, the actual definition of what constitutes a quality expenditure is important to the MLR calculation..."

"... Final HHS rules let insurers count money recovered from fraud and abuse initiatives toward the MLR requirement for medical benefits spending, but do not allow companies to count broader fraud prevention activities..."

"... A key part of the MLR calculation is the definition of premiums, which is in the denominator of the MLR formula. Holding medical claims and quality improvement constant, an increase in premium revenues lowers the MLR, while a reduction in premium revenues raises the MLR. The ACA also allows insurers to subtract certain taxes, licensing, and regulatory fees from premiums, which can further increase the MLR amount (and reduce the likelihood of paying rebates)..."

"... Premiums are calculated based on earned premiums, and are defined as the sum of all monies paid by a policyholder in order to receive coverage from a health insurer... Taxes, licenses, and regulatory fees are subtracted from premiums under the MLR formula. Since they reduce premium revenue, higher taxes and fees can raise the MLR... Federal taxes are defined by HHS as all federal taxes and assessments allocated to health insurance coverage that are subject to the MLR reporting requirements under ACA. Federal income taxes on investment income and capital gains are excluded from this component as they are not considered taxes on premium revenues and, thus, should not be used to adjust premium revenues..."

"... The ACA requires that the MLR calculation include methodologies to account for the special circumstances of smaller plans, different types of plans, and newer plans. To that end, the NAIC recommended, and HHS adopted, two “credibility adjustments” designed to address issues associated with random variation in claims data... The first credibility adjustment is intended to address health insurance plans with low enrollment... A second credibility adjustment is available to insurers that have a large share of high deductible health plans (HDHPs)..."

"... The ACA gave the HHS Secretary the authority to adjust the 80% MLR standard for the individual health insurance market if the Secretary determined that applying the standard could destabilize the individual market in a given state. States were allowed to request a temporary adjustment in the MLR ratio for up to three years, to avoid coverage disruptions in their individual markets... Seven states were granted an adjustment: Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Ten states and a territory were denied an adjustment: Delaware, Florida, Guam, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin..."

"... Health insurers that fail to meet the minimum MLR requirements must provide rebates to policyholders... The NAIC recommended, and HHS agreed, that the entity distributing the rebates may choose whether to disburse payments to current enrollees as a lump-sum check or a deposit to a credit or debit card..." 


Random chart - income & well-being

Source: Money can buy happiness

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