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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Opioids

Opioids are drugs like heroin (which is derived from the opium poppy, hence the name). But more recently, there's been a surge in synthetic opioids, which means opioids that aren't derived from the poppy. For example, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl. And one nice thing about those, is that you don't have to pay Afghan farmers, or drug smugglers. It's all synthesised chemically, and perfectly legal.

Here's why it's suddenly become of considerable interest.


See that blue line shooting up in the last few years? That's the synthetic opioids. The steepness of that line, is a big worry. Look at it, and think what it'll look like if that line continues on up. And this is a particularly US problem. For every one million Americans, almost 50,000 doses of opioids are taken every day. That's four times the rate in the UK. In the UK in 2016, drugs killed 3744 people, which is a lot, but that is 60 deaths per million, whereas the US figure is 200 deaths per million. 

And it's bad. More Americans die each day from drug overdoses, than car crashes.

Sometimes, opioids are a good idea - for example, cancer patients take them for pain relief. But it's clear that too many are being prescribed. There's a problem. How can it be fixed?

Trump has suggested “If they don’t start, they won’t have a problem. If they do start, it’s awfully tough to get off. So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: No good, really bad for you in every way. But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem.” Well, yes. But who believes that telling kids "Don't take drugs" will help? It didn't work in the 80s, it won't work now. Also, the problem here, isn't just kids.

Here's one problem - the American healthcare system. Suppose you have bad back pain (I know what that feels like). And you go to your doctor. And he decides that you have a muscle spasm. Which is what I get sometimes. The best treatment is physical therapy, but your insurance won't pay for that. But your insurance will pay for pills, so you get pills. Painkiller pills. Which doesn't address the problem, of course, just the symptom.

My solution to the bad back pain that I get after walking some miles, is to sleep flat on my back, and after a couple of days, the pain is gone. I'm not saying that would work for everyone - consult your doctor.

In the US, prescription drugs can be advertised on TV, to the tune of $6.4 billion in 2016. So you can go to your doctor and say "I want what I saw on TV", and you can be sure that the pharmaceutical companies don't spend $6.4 billion unless they believe it gives results.

In 2015, the American Medical Association requested an end to the advertising of prescription drugs. But it didn't happen.

Are opioids addictive? Well, duh. No-one doubts that heroin is addictive. And so are the synthetics, except the synthetics are new, profitable, and it's very much in the interests of the pharma companies to publish research that throws doubt on that.

So what is to be done?

In the case of the USA, I don't know. Their healthcare system is so buggered up, I can't see any way out for them. Plus, no-one in the USA seems to care about this issue, except the folks who die, of course, and they won't be making much noise. And it's in the interests of the pharma companies, the health insurance companies and the doctors, to fob off a person in pain with pills, instead of a more expensive treatment.

But in the case of the UK, and other countries that have a national healthcare system, we should use the situation in the USA as a dire warning about what could happen here unless we ensure that opioids are prescribed only when absolutely needed, and not to anyone who comes to the doctor with a bad knee.



Friday, 27 October 2017

A reward

I just got my latest invoice from TalkTalk. It shows a credit of £1577.67.

I have no idea why they have suddenly decided to be so generous, but perhaps it's to reward the loyalty of a very long-term (20 years) customer.

Or maybe they just messed up.

So I've told them about it, and they're looking into it. If that credit stays in place, it must be that they did it to reward me. I'm not complaining.

Monday, 23 October 2017

A modest proposal

There are about 30 million people in the USA without health insurance

In the UK, and several dozen other countries, there is universal health insurance. What is to be done about those 30 million unfortunate Americans? They are our cousins, and our friends. We are all human.

It's clear that their current government isn't about to help them - indeed, recent attempts to change healthcare systems in the USA, would have increased that number to 50 million or more. So that means that we Europeans (and Australians, and Canadians, and other countries) have to help them. We need to set up charities, just like the ones that currently bring medical care to very poor countries, but aimed at helping those unfortunate US citizens without healthcare.

Even very simple and cheap healthcare, such as the provision of simple dentistry, and the extraction of bad teeth, can substantially improve the situation of an unfortunate US citizen living in constant dental pain; the only variables being, will the pain be worse today? Will I be able to sleep despite the pain?

The need for this is urgent. Even as you read this, the US government is trying its best to remove healthcare from even more people; it's vital that this scheme be in place for the sad time that the US government is successful in doing this.

This is possible. This is happening already, but it needs to happen on a much wider scale. Give generously. The life that you save will thank you.


Quantum theology

Schrodinger's cat

I have noticed, among a few people, attempts to drag quantum mechanics, or other laws of physics, into discussions of theology. Specifically, the implications of Schrodinger's cat.

The issue is what QM calls "decoherence". QM says that the cat is in a superposition of two states, alive and dead. Common sense tells us that can't be true, and when we open the box, we find a cat that is either alive or dead but not both.

Common sense is not a good guide when dealing with things that we don't commonly experience. And Richard Feynman said "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

Quantum theologians interpret Schrodinger's cat as meaning that the presence of a conscious observer is what causes the decoherence, the collapse of the superposition of states into a single state (but see Feynman, above). And they also point to the fact that by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, you cannot precisely know both the position and momentum of a particle.

They then jump from "conscious observer for the cat" to a supposed need for a conscious observer for every particle in the universe. And therefore God.  But see Feynman, above. You don't actually need a conscious observer.

But I was eating lasagne today when I had a sudden thought, and the fork paused halfway between the plate and my mouth, a situation which rarely arises.

Suppose there was an omnipresent, omniscient observer in the universe. Then the double-slit experiment (DSE) wouldn't give the result that it actually gives! Which would demonstrate the impossibility of an omnipresent, omniscient observer in the universe. Or at least, it would be pretty strong evidence against such an observer.

So let's run through the double-slit experiment and its implications. And let's start with the fact that, unlike the cat experiment (it would be too cruel), the double slit experiment has been done, many times, with reproducible results. And you can do it yourself!

The double slit experiment

So you thought that the Trinity was a mystery? The double slit experiment (DSE) really is a mystery.  Richard Feynman called it "a phenomenon which is impossible […] to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery [of quantum mechanics]."

You can read about it here.

Here's a youtube video that explains this in an easy-to-understand way.

And here's the thing. It looks as if the observer affects reality. In the absence of an observer, particles can act as waves, and give the interference effects of the DSE. But if an observer watches the particles going through the slits, particles can only act as particles - there's no interference.

And that where Quantum Theology comes in, claiming that consciousness affect reality. That's because they don't understand what is meant by an observer (an observer doesn't have to be conscious) and they don't understand QM (See Feynman).

But now consider this.

Suppose there is an omniscient god. Then there is *always* an observer, and so matter (and light) would *always* behave as particles, and the DSE would never show interference.

And yet it does. And you can confirm that for yourself; this is an experiment that you can do at home. All you need is a laser pointer, aluminium foil (such as is used for baking) and some paper.

So is this evidence that there cannot be an omniscient god?

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Marriage

I've been reading a book about the Wars of the Roses, which happened in the UK about 600 years ago, and it's made me think a bit about marriage. And what is a proper age for getting married. For me, it was "almost 25". But back in the 15th century, it was different.

Marriage wasn't just for sex. It was also a contract, with dowry, titles and property involved. And it happened much earlier. MUCH earlier. Girls were being married off at the age of 12. Was this pedophilia? We would say it was, but they obviously didn't think so.

And it could be even earlier. In reading about the Wars of the Roses, I discovered that one of the significant players, Margaret Beaufort, (age 7, although some sources put this even earlier) was married to John de la Pole (age 7) in 1450 by the arrangement of John's father. I think this was a marriage in name only, and it was conditional on consummation, which obviously wouldn't happen for several years. So, in effect, it was a contractual promise. And, in this case, the marriage was annulled three years later. Her second marriage was at age 12.  She was widowed soon after, and at age 13 she was 7 months pregnant. And that's pretty shocking to modern ears.

 And we don't do that now, of course. Do we? Apparently, we do. A woman from Florida has claimed she was forced to marry her rapist at age 11. How was this possible, in an enlightened age and an enlightened country? Well, it turns out in 27 states of the US, there is no minimum age for marriage. In 38 states, more than 167,000 children — almost all of them girls, some as young 12 — were married during a ten year period,

And that brings me to Aisha. I've been trundling around some of the religion discussion groups on Facebook, where I've learned quite a lot of interesting stuff, which I might cover in a subsequent blog, but a topic that comes up over and over again, is Mohammed's marriage to Aisha, when she was six or seven, and it was consummated when she was nine or ten. And people discussing Islam use this to call Mohammed a pedophile.

I'm not sure that this is entirely fair. Remember Margaret Beaufort?  This was, I think, acceptable at the time, so it's a bit unfair to apply modern standards of morality to 600 years ago, or 1400 years ago. Also, other sources give her age at marriage as 10, and consummation at 15. And yes, this is still pedophilia by modern standards (except in 27 US states), but I don't think it was considered abnormal back then.

What was acceptable several hundred years ago, is not acceptable today. And it isn't good enough to cite the fact that such practices existed then - so did slavery. Nor is it good enough to pretend that because Muhammed did something 1400 years ago, that the same thing is acceptable now, on the assumed grounds that he was a "perfect man". 

So do I support Islam? No, because I'm an atheist, I don't believe in any gods. But I also believe in fair play.



Saturday, 14 October 2017

You've been hacked!

Well, that wasn't quite what it said. And it wasn't me, it was ladysolly.

The email came from amazon.com, where she has an account, and it was telling her that someone had attempted to log in using her email address, so they've changed her password to a temporary password and offer her a link so that she can sign in and change it to a new password.

That's their first mistake; ladysolly is clued up enough to know that she shouldn't click on a link in an email. My email system tells me where an email goes to, as well as where it claims to go to. If that's different, then it's probably a scam. Her email system (iPad) doesn't do that.

So we went to amazon.com, not using their link, and tried to log on. Sure enough, her password didn't work, so the original email was telling the truth (but that doesn't mean it actually came from amazon, of course).

So we changed her password (it checked that she was who she said she was by sending her an email to the email address they have for her) and everything is OK now. But ladysolly was worried - could they have gotten her credit card number?

I don't think so - from the amazon email, it was a password-guessing attempt, which failed.

Later, I checked out the email, and the links really did go to amazon.com, so the whole thing was probably bona fide.

I told her that this could well happen again; her email address is publicly known (most email addresses are) and the hackers could try again. Her email address is only one of many on their long list, and that list circulates amongst the criminal fraternity. Tough luck to anyone whose password is "password" or "123456".

Monday, 9 October 2017

Repeal and replace the second amendment

A 64 year old retired accountant was legally able to purchase dozens of guns, including semi-automatic weapons. And he was also able to purchase legally, "bump stocks", which gives a semi-automatic firearm the capability to fire about as rapidly as a fully automatic machine gun. And in Las Vegas, he was able to shoot 600 people in ten minutes, of which 58 died.

How was this possible? Is this a good idea?

What is to be done?

Is this actually a problem?

The first question to ask, is whether this is indeed a problem. Intuitively it seems like it might be, but it's best to examine actual statistics to find out.

There are homicides, suicides and accidents.

It could be argued that suicides by firearm should not count, because if someone hasn't got a gun, they could use a knife, or a throw themselves off a bridge, or take an overdose.  The counter-argument to that is that failed suicides often don't try again, which means that they tried to take their own life at a low point, and without the failure, they'd be dead from the experience of that low point. But it's arguable, so I'm going to leave suicide out of the statistics.

So excluding suicide, there were 13,286 people killed with firearms in the USA in 2015. US population was 322 million, so that's 41 per million per year. And 63 suicides, and 2 accidents.

The UK is a somewhat similar country; we speak the same language, like the same music, eat similar food. In the UK, the number is 0.6 homicides per million per year, 1.5 suicides and zero accidents. In France, 2.1 homicides, 21 suicides. In Germany, 0.7 homicides, 8.4 suicides. In Australia 1.6 homicides, 7.4 suicides.

So that's a big difference. And that means that yes, it's a problem in the USA.

What are the benefits?

So Americans are paying a big price; 13,000 homicides per year. What benefits are they getting for that price? I've asked pro-gun Americans about this, and I'll list the answers I've heard.

1. Self defence. This makes a lot of sense; if a burglar is likely to be armed, it makes sense that a homeowner should be armed.

2. Hunting. If you want to shoot moose, or squirrels, you'll need a rifle.

3. Protection against despotic government. This can also be expressed as "we need guns to ensure our freedom". This is fed by the founding narrative of the USA. The narrative goes like this (I've heard this so many times, and I won't argue it here, because what is important is what people believe, not what actually happened). England oppressed the colonists with taxation, which was an imposition on their liberty, but because the colonists were armed, they were able to fight back against the Greatest Power in the World, and defeat their oppressors, and so the Right to Bear Arms is important. The problem with this as follows.

The US military is the strongest in the world; there's no threat to invade the USA. If you think there's a threat from a possible despotic US governemt, and want to reserve the right to rebel against this dictatorship, then you'll have two problems. The first problem is that round one of this fight will be Rebels against Patriots, because not all Americans will be convinced that a rebellion is the right thing to do, so the Rebels, armed with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles (some with bump stocks) will be up against a similarly armed bunch of Patriots. There's no saying how this might end, it depends on how many Rebels there are, and how many Patriots.

But round two, if the Rebels do overcome the Patriots, will be the Rebels armed with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles (some with bump stocks) against the US Army, Navy Air Force and Marines, armed with fully automatic guns, mortars, tanks, APCs, artillery, attack helicopters, warplanes and napalm. The Rebels will be *slaughtered*. And they surely know that. So there won't be a rebellion.

4. The "good man with a gun" notion. This idea is that mass shootings wouldn't happen if everyone were armed, because the good people with guns would kill the murderer very quickly. The counter-argument to this, is to think about what would actually happen.

Imagine a rock concert at which one of the attendance requirements of the 20,000 attendees is that you carry a loaded gun. And imagine that a 64 year old retired accountant, makes himself a shooting nook 1200 feet away, and opens up on the people at the concert. After a few seconds, people realise they're being shot at, and pull out their guns, and look around to see who they need to shoot. And what they see is 20,000 people with guns at the ready, pointing in every which direction.

The venue would very rapidly become an abattoir. The firing would be intense, for several minutes, until everyone had run out of ammunition. And the few people who were left standing would stlll not really know what just happened and why.

5. If guns were illegal then only criminals will have guns. I won't argue this one (it could be argued) because I'm not proposing to make guns illegal.

Are the benefits 1 and 2 worth the price? I can't really say - that's for Americans to say. But here's an interesting fact - in the light of the Las Vegas shooting, the NRA (National Rifle Association, who are usually very much opposed to gun regulation) proposed that the sale of "bump stocks" be regulated. A Gallup Poll revealed that 55% of Americans think that gun laws should be made more strict. Another interesting fact - 58% of Americans don't have a gun in their home.

The Second Amendment

And then there's the Second Amendment. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

I don't know what that means. Americans argue interminably over what it means. Does that mean that there should be a well regulated militia  bearing arms? Surely the US military fulfils that role. Or does it mean "Anyone in the USA can keep and carry guns"? Different Supreme Court judges have different opinions on this, so I'm not even going to try.

So here's my proposal. And it's dramatic. Repeal the second amendment, and replace it with a "Right to bear arms" that is what Americans today actually want, not what Americans wanted 250 years ago, when "arms" meant "muskets".

My specific suggestions for the 28th amendment 

 - People can keep handguns at home, for self defence. But not when walking around the street, because there's too much scope for things going badly wrong. People can keep rifles at home if they sometimes go hunting (most people don't).

 - Guns have to be handled properly, just like cars. So people have to pass a "driving test" for the kind of weapon they want to use - handgun, rifle, shotgun, whichever. I've noticed that lots of people have accidents with their gun, the gun goes off and they shoot themselves. Either the safety catches aren't safe enough, or people should be trained to use them.

 - Guns should be registered and licensed, like cars. This would be opposed by "the government is going to take your guns" people, but these guns wouldn't make a rebellion possible anyway.

- Hunting rifles should not be semi-automatic. It's *far* too easy to convert them to fully automatic and shoot 600 people in 10 minutes.

- Insurance. You can accidentslly do a lot of damage to a third party with a gun, just as you can with a car. So there must be third party liability insurance. Like with cars.

 - Storage. Guns must be securely stored, in such a way that a child cannot get at it.

Why not just ban guns? We did in England, Australia, tons of other countries?

Because it won't be accepted. Americans are very keen to be able to have a gun. I don't think a proposition to ban all guns, would get many votes. And it's better to have some regulations, than nothing.

These are the broad outines of the proposal; I've never used a gun, I'm ignorant of gun culture, and I'm open to suggestions about how this can be improved. But I'm not American, so you'd be talking to the wrong person.

How to get there from here
 
Repeal and replace the second amendment.

To amend the constitution, isn't easy, and that's on purpose. But it is possible; there are 27 amendments. To make an amendment, you have to either get a 2/3 majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, or ... well, it gets a bit more complicated. But once the amendment has been proposed, it then has a period of time in which to get 38 states to agree to it. The 27th amendment took 200 years to get in place; the 26th a couple of months.


It won't be easy. And it will only be possible it a very large chunk of Americans want it. So the first stage will be to discover if it's wanted.


I'd suggest that an American (I won't do it, you don't want foreigners interfering with your politics) set up an organisation, the National Repeal and Replace Associatoon (NRRA) to initially get people to sign up to the idea. Then, if a few million people do seem interested, enrol them in the NRRA. If 30 million Americans enrol, at $35 per year membership. then thats $1 billion to spend on newsletters, recuitment and whatever it is that you in America do to get politicians to vote the way you want but isn't bribery.




Friday, 6 October 2017

Flu shot

I just got my flu shot; ladysolly did too. She mingles with a lot more people, via her bridge activities, than I do

I did this for several reasons.

1) The Lurgi I got last May wasn't flu, but it was bad enough, and I suspect flu might be worse.
2) It's recommended for people as ancient as me
3) Also for people with Asthma
4) And bronchitis

But the most convincing reason, is provided by the "anti vaxxers", the people who are so opposed to vaccination that they won't get jabbed, or let their kids get protected. And I sneer at such people, and would argue with one if they ever showed their face to me. And then I thought, I should use all those arguments on myself.

I got vaccinated, not only for myself, but also for all those people who won't, or can't.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

More malware

Fresh off my inbox.

Flagged by five out of 59 products, a 90% failure rate. And detected by none of the major products.



Spam

Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2017 06:58:35
From: William Green <WilliamGreen@fdapt.bid>

Subject: Facebook, Sorry for the delay reviewing your application. We appreciate your patience.

Facebook
We would like to thank you again for your interest in the CR [Customer Relations] role at Facebook, and for your patience as the process has continued over the course of the summer. We appreciate especially the time and attention that you invested in presenting your candidacy. The search committee has spent the last several months deeply engaged in a thorough review of all applicant materials and has been very impressed by the quality, depth and breadth of the pool. After much discussion, a small group of individuals has recently been selected to continue in the interview process. Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward with your candidacy at this time.

Thank you again and we wish you the best of luck in your job search.


Needless to say, I didn't apply for a job at Facebook. And the email didn't come from Facebook. So what's the reason for this email? There's nothing enclosed to click on, there's no action I'm being asked to take.

But when I look at the html version, I see that it accesses a web site, and the log of that web site would reveal that I've read the email. Except that I don't use html email, so they won't get that log.

The purpose of the email, is to determine that it's an email address that get read.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Favourite book

We were talking this afternoon, and I got asked "What is your favourite book?"

And while I was running through many thousands of possibilities, the supplementary question was "And what would you take to a desert island?"

I found the second question easier - I chose "The Feyman Lectures", a three volume set that would keep me busy for years improving my understanding of physics.

I found "favourite book" a lot harder to name, but eventually I went for "Lord of the Rings". I've read it twice, which is something I almost never do.