Pascal’s Law tells us that pressure in a fluid depends on the height and density of the fluid. This is something that you’ve experienced firsthand if you’ve ever tried to dive in deep water. The deeper into the water you swim, the greater the pressure you feel, especially in your ears. Go deep enough and the pressure difference between your inner ear and the water becomes outright painful.
In the video demonstration above, you’ll see how a tall, thin tube containing only 1 liter of water is able to shatter a 50-liter container of water. Not only does this show just how powerful height is in creating pressure in a fluid, but it shows how a fluid can be used to transmit pressure over a distance – one of the fundamental principles of hydraulics! (Video credit: K. Visnjic et al.; submitted by Frederik B.)
What we we build always has an impact on the environment around us. The white dots you see in the image above are an array of offshore wind turbines, standing in waters 20 to 25 meters deep. The brownish lines extending from each turbine show the underwater wakes of the turbines, colored by the sediment they’ve picked up. As with trees in a snowstorm, the currents flowing past the base of the turbine likely form a horseshoe vortex that lifts up the sediment into the wake. Because the tides in this area reverse direction every six hours, these sediment plumes can appear quite dynamic in satellite imagery, frequently changing strength and direction. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
I was asked in e-mail if I had any particular thoughts about the end of Obama years. I have quite a few, some of them complicated, but the short version is that I’ll be sad to see Barack Obama go. He was arguably the smartest president of the nine whose administrations I’ve lived through, and one of the most decent in his personal life. These two qualities don’t guarantee one is a great president — Jimmy Carter was both smart and decent, and it didn’t do him a great deal of good in his four years — but in this case it didn’t hurt and probably helped. He wasn’t perfect, but I don’t grade on perfect. Given what he had to work with, namely, the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and GOP opposition and obstructionism that was historically cynical, Obama did very well indeed.
The Trump administration is already historically unpopular and it’s not even in power yet, and when it is in power we are likely to find out what incompetent authoritarianism looks and acts like. So I strongly suspect that in very short order that the Obama years are going to be looked on fondly and wistfully, and not just by liberals. I’m sure there will be a mountain of Twitter sockpuppets that will work overtime to deny this, but Twitter is not the real world — a thing which I believe Trump is on the verge of discovering — and at the end of the day what will matter is how people feel their lives are going. I don’t believe Trump, his administration, or the GOP majorities in Congress are going to do a good job making most people’s lives better. But we will see.
On a personal note, the Obama years were certainly good for me — I started them with a book deal going south in part because of the economic collapse, and ended them in a very different state indeed. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my current good fortune is in no small part due to the Obama administration’s handling of the economy, since massive economic recessions that threaten entire sectors of industry are no good for selling books or making long, secure writing contracts. Given what I expect out of the Trump economy, I am delighted that I have said long-term, secure writing contract to get me through the next few years. I do hope people will still be able to afford books.
I suspect I and others will miss many things about the Obama years, but what I imagine I will miss the most is the idea that my president, for whatever flaws he might have, is ultimately a good and honorable person, someone with dignity, gravity and thoughtfulness. We as a country did well first to imagine him our president, and then to make him so. I liked him being my president. I am glad I voted for him. It is hard to imagine him ever not having my respect. I think he made the world better. Whether that lasts or not, it still existed, and I won’t forget it that it did.
(P.S.: Today, I’ve also written about the beginning of the Trump years, here.)
I posted earlier about Atul Gawande’s piece in the New Yorker on the importance of incremental care in medicine. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act1 did was to make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with “preexisting conditions”, which makes it difficult for those people to receive the type of incremental care Gawande touts. And who has these preexisting conditions? An estimated 27% of US adults under 65, including Gawande’s own son:
In the next few months, the worry is whether Walker and others like him will be able to have health-care coverage of any kind. His heart condition makes him, essentially, uninsurable. Until he’s twenty-six, he can stay on our family policy. But after that? In the work he’s done in his field, he’s had the status of a freelancer. Without the Affordable Care Act’s protections requiring all insurers to provide coverage to people regardless of their health history and at the same price as others their age, he’d be unable to find health insurance. Republican replacement plans threaten to weaken or drop these requirements, and leave no meaningful solution for people like him. And data indicate that twenty-seven per cent of adults under sixty-five are like him, with past health conditions that make them uninsurable without the protections.
That’s 52 million people, potentially ineligible for health insurance. And that’s not counting children. Spurred on by Gawande, people have been sharing their preexisting conditions stories on Twitter with the hashtag #the27Percent.
A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million adults under 65 — or 27 percent of that population — have pre-existing health conditions that would likely make them uninsurable if they applied for health coverage under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before insurance regulation changes made by the Affordable Care Act.
In eleven states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would have a declinable condition, according to the analysis: West Virginia (36%), Mississippi (34%), Kentucky (33%), Alabama (33%), Arkansas (32%), Tennessee (32%), Oklahoma (31%), Louisiana (30%), Missouri (30%), Indiana (30%) and Kansas (30%).
36% uninsurable in West Virginia! You’ll note that all 11 of those states voted for Trump in the recent election and in West Virginia, Trump carried the day with 68.7% of the vote, the highest percentage of any state. The states whose people need the ACA’s protection the most voted most heavily against their own interest.
Update: An earlier version of this post unfairly pinned the entire blame for the lack of coverage of those with preexisting conditions on the insurance companies.2 I removed the last paragraph because it was more or less completely wrong. Except for the part where I said we should be pissed at the Republican dickheads in Congress who want to repeal the ACA without replacing it with something better.3 And the part where we should be outraged. And the part where we regulated cars and cigarettes and food to make them safer, forced companies to build products in ways they didn’t want, and saved millions of lives. We can’t make everyone healthier and raise taxes to do it? Pathetic for what is supposedly the world’s most powerful and wealthy nation. (thx @JPVMan + many others)
I hope, for the love of Pete, that everyone reading this site is aware that the Affordable Care Act (the ACA) is Obamacare. Obamacare is the derogatory name the Republicans gave to the ACA that everyone, including Obama himself, ended up using. Which is unfortunate. President Obama and his administration deserve neither all of the credit nor should shoulder all of the blame for the ACA.
I would also like to add that I, as a (very) small business owner, rely on the protections afforded by the ACA to get insurance coverage for me and my family. Something to keep in mind if you otherwise don’t know anyone who would be affected by the ACA’s repeal. (Of course, the cushy insurance policy you get through work might be affected as well, you never know.)↩
At the heart of the ACA is a compromise between the US government and the insurance companies. The insurance companies don’t want to sell people insurance only when people are sick…that would be prohibitively expensive. That’s where the preexisting conditions thing comes in. So, the ACA says, ok, you have to sell insurance to people with preexisting conditions and we’ll make sure that everyone has to buy insurance, whether they’re sick or not. That bargain makes sure more people are covered and gives the insurance companies a larger pool of people to draw premiums from.
You can see why Republicans don’t like it: it forces people to buy something even if they don’t want to and it forces companies to sell things to people they would rather not sell. And as a bonus, people the Republicans don’t give a shit about — women, the poor, people of color — are disproportionately helped by the ACA. So they’ll repeal it and replace it with magic! And the only cost will be an increase in dead Americans.↩
I am all for this, BTW. If Paul Ryan and Donald Trump come up with a plan to give better and cheaper healthcare coverage to everyone in America, let’s do it.↩