Friday, November 30, 2012

Same Planet, Different Worlds

I have two stories open in my browser now that are such a contrast that I just thought I'd present them together.  It's like the good news/bad news jokes that used to go around. 

First, we have the good news story.  Machine Design magazine reports on a company that has developed a mushroom-based replacement for a lot of packaging foam uses.  The company, Ecovative Design, (I assume that's a combination of "ecology" and "innovative") calls their product Ecocradle:
...the material replaces synthetic, petroleum-based foams such as expanded polypropylene (EPP), expanded polyethylene (EPE), and expanded polystyrene (EPS). Containing fungus rather than petroleum, EcoCradle isn’t so much manufactured as it is grown.
The article describes how the fungus is grown and processed into the packaging material.
EcoCradle begins as a combination of living fungi and agriculture waste. The fungi — called mycelium, or mushroom roots — is mixed with inedible and unusable agricultural by-products such as seed hulls or seed husks from staples like rice or oats.
Sounds like an interesting idea.  Around here, I've gotten several things shipped in those water-soluble packing peanuts made from starch.  This is a similar idea, but not exactly a competitor to the Ecocradle foam.  Here's a test product made from the fungus-based foam:

Now for the other end of the spectrum, the bad news story.  It seems in the UK, the "Liverpool Pathway", the name for a system the NHS has been using to kill off old patients, is also being used to kill off the very young - babies. To quote the Mail (UK)
Sick children are being discharged from NHS hospitals to die at home or in hospices on controversial ‘death pathways’.

Until now, end of life regime the Liverpool Care Pathway was thought to have involved only elderly and terminally-ill adults.

But the Mail can reveal the practice of withdrawing food and fluid by tube is being used on young patients as well as severely disabled newborn babies.  
Is anyone surprised?  Just a month ago, we found that the NHS was paying incentives to kill off patients (I hear the Mafia does that, too.  Just sayin'...), and there have been many stories of complaints by relatives of how awfully their parents were treated. It's a system that a prominent oncologist called "immoral medicine" and "the most corrupt practice in British Medicine"

Does this remind you of anything?  The pattern of killing off - excuse me, providing less extreme measures - for the very young and the elderly?  Why, it's the complete lives system (link to pdf) which is embedded into Obamacare!  Just look at the graph from the paper on the complete lives system; it clearly shows babies and elderly won't get care. But that's only when resources are limited, which is always.  The British NHS took generations to get to where they're actively getting rid of the young and the old; with Obamacare it's designed in from the start. 
When I look at the contrast of these stories, I see the contrast of the private sector entrepreneurs and the bureaucrats of the NHS.  I see problem solvers, engineers, and scientists on one side versus problem avoiders, paper shufflers and, well, bureaucrats.  I see everything that's good in our modern world and everything that's wrong.

We need more of the problem solvers and less of the bureaucrats. 


  1. Excellent post. I had no idea that the NHS was also offing babies, but they have been killing off their folks over 50 for years now. I'd love to see some statistics for how many deaths there are of Brits on the dole, as opposed to those with an income they can spend on Harley Street and elsewhere. As opposed to Canada, where I understand you have to go outside of the country if you can't get it from their national medical system.

    Leave it to Obamacare to take the _worst_ of the features of the other national health care systems to make up "Affordable Care".

    1. "Leave it to Obamacare to take the _worst_ of the features of the other national health care systems to make up "Affordable Care"." FTW.

      You could tell it was coming when they appointed Donald Berwick to design the system, a guy who idolizes the British NHS and who thinks excess supply of medicines cause costs to go up - the only place in the universe where supply and demand doesn't work. A guy who thinks the (old) American system was too focused on the individual patients and not social justice.

  2. Offing the elderly who don't have sufficient coffers to drain is already going on in the US, it happened to someone I know, despite her son being at her bedside almost 24/7. He had to sleep sometime, and she kept being shunted from hospital to nursing home and back inappropriately and I think they neglected/dehydrated her in shifts until it killed her. Shunting her back and forth served to obscure liability, but might have also been a negative turf war - like each facility wanting her to die in the other one and wanting to avoid expenses.

    The problem she was in for was was due to medical incompetence and neglect in the first place, when she was injured by a radiation procedure gone too long; then they failed to give her one of her prescriptions and failed to notice she wasn't taking it for over a year.

    One must become an amateur herbalist these days if one wants to stay healthy. Ah, but watch out, the FDA or Codex Alimentarius or the WHO will outlaw herbs next.

    1. There are deep and profound issues at work here, and it's not fair to try to sweep it all into one bundle and say "let the government handle it" or "let the market handle it".

      I should write up a long post on this, but in the final analysis, it doesn't matter what I think. We're stuck with Obamacare until it - or the economy - collapses under the weight of the costs.

      As for the last point, there are global efforts underway to wipe out herbal supplements right now.

      The future is making Blade Runner or your favorite dystopian stories look optimistic.

  3. Heh, it's an inversion of the bathtub curve.

    I should read the paper to see what intellectual gymnastics were required to justify sinking the bulk of resources into 'maintaining complex systems' during the years when no little to no maintenance is needed.

    In a world where paying for one's own medical care is one's own responsibility, it is not difficult to see how the early part of the curve the cost would be carried by one's own parents; most of one's own working life there are little medical costs and one's just making the mortgage and car payment; and later in life when the big expenses hit one is willing to liquidate a lifetimes accumulated wealth for a few more years life.

    A cynical person might think the effect of nationalized health care would be the transfer of wealth the infirm elderly to the healthy younger adults.... while denying the elderly care they would have paid for themselves before.

    1. Good point. What they're trying to sells us on is the opposite, that the system will only work, if healthy young adults in their 20s and 30s buy insurance to pay for the ends of the distribution.

      Note that they say that it's not screwing you over if you're denied coverage for something at 70 while a 25 year old gets the treatment. They say everyone who is 70 was once 25 and everyone who is 25 has a good chance of getting to be 70, so if they screw you at 70, it's OK because they didn't screw you when you were 25. Make sense? Me neither.