About Mark Cathcart

I am an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Formerly I was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm also the ride leader for Jack and Adams Bicycle shop rides; I own the new Austin Triathletes and ATxD Multisports, a sports management company.

China, still not big or bad enough

china chemicals

Back on August 14th, the Austin American Statesman carried an article from the NY TImes about the dangers of Chemical storage on it’s front page. It did so without even a footnote highlighting the fact there is little in Texas that, in 2015, prevents the same thing happening. You can read an updated NY Times article here, or the one highlighted above here.

Of course, we had the total disaster in West, Texas in April 2013. Since then there has been little to prevent the same thing happening. When he was Texas Attorney General, Governor Abbott restricted any information about Chemical Storage held by the State, as posted over a year ago.. He said at the time, you can always show up and ask what chemicals are stored on a site near you. A fine example of what the Tianjin residents would call “shuǎzuǐpí“.

Of course, as we are always being told, “everything is bigger in Texas“,  and when it comes to chemical explosions, China has a long way to go to match Texas. Consider the pictures below, pretty similar.

Chemical Explosion

The pair on the left are from the 1947 Texas City Disaster, where 581 were killed, and over 5,000 injured, with more than 500 homes destroyed. Believed to be the USA largest ever and most destructive industrial accident. It ranks among the worlds largest man-made disasters. The pictures on the right are from the Tianjin explosions which killed 147 people.

The primary difference being, as the updated NY Times article on Tianjin chemical storage shows, there were public records about chemical storage in China, not so much Texas. Freedom is an illusion.

Texas is an Ass

Just this week, Governor Abbott vetoed what many consider a key mental health provision, and given many of the continuing gun massacres are blamed on mental health issues, add that to guns in Texas, and a lot of people are upset with Abbott.

This post isn’t about guns, or mental health, or bashing Republicans. It doesn’t really matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, Texas pride aside. The Governor and Legislator are increasingly making Texas look like an ass.

I’m not talking about all the seemingly dumb laws on the books, or, the way and process the Governor has vetoed many key bills, or line items; or the fact the former Governor is still under indictment; or the way the current Attorney General is also facing potential federal charges. Nope, all that stuff can be passed off by one side or the other as “politically motivated”.

Nope, Texas is an ass because the world is changing, events happen at increasing velocity; social media is changing everything, and the Texas Legislature meets once every two years, passes a bunch of bills and then gets the hell out of dodge. The New York Times wrote this article about it back in 2010, nothing has changed.

Texas, like many states, has a constitution, written back in the 1876 has the legislature come to the capital every two years. Most states have moved away from that now. But here in Texas they spend 140-days prioritizing, bullying and cajoling their bills to the governors desk, assuming they can even get time to get their bills drafted and debated. Once they are done, the constitution gives them ample time to get back on their horses, in their buggys, or onto the stage coach to get back to their districts to converse with the people that elected them, before it’s time for a do-over.

As a reminder, Texas is bigger than Germany; bigger than France + large part of Spain and has almost as many people.

In a world where you can place a video call to almost anywhere, in a State where you can fly to a airport anywhere in the state in less than a day. With a legislature that raise significant amounts of money for election, don’t Texans deserve a legislative process that is on the ball, addressing issues as they arise, taking the appropriate steps to review, update and changes laws as Texas needs?

Instead what we have is an election, and then a rushed legislature that brings forward bills that pander towards just getting elected next time. As we’ve seen both from Governor Abbots ethics cry, and his veto pen, very few serious bills make it through. I get it, politics is hard, but Texans deserve more than this.

Sadly. as the New York Times report from 2010 says

The citizens of Texas inherently don’t trust government,” said Kip Averitt, who until recently served as a Republican state senator from Waco. He added, “I don’t think the public perceives it as a problem.

Who can blame them, given the problems highlighted above, and the fact that the general consensus is that the Old Boy network and pay to play are the two biggest problems with Texas Politics, perhaps if the legislature actually showed up and made a full time job out of crafting legislation, working to get traction, people would have more faith in their government?

No more riding into town, working on legislation that will get you elected next time and then leaving. Texas is an ass if they allow that to continue.

Out of control drugs

Of the many things wrong with the US Medical system, and there are a great many, not least it is the most expensive in the world, are the prices of ancillary parts of the healthcare system.

I’ve just been catching up on my bills, one of which was a visit to a chiropracter. A single visit, with a company provided insurance, my out of pocket cost was $485. Yes, it’s complicated, it involves deductibles, co-pays etc. and of course since it’s my only healthcare visit so far this year, I got essentially nothing from insurance. You then start to question what you got for $485. 10-mins with the specialist; 15-mins electrical stimulation; and about the same ultrasound. Sigh.

I have a mild form of psoriasis which randomly appears(stress?) on my right elbow, left thumb and a couple of other areas. It’s really no big deal, I use maybe two or three small tubes of Fluocinonide per year; in a couple of days and it’s gone. I went to get a replacement tube of cream from CVS recently. It’s a prescription cream, which comes with its own problems. The pharmacist gave me the cream and announced they’d changed providers and the price was now $8. No big deal to me, I can afford it. I paid and left.

Out in the car, I stopped and thought about it. I’d just been stung with 62.5% price hike. Seriously same active ingredient, same size tube; different generic brand. And there you have it, you have no control, no choice, no free market, it’s effectively too difficult to shop around because it’s prescription only. Yet, strangely you can buy it online for pets, it’s about the same price, meaning again, my drug insurance is effectively worthless.

The problem in America is that there is no effective control for the price of drugs. This report by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report, highlights how this is commonly exploited, let alone specific deliberate abuse.

The 50 hospitals, they found, charged an average of more than 10 times the Medicare-allowed costs. They also found that the typical United States hospital charges were on average 3.4 times the Medicare-allowable cost in 2012. In other words, when the hospital incurs $100 of Medicare-allowable costs, the hospital charges $340. In one of the top 50 hospitals, that means a $1,000 charge.

Of the 50 hospitals with the highest price markups, 49 are for-profit hospitals and 46 are owned by for-profit health systems. One for-profit health system, Community Health Systems Inc., operates 25 of the 50 hospitals. Hospital Corp. of America operates more than one-quarter of them. While they are located in many states, 20 of the hospitals are in Florida.

For-profit hospitals appear to be better players in this price-gouging game,” says Bai, an assistant professor of accounting at Washington & Lee University. “They represent only 30 percent of hospitals in the U.S., but account for 98 percent of the 50 hospitals with highest markups.

We all pay the price for this abuse. It’s nonsense to think that a single payer, public healthcare system would cost anymore. If we had it, there would be drug price control. Those against price control often argue that would stifle innovation and invention of new drugs, they role out the enormous cost of bringing out new drugs and using the profit of successful drugs to underwrite research, and failures during the process.

This is simply invalid. Anyone who thinks that humans won’t become involved because they are prepared to standby and watch their fellow citizens die, is just plain wrong. While medical innovations have progressed dramatically over the previous century, the last 20 years specifically have resulted in monumental advancements that substantially increased medical care standards and improved overall global health, but most of those advances didn’t actually come from the actual drugs(*), but from a better understand about the human body, how diseases spread and much about healthcare. The real ripoff in drug use is both at source, manufacturers, and those that sell the drugs.

Lets hope the next President take drug pricing as a priority.

* Not withstanding massive public health crisis drugs, like HIV, Ebola et al. These serve as exactly as an example of the invention that will still come.

Happy July 4th

MV5BMTM5MDY5MDQyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzM3NzMxMDE@._V1_SY1000_CR22,0,630,1000_AL_[1]This year is my 15th July 4th, as a Brit’ abroad, I take my annual message to the occupiers of the former British Coloney, now known as America, seriously. This July 4th, as you ponder the growing inequality, and the gap between the rich and poor, consider this quote:

this summer when you’re being inundated with all this bi-centennial, fourth of July, broo-ha-ha just remember what you’re celebrating- that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning aristocratic white males didn’t want to pay their taxes

from the teachers speech in the Linklater classic, Austin TX based film, Dazed and Confused. The film is set in 1976. Somethings never change.

It’s all greek < How the US owns the Greek crisis

It’s worth remembering that while people criticize Greece and their socialist aka “communist” government for overspending and debt, while they’ve not been in great shape since the late 1990’s, all the US Media coverage conveniently omits the fact that is was the illegal activities of the too-big to fail US Banks, and the fraudulent bundling of worthless US mortgages… that caused the 2008 crisis that took Greece down.

The NPR reporting of this is woefully inadequate, the LA Times at least mentions it.

Huffman Discloses Husband’s Financial Holdings

Not exactly the mea culpa no one expected anyway, but rule #5 in the list of excuses when you get caught with you hand in the jar. #5 “For every action, there should be a reaction” > Justify your loophole by blaming another law for over reaching, that’s a typical GOP tactic, claim something is overreach and then hide something when undoing it, mostly because, like a cheap magician you’ve used slight of hand to distract.

The Texas Tribune has details, Huffman Discloses Husband’s Financial Holdings.

In full disclosure, I am a donor and member of the Texas Tribune and a principal sponsor of their livestreaming kickstarter.

Abbott Vetoes Spousal Loophole

Law_Enforcement_Ethics_3920_TCOLE_TCLEOSE_OSS_Academy_Texas_Telecommunicators_Online_Training[1]Since I’ve criticized Governor Abbott numerous times, I figured he deserved a quick post for vetoing the ethics bill that contained the spousal loophole as discussed in my Ethics the Texas Way post.

As predicated though, when doing so, the Governor did do his best Sepp Blatter impersonation, saying

“Serious ethics reform must be addressed next session — the right way. Texans deserve better.”

Of course in the mad way that Texas governs, that really means 2017. Maybe Sepp Blatter will be gone by then, but Texas ethics won’t have advanced. At least we will be able to see what the Spouses of the legislator are doing.

What many of us suspect goes on all the time in Texas in what is called the ol’ boy network is best seen in action by the sponsor of the Spousal loophole herself, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. Turns out Sen Huffman is facing an ethics complaint related her own spouse. It is alleged the senator filed “false” information by failing to list more than 35 businesses in which her husband has a stake. Off the Kuff has a good round on on Sen, Huffman.

Texas ethics at its best. Well done Governor Abbot for vetoing the bills, they were not the ethics reform you were looking for. Hopefully by 2017 the legislator will take more notice of you than the board of FIFA did of Sepp Blatter.

War, what is it good for?

as we head towards the American 2016 Presidential Primaries, and given the continuing falling apart of the manufactured countries in the middle east, there will again be the inevitable warmongering hawks who’ll claim that we should bomb this, bomb that, or that we should have never pulled the troops out.

Yesterdays staggering revelations by Tim Weiner on Fresh Air, about American President Nixon, and Nixons utter contempt for the American public, and the total waste of lives among those who fought, and suffered Nixons war, contrasted magnificently with a docu-drama about London in the 2nd World War that I caught on TV Sunday afternoon while surfing channels.

Before you think I’m about to get all holly and sanctimonious about the British, I’m not. The documentary, available in 2-parts on YouTube(see below). It’s not significant because it’s about the British, or London, or anything related to my ancestry. It’s significant because as you listen and watch

“My feeling was one of anger, this is my city, whats happening out there, how dare they? It was ones’ own history burning, and who has any right to do this? How would you feel if you’d watched it? Your own home city burning. Put yourself in the shoes of the people that were watching that night” – Jessica Jacob

“The more we were hit, the more we had this spirit. I think they thought they could actually bomb us into submission, but it did the opposite. The more that was done to us, the more we responded by OK, we can take it, get on it with it, we are not going to submit.” – George Wheeler

“If someone came to your house and said I’m going to destroy it, and you’ve got a wife and children, you are going to fight like fury to save it, and thats what happened here. I’m not going to forget it, I don’t want to forget it.” – Richard Holsgrove

It is not about Britain, not even about America, watching the documentary about the London firestorm it is easy to imagine bombers bombing Iraq; the British bombers over Dresden; anonymous, invisible drones over Afghanistan; Japanese fighters flying into Pearl Harbor; the words of Jacob, Wheeler and Holsgrove would ring true from any human.

War, what is it good for?

npr embed


FIFA vs The Government

I heard the BBC reporting the Governor of the Bank of Englands remarks that the “age of irresponsibility” in the City of London is over as the Bank of England promised a crackdown on rogue traders. In a speech on Wednesday evening, the Bank of England Governor said that banks, regulators and individuals had collectively failed to prevent the market rigging that has led to bank fines worth billions of pounds and he recommended tougher rules for the City and longer jail sentences for those who attempt to manipulate markets.

This is a very British approach to a problem, introduce tough penalties, regulations and make things illegal. It made me wonder, how would either the British or the US Governments deal with FIFA, if FIFA was either a UK or US Registered company.

FIFA_Logo[1]The contrast couldn’t be more stark. In the UK they would spend ages trying to bring FIFA to court under numerous, increasing complex and confusing rules. The trial would last years and cost millions, only to collapse at some point for legal reasons.

Meanwhile, the US Government, rather than push ahead with an Untouchables Style prosecution, as it seems to be. They would settle for a financial penalty, and we’d have never heard about the FIFA corruption until the settlement was announced. FIFA currently holds a reserve of $1.52bn, so no problem in paying US Governments fines. Ironically, paying fines is of course a form of legal bribery not to participate in the theater of court, the exact opposite of what FIFA stands accused of, taking money to allow countries to participate in bidding and holding the theater of the World Cup.

Toyface: Follow the Rules of the Trainwreck

Cover art pictureI’ve not covered music and arts projects I am, or have been involved here, much to my changrin. My film ventures have taken a back seat this year, although Moving Day continues to garner awards, my role as Associate Producer has long passed.

Yesterday I had the chance to catch-up with Tamysn and James the two driving forces behind toyface. They are just off their frantic album launch phase, I was Executive Producer for, and we talked on Skype to look at the next few weeks and getting a promoter and publicist involved to help them gain wider attention for the album.

You can hear and buy the album from bandcamp, here. If you have any radio contact, even here in the USA, or especially in Austin, I have a few CD’s that I can send you to help promote their work.

If you like what you hear, they also have a soundcloud page here, which has some great remixes, including this one from Oilver Si.