Archive for April, 2011

Weekend Linkorama

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Non-political links:

  • It seems to me that this should be bigger news. Law schools are openly lying about their graduate employment numbers.
  • This is ridiculous. Priceless jazz recordings will never be played because of rights concerns.
  • I don’t entirely agree that 3-D is a scam. But I mostly agree with it.
  • The latest baseless child-related freakout: iPads.
  • Political Links:

  • Oh, that liberal media! Right.
  • A very thoughtful piece on jury nullification.
  • Bolivia goes the stone age route on rights for nature. This is a perfect example of the terrible effects of good intentions. The primary result here will be to further empower the already oppressive Bolivian government.
  • You’re Not Helping

    Friday, April 29th, 2011

    Look, you assholes. Before you gloat about the deaths of 300 people and blame it on global warming, maybe you should show some research proving tornado activity is connected with global warming. Because there is no established connection. And this statement:

    the null hypothesis should be that all weather events are affected by global warming rather than the inane statements along the lines of ‘of course we cannot attribute any particular weather event to global warming

    is pathologically stupid. That’s the exact opposite of the null hypothesis. And this is exactly what global warming skeptics accuse you guys of — blaming any extreme weather, no matter what it is, on AGW.

    Keynes vs. Hayek, Round 2

    Thursday, April 28th, 2011

    As McArdle said, Atlas Shrugged would have been a massive hit had it been half this good.

    If you missed part 1, try here.

    Trump Birtherism and 2012

    Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

    Now that Obama has released his long form birth certificate, will this silence the conspiracy theorists? Of course not. But it may turn the disturbing trend we’ve seen in recent polling data showing up to 47% of GOPers think Obama was not born in his country.

    The usual caveats to those polls apply. Most people are not political junkies and so haven’t followed the birther issue closely. Most Republicans don’t like Obama and so thinking he was born elsewhere is a good way of filing him into that “other” category. And many Democrats embraced the “Bush allowed 9/11″ theory.

    But still, 47% is crazy. How did we get to that point?

    We got there because the mainstream GOP was playing footsie with the radical rump of the party. Everyone in the GOP power circles knew Obama was born in the US. But they were more than happy to let the issue fester — and occasionally poke it — because they knew it excited a small but motivated group of voters. They knew that stomping on the birther thing could split off some radicals. But most of all, it was a way to deligitimize Obama in the eyes of the voters. By not embracing but not rejecting birtherism — uttering such non-denials as “I take him at his word” — they kept the issue up, maintaining their ability to portray Obama as someone alien to America.

    And then it suddenly blew up in their faces. A shameless attention-whore reality-TV star came along and grabbed the issue with both hands. (Actually, now that I’m a fan of Maggie McNeil’s blog, I think it’s an insult to whores to compare Donald Trump to them.) Donald Trump didn’t embrace the birth certificate issue because he believed in it. He embraced it because it brought instant media attention. And suddenly the cancer of birtherism exploded all over the GOP. The environment became so toxic that no one who had political ambitions wanted to get in the pool.

    Don’t think so? Why are so many candidates reluctant to throw their hats into the 2012 ring? Even Palin is stalling and taking her time. Why is the presidential field so lackluster so far? Because none of the politicians wanted this on them. None of them wanted to run in a field where birtherism would be an issue and they’d end up at the head of a truly ugly campaign.

    The release of the birth certificate may turn the tide on this. Trump, of course, is claiming credit for the release of the BC and the vilest of the birthers are shouting, “why did it take so long” instead of “Boy, is our face red!” Trump is also moving on to more aggressively racist rhetoric such as telling Obama to stop playing basketball and implying he got into the Ivy League on affirmative action (because we all know how many AA guys become editors of the Law Review and graduate magna cum laude).

    But, personally, I don’t the GOP is going to get out of this that easily. They’ve been outfoxed, again, by the supposed amateur in the White House. They let the birther issue fester until Trump detonated it. And now that the birthers have been shown to be fools, the stink is going to cling to them for a long time.

    (Don’t think that I’m letting Obama off here. My understanding is that he could have done this at any time over the last two years. To drag it out this long hurt the country even though it hurt his opponents more. And, I’m sorry, when you apply for the job as President, you don’t get to hold back records like this.)

    Update: Thinking about this some more, the release of the BC is actually a huge political coup for Obama. The timing makes it seem (and it certainly being claimed) that Trump is the one who got this done. This cements Trump’s hold on the birther contingent and may even vault him — until the time comes to release his financial records — into front-runner status. And if THAT is the case, Obama just won the 2012 election. Because his opponent will either be Trump or a Republican maimed by Trump’s stupidity.

    Update: Several legal experts are pointing out that Obama could not release the certificate under Hawaiian law. While this is true, he clearly got an exemption now, according to the letter from his lawyer. That should not have taken two years.

    Monday Lunch Talk Linkorama

    Monday, April 25th, 2011

    Non-Political Links:

  • Cracked again. I particularly like the new grasshopper and ant version.
  • Heh.
  • Political Links:

  • The FDIC fantasizes that they could have prevented the financial crisis. Funny. And about as realistic as me fantasizing that I really could have scored with the prom queen back in high school.
  • Expect to see this on Maggie McNeil’s site. I don’t think there’s no sex trafficking in the UK. But this is a solid piece of evidence that the problem is severely overblown. And it could, of course, be better addressed, if we redirected resources away from consenting adults.
  • The latest from the porn front: women are increasingly watching it. So the experts tell us this must be some addiction depersonalization OMG thing, not just … you know … women liking porn. And the LA libraries make some sensible decisions when it comes to privacy vs. filtering.
  • Krugman Consumes His Own Tail

    Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

    Cross-posted from the other site.

    Paul Krugman has written a bizarre op-ed in opposition to the GOP Medicare plan. Let’s have some fun with it.

    Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.

    It’s acceptable to call them consumers and providers because that’s what they are. The only reason this language strikes Krugman as odd is because he, like many liberals, has becomes used to thinking of healthcare as a “right” — something akin to Freedom of Speech. But any time there is a voluntary exchange of services, the relationship is one of consumer to provider. There’s nothing repulsive or sinister about this. Teachers, fireman, cops, doctors, clergy — none of these people work for free. All of them provide services that we consume.

    Note also that Krugman is engaging in the “I’m On Your Side” tactic. He praises the doctor-patient relationship as something sacred. But, as we will see, he does this on the way to severing and controlling that bond.

    We have to do something about health care costs, which means that we have to find a way to start saying no. In particular, given continuing medical innovation, we can’t maintain a system in which Medicare essentially pays for anything a doctor recommends. And that’s especially true when that blank-check approach is combined with a system that gives doctors and hospitals — who aren’t saints — a strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care.

    I agree. One way we can do this is to put more responsibility on the consumers who have shown the ability to make complex and difficult decisions about homes, cars, schooling, computers and other supposedly opaque disciplines. We could, or example, adopt David Goldhill’s proposal of moving back to a major medical system where the first few thousand dollars of healthcare — the most discretionary part — is controlled by the consumer and employers or government provide a voucher for a $5000 deductible. It’s difficult to imagine such a system now because we’ve gotten so used to first dollar coverage. But that’s what we used to have when our healthcare spending wasn’t so out of line. That’s what we have in non-insured regions like lasik surgery or fertility treatments, where price guarantees are normal.

    Alternatively, we could move toward something like the Australian system. In Australia, there is a socialized insurance system that provides basic care and pays a basic fee. If you’re poor, you can go to lower-tier hospitals that accept those fees. If you have more money, you can buy additional insurance or pay out of your own pocket to get better care. But the key is that you pay the bills and are then reimbursed. So the consumer is decidedly in the loop. (My understanding of the Aussie system is based on talking to my wife and her family; blame any errors on them.)

    So certainly Krugman, an economist, is going to suggest something along … oh.

    Hence the advisory board, whose creation was mandated by last year’s health reform. The board, composed of health-care experts, would be given a target rate of growth in Medicare spending. To keep spending at or below this target, the board would submit “fast-track” recommendations for cost control that would go into effect automatically unless overruled by Congress.

    Dr. Krugman, please send a nice package of whatever it is your smoking to my house. Have you been watching the budget debate? We endured weeks of rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over the cutting of unspent budget authority. Do you think Congress is going to stand up to seniors and tell them they can’t get care? Even assuming this board makes some tough choices — do you really think Congress will let unpopular ones stand?

    We don’t even need to ask these questions — we’ve already seen what will happen. When PPACA was being debated, a study came out claiming routine mammography should start at 50, not 40. Congress immediately moved to prevent this from being acted on, whether the result was valid or not. Their previous mandate on unproven CAD technology led to a huge surge in this expensive procedure. One of the reasons Republicans want insurance sold across state lines is that state governments have become incredibly pliable in mandating coverage, including “alternative medicine”. During the PPACA debate, several senators tried to get alternative medicine like therapeutic touch and prayer therapy into the bill (these being fringe guys like um, … the 2004 Democratic nominee for President). Any government board is going to be controlled by special interests (who are solidly behind the idea) and overridden by a spineless Congress.

    Where is this sudden surge of political courage going to come from? This seems like an inverse of the “starve the beast” theory. I’ll call it “gorge the beast”. The idea is to let government healthcare spending get so out of control that Congress will have to act.

    Now, what House Republicans propose is that the government simply push the problem of rising health care costs on to seniors; that is, that we replace Medicare with vouchers that can be applied to private insurance, and that we count on seniors and insurance companies to work it out somehow. This, they claim, would be superior to expert review because it would open health care to the wonders of “consumer choice.”

    Notice the two-step here. Krugman has spent his time running down consumer-controlled healthcare. But now he’s running down a very different proposal on privatizing Medicare. These are not the same things, unfortunately.

    “Consumer-based” medicine has been a bust everywhere it has been tried. To take the most directly relevant example, Medicare Advantage, which was originally called Medicare + Choice, was supposed to save money; it ended up costing substantially more than traditional Medicare. America has the most “consumer-driven” health care system in the advanced world. It also has by far the highest costs yet provides a quality of care no better than far cheaper systems in other countries.

    You know, it must be nice to be a Nobel Prize Winner. It apparently means you never have to bother with facts anymore and can just pull things out of your ass.

    Because this is pulled out of Krugman’s ass. RAND has studied consumer-controlled healthcare and shown considerable savings, a result that has held up under some scrutiny. And we are most decisively not the most “consumer-driven” healthcare system in the world. According to the OECD’s 2008 data, out of pocket spending accounts for 12.1% of healthcare spending in the US. That’s less than Switzerland (30.8), Sweden (15.6), Japan (14.6 in 2007), Australia (18% in 2007), Canada (14.7% in 2007) and just about every country except France (7.1%). Decisions might be consumer controlled; spending is not. And any economist — any economist not talking out of his ass that is — can tell you what happens when consumers have no restrictions on spending other people’s money. The Kaiser Foundation has specifically identified the decline in patient responsibility (from 40 to 10%) as one of the reason for rising healthcare costs.

    Medical care, after all, is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made. Yet making such decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge. Furthermore, those decisions often must be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.

    This is a straw man made of red herrings. Under consumer-controlled plans, no one would be comparison shopping when they are incapacitated, under sever stress or need action immediately. Such situations would be well into the insurance-controlled regime. Additionally, the idea that healthcare spending is “involuntary” or that patients are incapable of making difficult choices is ridiculous and arrogant. Two thirds of healthcare spending occurs in non-emergency situations. Patients make decisions about healthcare every God-damned day, including about the most expensive and wasteful of care — end of life management. Medical procedures, by law, have to be explained to the patient who then has to be told of his prospects and alternatives. They almost always do everything he provider says. But is that, at least in part, because they’re not paying the bills?

    The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just “providers” selling services to health care “consumers” — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.

    No. This is reality. It’s not repulsive to describe patients and doctors and consumers and providers. That’s precisely what they are. We’ve just forgotten because of our diseased system. All economic transactions — all goods and services — take place between consumers and providers. Describing that relationship as “sickening” is like the describing the Law of Gravity as “sickening”.

    Mathematical Malpractice Watch: Why NationMaster Sucks

    Thursday, April 21st, 2011

    Graphjam ran a graphic today apparently showing all the awful things the US leads the world in.

    It’s crap. It’s clearly produced by someone who spent a few minutes browing nationmaster.com. Nationmaster is convenient but their accuracy is, at best, suspect. There is no uniformity of data and many of the samples are incomplete or old. To be honest, you’re better off going to wikipedia. Much better off.

    But beyond that, they just haven’t thought too much. For example, the graphic has has the US as #1 in crime. This is true, but only because we are a large country and a transparent one. The UK has half as many crimes but a fifth of our population. Germany half as many crimes but a quarter of our population. The crime rate in the US is high but not tops. Same goes with rape, which they have as #1. Scandinavian countries lead the civilized world in that (although likely because they measure their rape stats differently).

    But a lot of this is the nationmaster problem. They have the US as #1 in CO2 emissions. This is actually wrong as China is #1. US emissions have actually been flat over the last few decades. The nationmaster data are 10 years old — way too far out of date. They also have the US as #1 in divorce rate. This is wrong. Russia is #1.

    Teen birth rate? The US is #1 among developed nations. But you have to exclude almost every developing nation in the world to get that ranking. Nationmaster’s data is selective and based on 1994 data. The teen birth rate has plunged since then.

    Heart attacks? I haven’t the faintest clue what they’re showing here. But heart attack survival rates have been growing massively in the US.

    We do lead the world in McDonald’s restaurants and plastic surgery. That tends to come from being the richest country on Earth. We also, unfortunately, lead the world in both prison population and incarceration rate — yet another wonderful effect of our stupid war on drugs.

    Godspeed, Sarah Jane

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

    Dreadful news for any Doctor Who fan. As a teenager, I had a huge crush on Sarah Jane and was glad to see her back in the new series.

    Hopefully, they’ll find a suitable tribute.

    Wednesday Linkorama

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Great news that our fish stocks are recovering.
  • Some interesting pushback on the idea that parenting doesn’t matter.
  • Orac has fun with the latest blast of toxin hysteria.
  • Some follow-up on the principles of the Duke Lacrosse case.
  • Political Links:

  • Two of the most arrogant men in Congress push a “privacy bill” that exempts government. I would much rather have Amazon collating information about me than the FBI.
  • The latest shut up and do what we say from TSA.
  • Usual statement: what this guy did was stupid, but it doesn’t warrant the severity of the reaction.
  • Mathematical Malpractice Watch: Torture Edition

    Thursday, April 14th, 2011

    You know, I’d drafted an entire post about why the Red Cross’ poll showing that young people support torture was bullshit. And then one of Sully’s readers beat me to it. The only thing he left out is that RC poll has no longitudinal information to support the conclusions many commenters have thrown at it. That is, it has no read on whether support for torture has waxed or waned to back up the contention that some sort of post-9/11 PTSD is causing young people to support torture today.

    I would add that the results is unsurprising. Being pro-torture is instinctive to human beings. Indeed, that’s why we place such generous boundaries around acceptable behavior — to avoid people falling into the bottomless dark well that lies in all human hearts. Being anti-torture is a much more difficult position to get to. It requires knowing how intelligence work is done in real life — as opposed to how it is done in movies. It requires a more complex morality than hurting those who’ve hurt you. Those attitudes are not created by age and life experience, but are often strengthened by them. It’s why soldiers and intelligence experts oppose torture.

    Honestly, I’d be surprised if a poll showed anything else.

    Wednesday Linkorama

    Thursday, April 14th, 2011

    Lots of non-political links today!

  • PJ has the last word on the tiger mom thing.
  • A wonderful photo essay of history’s biggest cities. Personally, I’m hoping the next picture in the chain is Mare Tranquilitatis City.
  • The latest on the to breed or not to breed question. Told you those sociologists were bullshit.
  • For some reason, this photo essay makes me feel almost patriotic. Americans are almost proud to be ridiculous. #51 is my favorite.
  • Political Links:

  • The latest from the food grabbers.
  • In the end, they’ll realize that gay marriage is a conservative thing.
  • I keep asking this: what is the point of Democrats if they’re just going to out-police-state Republicans?
  • All right. I give up. When Mann fucking Coulter is the voice of reason, we are REALLY in trouble.
  • The Donald

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    I’ve already dumped on Trump on the other site, but he’s gotten even more repulsive since then. He’s jumped into the radical Republican pool with both feet, repeating long disproven myths about Barack Obama’s birth, stated on zero evidence that his Hawaii birth was faked to get welfare benefits, flipping on gay marriage and pretending to be pro Life.

    (Although I am moderately pro-choice, I have some respect for the genuinely pro-Life. I have none for panderers who seek to milk other’s deep-held moral and religious beliefs for selfish political gain.)

    Let’s be honest here — all three of us. Donald Trump doesn’t really care about our government, the Republican Party or the country. This is just the latest iteration of his endless self-promotion. This is why he is embracing such radical views — to grab attention. If he were ever elected to anything, he’s spend all his time having press conference and talking tough and no time actually governing.

    This candidacy is a sick joke. It’s reality TV come to politics. Time to do what the Donald hates more than anything — ignore him.

    Friday Linkorama

    Saturday, April 9th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Was Travels with Charley a sham? Seems so.
  • Well, I’m glad to see that someone wants to take football concussions seriously.
  • Yes.
  • This piece by O’Rourke hits my reaction to Atlas Shrugged pretty accurately. It’s good. As a philosophy, it has its flaws. But it exposes the true villainy of collectivism and the virtue of self-determination.
  • Political links:

  • This is how conservatives should do justice.
  • No, no, no, no, no no, no. TARP did not turn a profit. No way. No how. They just moved money around to make it seem like they did.
  • The latest from the Obama conspiracy nuts: his knee was in NY while he was in Kenya.
  • It’s a good week: free trade is moving forward.
  • My political view are libertarian-conservative, not Republican. So I’m more than happy to praise a Democrat, even a Cuomo, when he’s doing the right thing.
  • Back in the USSR

    Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

    PJ O’Rourke has a great story about how he became the writer he is. Paraphrasing, he was touring the USSR in the Brezhnev years. And despite the obvious dysfunction of the Soviet system, the Leftists on his tour group kept insisting that everything was wonderful. While they were in a water lock, some Leftist started going on about what great engineers the Soviets were, culminating in the exclamation, “Where do they get all the water from?”

    The idea that the Soviet Union was our technological equal was a myth so pervasive even conservatives believed it. Today, cracked has the goods on the shit show that was the Soviet space program. Honesty, it’s a miracle they didn’t blow a city up.

    For the record, Robert Heinlein also thought the Soviets left a man in space to die. While in the USSR, several people told him that a recent capsule launch had included a cosmonaut. That story was later changed. I keep wondering if the truth is somewhere in the Kremlin.