"We are trying on every front to increase the role of government."
— Barney Frank
I will admit, grudgingly, that this is a pretty good line Frank gets in there: "Ralph gets to luxuriate in the purity of his irrelevance."
"We are trying on every front to increase the role of government."
— Barney Frank
Wikipedia | Robert KraftStrange. Perhaps I spoke too soon about Kraft's moral character? He may be covering up for a thief, but at least he isn't thieving from me.
In 2005, a minor international incident was caused when it was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had inadvertently taken one of Kraft's three Super Bowl rings. Kraft quickly cleared up the misunderstanding, stating that he had given Putin the ring out of "respect and admiration" he had for Putin and the Russian people. However, Kraft's wife Myra states that the initial claim is true.
Marginal Revolution | Alex Tabarrok | Why are Americans more risk averse about medicine than Europeans?:I think it's because European legislators generally have to be less responsive to voters. Or to frame it more kindly to the Europeans, our legislators have to be more demagogish. Even for a pretty non-partisan, technocratic process like the FDA, Congressmen know that if some drug slips through and there's a public outcry their heads might roll come November. The average European parliamentarian, and certainly MEPs, probably would face much less backlash from a botched drug approval.
The stereotype is that Americans are more risk-loving and entrepreneurial than the less-rugged Europeans who instead seek shelter under the umbrella of the welfare state. Yet when I talk about the FDA I point out that for many decades (from say the late 1960s to PDUFA in 1993 and perhaps again more recently) the FDA lagged behind its European counterparts in approving new drugs. U.S. risk aversion in drug approvals is especially peculiar since the major scare which increased FDA powers and slowed down approvals was the thalidomide disaster but thalidomide was approved in Europe not in the U.S. Nevertheless, we were the ones who got scared. [...]
I think this is a puzzle. Why has the U.S. government been more risk averse with regard to medicine than European governments but less risk averse in other areas?
Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | How to improve basketball:Cowen is somewhat dismissive, but I think this is brilliant. I venture to say it is the only thing that would make me interested in basketball again. Get rid of some of that lolligagging.
Tim Miano writes to me:I am a longtime MR reader. I have a hypothesis about how basketball could be much more exciting, and I can't for the life of me figure out why people who are into sports haven't widely considered it (as least as far as I know).
Here is my simple thought: games should be played as best 4 out of 7 periods -- perhaps 7 minutes each or perhaps slightly varied period lengths, 6 - 8 minutes long. Maybe the number or usage of timeouts or foul-outs would need to be fiddled with. Maybe playoffs would be slightly different. But that's pretty much it. The best part of a basketball game is almost always the last few minutes, and it seems like the incentives for exciting play would persist more throughly under this design. Teams would need more endurance and deeper benches, but that seems like a good thing. Other than obsoleting old records and the tradition of the game, I can't think of any downside. Maybe marginal cost v. marginal benefit, à la owners/players wouldn't extract much more money from fans but would have to work harder? Maybe the length of games would vary too much for broadcasters to be happy? But still, a *much* more exciting game.
The Economist | Free Exchange | Thoughts from the armchair(1) The only "poor health decisions" that must impose costs on others are related to communicable diseases. Everything else is society choosing to pick up the tab for other people's poor choices. This is easily avoidable.There are good alternatives to insurance. For example, as David Goldhill points out in a magnificent Atlantic Monthly article called “How American Health Care Killed My Father”, we could take, say, half of what’s currently being spent on insurance and Medicare and use it to give each American family close to a million dollars to put in a health savings account. We’d probably want to couple that with insurance for catastrophic events that cost more than, say, $50,000.I think the extent to which Americans have been suckered into terrible financial arrangements should disabuse us of the notion that the typical individual is any good at informing himself and rationally choosing between complex alternatives. And in a world where Oprah can bring Jenny McCarthy on television and convince thousands of households that vaccines are unsafe, I strongly question the idea that Americans have any clue what treatments they actually need, and I'd note that poor health decisions can impose real costs on others.
Or, less radically (and therefore less effectively, but at least it’s a start) we could restructure medical insurance to look more like car insurance—where nobody asks how you spend your claim check. If you’re diagnosed with colon cancer, then instead of paying $X million to doctors and hospitals, the insurance company would pay $X million directly to you. That way, at least some of us would shop around for better prices and forgo treatments we don’t think we need—lowering demand and making medical resources easier for everyone else to afford.
I wonder, too, why some economists think that it's efficient for households to spend the considerable amount of time investing in the medical knowledge that would be required to make educated treatment decisions. Shouldn't we want to see specialisation? Is a world in which medical costs fall, but households stress over medical texts at night trying figure out which colon cancer treatment they should use really one we want to live in?
Amen. This is a particular annoyance to me; I discussed it previously here.
So if public insurance is going to provide anything that private insurance doesn’t already provide, it will to have to do it by dipping into general tax revenues—maybe not at first, but surely soon. And that way lies madness.
Once those general revenues get tapped, all discipline goes out the window. With all that cash at hand, it becomes harder and harder to deny a claim. Nobody’s saying no, and the cost of health care spirals out of control.Eventually you’re left with the health-care equivalent of Fanny Mae or Freddie Mac—an institution with dual mandates to earn a profit (or at least break even) and to serve the public—and therefore an excuse to fail on all fronts. When it loses money, well, that’s because it was trying to serve the public. When it fails to serve the public, well, that’s because it was trying to be financially responsible.
It saddens me that support for universal coverage and a public option has become, in many circles, a sort of litmus test for compassion and caring about the poor. It particularly saddens me to hear the president say that “What we face is a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles.” It’s the details of policy that change people’s lives. The moral imperative is to get them right.Amen again. Spending other people's money has as much to do with generosity and compassion as sending other people to war has to do with courage and bravery.
Which leads me to a question I have had all along about the public option. Will it have to comply with state regulations? If so, then it will be misleading to talk about the public option, because it is unlikely that the same plan will work in all fifty states. If not, then it is misleading to talk about the public option being on a level playing field with private health insurance.Shifting gears, I also agree with Landsburg's assessment that Richard Dawkins is a very smart fellow but utterly wrong about God. Landsburg seems to lay out a what may be a Platonic position in that short post, but I need to know more before judging. I like it so far though. I especially appreciate the way he incorporates the very existence of mathematics into his cosmology, and he's certainly right to say that the important question is not "Why is there life?" but "Why is there a universe at all?"
Threat Quality Press | Braak | A Hierarchy of MonstersGo. Read. It is genius.
Over at io9, they’re doing another one of those “who would win?” voting contests, this time between classic horror monsters. This is, obviously, madness–the general population is ignorant as to the nature and danger of assorted monsters, and consequently their opinions on the potency of those monsters is suspect. This is evidenced by the very first competition: ”Zombie versus Mummy,” in which Zombies won by about 30%.
This is nonsense, and it needs to be rectified. I am going to explain the order that the monsters go in, so that it can be settled. In the future, if your children ask you, “Who would win in a fight? The Mummy or the Wolf-Man?” please refer them to this list, as it will save a lot of time.
If the primary interest of the entity is in the destruction of humanity, it gets a lower ranking than an entity whose unfathomable goals happen to accidentally include the destruction of humanity.Good rule of thumb: apathetic evil is more troubling than antagonistic evil.
Ars Technica | John Timmer | Talk of "global cooling" based on bogus statisticsIsn't it just as true that unless the most recent data point was a record low, it will always look like there's an upward trend?
There's an inevitable problem with trying to find trends in data that is subject to a great deal of random variability: unless the most recent point was a record high, it will always look like there's a downward trend.
But, as we noted in February, the reent drop in temperatures has been so small that 2008 was still the 10th warmest on record. Other recent years were equally warm or warmer, while the hottest year on record, 1998, was unusually warm compared to the surrounding years. In fact, if you started tracking trends in either 1997 or 1999, you saw a general increase in global temperatures.So if you cherry-pick your end points you can make your data say whatever you want. Right on.
Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | Markets in everything, Jesus vs. germs edition[Blink. Blink. Aghast silence.]A company called Purity Communion Solutions was founded in 2007 to market "germ-free products that take the worry out of contracting germs while receiving communion, and ultimately increasing communion participation and church attendance." Purity Communion Solutions already has 375,000 client churches, church supply houses and the like, and its Web site features all sorts of information about the H1N1 virus, as well as products that aim to keep you in church, and keep you healthy. They include an automated host dispenser in gold, silver, or white, as well as wafers infused with wine: "Improved taste and texture" and "eliminates germs, spills & waste."
The Chap | US Airforce Tries to Clip RAF Pilot's WhiskersI love it.
When RAF pilot Flight Lieutenant Chris Ball was sent on an exchange posting with the US Air Force in Afghanistan, he was told to trim his splendid handlebar moustache. Under US Air Force rules, moustaches should not extend downwards beyond the upper lip, or sideways beyond the corner of the mouth. Flt Lt Ball's finely waxed plumage measures a full six inches from tip to tip, in true RAF tradition.
And I Am Not Lying | Jeff Simmermon | Strike the Pose:Ha!
Whenever I see a person in baseball hat that’s in any position other than brim-forward, cap-on-scalp, I think the wearer is sending a very clear message. They’re saying, all with the turn of a hat:I am a proud and defiant member of a subculture that places absolutely ZERO value on intelligence. We place so little value on intelligence that we don’t even value the APPEARANCE of intelligence.
MSNBC.com | Tired from a hike? Rescuers fear Yuppie 911:Jeeeeeeesus wept! You have got to be kidding me.
RESNO, Calif. - Last month two men and their teenage sons tackled one of the world's most unforgiving summertime hikes: the Grand Canyon's parched and searing Royal Arch Loop. Along with bedrolls and freeze-dried food, the inexperienced backpackers carried a personal locator beacon — just in case.
In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep canyon walls.
What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst 'tasted salty.'
EconLog | Bryan Caplan | The Decline of the Rabbit Strategy:Point well taken about the small sample size of mothers with 8+ children, but surely the GSS provides variances for that data so that we could check statistical significance. (I don't know how to use the GSS interface efficiently, and I'm not going to take the time to learn now.)From chapter 5 of the first draft of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids:The facts at the end are from the General Social Survey. If you look carefully at the thirty-something moms, you might notice that compared to married moms, those who never married are equally likely to have 7 kids, and two-and-half times as likely to have eight or more. However, families with more than six kids are so rare (1% of the married moms and 1.6% of never-married moms) that these ratios mean next to nothing. Could availability bias plus the extreme behavior of the tail of the distribution account for the popular stereotype of the welfare mom with an army of kids?
... You don't hear the [breeding like a] rabbit analogy much anymore. In part, it sounds faintly racist. But the main reason we stopped comparing people to rabbits is that - at least in developed countries - we rarely get the chance. People today have too much foresight to breed like rabbits. Sure, many babies remain the fruit of impulsive, unprotected sex. Yet these babies rarely have a lot of siblings. If you look at thirty-something American moms who never married, 45% have just one child, and 26% have two; married moms in their thirties, in contrast, are much more likely to have two kids (41%) rather than one (22%). Almost no one nowadays sticks with a rabbit strategy after they have one or two unwanted children.
NY Wine Examiner | Amazon suspends wine-retailing program
For the past two years Amazon.com has been developing a program that would have revolutionized wine retailing in the United States – making almost any wine available to consumers throughout the country. [...]
One of the main reasons why this program has been put on hold is the complexity of wine-shipping laws within the United States, and that fact that the major wholesalers spend millions of dollars on the state level to keep it difficult for the consumer to have access to wine they want at good prices. [...]
Amazon’s program was the first major step toward offering the consumer freedom of choice while still complying with the myriad laws and restrictions on the wine trade in the United States.
Insert sad face here.
As usual, laws nominally designed to protect the consumer do nothing but limit their choices and drive the prices they pay higher while benefiting entrenched, well-connected businesses and bureaucrats. Same old song.
(Via Jacob Grier.)
The Money Times | H1N1 vaccine supply falls short of demandThe annual death toll from flu is ~36,000. Swine flu has killed over five (binary) orders of magnitude fewer people than the "regular" flu. I thought a national emergency was for things like the Korean War, which coincidentally also saw around 36k US and allied troops die. Is this 'emergency' designation because things are still credibly expected to be worse than they currently are, or is this CYA from the White House, or is this just bullshit?
New York, October 25 — As swine flu threatens to grip the nation, President Barack Obama has declared the influenza outbreak a national emergency. The disease is rampant in 46 states and death toll has surpassed 1000.
EconLog | Arnold Kling | Data and DogmaI'm not a flu shot guy. I don't actually know if that's is empirically justified or not, but that's where I stand. Admittedly it's a small sample, but all three times I've had a flu vaccine I've gotten quite sick immediately afterward. Perhaps I will re-evaluate when I have munchkins living in my home, or if I live long enough to become elderly and frail. (That is, if Science hasn't made oldness and frailness obsolete by then. Get cracking, Aubrey de Grey!)
Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer write,Jackson's findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the "frail elderly" didn't or couldn't. In fact, the healthy-user effect explained the entire benefit that other researchers were attributing to flu vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine itself might not reduce mortality at all.A basic lesson in AP statistics concerns the differences between an observational study and an experiment. There is a well-known finding that people who get flu vaccinations have lower death rates than people who do not. But this finding is not based on an experiment. It is instead based on observation of people who choose to get shots and people who do not. My hypothesis is that people who get flu shots are more conscientious than people who do not, and more conscientious people have lower death rates. Whatever the reason, the article cites research where what economists would call "natural experiments" show that flu shots do not affect death rates.
Ars Technica | John Timmer | Mars can wait; NASA should try landing on asteroids first:[Emph. mine.]
The final report on the future of NASA's human space flight committee has been released, and it concludes that there's a complete mismatch between the agency's current plans and its budget. To get things back on track, it suggests revisions to the Ares launch program and a new set of missions to the Lagrange points and asteroids. [...]
The committee has concluded that NASA now has plans that don't reflect any sort of budgetary reality...
The committee is unsparing in its view of the US manned space program, from the first sentence onwards: "The US human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." [...]
NASA has also failed to budget any money for the actual act of deorbiting the ISS, although that's probably not the worst of its problems. The ISS has only just reached its full habitation capacity, and further additions are still planned. That means we may end up with less than five years of it operating at planned capacity if deorbiting proceeds as scheduled. The committee, in a fit of understatement, calls this a poor return on investment.
“To bring about the rule of righteousness in the land ... so that the strong should not harm the weak.”
— Prologue to the Code of Hammurabi
Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | Sentences to ponderWow. Just wow.By enlisting Teradata, a major bank found its credit-card unit was sending pre-approval notices to individuals being foreclosed on by its mortgage department...Here is the story (gated, Barron's) and I thank John De Palma for the pointer. Here is a brief bit on Teradata.
bdunbar | Bringing in the sheaves - wholesaleI always considered the Anglicans to be getting a bit silly, perhaps mostly because I've heard Rowan Williams spouting nonsense about a fair number of things,* but I had never heard of all this business. No wonder people are turned off.
If Episcopal social conservatives who flee across the street to St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church and Fish Fry think they won't find progressive thought behind the pulpit and in the pews, they've got another think coming.
I don't think they are so dumb or naive.
It isn't about gay or women priests.
It is about Clown Eucharist and changing the Stations of the Cross for Stations of Millennium Development goals. It is about taking down crosses that adorn the outside of the church so as not to offend the sensibility of passers by. It's not about women priests but women priests who dress in hot pants and biker boots. Priests who profess that they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus but have no doubts about that Mohammad fellow. And whose Bishop does not see a problem with this, but see the whole thing as exciting in it's interfaith possibilities.
What it is about is the frustration of belonging to a church that does not take the religious thing seriously.
I don't especially care what gender or sexual preference my clergy has. I would prefer they not wear hot-pants in the vestry hall.
I can not attend a church that will not take seriously their own history, tradition, rites, or Deity.
Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | Gone, gone, goneI've always loved Thomas Jackson's advice: move swiftly, strike vigorously, and secure the fruits of victory.
At BofA and AIG close to a majority of the top executives whose salaries were to be cut have already left. Nuff said.
'There's no question people have left because of uncertainty of our ability to pay,' said an executive at one of the affected firms. 'It's a highly competitive market out there.'
At Bank of America, for instance, only 14 of the 25 highly paid executives remained by the time Feinberg announced his decision."
GENEROUS PAY for new Freddie Mac CFO. “The government-controlled mortgage finance company is giving CFO Ross Kari compensation worth as much as $5.5 million. That includes an almost $2 million cash signing bonus and a generous salary that could top $2.3 million.” It’s okay to pay him a lot. He works for the government.
Suppose we discovered that during the tense days of September and October 2008, executives at the big banks were ordering lavished catered dinners for themselves at their offices. WE'd all disapprove. Those executives should have been eating sandwiches at their desks! But would it be OK for the government to order the banks to refuse the invoices from the catering company?
The service was contracted by the people who had the legal authority to make the contract. THe contract must be paid, unless the company goes into bankruptcy - at which point all creditors would have to be treated equally, without the government picking and choosing its favorites to be paid first.
What's happening with these executive contracts is the equivalent of bouncing the bills from some disfavored suppliers. It's lawless and it's wrong.
The Escapist | Civilization Coming to FacebookI tend to use Facebook about three minutes a week. (Less now that their iPhone app doesn't work any longer with the 2.0 firmware on my iPod Touch.) I think that may change soon.
As if there aren't enough ways to screw in time on Facebook already, Sid Meier has announced that a new version of Civilization will be coming to the world's most popular social network next year.
Wikipedia | Civilization (series)
Scottish science fiction author Iain M. Banks has noted that he spent much time playing the game (appearing to refer to the first version) and that it was one of the inspirations for the concept of the 'Outside Context Problem' central to his Excession novel - the appearance of invaders or travelers which are so advanced that they are totally outside the society's frame of reference. In an interview, Banks specifically compares this to having a Civilization battleship arrive while the player is still using wooden sailing ships.
TotalBeauty.com | Top 10 Hottest-Guy CitiesRemain calm, ladies, remain calm. The line forms to the left. Please have your 'Application to Date a Blogger from the Hottest City in the Country' signed and ready. Be advised that you will need to defeat The Future Mrs South Bend 7 in single combat to win a shot at my affection, and she is one tough bird.
No. 1: Bethesda, Md.
Book smarts? Check. Healthy bank accounts? Check. Good physiques? Check. Few bad habits? Check. The mix of military and government serves the men of Bethesda well. The city is the second smartest, according to Forbes, and a higher than average number make more than $100,000 a year. Bethesda also has one of the lowest percentages of drinkers and smokers in the country, and is in the top percentile of healthy, active and fit people.
Megan McArdle | Polling MysteriesHere's a third explanation: We modulate our worries to some baseline level. Fear of global warming has been displaced by other fears. Or we only have a fixed amount of caring about problems to do, and in the last year more people feel like they've done something to make the world better (elect Obama*) so they are giving themselves a break about taking on some other problems like the environment. Or we have a set amount of moral righteousness to expend, and now people are using theirs on causes like health care reform or tea partying or economic populism, and there's less leftover for environmentalism.
Also in the WTF category, Pew says there was a fourteen point drop in the number of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that anthropogenic global warming is real. I mean, maybe 45 million Americans spent the last year reviewing the scientific evidence on Global Warming and changed their minds. Certainly, a lot of laid-off workers have soem time on their hands. But this doesn't really seem a spectacularly likely explanation of the phenomenon.
I can only come up with two explanations for this phenomenon: one, that many Americans are happy to embrace a symbolic belief in global warming as long as there is no danger that anyone will do anything about it. The other is that Americans don't know what they want, and also, enjoy messing with pollster's minds.
Splice Today | Christopher Orlet | What Women Want, According to Match.com
So who is Miss Match's ideal match? Easy, she wants the male model on the cover of Men's Health magazine, assuming he is straight and without flaws and as compassionate as the Dalai Lama. He must be funny, but his humor cannot be overly dry or sarcastic. His glass is always half full, his outlook always sunny, and he is optimistic. He is in great shape, with six-pack abs, though he is not in the least obsessed with his body. If he is not a Christian, he is "spiritual, but not religious." He is financially secure, a leader of men, but he knows family comes first. He has season tickets for the hometown sports teams, but you will never find Mr. Match sitting in front of the TV in his boxer shorts Sunday afternoon watching football and swilling canned beer. And did I say he must love dogs? He is "that guy who can stargaze in the middle of the Ozark Mountain Trail or from the rooftop of Vin de Set."
Nothing ever flusters Mr. Match. There is no obstacle too high he cannot overcome. He never complains, never whines. When life throws him a curve, he knocks it out of the park. When life hands him lemons, well, you know.
He is, of course, a bachelor, but not because he fears commitment or prefers to play the field, but rather because he has been focusing on his career and has yet to meet Miss Match. Or he is divorced, tragically, but he never says an unkind word about his ex-wife. Despite his rough, chiseled masculine good lucks he knows how to be tender and soft. He knows how a woman wants to be treated and touched. Amazingly, he never says a stupid word. And he is curiously attracted to fortysomething girls who jump out of airplanes. [...]
If Freud were to ask me what women want, I think I would have to reply that they want a man that does not exist. In their feverish obsession not to settle, women have excluded perhaps 90 percent of men who, in one way or another, do not make the cut.
(Via Ryan Sager)
A call is a call — and one can hardly imagine that God does not call married people to religious life.I think that says it well.
Megan McArdle | The Limits of Presidential PowerIf America is finally going to wake up and get into the habit of slapping the president, then let's not pussyfoot around with it. If you're going to be slapping people then do it right.
Increasingly, I feel like Obama and his team are trying to run his office like a community organizing outfit. But this is the presidency, not a political campaign. You don't put your message out through every available channel, you don't go to war on news operations, and you don't threaten groups that say things you don't like. You are now running the whole country, not trying to win a race.
I don't mean this to sound like what I'm sure a lot of my conservative commentators will make it into--some screed to the effect that Obama is a tinpot dictator and a secret communist. I think Obama's longest life experience is as
a campaignersomeone who has consistently sought power for himself, and so it's natural that this infects his actions as he learns to govern. And I think that, again like most presidents, he is testing the boundaries of his power. But I think it behooves the American citizenry to set firm limits, and slap his hand when he overreaches them.