Thursday, December 31, 2009

Obama's 1st Year

Inch by Inch: Obama is Moving Mountains by Andrew Sullivan

Interesting level-headed critique of Obama's first year.

"In some respects, the right, however unhinged, understands the importance of what Obama has accomplished more than the purist, whiny left.

Yes, this first year is marked more by the miracles of what didn't happen - a Second Great Depression, a Second 9/11, an Israeli strike on Iran, a banking collapse, a health insurance reform failure - than what did. And yes, Obama is on notice that, whatever the enormity of the mess he inherited, the opposition has no sense of responsibility for any of it and will blame him for everything and anything. All he has going for him is the American public's ability to see through the dust and fury to the realities beneath.

And Obama is changing those realities. More than most seem to currently grasp. This is liberalism's moment - its most fortuitous since 1964, its chance to prove that government is indeed needed at times, as long as it knows its limits, and the balance of the American polity needs active, intelligent government action now. What Obama is doing is trying to cement this new liberal era in the conservative institutional structure of American government.

Against massive, unrelenting, well-moneyed, ideologically manic opposition - and a fickle, purist, prickly liberal elite in his own party.

Well, no one said it would be easy." - Andrew Sullivan

"Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other." - Oscar Ameringer

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Deadlines Focus the Mind

Excellent point by Andrew Sullivan with regard to President Obama's insistence on a time limit for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan:

"That time-line the GOP hawksters are decrying: it seems to have jolted Afghanistan's leadership into less complacency.

One weird contradiction in current conservative thought. Isn't an open-ended commitment of arms and money and troops to a weak foreign country a dangerous form of dependency-generating welfare?

If we can have welfare reform domestically, why can we not have it internationally?"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cancer Prevention: Why don't we take medicines that work?

"Many Americans do not think twice about taking medicines to prevent heart disease and stroke. But cancer is different. Much of what Americans do in the name of warding off cancer has not been shown to matter, and some things are actually harmful. Yet the few medicines proved to deter cancer are widely ignored." - New York Times

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Three Stages of Capitalism

Suppose for a moment that there are three clear stages of capitalism, defined minimally as the dominance of markets by money. The first, classical capitalism, defines the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, more or less the moment that Veblen analyzed. The engine at this stage of development is the straightforward production of goods and services. In order to clear the markets of these goods and services, the system works to cultivate desire. Accumulated capital—in its most basic form, primitive hoarding—is spent on conspicuous demonstrations of waste in the form of leisure. From the individual point of view, the central goal is a self defined by the demonstration of good taste. Exemplary fiction of the age: Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country.

The second stage, late capitalism, is what caught the Frankfurt School’s gimlet eye in the middle of the last century. Now the engine of the system is the production not of goods and services but of consumption itself. That is, rather than merely cultivating longstanding desires in new aspirants, the mechanisms of economic growth must manufacture ever-novel desires using the feedback loops of the emergent advertising industry. Capital is reproduced, not merely accumulated: the shadowy shills of the culture industry want us to spend our way to wealth and happiness. Down on the ground, the individual experiences fractured selves, or multiple consumption identities, even while yearning for wholeness. Exemplary fiction: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night.

The third stage, postmodern capitalism (for lack of a better label), is with us still. We witness both the cultivation and the manufacture of desire—and the wild proliferation of it. The market engine is still producing consumption, but now it is consumption of the self in the form of the consumer. We’re no longer interested in stuff, or even in the satisfaction that stuff promises; now we chase a certain idea of ourselves, as cool or fashionable or self-actualized. Thus the arrival of what we ought to call erotic capital, the most spectral form. I, with all my carefully constructed preferences for Pink shirts or Lululemon sweats, become the most desirable consumer product in the economy of taste. To paraphrase Slavoj Zižek, the superego is no longer a form of restraining conscience—Don’t do that!—but instead expresses the imperative of smarmy waiters everywhere: Enjoy! Consumption is both intimate and relentless: brand-conscious consumers cannibalize themselves, feeding on their jumble of layered identities. Exemplary fiction: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

From Ways of Not Seeing: On the Limits of Design Fetishism by Mark Kingwell in Harpers, November 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Compare Hospitals

Medicare has an excellent website providing comparison of best practices of hospitals. The U.S. desperately needs transparency in health care data. As Alex Tabarrok at MR states, "all hospitals should be required to provide standardized information for all patients on patient characteristics, treatments and outcomes. Only by making outcome information public will hospitals have the incentive and researchers have the ability to develop more accurate report cards."

My White Friends

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lobbyists: What a disappointment in Congress and Obama

The public is not wrong. The administration’s legislative deals with the pharmaceutical companies were made in back rooms. Business Week reported in early August that the UnitedHealth Group and its fellow insurance giants had already quietly rounded up moderate Democrats in the House to block any public health care option that would compete with them for business. UnitedHealth’s hired Beltway gunslingers include both Elmendorf Strategies and Daschle, a public supporter of the public option who nonetheless does some of his “wink, wink” counseling for UnitedHealth. The company’s in-house lobbyist is a former chief of staff to Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. Gephardt consults there too.

-Frank Rich, The New York Times

Friday, October 2, 2009

Synthetic Biology

Fabulous New Yorker article by Michael Specter. If the science truly succeeds, it will make it possible to supplant the world created by Darwinian evolution with one created by us. Bill Joy, a founder of Sun Microsystems, calls for us to "limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous." Yet, as Specter writes, "the opposite approach might give us better results: accelerate the development of technology and open it to more people and educate them to its purpose. Otherwise, if Rob Carlson's methamphetamine analogy proves accurate [in which strict control caused by laws and DEA enforcement, has led to more professional, centralized production and rising use of the drug], power would flow directly into the hands of the people least likely to use it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teacher Performance Pay: Two-Year Study Shows It Works

Karthik Muralidharan and Venkatesh Sundararaman provide evidence on the power of teacher incentives to increase learning.


We find that the teacher performance pay program was highly effective in improving student learning. At the end of two years of the program, students in incentive schools performed significantly better than those in comparison schools by 0.28 and 0.16 standard deviations (SD) in math and language tests respectively....

We find no evidence of any adverse consequences as a result of the incentive programs. Incentive schools do significantly better on both mechanical components of the test (designed to reflect rote learning) and conceptual components of the test (designed to capture deeper understanding of the material),suggesting that the gains in test scores represent an actual increase in learning outcomes. Students in incentive schools do significantly better not only in math and language (for which there were incentives), but also in science and social studies (for which there were no incentives), suggesting positive spillover effects....

School-level group incentives and teacher-level individual incentives perform equally well in the first year of the program, but the individual incentive schools significantly outperformed the group incentive schools in the second year....

We find that performance-based bonus payments to teachers were a significantly more cost effective way of increasing student test scores compared to spending a similar amount of money unconditionally on additional schooling inputs."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can the West Save Africa?

from Bill Easterly's, Can the West Save Africa

"All of the above seem to forget that technology does not implement itself. Technical knowledge needs people to implement it—people who have the right incentives to solve all of the glitches and unexpected problems that happen when you apply a new technology, people who make sure that all the right inputs get to the right places at the right time, and local people who are motivated to use the new technology. The field that addresses all these incentives is called economics."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

O'Reilly Backs Government Health Care Option

Too bad he's saying this after it's already effectively been dropped from consideration.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Secret's Inside Your Dog's Mind

Other animals are smarter than dogs, but none (except us) are more sociable. Evolution started the job--and we helped finish it. Time

National Debt as a Percentage of GDP

So much for the Republican Party's principle of fiscal responsibility.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

No eyebrows = you're less recognizable

Volunteers in a study by Javid Sadr and his colleagues at MIT were asked to identify fifty famous faces, including that of former U.S. president Richard Nixon and actor Winona Ryder. The photos were digitally altered and shown either without eyebrows or without eyes. When celebrities lacked eyes, subjects could recognize them nearly 60 percent of the time. However, when celebrities lacked eyebrows, subjects recognized them only 46 percent of time. The lesson: eyebrows are crucial to your identity — they’re at least as important as your eyes, if not more so.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You are what you wear.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, shows that randomly inducing people to choose or wear fake merchandise can make them significantly more likely to cheat on a subsequent task.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

5 Myths About Health Care Around the World

1. It's all socialized medicine out there.

2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.

3. Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.

4. Cost controls stifle innovation.

5. Health insurance has to be cruel.

A must read about health care reform

Cupid's Poisoned Arrow

Once plighted, no men would go whoring,
They'd stay with the one they adore,
If women were half as alluring
After the act as before!

- Ancient Greek Anthology

Man: My wife turns into a major bitch on occasion the morning after a night of really great sex. I'm talking multiple orgasms and a 2-3-hour session. And the next morning I am the anti-Christ!

Woman: This happens to me, too! I wake up in the morning after a great night with my dear husband and feel like the bitch from hell sometimes . . . really irritable and moody. Normally I'm a very evenkeel kind of gal. Things feel better when orgasms are more spread out. I have personally noticed a significant decrease in my attraction and warm fuzzy feelings toward my spouse when the "O" is on a constant, regular basis.

An eye-opener about sex, orgasm, and love. Really a must read for those who wonder why attraction falls after orgasm. Knowlege of the Hidden Cycle of Orgasm is a key to love, relationships, balance, better sex, and marriage. Great research from Marnia Robinson.

Politics and the English Language

A George Orwell Classic, worth re-reading from time to time.

"Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes." More

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Prolonging the life of Berries

The strawberries fared best when I heated them at 125 degrees for 30 seconds. In two samples from different sources, this treatment gave a total of 1 moldy berry out of 30, where the untreated baskets had 14. I also treated some bruised berries, including one with a moldy tip. After 24 hours none were moldy. The tip mold not only hadn’t spread, it had disappeared.

I tried the same treatment, 125 degrees for 30 seconds, on raspberries and blackberries, and got the same good results. There were many fewer moldy berries in the heated samples.

For thicker-skinned blueberries, a Canadian study recommended a 140-degree treatment for 30 seconds. I tested it twice, with samples of around 150 berries each time. That heat took the bloom off. It melted the natural wax that gives the berries their whitish cast, and left them midnight blue. It also cut the number of moldy berries from around 20 per sample to 2.

-Harold McGee, New York Times

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Order off a Menu

Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.

Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.

Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.

Choose among the remaining dishes.

-Frank Bruni, New York Times

I'm on a Boat

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The GOP's Misplaced Rage

"Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect. They can start building some by admitting to themselves that Bush caused many of the problems they are protesting."

- Leading Conservative Bruce Bartlett in The Daily Beast

More excellent analysis:
"Finally, conservatives have an absurdly unjustified view that Republicans have a better record on federal finances. It is well-known that Clinton left office with a budget surplus and Bush left with the largest deficit in history. Less well-known is Clinton’s cutting of spending on his watch, reducing federal outlays from 22.1 percent of GDP to 18.4 percent of GDP. Bush, by contrast, increased spending to 20.9 percent of GDP. Clinton abolished a federal entitlement program, Welfare, for the first time in American history, while Bush established a new one for prescription drugs."

"According to the CBO, federal taxes will amount to just 15.5 percent of GDP this year. That’s 2.2 percent of GDP less than last year, 3.3 percent less than in 2007, and 1.8 percent less than the lowest percentage recorded during the Reagan years. If conservatives really believe their own rhetoric, they should be congratulating Obama for being one of the greatest tax cutters in history."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Palin's "Death Panels" called 'nuts' by Republican Senator Isakson from Georgia

"Besides the chilling prospect of 21st-century America morphing into a cold war state — with Sheryl Crow in charge of toilet-paper rationing — there are also delusional fears about the government tapping bank accounts and convening “death panels,” as Sarah Palin dubbed them, to exploit the cost-saving potential of euthanizing the old and disabled.

At his more placid town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., on Tuesday, the president had to explain that he did not intend to “pull the plug on grandma.” He said that the specter of death panels had spun out of a proposal from a Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has long espoused helping Medicare patients learn about options for care at the end of their lives. In an interview with The Washington Post on Monday, Isakson diagnosed Palin’s interpretation of his suggestion as “nuts.”

-Maureen Dowd, NY Times

More from Sen. Isakson:

In the health-care debate mark-up, one of the things I talked about was that the most money spent on anyone is spent usually in the last 60 days of life and that's because an individual is not in a capacity to make decisions for themselves. So rather than getting into a situation where the government makes those decisions, if everyone had an end-of-life directive or what we call in Georgia "durable power of attorney," you could instruct at a time of sound mind and body what you want to happen in an event where you were in difficult circumstances where you're unable to make those decisions.

This has been an issue for 35 years. All 50 states now have either durable powers of attorney or end-of-life directives and it's to protect children or a spouse from being put into a situation where they have to make a terrible decision as well as physicians from being put into a position where they have to practice defensive medicine because of the trial lawyers. It's just better for an individual to be able to clearly delineate what they want done in various sets of circumstances at the end of their life.

How did this become a question of euthanasia?

I have no idea. I understand -- and you have to check this out -- I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin's web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You're putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don't know how that got so mixed up.

And this from Ezra Klein:

"Encouraging Medicare to cover end-of-life planning just isn't a partisan issue. Nor is it an effort to make anyone shuffle off the mortal coil before they're ready. It's an attempt, as Isakson explained yesterday, to ensure that individuals make their own decisions when they're of sound mind and body, rather than leaving those questions to grieving spouses, doctors who fear a malpractice lawsuit or accountants. It's a good policy, and all the legislators supporting it deserve praise for trying to encourage an adult conversation about death. It's a shame that it's suddenly become polarized."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fool's Errands

A thing
cannot be
enough times:
this is the
rule of dogs
for whom there
are no fool's
errands. To
loop out and
come back is
good all alone.
It's gravy to
carry a ball
or a bone.

- Kay Ryan
from The New Yorker
August 10 & 17, 2009

Health Care Rationing already exists.

Health Care Rationing already exists. Private insurance bureaucrats decide everyday what treatments are covered and not covered. Those decisions aren't based on medical science or effectiveness; they are based on profit.

Why is MediCare so popular with seniors? Because it doesn't ration treatment based on profit. It's pretty simple - give everyone, not just seniors, the option for public insurance.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Network Marketing = Pyramid Scheme

Below is the text of an online chat I had with a Mona Vie Customer Sales Rep after trying unsuccessfully to buy the product without having a sponsor. Granted, I was a little flirtatious, but I was single at the time and trying to keep from getting bored.

me: i found you on the web, not through a distributor. i would like to join but your website asks for a sponsor id. i am my own sponsor as my own research led me to your site. 

You are now speaking with Cathy of Autoship / Distributor Support.

me: hi cathy

Cathy: Welcome to Live Support, and thank you for choosing MonaVie. My name is Cathy, and I'll be assisting you.

me: i am my own sponsor as no one told me about you. i found you on my own

me: how do i signup

Cathy: we can find you a sponsor.

me: okay, but i should really be my own sponsor.

Cathy: What is your zip code?

me: 90402

me: why can't i join on my own. you will be giving the sponsor credit for something they didn't do

Cathy: This is how it works. It is a binary system. Each person who joins the company has a "sponsor" or someone they are under. Once you sign up as a distributor you will also be able to sign up people under you, making you their sponsor.

Cathy: I have an awesome sponsor in California for you.

Cathy: They will help you get started. I will have them call you. Unless you would like me to sign you up right now.
me: how many total distributors are there with mona vie?

Cathy: 85000 active distributors
me: in california and in the U.S?

Cathy: MonaVie is in 5 different countries.

me: 85000 is a lot..

me: are you in CA

me: if you sign me up right now, would you be my sponsor?

Cathy: Corporate is 
located in Utah.

Cathy: I would love to sponsor you. However, I work for corporate but I can put you under a great sponsor.

me: who's the sponsor?

me: do you have a sponsor?

Cathy: Are you trying to sign me up? You've caught the spirit of MonaVie already.

me: of course i am

me: what do you say?

Cathy: :)

me: great, so you'll be my first sign up - my right hand woman, so to speak

Cathy: You'll do awesome in this company. Let's put you under an awesome group.

me: great, so can we sign up your parents and siblings too

me: i'm a great guy, 5'11, athletic, handsome, well-educated, and single

Cathy: My mom is single.

me: what about you?

Cathy: Age?

Cathy: nope, sorry. i'm taken already

me: 34

me: any sisters?

me: or girlfriends?

Cathy: Too young for you. Anyway, back to business.

Cathy: Lets get you signed up.

me: your mom is too young for me - wow, how old are you? there are child labor laws you know

Cathy: No, my sisters. Let me get your information and we'll sign you up.

me: how about your girlfriends?

me: i like utah

Cathy: Let me get your information and we'll sign you up.

me: my birthday is march 21 and i liked the movie borat, what more info do you need?

me: first day of spring is a cool birthday you know

Cathy: I'll have someone call you if you will give your phone number

me: can they email me

Cathy: okay, that's fine.

me: that's right, do you like poems

me: do you have a photo?

me: i like to see who i'm dealing with at corporate?

Cathy: Thanks. I'll have someone email you tomorrow Wessss 
. I hope you turn out to be
the Besssst.

Cathy: And yes, I do like poetry.

Cathy: Have a great night.

me: that's what my momma always said

me: what's your favorite poem?

Cathy: It has been my pleasure assisting you today. Thank you for contacting MonaVie.

We appreciate your continued support. Please contact Distibutor Support again with future needs.

me: i like billy collins and rumi and hafiz myself - oh, and pablo neruda

me: that looks like a copy and paste, where's the personal touch cathy

Cathy: Enjoy your day! Goodbye.

Cathy: :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

A refreshing, unique, and extremely wise story on love, relationships, and happiness.

"I don't love you anymore," my husband said, but I survived the sucker punch." from "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear" by Laura A. Munson, New York Times.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Health care lobbying of Senate Democrats

"One of the largest sources of campaign contributions to Senate Democrats during this year’s health care debate is a physician-owned hospital in one of the country’s poorest regions that has sought to soften measures that could choke its rapid growth." - NY Times. full article

And which doctor-owned hospital?? Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in McAllen, TX, which Atul Gawande exposed quite convincingly in his June 1 New Yorker article, "The Cost Connundrum."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The best discussion I've read on the Gates-Cambridge Police incident at Harvard

"If you wish to gaze upon the depth and breadth of America’s racial divide–particularly the canyon-like gulf between white folks and black folks–you need look no further than the recent incident involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cambridge police officer James Crowley, and now, President Obama who weighed in on the matter a few nights ago, when asked for his reaction to Gates’s arrest on charges (since dismissed) of disorderly conduct. In this case, as with so many other news stories that have touched on race–the O.J. Simpson trial and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as just two of the more obvious examples–whites and blacks, generally speaking, and with obvious exceptions on both sides, see the story and the racial component of the story in fundamentally different (often diametrically opposed) ways.

To hear most white folks tell it, Gates was to blame. ..."

For more, click here

From Racism Review, by Tim Wise

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ecco Shoes Fall Apart into a Sticky Tar!

My Ecco Shoes just fell apart, with very little wear and great maintenance - they always had shoe trees and were polished regularly. Unbelievable! The soles just crumbled all over my car mat, staining the carpet with sticky tar. Don't buy Ecco! As you can see from the photos below, the leather part of the shoes is still in great shape, but the soles are now a gooey tar. Ecco needs to replace these and change their materials.

I just set up a Facebook Group (Ecco Shoes Suck!) to increase awareness and inform fellow shoppers not to buy Ecco. Please share your photos and experience there.

Ecco Shoes may feel comfortable, but their special rubber soles fall apart and are not worth the money. Ecco needs to change their shoe materials to something more reliable and environmentally safe, and to reimburse us for the cost of our expensive shoes.

Mail Order Catalogs = Huge Waste of Resources, Time, and Money

Companies are so behind the times. I ordered online from REI and Brookstone. Two weeks later, I get paper catalogs via snail mail from REI, Brookstone, and Crate and Barrel. What a waste! I didn't ask for these catalogs. Companies should set an opt-in policy for paper catalogs rather than opt-out. Most of the industrial world is online. We don't need mail-order catalogs. Why are they cutting down trees for something I prefer to see online? Companies may think I will buy more with a mail order catalog in my home. In fact, I'll buy less because I don't want to support companies with such poor environmental practices.

Now you can easily remove yourself from mailing lists. It's Free. Go to:

and sign up.

Finally some straight talk about health care and rationing.

"On a blog on Fox News earlier this year, the conservative writer John Lott wrote, “Americans should ask Canadians and Brits — people who have long suffered from rationing — how happy they are with central government decisions on eliminating ‘unnecessary’ health care.” There is no particular reason that the United States should copy the British or Canadian forms of universal coverage, rather than one of the different arrangements that have developed in other industrialized nations, some of which may be better. But as it happens, last year the Gallup organization did ask Canadians and Brits, and people in many different countries, if they have confidence in “health care or medical systems” in their country. In Canada, 73 percent answered this question affirmatively. Coincidentally, an identical percentage of Britons gave the same answer. In the United States, despite spending much more, per person, on health care, the figure was only 56 percent." - Peter Singer, New York Times Magazine

If you haven't lived in a country with a national health care system, like England, Canada, Australia, etc - your views bear little weight because you've never experienced it. I have, and I found my experience with England's health care system, far superior (in terms of care received, costs, efficiency, same day appointments with all doctors, etc) to the US Health Care System.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The True Problem with Rising Health Care Costs in the U.S.

It doesn't matter who pays, the government or private insurance or individuals, the major cause of rising health care costs is doctors/health professionals who place primary emphasis on increasing their revenue stream rather than on the quality of care their patients receive. They stress quantity over quality, and prices soar.

"Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check." - Atul Gawande,The Cost Conundrum in the New Yorker.